Doug Riley: Song For the Doctor

I recently had the honour of directing a choir for the recording and live performance of  “Song For the Doctor”, written in memory of Doug Riley, one of Canada’s greatest musicians.

Doug Riley was a Canadian musical treasure, a genius who could play anything he wanted — and did. He died recently at age 62 on his way home to Prince Edward Island from a gig. His passing sent shockwaves throughout the Canadian music community: there’s hardly a professional musician in Canada who didn’t know or play with Doug over the years.

One of his dear friends Debbie Fleming (my longtime singing pal from “Hampton Avenue”) spontaneously wrote a song for him: “Song For the Doctor”, so named for his own nickname “Dr. Music”.  Debbie shared it with another of Doug’s friends, musician and producer Lou Pomanti. Suddenly it took on a life of its own: next thing we knew, Phase One Studios was booked, a live concert was organized and dozens of Doug’s musician friends offered to join in. The vocalists ended up as a who’s who of Canadian talent: Molly Johnson, Jackie Richardson, Dione Taylor and Wayne St. John (to name but a few) all offered their voices.

Debbie wrote choir parts, which I had helped sing and record for a demo recording sent to the singers beforehand. In the studio, we ended up with a fantastic choir but no director, so I offered to step in. It was a joyous experience… the energy coming from everyone was nothing short of inspiring, and the crowd of seasoned professionals very graciously allowed this unknown guy to lead them in the recording.

The concert on November 15 was even more moving. In the whole show the only thought in my head was “joy”. I came off the stage knowing this:  in the big picture, I don’t care if I become rich from my music, or famous. If I can spread as much joy, and be the cause of so much love, I’ll consider it a life well spent.

It’s funny how things come full circle… my first opportunity to work with Debbie came in 1996 when I was introduced to her by our mutual friend, Phil Dwyer, at one of Doug’s gigs at the Montreal Bistro. Eleven years later and here I am with Debbie, helping to put music together in his memory. I never knew Doug personally, yet his presence helped shaped my musical path. But I guess, as everyone who knew him tells me, that’s just the kind of guy he was.

“Song For the Doctor” is available for purchase here :  all proceeds from CD sales will go towards the Doug Riley Memorial Foundation, a music scholarship set up by Doug’s wife Jan.

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