Yorkville Sound celebrated 50 years in style at Toronto’s Steam Whistle Brewing, complete with entertainment by Canadian blues/reggae act Big Sugar and special guest Randy Bachman.
Tornto, Canada (May 30, 2013)—Yorkville Sound celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this month, marking the occasion with a raucous party at Toronto’s Steam Whistle Brewing, next to the famed CN Tower. Bringing together friends, family, employees and associates from as far away as Mexico, the evening was a hit with entertainment provided by blues/reggae band Big Sugar, plus a surprise guest appearance by Canadian rock legend Randy Bachman. The following day saw most in attendance reconvene for a tour of Yorkville’s expansive factory in nearby Pickering, Ontario. Venturing throughout the high-tech facility, it was easy to see how far the manufacturer has come in the last five decades.
Taking its name from its initial location in Toronto (the corner of Yonge Street and Yorkville Avenue), the company started out in the back room of Long & McQuade, a music store founded seven years earlier which has since grown into Canada’s largest MI chain, sporting 61 stores across the country. There, repairman Peter Traynor developed a bass amplifier for touring musicians that was able to withstand the rigors of the road.
“I thought, ‘Hey, this looks interesting,’” recalled he store’s co-owner, Jack Long, at the 50th anniversary event. “He made them primarily for rental so I said, ‘Well, let’s rent them out’—which we did.” Dubbed the Dynabass amplifier, it was soon being rented and sold, along side simple PA speakers and 15-inch speaker cabinets, under the emblem of Traynor, the first brand manufactured by Yorkville Sound Limited, which sported Long as president and Traynor as vice president.
“Up until that time, people playing music didn’t have much use for PA systems,” recalled Long. “They’d use the house system or maybe plug into a bass amp in a second channel or something like that. Musicians didn’t have PA systems—didn’t carry them or use them. If you go back a bit, the singer was not an important part of the band, but the singer was becoming a more important part of the band, so PA systems became more important [so you could hear them]. We kind of got in on the ground floor of that.”
Initially Yorkville had a dual focus, manufacturing live sound equipment, but also acting as a full-fledged regional concert sound provider—an aspect of the business that was phased out by the early 1970s. Traynor left the company in 1976 for health reasons, while McQuade left the MI store business a decade earlier to focus on his career as a drummer, all of which meant both businesses landed squarely on Long’s shoulders, even as his sons joined the company, including Steve Long who eventually rose through the ranks to become Yorkville’s president.
Like any industry, there were ups and downs; asked at the 50th anniversary event if there’d been any scary moments over the years, Jack Long didn’t mince words: “When the bank said we had to pay back all of our loan by the end of the month and we didn’t have a hope in the world of doing it. We squiggled around and said ‘The check’s in the mail.’”
Alternately, he happily recalled the early 1980s debut of the Traynor 6400 Mixer Amp: “We’d been struggling and struggling, and finally when the lab people unveiled the new 6400, I just about cried; I thought it was the most exciting thing I’d ever seen. It was a six-channel mixer and fortunately, we sold tons and tons and tons of those for about 15 years, then we finally had to phase it out.”
In today’s business climate, one of the most notable features of Yorkville Sound is the fact that its manufacturing has remained in Canada, instead of heading overseas to Asia. Steve Long explained, “A lot of it has to do with getting the right kind of products to make, because obviously if a product is going to sell for $99, it’s not going to be able to be made in Canada…. Working with all of our dealers, we’ve done a really good job of supporting the products, carrying through, making sure people understand that you’re getting a good product, good quality, reliability, long life and something that’s going to stand up over many years. It’s everybody working really hard to focus on the goal of delivering a good product for a fair price.”
While the evening was all about looking back, Steve Long nonetheless had his eye set squarely on the future as he remarked, “I think the thing that we have going for us is that music will never die. You see certain things come and go, but music’s constant—and we’re in the music business, so I think we’re probably solid for at least 100 years!”