Stories to fuel your mind

BJ Cook And The Life Of A Canadian Rock Classic

Share the story

Story by Joe Leary

Photos by Quinn Bender

Let her cry for she’s a lady, Let her dream, for she’s a child. Let the rain fall upon her, She’s a free and gentle flower growing wild. ‘Wild flower’ – Skylark Capitol Records 197

Since its release fifty years ago, the song Wild flower has become ingrained among our country’s musical mosaic. Today, it proudly holds a distinct place of honor in Canadian recording history. The group responsible for this musical gem, Skylark, was recently acknowledged with induction into the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame. Written by David Richardson and Doug Edwards and with soulful vocals performed by the late Donny Gerrard, Wild flower rocketed up the charts in 1973 and has since become enshrined as a classic rock radio staple since. Victoria-based ‘Skylark’ became the breeding ground for esteemed music producer David Foster, but it was his bandmate and soon-to-be wife, BJ Cook, who was the impetus that ultimately led to the group’s recording success. BJ is a trailblazer in the British Columbia music scene, having performed as both showgirl and nightclub singer throughout the sixties, opening for Johnny Cash and Della Reese, before joining forces with the legendary Ronnie Hawkins. While in Edmonton she teamed up with Foster, before moving back to Vancouver and forming Skylark. David had just been fired from the Ronnie Hawkins band because, to quote Ronnie, ‘Son, you play like Beethoven but you look like a cadaver on stage. This is a rock and roll band, son, so I’m gonna have to fi re ya!’ The Hawks were the nucleus of Skylark, and when talk of forming their band occurred, Foster had caveats in terms of personnel. David announced he wanted three singers in the band – he had a concept, sort of, says Cook

Hey, I’m a good singer, but I ain’t Celine Dion and I love singing harmony, so I was in. We auditioned a few singers, but when Donny Gerrard was available, for one rehearsal – we knew he was the one. Were it not for Cook’s persistence, the song and possibly the band—would not exist, as BJ’s connections led the demos to Capitol Records and an eventual move down south. I had gone to Los Angeles and met a stand-up guy named Dino Airale and he tried to get me discovered, so I did tons of auditions, she recalls. I eventually went back home to Vancouver but stayed in touch with Dino and when we put Skylark together and recorded a bunch of stuff, I sent it to him.

Airale would take it to Capitol Records, where it caught the attention of Grammy and Emmy Award-winning producer Barry DeVorzon, and a deal was done! Let her cry for she’s a lady, Let her dream, for she’s a child. Let the rain fall upon her, She’s a free and gentle flower growing wild. ‘Wildflower’ – Skylark Capitol Records 1973 45JESSEL FALL/WINTER 2023 Wildflower was the second single released from the group’s self-titled album, a record that saw the previous single go virtually unnoticed.

The song gained airplay on local Detroit radio stations, where one fateful night it caught the ear of Rosalie Tremblay, the legendary Music Director of CKLW — ‘The Big 8,’ the revered Windsor, Ontario operation known for a powerful signal that blanketed several key US markets. It was also considered Detroit’s biggest and most influential radio station.

CKLW became a gateway for Canadian recording artists to gain exposure to American audiences. Tremblay gave it a shot in the arm through radio play. Without her there may not be a Wild flower, but without BJ Cook, there may not be a Skylark.

Cook and Foster married in 1972, resulting in the birth of their daughter, Amy Skylark Foster. She is an accomplished songwriter in her own right, having written multiple hit songs for Michael Bublé. After the pair went their separate ways, BJ continued composing music with Foster, Michael McDonald, Chicago keyboardist Bill Champlin, and singer, songwriter/producer, Brenda Russell.

David Foster would ultimately find fame as a multi-Grammy Award-winning music producer, composer, and arranger. BJ and Foster remain close and were recently co-celebrated during their BC Entertainment Hall of Fame induction. Wild flower endures as a fixture on radio playlists for 50 years and counting – and that’s just the original Skylark version. It has seen countless covers, from soul artists The O’Jay’s, Color Me Badd, and crooner Johnny Mathis, to being sampled by rap and hip-hop icons 2Pac, Kanye West, and Eminem. Now 81, BJ Cook is an inspiration to aspiring to a new generation.

And though the early days of the music industry may have been male dominated, she didn’t let that stand in her way. Never felt discrimination, says BJ. When you sit in a dressing room with a bunch of guys, working dives, and listen to them talk about their lives for years, instead of being off-ended or insulted by the stuff that goes on in the ‘locker room,’ it gave me a sense of power. I never let the fact that I was a woman get in my way. Not ever.

Sponsored Ads

Related Articles