The Beat Goes On: The Rosalie Trombley & Tim Trombley Legacy
Written by: Sherrilynn Colley
Rosalie Trombley has been referred to as “the number one Music Director in the United States”,” The Hitmaker,” “The Girl with the Golden Ear” and “An unsung treasure of Canada”. The Juno’s called her “one of the most influential persons in radio history.”
Her ability to select songs that would become major hits was legendary. There is even a Rosalie Trombley Award for females who make their mark in broadcasting. It is given out at Canadian Music Week and honors this renowned Music Director and her work at the Windsor-Detroit Top 40 powerhouse CKLW (“The Big 8”) from 1968-84
Trombley started out as a switchboard operator and receptionist and worked in the music library until 1968 when she became the music director. Her role was to find out what listeners liked and her choices of songs could often influence its success.
CKLW was a Windsor Ontario based station but it covered Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois as well as Southwestern Ontario. Cleveland and Toledo with a 50,000-watt signal. The strategy to program for the Detroit and US market resulted in it being one of the largest audiences in North America.
Trombley helped many artists including Elton John, Kiss, The Guess Who, Earth Wind and Fire, Paul Anka, Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Seger…. CKLW was the first to play the Guess Who’s “These Eyes,” and other picks by Rosalie “Everybody Plays the Fool” “Taking Care of Business, ‘if you Could Read My Mind, all became hits. She even persuaded Elton John to release “Bennie and the Jets” as a single, predicting it would be a cross-over hit, appealing to black and white listeners. Seger’s 1973 song “Rosalie” (“She’s got the tower, she’s got the power) was written about her and was also recorded by Thin Lizzy and The Sheepdogs. Alice Cooper credited Trombley’s influence on his success stating “we owe her everything”.
Trombley was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the first annual Motor City Music Awards, in Detroit in 1992. She was inducted into the Canadian Music Week Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame and the Motor City (Detroit) Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rosalie received an honorary diploma from St. Clair College in Windsor and a music theatre performance scholarship was given in her name.
The first woman to receive the ‘Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award’ at the 2016 Juno Awards was Trombley Burton Cummings — who credits her with kickstarting his entire career — introduced the video in person. Bob Seger paid tribute to her in the video they played at the Junos. “I just wanna tell the world how much she meant to me, and how good she was for my career,” said Seger “I owe her a lot, and I think she sure earned it.”
In 1979 she was honored by an invitation to attend the White House Dinner for the Black Music Association and she had the opportunity to meet President Jimmy Carter. In 2005, she was awarded the Radio Trailblazer Award – mentoring and inspiring Canadian women in radio. This award was named the Rosalie Award after the first recipient which was Rosalie Trombley.
After leaving the CKLW she worked at WLTI-FM in Detroit and later CKEY in Toronto. She is now retired and living at SunParlour Home near her family in Windsor and will be 80 in September. I had the opportunity to interview Tim Trombley the son of Rosalie and the continuation of the Trombley’s “Legacy.” Tim Trombley added some insight about his mother before we began to discuss his own role in the music industry. He said that his mom despite her high profile position in the music industry “never lost sight of the fact that she was a mom.” Tim also said that her favourite artists were Bob Seger and Marvin Gaye and that she had an affinity for black music and cross over artists.
My brothers and sisters were most proud of her success and determination as the music industry was a “man’s world” and she served as a “a role model for a lot of women coming into the business.” She also took on a consultant role for labels and they would often pass music through her, as her instincts were legendary. “She didn’t just use her innate ability or instincts to find the hits she also used the science behind it and took meetings Tuesdays and Thursdays for promotion and branding and to determine what were the trends and what people wanted to hear.” She was very honest with artists and would even give them advice about their songs, she truly had an innate gift for music.
Tim Trombley – The Legacy Continues
Tim Trombley is currently the Entertainment Director at Caesars Windsor. When he worked at the Big 8 during high school and college, he had the chance to see the power and influence music executives have. “We had a lot of success but none of this career would have been possible if I had not grown up at the Big 8 and worked there from 1977-1981.”
Trombley recalls; “I thought I would pursue being an announcer but was asked to go to Toronto to apply for a position as a personal assistant for Bob Ezrin, a Canadian Record Producer and keyboardist who is now in Detroit doing some work with Alice Cooper.” Here, Trombley had the chance to work with top artists: Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, Kiss, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Peter Gabriel and Phish, for almost 2 years. “I learned how records were made and how not to make records and that apprenticeship set me up for my A&R career. It also gave me a lasting friendship, Ezrin and I have worked together for over 50 years.”
Trombley also worked for Bernie Solomon at Dallcorte one of the biggest entertainment lawyers in Canada (Aquarius and True North) “Bernie was a character,” Trombley reveals, “he was great to work with and he started a small Indie record label, and made me the head of promotion, A&R, and marketing liaison with RCA – our distributor.”
These experiences prepared him for his next and most influential role in the industry; spending 23 years in Indie Music as the Vice-President Talent Acquisition and Artist Development at EMI 1982-2006. He put his own “Golden Ear” to work with the majority at EMI (Electric Musical Industries) scouting talent, helping artistic and commercial development of recording artists, and acting as a liaison between artists and record labels. “A&R (Artists & Repertoire) was my favorite part of my career it was highly rewarding both personally and professionally.” He added, “It was so satisfying to find a young artist or band at the beginning of their career and to help them realize their dreams.”
His favorite memory/career highlight was at Capital EMI Canada when he was an A&R manager for Dean Cameron, who recently passed away. He heard a demo tape and was intrigued by the singer of TOKOYO who later became Glass Tiger. In the fall of 1988, Dean became the President at 34 and he made Trombley Vice-President of Talent Acquisition and Artist Development at 29 years old. “He was an amazing boss and entrusted me by handing off the A&R to me saying – ‘this is your thing and I’m going to let you do this and I will support you.”
Another career highlight was when Tom Cochrane and Red Rider came out with “Life as a Highway” a pop culture phenomenal song which was a massive hit.
Cameron shared his vision for what the Canadian roster ideally would look like. Trombley tells us “He wanted it to represent all corners of Canada and all aspects of Canadian Culture, [Tom Cochrane, Rankin Family, Stomping Tom Connors, an Innuit artist Susan Aglukark, Tea Party, Moist and I Mother Earth… all of these groups represented something outside of what people expected – something unique and what Canada was known for.
After he retired from EMI, Trombley did some private consulting as the owner of Tromcomm Music Consulting. “A&R back in the day meant finding bands, co-writers and production and getting the right people together.” “Today, there are so many other factors such as Metrics Data, streams, followers it is even harder for young, unsigned artists to make it because while technology and social media help you get seen it also helps millions of others get seen.”
Tim believes technology has made producing music more attainable now and that with digital you can literally produce it in your own home and become a success. “Old school analog meant spending 100,000 or more and in the late ’60s early 70’s it was about the hit single,” he adds “then the rock era came, when rock was mainstreamed you needed your tracks for radio but it was about the body of work, today it is back to the hit single”
“Today most of the singles in top ten have no less than 5 people co-writing to craft a hit song each contributing a part especially the top 40 hits. Pop records are made differently now, a great rhythm session is not cutting the track on the floor then everyone doing their overdubs. Nothing to me will ever sound as good as a really high-quality analog” he challenges “One of the things I learned from Ezrin is the dynamics of a song, where less is more and songs need air and depth, now everything is perfectly structured and it’s the whole melodic math and match. To me, there is a lot less free form to making records it is now more about the craft and following a defined structure.
I asked Trombley what players he would choose to form an All Star Band with all his experience and expertise and he picked John Lennon, George Martin “the Fifth Beatle,” Chris Cornell and Alice Cooper.
What’s next for Tim, will he go back to consulting, maybe teaching or public speaking? “The power of music was my salvation I was a student of all these records I’m one of those people that regardless of my age ten years from now I will be listening to the next Post Malone or the new 21 Pilots,” he adds “that’s just who I am – I’m not one of those people who got stuck in an era, music fascinates me.
I asked him about having his mom’s “Golden Ear” and he modestly shrugged that off and quickly responded that, “The one thing that I think I have is a level of intuition when it comes to music,” he stated. “I also think that when I listen to new stuff I don’t consciously really set out to listen hard to the lyrics but they mean a lot to me and it’s just the way my brain processes music.” Trombley adds, “When I connect lyrically on the first or second listen it is a really good indicator that it is genetic, Maybe it’s possible that it is genetic – lyrically music always spoke to my mom.” “I was a musician and played the drums but I didn’t listen to music through a musician’s lens or filter. It was a more intuitive connection where I would listen to where a song was and I would envision where it could end up and how our team could help them get to where they could be.”
Trombley said he felt this way with Nickleback, “I never paid a lot of attention to the flavor of the month I was more concerned about if the music connected with me, did I feel I could work with that artist and that the public would connect with what that artist was saying.” “You will rarely hear me talk about Nickelback and everyone had passed on that band, even my scout, I rode up to see them and saw something in Chad and the band even though they are so polarizing. They started off as an Indie band and Chad has a voice that can evoke emotion just look at the song “Photograph,” music is an emotional connection.”
We are so blessed to have not one but two powerful influencers in the Windsor-Detroit area and so many artists have benefitted by their gift.