Born on Christmas Day in 1958, Alannah Myles (real name Alannah Byles) grew up the only musical child in her family. Her father was the marketing director for a Toronto advertising agency, who was later inducted into the Canadian Broadcasting Hall of Fame for his work in “The Happy Gang” radio program and TV’s “Wayne & Schuster” and “Hockey Night In Canada,” and for his early role in the invention of residual royalties for film, radio and TV artists.
Although naturally musically-talented, the young teen was also interested in art and horses, having grown up on a ranch near Buckhorn, Ontario. But it wasn’t long before her true calling shone through. Through her mother’s interest in classical and opera music, she was well-rounded, and subsequently taught herself to play on her mother’s classical Spanish guitar and began writing songs as early as 13. As she grew she began emulating her favourite artists, including Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen.
She studied method acting, dance and took vocal coaching, later making her living as a commercial actress, model and make up artist whilst simultaneously touring throughout southern Ontario in her own self titled band. She later found herself opening up on Canadian tours for Christopher Ward (future MuchMusic VJ). By the mid 80’s she’d been rejected from just about every major record label in Canada so they set their sights south of the border. With Ward producing, she secured a grant from FACTOR (the largest budget ever matched at that point), and recorded a three song demo. Along with a video directed by Deborah Samuel, “Just One Kiss” landed in Atlantic Record’s head Tunc Erim and Ahmet Ertegun in New York. She signed with the label before the end of 1988.
Her self-titled debut came out in the spring of ’89. Produced by Ward (now working at MuchMusic) and David Tyson and recorded in Toronto’s Eastern Sound and McLear Place Studios, the album was mostly compositions from the two which turned Canadian radio upside down. With a virtual who’s who as support musicians, which included the likes of Peter Fredette of Kim Mitchell‘s band, Lisa Dalbello and Jorn Anderson, the airwaves and MuchMusic were soon flooded with “Love Is”, the first single, quickly topping the charts. But it was the release of “Black Velvet”, an ode to Elvis, that made the American audiences take notice.
Not only did the single top the Canadian charts, it also reached #1 on Billboard. Robin Lee also re-released a country version of the song a year later, but failed to do nearly as well. Alannah’s debut eventually reached diamond status in Canada, selling over a million copies. It sold over 600,000 copies in the US and 6 million world-wide, making it one of the most successful Canadian releases of all-time. Other hits would follow. The uptempo “Still Got This Thing For You” (co-written by Sherri Eikhard and Mike Stone), as well as the ballad “Lover Of Mine”. She was honoured with three Junos for her effort – best female vocalist, best new artist and best single for “Black Velvet”, as well as a Grammy for ‘best rock female’. Other noteable tracks included the raucous “Kick Start My Heart” and “Rock This Joint”. She hit the road, playing practically all four corners of the planet, backing up the likes of Robert Plant, Simple Minds and Tina Turner, touring for more than the next year.
Her follow-up came in the form of ROCKINGHORSE, released in ’92. Again a plethora of friends guested on the album, including Tyson, Ward, Jorgenson and Will Lee (Dave Letterman/Ace Frehley). And although Tyson and Ward returned to the studios with her to co-wrote the majority of the material, she seemed to suffer the sophomore jinx. Despite receiving critical reviews, it ‘only’ went double platinum in Canada and ‘only’ sold 100,000 copies in the US. “A Song Instead Of A Kiss” hit the stores and air-waves as the first single. A more mature sound was the result, and radio execs weren’t sure what to make of the ‘new’ Alannah. That feeling didn’t subside when “Tumbleweed” came to them as the second single. Three more singles were released, but although “Our World Our Times”, “Livin’ On A Memory” and “Sonny Say You Will” were all composed of tight hooks and strong writing, ROCKINGHORSE still failed to make the impact hoped. Part of the relative lack of success was also attributed to the fact she voiced her opinions when her then-manager Danny Goldberg went to work for Atlantic Records, fearing that a conflict of interest was now an issue. She took on Miles Copeland as her new manager, who was head of IRS Records and manager of Sting (& also Police drummer Stewart Copeland’s brother).
With new producer Pat Moran, she returned to the studios and released A-LAN-NAH in 1995. Though Tyson and Ward were still the main songwriters, other influences filtered into the sessions, resulting in a more ‘gritty’ feel to the record. But a total lack of support from Atlantic saw the record only sell 160,000 copies worldwide, despite again receiving very favourable reviews. Despite the strong song-writing in such tracks as “Irish Rain”, “Mother Nature”, the singles “Mistress Of Erzulie” and “Family Secret” and the haunting ballad “Keeper Of My Heart”. Annoyed with the label, Copeland bought the masters back and signed Alannah to his newly formed Ark 21 Records.
Now with full creative reign, Alannah returned to the studios and released ARIVAL in ’97, marking her first working with new producer Michael Borkosky. Considered by the most staunchest of her fans to be her best outing yet, a steadily-maturing artist was the end-result. Now with a blues-tinge and fully tailored for an AOR audience, the album received nothing but critical praise, common place by this time. With tracks such as the first single “Bad 4 U”, the lead-off track “Motherload”, “Kisses Are Weapons” and the tender “Honesty” helped secure Alannah in the ranks of one Canada’s most straight-forward, no nonsense artists. But financial problems at Ark 21 again saw the record do less than expected, and the label folded.
THE VERY BEST OF ALANNAH MYLES, released in ’99 nicely summed up her career to that point, containing hits from all four albums as well as the new “Break The Silence”. Aside from doing sporadic dates over the next few years, she stayed out of the limelight until setting up her own Revenge Records, and releasing BLACK VELVET in 2008. Largely written over the years leading up to its release, the record was produced by Mike Bortosky and mixed by Terry Brown (Klaatu, Rush, Max Webster). Critically received, it contained a remix of the title track that started it all, and she rekindled her writing collaberation with David Tyson on a number of tracks, and Jeff Healey lent a hand on “Anywhere But Home.” A year later she made a three-song set called ELVIS TRIBUTE EP available only through iTunes, which contained another remix of “Black Velvet,” as well as new renditions of two other tracks from the previous album. She also signed with True North Records that same year.