“Stop, or I’ll shoot!”
Late one night in the 1970s, Keith Brown, then the president of Aquarius Records, woke up in his Montreal apartment to a heavy scene. His roommate, the bon vivant Skip Snair, had gotten into an altercation with a stranger on the street below. A nearby policeman, having witnessed the punch out, chased Mr. Snair into the building.
“Skip was at one end of the hallway with his hands up, and the policeman had his gun drawn,” Mr. Brown recalled. “All of a sudden, Skip said, ‘Is that you, Timmy?’ And then the cop said, ‘Is that you, Skip?’”
The two, as it turned out, knew each other from their childhood days on the baseball sandlots. They had been on the same team. Mr. Snair was the pitcher; the police officer was the catcher. Reacquainted with his former teammate, the police officer let Mr. Snair off with a warning.
“It was almost miraculous how Skip could get out of any jam,” Mr. Brown said. “Then again, there might gave been some things that he didn’t get away with that we didn’t hear about. That wouldn’t surprise me either.”
Mr. Snair died of a heart attack in his sleep at his Montreal home on Feb. 9. He was 77. A dedicated extrovert who enjoyed romance, mischief and rock and roll escapades, he worked at various times as a bartender, a radio promotions man and a music-business jack of all trades. After his death, a small shrine was set up in his memory at Ziggy’s Pub in Montreal.
To those who knew him well, Mr. Snair was a raconteur and a man of generous spirit whose loyalty to friends ran deep. “He had an enormous capacity for gratitude for anything anybody did for him,” said his sister, Wendy Rhodes. “He was extremely humble in that way.”
Mr. Snair was also well known for being well connected – skiing with Hollywood couple Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones on Quebec’s Mont Tremblant or relaxing with Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards at a cottage in the Laurentians.
“He knew everybody from celebrities to people in the Secret Service to members of the Montreal Canadiens to tough guys in Boston,” said long-time friend Terry DiMonte, morning host on Montreal’s CHOM 97.7. “If you didn’t know him, you could cast him as a really sweet uncle or an Irish gangster.”
Later in life, Mr. Snair took advantage of his associations by acquiring sports memorabilia signed by professional athletes and musical instruments autographed by rock stars, all in aid of the annual CHOM auction for Montreal Children’s Hospital.
“When people would need things, I would send them to see Skip,” Mr. Brown said. “I would tell them, ‘You can’t miss him. He’s the guy with the curly white hair.’”
Warren Douglas (Skip) Snair was born in the working-class Montreal borough of Verdun on Dec. 4, 1943. His father, Allan Warren Snair, was a banker with the Royal Bank of Canada. His mother, Winnie Snair (née Black), was a dedicated homemaker.
The lifetime nature lover, whose grandfather nicknamed him Skipper, wanted to be a forest ranger. Later, one of young Mr. Snair’s first jobs was as a go-go dancer on the teen dance show Like Young on Montreal’s CFCF-TV.
“Our parents were very conservative, and there were times when they struggled with some of Skip’s choices,” his sister said. “But he was so likeable, you couldn’t help but to let him do his own thing.”
He went on to own an ice cream parlour, Scoops, before a chain-shop competitor moved in. He was a popular bartender at Derek’s Pub and DJ’s Pub on Crescent Street.
One of his early jobs in the music business was with Donald K. Donald, a Montreal-based concert promotion and booking company. His unofficial (and self-proclaimed) title as a “fixer” was earned on July 17, 1972, when unknown saboteurs used dynamite to blow up two equipment vans parked on a ramp at the Montreal Forum in the early morning hours before a concert by the Rolling Stones.
The reverberations from the blast blew out the diaphragms of a number of speakers stored in one of the trucks. Mr. Snair may or may not have organized an emergency shipment of replacements from Los Angeles, but he did take credit for saving the show.
“Whether it was Skip or the Stones’ tour manager Peter Rudge or promoter Donald Tarlton who arranged it, the Rolling Stones paid to have a whole shipment of rock lobsters taken off an Air Canada cargo hold so they could put on those speakers,” Mr. Brown said. “It really locked Skip in with the Stones camp.”
Of the Rolling Stones members, Mr. Snair was closest to Mr. Richards. In a 2003 interview with the Montreal Gazette, he described the guitarist as a “real mensch,” while being less charitable in his opinion of the band’s iconic singer Mick Jagger, who was “always the prima donna.”
In 1977, when the Stones played a pair of secret club gigs at Toronto’s El Mocambo, Mr. Snair was there working with the hit-making Montreal rockers April Wine, who opened the shows. When an American music reporter Chet Flippo tried to crash an April Wine party at the venue a couple days before the concerts, he was told by a large, scowling bouncer that the session was private. “Skippy sent us,” the journalist said. The door suddenly opened, and, without another word, entrance was gained.
For a time, Mr. Snair was something of a provisioner for the Stones and other major touring acts on their Canadian dates, taking care of the entertainment, culinary and pharmaceutical needs of music’s biggest stars. Once, while in the Florida Keys on kayaking adventure, Mr. Snair received an urgent phone call requesting that he arrange a smoked-meat dinner in Montreal for Barbra Streisand.
In his various capacities, Mr. Snair did what needed to be done. “He was a living Swiss Army knife,” Mr. DiMonte said. “He could function in almost any environment you put him into.”
As often as not, Mr. Snair asserted himself into roles, such as the time he took care of business physically. “April Wine singer Myles Goodwyn came into the bar where Skip worked and complained to CHOM program director Rob Braide that the band wasn’t receiving enough airplay on the station,” Mr. Brown said. “It wasn’t true, so Skip came out from the bar, picked up Myles, carried him outside and dumped him into a snow bank.”
Other responsibilities were handled more discreetly. One night in the 1980s, Mr. Snair kicked a few customers out of his bar. Mr. DiMonte, in the corner by himself, “tired and in my cups,” asked what the issue was. “They were causing trouble,” was all his friend Mr. Snair said.
What had actually happened was that the customers had charged their drinks to Mr. DiMonte, a well-known media figure in Montreal. Mr. Snair was infuriated that they had tried to take advantage of his friend.
“Skip never told me that story,” Mr. DiMonte said. “I found out through other people, years later. That was Skip, though. He had no tolerance for disloyalty or poor manners. He was a character and a storyteller, but at his core he was a stand-up guy from Verdun.”
Skip Snair leaves his sister, Ms. Rhodes, and brother, Bob Snair.