The Paths of Burton Cummings and Rosalie Trombley Cross Once More

It started with "These Eyes" and her ear.

RosalieTrombleyPicOn Friday, Canadian singer-songwriter Burton Cummings will be inducted as a solo artist into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s new Calgary home at the National Music Centre. On Saturday, Rosalie Trombley (pictured), a former radio station music director who was instrumental in his success, will be honored in Calgary with the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award. And on Sunday, at the close of the two-hour Juno Awards ceremony from the western province city’s Scotiabank Saddledome, a special tribute will be paid to Cummings.

As Detroit News reporter Susan Whitall recently recalled, Trombley picked out Cummings and Randy Bachman‘s Guess Who song “These Eyes” very early on. By putting the song in heavy rotation on Windsor-Detroit powerhouse station CKLW, she triggered a series of momentous events:

The song, with its impassioned lyrics sung by a 20-year-old Cummings with more soul and heartbreak than he could possibly have known, captured the ears of CKLW’s many listeners in Metro Detroit, northern Ohio and beyond. That prompted RCA to sign the band in America, and they become one of the best-selling acts of the ’70s…

“That changed our lives forever,” Cummings said of CKLW’s airplay.

“Detroit was a pretty major market, so once it got onto the charts in Detroit, that was one of the reasons that Jr. Walker & the All Stars recorded “These Eyes” in 1969,” the singer added. “Radio was still pretty segregated then. Once Jr. Walker recorded “These Eyes,” it got into a lot of urban centers that maybe the Guess Who version wouldn’t have.”

Trombley, 76, is unfortunately not well enough to travel to Calgary this weekend to the Juno Awards gala dinner, so her three children will accept in her place. There’s lots of press coverage in Canada this week related to all this, including a CBC piece  for which Cummings highlighted five meaningful songs from his catalog. The second one he talks about, “Im Scared” (the first track on Cummings’ 1976 solo debut), had its genesis right here in New York:

”I was in New York City and it was cold at Christmastime and … I was running back to my hotel and I passed this church. I went in basically to warm my hands and sat in the very back pew. There was not another human being in there, but I felt this presence really and truly – not to sound corny. I left a little bit upset and ran back to the hotel, scribbled down some lyrics, and it ended up being “I’m Scared.” It’s not a love song, it’s a song about wondering and questioning.”

Trombley’s professional imprint extended far and wide. Bob Seger wrote a song about her, while Elton John credits her with a key decision involving “Benny and the Jets.” She started out at Windsor, Ontario’s CKLW in 1962 as a receptionist.

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