PHOENIX - Canyon Records celebrated its 50th anniversary in style on Feb. 1. The Phoenix studio, one of the nation's oldest independent labels still in existence, has discovered and nurtured Native recording artists ever since Navajo singer Ed Lee Natay walked into Ray and Mary Boley's garage studio in 1951.
From that humble beginning, Canyon has grown to include its own distribution network, a 7,600-square-foot facility with a state-of-the-art recording studio, in-house graphics design by Nagy graphics, a catalog of over 400 releases and a worldwide fan base.
Upon his 1992 retirement, Boley sold Canyon to current owner Robert Doyle. 'I didn't think we'd be in business 50 days,' said Boley, an honored guest at the party. '[Canyon's founding] was a happy accident. It was a real good opportunity to mingle and get to know Indian people like I wouldn't have otherwise.' Mary Boley passed away some years ago.
Doyle paid homage to Boley as well as to Canyon's artists, saying that the label owes its existence and longevity to Boley's love of the 'voice of one singer, Ed Lee Natay.' Canyon's first release, Natay, Navajo Singer, still sells copies even after 50 years, said Doyle. 'The most important assets of Canyon are the artists,' Doyle said, pointing out R. Carlos Nakai, Radmilla Cody, Aaron White of Burning Sky and Delphine Tsinajinnie in the audience.
Tony Isaacs of Taos' Indian House Music, who was visiting Canyon's facility for the first time, said, 'I think it's fantastic to reach 50 years. Congratulations to Canyon's people.'
Doyle also praised Canyon's staffers, who have worked hard to nurture the label's artists. Jack Miller, who manages Canyon's new recording studio, said he works hard to create the 'Canyon sound.' He gave tours of the shiny facility, with its three isolation booths and high-tech, environmentally safe acoustic materials. Miller, a 30-year veteran recording engineer, also continues to do work for Phoenix-area television stations and local advertisers while keeping Canyon's artists happy.
Stephen Butler, Canyon's production director, just returned from a live recording session in Rocky Boy, Mont. 'It's wonderful that something so beneficial and giving, so good has lasted so long. It's really quite a miracle. Ray recorded their fathers,' said Butler, 'and now I'm recording their sons.'
Cody, who was nominated for three NAMMY awards, said, 'Canyon is a very reputable company.' Cody, who opened the NAMMY ceremony by singing the National Anthem in Navajo, is working on a Christmas album for the label.
Tsinajinnie, this year's NAMMY winner for Best Debut Artist of the Year, said she spend two years researching the best label for her music career. 'The most consistent feedback [from other artists] came from Canyon.' Tsinajinnie cited Canyon's marketing strategies and its willingness to let artists have creative control as the deciding factors in signing with the label. 'I adore them,' said Tsinajinnie. 'They comprehend and express the true art of what Native American music should be.'
Doyle noted that four of Canyon's groups ? Verdell Primeaux and Johnny Mike, the Black Lodge Singers, Young Bird and Northern Cree ? are nominated for GRAMMYs this year. Doyle called the nominations proof of mainstream validation of Canyon's products, 'considering that our [radio] play is usually on college and Native American stations.' The label will participate in the GRAMMYFest on Feb. 26, the evening before the awards. Nakai will be honored with a second Gold Record for his 1987 release Earth Spirit.
Hopi Chairman Wayne Taylor, Jr., and his wife Loris also praised Canyon.