This summer, Canadian music business titan Alexander Mair was appointed to the Order of Canada. On Tuesday, Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell awarded him the medal in his room at Sunnybrook Hospital. On Friday, Mair died of cancer. He was 82.
The Toronto-born entrepreneur and music industry mentor was an influential figure in the growth of independent record companies in this country. In 1974, he and Tom Williams founded Attic Records, which became one of the largest and most successful indie labels in Canadian history. Attic helped launch the careers of dozens of homegrown artists, including Anvil, Lee Aaron, Maestro Fresh Wes, the Nylons, Teenage Head and Triumph.
From 1968 to 1976, Mair looked after Gordon Lightfoot’s business affairs.
“Al Mair was a great record man,” said Bernie Finkelstein, founder of True North Records. “Not only did he put out some great music, but behind the scenes, he made a great contribution to the Canadian music business as we now know it.”
Though mild-mannered, Mair was a vocal advocate for Canadian artists and a major player in the building of an industry’s infrastructure. As the business manager of an iconic Canadian artist and as a member of the board of Canada’s leading performing rights society (the Canadian Association of Publishers, Authors and Composers), he played an important role in urging the passage of Canadian content regulations for domestic broadcasters.
His extensive worldwide contacts enabled Attic artists to thrive outside Canada. During Mair’s period as the label’s president and chief executive officer (from 1974 to 1999, when the label was sold), artists signed to the Toronto-based company earned gold, platinum and multiplatinum awards from Holland, Japan, Canada and the United States.
He was a fixture at the annual MIDEM trade show in Cannes, France, where the Canadian music industry was always well represented. “Al was our leader there, and he really opened the door for me on the international scene,” said Holger Petersen, founder of Edmonton-based Stony Plain Records.
Although Mair worked with the Irish Rovers and licensed records in Canada for such high-profile international acts as Jennifer Warnes and Weird Al Yankovic, the Attic label released music by marching bands and bagpipers too. “The secret of survival for any record company is a steady flow of product,” he said this summer on the podcast Toronto Mike’d. “We took shots with what we thought would be fun.”
As a teenager, Mair worked at a record shop after school and spun records at dances on the weekend. Out of high school, after taking just one night-school accounting class at the University of Toronto, he was hired by Capitol Records to keep track of royalty payments. Mair once said he was chosen for the job in part because “I knew how to pronounce the names of classical composers.”
Over the course of a decades-long career, Mr. Mair played a prominent role in a wide variety of Canadian music industry associations, volunteering his considerable expertise to vital organizations including the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN); the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings (FACTOR); and the Corporation of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall.
Mair was awarded the Order of Canada for his “visionary and enduring contributions to the Canadian music industry,” according to a statement released this summer. His daughter, Jennifer Mair, said the Lieutenant-Governor “was lovely and gracious” during the hospital-room presentation of the medal.
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