SOCAN is mourning the loss of Ottawa-based singer-songwriter and longtime SOCAN member Les Emmerson, whose hippie/anti-establishment anthem “Signs” became a staple of 1970s rock radio, and then Classic Rock radio for several generations. The leader of The Five Man Electrical Band had contracted COVID-19, and died in hospital on Dec. 10, at the age of 77. He was reportedly double-vaccinated, but had underlying health issues.

Over the years, Emmerson earned three SOCAN Classics Awards, signifying more than 100,000 radio airplays, for “Absolutely Right,” “I’m a Stranger Here,” and “Signs,” the last of which was also inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Emmerson began his music career in 1965 when he joined the Staccatos, who scored a few hits with “Small Town Girl” and “Half Past Midnight,” but never broke through to a mass audience – despite once playing for Queen Elizabeth and 20,000 people at Lansdowne Park on Canada Day in 1967. The following year, the band was recruited by Coca-Cola to split a promotional album, A Wild Pair, with The Guess Who. (It was mailed free to any customers who sent in enough proof of purchases.)

The Staccatos underwent a name change to Five Man Electrical Band as they moved from pop to rock. “Signs,” originally a four-minute B-side to a single, would be the song that, slowly but surely, broke them in the U.S. A shorter, three-minute version hit first in Detroit in 1971, then kept spreading like wildfire. “Signs” peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard singles chart, and sold more than 1.5 million copies.

The song was re-worked on American rock band Tesla’s live album Five Man Acoustical Jam, giving the group one of its biggest hits. Electronic producer Fatboy Slim also sampled the song to create his 2005 single “Don’t Let the Man Get You Down.” With the “Signs” being aired in regular rotation, to this day, on Classic Rock radio stations, the royalties never stopped. “If all I’d ever done in life was write this one song, I’d have a very nice living,” Emmerson told The Ottawa Sun in 2004.

The Five Man Electrical Band enjoyed sustained success in Canada in the early ‘70s, with hit songs on the radio, like “Absolutely Right” (1971, chart peak No. 3), “Money Back Guarantee” (1972, chart peak No. 17), “I’m a Stranger Here” (1972, chart peak No. 2) and “Werewolf” (1974, chart peak No. 28). Emmerson started his solo career while still a member of band. His first solo hit, 1972’s “Control Of Me,” reached No. 5 in early 1973, and the follow-up, “Cry Your Eyes Out,” reached  the Top 20 later that year. In 1975, the band broke up, and Emmerson’s only solo single after that was 1977’s “Borderline.”

He would later reunite with some bandmates, playing annual fundraisers for an Ottawa pediatric children’s hospital. Emmerson also re-recorded “Signs” with a lineup of Canadian musicians, and recorded “Signs4Change” to support Friends of the Earth Canada, and raise awareness for climate change.

SOCAN offers its heartfelt condolences to his wife of 34 years, Monik Emmerson; daughter Kristina Emmerson-Barrett; and Emmerson’s extended family, friends, and fans.

Six SOCAN members were among 135 appointments to the Order of Canada on Dec. 29, 2021, for their achievements as Canadian musicians and composers.

Appointed as companions of the Order of Canada were:

  • Liona Boyd, for her significant and sustained contributions to Canada’s musical landscape as “The First Lady of Guitar.”
  • Ian Tamblyn, for his enduring contributions as a folk music icon, adventurer, and cultural ambassador for Canada.

Appointed as members were:

  • John Estacio, for his expertise as a composer and for his contributions to Canadian opera.
  • Yves Lambert, for his role in the revival, modernization and promotion of traditional French-Canadian music.
  • Andrew Paul MacDonald, for his contributions to contemporary Canadian classical, jazz, and electronic music, as an educator, composer and performer.
  • Reg Schwager, for his indelible contributions to the Canadian jazz scene as a leading guitarist and composer.

Though not a SOCAN member, Jackie Richardson was appointed as an honourary member of the Order of Canada, for her contributions as a Canadian jazz legend, and as a leader and mentor to young performers in her community.

Duff Roman, also not a SOCAN member, was appointed as a member of the Order, for his contributions to the Canadian music industry as a broadcaster and executive, and for his steadfast promotion of Canadian talent.

All of the above will be inducted into the Order of Canada during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, to be  scheduled once public health measures allow.

SOCAN congratulate all of these appointees on this great achievement!

Her biggest hit was undoubtedly “Jai un amour qui ne veut pas mourir” (freely paraphrased, undying love). Since the announcement of her death on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021, at the age of 74, Renée Martel has been receiving an outpouring of tributes, proving that our love for her won’t die, despite the great void she leaves in her family, but also in the Québec music community, and among her fans of all generations. 

Rightly so, since Martel was considered the Queen of the Québe country scene. Daughter of legendary country singer Marcel Martel and singer Noëlla Therrien, she followed in her parents’ footsteps at a very young age. Her very first stage appearance was at the age of five and for many years afterward, she joined her parents on tour everywhere. But it was as a pop singer that she began making a name for herself. Her immensely popular song “Liverpool” made her a mainstay on Jeunesse d’aujourd’hui, a Québec TV show similar to American Bandstand. She followed that up with “Je vais à Londres,” a classic late-’60s hit.  

 It was in the early ’70s that she began going back to her country roots. It was among her extended country music family that she would shine the brightest, and pursue an exceptional career, marked by great memorable songs — some of which she wrote the lyrics to, but always remaining extremely loyal to her frequent collaborators: Martine Pratte, Nelson Minville, Bourbon Gautier, Martine Coupal, and a few more who left their mark on her repertoire. Admired by Québec’s entire musical community, M artel wass offered songs by several other songwriters, gestures meant as a bouquet of flowers: Pierre Huet, François Guy, Pierre Flynn and Michel Rivard, to name but a few. 

 In 2018, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award during the SOCAN Gala. During the event, she received the honour from her own daughter, Laurence Lebel. You can re-live this touching moment below, as well as the interview she gave us immediately after leaving the stage, still overwhelmed by so much love and recognition.    

To the woman whose music still resonates in the hearts of her passionate listeners, as well as those who, among the younger generation of artists, consider her an inspiration and an example of longevity to follow, thank you, Ms. Martel, for having offered us nothing less than excellence. SOCAN pays tribute to this Great Lady of Song and extends its deepest condolences to her family, friends, and all those who knew and loved her.