The exhibit Rock ‘n’ Roll Icons – Photographs by Patrick Harbron is currently on view at Albany Institute of History and Art, through February 12, 2017. The images, both performance and portrait, are of mainstream rock ‘n’ roll artists captured on film by the longtime music-industry photographer between 1976 to1992, and in 2001. The Guardian newspaper in the U.K. published a portfolio of images from the exhibit on November 16, 2016. Here, we similarly present a selection of his photos of Canadian rock ‘n’ roll icons , with his stories about working with each of them.

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen
Photographed on the I’m Your Man tour, at Toronto’s Massey Hall, on Nov. 9, 1988
The first time I met Leonard Cohen was the summer of 1973. I was writing a cover story about Cohen and his new play, Sisters of Mercy, for Beetle Magazine. Based on his words and music, it opened at the George Bernard Shaw Theatre in Niagara-on-The-Lake. We spent the afternoon chatting about his music and fame, performing and what it meant to be successful. I wasn’t a photographer then. It would be 15 years before I saw him again when I photographed his concert at Massey Hall. A lot of time had passed and I hadn’t followed his career closely but seeing him again, engaging his audience, was a pleasure. When I interviewed him in 1973 he said he didn’t want to do many concerts, but as the years went on he came to embrace performing more, building a new and larger audience. His concerts went from something sporadic to treasured events.

kd lang

kd lang
Photographed at Harbron Studio, in Toronto, in February 1987
One of my favorite sessions was with kd lang. The entire day prior to the shoot was chaos, missed connections and bad weather. I was stuck in a cab on my way to the Newark airport in the middle of a nasty winter storm. I made it just in time to watch the airline attendant close the gate and my flight to Buffalo. I was to meet kd and my staff in Toronto for a mid-afternoon shoot, but it didn’t look like I was going to make it. After disembarking in Buffalo, I booked the last rental car and fish-tailed out of the airport to the QEW and home. I arrived in the early evening and the snow had stopped. I went to the empty studio to drop my stuff and headed downstairs to the Montreal Bistro. Sitting at the bar was kd and my studio crew. The following shoot was one of the best sessions I’ve ever had. kd was full of energy and fun as we developed ideas and shot one set-up after another, until two in the morning. Everybody was so focused and driven. It couldn’t have been planned to go as well as it did. There were so many images to edit, it was hard to make final selections for the Canadian Musician cover story. The image here illustrates her interpretation of my request to impersonate a musical note.


Photographed on the “Drive ‘Til You Die” tour (supporting the Farewell to Kings album), at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, on Dec. 29, 1977
Rush, one of Canada’s biggest rock exports, might have never made it without the help of Donna Halper at Cleveland’s WMMS. When she added the band’s single “Working Man” to the playlist it met with a huge response and opened doors that never closed.

In the summer of 1977 I wrote and photographed an article, for the Globe and Mail reviewing Farewell to Kings. At the time I was conflicted about whether to continue as a writer or become a photographer; when the Globe ran the piece with a huge photo, the decision was made. Toronto is our mutual hometown, and I met Rush after they recorded their first album. When I began as a young photographer they were one of the first bands I worked with. When I took this photograph, the band was enjoying their place as headliners in large venues, where they’ve remained. Since their recording debut in 1974 Rush has released more than 30 albums, 10 compilations and numerous DVDs.

In February 1997 the three group members were appointed as officers of the Order of Canada, and the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

Buce Cockburn

Bruce Cockburn
Photographed at the Canadian Musician office, in Toronto, in 1987
As a Torontonian and a longtime Bruce Cockburn fan, I always feel nostalgia about winter in my hometown when I see the cover of his second album, High Winds White Sky, and hear its “Happy Good Morning Blues.” The record was released in 1971, the year I started in the music business. I think of how important a sense of place is to a musician, and to those who appreciate them. It reminds us of where we come from and who we are. It’s not hard to understand why Bruce has been such a mainstay of Canadian music since the late ‘60s. The portrait here is from a session in 1987. I wanted to illustrate Bruce in a straightforward manner. I chose to photograph him without a guitar:  just the man, in a serious but open portrait. I photographed Bruce several times during the ‘80s, including the shoot for his second concert album, Bruce Cockburn Live, from 1990.

Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell
Photographed during the “Conspiracy of Hope” Amnesty International Concert Tour, at the Giants Stadium show, in Rutherford, New Jersey, on June 15, 1986
Joni Mitchell’s history with large rock concerts are recalled as less than auspicious. She dealt with an unruly crowd at the Isle of Wight festival, missed Woodstock altogether to be available for the Dick Cavett Show, and performed a tense set during the “Conspiracy of Hope” Amnesty International Concert tour stop at Giants Stadium. This was the last time I photographed her and this selection is my favourite. There’s no other performer and songwriter with such a remarkable voice, wistful, insightful lyrics and unique use of polyphonic chords. Equally comfortable with folk and jazz, Joni created a most original collection of songs. My first opportunity to photograph her was in 1983, during the Wild Things Run Fast tour, and then at the Amnesty concert, where she made an unscheduled appearance before headliners U2 and The Police. This photograph of Joni reminds me of her early roots; she seems transcendent.

Kim Mitchell, Pye Dubois

Kim Mitchell and Pye Dubois of Max Webster
Photographed on Grandview Avenue in Toronto, in March 1978
This is one of my early assignments, for Roxy – a short-lived Toronto publication, and one of the first magazines I worked with in the late ‘70s. Among the artists I photographed for them were The Tubes, Peter Frampton, Bob Marley, Garland Jefferies and, in this shoot, the guy from Max Webster with his lyricist, Pye Dubois. Max was a full-on rock ‘n’ roll band with a satirical, even cynical point of view. Their album Mutiny Up My Sleeve was released in April 1978. There’s usually some give-and-take between a behind-the-scenes co-writer and a performing partner in the spotlight. With this in mind, I set out to illustrate their relationship while showing their evident bond. With tongue in cheek, we dragged the couch to the street, our de facto studio. The playfulness in the photo became a trademark for my portraiture. I shot everyone in the band but keyboard player Terry Watkinson, who was away that day. When it was time to go, the van pulled up, Kim took the wheel, posed for another shot in his mirrored shades, and drove the band to that night’s gig.

Rock 'n' Roll Icons

Take a close listen to songs like “Fever” and “Crumbling Down” on Nuela Charles’ latest album, and you can be forgiven for thinking she’s singing about an ex.

“You broke me down, just to watch me fall / The hands that held me now tear me apart,” she sings on “Crumbling Down,” one of seven songs that appear on The Grand Hustle, which came out in November of 2016.

Actually, Charles is singing about her frustration with the music industry.

“It’s all about the ups and downs I’ve experienced as an independent artist,” she says from her Edmonton home, “but I wanted to express that in a way everyone can relate to. I call it a comeback story; there’s the rise and the fall of the heroine, and then she wins in the end. I imagined what that would look like if we wrote songs around it.

“My whole life has been spent working on my music and getting it out there,” she says. “That was my entire focus, so my question was, how do I take that and present it in a way that listeners can understand it?”

By cleverly making analogies to relationships that went South, it turns out. And delivering the songs in a voice that inspired one CBC journalist to call her “the future Queen of Canadian soul.” Among her many achievements, Charles received the inaugural $8,000 Edmonton Music Prize for the city’s best album in 2013; earned a spot as a Top 12 finalist in The Peak Performance Project in Alberta; had her songs picked up by CBC Radio 2, played in regular rotation on L.A.’s tastemaker radio station KCRW, and placed in various TV shows on VH1, The Family Channel, W Network, CityTV, MTV and Showtime.

She isn’t a soul shouter or growler by any means. Rather, she possesses the vocal swagger of an Amy Winehouse, and sings with the same kind of conviction.

“For me, it all starts with a great song and the ability to deliver that story in a unique way. I try to do that, and it’s been working, I guess,” she says modestly. “I feel that if you have a great song and you can’t convey that when you sing it, it’ll fall flat. It’s not about who can sing it better, technically. For me, it’s, ‘Do you believe the person singing it?’

“Take the song ‘I Will Always Love You.’ When Whitney Houston sang it, I believed her. She served that song; she took someone else’s [Dolly Parton’s] song and delivered. That’s what I try to do every day.”

Charles, who co-wrote all the songs on The Grand Hustle, said she learned about “serving the song” – and fell in love with the process of collaborating with other writers – at song camps she’s attended over the last few years. Those included the 2016 Breakout West SOCAN Song House, and others organized by Songwriters Association of Canada (S.A.C.) and Alberta Music.

“I tend to write the first verse, chorus and bridge, and I’ll have no idea what the second verse is.”

“It was about writing the best song we could, and whose voice best suited the song,” she says. “The biggest lesson I learned is to not be afraid of trying things you might not do as an artist. I can’t go in thinking I’m going to write for me. It’s about where that song could live, whether it’s with another artist, or on a TV show. You can’t limit yourself. You have to be open to the experience, as well as to people’s suggestions – because if you don’t, the session gets awkward.”

Charles actually prefers to write with someone else.

“I tend to write the first verse, chorus and bridge, and I’ll have no idea what the second verse is. And then I’ll leave the song and never return to it,” she laughs. “When you’re co-writing, you can bounce ideas off someone, and that helps you to rein in the story and make it cohesive. It’s just a lot more fun than sitting at home and writing.”

Charles described the process of writing for The Grand Hustle as “super easy. My producer and I went to Toronto for two weeks and had different writers come in,” she says. “I had a story that I wanted to tell, so I talked to them beforehand about what I wanted to explore, and told them to feel free to come with something, or not to come with anything.”

For the entire  album, the A&R was facilitated by Cymba Music’s Libby Elming and Vincent Degiorgio, and The Grand Hustle features co-writes with eight-time JUNO Award Nominee Lisa DalBello, Jasmine Denham (“Together We Are One”), Dahmnait Doyle, and Cymba’s Aileen de la Cruz. The Grand Hustle was co-written and produced in its entirety by Cymba’s Ari Rhodes.

Having her producer “create the music” at the same time as she’s writing with someone “really helps with the flow of the song, and where we take it lyrically,” Charles explains. “Sometimes we start writing on an acoustic guitar, or on the piano. ‘Fever,’ for example, came together on the last day. My producer started fooling around with a beat on the computer, the repetition inspired images of running, and I wrote the lyrics to the song.”

If one thing becomes evident in a conversation with Charles, it’s that she’s holds songs in high esteem. So much so that she can’t really work to a formula for a hit song. “That’s not for me,” she says. “I’d love a number one song, don’t get me wrong; but it’ll have to be on my terms.”

Everything is hunky-dory for AUTOMAT: gigs are being booked by the dozen and their audience is growing ever larger. In the wake of the release of Pandora, their second album, the four young lads couldn’t be happier! Singer and author Mathieu Bouchard feels good: “We’re really happy with the final result! We’re four guys who are happy together. Everything is so simple when we’re playing.”

And that’s also the case for the writing of AUTOMAT’s songs. When the guys go to their Québec City studio, songs just flow out effortlessly. “Some of them were born without any kind of preparation, right there during a recording session,” Mathieu explains. “That was the case for our first single, Mea Culpa, which was written in an hour! And it’s one of our favourites on Pandora.”

As Bouchard explains, that’s made possible thanks to the excellent camaraderie between all of the band members — which is fertile ground for creativity. “A lot of times, everything just comes out at once,” he says. “Melodies, music and lyrics. I start by throwing words out there that sound good with the music the guys are playing, and it all gets fine-tuned as we work on the pieces.” But he’s quick to point out that not all of their songs come out so easily. Some, such as Lumière, which opens the album, were tested, arranged, and transformed before they were recorded under the direction of producer and composer Connor Seidel.

It should be noted that the AUTOMAT guys are not beginners at this game. They’ve been playing for nearly 15 years and have over a thousand concerts on their track record. “We’Re really proud of what we’ve accomplished so far. Initially, we were more of a punk rock band, but over time, we evolved, but kept the positive energy that comes to us naturally when we are together. When we started, we played in shopping malls, and now we unite all the members of any given family during our shows on the summer festival circuit.”

The influence of their new producer, who is younger than the band members are more attuned to more indie bands also helped refocus things. “Connor took us somewhere else while fully respecting who we are as a band. It was a natural evolution that we felt on Pandora, a deep evolution.” Seidel is the man behind Evermoor Audio, a place where the talent of Idie & the Mirrors, Mathieu Holubowski, Nova, Palm City and Stefanie Parnell, to name but a few, emerged from.

AutomatWhen one compares AUTOMAT’s new material with their older songs, such as Le Destin, one is struck by the slightly less festive and slightly more introspective vibe that inhabit the compositions of Mathieu Bouchard and his partners in crime, which is not to say that pop hooks have been entirely evacuated. “I wouldn’t say it’s a question of maturity. I think it has more to do with the fact that we worked with a producer that pushed us to step out of our comfort zone. We want to keep an open mind and collaborate with different people in the future.”

Apart from Bouchard who sings and plays guitars, the band is composed of Samuel Paquin on guitars, Maxime Chouinard on bass and Dave Vézina on drums. They’re all high-school friends who never lost touch with each other. After a few years in a band named Pressure, Bouchard turned to Francophone pop and gathered his friends in the AUTOMAT project. Right from the release of their first four-track EP, they started doing the festival circuit, notably Envol et Macadam and the Festivent, and before long, radios (NRJ and CKOI, notably) started playing their single Le jour se lève. Their energy came through in all its might on their first big hit, Parfait, which came out in 2012 and was selected by the Canadian Olympic Committee for the 2012 London Olympics.

But their ultimate goal is conquering Europe. “That would definitely be our Stanley Cup!” they’ve said in a 2011 interview with Québec City’s Le Soleil daily newspaper. But in the meantime, AUTOMAT has invited their fans to Iceland where they filmed the magnificent video for “Mea Culpa.” The video has attracted a lot of attention thanks to its aesthetics while the song itself has topped the Correspondants charts in Québec (just as the previous single, Mémoire) and was also included in iTunes’s “Hot Tracks” in December 2016, “the only Francophone song on that list!” as the band proudly claimed on its Facebook page.

See AUTOMAT receive two SOCAN No. 1 Song Awards on Salut Bonjour.