By STUART NULMAN

When Sheldon Kagan decided two years ago to call it a career after 50 years of being a well established DJ, party planner, concert promoter and impresario in Montreal, there was one big dilemma he faced: what should he do with the thousands of  pieces of recorded music – on 45s, LPs, cassette tapes and CDs – that he amassed throughout that half century.

 

 

“I believed all along that the record collection would stay forever, but I didn’t need a four-bedroom house any more to store it in. So I wondered if I should put it in storage, but I wanted my legacy to continue through that collection,” said Kagan during a recent interview at his lakeside condo in Dorval.

So he put out the word that the collection was up for sale; but when he met with some prospective buyers who preferred to purchase certain records individually for between 15 cents and $5 a piece rather than the whole lot, Kagan quashed the sale and decided to donate it to an institution that he knew would preserve the entire collection the way it should be. After he conducted some thorough research, he narrowed his choices between the McCord Museum, McGill University and Vanier College.

 

“McGill wanted to evaluate the collection, and the McCord Museum was hesitant to accept the collection because of certain fire regulations; however, when I met with the executive of Vanier College, I felt very good about what they planned to do with the collection. And Vanier also has a really good music program, so it was only natural that I donate it there.”

 

So four panel trucks later, Kagan’s vast music collection, along with his extensive archives that included books, photographs, DJ equipment, memorabilia and documentation (which includes performer contracts from every concert he promoted), made its way to Vanier College in 2015, and the donation was officially recognized in a special ceremony that took place at the CEGEP’s auditorium, which was attended by over 400 people.

 

And the proverbial icing on the cake occurred this year on September 6, when the entire collection was officially inaugurated as the Linda and Sheldon Kagan Collection, and has been integrated as part of Vanier’s Learning Commons/Library, which recently underwent a massive $4.4 million renovation. The ceremony took place at the newly-renovated library, which was attended by a number of Kagan’s friends, family and performers. Special guests such as Father John Walsh, singer Patsy Gallant, and author Alan Hustak also attended.

 

Kagan, who was a music fan and aspiring mobile DJ since his younger days growing up in the Snowdon district, began his record collection by constantly winning the latest album releases through call-in contests on Dave Boxer’s hugely popular show on CFCF Radio (somehow he managed to figure out the rotating phone number system that Boxer used, and always ended up getting the line and winning records on his show), not to mention winning tickets to see the Beatles perform in Toronto and the Rolling Stones do one of their first gigs in Montreal.

So in 1965, at the tender age of 15, Kagan made up his mind to carve out a career as a DJ; a career ambition that at first didn’t sit well with his parents. “I knew I wanted to be a DJ, but my parents were not excited about my choice to say the least. My dad even had my uncle, who was a dentist, try to help me become a dentist like him.”

 

After he rejected a future in dentistry, Kagan quit school and moved out of his family’s home on Westbury Avenue, and set himself up in his own apartment on Decarie Boulevard and Bourret Street, just above Schneider’s Steak House. The next step he took towards becoming a DJ happened during an unexpected visit he paid to St. Paul’s Church on Cote St. Catherine Road.

 

“I went to see the minister and offered to do a party for his parishioners. He wanted to know what radio station I was working at. When I told him that I was a mobile DJ, he replied ‘What’s that?’ I then promised him for a fee of $25, I will present an evening of music and games in which everyone will have a great time. Somehow, I managed to talk him into it,” he said.

 

However, that wasn’t enough for young Sheldon Kagan. After landing that first gig at St. Paul’s Church, he decided to try his luck again at the nearby Snowdon YM-YWHA. “I walked in cold, and did the same pitch to the people at the Snowdon Y as I did at the church, and they took me in, too,” he said. “After that I thought to myself life was great, because I got two gigs at $25 each. And that’s how I started out as a mobile DJ.”

 

Within the next five years, Kagan and his crew of mobile DJs were doing an average of 20 parties a weekend for various groups and organizations across the city, in which he not only furnished recorded music and games, but also added live performances by several popular local rock bands of the period, such as J.B. and the Playboys, The Haunted and The Rabble.

 

It was at one of his DJ gigs – specifically the RBC Christmas party at the old Windsor Hotel – that a certain guest’s request to play Frank Sinatra’s song “My Way” ended up with Kagan meeting the person who would later become his wife, Linda. “When that young lady asked me if I could play ‘My Way’, I said I didn’t have the record, and I told her I could call her tomorrow morning and play it for her. So she gave me her phone number and the next morning, I called her with ‘My Way” blaring in the background. I then invited her out on a date, and I said to her the only thing was that I was working that night and if she would like to come with me to that gig, which was at Mother Tucker’s restaurant. She agreed, and ended up helping me carry all the equipment. That girl was my wife Linda, and we have been married for the past 35 years,” he said.

 

 

By the end of the 1960s, Kagan who was barely 20 years old, decided to take his entertainment business to the next level. “At the time, I realized there were no big bands performing live in Montreal, so I decided to do some research and go to New York City, pound the pavement and meet up with some agents. I knew there were some agents who probably didn’t want to meet me because I was so young and believed I had no credibility,” he said. “But one agent agreed to meet me, and flew me to New York on business class, booked me a room at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and gave me a limo at my disposal. When I finally walked into that agent’s office for the meeting, I felt he probably wanted to say ‘Sheldon, how come you father’s not here?’”

Somehow, Kagan’s power to persuade worked, because as a result of that meeting, he managed to put together his very first live concert as a promoter in December of 1969, which was legendary jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie at Place des Arts. Since that first concert, Kagan has staged a total of 75 concerts – most of them at Place des Arts – that featured some of the greatest names in rock, folk, jazz and big band music, such as Duke Ellington, Ravi Shankar, Miles Davis, Buddy Rich, Lighthouse, Dave Brubeck, George Benson, Dionne Warwick and The Commodores.

And as with any longtime entertainment impresario, Kagan has no shortage of fascinating behind the scenes stories to share. One personal favorite involves the rock duo Loggins & Messina, legendary Columbia Records boss Clive Davis and a contract for $500.

 

“It was in 1972, and I was organizing a show for Dawson College’s winter carnival, which featured Billy Preston and John Hammond. Two weeks before the show, I got a call from Clive Davis, who told me about a brand new act that Columbia was taking on called Loggins & Messina, and they wanted them to perform in Montreal in order to get some feedback from a smaller market audience that was not in the U.S. He told me that he would consider it a personal favour if I signed them up for a gig, and he would charge me only $500 for it,” he said. “Well, the duo came to Montreal and blew everyone away at that show. Six months later, Loggins & Messina released their first single, which became a big hit. So I called Clive Davis’ office again to book them for another gig. I couldn’t reach him, and his secretary told me to call the William Morris Agency instead; they said I could book Loggins & Messina … only this time for $175,000!”

In 1980, Kagan took another step in his growing resume, and decided to stage a bridal show. “I wanted to get more gigs. So with a handful of vendors and over 200 brides in attendance, I put together a bridal show at the Holiday Inn Pointe Claire that promised everything under one roof for their bridal and wedding needs,” he said. Three years later, the bridal show, now called the Salon de la mariee, set up shop at the newly opened Palais des congres. “It became the first public show that the Palais ever held, and it has been running there every year for the past 35 years,” he added.

 

Officially retired for more than two years, Kagan is not content with just resting on his laurels, musing on his 50-year legacy in the Montreal entertainment scene. He still organizes parties and shows on an occasional basis, mainly for about five community organizations or charities that he wishes to support (for example, the annual volunteer party at the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors), where he is the DJ.

 

As well, this November, Kagan will be releasing his memoirs that will recount his life and career in the entertainment industry. The self-published, illustrated book – which took Kagan eight months to write — will be available for sale on Amazon.

 

After a half century of being a highly regarded showman, Kagan believes his philosophy for success in such a competitive industry is quite a simple, uncomplicated one: “Never give up,” he said. “I always had to think out of the box because when I started, people were amazed that a 15-year-old could go ahead and do something like what I did. Always believe what you believe in and persevere no matter what.”

 

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