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Legendary Vancouver rock music critic Tom Harrison has died

Legendary Vancouver rock music critic Tom Harrison, who has written about pop and rock music for over four decades, has died.

Harrison was born in St. Boniface, a French Canadian-speaking city in Winnipeg, his website describes, before his family moved to North Vancouver to be closer to relatives. He was the oldest of five kids.

Harrison became the music director at the University of British Columbia’s campus radio station, then known as CYVR. Shortly after, he was hired by the Georgia Straight in 1975, where he worked for four years and expanded their music coverage.

In 1979, he joined The Province newspaper, where he wrote for 37 years.

All the while, on the side, he became the drummer for The Explosions, the Straight’s “house band.” He later sang for another band called Bruno Gerussi’s Medallion; in 1989, they signed with Warner Bros. Canada and released an album titled In Search Of The Fourth Chord.

Harrison also co-hosted a Cablevision TV show, Soundproofand a longstanding radio show, Demolisten on CFOX, both of which showcased and highlighted the works of local bands.

Despite suffering from a stroke in 2000, he returned to work a year later and joined another band, Lumpy.

A critic ahead of his time

David Hawkes, music producer, promoter, radio DJ and a close friend of Harrison, says Tom was ahead of his time.

“He was really great at basically identifying what was going to be big,” Hawkes told CBC News. “I think about a band like Skinny Puppy.”

Hawkes says many journalists at the time didn’t know how to write about the band, considered to be among the founders of the industrial rock and electro-industrial genres.

“He would put it in his column and talk about it, making references to German music, industrial music, and he tied it all together and brought people into understanding.”

Hawkes says the artist Harrison has written about and promoted have become everyday names, like Bryan Adams, Sarah McLachlan and Skinny Puppy.

But more importantly, Hawkes says, Harrison was a kind and supportive person.

“He was just so damn encouraging to people. Even though there’s a lot of pressure when you’re in a big media outlet like what he was working for, he always found time to sort of tip a hat to smaller artists.

“I think maybe because he was around so much music and around so much art and he was also a musician, so he understood how art worked,” he said.

“He understood the difficulty artists have in creating the actual physical thing, which people forget.”

‘Walking treasure trove of Canadian music history’

Long-time friend Stuart Derydeyn says Harrison was a “walking treasure trove of Canadian music history as well as international music history.”

Derdeyn, an entertainment reporter at the Vancouver Sun, The Province and Post Media, says he knows very few people in music journalism who had the kind of impact that Harrison did in Canadian music as a whole.

“He was such a big champion but also so fair. I never saw him being mean,” he said. “He could be very critical, but it was often very fair.”

As a friend, Derdeyn says Harrison was a very happy-go-lucky kind of guy, a hockey enthusiast and an avid boxer who trained with former Canadian pro-boxer Dale Walters — a fact not known to many.

“There was a musician’s hockey league and he was a key member there,” he said. “He is also trained as an English teacher and is often known to make word jokes.”

‘A fun guy who loves life’

Canadian punk musician and leader of the band DOA, Joe Keithley, says Harrison will be remembered as the “rock historian” in Vancouver and BC

“He knew more about music than the next 10 people put together,” he said.

Keithley, who is also a city councillor in Burnaby, says Harrison played on DOA’s hockey team and helped raise money for the Vancouver Food Bank.

A photo of Joe Keithley wearing a black t-shirt.
Canadian punk musician and leader of the band DOA, Joe Keithley, says Tom Harrison will be remembered as the ‘rock historian’ in Vancouver and BC (CBC News)

“He was a fun guy who loved life. That’s what music does, it makes you love life.”

Keithley says he will miss reading the works of Harrison, who was open-minded to rock music when the industry wasn’t.

“The thing with Tom Harrison, what made him stick out and why he could identify bands, was because he wasn’t sold down the river to the corporate rock schlock that everybody else was pushing.

“Long live Tom Harrison.”

Harrison was inducted into the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2009.

Countless tributes have poured on social media to honor the “music journalism legend” for his contributions and to bid a final farewell.

Harrison is survived by his wife, Kerry.