The back story….

Way back, like in 1972, I was introduced to this guy named Don Sklepowich, at our high school, he was not actually enrolled, he was visiting some mutual friends in the “smoking area”… and we struck up a conversation about music, and how I played keys and he was into drums… that’s where it all started. The timeline becomes fractured after that, he went out west to live in Edmonton for a time, and later, near the end of high school, he was back in the neighbourhood, and suddenly he reappeared in that smoking area, and I cut class to go hang out with him at this parents house, where his drum kit was setup in the basement, along with some other cool stuff, like a Sinclair computer, and even a TRS-80, which was all greek to me at that point. He liked to toy with that stuff, I did not really see the point, it didn’t seem to do much more than a calculator could do. But, and most ironically, later in my life I spent 27 years as an IT person. Go figure.

So he’d play the drums and I would try to jam along against the noise on the old broken down piano which was also in the basement, and there was also a clone of a Les Paul guitar, along with some sort of small amp, which I recall was a finger eater, but we had meds for that…. <cough, wheeze… clears throat> Those were the days… lol. Along came a 4 track reel to reel tape machine one day, Tascam, and a small mixer and some microphones… that was really cool. We had some test sessions here and there with that stuff, as I had access to wheels from time to time, and by age 18, I had my own van, so the world was our recording oyster. We also had been jamming with some other friends in various industrial units around the Toronto area, as his parents would no longer tolerate the noise… I can’t say I blame them, but that ultimately led to the next step….

Don decided he needed some place to keep his now growing gear collection, so he rented a very small room at 15 Towns Road, in South Etobicoke, Metro Toronto’s western borough at the time. We had some ear bleeding sweaty jams in that little space, but soon, a larger space became available in the building, which was half machine shops, and had been built into rehearsal spaces by the owner, (Mr. Bill) who was very nice, and super tolerant… that man had the patience of a saint with young men-musicians, as long as there was no damage and you paid on time. We always used to laugh when he said “when you drink-ed, you change-ed” in his accented broken English, RIP Mr. Bill. Cool guy.

So Audio Trax, the new studio was born… much much bigger space, and at first was jam sessions, but then that 4 track got replaced with an 8-track reel to reel and a much bigger mixing console, and then came the control room and the drum booth, amp closet, and so on… around about this time I had received a settlement from a car accident, and I was flush with monies, Don was working at Carling OKeefe and he seemed to spend all his earnings at Long & McQuade, which became a haunt for both of us for the latter half of the 80’s. The studio evolved into one of the premiere MIDI studios in Toronto at the time, we sunk 10s of thousands into it, had some cool bigger named clients, and worked with a wide spectrum of artists and composers. Don was by now an accomplished engineer, and I worked with the solo clients to back-fill their songs with keys, provided production assistance and we invited bassists and guitarists to sessions as appropriate. We even worked on a movie soundtrack in 1990, shortly before I decided to move on.

Fast forward 15 years or so, I’d lost touch with all those folks, going down the corporate employment path, a steady pay cheque was enticing and I curbed my enthusiasm for all those recreational health hazards, settled down with the love of my life, and around 2005 I decided to dig up all my old studio tapes (many many cassettes) and move them over to CD as I knew that the tapes would not last forever. And not entirely sure when I reconnected with Don, but he was then working for the University of Toronto at the Robarts Library, in the Media Commons, as a tech of all trades, archivist, wizard with a soldering iron, and generally enjoying being the subject matter expert to patrons and staff alike. We were able to take some of those old tapes and transfer them, preserving these tunes that I had composed and recorded since the 80s, many on which he was drummer or percussionist on, so that was good for us both.

Around 2013 or so, we reconnected further and I would visit him at the Library in the evenings  quite often, he bought a Studer half-track machine and the plan was to get all the old quarter inch master tapes from the old days and digitize them and even re-work some of them in his third generation studio, still at Towns Road, the building now called Rukus Rehearsal Spaces, the machine shops all gone, and a cool new landlord, Jeremy. Visiting that building fairly frequently, it made us laugh at the sound of it, so many rooms full of metal heads, doing the “cookie monster vocals” as we referred to them, created a cacophony like no other, as if the gates of hell were left open inadvertently… lol. I imagine the sounds continue to this day there.

On March 11, 2014, I spoke with Don via telephone, he was at work, I was in my home studio, about finding some factory reset codes for my aging MIDI controller, which had lived at Audio Trax for a time, and I purchased in 1988… it owed me nothing, but I was most fond of that keyboard.. so many tunes came from my fingers through it. It had started going a little nuts, and if you touched the pitch bender wheel, it would not return to normal pitch when released…. frustrating, I had it physically replaced much earlier at Roland’s service center, but time broke it again. Don found me the reset codes, which I applied whilst we were on the phone, and it was fine once again (for a time at least). That prompted me to write a tune, I called it “Bending it Better” (no reference to the Beckham soccer movie) and I emailed an MP3 of it to Don the next day, as kind of a “here you go” and “Thank You”. But, I will never know if he heard it nor not. That’s always made me wonder. See below.

Fast forward to the 13th… Late in the day, whilst relaxing after work, I got a phone call from a mutual friend, Anne, who simply told me, Don is dead. Wow… like getting hit with a sledgehammer between the eyes. I jumped in the car and drove from Oakville to Towns road in record time, and met her there…. The paramedics were done and the Coroner arrived, we watched as his remains were moved out the building, a silent crowd of stunned musician onlookers watching, I held the van doors open for the guys moving Don…. it was surreal. Wow. I learned later that he’d been gone for a while, and Jeremy and Anne went into his studio and found him on the floor. We heard he’d died instantly, an aneurysm apparently. So sad… the guy was just 55.

So here we are, 10 years have passed, we still have a couple of pics of him on our fridge door, we still have strange little things that happen in the house that we like to blame on him, poking at us from the other side… hope that’s true, we’re mostly skeptics here….

There are so many stories that folks could tell about Don. I have many more than shared here, we really clicked as best friends, he was good at connecting with so many people, a real affinity for that… He rarely judged anyone, if he did he mostly kept that to himself, a trait missing these days in so many folks.

When I am working on my music and videos, I am often reminded of how he chose to approach mixing and recording challenges, he pops into my head with those options…. pretty cool. I wish he could see how technology has evolved in those 10 years…

Well, at the end of the day, we all become a memory of some sort to someone, in his case, I think he is still missed by many from long ago. Rest in peace my friend. See you later I hope.

Here’s Bending it Better, thought I would share that with you all. Music © Northwood Mediaworks – 2014. Additional media can be found here.

Till we meet again…. RIP

picture of Don
Two weeks before his passing.

Some old links… some a little broken, but the message remains.