Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Chris Allicock and Linda Dawe in 1976.Bruce Cole/Courtesy of Chris Allicock

The flamboyant record business in which Linda Dawe cut her teeth was far different from the more buttoned-down environment that exists today. A child of the 1960s who in the 1970s became one of the first female major-label promotion managers in Canada, Ms. Dawe blazed an earthy, effervescent and highly determined swath across a colourfully rambunctious era.

Ms. Dawe and her team at RCA Records Canada would hire actors to dress up as policemen to show up unannounced at a radio programmer’s office. The summons the fake officer would serve was actually a request to play whatever song the record label was pushing at the time.

“The look on the music directors’ faces when the cop would be talking sternly to them about a traffic violation was priceless when the reveal was made,” said Chris Allicock, a long-time music publicist and former associate of Ms. Dawe.

Ms. Dawe herself once donned a big, blonde wig as Dolly Parton for a tour of radio stations to encourage them to play the country icon’s songs. A competitor of hers chained himself to a music director’s desk at rock station Q107 to promote Supertramp’s Breakfast in America.

One of the classic-rock hits of the day was the Eagles’ Life in the Fast Lane. Its line about outrageous parties and heavenly bills was more than a catchy lyric, it was a zeitgeist-capturing description of a heady, unbridled scene.

“We had huge budgets, we were encouraged to be creative, and Linda was the belle of the ball,” said fellow record-plugger Mr. Allicock. “She was beautiful and smart and took no prisoners.”

Linda Dawe died of lung cancer on March 20 in Newmarket, Ont. She was 72. A pioneering figure in a record industry dominated by gum-chewing men and mustachioed polyester enthusiasts, Ms. Dawe was a highly respected promotion co-ordinator at MCA Records Canada before moving on to RCA. She chilled with Jefferson Starship, worked with Elton John and helped break Bob Marley internationally.

Open this photo in gallery:

Ms. Dawe, left, with Bob Marley, centre, longtime friend Kathy Hahn and Mr. Allicock.Hedley Jones

She struck out on her own after leaving RCA in 1981. Unaffiliated with any one record label or artist management house, her music promotion and publicity company was one of the first of its independent kind. She was instrumental in the early career success of singer Roch Voisine, among others.

For the rest of her career, Ms. Dawe built up her brassy persona while cementing a reputation as an unrelenting advocate for the musical acts she represented. Among the career-launching songs she helped get on radio were I’m an Adult Now by the Pursuit of Happiness in 1986 and, one year, later, Blue Rodeo’s Try.

“It took Linda six months to get somebody to believe in Try,” said Dulce Barbosa, another associate of Ms. Dawe, referring to the first radio hit by a band now considered Canadian alt-country icons. “Finally, Bob Saint at CFTR took a chance on it.”

Ms. Dawe had a knack not only for helping break new artists but also for mentoring young talent in the offices. She plucked Mr. Allicock out of the mail room at RCA in the mid-seventies and formed a company with him – The Music Brokers – a decade later.

Within the informal but determined Women In the Music Business group, Ms. Dawe and other like-minded women pushed for acknowledgement and advancement opportunities in the gender-imbalanced business.

One of her younger colleagues was Ms. Barbosa, who began her long career in the business as an intern with The Music Brokers. “On my first day there I was up to my elbows in soap suds and dirty coffee cups,” she recalled. “In walks Linda, wearing shorts and a black leather jacket. She took off her aviator glasses and said, ‘Well I know you’re not the maid, because I fired her last week.’”

Although Ms. Dawe’s office walls were covered in gold records, her presence, however oversized, was behind the scenes. That all changed in 2010.

In that year a television documentary, along with a book she co-authored (First True Love), revealed a story of personal heartbreak. As a teenager in Sault St. Marie, Ont., in the mid-1960s, she had fallen in love with a high school sweetheart. After the relationship produced an unwanted pregnancy, Ms. Dawe was cut off from the father and shuttled off by her parents to a home for unwed mothers in Toronto.

“I lost complete control of my life,” Ms. Dawe said in the documentary, which aired on the CBC’s The Passionate Eye. “I had to just sit and wait and be told where I was going next and where my parents were going to put me so I wouldn’t be an embarrassment to the family.”

In an interview with a local newspaper that same year, Ms. Dawe said the young women at the home were treated harshly. “They didn’t waste their antiseptics on us,” she said of her hours in labour. “They didn’t waste their doctors on us.”

The baby daughter was placed for adoption upon birth. Ms. Dawe and the father had no say in the life-changing decision.

According to those who knew her well as an adult, Ms. Dawe was uniquely indomitable. Still, she endured grief. Two of her four marriages ended when her husbands died, and the emotional trauma as a teenager endured. “She had been through a very hard time, being forced to put up her baby for adoption,” said Kathy Hahn, a close friend and fellow female trailblazer in the record promotion business. “You don’t recover from that. It takes a piece of your soul out.”

Linda Margaret Dawe was born in Belleville, Ont., on Oct. 9, 1948. Raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., she was the first of two daughters of Muriel (Margaret) Dawe (née Shepherd), executive secretary for the Tuberculosis and Respiratory Disease Association, and Gordon Dawe, a foreman at Algoma Steel. Both were involved in Freemasonry.

After graduating from Sir James Dunn Collegiate and Vocational School, Ms. Dawe attended Lake Superior State University, just across the border in Michigan.

Her first job in the music business was as a writer-editor with Beetle, an early-seventies rock magazine based in Toronto. She wrote stories on various musicians, including a young bassist who played with David Clayton-Thomas. He was Scott Richards, a future executive with MCA Records Canada who would work with Ms. Dawe at one of her music promotion companies, Music Solutions.

Mr. Richards would later became Ms. Dawe’s third husband. “Scott was taken with with her immediately,” booking agent Tommy Wilson told The Globe and Mail.

Though outnumbered by men, Ms. Dawe had their respect. “Linda was the coolest person in the room,” Mr. Allicock said. “She hung with us and she swore with us, but, more importantly, she demanded respect for her artists.

Working a record from the Rolling Stones was easy enough. But successfully promoting a song from an unestablished artist takes pizzazz, chutzpah and a strong work ethic – qualities Mr. Dawe had in spades.

According to the man who hired her at RCA in 1975, Ms. Dawe was persuasive in getting airplay for unproven artists and completely willing to “raise a little hell” if a radio programmer backed out of a commitment.

“Linda had such a great reputation that she had no problem getting time to sit down with music directors, which was unusual at the time, because they were pretty tight with their playlists,” said Ed Preston, former president of RCA Records in Canada. “She added a lot of sparkle to the promotion department, that’s for sure.”

Open this photo in gallery:

Ed Preston, Ms. Dawe, Robert Gordon, Mr. Allicock and Bob Summers.Bruce Cole/Courtesy of Chris Allicock

In the early 2000s, Ms. Dawe took a chance on an unknown. Matt Dusk, an unsigned 22-year-old Canadian jazz-standards crooner, had left a phone message at Ms. Dawe’s office, unsure if he could even afford her services.

“To my surprise, Linda called me back,” Mr. Dusk said. “She said, ‘I think you got it, kid, and I’d love to work with you.’”

Thus began a managerial relationship that scored Mr. Dusk a record deal with Decca Records. He went on to receive five Juno Award nominations. “I would not be where I am today if it were not for Linda,” Mr. Dusk told The Globe and Mail.

In 2003, landing in London after an overseas flight with Mr. Dusk to record at Abbey Road Studio, Ms. Dawe was greeted with news that her husband, Mr. Richards, had unexpectedly died of a heart attack in Toronto.

“She literally fell to her knees,” Mr. Dusk recalled. “We were on top of the world, and something like that can take it all away, like none of the success mattered at all.”

On a happier occasion a year later, Mr. Dusk and Ms. Dawe were in Las Vegas, where the singer was working on the American reality television series The Casino. Walking by a slot machine, Ms. Dawe decided to spend her last $5 chip.

On a machine called Wheel of Fortune, she won a $1,000 jackpot.

“It was the happiest I’d ever seen her,” Mr. Dusk said.

Ms. Dawe’s winning streak continued in 2006 when she attended a high school reunion in Sault Ste. Marie. She was hesitant to go to the event in the first place, and was on her way to leave the reunion when she bumped into someone she recognized. It was Raymond Cave, her high school sweetheart, with whom she had had no contact for four decades.

“The second our eyes met, he fell to his knees and kissed my hand,” Ms. Dawes told a CBC interviewer in 2010. “No girl could resist that.”

The first question out of Ms. Dawe’s mouth was “Do you know where our daughter is?” Mr. Cave, a widower, did not. They quickly left the reunion and went for dinner to get reacquainted.

Their love for each other had endured, as did Mr. Cave’s 1967 El Camino, in which he packed his belongings, and within two weeks he had moved into Ms. Dawe’s home in Sutton, Ont.

The two married on June 23, 2007. By the end of the year, helped by a front page story in the Sault Star, they located their daughter, Karyn Small-Webb. By crazy coincidence, she had grown up just a few houses away from the home where Ms. Dawe grew up.

By all accounts Ms. Dawe had a happy reunion with her long-lost daughter and two grandchildren as well.

Mr. Cave died in 2014. In addition to her work in music promotion, Ms. Dawe spent time with her champion show dog, a purebred Jack Russell named McDuff. Later she adopted a retired world-champion papillon named Blue.

Ms. Dawe leaves her children, Ms. Small-Webb and Ashley Alvaro (from her marriage to Daryl Alvaro); two grandchildren, Jessica and McKenna; and siblings, Elizabeth Prince and Brenda Walsh.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe