Glenn Parfitt – Dedicated to the enjoyment of others.
Glenn Parfitt has music in he genes. His three great uncles came to Victoria in 1889 from England with a steamer trunk, two violins and a cello and they became very instrumental in starting some of Victoria’s earliest choirs at orchestras.
As a young child, Glenn was expected to be able to carry a tune and play an instrument, and he began taking violin lessons with a teacher through Oakland’s Elementary School. After a few months of having the teacher’s bow rapped over his fingers for making mistakes, he decided he couldn’t take it anymore, and started hiding his violin in the bushes on the way to school.
Growing up, my mother had the AM radio on, and I was always listening to country music and real early rock and roll. The first real bands I saw were at the Oak Bay Junior High dance. There was band called ‘Blues Union’ and I thought they were just fantastic. From that point on, any time there was a band playing and I had an opportunity to see them, I would go and enjoy the music, but not standing in the back and trying to run around chasing girls, I was the big, tall guy in the front row, literally in the front of the stage.
In about 1977, a friend of Glenn’s was playing with a band that was looking to get a light show. They came to him to ask if he would like to invest some money in the band, and without knowing much about music at that point, he decided they were pretty good, and he would support them.
“The manager took great offence to it and said he would just buy the light show. They said, “Okay you buy the light show and you be the light man, and we’ll make Glenn the manager.” Then I just started finding them work. In those days, disco music was just starting to get hot and all the venues in town were turning into discos because they didn’t have to pay a band, they just had to make a one-time investment and buy some albums. It was a tough sled trying to find jobs.”
My genes and my family background tell me that if you can’t figure it, out make it, so I started renting halls, and I got liquor permits, and I made posters up and started hanging them all over the place, and just started being a promoter.
“We started putting on hall dances and it got really, really popular. Popular to the point where I started getting approached by other bands asking if I could do same thing for them, and before I knew it the whole thing just steamrolled. Because my family was so entrenched in Victoria, I had a real network that I could work from, no internet in those days obviously, so it was a lot of word of mouth, but if there was a party and there was fun happening, the word got out quickly and everybody got the location and knew where to show up.”
Suddenly, I’m a booking agency with about a dozen bands and I’m putting on dances all over town. I’d never done this before; I had no formal training, and I was doing it by the hip.
In 1979, Glenn was formed a partnership with Ron Wright. Earlier, Ron had been grinding him about packing dances all over town with his clientele, but being an entrepreneur and having previously owned an agency, he saw an opportunity. Before they knew it, they were really busy. Live music was starting to turn around and come back, and they had a whole bunch of bands in their roster.
“Ron also had a side business called “High Rollers”, which was a roller rink on Yates St, and at the same time, he was running a nightclub. We would finish up at nightclub and then at two o’clock in the morning, all the bands, some of the select staff, and people that we liked, all went up to the roller rink, cracked open a few cases of beer, and started to roller skate around listening to music. This was fine except as people got a little more loaded, they started thinking that they were in a roller derby and all of a sudden, the bands are breaking fingers, breaking arms and elbows. We got a phone call from Bruce Allen’s office in Vancouver saying, “No more roller skating! You’re killing our roster because everybody’s coming back damaged from all these events!” We also used the rink to set up our own stage and lighting and to put on our own events. We had our own venue, used our own bands, did everything in house, and it just kept growing and growing.”
From there, Glenn and Ron opened an agency in a retail building downtown on the 500 block of Johnson St. It had rooms where they could have meetings, and bands would come in and hang out on the couch, wanting to be part of the scene and hoping while they were there a gig might get called in and they could pick it up before anybody else did.
“We had a real sort of a scene going for quite a while. I remember one day looking up and there was a bunch of guys walking in the front door with funny hats on. They went into the meeting room with my partner and when he came out, I asked, “What’s with these guys with the hats?” He said, “Don’t worry, this is going to make us a bunch of money. It’s a blues band.” I was a hard rock freak at that point and all the bands I was dealing with were top 40 rock and roll. Blues was just right over my head, not realizing that in fact what I was listening to was jacked up blues music when I was listening to Zeppelin. They went into the studio and recorded a 45 which was released on their own label, and they were getting some mild success and some minimal airplay from it. Then they went back into the studio to record another album, this time with Tom Lavin from the Powder Blues producing it. They recorded in his studio in Vancouver, and then they went and shopped it, and sure enough if they didn’t get a record deal with RCA.”
Out of nowhere, I’m representing a recording act, “Uncle Wiggly’s Hot Shoes Blues Band.” They are still all good friends of mine to this day. Wonderful cats. They still take the band out, knock the dust off, and take it around for a cruise once in a while every few years. They are just a wonderful genuine group of guys.
When Glenn was starting out, he was not representing the best-known bands, so he got the chance to watch a lot of musicians develop throughout their careers.
“That’s probably one of the best things I enjoy today. Now I can see them 40 years later, still playing and they’re so much better, so much smoother, so much more alert than when I first saw them. At the beginning, I was recognizing potential. Because I didn’t have access to the mainstream bands that were working the circuit, I was getting in at the beginning of all these musicians careers a lot of them went on to be in recording acts to which is kind of neat.”
Glenn was being asked to represent so many young bands. They didn’t have gigs and he wasn’t willing to stick his neck out on a paid gig, so wanting to see them in advance he went out to rehearsal spaces- people’s parents houses and basements.
“The most fun one I got was when I went to this house out in Central Saanich. I walked in and there were three teenage girls there with all the equipment set up and everything else ready to go. They were sort of a punk band. I immediately lit up because I knew that punk was around, and I knew it was starting to happen. I had sort of a taste of it but wasn’t really immersed in it at that point. These girls got out and played a set for me and at the end of it I thought, “You girls are wilder and a bag of wet cats! You are just amazing! You’ve got a lot of energy and you guys should really be doing something with this.” I thought it was unique, so I’d take a chance. My band, Telstar, had a rehearsal studio and because it was a fairly large place, we set up a pub night with a bar. We brought the girls to play the first set. Everybody turned around and looked at me and went, “What the hell was that?” I said, “That’s the future!” and they said, “If that’s the future, I’m out of the business!” Of course, we’re all laughing and joking about it and then later they said, “Don’t ever bring another band like that in here ever again!” So that was my beginning in the punk rock scene and that band of course would later go on become nationally and internationally known as “Dee Dee and the Dishrags”, later shortened to “The Dishrags.” They were essentially Canada’s first all-female punk band.”
By 1979, Glenn’s agency was starting to become known was starting to expand with the opening of three offices- one in Victoria, one in the Okanagan and one in Calgary. All of a sudden other agencies on the West Coast started to take notice.
“Everybody wondered, “Who are these guys, what are they doing, and what right do they have to be in the music business? They’re not even musicians and they don’t know anything!” We were sort of up against the wall right from the beginning, but we just kept going at it and it did pretty well. I got thrown into it and learned as I went.”
I really wanted to go to Vancouver because I was told that if you want to have a career and be in the big time, they don’t bring you from Victoria, you’ve got to be living in Vancouver so that they know you’ve made the commitment. By my third month there, I got a phone call from Sam Feldman’s saying, “We’ve had a change and we’d like to invite you to come and work for us.” I thought they were kidding, and I hung up the phone. I got a phone call back from one of the guys I knew that worked there and he said, “Man, he just offered you a job! It’s really happening!”. Boom! I’ve hit the big time. I’m working for the largest agency in the country booking bands! When Glenn got married and started having children, he felt his life needed a change.
“I found myself in a situation where I was working for businesspeople, but I was very sympathetic to the artists. I got to the point where I woke up in the morning go to work, looked in the mirror and didn’t like myself anymore. If had to be one of those guys that had the reputation of what agents and promoters are really like, I just couldn’t do it anymore. They told me I’d never work in the business again and I just walked away.”
When Glenn’s father passed away, he planned to move back to Victoria to help support his mother, and to take some of the load from his brother. A friend suggested that since he was no longer working in promotion, since he already knew everyone, he should try becoming a salesman for “The Q” radio station.
“I phoned “The Q” and they were interested and had heard about me, so I had an interview the sales manager. He wanted me to be a true suit-sell it at all costs, friend or foe, get the dough- the kind of guy that just cleans everybody out and then moves on to the next guy, which again was not my style, but I had a family I had to support so I thought I could probably “b.s.” my way through it. He phoned me back said they decided they were not going hire me. I offered to make them a deal where, without a client list, I would work for straight commission and would give them a list of all the businesspeople that I knew in town. I faxed over the list and within about an hour, I got the phone call saying I was hired, because of course all these were guys my family had worked with in business for years.”
That was about the same time the Rocktoria series started, so there I am right in the middle, even though I didn’t really want to be in the music business again. It was kind of neat being around the musicians again and watching the process of all the young ones coming in and trying to get trying to get a record, and then rehearsing, and showcasing, and getting picked as one of the contestants going into the studio.
Glenn’s life changed again when, as he put it, “a newfangled invention” came out, called “the internet”.
“I left “The Q” when I got a call from a guy who had just invested a whole bunch of money and needed a sales and marketing manager. He gave me a big cash signing bonus, and of course I blew it in one night down at a bar with all my friends from the radio station. A lot of people were getting dial up at that time through BC Tel, but nobody was using the huge backbone that Westel had that was actually built for the British Columbia Railway communication system all through the province. It was high-speed, huge trunk, lots of bandwidth, and I got the deal to get a chunk of that. So, the promoter in me went to Western Speedway and said I would build them a website no charge. They’d heard about websites but didn’t really know about what we were doing but they said OK. It turns out they were the fourth racetrack in North America to have a website. Hardly anybody had done it at that point. I went and did the same thing with “The Shamrocks” and they were the first senior men’s lacrosse team in the country to have a website. I was breaking ground once again all over the place.”
After a few years, Glenn went back to promoting, and with all the side hustling he was doing, decided he needed a website for himself. He had been doing some work someone with an internet company back East that, long before tools like WordPress existed, was trying to release a new product with self-authoring software so that you didn’t have to run code. They needed an example of what it could do, so Glenn decided to use it to build a website of music history, www.rcmusicproject.com.
“I put a bunch of bands on it, and they used the website that I created to show people what they could do. They ended up doing quite well by it. I separated the relationship I had with the guys back East because all of a sudden it had a lot of content, was a lot of work, and was costing them money to maintain, so they needed me to find some money. They were just paying me to promote, not sell it, so we parted.”
Glenn went and found somebody else who owned a computer store that had a server in the back, and he ran the website for a few years from there before deciding to work with a young graduate from Spectrum who was taking Computer Science at UVic.
“He had started up a thing called “Live Victoria” and from 2000 on, they were taking care of all the bands, the history of the bands and promoting them. Having the website gave bands a place to get on the net just by putting in all their information, and then they would post it on their website. We sort of decided we should work together, so I was helping increase the database which in that time was still pretty small, but it was starting to grow obviously because internet was taking off and bands knew they had to be part of it. If you were a band in the 2000’s, you signed up with “Live Victoria”, so you’d have a listing and a way to promote yourself. What he didn’t have was anything before 2000 which I had the keys to. It got bigger and bigger and bigger.
In January 2022, we relaunched the fifth version of the website and our database is shared with “Live Victoria”, “Live Vancouver”, and more. I’m not paying for it per se, other than my time and effort of keeping my part of it updated and increasing it.
“When I started it, I thought would do bands from the 1950s to 1980s because I could sort of figure all that out. Now the website goes from the 1800s to 1999. I’ve got 1150 bands and 180 venues on there and I get between 15,000 and 20,000 unique visitors a day and it holds over 80,000 images.”
Then Glenn had a stroke.“It’s harder for me now to get going. After the stroke it took me almost a year to be able to get functioning. I could not speak or end sentences. I could not write my own name or form an entire sentence. I was just struggling, and the website saved me because I put my brain into it. I thought if I could get the website going again, it would help me write again, it would help me finish sentences and it would help me get my voice back, so as well as helping all these musicians along the way, it brought my life back from looking like a vegetable to where I am today. I can still tell stories. I’ve lost the sight in my right eye, and I move a lot slower, but I can still talk, I got most of my brain back and I’m still supporting music wherever I can.”
Around 2019, after Glenn suffered a heart attack and had a second pacemaker put in, he realized that he should have a succession plan. His old friend, Ron Wright, went up to the university and asked for a meeting with the dean to let them know that the history of music in Victoria was essentially sitting in one man’s hands and that they needed to help find a place for it. Glenn had posters, pictures, records, and documentaries that he didn’t know what to do with.
The next day I got a phone call from the archive department at the University of Victoria saying that they would like to have a meeting with me to see if I would like to donate my collection.
“We had a meeting, and I got the first batch up there. I had a second batch that originally was earmarked to go to the BC archives but that’s when I had a triple bypass. That put everything on hold for quite a while and by the time I got back to the BC archives, everything had changed. The interest had gone, so I still have a little bit of it left. I’ve got a collection of signed guitars, and all these other memorabilia that people just kept giving me. All the videos are all out of my possession. It’s all gone to UVic and they’ve got it in their archives. You can go up and look it up.
One of the proudest pieces I had in the collection was a newspaper that ran for 1966 and 67 called Offbeat Magazine. This was a music newspaper that came out and predated the Georgia Straight and Rolling Stone. This guy was producing the newspaper out of his parent’s basement, and it got so popular that it was being distributed out to Toronto. I got pictures of guys like Roy Orbison reading their copy of Offbeat Magazine. This was cutting edge! It was the original, way before everybody else. I ended up donating an entire collection of every volume of it to UVic.
To this day, when media want music history, I’m more or less the go-to guy.”
After all these years, we were curious what was Glenn’s favourite part about being a promoter.“A full house! Yeah, my birthday parties are amazing!
For my 50th birthday party, I had 500 people at the Langford Legion. It only held 400, and the only reason I didn’t get busted by the cops is because at any given time, 50 to 100 people were outside smoking.
For my 60th birthday, I was at the Red Lion and it held 300 people. I sold tickets for 400. The cops did a walk through, but everybody was all dressed up because we’re older now, we all had nice clothes on, there wasn’t a bunch of rowdies and there were lots of people outside, so they didn’t bother doing a head count, they just walked away. I love a full house because it shows that I can get people together to have fun and enjoy themselves in kind of a safe non-confrontational environment. Over 100 musicians played on my 60th birthday.” I brought the whole community back together in one place for the whole day and everybody had fun.
Author: Christina Morrison
Photographer: AL Smith