Iconic Record Label - Right in Your Neighbourhood

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These days, it’s not uncommon to find someone in your neighbourhood who runs a small business out of their home. You might not even know that, say, Shirley has a hair salon in her basement, or Glen’s spare room is actually the headquarters for Global Chartered Accountants Inc.

It may surprise you, however, that inside an unassuming house on a quiet tree-lined street in Edmonton, stands an internationally respected, award winning record label.

Stony Plain Records was formed in 1976 by Holger Petersen. At that time, Holger was already known locally as a radio host, journalist, and a tireless champion of roots music.

When he was very young Petersen says he was fascinated by the music he heard coming through the family radio. He’d wonder “How did that big band get into that little box?”

With the advent rock radio, Holger would study the weekly hit list and make his way to the local shopping centre to buy a fistful of 45 rpm records off the display.

Like many kids his age, the British Invasion of the early 1960’s when The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and other British bands were taking over the airwaves , was when Petersen got totally hooked. But one particular album was pivotal. “It was “John Mayall’s Blues Breakers” album featuring Eric Clapton that really hit me.”

At the time, Petersen says, there was a band forming down every block in town. So with him on drums and high school pal Steve Boddington on guitar, they learned every song off that Mayall record. The duo soon became a full-fledged band, The Glass Prism, which evolved into the group Hot Cottage.

While the band was a favourite of the University crowd, Holger became more obsessed with collecting records. “I thought these things were gold”. He’d scour the liner notes, memorize the names of the musicians, studios, and producers involved in their creation. To further his knowledge in music production, Holger enrolled in the newly offered Radio Arts Program at NAIT. He says “I felt my life would be complete if my name was on a record. I knew it wouldn’t be as an artist or musician, so I thought, maybe I could be a record producer”. The tech institute offered another golden opportunity for Petersen, when he walked into the tiny office of the school newspaper, the ‘NAIT Nugget’,  and asked if he could write a music column. 

With little direction, Petersen started pounding out record reviews and set out to do interviews with touring musicians coming through town. “The first interview was with Spencer Davis, and the second one was Roy Orbison’’.  In today’s perspective, that would be as if his first few interviews were with Drake and Ed Sheeran.  Holger went on to conduct interviews for the paper, gaining access to the back stage dressing rooms to chat with artists like Little Richard, Albert Collins, and Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.

The experience gained in getting those interviews, of working through the management structure of record labels, publicists and promoters, was critical in Petersen’s early development as a record producer. Paramount was learning how to relate to the artists and gaining their trust.

During one interview in the early 1970’s with members of Willie Dixon’s Chicago Blues All Stars, Petersen suggested he could arrange a studio recording session with the band’s legendary harmonica player Walter Horton. To his surprise and delight, Horton said yes. Holger contacted the members of his old band Hot Cottage to play on the session, and the resulting record became the first one with the words “Produced by Holger Petersen”.

The disc was released on the London Records label in the US and the UK. The success of that disc and subsequent recordings with blues artists Roosevelt Sykes and Johnny Shines, prompted Holger to start his own label.

Through the more than forty years of the label’s existence, Stony Plain Records has released over 400 titles which have garnered dozens of JUNO nominations, JUNO awards, and Grammy nominations alike.

Artists like Lucinda Williams, Corb Lund, Jimmy Vaughan, Long John Baldry, Jeff Healey, Maria Mudaur,  Ian Tyson and even Jimi Hendrix have all released recordings on the Stony Plain Records label.

Though Holger remains passionate about blues music...it represents a large portion of the label’s catalogue, he’s inspired to work with a variety of artists in many different genres. “It’s the sincerity of the artist, the commitment, and the ability as a songwriter or musician to say something new or from a perspective”.

The business of music has gone through many changes in the forty-plus years since Stony Plain Records began. From vinyl discs to digital downloads, from pirate radio stations to streaming services, getting the music out continues to be a challenge. But Petersen says it’s not all swimming against the tide. “It’s a dream job that’s always evolving. When you’re working with artists like Ian Tyson, Ronnie Earl or MonkeyJunk, they’re always writing new material, developing, and being discovered by new audiences. For me, it’s the relationship with the artists that I really value, and trying to help them in that process of getting their music out there.”

Holger Petersen was a founder of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, hosts Canada’s longest running blues radio show, ‘Natch’l Blues’ on CKUA Radio, and is the host of the CBC Radio Network blues program ‘Saturday Night Blues’, which has aired for over 30 years. He is a member of the Order of Canada and has an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Athabasca University.

For more information, go to stonyplainrecords.com or check out either of Holger’s excellent books of interviews ‘Talking Music’ and ‘Talking Music 2: Blues and Roots Mavericks