Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Executive by day, rocker by night

Gendis Corp. CEO still follows musical passions

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James Cohen wants to rock and roll all night and run Gendis Corp. every day.

The CEO of the Winnipeg-based investment and real estate company is far from your typical executive. By day, he works in his south Winnipeg office running the company founded by his late father, Albert.

By night -- well, many of them anyway -- he's the lead singer of James Cohen and the Prairie Roots Rockers.

'It's very entrepreneurial running a band. People don't realize the amount of work'

-- James Cohen, CEO of Gendis Corp. and lead singer of James Cohen and the Prairie Roots Rockers

But he's not one of those guys who learned a few guitar chords so he could sing Kumbaya around a campfire.

He played in a band in high school and didn't want to give up his dream after graduating from university so, he enrolled at the Guitar Institute of Technology in Los Angeles, where he learned about becoming a better player and how to write songs. He moved back home in early 1991 and started working for the family company.

"I never gave up playing. I kept writing songs and I put out a couple of demos and had a little bit of interest," he said.

Fast-forward a couple of decades to when Cohen met with Johnny MacDonald, a lawyer by training and an entrepreneur based out of Edmonton. MacDonald had just started a record label called SoccerMom Records and after hearing some of Cohen's material, signed him up.

In his 40s and having long since given up the dream of being signed to a record deal, Cohen was ecstatic when he put out the band's self-titled album in late 2011. One of the singles, So Long Sweet Deception, charted for 16 weeks nationally.

Unfortunately, it didn't get much airplay in his hometown.

It did, however, hit the airwaves in Ontario, B.C. and Saskatchewan and it led to Cohen and his band playing a couple of times during Canadian Music Week in Toronto.

Cohen is joined by Lloyd Peterson, a longtime staple in Manitoba's music industry, including former lead singer of the Cheer, on guitar, Bruce Jacobs on bass, Gerry Atwell on piano and keyboards and Steve Martens on drums.

Cohen realizes how lucky is he to be able to pursue two challenging and fun careers and how important it is to balance everything in his life. There are no shortcuts, he said.

"You have to be organized. There's a lot of planning involved for hotels and airfares. It's like running a small business. It's very entrepreneurial running a band. People don't realize the amount of work, especially when you're loading up the van, driving to the gig, setting up, tearing the stuff down after, heading to the hotel and then doing it all again the next day," he said.

The band is in the process of lining up some gigs, including some benefit shows, for the fall, Cohen said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 3, 2014 B5

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