Eugene Haslam studied Psychology at York University and Business at University of Waterloo before joining the Bank of Nova Scotia in 1976. He spent 7 years at the bank, rising to the position of Assistant Manager. He worked for the bank in Ottawa and Calgary. Through University, and during his banking career, Haslam was a radio announcer and had his own music programs on CHRW (Waterloo), RADIO RADIO (Calgary) and CHUO (Ottawa). In 1983 he took a giant leap of faith and returned home to Ottawa to create a pub called The Brigadier’s Pump, which was highly successful for its owner. In 1985 he followed his heart and started a nightclub called The Underground, a live music and MTV video venue, which was also immediately successful. When the landlord threatened to raise the rent, Haslam returned to the bank, this time the Toronto Dominion Bank, as a loans manager. A few years later he was given the opportunity to pursue his own dreams and opened the now legendary live music and dance club, Zaphod Beeblebrox, on Rideau Street. Following the purchase, by Bell Canada, of the building, which housed his club, Haslam moved the operation to York Street in the Byward Market. Zaphod Beeblebrox has been in this location for over 2 decades. Bands such as The Proclaimers, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Jewel, Alanis Morissette, Fun Loving Criminals, Charlie Major, The Tea Party, Nickelback, Yo La Tengo, Ben Harper, Broken Social Scene, Monster Magnet, Jonathan Richman and countless more have played at Zaphod’s.
In 1995 Haslam reopened Barrymore’s, a defunct live music club, and brought it back to international recognition, featuring bands like The Tragically Hip, Radiohead, Maceo Parker, Bo Diddley, The Committments, and many more. He left Barrymore’s in 1999 and gained full ownership of Zaphod Beeblebrox. That year he opened a second Zaphod’s, Zaphod Beeblebrox II. Once again the venue was immediately popular. Bands such as Stereophonics, Danko Jones, Yat-Kha, Terry Clark, Ivana Santilli, The Cash Brothers, Reverend Horton Heat, etc. followed him to his new venue. When his partners in this operation refused to provide the financial statements for the business, Haslam decided it was time to sever the relationship and concentrate on the original Zaphod’s, which he solely owns.
Throughout the past 25 years Haslam has been well known in the Ottawa community. He has produced many Benefit Concerts for various causes supporting children, abused women, native peoples, ethnic peoples, the environment and human rights. He created a nationwide petition to try and save the RCMP Band. He has been a judge for the Juno Awards twice. He has been a speaker at North By Northeast, a major international music conference. For many years he has volunteered to share his story and inspire teenagers from all across Canada at the Terry Fox Center. He is no stranger to media and has appeared in numerous newspaper and magazine articles, radio programs and television news stories: locally, nationally and internationally. He is a regularly sought-out commentator and featured in various media on subjects as diverse as fashion, food, music and politics. He was invited by the Office of the Mayor to contribute to the discussions envisioning the City of Ottawa of the year 2020. Eugene was on the 2011 Ottawa Police Gala Committee, which raised $90,000.00 for The Ottawa Mission, a charity that helps the homeless, and the 2012 Ottawa Police Gala Committee, which raised $120,000.00 for Youth Services Bureau, which provides a range of innovative services that support and empower youth and has a lasting impact on Ottawa communities. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the ByWard Market BIA and the Bytown Museum, is once again assisting the 2013 Ottawa Police Gala Committee, and is adviser to a committee in Rankin Inlet which is promoting a major concert for the community.
When Eugene ran for election to Ottawa City Council in Capital Ward, The Ottawa Sun picked him as their choice for the voters to consider, saying:
“As the owner of the popular live music venue Zaphod Beeblebrox, Haslam has made a name for himself in this city as someone with proven business acumen who takes an active interest in his community.
He’s just the sort of Canadian we should all be proud of.”
On Facebook Byron White wrote: “I only know this remarkable man’s biography. But wow. What a guy. Rock and Roll should be honored to have this man in the ranks. He should be nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!!”
Followed immediately by Dave Watson: “From what I’ve heard about the Rock & Roll Hall of Lame, it doesn’t deserve you.”
Community Radio programming experience:
CKMS (University of Waterloo), RADIO RADIO (Calgary), CHUO (University of Ottawa)
Places I Have Travelled To:
U.S.A., England, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Egypt, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Jamaica, Portugal, Spain, France, Jordan, Cuba, Turkey, Mexico, Colombia, India, Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Argentina, Lebanon, Cyprus, Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands, Morocco, Tunisia, Italy, Ireland, Yemen, Thailand, Belgium, Luxembourg, Israel and Palestine.
Statement by The Honourable Mr. Andrew Cash (Davenport, NDP), Member of Parliament of Canada, March 13, 2012.:
“Mr. Speaker, 20 years ago this month, live music venue Zaphod Beeblebrox first opened its doors on York Street here in Ottawa. Today, I would like to honour this extraordinary achievement and that of the club’s iconic proprietor, Eugene Haslam.
I performed in this long, narrow landmark many times over the years. Some nights we played to an empty house, some nights it was packed. But what never changed was the fair and respectful way we were treated as artists at Zaphod’s. In other words, Eugene Haslam, like so many cultural pioneers in this country, has done this for the love of it, the love of music and the love of community. To run a small business for 20 years and have it survive is tough enough, but to run a live music club in Ottawa, now that is a mission of mercy.
On behalf of all music lovers, geeks and punters, wannabes and has-beens, DJs, punk rockers and even legislators, thanks to Eugene Haslam and all the great staff at Zaphod’s for giving this city and this country 20 years of heart, soul, and rock and roll.”
EUGENE IN THE NEWS
CTV Ottawa: Katie Griffin on Zaphod’s anniversary
Constantly mentioned as a must-visit by many locals bringing visitors to Ottawa, Zaphod Beeblebrox is celebrating its 20th anniversary this week.
See the video here: http://www.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=631220
Zaphod’s Owner Holding Clash-Themed Birthday Celebration
Friday August 12, 2005 @ 02:00 PM By: ChartAttack.com Staff
The 50th birthdays of some unfortunate few consist of pink flamingoes on the lawn or embarrassing baby pictures in the paper. For Eugene Haslam, it involves British punk, cover tunes and a well-loved club.
Haslam needs no introduction in these parts — he owns the live music club Zaphod Beeblebrox and nurtures a lot of homegrown and up-and-coming talent. For many people, Eugene and his friendly, rock ‘n’ roll manner IS Zaphod’s. And to celebrate the half-century mark, Haslam has decided he can be a little self-serving for one night.
“I can use the birthday to present something that I want to present, without the risk,” he says. For Haslam, what he wants to present is local talent, but with a twist: Nectar and a handful of others will do their best versions of songs by The Clash, a band near and dear to Haslam’s heart.
“London Calling was the album, but London Calling was literally London and the pubs and that whole thing calling too,” he says. “It had a pretty big influence on me. I figure 50 is a nice round number. You end up doing things on these anniversaries that are a lot more about what you are.”
EUGENE NIFTY AT 50
By Allan Wigney
From The Ottawa Sun August 11, 2005
And as the affable impresario opens the door, he makes a point of noting its imposing presence, in case I’d missed it.
“A lot of people know me from Zaphod’s or Barrymore’s,” Haslam says as we walk through his Sandy Hill home to a well-maintained garden full of doted-on kids (including Haslam’s own), “but they don’t know who I really am.”
The person Haslam really is can fittingly be found somewhere between these two worlds. A private, family man who never misses an opportunity to express what’s on his mind publicly. Haslam’s infamous rants have included press releases denouncing everything from smoking bylaw naysayers to attention-grabbing festivals to a certain imminent, publicly funded home for classical music.
Yet no one can deny the positive impact Haslam has had on the live music scene in this city. Over two decades worth of shows from bands big and small at a variety of venues, including that rarest of Ottawa phenomena — a club well into its second decade that shows no sign of slowing down.
Next week, Haslam will turn 50. And he will characteristically celebrate in style — and in public — with a party at his Byward Market institution, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Monday.
“It’s nice to throw your own party,” he says, “because that way there are no surprises.”
The wingding will feature DJs as well as a unique set of Clash songs performed by local band Nectar that will bring it all back home for the birthday boy.
The Clash, you see, saved Haslam from a terrible fate.
“I was a typical banker on the road to careerdom,” Haslam recalls of his pre-rock-’n’-roll life. “Then, a friend and I tooled off to London, right around the time of London Calling. And, well, it seemed like London was calling me at the time.
“I discovered the world of pubs and saw great bands. It was nirvana. And had I not gone, I would never have started this dream.”
The dream began with the Brigadier’s Pump (now the Brig) and a downstairs space that would become the Underground. The year, as near as Haslam can recollect, was 1983. And the Underground had something other clubs didn’t.
“MTV had just got underway and we had a hand-cranked satellite dish that we tuned to it all the time,” Haslam explains. “It was a real novelty. And then there were the bands.”
The club lasted barely a year and Haslam admits, “that would have been the end of it, but this groundswell followed me” to one-off, Eugene’s Party Central gigs as well as to a Rideau Street club he dubbed Zaphod Beeblebrox.
They would, of course, follow that club to its current York Street home, and follow Haslam to Barrymore’s.
His involvement with that last, re-opened club was brief, and was followed by the ill-fated adjacent club, Zaphod Beeblebrox 2 — a modest club remembered by many for that massive portrait of its owner.
Which brings us to the ego, which some have accused of also being larger than life. Haslam has never been shy when it comes to boasting of his accomplishments, whether it’s booking promising young bands like Radiohead or introducing monthly schedules to the Ottawa club scene. And he did launch a Barrymore’s website under the URL, www.eugenehaslam.com.
“I still don’t have a thick enough skin,” Haslam says of resulting, often petty slings and arrows, “but I’ve learned to accept that there are people with different points of view.
“I used to tell bars they sucked and send out e-mail slagging the whole media. I’ve tried to cut down on that. Sometimes the criticism is bothersome, but I’m just going to keep doing what I do.”
That, he teases, could include anything from running a restaurant to running for city council, though he has no plans to do either in the immediate future.
“Zaphod’s is a consuming thing,” Haslam says as he gazes at a cardinal perched on his backyard birdbath. “But I want to make sure I have time for all of this too.”
(Eugene’s 50th birthday party takes place Monday at Zaphod Beeblebrox, 27 York St., beginning at 8 p.m. Admission is free).
BACK IN TOWN
by Ina McCarthy, Business Writer.
From The Ottawa Sun February 11, 1994
He’s a banker turned bar owner and one of the most atypical businessmen you’re likely to meet. Relaxed, philosophical, dressed in black jeans and sporting about 20 silver bangles on his arm, Eugene Haslam says he has two major role models in his life – Mother Teresa and Lee Iacocca.
Eclectic? Yes. Just like his nightclub, Zaphod Beeblebrox, the alternative music hot spot in the Byward Market.
Haslam was born in Calcutta, India. His parents sent him to Toronto when he was 15. After finishing high school he attended York University and studied Psychology. Then he went to the University of Waterloo and studied business. He chose banking as a career.
“I studied risk-management. You learn about the pitfalls of business”, he says.
But Haslam’s career as a banker meant he was leading a double life. His first love was music.
“I had a short-wave radio, and I’d listen to Voice of America and music on the BBC. That’s how I became aware of the world outside India when I was growing up.”
But he put his love for music on the backburner, and continued to climb the corporate banking ladder, eventually becoming an assistant bank manager in Ottawa.
Seven years ago he finally gave into his passion and quit his bank job to help open up Brigadier’s Pump on York St.
He then founded The Underground on Rideau St., an alternative rock club that he says “literally ran on a wing and a prayer”.
When the owner of that building wanted to increase the rent, he closed The Underground.
“The outpouring of feeling was amazing”, says Haslam. “Everyone kept asking me when are you going to open up another club? It was such an integral part of people’s existence.”
Four years later the ground floor of that same Rideau St. building was available, so Haslam and two partners leased it.
The first Zaphod Beeblebrox was born.
He says it was a place all sorts of people could hang out in. And, most importantly, “a single woman could come in alone and know she was safe”.
The name of the bar came to Haslam one day after having a few beers. He had read the book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”, and liked Zaphod’s character.
“He was the worst dressed being in the universe, and even though he didn’t try to be cool, he was”, says Haslam.
He says from the first day that bar opened in August 1989, they managed to stay in the black.
His philosophy in running a business is simple. Give the custoners what they want, and get to know your clients.
But in January 1991, when the bar was at it’s peak, Zaphod’s was forced to close when the building it was in was slated for demolition. Bell Canada bought it and has since built a switching station.
Haslam took the down time to travel all around the world, freshen his perspective and sit on the opposite side of the bar.
The new Zaphod’s (on York Street) opened for business in March (1992 – ed.) and Haslam says business is booming.
“All the revenue that is coming in is going toward expenses. We have no loans and we’re operating debt-free.”
On the weekends there is live music and the place is usually full, packing in about 250 people.
Haslam says the reason people have responded to Zaphod’s is that there is a need for this type of pub/bar.
“You have to know your market and find the niche. We’re street people, and we know what the street wants.”
LET’S HONOUR OUR VIBRANT CITIZENS
Comment by Paul Gessel
From The Ottawa Citizen – December 31, 1994
Every city has them. They are the folks who make things happen. Occasionally, they generate headlines because of their style and panache. But often they do whatever it is they do quietly, anonynously and with a friendly smile.
These are the people who organize concerts, run an exceptional restaurant, turn eccentricity into high art and make a community vibrant, unique and livable.
Ottawa’s pop music scene would be considerably poorer were it not for Eugene Haslam, proprietor of Zaphod Beeblebrox in the Byward Market. haslam, who looks like a Rastafarian elf, runs the most exciting and eclectic show bar in the area, snagging touring bands as they move from alternative to trendy and giving breaks to up-and-comers of all persuasions.
One night on Zaphod’s stage you can find lords of the New York underground like The Voluptous Horror of Karen Black. The next night the doors are wide open for a fund-raiser to help Victims of Rock Crime, local musicians robbed of their equipment.
Lynn Saxberg The Ottawa Citizen
“We want it to be a festival for all of Ottawa,” Chiarelli said yesterday during a sit-down in his chambers with Eugene Haslam, owner of the Zaphod Beeblebrox nightclub and unofficial representative of the local music community.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity to showcase what we have and also to have a lot of fun,” Chiarelli said. “It’s a very important week in the entertainment calendar of the city of Ottawa and we’ll be there to partner with you and do whatever we can.”
Haslam welcomed the mayor’s gesture of goodwill, and expects the benefits will last longer than a week. “Ya done good,” said the veteran clubowner, shaking Chiarelli’s hand. In his silver rings and jangling bracelets, dreadlocks trailing over his shoulders, Haslam was an exotic creature next to the clean-cut mayor in his dark-blue suit and unobtrusive tie.
“I like the whole fact that it’s a party and we’re showcasing ourselves,” Haslam added.
“We’ve always had great local entertainment, but the local people tend to look at other markets and think they have to leave Ottawa. I think this will be good for young people wanting to be in bands — this will give them some kind of impetus to keep going in the field.”
A FAVOUR PAID FORWARD
By Denis Armstrong
Wed, February 9, 2005
An act of charity saved Eugene Haslam and his family from abject poverty, a second chance he has never forgotten.
The images of tsunami-devastated southeast Asia — particularly those of children orphaned by the disaster — hit Eugene Haslam hard. You see, the 49-year-old owner of Zaphod Beeblebrox endured unimaginable suffering himself as a kid scrambling to make ends meet on Calcutta’s mean streets.
So, when it was time to step up to help orphans halfway around the world, he knew he had to do as much as he could.
“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the suffering those children are going through,” Haslam says. “Rebuilding a home is one thing, but how does an orphaned child rebuild a family all by himself? So when (local high school student) Sara Phillips asked me if Zaphod’s would host a benefit, I knew we had to.”
The result is “Thailand’s Turn,” a fundraiser Feb. 17 that will feature the bands No Time, Is Grace Enough, Jacquie In The Kitchen and 2Deep.
The middle of nine children, Haslam grew up in a close but desperately poor family. With his father making pennies a day in menial labour, he and his siblings were left to fend for themselves any way they could. His mother Violet occasionally would pawn family jewels just to feed and clothe her kids. Desperate, she went to the Christian Children’s Fund for help.
“When you live in that situation, it’s a struggle just to get through every day,” he recalls.
“Without help I never would have been able to attend school and make something of my life. We would have slid into Calcutta’s slums — the worst poverty in the world — and never would have been able to leave.”
The charity matched the nine-year-old Eugene up with an American sponsor. The money was enough for him to get a good education at one of the city’s English boarding schools.
Haslam stayed with the program until he was 16, when he left India with $8 in his pocket to live with his eldest sister and brother in Toronto.
There, he attended York University before getting into the club scene in Ottawa.
ZAPHOD BEEBLEBROX owner Eugene Haslam holds up a picture of one of the children his family sponsors through Worldvision. The local impressario, who once was a street child in Calcutta, credits a similar sponsorship program with helping make him the success he is today.
Eventually, his entire family made it to Canada, including his mother, who died in 1999. Haslam, who was always close to her, keeps her obituary posted on the Zaphod’s website.
“I’m lucky,” he says. “We all managed to leave India and poverty behind. We’ve all done reasonably well for ourselves. Who knew we could ever get out of that? Know who? The family that sponsored me, that’s who. “If they could see me now they’d be jumping up and down with happiness. Without their help, none of this would have been possible.”
Haslam’s family now supports six orphan girls through the Human Development Foundation , an organization in Thailand that takes in street kids and children with HIV/ AIDS. He also sponsors a girl in Tanzania through Worldvision.
“Every time I get bent out of shape here, I travel and see real suffering,” he says. “We’re blessed, so blessed, we don’t know how lucky we are.”
Haslam is talking about making a documentary on his return trip to India later this year, his first trip back to his homeland since he left 33 years ago.
“It’ll be strange going back after all this time,” he says. “I’ve come so far since that kid on the street, but I haven’t changed that much at all. I know their suffering too well.”
June 18, 1999
Sometime in the early hours this morning my dear mother Violet Mary Haslam passed away in Toronto. She had been suffering from angina and her doctors had scheduled her for an operation sometime in August to alleviate the pain she was in. However, she collapsed this morning, was rushed to the hospital and passed away. It was so unexpected, none of her nine children were there to comfort her. She was a wonderful woman; let me tell you a bit about her.
Violet Mary Haslam loved all her nine children so dearly, because she was born an orphan in India, and always gave us the love and parenting that she never had. She gave us all a better future when she sent us in ones and twos to Canada to create a better future for ourselves. My uncle once said to me that anything we are, or ever will be, is because of the great sacrifices mom made in her life. She taught us the value of giving, respect, caring, loving, living for someone else. My mom and dad stayed married through some very hard times and when he died she lost her soul mate. She lived vicariously through her children’s achievements. You could tell she was so happy to see all her childrens’ successes. I always sent her any newspaper articles or tv pieces done about me because I knew it gave her great joy. I remember the day mom and dad walked into Zaphod’s and looked incredulous that their little son had created something so vibrant and tangible. You could see how proud they were that day.
I got my education at an English boarding school in Calcutta, India, because my mom fought tooth and nail to get me in. I was sponsored by an American family that contributed through the Christian Children’s Fund for my education. I know it made mom proud that I went on to University, that I became a banker, that I was doing well in work and life. And then I quit a stable job to pursue music and nightclubs and although she was concerned for me, she never once doubted that I could do what I set out to do. She always cheered me on and took great pride in any of my accomplishments. Mom loved to tell anyone that would listen, about each and everyone of her nine children and their achievements. Our successes were really always a reaffirmation that all her sacrifices were not for nought.
So today, when I heard that they had to break down the door to reach her. That she died alone. That we didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. That I’ll never see my mom again. It hurts and I’m in pain. But I’m also so happy for a mother who lived to see all nine of her children become successful, contributing Canadians. And I’ll go on and persevere in all I do because mom would have wanted it that way.
I know this is a highly unusual way to use my web site and e-mail list, but everything I am is because my mom dreamed and did the best that she could for me. I wanted that to be known in no uncertain terms.
I ask that if you want to do something on her behalf, take a moment to sit in silence and think about your own mom and dad. Don’t waste money sending flowers and cards. Use it to sponsor a child somewhere in the world through Worldvision or Christian Children’s Fund. Then someone, like my mom, can have better dreams for their children’s tomorrows.
I love you mom.
Love and peace.
Ottawa Buzz: It’s A Zaphod Birthday
By: Jason Hailman, ChartAttack.com Staff – August, 2004
It’s Eugene Haslam’s birthday next Monday (August 16) and that’s certainly reason enough to celebrate — or at least devote a column to his creation/venue, Zaphod Beeblebrox.
Zaphod’s enjoys a nationwide reputation. Just last week, I was in Edmonton visiting a friend who’d recently moved out of Ottawa. We were talking about how much we missed going to shows together. When the guy at the next table heard us mention Zaphod’s, he proclaimed it the “best club in North America.”
It quite possibly could be. It’s without a doubt the finest live music venue in Ottawa and the post-show DJs play the best music in town. Where else are you going to hear Bjork, Hot Hot Heat and The Ramones’ “Rock ‘n Roll Highschool” in the same evening? From the black lights, Twilight Zone pinball and drinks (with names like the Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster) to the water (we hope) that sometimes drips onto the stage from the BareFax strip club above and the large drums of unidentifiable sludge in the basement backstage area, Zaphod’s feels like home to many of Ottawa’s music fans.
One of the things that Haslam has got right is nurturing local and independent bands. Showcase Indie Mondays are always free; the shows create a community of music fans and expose them to groundbreaking music. Tilda, Mensah and Because I Hate You will provide the music for the celebration, which gets underway around 8 p.m.
It seems fitting that the evening’s entertainment will come from such as-yet-unknown bands, rather than the established scenesters and popular Ottawa bands Haslam could no doubt attract. Zaphod’s is about always searching for new and exciting music. Haslam’s always at the centre of it; almost every night he’s sitting near the bar or thanking his patrons at the door. He’s willing to take chances with independent bands — like The Jezebels and their punXercise program — and he inspires fierce loyalty amongst both his customers and the bands that play for them. May he continue enlightening Ottawa’s crowds for years to come.
Reprinted from CHARTATTACK.COM
From Banker to Club Owner
By Samantha Cater, The Charlatan – April, 2005
Being the owner of Zaphod Beeblebrox, it can be said that Eugene Haslam knows a thing or two about Ottawa’s music scene. He should, considering that his venue showcase 10 to 15 bands a week.
“I had been working in a bank for many years,” says Haslam. “I left the bank not because I didn’t like it but because I was going to follow my dream.”
Haslam left his job at a Toronto bank to take up a clubbing one. He says he felt the timing was right because Ottawa’s music scene was in need of assistance.
“When I came to Ottawa there was nothing here that was viable, clubs were booking cover bands,” says Haslam.
Haslam quickly became fond both of Ottawa and its music scene, and it provided him with a fresh new start.
“[Ottawa] became a scene all on its own, it became the hub of what was going on at the time.”
As Ottawa’s music scene grew, Haslam’s fondness of Ottawa and the scene also grew. He says it doesn’t matter if the city is small, music is still enjoyed.
“I really like Ottawa,” says Haslam. “It’s easy to say ‘let’s go to Boston or Toronto to see bands’ but I like it here and you stay where you like. You can still do your best work wherever you are.”
Haslam knows it’s easy to get excited about bands after their songs have been played a million times, but emphasizes that all bands start local.
“When I look at bands, everyone is local to somewhere. Good talent comes from anywhere in the world, and Ottawa happens to be part of the world.
“While he may have influenced the rise of the local scene, Haslam says it can be hard to start up your own club.
“It was very difficult, I had no money and very little experience, it was sweat and blood.”
To Haslam, and bands that Zaphods showcases, the opening of the club seems to have been appreciated early on by fans of the Ottawa music scene.
“It wasn’t hard to get people to come to Zaphods to see the bands, especially at a time when there were bands starting out but no place to play. So it was a welcome addition,” Haslam says.
Haslam says not every band out there is going to make it nationally or internationally, but he says there is a significant amount of talent in Ottawa. There are so many clubs to choose from these days and so many bands to be acknowledged.
“I like this city and I think there are a lot of people who are supportive of the music scene. I want to encourage people to find themselves and find music, To discover themselves through discovering Ottawa’s music scene.”
Reprinted from www.charlatan.ca
The following interview was published in the July, 2005 3-Year Anniversary issue of Space Junkies Magazine.
Wednesday Elektra [Wednesday]: Hi, Eugene! Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with me for Space Junkies Magazine; it’s much appreciated. I’ve been posting some of your upcoming show dates on my website over at AFBPromotions (http://www.aidforbands.com) for the past few months because you support a lot of great Ontario/Ottawa area bands (as well as others). Tell us more about how Zaphod Beeblebrox (Zaphod’s) came into being and how long have you been in business for?
Eugene Haslam [Eugene]: I had been living in Ottawa since the ’70s and in that period there were few live music clubs, and those that existed presented cover bands. Ottawa had the mentality of a small town (sometimes still does!). The ’70s were also a terrible era in the world of music. So when the 80′s came along and with it The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, XTC, Gang Of Four, etc., I experienced a musical catharsis. I had been working at The Bank Of Nova Scotia at the time. My banker friend, Dave Knowles, and I went to see The Clash live at Lewisham in England and that was a life-changing experience for me. I eventually ended up quitting the bank and opened my first club in 1985 – a tiny space called The Underground. MTV was just getting off the ground and we showed it on our TVs by satellite. I also started booking local and national bands and it was a big success. Before that original bands had no stage on a regular basis. The Underground closed about a year later as the landlord wanted to double the rent. For the next few years I worked in various jobs, but daily I would be asked if I would open up a new club, as The Underground had obviously hit the right chord at the right time. In 1989 that chance came along and Zaphod Beeblebrox, “The Nightclub at the Edge of the Universe,” was born on Rideau Street [Ottawa, Ontario]. The building we were in was torn down 2 years later and we were homeless again. In 1992 we found our present location in the heart of Ottawa’s Byward Market. The rest is the stuff of legend.
Wednesday: Does the name Zaphod Beeblebrox mean anything? How did the name come in to being?
Eugene: Zaphod Beeblebrox is a character from Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.” rather than me choosing the name, the name chose me. I had been racking my brain for an interesting name for the club while we were in the renovating process. I was on a barstool having about 3 pints too many when the name literally wafted into my beer-induced haze. I turned to the fellow next to me and said “Zaphod Beeblebrox.” He looked at me as if I’d just landed from Mars. Zaphod is a larger-than-life character. His world was the Universe. Wherever he went was cool with him. In fact Zaphod is the epitome of cool, or uncool. Zaphod didn’t really care about that. An adventurer, charlatan, con man, ex-President of the Galaxy, the worst dressed sentient being on the Planet. I knew this would have to be the name of this club.
Wednesday: How did you personally get involved in music and what made you decide to open a venue up in Ottawa?
Eugene: I’ve been attracted to music and radio since I was very little. When I lived in Calcutta, India, I used to listen to short wave radio and pick up the BBC, Voice Of America, Radio Peking, Radio Ceylon, and Australian Broadcasting Corp. I listened to the same news being told with each broadcaster’s bias. But I also heard new music. That has always stayed with me. Opening a music venue seems to have been pre-destined for me (although I don’t believe in that!). I guess I followed my heart and my passion and eventually I ended up doing what was important to me.
Wednesday: As a venue and venue owner, what is your key philosophy?
Eugene: We have our philosophy posted on flyers around the club. We would like to share that with your readers; 1. All people, and especially women, should always feel comfortable here. 2. No racism. 3. No gender bias. 4. No pretensions. 5. No attitude. 6. No aggression. 7. Fair prices and fair measures. 8. Friendly staff and fast courteous service. 9. Respecting our audience and gaining their respect. 10. A social and musical alternative.
Wednesday: How do you generally support your local music scene?
Eugene: We only present original bands. We have “Showcase Monday’s” a long-running weekly stage for new bands, new energy and new material. Since we present national and international acts the local bands playing our stage are received with the same respect. I offer opening slots to local bands for many of the bigger, well-known artists. We are in the midst of the Hope Beachfest Talent Showcase (till mid-May) after which we will present Cisco Systems Bluesfest Talent Showcase (mid-May to end of June). The Beachfest and Bluesfest are outdoor Festivals which attract thousands. Our Talent Showcases lead to some local bands being chosen to play alongside national and international bands at these festivals. On our biggest days of the year, Canada Day and New Year’s Eve, we have traditionally always presented local bands. These are days when we know we will be busy, so we rather present the best of the Ottawa bands.
Wednesday: As someone who directly deals with showcasing local talent (in a live performance sense), what do you think of the state of the music industry and local music scene?
Eugene: Although there is always room to be better, having seen, and been a part of, the development of the music scene, I can unequivocally say that these are the best days for music in Ottawa. There are more clubs, more bands, more genres of music and healthy competition. Studios and producers in Ottawa have created work that has gone global. Practice space is always a difficulty, but new spaces open all the time.
Wednesday: Was Zaphod’s hit hard by the “no smoking” by-law? Has that changed the live music scene any in Ottawa?
Eugene: Zaphod’s embraced the no-smoking bylaw. We knew intellectually and ethically that it was the right thing for our musicians, staff and patrons. We did lose some customers, but gained more. We explained to our customers the rationale of the law and we helped them get accustomed to it. We have relatively few smokers and we provide in-and-out privileges to accommodate them. It gives me great pleasure when I know that a pregnant woman or asthmatic fan can now enjoy our environment. And the overwhelming majority of musicians, especially singers, appreciate a smoke-free stage.
Wednesday: Has the live music scene picked up or decreased due the lack of one of our favorite national sports, hockey? Do you cater at all to the sports fans?
Eugene: Zaphod’s is fairly consistent all year round and the lack of NHL hockey has not had any impact on us. We show many of the important sporting events of the day on our TVs. Since our audience is so varied, many of them are sports fans too. Our staff and customers are active people and sports plays a significant role in their lives, as participants and viewers.
Wednesday: Is it easy to get people out of their homes and into a place like Zaphod’s? How do you go about promoting upcoming shows and getting people to magically appear at them?
Eugene: A-ha, if I told you all my secrets all the other clubs in the world would be doing what I do! Zaphod’s is fun, fresh and forward thinking. We have an immense cache of credibility as we have presented many of the world’s best known artists before radio or media ever heard of them. We like to use the slogan “Heard Before The Heard.” People know that the bands they are hearing today will be the stars of tomorrow. So they come.
Wednesday: Generally what styles of music or types of bands could one see on stage at Zaphod’s over the course of a year? Do you cater to one specific style or sound of music or are you more or less open to everything?
Eugene: We present only one type of music here. Good music. No boundaries. We’ve presented Rock and Klezmer, Punk and Classical, Jazz and Bhangra, Surf and Metal, Worldbeat and Folk, Blues and Ska. Here are some bands we’ve presented over the years: Ben Harper, Alanis Morisette, Jeff Buckley, Yo La Tengo, Fishbone, Lorraine Klaasen, The Baha Men, Nickelback, Great Big Sea, The Tea Party, Fairport Convention, The Dandy Warhols, Superchunk, Monster Magnet, The Fleshtones, Hayden, Southern Culture On The Skids, Stereophonics. The list is endless. A more extensive list is on our web site.
Wednesday: Tell me more about the Cisco Systems Ottawa Bluesfest Talent Showcase Series (even though by the time this will be published it’ll be half over!).
Eugene: Cisco Systems Ottawa Bluesfest is the second largest Blues festival in North America. It features national and international bands in many genres, not just Blues. It attracts thousands of spectators each year. We are assisting local bands to catch the eyes and ears of organizers by partnering with Bluesfest to create the Talent Showcase Series that may possibly launch them onto the Bluesfest stages.
Wednesday: Any big shows coming up this summer that you can tell us about?
Eugene: I don’t normally book more than a month or two ahead, so it’s difficult to say what shows we will have over the summer. However, if past summers are any indication, just show up and it’ll be worth your while.
Wednesday: Do you have live shows going on every day of the week or only on certain days? Tell us more about your weekly schedules.
Eugene: Presently we have bands 6 nights a week. But that can vary. We post our schedule on our web site and update it frequently. We present our bands in concert. So ALL shows start early and end by 11pm…just like concerts in Theatres, Arts Centres and Arenas. It’s a concept we pioneered and it allows people who work the next day to actually come and see the bands at a reasonable time. It also allows the audience to mingle with the band after the show. After the bands we have DJs that play an awesome variety of music unlike ANY club in Ottawa, or the world.
Wednesday: What times do you open and close at? Is there any age restriction at Zaphod’s?
Eugene: We are open 364 days a year, including Christmas Day. We’re closed on Christmas Eve. We open at 4pm daily. We have a 19+ age restriction, which we enforce rigorously. We have a jar-full of confiscated fake IDs to prove it!
Wednesday: Generally how much is admission to live shows at Zaphod’s? Is there a set price or does it vary depending on the bands/artists playing? Where can people go either online or in person to purchase tickets?
Eugene: Usually prices are Free to $6. On rare occasions they can be $8, $10 or $15, and that’s tied to the artists’ fees. If we have advance tickets to shows they’re available at Ticketweb (http://www.ticketweb.ca/snl/VenueListings.action?venueId=10807). Otherwise it’s simply a matter of showing early up at the door.
Wednesday: What past artists/bands have graced the stage of Zaphod’s that you can tell us about? Any memorable moments or bands/artists?
Eugene: As mentioned before, many artists who are now superstars have graced our venerable stage. A fairly comprehensive list is on our web site. Hugh Dillon (The Headstones lead singer) and I exchanged rings (no not wedding rings!) at the bar. I still wear it. Chad Kroeger (Nickelback’s lead singer) humbly asked if we’d have them back after their first Zaphod’s gig. We did. Years later when they played to many thousands of fans at The Corel Centre he mentioned Zaphod’s fondly and the audience applauded wildly. I took away a lit cigarette from Sam Roberts when he was on stage, and when he deliberately smoked a second cigarette I pulled the plug on the show. He incited the audience to start a riot. Someone started a small fire in the club. Sam posted the incident on his web site, calling me “a middle-aged dreadlocked vampire bat.” He has since removed the reference on his web site, and years later when I was part of the National Capital Juno Host Committee greeting the attendees as they stepped off the Via Rail Juno Express train to Ottawa, Sam and I made peace and laughed about the incident. Ashley MacIsaac and I have shared many a story and breakfast at Ottawa’s legendary late-night noshery, Mello’s. Former Deputy Prime Minister John Manley and former Heritage Minister Sheila Copps had a fun-filled evening at Zaphod’s. Individually – No, it’s not what you’re thinking! Tom Green and Glenn Humplik were customers before their TV success, and still are. Tom brought his new bride Drew Barrymore to Zaphod’s. No one made a big deal about it. She had a blast playing the pinball machine. The Barenaked Ladies came to Zaphod’s after their show at the Corel Centre and disappeared into the gyrating masses on our dance floor. Kim Stockwood took us up to the Barefax (strip club next door to Zaphod’s) and bought her band member a “lap dance,” as it was his birthday. Mayor Bob Chiarelli saw a great photo opportunity in summoning me to his office to announce what the City would be doing to assist in the Juno celebrations. Made for great newspaper and TV coverage. The dapper, straight-edged Mayor shaking hands with the silver bangled, dreadlocked music promoter. Pat Mastroianni, Joey Jeremiah on the DeGrassi TV series, likes to come by and say hi when he’s in town. The Tea Party played here when they were unknowns (cover charge $2.50). Band members still drop by when they can. Jeff would take me out to listen to studio versions of his new songs on the car stereo and ask my opinion on the songs. Ozzy Osbourne and crew dropped by Zaphod’s for Industrial Strength (Tuesdays with DJ Leslie). Our production manager Tom Stewart saved the day when Jonathan Richman almost cancelled a sold-out show because there was a noise from the vents from the kitchens below us that was distracting to his performance. Tom fixed it by wrapping the vent with strips of carpeting and duct tape! The show did go on. There’s lots more. Some I don’t remember because I was having too much fun (i.e., in a drunken haze!). And some I’m just not telling!
Wednesday: When booking shows/bands for Zaphod’s what do you look for in a band/artist (qualities, characteristics, references, legion of followers, etc.)? Any tips for those considering sending in a press kit or looking to book a show at Zaphod’s – what should they know/be aware of before contacting you?
Eugene: There is a page on our website regarding booking. Generally, I’m looking for bands to inspire me so I can inspire the audience. I’m realistic that most bands are just starting their learning curve at this level. I like originality (I don’t DISLIKE cover bands. I just prefer to promote a mediocre original band than a great cover band. Eventually cover bands will be doing songs by these original bands!). I want them to be professional. Send me proper promo kits and EPKs. I want them to be salespersons, not hustlers. I expect bands to promote themselves. Poster the town. Arrange interviews with the media. Motivate friends, family and fans to support them. I like bands that have a “style” to them. Having a sense of fashion and style can project their image. Bands that call up and say “I want to play your club, what kind of bands do you book?” irritate me. I wouldn’t apply for a job without researching the company I was applying to… Bands should do the same. I prefer bands that look at this as a calling, a career, an addiction, rather than as a pastime or a summer job. Don’t cancel a gig unless you’re deceased (in which case you wouldn’t be able to call and cancel). When you turn down my gig offers, don’t expect to get offered other plum slots. Make yourself available, support the club and support other bands. I notice things like that. I like bands that appreciate that we’re all in this together.
Wednesday: For those that are looking to play at Zaphod’s, what type of gear/sound equip/lighting/etc. does the band/artist have to supply and what are the stage specs?
Eugene: We have all the production necessary for a club this size. All the band has to do is bring their musical equipment. Our production specs are on our website: http://www.zaphods.ca/specs.html. We have been commended by many local, national and international bands on how good the club sounds and how great the staff has treated them.
Wednesday: Where can people go to stay up to date on what’s happening at Zaphod’s? Do you have an online schedule or newsletter?
Eugene: We pioneered the use of the printed Monthly Schedule in Ottawa. Patrons can pick up these schedules at the club. We have a website (http://www.zaphods.ca) that has won many accolades and been written about, including the Globe & Mail. The website is updated frequently. We provide information about the bands, including links to their web sites. We also provide information for media to contact the artists for advance interviews and day-of-show appearances. We have a mailing list, which we send out information through on a frequent basis. We have sold out shows just through alerting the mailing list subscribers.
Wednesday: What do you have planned for the future at Zaphod’s?
Eugene: We’ve planned for more of the same. By that I mean we have continually evolved while still retaining the core values that have guided us. As much as we lead the way, we also allow our patrons to lead us. I’ve always said it’s not MY club, it’s OUR club. We’re always willing to listen and take suggestions under consideration. We’ve seen clubs come and go because they relied on short-lived trends. We’re a social and musical alternative. We’ve taught people that we don’t just live for the weekend. We entertain every day. We’re kind of European or Latin American in our approach – we work every day, we play every day.
Wednesday: Thanks once again Eugene! The next time I’m in Ottawa, I’ll definitely stop by to check out your venue. I’ve heard so much about it over the past few years. How can our readers get in touch with you for more information about Zaphod Beeblebrox?
Eugene: Our web site is the best source of information on the club, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, just don’t put “cheap Viagra” in the subject line!
Wednesday: Is there anything else you’d like to mention to our readers in closing?
Eugene: This legendary club has thrived due to the good auspices of all the bands, agents, managers, patrons, suppliers and staff over the years. I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.