Fred Brokenshire, founder of Fred's Records, dead at 69

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Fred Brokenshire — the Fred in Fred's Records — died Wednesday at the age of 69. (CBC - image credit)
Fred Brokenshire — the Fred in Fred's Records — died Wednesday at the age of 69. (CBC - image credit)

Fred Brokenshire, founder of the legendary St. John's shop Fred's Records, died Wednesday at the age of 69, and his brother is remembering him as an adventurous and creative person.

Jim Brokenshire says Fred always thought outside the box, even from the very beginning of Fred's Records, which he opened in 1972 when he was just 19.

"He was entrepreneurial-minded and creative and energetic and full of life, so he wanted to do something and dreamed up the idea of a record store," Jim said.

"There wasn't anything really like a true record store at the time, so he launched with the help of our father, who was the sensible, wise person behind the scenes that kept everything from going off the rails in the early days."

Jim said their parents also helped foster Fred's love of music, often playing big band jazz or classical music at home, with their father "belting out opera" around the house.

When that love of music led Fred to open a record store, Jim said there was plenty of available space on the then quiet Duckworth Street.

"We were able to find an inexpensive spot to open up, and it's right here, so we've been here ever since."

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The store's now been open on Duckworth Street for 49 years, with Fred's brothers and children and a who's who of local musicians all spending time working at the shop.

Jim said there was also expansion, with locations in the Avalon and Village malls, and elsewhere in Newfoundland.

"He wanted to launch and go big," Jim said. "He was ready to rock once he got his footing. Fred dreamed big and he thought big."

A proud promoter and a 'sea dog'

Fred later moved on to other ventures, Jim said, including a stint as a producer with CBC Radio, before founding the company Duckworth Distribution to help promote Newfoundland and Labrador music across Canada.

Fred also help launch the careers of new artists as well — and sometimes didn't have to look very far.

"He promoted lots of other artists, got them recordings. Damhnait Doyle he found on our staff here at the store, singing in the back room, and took it from there," Jim said.

"[He] said, 'Look, let's do a record,' and he put all that together."

LISTEN | The St. John's Morning Show's Gavin Simms speaks with Jim Brokenshire at Fred's Records

Fred also co-founded the industry association now known as MusicNL, and was involved with the East Coast Music Association as well.

Beyond the music business, Jim said, his brother loved the ocean, starting to sail at an early age, racing sailboats and taking his own kids sailing.

"If some madman had a boat in the water, he'd be on it. One time he sailed across the Atlantic from Gibraltar to Newfoundland here with another couple in a 36-foot boat," Jim said.

"Fred was a sea dog."

'Nothing too big for him to do'

In addition to running the record store, Fred also managed traditional band the Irish Descendants through the 1990s. Con O'Brien, the band's singer and guitarist, says he got to know Fred by buying and selling records.

"Fred was a larger-than-life character. He was as cool as cool could be … and he had that wonderful store," he said.

"Coincidentally, I bought a house on Prospect Street, so you walked out the back door of my house and in the back door of Fred's."

Ted Dillon/CBC
Ted Dillon/CBC

O'Brien said the Irish Descendants' first record, Misty Mountain Shore, sold well at the store, leading Fred to get involved with the band and helping them find success.

"He saw an opportunity with us and courted us and next thing you know, he was now managing the band," he said.

"That was a relationship that was certainly positive for us. Music business is a tough, tough business but he was charismatic and he had a way with words, he would get people to do things. There was nothing too big for him to do."

O'Brien said Fred's influence touched musicians across Atlantic Canada as he supported their careers as well.

"If you were playing music and had anything that was remotely successful in the early '90s running up to the 2000s, he recognized that, and he would do his best to try and help the best he could," he said.

"There wasn't an act between here and New Brunswick that didn't have him affect them in some way or form during that period of time."

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