2023 marks the 50th anniversary ofSkylark’s Wildflower, the classic Canadian love ballad that endures genres and generations like sidewalk chamomile with over 100 covers and sample versions to become one of the most beloved and performed songs in the history of Canadian pop music.
“Let her cry for she’s a lady, let her dream for she’s a child…” This tender refrain is recognized around the world, and though written and most often sung by men, the song owes its enduring success in large part to three women: BJ Cook was the force that envisioned and formed the band Skylark and midwifed its record deal; CKLW Program Director Rosalie Tremblay picked Wildflower as a hit and ensured its release as a single; and music publisher Valley Hennell has protected the copyright for half a century.
BJ Cook and David Foster are two surviving members of the original Skylark band: guitarist/composer Doug Edwards, vocalist Donny Gerrard, bassist Steve Pugsley, drummer Duris Maxwell, B3 player Robbie King, bg vocalist Bobby Taylor and lyricist Dave Richardson have all passed. While Foster went on the worldwide acclaim, it was BJ who assembled the Skylark players and secured the Capitol Records deal that launched both the song and Foster’s career. To this day Foster includes Wildflower in his Hitman concerts and tips his hat to BJ as the root of his success. (Musicians Brian Hilton, Norm McPherson, John Verner and Allan Mix later toured with Skylark during its brief performing sojourn.)
When she met David, BJ Cook was already a pioneer in the nascent BC music scene. In the ‘60s she honed her craft as a showgirl and singer in clubs and bars in Vancouver, opening for stars like Johnny Cash, Della Reese, Marty Robbins and Nancy Wilson, touring with Spanky and Our Gang and The Delights, and fronting her own band Sweet Beaver before joining Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks in Toronto. There she joined forces with a much younger David Foster, and in 1971 when Ronnie fired Foster for “looking like a cadaver on stage”, they moved back to Vancouver and founded Skylark. It was BJ’s connections that led to the recording deal with Capitol Records and a move to LA. When after two albums, the birth of daughter Amy Skylark Foster and a divorce, they went their separate ways, BJ stayed in the biz, working as a PA for Jaye P Morgan and co-writing with Michael McDonald, Brenda Russell, and Bill Champlin.With her longtime collaborator Domenic Troiano she wrote the theme for Night Heat, Air Waves and Hot Shots. At age 81 she is still rockin’ in Victoria, BC.
How did a poem written by a young policeman (Dave Richardson) for his nurse girlfriend in Victoria Canada, set to music by a musician he had never met (guitarist Doug Edwards) and recorded in a classic first take by an unknown Canadian band (Skylark) launch the career of one of the world’s best-known producers (David Foster) and become beloved around the globe? Wildflower is a one hit wonder whose success is an unlikely tale of luck, pluck, timing and tenacity. The song almost didn’t get written, recorded or released. The title does not appear in the song’s lyric. It defied all odds and broke every rule to become a pop and soul standard.
After the first two singles fizzled, Capitol Records released Wildflower in February 1973 as the third Skylark single at the insistence of hit maker Rosalie Trombley at CKLW Windsor. it went to #1 on the Canadian adult contemporary charts and in May 1973 peaked at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #10 on RPM singles chart.
That same year 1973 saxophonist Hank Crawford (Ray Charles’ musical director) released an instrumental version (on an album entitled Wildflower) which decades later was sampled by 2pac Shakur (Shorty Wanna Be A Thug), Kanye West (Drive Slow), Drake (Miss Me) and recently by young UK rapper Central Cee (Retail Therapy). In 2005 Jamie Foxx sampled the New Birth version in his mega hit Unpredictable.
By the time Skylark released its second album in 1974 (which also included Wildflower) the song had been covered by Johnny Mathis, the New Birth, Jimmy Smith and the O’Jays. It went on to be covered by countless artists including Colour Me Badd, The Neville Brothers, Lisa Fischer, Gary Morris and Blake Sheldon to become one of the most performed songs in Canadian pop music, with over one hundred covers and compilations and dozens of sample versions. It was the only English song on Canto-pop superstar Sandy Lam’s 1991 classic Cantonese album entitled Wildflower.
Wildflower continues to be sung at weddings, graduations and funerals and at the Olympics, and was featured in Gangstresses, a film about prostitution, as the soundtrack for a video counselling US veterans with PTSD; and on New York Undercover (now rebooted) whose writers didn’t know it was written by a cop. Sung in English by Journey lead singer Arnel Pineda, it’s the theme song for a 200 episode Tagalog Filipino revenge drama entitled Wildflower now on Netflix. This year it was sampled by Muslim hip hop artist Siya in her song Together.
Wildflower has been honoured with SOCAN Classic and Crystal Awards and a BMI Millionaire’s Award. In 2011 it was inducted into Canadian Song Writers Hall of Fame.
David Foster in LA and BJ Cook in Victoria are the sole remaining surviving original members of Skylark—Doug Edwards, Steve Pugsley, Duris Maxwell, Robbie King, lyricist Dave Richardson and vocalist Donny Gerrard have all passed on but the music will live on forever.
More detailed history and list of covers and sample versions at www.wildflowersong.com.