By David Ball

February is Black History Month, so how about celebrating by listening to some Oscar Peterson, Maestro, K’Naan, Salome Bey and Divine Brown, or by reading Michael Ondaatje’s Buddy Bolden jazz novel Coming Through Slaughter and Esi Edugyan’s Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning Half-Blood Blues.

Squires reunion perhaps?

The evening of Feb. 1, 1963, saw a 17-year-old transplanted Torontonian by the name of Neil Young (seven-time JUNO Award winner, Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee, Allan Waters Humanitarian Award recipient and Officer of the Order of Canada) perform his first paid gig at a Winnipeg country club with one of his earliest bands, The Squires. I couldn’t unearth a set list, but you can bet the folks at the club heard a bunch of the Ventures and Shadows covers that Neil Young & The Squires were wont to perform at the time, along with a smattering of surf and garage rock originals highlighted by their 1963 regional hit “The Sultan.” Speaking of that song, only 300 copies of the 45 were ever pressed, and they were sold only at their Winnipeg gigs circa 1963. According to the Neil Young fan page Thrasher’s Wheat, the whereabouts of only eight to 10 of the 45s are known today, making “The Sultan” one of the rarest 45s in the world. Young himself doesn’t even own one. The last known copy to be auctioned off sold for $3,000 in the late 1990s.

Neil Young & The Squires split up in 1965, at which point Young embarked on a brief solo career that landed him back in Ontario where he joined future funk legend Rick James’ R&B band, The Mynah Birds. The twosome also became unlikely roommates; if memory serves me correctly, I believe they shared a flat in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood (back then the now-swanky district was a bohemian music mecca). After James’ group disbanded, Young and Mynah Birds bassist Bruce Palmer relocated to California in the spring of 1966 and hooked up with Stephen Stills and Richie Furay, and Buffalo Springfield was born.

Thanks for yanking the blues back from the dead and scuffing the sheen off of rock ’n’ roll…

The faux brother-sister garage blues act The White Stripes announced they were breaking up on Feb. 2, 2011. Sure this was a tragedy, but you have to admire Jack and Meg White’s timing: The Detroit ex-married couple got out at the height of their powers. At the time of the announcement, the guitar-drum duo were one of rock’s biggest acts and, incredibly, were still managing to combine being edgy and influential with critical and commercial success. The White Stripes were one of the few acts of their era to rise to rock superstardom, a far cry from their modest late ’90s beginnings playing small clubs to sparse crowds. (Anyone who says they caught their gig at the Rivoli in Toronto in the late ’90s is either one of the lucky ones, or a fibber, since Jack White himself said there were only a few witnesses in the club.) During their 14-year run, the Stripes released six acclaimed, genre-bending studio albums, attracting an impressive fan base to their devolved rock-blues hybrid. Their breakthrough came in 2001 with the release of White Blood Cells – along with Michel Gondry’s incredible Lego-animation music video for “Fell in Love with a Girl.” But it was theirfourth LP that made the band a household name. Released in 2003, Elephant went double-platinum, won two Grammy Awards, reached Billboard’s Top 10 and received glowing praise from critics on both sides of the pond. The album’s loose, rock-heavy arrangements allowed Jack White plenty of room to shine, effectively introducing a brand-new guitar hero to the rock world. As great as all of The White Stripes’ albums are, including the quieter experimental effort Get Behind Me Satan, the pair were equally well known for their electrifying live prowess, as anyone who witnessed one of the shows from their landmark 2007 cross-Canada tour can attest. Captured on the acclaimed documentary and accompanying live CD, The White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights, the massively ambitious and unprecedented rock expedition, in support of their swan song Icky Thump, was conceived as a kind of love letter to all of Canada. The duo performed in every province and territory, with surprise impromptu gigs along the way.

Joni Mitchell’s “You Turn Me On I’m A Radio” stalled at No. 25 on Billboard’s pop singles chart on Feb. 3, 1973. But far more significant than the modest ranking was that the single marked Mitchell’s first big hit as a solo artist. Before its release she was known primarily as a songwriter, with some of her tunes becoming more famous recorded by other acts such as “Woodstock” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and “This Flight Tonight” by Nazareth. The song’s lyrics are “an extended metaphor where the narrator compares herself to a car radio and a radio station, hoping to please her listeners. The music mirrors the words – just as the singer notes that she’s a country station, the song has a country feel, and its romantic/sexual connotation is emphasized by the tune’s lazy sensuousness” (William Ruhlmann, All Music Guide). Mitchell said in an interview that she wrote the song in a deliberate attempt to get a hit. Mission accomplished! David Crosby, Graham Nash and Neil Young took part in the original recording session, but only Nash made the final cut (he is credited with playing harmonica). “You Turn Me On I’m A Radio” was released in October 1972 as the leadoff single for For the Roses, preceding what would be her fifth studio album by a month. The single peaked at No. 10 on Canada’s RPM singles chart, but it wasn’t the Saskatchewan folk singer’s Canadian chart breakthrough. In 1970, the multi-JUNO Award-winner and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee’s best-known solo song, “Big Yellow Taxi,” cracked RPM’s Top 15, although it originally only managed to grab No. 67 on Billboard.

Better late than never…

 

Billboard Hot 100’s No. 1 single on Feb. 4, 1989, was “When I’m With You,” a seven-year-old power ballad by defunct Toronto band Sheriff. As the royalties began pouring in (by the millions), Arnold Lanni, the song’s writer and Sheriff’s keyboardist, restarted his music career with the formation of Frozen Ghost. The third single from Sheriff’s self-titled – and only – album was a No. 8 hit in Canada in 1983, but mustered a measly No. 61 stateside. How did it finally rise to greater heights in the United States? The story goes something like this: A Las Vegas DJ began spinning the tune in 1988 and other stations started doing the same. Capitol Records caught wind of this and decided to rerelease the single, but the delayed success didn’t rekindle a reunion. Lanni and Sheriff bassist Wolf Hassell were busy with Frozen Ghost while the other two Sheriff members, vocalist Freddy Curci and guitarist Steve DeMarchi, formed the band Alias.

Next week: Corey Hart and “Tears Are Not Enough”

“You Turn Me On I’m a Radio” by Joni Mitchell


By James Sandham

The music world – let alone that sub-sphere known as the Canadian music world – can be an extremely small place. Six degrees of separation can easily become four, even three or two. Take the example of Rufus Wainwright and Jeff Buckley. While both men came from renowned musical lineages (Wainwright being the son of folk singers Kate McGarrigle, a two-time JUNO Award winner, and Grammy Award-winning Loudon Wainwright III; and Buckley being the son of his famous father Tim), they were born in separate decades (Wainwright in ’73 and Buckley in ’66) and on opposite sides of the continent (Rhinebeck, New York, and Anaheim, California, respectively).

Wainwright’s parents would divorce when he was three, and he would then move to Montreal with his mother, where he spent most of his youth. Wainwright was touring by the age of 13 with The McGarrigle Sisters and Family, a folk group featuring him, his mother, his aunt, Anna, and his sister, Martha. Buckley, on the other hand, was moving around Orange County at that time, an upbringing he referred to as “rootless trailer trash.” He graduated high school and moved to Hollywood at the age of 19, and spent the next six years working in hotels while playing guitar in various struggling bands.

Nonetheless, the two men’s lives were fated to cross, and that happened in 1996, when both found themselves living in New York City. By this time, Buckley was already an established musician, having released his Live at Sin-é EP in 1993 and his Grace LP in 1994, and had toured internationally to promote them. Wainwright, on the other hand, was just an up-and-comer.

What developed was a feud that now features in most commentaries on the two men. Ostensibly, it came about through Wainwright’s jealousy – he was thrice denied the opportunity to play at Sin-é, the East Village music venue where Buckley regularly performed among the likes of Sinéad O’Connor, Marianne Faithfull and Allen Ginsberg. Wainwright, known for his emotional virtuosity, took this putative slight to heart.

From this initially cool rapport, however, grew a brief but now almost legendary relationship, due to Wainwright later immortalizing it in song. The two men met again in 1997 at a show where Wainwright was performing, and Buckley reportedly helped him overcome some technical issues. They had beers afterward, over the course of which Wainwright is said to have revised his initial enmity. As Patrick Zimmerman has written, he recognized in Buckley “another beautiful boy blessed with more than mere attitude and exhibitionism.”

Tragically, that beautiful boy would die a few months later, his life ending in May 1997, of accidental drowning in Memphis, Tennessee’s Wolf River Harbour. Wainwright would go on to memorialize their short relationship in his 2004 song “Memphis Skyline,” lamenting that he “always hated him for the way he looked/In the gaslight of the morning” but “then came Hallelujah sounding like Ophelia” – a reference to Buckley’s heartfelt cover of “Hallelujah,” considered by Rolling Stone to be one of the 500 greatest songs of all time. Wainwright would later cover the song himself, providing a stirring interpretation of what has become, since its 1984 inception, a contemporary classic, and drawing yet another Canadian musician into this story: “Hallelujah” writer, Leonard Cohen. Wainwright’s interpretation, described as “liturgical” and bespeaking purity, would eventually be featured on the soundtrack to the film Shrek, thus weaving yet another Canadian voice into the saga, Scarborough-born actor Mike Myers, who voiced the movie’s eponymous lead character.

Yes, it’s a small world indeed. And that’s where today’s dose of serendipitous Canadian trivia ends. It goes to show that often, it’s not what you know, but who you know. Especially in this tiny world. And especially in Canada.

Video: “Hallelujah” by Rufus Wainwright


By David Ball

Canadians won BIG but surprised NO ONE at the American Music Awards…

Two of Canada’s hottest stars, Shania Twain and Alanis Morissette, took home trophies at the 24th annual American Music Awards, televised worldwide by ABC on Jan. 27, 1997. Twain won for favourite female country artist, handily beating out two of her rivals, Wynonna and Faith Hill. I said “handily” because the AMAs are decided by a music buyers’ poll. Nominations are based on sales, radio play and music video views, and nominees only qualify if their projects are released between December 1 of the previous year and September 1 of the current one. Although it was a full year since Twain’s mega-selling album The Woman in Me was released, the album was still going strong in 1996 with three singles reaching No. 1. Incidentally, the Timmins native lost to George Strait in the category for favourite country album.

Morissette’s breakout LP, Jagged Little Pill, won favourite pop/rock album, and the Ottawa-born singer-songwriter also walked away with the statue for favourite pop/rock female artist. Aside from collecting the 1992 JUNO Award for most promising female vocalist of the year, Morissette’s AMA twofer represented her first-ever honours outside of Canada. However, later in 1996, she went on to win four Grammy Awards, including album of the year and a whopping five JUNOs. Not to be outdone, Twain earned 36 other awards in 1996, including a Grammy for best country album and JUNO Awards for country female vocalist of the year and entertainer of the year.

Speaking of birthdays… I could devote several pages to one of Canada’s greatest exports, but alas, I’m not allowed to. So here’s a condensed bio.

One of the most important female singer-songwriters of her generation, Sarah McLachlan was born on Jan. 28, 1968 in Halifax. The multiple JUNO and Grammy award winner, Lilith Fair matriarch and Officer of the Order of Canada spent her early years taking music lessons including piano, guitar and voice. In her late teens, McLachlan finished a year of art training at the Nova Scotia School of Art & Design while honing her musical chops as the lead singer of local new wave band October Gain. The band’s popularity got McLachlan noticed and she signed her first record deal with Nettwerk in 1987. Soon after relocating to Vancouver in 1988, the 19-year-old songstress released her solo debut, Touch. Initially the album didn’t sell well, but it did lead to a new and more lucrative record deal with Arista. Touch was reissued by Arista internationally in 1989 and eventually went gold in Canada. Her follow-up LP and first with Arista, 1991’s Solace, was a mature 10-song effort that became her commercial breakthrough in Canada and included the singles, “The Path of Thorns (Terms)” and “Into the Fire,” the latter of which won the award for best music video at the 1992 JUNO Awards while McLachlan was nominated for female vocalist of the year.

In the fall of 1992, McLachlan, a philanthropist and passionate advocate for human rights, visited Cambodia and Thailand with a documentary crew from World Vision to expose poverty and child prostitution. When she returned home, she went into seclusion near Montreal and began composing material for her next album. The result was Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, her most realized work to date. Released in October of 1993, the album broke McLachlan into the American market. While it stalled at No. 50 on Billboard, it did garner Grammy and JUNO Award nominations and continued to chart for two years.

Her long-awaited fourth album, Surfacing, was issued in the summer of 1997 to coincide with the all-star, all-female Lilith Fair tour, with McLachlan as founder and co-headliner. Surfacing was an immediate hit, reaching No. 1 on Canada’s RPM chart and No. 2 on Billboard. Its success – four hit singles, four JUNOs and two Grammys – placed the singer into the superstar class.

But McLachlan was seemingly not satisfied with mere commercial success. She formed Lilith Fair, one of the most revolutionary tours in music history; a tour produced by a woman and showcasing all female acts. Despite cynical predictions, Lilith Fair grossed $16 million in 1997. After the tour wound down in 1999, McLachlan went on an extended hiatus, in part to start a family with her drummer and husband, Ashwin Sood (the couple later divorced), although she remained busy making one-off performances and collaborations, most notably “When She Loved Me,” an Oscar-nominated duet with Randy Newman from the Toy Story 2 soundtrack. She resurfaced in November 2003 with Afterglow, herfifth studio album; it peaked at No. 2 on Billboard and sold over five million copies worldwide. Wintersong dropped into record stores in 2006, an excellent collection of 11 new Christmas songs and several covers, including the excellent interpretation of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over).” Also in 2006, she put out Mirrorball: The Complete Concert, containing the entire sets from her final two Portland gigs in 1998, expanding – and improving – upon the original 1999 truncated release. She returned to the spotlight in 2010, performing at the opening ceremonies at the Vancouver Winter Olympics and released Laws of Illusion, her first collection of studio material since 2003.

In the summer of 2010, McLachlan had a second go at Lilith, but the results were disappointing. The tour was plagued with sluggish attendance, cancelled gigs, negative press and the economy. However, she hasn’t ruled out bringing Lilith back at some point in the future. On a personal note, I had the pleasure of working on the crew for McLachlan’s “Intimate & Interactive” television special at MuchMusic in the fall of 1997 and she was professional and pleasant throughout. Also, her tireless and inspirational crusade for animal welfare through the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals inspired me to adopt three cats.

 

Taking the cue from the shout-out TWIH gave to Sir John A Macdonald on his birthday: This is a new shout-out-only category I’m going to call “Not Music-Related, But Too Big to Ignore…”

 

Give it up to Wayne Gretzky, celebrating his 51st birthday on January 26! The Great One was born at the Brantford General Hospital in 1961 and his hockey greatness has been canonized in song by several artists, including The Pursuit of Happiness’s “Gretzky Rocks,” erroneously credited to Canuck music comedy troupe The Arrogant Worms.

 

Next week: Neil Young and Joni Mitchell

Video: “Gretzky Rocks” by The Pursuit of Happiness

 

More “This Week in History” here.


By Orlando da Silva

In the world of jazz, Oscar Peterson is such a towering figure that he isn’t considered a Canadian pianist but rather one of the greatest pianists in history from any place. He backed up Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, it matters not where he is from.

I must disagree; it does matter where an artist comes from if that artist draws from his surroundings as deeply as Peterson did on his 1964 record Canadiana Suite.

Many people inside and outside of our border don’t know about Peterson’s roots in Montreal, his well-documented progression as a pianist on CBC Radio broadcasts from the age of 15, and his latter years spent in Mississauga, Ont. Peterson was not the kind of artist to hang an identity on his nationality, but he was nonetheless a proud and much-celebrated Canadian, receiving the highest honours possible, and even being inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in its first year of existence.

There is perhaps no greater example in Peterson’s discography of how tied to the Canadian experience he was than Canadiana Suite. A musical love letter to his homeland, the record contains eight original compositions with titles reflecting the parts of Canada he was most familiar with. On his episode of NPR’s “Jazz Profiles,” Peterson said that the concept for the record came about when he was bored one day during a tour stop in Chicago:

“I had been messing with Ray that day, as usual, and he said to me, ‘Why don’t you go do something productive, why don’t you go write a song or something?’ I went back to my room and the first thing I wrote was ‘Wheatland,’ and after I wrote it I thought it was reminiscent of the placid fields of wheat in Western Canada.”

Listening to the music, I do get the sense that Peterson worked to make each song representative of its subject matter. “Wheatland” is calm and majestic, while the propulsive bebop of “Place St. Henri” reflects the hustle and bustle of the neighbourhood Peterson grew up in. And in the cool 12-bar stride of “Hogtown Blues” I swear I can feel the spirit of the Toronto of half a century ago.

Years before his face ever graced a postage stamp, young Oscar Peterson took great care to make Canadiana Suite worthy of its subject matter because he was proud of where he was from. Almost 50 years later it stands as one of his greatest achievements, and therefore, one of our greatest achievements.


Bryan Adams 1994 Promo Pic by Clara Roy Minguillon

 

By David Ball

 

It seems President Võ Chí Công liked to rock after all. But I wonder if the former Vietnam leader was a fan of matching white outfits?

On Jan. 16, 1994, rock superstar Bryan Adams (17-time JUNO Award winner, Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee and recipient of 2010’s Allan Waters Humanitarian Award) was the first act from the West to play Ho Chi Mihn City since James Brown did a series of wartime shows in the 1960s. It was Adams’ ninth stop on his 15-city Waking Up The World Asian tour in support of his 1991 album, Waking Up the Neighbours. The Kingston-born, Vancouver-raised singer and his longtime band performed in front of 2,500 fans in the city formerly known as Saigon. The historic event was given the green light only after Adams’ Hong Kong-based tour promoter, Bruce Aitkin, obtained 12 separate government approvals. Note: American acts were not permitted into the country without an official go-ahead from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Annoying red tape aside, Adams was the perfect choice to melt the icy East-West barrier. During the late ’80s and the 1990s, Adams was one of the world’s biggest pop acts. Waking Up the Neighbours was an enormous international bestseller on the strength of the hit “Can’t Stop This Thing We Started” and power ballad “(Everything I Do) I Do it For You,” which went on to win a Grammy Award after becoming a sensation via the soundtrack for the Kevin Costner blockbuster Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Not to polish any grit off his brand of rock and roll, but Adams’ boy-next-door likeability is a quality that may have helped woo Công and his fellow members of the Communist Party of Vietnam into staging the concert. (Adams’ support of a variety of international charities probably didn’t hurt his image either.) I couldn’t find photos of the concert, so I don’t know if Adams and his band donned matching white outfits like they’ve been want to do on occasion…but I hope they did. Five guys decked out in white and rocking it out on stage would make a fitting symbol of peace.

Same song and catchier name = big hit…

On Jan. 16, 1965, Chad Allan and the Expressions rereleased “Shakin’ All Over” along with the question: Guess who? The Winnipeg band’s original promo copy radio single read: “Shakin’ All Over” – Guess Who? Airing the 45 became a radio contest prompted by the band’s Quality label. As Allan put it: “Listeners would phone in and win prizes if they guessed our name. That was during the time of the heavy British Invasion with The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers…and people would guess The Beatles, Paul McCartney and John Lennon, and what have you. There was an association there that seemed to stick and we were associated with heavy-duty American bands or British bands in particular, and it seemed to me that we kinda passed that local plateau before people had a chance to realize that we were a local band and boom it was a hit. So that’s how we got the Guess Who name…it wasn’t our name but it simply stuck.”

It sure did. “Shakin’ All Over” by the mysterious band went to No. 1 in Canada while it cracked the Top 25 in the U.S. In 1966, Burton Cummings replaced Bob Ashley as the band’s piano player and co-lead singer (with Allan) – at this point the band were officially called The Guess Who? Allan left after their 1966 debut and the “?” was dropped in 1968. The rest is history. The Guess Who (two-time JUNO Award winners and members of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame) went on to become one of the great bands of the late ’60s and ’70s and Canadian rock-and-roll ambassadors.

This pipsqueak purveyor of porcelain pop merits a four-sentence blurb…

“Mandy,” by elevator music king Barry Manilow, was Billboard’s No. 1 single on Jan. 18, 1978. Manilow’s cover of Barry English’s 1971 U.K. hit, “Brandy,” was his first Billboard No. 1. But more importantly, when and if the time ever comes, Mandy and Brandy rank No. 4 and No. 5, respectively, in names I’ll never call my future daughter. FYI, Snooki tops the list followed closely by Ke$ha and Seven.

If there’s a TV in heaven, I bet this Canadian music legend put his foot through many a screen.

Calixa Lavallée, the composer of “O Canada” – the greatest national anthem of them all (I’m biased) – died at age 48 on Jan. 21, 1891, in Boston. The ex-pat French-Canadian and U.S. Civil War veteran was commissioned by Quebec’s lieutenant governor, Theodore Robitaille, to compose music to accompany a patriotic poem penned by Adolphe-Basile Routhier for 1880’s Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations. Robert Stanley Weir inscribed the first English language version in 1908 – version because his isn’t a literal translation. Lavallée was born in a suburb of Montreal on Dec. 28, 1842. He began his music education at a young age as a classical pianist, studying under his father and later revered Montreal instructor, Charles Wugk Sabatier. His family moved to New England in 1857 and Lavallée enlisted in the 4th Rhode Island Volunteers of the Union Army during the American Civil War. Lavallée travelled across the U.S. and Canada during and after the war and honed his skills as a composer and teacher. He was the conductor of orchestral productions and operas at the Montreal Academy of Music and was the director at New York’s prestigious Grand Opera House. Lavallée eventually settled in Boston with his family and became the choirmaster at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. His remains were returned to Quebec in 1933 and you can visit his gravesite at Montreal’s Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, a national historical site of Canada.

…But back to the headline.

If there is cable in heaven, I have no doubt one or both of Lt. Lavallée’s war boots have been embedded in the TV screen during every terrible rendition of “O Canada.” (I even thought about going postal when our flag was flown upside down at one memorable Major League Baseball All-Star Game.) If I were a betting man of the spiritual kind, I’d predict the No. 1 version on Lavallée’s Worst-Ever list would be Vegas lounge singer Mr. Dennis K.C. Parks’ “avant-garde interpretation” at the start of the Las Vegas Posse-Saskatchewan Roughriders Canadian Football League game in 1994. It’s so bad, we’re lucky it didn’t start another war.

Next week: Sarah McLachlan and Shania Twain

 

“O Canada” by Dennis K.C. Parks


By David Ball

Not really music related, but…

Give it up for Sir John A. Macdonald’s birthday! While it was first recognized as a national holiday on Jan. 5, 1967, the actual birthdate of Canada’s first prime minister was Jan. 11, 1815. I urge all to celebrate this broth of a lad from Glasgow’s big day by visiting a divvy pub and downing a shot of cheap whiskey and/or skunky draft in homage to this proud Kingstonian and $10-bill model. (John A.’s local Limestone City haunt was the Royal Tap Room, which is still in operation and serving up budget-friendly draught today.) And if you spin some Tragically Hip (12-time JUNO Award winners) and/or Stan Rogers while discussing the merits of single malt and end up in an Upper Canada Tories versus Clear Grits dust-up, then all the better.

Introducing a category I’ll gently call: Hit Singles That Are as Profound as Ke$ha’s “Blah Blah Blah”:

Leo Sayer’s impossibly catchy and impossibly maddening “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” boogied its way to No. 1 on Jan. 15, 1977. But perhaps more important than it being the U.K. singer’s first No. 1 hit, one of the biggest disco tunes of 1976 and a reaffirmation of the burgeoning punk movement: Neither Sayer nor hearing him sing this song have ever inspired me to dance.

It was indeed a rare and notable feat to find a rock band – and a Canadian one at that – gracing the cover of the Jan. 12, 1970, edition of TIME Magazine. But The Band certainly had earned the prestigious honour. At the time of their cover they were red hot and one of the most critically acclaimed and influential acts in the world (admiration was particularly high from once venerable Rolling Stone). With back-to-back masterpiece albums (Music From Big Pink in 1968 and their 1969 self-titled second effort) and memorable appearances at Woodstock, the Isle of Wight Festival (backing frequent collaborator Bob Dylan) and “The Ed Sullivan Show,” praise for the Toronto group’s rootsy spiritual Americana surpassed that of all other top ’60s pioneers of the genre, including The Byrds, Grateful Dead and even mentor Bob Dylan. Not bad for four Ontario pals and a good old boy from Arkansas, who went their separate ways after one final concert in 1976, captured by Martin Scorsese in the celebrated documentary, The Last Waltz.

In a 2004 poll, The Band ranked No. 50 in Rolling Stones’100 Greatest Artists of All Time. They were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. The Grammy Awards recognized Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel with a lifetime achievement statue in 2008, but you know what? The Time cover is just as impressive as all their other achievements.

A nasty Jan. 14, 1968, ice storm wreaked havoc in the Toronto area, and inflicted some serious damage to a silver maple at Memory Lane and 62 Laing St. in the city’s east end. This wasn’t any old tree located in a quiet Leslieville neighbourhood. The maple in question was the very same one that inspired Alexander Muir to compose “The Maple Leaf Forever,” a patriotic song the public school principal, soldier, poet and hobby songwriter submitted to a Confederation of Canada poem contest held in Montreal in 1867. Surprisingly, his inspiring verses (Muir added his own music in 1868; a copyrighted edition followed in 1871) could only muster a second-place finish. Eventually the song was embraced as an unofficial national anthem in English Canada and became the regimental marching song for The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada and The Royal Westminster Regiment (Muir served in the former during the time of his famous composition).

The story behind the song’s origins is a little sketchy, but according to the online site, History of Canada: “Muir was inspired by a huge silver maple that stood in front of his home, Maple Cottage, at Memory Lane and Laing Street in Toronto, Ontario. While he and a friend, George Leslie, were taking a walk, a leaf from the tree fell on his friend’s coat and stayed there for a time despite his efforts to brush it off. Leslie suggested the idea of the permanence of the maple leaf to Muir, who wrote the lyrics and sent them off at the last minute. Muir tried to find a suitable piece of music, but had to write his own.”

Thankfully, Toronto’s City Parks Department repaired the majestic tree, located in front of Muir’s Maple Cottage home (although historians debate whether he actually lived there or not). With all the proposed budget cuts under Toronto’s current administration, let’s hope this tree won’t get damaged by another ice storm any time soon.

Next week: The Guess Who and “O Canada”

 

“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by The Band


By James Sandham

Last week we wrote about some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, and the songs of great Canadian musicians – such as k.d. lang and The Guess Who – that go along with them. “No Sugar Tonight” was practically the clarion call of the nation in those early weeks after the excess of the holidays.

By this week, however, despite our best intentions, most of those precious resolutions will probably have already been broken. I know that I, for one, was on the “no sugar” train – and yet, in spite of Burton Cummings’ most passionate injunctions against it, now find myself fallen by the wayside. Coffee, it turns out, is just not the same without it. Sorry, Burt.

Nonetheless, we can always draw strength (for next year) from the accomplishments of others – or their assumed accomplishments – which is why, this week, we’re taking a look at some of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s inductees and speculating on what their resolutions might have been. First up, one of the CMHF’s first members, the legendary Oscar Peterson.

Oscar Peterson was inducted to the CMHF in 1978 and was, to put it bluntly, one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time – the “Maharaja of the keyboard,” according to Duke Ellington. Peterson released over 200 recordings, won seven Grammy Awards and one JUNO Award, and received numerous other awards over the 60-plus years of his career. Subsequently, our prediction is that Peterson’s New Year’s resolution would most likely have been to spend more time with family. Do we think he accomplished it? Probably not. After all, despite founding the Advanced School of Contemporary Music in Toronto, his schedule on the road eventually forced him to close it, and furthermore, he was known to spend up to six hours a day practicing, a habit he only curbed later in life. But that’s the price of greatness, I suppose.

Next up: Hank Snow. Inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1979, he charted more than 70 singles on the Billboard country charts between 1950 and 1980, won one JUNO Award, and by the end of his career had sold more than 80 million albums – and all this after running away from home, at age 12, to escape an abusive father. Our prediction for Snow’s New Year’s resolution: To be the best dad. Do we think he accomplished it? Probably – in 1936 Snow’s wife, Minnie Blanche Aalders, gave birth to their son, Jimmy, who grew up to be a reverend and pastored Nashville’s Evangel Temple, a familiar place of worship for many country stars, for over 30 years.

Another teenage musical prodigy who went on to a successful lifelong career in music was Paul Anka, who was inducted to the CMHF in 1980. Anka estimates that he’s written well over 400 songs since 1957, including the English lyrics for Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” (originally a French song called “Comme d’habitude”) and Tom Jones’ “She’s a Lady.” Since he considers songwriting the most important part of his talent, we’re going to predict that Anka’s resolution would be to write more. And do we think he’d stick to it? Of course! He’s been doing just that for more than half a century!

As long as we’re talking about relentless composers of music and lyrics, we have to talk about Joni Mitchell, who was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1981 after writing folk classics like “Urge for Going,” popular hits like “Big Yellow Taxi” and generation-defining works like “Woodstock.” She employed a variety of different musical styles and influences, and collaborated with jazz greats such as Pat Metheny, Charles Mingus and Herbie Hancock. Now based in British Columbia, Mitchell describes herself as “a painter derailed by circumstance.” Our prediction for her resolution: paint more. And will she achieve it? It seems likely – Mitchell has quit touring and released her 17th (and reportedly last) album of original songs in 2007.

Last on our list today is The Diamonds, who were inducted to the CMHF in 1984. The Diamonds started out in Toronto in 1953, when Dave Somerville happened – by chance – to pull the original quartet together. Over the following decades, a variety of different singers would come and go from the group, but their glory days were in the ’50s, during which they released their first hit, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” (originally recorded by Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers), and the song for which they’re probably best known, their 1957 recording of “Little Darlin’” (originally recorded by The Gladiolas). Since this band came about through a chance meeting of the four original members, we’re going to guess their New Year’s resolution would have been to meet more people and make more friends. And do we think they accomplished it? How could they not when singing great songs like this one!


By: David Ball

Many people traditionally use January 2 as an extra day of recovery from the year’s worst hangover. And as music-related news goes, the pickings are pretty slim. Thankfully, there’s always a story from one of my go-to guys: John, Paul, George or even Ringo…

George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass was Billboard’s No. 1 album on Jan. 2, 1971. A number of interesting facts surround the quiet Beatle’s follow-up to 1969’s Electronic Sound: It was the first triple-album ever released by a solo artist; Harrison and boy wonder Phil Spector partnered in the production of the album; it contained one rejected Beatles song, “Isn’t It a Pity,” as well as other compositions written during Harrison’s tenure with his old band; some of the session musicians helping out with the recording included members of Derek and the Dominos, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Klaus Voormann, Phil Collins, some of Badfinger and Maurice Gibb; the LP was a critical and commercial smash – as of 2001, sales have reached 18 million; the first single, “My Sweet Lord,” was an international chart-topper, although it was plagued with accusations of plagiarism leading to a highly publicized copyright suit – the famous chorus closely resembles “He’s So Fine,” the 1963 hit by girl group The Chiffons. Controversy aside, All Things Must Pass is one of the great albums of the 1970s and arguably just as important as any of the solo efforts released by Harrison’s former band mates.


Welcome to Canada…

Jan. 5, 1967, American folk singer Jesse Winchester crossed the Canadian border into Niagara Falls after being drafted into the United States military – deciding to dodge serving in the Vietnam War. No argument here. The Louisiana-born, Memphis-raised Winchester immediately applied to become a Canadian citizen and became a syrup-sucking, beer-swilling hoser in 1973. Winchester began his recording career in 1970 with his self-titled debut, but was unable to perform in the U.S. because he was a draft dodger. Although he was a popular performer in his adopted land, Winchester was primarily known in the U.S. as a respected songwriter. His songs have been covered many times by famous admirers, including Elvis Costello, Anne Murray, Joan Baez, Nicolette Larson and Emmylou Harris. Some of his best-loved Canadian-produced tunes include “The Brand New Tennessee Waltz,” “Biloxi” and “Yankee Lady.”

After Jimmy Carter granted draft dodgers amnesty in 1977, Winchester finally began performing in the U.S. and eventually moved to Vermont in 2002. In early 2011, the folk legend was diagnosed with oesophagus cancer, but treatment was a success and Winchester says he’ll be back making music again in 2012: “I have finished my treatment and surgery, and the doctors have sounded the ‘all clear.’ I expect to be performing again early in the coming year. I want to thank precious Cindy and my children, the doctors and nurses who cared for me so lovingly and skilfully, and you, dear ones, for your prayers and good wishes. I can’t wait to see you again.”


Snow descends on the Grand Ole Opry…

Hank Snow made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry on Jan. 7, 1950. The Nova Scotia native was invited to perform on the legendary stage by country pioneer Ernest Tubb. However, according to an online bio, Snow’s “first appearance(s) received only lukewarm approval.” Call it “Down East” pride or just pure talent, but later in 1950 Snow showed Opry and Nashville naysayers what he was made of when he recorded and released “I’m Moving On.” His Nashville-produced 45 sat atop the country charts for 21 consecutive weeks and remained in Billboard’s Top 10 for over 10 months. And here’s a big shocker: “I’m Moving On” was also the country’s top-selling song of 1950. Snow’s next nine singles cracked the Top 10 and during his 60-year career the “Singing Ranger” had over 70 charting tunes.


A few years before his infamous butchering of the U.S. national anthem at the start of the Cassius Clay-Sonny Liston heavyweight title bout…

Canadian singer Robert Goulet became an overnight sensation after millions around the world watched his Jan. 8, 1961, U.S. TV debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in New York City. At the time of his appearance, Goulet was a rising star on Broadway thanks to his turn as Lancelot in the acclaimed 1960 production of Camelot (opposite Richard Burton and Julie Andrews). However, it was his memorable three-minute stint singing Lancelot’s signature tune, “If Ever I Would Leave You,” on the groundbreaking CBS variety show that helped launch the Massachusetts-born, Alberta-raised baritone’s career (he won the 1962 Grammy for best new artist). Aside from his acclaimed theatre and music work, Goulet was also a respected television and film actor through the ’60s continuing right up until his death in 2007. The pop culture icon lived long enough to receive a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2006, but was awarded his Canadian citizenship posthumously.

Next week: Sir John A. Macdonald and The Band

Video: I’m Moving On” by Hank Snow