If ever there was a happy and contented has-been it’s former MuchMusic veejay, popular host of multiple music specials featuring interviews with the biggest stars imaginable, MuchMoreMusic’s leading on-air personality, radio jock and all-round music renaissance man, BILL WELYCHKA. He can now add “author” to his long list of skills and credits with the recent publication of his autobiography “A Happy Has-been”.
I remember the first time I was aware of Bill’s presence on my tv screen back in the 80s, especially towards the end of the decade when he hosted “Outlaws & Heroes” featuring the “new country” sounds and interviews with Nashville’s (and Bakersfield’s) newest minted stars who brought the old-timey sounds of Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, Conway Twitty, Eddy Arnold and the Patsies – Cline and Montana – forward towards the 21st century by adding new flavours to the twangs. These were MY people! ( Bill below with a young Garth Brooks)Like most showbiz stories, Bill has experienced highs and lows, as well as stabs in the back and dizzying heights of success and popularity throughout his career which started out behind the scenes, editing footage for the OGs of MuchMusic when it launched in the early 80s as Canada’s answer to the US MTV. His book recounts his “adventures”, not dirty laundry, and the book makes for a great read and you’ll find out cool secrets and “would you believes..” from the early days of the Canadian and int’l music scenes.
A definite “would you believe…” is that Bill has also dipped his toes in the professional wrestling world (I was into wrestling as a little kid back in the 60s when I watched Killer Kowalski and his famous “sleeper hold” with Dad on B&W tv back in Australia). Yeah, you gotta read that chapter! I recently reconnected with Bill and he graciously answered some of my questions about the book and his life over the past decades….here are his responses, thoughts and musings: You already had quite the exciting career behind the scenes when you took over Outlaws & Heroes on MuchMusic – who was your favourite artist to interview? Were you old school (George Jones, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Marty Stewart) or “new country” eg: Travis Tritt, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Dwight Yoakam? I was first turned on to country in 1986…the year that really ushered in the New Traditionalist Movement in country music. That was the year of debut albums by Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle and Randy Travis. As I wrote in the book, these cats were alternative to me. No one I knew listened to country! I fell in love with country in 1986, but immediately did my homework and went back and discovered George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Hank William Sr., Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Merle and the other legends. I still listen to THAT kind of country to this day but haven’t really listened to anything new since about 2000.In the mid-90s, your on-air focus was switched from country to rock and alt. – were you already a fan of these other genres and how difficult was is (or smooth) to transition your research and interviews? I have listened to all kinds of music since kindergarten. I always looked at music as a badge. My tastes in music have always varied…. rock, folk, funk, heavy metal, alternative. It was an easy transition for me to be moved over to regular flow programming, but the hardest thing was coming to grips with the nagging question “What will the audience think?” Would they accept the ‘country guy’ interviewing The Stone Roses and introducing hip-hop videos? It was a short-lived concern. I was accepted and in-time the audience understood that I LOVED all kinds of music and LOVED interviewing everybody. I write about it in the book…I wasn’t the cute one, the wacky one, the political one…I was the one that loved creating television and aspired to always conduct high-quality interviews.
I know you were always happy to lend your name and presence to charitable endeavours and fundraisers (I invited you to host the 1999 OSPCA fundraiser The Fur Ball and you were brilliant). When you supported World Vision Canada, how were you affected by filming in Africa and the poverty you witnessed? Those experiences have stayed with me to this day. Every charity appearance or assignment has. That two-week trip to Africa or travelling with the UN to Haiti and India, you see conditions you couldn’t imagine people living in. But you also see hope and meet people that have devoted their lives to improving the lives of others. Upon arriving home after those kinds of assignments, you realize that NOTHING in my life could compare to the existence of some. One really does count their blessings. Even here in Kingston, I devote a lot of time to emceeing numerous benefits and charities. It’s a beautiful caring community and giving back is infectious. (Bill on stage at The Fur Ball with comedian & fellow tv host Carla Collins)As part of your personal civic awareness and commitment to helping those without a voice, can you talk about Men Rocking for Women and the launch of the White Ribbon Campaign? Men Rocking For Women was a charity concert I organized and emceed in Ottawa. It was after hearing about Ottawa-area women’s shelters being over-flowing and under-funded. The idea was male musicians joining together on stage performing to raise money for these shelters. There was also a message…there is no room in our world for men’s violence of any kind against women.
Jeff Martin (The Tea Party) got me involved in the White Ribbon Campaign in the mid 90s. The WRC is a global movement of guys joining together to end men’s violence against women. He asked me to emcee the WRC concerts each year. I did so, very eagerly.
Partial proceeds from book sales will be donated to the WRC and women’s shelters across Canada. I write about it extensively in the book.
I loved MuchMoreMusic’s The Story of…. shows. In your book, you talk about how much you enjoyed talking with artists who have moved into a second or third act of their lives and careers. Is this book your own The Story of….? Hahaha! I suppose so. The idea for the book partially came from being asked for decades or being told “Are you ever going to write a book?” “You should write a book!”
It would usually go in one ear and out the other. I honestly thought “No one is going to care.” But during COVID, I kept getting asked to be on all these podcasts to talk about me, my life and my career. People wanted me to share my story. One day, I started writing down all these stories and experiences I was relating. One weekend I just started banging away at my computer. Towards the end of 2021, I realized I might have a book here! I kept at it for a year and it was finished in Dec. of 2022. It came out in August 2023 and in its first week was a Top 10 Amazon Best Seller and a number one download. The reception has been amazing. I have been doing an Ontario book-tour at Chapters/ Indigo and it’s been awesome meeting so many people who have purchased the book. It keeps selling, too! This book has legs…it’s amazing to me. There will be a further book-tour in 2024. It is available in retail across Canada and on-line. There is already talk of a second edition! (Below with Ice T, Prince, Janet Jackson, getting smooched by Lisa Marie Presley) You recount so many extraordinary celebrity interviews and social situations, some of which were sketchy or scary. Did you ever find yourself in a situation where you didn’t think you’d make it out alive? I never really thought of things that way. I have always maintained a life lived in fear is a life half-lived. I would do anything to make a story better. I have bungee jumped numerous times, went skydiving, have rappelled down buildings, participated in a demolition derby, have done several polar-dips, been in numerous wrestling matches, have broken bones and tore muscles all for the sake of a TV story and for the audience. Plus, it would always make great TV! (A fun memory Bill writes about is his happy meeting with Brett Michaels and Poison – being brought out on stage)You were witness to the demise of the original concept of MM and MMM, and the slow slide to tabloid television-style programming at both networks. Do you think the format could or should be returned to our televisions or has the ‘net and streaming services killed off any chance to bring back good music, good interviews, good entertainment? No amount of creativity or money could recapture the essence or magic of what those channels were. They played a vital role in the creation of the Canadian music business and contributed huge amounts to Canadian pop culture. I am fascinated by the fascination with MuchMusic. Look at the new doc by Sean Menard, “299 Queen Street West”. It’s a doc currently touring across Canada. It’s AMAZING! Good for Sean for reminding a couple generations of MuchMusic’s importance. (see screening schedule below) I miss seeing ‘great’ interviews on TV. I know many people do! My specials and interviews (on my YouTube channel) have BIG numbers. That is a testament to people wanting to watch solid music television with fun and informative interviews that were allowed to breathe. Current pop culture entertainment shows feature 10 second soundbites about who is in rehab, who has cellulite, who is getting divorced. WHO cares????
In chapter 16, you name names of those mega-stars who you engaged in meaningful conversations, not just tabloid-esque fluff pieces. Apart from personal revelations on their part, did you ever learn anything about yourself undertaking these celebrity interviews? Absolutely! There were many life-lessons learned. Many are shared in the book. A lot of things about the importance of elevating everyone around us. It’s not just about putting celebs on pedestals, but everyday people who enrich our lives and make this world a better place. It’s about highlighting and shining a spotlight on doctors, first responders, teachers, volunteers.
I also talk about how dangerous egos can be. Just because someone is on TV or recognized in public does not give them a pass to be an asshole. (Below, Bill with pre-meltdown Britney Spears)Was there ever an interview you had to do with someone you did not respect or like his/her music? No need to name names but surely there were a few “stars” the suits insisted you chat with against your better judgement? I would never take away from someone’s talent even if I wasn’t a ‘fan’. Most of the time, I interviewed artists who I necessarily wouldn’t listen to when I went home…unless I was researching for an interview. I treat every interview subject the same, whether I was a fan or not. I wanted the experience to be a good one for the artist and for their fans. That being said, I have interviewed Marilyn Manson a few times. I like the music but would often NOT like the message. I love his stance on the importance of individuality, but his views on the bible and Christianity I have a problem with. His crowd chants of “We hate Love. We love hate” is detrimental messaging to a 13 year old. But, oh well. Christ’s teachings endure. Marilyn did not.
I’m so happy for you that you have finally found a wonderful home in Kingston (I love that town) and a soul-mate to keep you grounded and feeling loved and worthy. Do you have any other bucket-list gigs or adventures you’d like to experience? Thanks for asking! Yes, the word ‘Happy’ is the most important part of the book’s tittle “A Happy Has-been”. The ‘has-been’ part of the title has been an interesting topic for interviewers and people that have bought the book. It’s funny to me! I admit the title is self-deprecating but to some, I am a ‘has-been’. I explain it in the book. There are some people who might have watched me in the 90s or the early 2000s who might only recognize my name from that time. Their reaction might be “Oh, yeah…that guy! Is he dead? Is he still working? He’s a has-been.” But there are people who have followed my every move since then, to where I am now. I have worked non-stop in television since 1988. Since 1992, I have been both behind the scenes and on-air with no break. (below with Kingston’s own Gord Downie & The Tragecly Hip’s concert in Kingston, Ontario)I have been here in Kingston for almost 12 years now. I host and produce Global News Morning, a Corus Entertainment property. I love whom I work with and I love this city and its citizens and the energy here. If I died tomorrow, I’ve had the best life! I still have the best life!
If fans would like to follow your adventures or attend a book signing, how do they follow you on social media?
Facebook & Instagram: @billwelychka
For more info about the book, head to www.billwelychka.ca It’s available across Canada at fine book-stores everywhere. Thanks for being interested!
Thank you so much, Bill, my memories of hanging out at MuchMusic, star “minding” and dealing with bus loads of groupies came flooding back with each page-turn. This is the perfect gift for anyone who loves music be it pop, rock, R&B, grunge, hip-hop, country…whatever.
Available from Amazon & fine bookstores across the country
ISBN: 978-1-03-918346-9 (Hardcover), 978-1-03-918345-2 (Paperback) or 978-1-03-918347-6 (eBook)
Above – Bill with long-time friend, the Hip’s Paul Langlois