By James Sandham

You’d probably recognize deadmau5 before you’d recognize Joel Zimmerman, though they’re both the same person.

Born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and now based out of Toronto, the 31-year-old Zimmerman is the man behind the mouse head (or “mau5” head) – the iconic mask he sports at his public appearances and shows and which also doubles as the de facto deadmau5 logo. It’s a symbol that’s become internationally recognizable in the past few years, a result of Zimmerman’s award-winning electronic dance music.

In addition to his Beatport Music Awards, Grammy nominations and International Dance Music Awards, deadmau5 has also assembled a collection of JUNO Awards – in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, all for Dance Recording of the Year. At this year’s awards, on April 1, he’ll be up for that one again, along with nominations for the JUNO Fan Choice Award and Artist of the Year.

So just where did deadmau5 come from?

Strictly speaking, deadmau5 began his musical career in 2005, the year he released his debut album, Circa 1998-2004, though he’d been creating music since the 1990s, influenced by the chiptune and demoscene movements, semi-artistic fringes associated with early computer hacking and cracking scenes. It was while working on his own computer, in fact, that Zimmerman spawned his deadmau5 pseudonym – he claims to have found a dead mouse in his machine while replacing the video card and, while discussing this fact in online chat rooms, came to be known as “that dead mouse guy.” He would eventually adopt this as his chat-room handle, condensing it to “deadmau5” so it would be short enough for the chat-room server.

Now if all this sounds a bit techy to you, you’d be right. Zimmerman has worked as a web developer and also helped to introduce digital recording technology at music studios before going on to contribute to the development of an iPhone app called Touch Mix. His tech-oriented beginnings were indicative of his emerging musical direction, which has veered from the route of traditional DJs toward something much more original, innovative and technologically advanced. As Zimmerman himself has described it, “it’s a technological orgy up there” when he performs, because unlike standard DJs his sets are more like live instrumental shows, where he assembles tracks as he goes, often using cutting-edge computer software he’s helped to write himself.

“There are no CDs involved,” he says. “I try and keep it more my music than anyone else’s. If people come out to see deadmau5 I want them to hear deadmau5 music.”

This implicit dismissal of traditional DJing is something he’s stated much more openly in the past; and while it’s led to certain controversy, it hasn’t deterred his onslaught of fans. As a testament to this, he was the first electronic artist ever to headline at London, England’s legendary Earls Court Exhibition Centre, and his 2010 performance completely sold out the 17,000-seat venue. That same year he also performed at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, was named house DJ (a term he no doubt balked at) for the MTV Video Music Awards, performed with old collaborator Tommy Lee at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival and starred as a playable avatar in the video game “DJ Hero 2.” Somehow, Zimmerman managed that rare feat of appealing to both the clubbing cognoscenti as well as mainstream musical masses.

Since then, his success has only continued to build. On April 1, we’ll see if that translates into yet another JUNO.

“Ghosts N Stuff” by deadmau5


By David Ball

Don Messer, one of Canada’s most beloved performers, died on March 26, 1973, in Halifax. For over 40 years, Messer entertained Canadians from coast to coast with his traditional Maritime “old time” folk music. The youngest of 11 children, Messer was born into a musical family on May 9, 1909, and grew up on a farm in Tweedside, New Brunswick. Messer’s indoctrination into music began at a very young age as he was encouraged to learn Scottish- and Irish-influenced violin, in part as a way to escape the depression.

“I never really wanted to become a musician,” Messer said. “It was sort of forced on me by the depression days.”

After years of doing local shows with family members and neighbours, a teenage Messer deemed himself good enough and began gigging throughout southwestern New Brunswick.

In the 1920s, Messer moved to Boston for a few years to receive his only formal music training, and upon his return to the Maritimes he began a radio career at CFBO in Saint John. In 1934 he was offered his own radio show, “New Brunswick Lumberjacks,” and at the same time he performed throughout Canada’s East Coast with his band, Backwoods Breakdown. In 1939 Messer was hired as CFCY-FM’s musical director and moved to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Five years later, he formed his most famous band, the Islanders, and landed a weekly show on CBC Radio. For the next two decades, Messer and His Islanders had the No. 1 radio program in the country, and its massive popularity, in part, allowed him to stage many celebrated cross-country tours.

By the latter part of the 1950s, Messer was invited to do TV appearances on the CBC affiliate in Halifax. So noteworthy were his stints, he was offered his own regional TV summer series in 1957, which morphed into the wildly popular CBC half-hour variety show “Don Messer’s Jubilee,” broadcast nationally from 1959 to 1969 out of the CBHT-TV studio in Halifax. By the mid-1960s, “Don Messer’s Jubilee” was the No. 2 television program in the country – a perennial bridesmaid to “Hockey Night in Canada.” Along with providing an excellent weekly outlet for Down East music, the show also gave national exposure to exciting new talent, such as Catherine McKinnon and Stompin’ Tom Connors, and made household names out of Messer’s colourful sidekicks, Marg Osburne and Charlie Chamberlain. When the series was suddenly cancelled, it caused a national protest. Although “Don Messer’s Jubilee” was picked up by Hamilton’s CHCH-TV – where it enjoyed a three-year run – Messer died of a heart attack before the fourth season was to go into production.

Messer’s name remains synonymous with Maritime folklore. He was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Country Music Association Hall of Honour in 1985 and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989. And perhaps just as special as those two honours, one of his fiddles can be found in Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame.

“Take off, eh?”

Peaking at No. 16 on Billboard on March 27, 1982, was one of Canada’s greatest comedy-rock songs, “Take Off,” by popular “SCTV” duo Bob and Doug McKenzie (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas) and Rush lead singer Geddy Lee. The sidesplitting collaborative was the first single from Bob and Doug’s platinum-selling 1981 debut, Great White North. The album consisted of 18 hilarious sketches spotlighting Canadian stereotypes (beer, bacon, hosers, toques, etc.) and “unique” (to non-Canucks) life observations at the hands of the fictional brother act.

Having the talented rocker take part on the comedic masterpiece was a stroke of hoser genius too, given that Rush were at their commercial and creative zenith, still riding the mega-success of their multi-platinum-selling 1981 album, Moving Pictures… and not to overlook the fact that Lee certainly knows how to craft great songs. The McKenzie brothers were breakout “SCTV” stars in their own right in both Canada and the United States, but the tune, made up of insults and give-and-take banter, is downright catchy thanks in no small part to Lee and his “decent singing” on the chorus: “Take off, to the Great White North/Take off, it’s a beauty way to go/Take off.”

Great White North was nominated for a 1983 Grammy Award and won the 1982 JUNO Award for Comedy Album of the Year. Beauty, eh?

At the 15th annual Tokyo Music Festival held on March 30, 1986, The Nylons took home the award for best singer, which is amazing – and ironic, given the “best singer” trophy was presented to not one but four incredibly talented dudes from Toronto. All kidding aside, winning it made perfect sense given they are an a cappella group, consisting of (at the time): Claude Morrison, Paul Cooper, Marc Connors and Arnold Robinson. Formed in 1978, the group was nominated for their first JUNO Award in 1984 (Most Promising Group of the Year), but their win at the prestigious festival was their first big international award. With an impressive 30-plus year résumé that includes several best-selling albums, awards and a large worldwide following under their collective singing belts, the acclaimed quartet are still looking to land their first JUNO Award (in four tries). So let’s all hope the fifth time’s a charm and wish them the best of luck at the upcoming 2012 JUNO Awards!

Anne Murray’s “I Just Fall in Love Again” reached the top spot of the Billboard singles chart on April 1, 1979. Later that same night, the Nova Scotia lass celebrated in style by (in order of appearance) downing a dozen bottles of Alpine, picking a fight with both Stan and Garnett Rogers, and pirating the Bluenose II before beaching the iconic tall ship on the rocks off the coast of Lunenburg, N.S. Reportedly, her final words as she was led away by the Coast Guard were: “I don’t even like snowbirds!”! April Fool’s Day, everybody… except for the Billboard bit!

Next week: Elvis and Frank Mills

“St. Anne’s Reel” by Don Messer and His Islanders


By James Sandham

A few years ago, I was doing a rather poor job as an assistant to a Toronto-based talent agent. He represented a variety of actors, at various stages in their careers, among whom was one in particular, a fellow by the name of Aubrey Graham. While my contact with him was limited to leaving messages about his upcoming auditions (often only to be told he was still in bed), the rumour around the office was that he planned to be in music: he was going to be a rapper. There was subsequent concern – perhaps understandable – as to how smoothly this promising young thespian could transition from the world of teen-oriented drama to that of stone-cold hip hop.

But a lot can change, and in a few months it did. I was “relieved” of my duties at the agency, and Graham, I learned, was promoting his musical career under his middle name – Drake. Within a few months his name seemed to be everywhere: rumoured to be dating pop starlet Rihanna, hanging with Lil Wayne and generally just having the most successful transition from teen soap to hip hop that anyone could possibly imagine. Today, he’s one of the most sought-after entertainers in the world and is nominated for four JUNO Awards: the JUNO Fan Choice Award, Album of the Year for Take Care, Artist of the Year and Rap Recording of the Year.

Just how did it happen?

While Drake may be one of the most well-known entertainers around, the story of his rise to fame is not so renowned. It began in October of 1986, in Toronto, where Drake was born. His father was Dennis Graham, a drummer who had worked with Jerry Lee Lewis, and two of his uncles, Larry Graham and Teenie Hodges, were also musicians; perhaps we can already see a pattern developing here. However, Drake’s parents divorced when he was five years old, and from that point on he was raised by his mother, Sandi Graham, in Toronto’s tony Forest Hill neighbourhood, though he continued to spend summers with his father in Memphis.

By 2001, around the age of 15, Drake had begun his acting career on a long-running Canadian drama series. He played was a basketball star who had been physically disabled after being shot by a classmate. The role ended in 2009 when Drake’s character (unlike Drake himself) graduated from high school. This opened the door for Drake’s musical career to take off, though he’d been interested in music long before then, releasing his first mixtape, Room for Improvement, in 2006, and following it up with Comeback Season in 2007, the same year he became the first unsigned Canadian rapper to have a music video featured on BET.

In other words, by the time his television days were ending, Drake had already established himself as a musician; and when he released So Far Gone, his third official mixtape, in 2009, there were big names like Lil Wayne backing it. It received over 2,000 downloads within the first two hours of release. By the middle of that year, Drake could be credited as only the second artist to have his first two Top 10 hits in the same week (the other being fellow Canadian and nine-time JUNO Award winner Nelly Furtado). He signed with Lil Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment following what Billboard referred to as “one of the biggest bidding wars ever.”

The rest, as they say, is history – very recent history. Drake’s official debut album was released in June 2010 and featured collaborations with superstars Kanye West and Jay-Z. Twenty-five thousand fans gathered at New York City’s South Street Seaport to ring it in, where Drake was performing a free concert with Hanson. After a near riot the show was eventually cancelled due to overflowing crowds. His album sold nearly half a million copies in the first week alone and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. His sophomore album, Take Care, was released a year later; it also debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. By the start of 2012, just a few months after its release, it had already been certified platinum.

Yes, it’s a charmed life for some. We’ll see if that charm transfers into a JUNO win when the awards are announced April 1.

Drake – “Headlines”

 


By David Ball

Canada’s songbird had two big reasons to celebrate…

Anne Murray capped off her 25th year in show business with her induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the March 21, 1993, JUNO Award ceremony. The Nova Scotia–born country superstar has been honoured with countless domestic and international awards and other personal achievements during her decorated career, but being inducted into the CMHF must rank right near – or at – the top of her list. Well done, indeed!

Canadian classical guitarist Liona Boyd made her big-stage debut when she performed at New York City’s Carnegie Hall on March 22, 1975. Boyd was a star in her adopted Canada since the release of her 1974 debut and subsequent appearance on the cover of The Canadian in 1975 – where the national magazine gave Boyd her famous moniker “The First Lady of Guitar.” But it was her celebrated Carnegie Hall concert, with Andrés Segovia in attendance, that brought her international attention, with further gravitas provided by the classical guitar virtuoso’s glowing appraisal: “Through your beauty and talent you will conquer the public, philharmonic or not.”

This was no feint praise from Segovia, one of the 20th century’s greatest musicians. The Spaniard certainly had a keen eye and ear for talent as his bold words proved prophetic. A short time after causing a sensation at Carnegie Hall, the lovely English-born Canadian (she became a naturalized Canuck in 1976) was an international celebrity with millions around the world caught under the spell of her alluring and exciting brand of classical music. She’s enchanted many world leaders over her career via private recitals – including Ronald Reagan, Fidel Castro, Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth II and Juan Carlos I of Spain – as well as fellow musicians (she counted Liberace, Chet Atkins Lenny Breau as fans). After many years of living in California, the five-time JUNO Award winner and Member of the Order of Canada recently moved back to Canada and is currently working on a new album appropriately called, The Return…to Canada With Love.

Alannah Myles rocked “Black Velvet” all the way to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 on March 24, 1990. Written by David Tyson and former MuchMusic VJ-turned-songsmith Christopher Ward, “Black Velvet” enjoyed a two-week run atop the noted singles chart before being dethroned by – ugh – Taylor Dane’s “Love Will Lead You Back.”

Although Myles’ song reached the top spot in three other countries, it only mustered a surprising 10th-place finish in her native Canada. Inspired by Elvis Presley, “Black Velvet” was the second Canadian single – and fourth south of the border – from the Toronto-born singer’s eponymous debut album, released in 1989. The popularity of the tune won Myles the 1990 JUNO Award for Single of the Year and a 1990 Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.

The Tragically Hip were the musical guests on “Saturday Night Live” on March 25, 1995. Although largely unknown in the United States, the five-piece rock band were already Canadian superstars long before they debuted on the iconic late night program at the behest of fellow Kingston, Ontario, ambassador Dan Aykroyd, who was at the NBC studio acting as the Hip’s personal emcee during the music segments.

As an original “Not Ready For Prime Time Player” and one of SNL’s most popular graduates, Aykroyd used clout to get his tragically overlooked friends booked on the enduringly popular live sketch comedy show. In turn, he presented the biggest Canadian band to an untapped U.S. market with his memorable intro: “Ladies and gentlemen, from Kingston, Ontario, Canada – home of Kirk Muller, Walter Frank High and me – it is my honour to introduce to America my friends The Tragically Hip.”

Although the Hip were in fine form on their two Day For Night selections, “Grace, Too” and “Nautical Disaster,” breakthrough success in the States never materialized, even though they’ve maintained a passionate American cult following ever since their early dive bar beginnings in and around the Limestone City. I’m from Kingston and caught one of their mid-1980s gigs at my high school, and they ROCKED!

The Hip may not have caught on in America, which no doubt still shocks their legion of fans around the world, but they are hardly the only quality Canadian export to fail in that respect, see: Trooper, Platinum Blonde, April Wine (arguable), Max Webster, 54-40, Chilliwack, René Simard, Stompin’ Tom Connors, Stan Rogers, Jann Arden, Maestro, Justin Bieber (kidding), Bruce Cockburn and so on….

Next week: Bob and Doug McKenzie and The Nylons

“Grace, Too” by The Tragically Hip


By David Ball

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats premiered at the newly renovated Elgin Theatre in Toronto on March 13, 1985. Marlene Smith and Ernie Rubenstein’s all-Canadian production ran for two years, grossed $40 million and spawned four national touring companies; the final ensemble remained active until 1992. The popularity of Cats is seen as a benchmark for Toronto because it not only put the city (and Canada) on the North American musical theatre map, but its immense success created an avenue for other all-Canadian blockbusters to go into production in the late 1980s and early ’90s, including Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (starring my favourite Osmond: Donny), Show Boat, Miss Saigon and Tommy.

Cats’ trickle-down effect also forced impresarios, most notably David and Ed Mirvish and Garth Drabinsky, to find and refurbish old theatres in the downtown core, such as the Royal Alexandra Theatre, the Ed MirvishTheatre (formerly the Canon) and the Princess of Wales Theatre, essentially creating theatre hubs. By the early ’90s, Toronto had established itself as one of North America’s Big 3 theatre destinations, joining Chicago and Broadway.

March 15, 1967, was an important day for Canada…

The special joint committee appointed by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson unanimously recommended that the government be authorized to adopt the music of “O Canada” as Canada’s national anthem, displacing “God Save the Queen” to Royal Anthem of Canada status. While the latter anthem remained in the public realm, the committee thought it “essential to take such steps as necessary to appropriate the copyright to the music providing that it shall belong to Her Majesty in right of Canada for all time. This provision would also include that no other person shall be entitled to copyright in the music or any arrangements or adaptations thereof.”

According to sources including cyber-north.com, the committee suggested additional examination of the lyrics and recommended editing out an early bilingual version because it may be too difficult for some ethnic groups in Canada to accept. The committee optioned keeping the original French rendition and using Robert Weir’s 1908 English version with a few small changes: replacing two of the “Stand on guard” phrases with “From far and wide” and “God keep our land.” It took many years of legal wrangling, but “O Canada” fiiiiiinaaaaaally officially became our national anthem, rather appropriately, on July 1, 1980.

Ah, March 17, 1998, I remember you not so well…

 

Although some of you probably thought it a good craic to ring in St. Patrick’s Day 1998 by listening to the same-day release of Van Halen III, the hard rock band’s failed experiment with Extreme lead singer Gary Cherone, I’ll wager the good majority of Irish-loving Canadians gifted with good taste kicked back at local watering holes and concert halls across this great country and danced many a jig to music provided by the likes of Celtic-leaning Canuck bands The Irish Rovers, The Irish Descendants, The Mahones, Great Big Sea, Ashley MacIsaac, Spirit of the West and Figgy Duff. Hey, at least the former disaster sped up the return of David Lee Roth, so it ain’t all bad. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and don’t forget to drink Guinness responsibly!

While February is synonymous with the Grammy Awards, March has often been seen as JUNO Award time, with exceptions such as the upcoming 2012 ceremony on April 1, with the always-affable William Shatner in the captain’s chair as the show’s host.

A stellar array of talent took home awards at the 1990 JUNO Awards held at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre on March 18 and hosted by SCTV alum Rick Moranis – who was red hot in his own right coming off recent starring roles in megahits Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Parenthood and Ghostbusters II.

Here are some of the highlights (televised nationally on the CBC)…

In one of the most hotly contested categories, The Jeff Healy Band won Canadian Entertainer of the Year, impressively beating out Blue Rodeo, Tom Cochrane, k.d. lang and Kim “I Am A Wild Party” Mitchell. On an aside, I wonder if it was tough for Mitchell to constantly live up to his wild party moniker? What if you showed up with a bunch of your buddies at his house on a Friday night with a two-four of Ex on your shoulder and he says: “I’m having a quiet night boys. I’m not in the mood to party…”

“But you’re supposed to be a WILD PARTY?!”

In another tight category, Blue Rodeo captured Group of the Year honours, besting Tom Cochrane and Red Rider, Cowboy Junkies, The Jeff Healey Band and Rush. It seems like the Tragically Hip have been around forever, but they won their first big national award for Most Promising Group of the Year, beating out Brighton Rock, Sons of Freedom and two bands I’ve never heard of (I apologize to Indio and Paradox for my ignorance). Kim Mitchell probably surprised even himself by winning the award for Male Vocalist of the Year, especially because Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn, David Wilcox and George Fox were also nominated. Well done, Kim!

Believe it or not, making the biggest splash of the night was not Milli Vanili capturing International Album of the Year honours or even Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra’s Boccherini: Cello Concertos and Symphonies winning Best Classical Album (Large Ensemble). The real coming out party was for rocker Alannah Myles. The Toronto singer won three awards: Most Promising Female Vocalist of the Year, Album of the Year (for her multi-diamond-selling self-titled debut) and Single of the Year (“Black Velvet” won out over another of her nominated songs, “Love Is”). Well done, Alannah!

Next week: Liona Boyd and The Tragically Hip

“Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles


By James Sandham

Dallas Green: it’s a name I’ve heard bandied about for most of my life, first as the lead singer of hardcore band Alexisonfire, then as the man behind City and Colour – and also as the son of one of my mother’s former classmates. But I guess that’s bound to happen when you grow up in the same hometown, especially if it’s a relatively small one like St. Catharines, Ontario. With just over a 130,000 people and a tightly knit music scene, word tends to travel when someone seems headed for success. And from the early days of playing the local S.C.E.N.E. Music Festival, Green always seemed to be headed in that direction.

This year he seems to have finally arrived. City and Colour, the name under which he now performs (based on his own name: Dallas, a city; and Green, a colour), is up for no less than four nominations at this year’s JUNO Awards: the JUNO Fan Choice Award, Single of the Year for “Fragile Bird”, Artist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year. And while he’ll be up against big names like Drake and Justin Bieber, no one, at this point, should really be surprised. His current kudos come on the heels of many others, including two JUNO Awards – one in 2007 for Alternative Album of the Year and one in 2009 for Songwriter of the Year. But perhaps, given Green’s beginnings, it is a bit strange to think that this is where it all should have led.

His professional music career began in earnest with Alexisonfire (pronounced “Alexis on fire”), early innovators of the screamo genre. He’d been musical before then – in fact, he began writing some of the material that was eventually included on his first City and Colour release, Sometimes, when he was only 16 – and had provided guitar and vocals for the independent rock group Helicon Blue. It was only when that group broke up, however, that his career really began to take shape. Enlisting members from several other recently disbanded acts, Alexisonfire was formed in 2001, drawing their name from pornographic actress Alexis Fire, the world’s only lactating contortionist stripper. She would later threaten to sue them for copyright infringement. Fortunately, it was discovered her moniker was not registered, and Alexisonfire was free to release albums under that name, starting with their self-titled debut in 2002, until eventually officially disbanding in 2011 (though rumours had long swirled about this).

The primary reason behind the end of the group’s successful career (they had, over their decade together, released four LPs, gone platinum and toured internationally) was, of course, Green’s decision to focus on his rapidly burgeoning solo project, City and Colour. Though he’d initially tried to manage the two projects at once, releasing his first City and Colour album in 2005 (for which he won the 2007 JUNO Award for Alternative Album of the Year), then another, Bring Me Your Love, in 2008, Alexisonfire publicly announced their intent to break up in August of 2011. This was two months after City and Colour’s most recent release, Little Hell, for which Green received his current JUNO nominations. City and Colour was now his primary creative focus. He has since promoted his new album extensively. And with multiple award wins and nominations, plus collaborations with rising and established Canadian names like Shad and Gord Downie already under his belt, it seems like a project with legs. Then again, Green always had that aura about him – that things were happening, that he was going places. On April 1 we’ll find out if that includes another JUNO win.

City and Colour’s first single, “Save Your Scissors,” filmed in and around St. Catharines, Ont.


By David Ball

Two-time JUNO Award winner Madonna made a rare public appearance at MuchMusic headquarters in Toronto on March 6, 1998, causing traffic chaos and general madness at the corner of Queen and John streets. The pop queen graced the iconic CHUM Building to promote her seventh album, Ray of Light, which had been released just a few days earlier. An hour-long interview special, “MLIM: Madonna Live in Much,” was filmed in front of a few hundred lucky fans packed into the studio and thousands more standing outside. The program was broadcast live across North America on Much, MusiquePlus and MuchMusic USA. The interactive show featured a playful and occasionally candid Madge answering questions from Much’s respected video jockey vet Master T and MusicPlus’ Geneviève Borne.

But the real coup for the specialty channel was getting the usually elusive superstar to sit on a couch in its cramped studio and have her respond to queries from her admirers in the audience, as well as questions via email, telephone and fax. Perhaps Madonna’s recent embrace of the Kabbalah faith and motherhood (her first child, Lourdes, was born in the fall of 1996) led to her newfound openness? I don’t know, but the program was very entertaining with the pre-English-accented performer – seemingly unbothered by the intimacy of being surrounded by adoring her fans – waxing philosophic about spirituality, creativity, sex and future ambitions, as well as Ray of Light’s many themes, including motherhood and death. Incidentally, Ray of Light was nominated for a 1998 JUNO Award, and the hit title track won Best International Video at the MuchMusic Video Awards held later that summer.

“We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun…”

Indeed, those lyrics probably held true for Terry Jacks. The former Poppy Family leader’s English-language rewrite of Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel’s “Le Moribond” was Billboard’s Hot 100 No. 1 single from March 2 to 14, 1974, and also topped Billboard’s Easy Listening Chart on March 9, 1974 (the 45 had previously reached No. 1 on RPM in Canada). Interestingly, The Beach Boys considered recording the tune with the Winnipeg-born Jacks producing, but Brian Wilson and the Boys decided to pass on the project. The song was ultimately recorded in 1973 by Jacks and his wife, Susan, also of Poppy Family fame. Although Jacks enjoyed a decent solo career in Canada, which saw him capture an impressive four JUNO Awards in a two-year span, “Seasons in the Sun” was his only hit in the United States. But what a hit! It became one of the most successful worldwide singles of all time, selling a staggering 14 million copies by the spring of 1974.

 

Speaking of Madonna….

The chameleon “Blond Ambition” star, along with the British Invasion’s Dave Clark Five, pioneering rock instrumentalists The Ventures, blues great Little Walter, John “Don’t Call Me Cougar” Mellencamp and Montreal poet-turned-musician Leonard Cohen were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 11, 2008, at a ceremony held in New York City. All are worthy candidates to forever grace the hallowed halls, located in Cleveland, Ohio. But Cohen was definitely the highlight of the night. The folk singer-songwriter, looking sharp in his black tux, first thanked Lou Reed for his emotional introduction, which included the heartfelt line: “We’re so lucky to be alive at the same time Leonard Cohen is.” Then, enacting perhaps a small level of vindication toward his detractors during his acceptance speech, Cohen mused: “I am reminded of the prophetic statement by Jon Landau in the early 1970s: ‘I have seen the future of rock ’n’ roll, and it is not Leonard Cohen.’”

Sure, the Canadian singer’s gruff monotone baritone and eclectic genre-bending style remains an acquired taste – not unlike peers Bob Dylan and Tom Waits – but I bet even non-fans, including famed producer Landau, would acknowledge Cohen’s impressive endurance and endearing relevance over an illustrious 45-year music journey, one that is still flourishing today.

Cohen is a three-time JUNO Award winner, Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner and a Companion of the Order of Canada. His 12th studio album, Old Ideas, was released in January 2012 and is one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful of his career: it topped the charts in nine different countries and reached No. 2 in the United Kingdom and No. 3 on the Billboard 200 respectively, the latter achievement marking his highest chart position ever in the U.S. Landau’s erroneous predication reminds me of a famous phrase attached to the great punk Joe Strummer: “The future is unwritten.” Truer words have never been uttered. I can’t wait to see what the 77-year-old Leonard Cohen will do next!

Next week: Cats and the 1990 JUNO Awards

“Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen


By James Sandham

Important news, music lover: Four more weeks – that’s all it takes until the winners of the 2012 JUNO Awards are announced. The excitement is palpable. There will be live performances by big names like Blue Rodeo, City and Colour, deadmau5, Feist – and that’s to name but a few.

But just who are these nominees, music lover? Sure, we know their names, we know their music – but away from the bright lights and spectacle of televised performances, away from the pomp and celebration of Canada’s most exciting music award show, just who are these people? Where did they come from? What’s their story? And how have they managed, each in their own unique way, to land a place upon our cultural geography, and perhaps even in our hearts?

I’d like to answer these questions, music lover. Or try to. And if there’s one group I’d like start with, it would have to be that of Win Butler, Régine Chassagne, Richard Reed Parry, William Butler, Jeremy Gara, Sarah Neufeld, Tim Kingsbury and Marika Anthony-Shaw – more commonly known as Arcade Fire, the nominees of the 2012 JUNO Fan Choice Award and some of the most talented multi-instrumentalists out there.

 

Arcade Fire formed in 2001. And since then, they’ve been no strangers to the award show spotlight. They already have a Grammy Award, won in 2010 for Album of the Year, and six JUNO Awards: Album of the Year, Alternative Album of the Year, Group of the Year and Songwriter of the Year in 2011; Alternative Album of the Year in 2008; and Songwriter of the Year in 2006. They also won two BRIT Awards in 2011, for Best International Album and Best International Group, as well as the 2011 Polaris Music Prize.

But life wasn’t always such a merry trail of accolades. Initially comprised of Win Butler, Régine Chassagne, Josh Deu, Myles Broscoe, Dane Mills and Brendan Reed, Arcade Fire played some of their first shows in friends’ lofts, then in art galleries around their hometown of Montreal. One of their first gigs was at a Christian music festival. And of course they played the obligatory battles of the bands. But it wasn’t until 2003, after a packed-beyond-capacity show at Montreal’s infamous Casa del Popolo – where Reed quit the band midway through their second encore, later followed by Mills – that Arcade Fire achieved its current form. Win’s brother William was brought in to replace Reed, and Wolf Parade bassist Tim Kingsbury replaced Mills.

It was then that things started happening. Working to promote their self-titled EP, the band landed a contract with Merge Records, who would, in 2004, release the group’s first LP, Funeral. It was a commercial and critical smash – at least, by the indie standards on which Arcade Fire were then being gauged. With little television and radio exposure, it soon went Gold in Canada, and a little more than a year after its Canadian release it had sold more than half a million copies worldwide. This was not surprising. Funeral’s sound is one that immediately captures your attention. Confounding genres and eras, it is simultaneously haunted by the past, yet like nothing you’ve ever heard – a recovered memory from a childhood you’re not quite sure is actually your own.

I remember first hearing it back in 2005 and being absolutely amazed by the overwhelming power of “Wake Up.” Arcade Fire would soon be performing that song as the opening act for U2, on select stops of U2’s 2005–06 Vertigo Tour. The only question was how they would ever top such a mind-blowing debut.

The answer came when Neon Bible was released in March 2007. Recorded in a small Québécois church converted into a recording studio, the album premiered at No. 1 on the Canadian and Irish music charts, and at No. 2 on the United States Billboard Top 200 Chart and the United Kingdom Top 40 Album Chart.

“Intervention,” the first track to be officially released from the album, was made available on iTunes in 2006. Proceeds from the release went toward Partners in Health, a Boston-based non-profit health-care organization whose flagship project is in Haiti, the country from which Chassagne’s parents emigrated during the dictatorship of François Duvalier. Since then, the band has continued to raise funds for and awareness of the poverty-stricken nation, including the donation of proceeds generated from the licensing of “Wake Up” to the National Football League.

By the time The Suburbs was released in 2010, the band had become an international phenomenon, playing in more than 75 cities in 19 countries around the world, with their music featured in international radio and television programs, and in films such as Where the Wild Things Are. Innovative interactive music videos such as “Sprawl II” and “We Used to Wait” continue to cement the band’s reputation as one of today’s most innovative and interesting music acts.

But – are they the “Fan Choice”?

You’ll have to tune in to the JUNO Awards on April 1 to find out.


By David Ball

Given his past digressions of the unsavoury sort, this probably didn’t come as a shock to most rock fans at the time…

Keith Richards was busted and charged with heroin possession at Toronto’s Harbour Castle Hotel on February 27, 1977. If convicted, the Rolling Stones guitarist could have faced a seven-year prison sentence. “Keef” and his family remained in Canada until April 1 under the condition that he would get his passport back only if he agreed to seek heroin treatment in the United States. Looking back, the incident was a win-win-win-win: Richards’ arrest kick-started his road to recovery; his improving health led to a clearer head and better all-around Rolling Stones (they recorded one of their best albums, Some Girls, around the time of the bust); after years of seeing one of their heroes in decline, fans were no doubt relieved Richards was finally trying to get clean; and the final win was for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (and Stones fans). Richards pleaded guilty to heroin possession in the fall of 1978, but was given a suspended sentence on the conditions that he continue to receive psychological and medical treatment, and that he perform a benefit concert on behalf of the CNIB. While prosecutors appealed the sentence, Richards held two CNIB benefit concerts on April 22, 1979, at the Oshawa Civic Centre. Both shows featured the Stones and The New Barbarians, who were a short-lived supergroup featuring Richards, Ronnie Wood, jazz bassist Stanley Clarke and Stones sidemen Ian McLagan (also a founding member of both Faces and Small Faces) and saxophonist Bobby Keyes. Five months after the Oshawa concerts, the Ontario Court of Appeal dropped the original sentence.

Toronto sure witnessed some mean pinball…

The Canadian theatrical production of  The Who’s Tommy, based on The Who’s 1969 rock opera album, Tommy, opened at the Elgin Theatre in downtown Toronto on March 1, 1995. The all-Canadian cast starred Tyler Ross as the abused deaf, dumb and blind kid whose otherworldly pinball ability turned him into an overnight pop sensation and unwitting cult leader. The Who’s Tommy was directed by former Toronto resident Des McAnuff, who also helmed the original Tony-winning Broadway production and adapted the musical in 1992 with Who leader Pete Townshend. The successful Canadian production ran throughout the remainder of 1995 and then embarked on a cross-country tour.

I was fortunate enough to see the original Canadian run, not once but twice. Both were tremendous experiences. As a big fan of rock music and an even bigger fan of Townshend’s band, I can tell you what I witnessed at the Elgin back in 1995 unequivocally captured the depth and unbridled power of The Who’s original music. Oh, and the musical was infinitely superior to director Ken Russell’s 1975 bloated mess of a movie starring Oliver Reed, Ann-Margret Olsson and The Who’s Roger Daltrey as the deaf, dumb and blind boy. The rock musical bar was set very high with this one. Thanks Des and Pete!

David Foster, a five-time JUNO Award winner and member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, had an impressive night at the 36th Grammy Awards held on March 1, 1994, at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall. The Victoria-born producer hauled in four trophies for his work with the late Whitney Houston on the hit soundtrack to her blockbuster movie The Bodyguard, which also starred Kevin Costner. Foster won the awards for Producer of the Year, Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocal(s), Album of the Year and Record of the Year for Houston’s cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.”

On March 4, 1986, Richard Manuel, multi-instrumentalist and heart-and-soul vocalist of The Band, hanged himself in a motel room in Winter Park, Florida. He was 42. Although he shared vocal duties with Levon Helm and Rick Danko, Manuel was the most revered singer among his fellow Band members and fans alike (his legion of admirers included Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, indie folk star Ray LaMontagne and hip southern rock revivalists Drive-By Truckers). Often considered the group’s lead singer, Manuel had a fragile persona (shaped by years of drug and alcohol addiction) that belied his deep soulful baritone, although sadness simmered just below the surface.

The son of a mechanic got his musical introduction as a member of a Baptist church choir in his hometown of Stratford, Ont. In his early years, Manuel listened to country and then R&B; the latter proved to have the biggest impact (his voice would draw favourable comparisons to Ray Charles). In 1961, Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks were looking for a piano player and the 18-year-old Manuel fit the bill. He joined future Band members Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm and Rick Danko (Garth Hudson was added by late December). Manuel first caught the ear of Hawkins when his old band, The Revols, shared a bill with the R&B legend in Port Dover, Ont.

The Hawks split from Hawkins in 1964 and went on to become Bob Dylan’s backing band in 1965-66. Eventually they changed their name to The Band and released Music From Big Pink in 1968, widely considered one of the greatest debuts in rock history. The album contains some of Manuel’s finest work, including co-writing (with Bob Dylan) and singing the memorable opening track, “Tears of Rage,” and his haunting yet inspirational falsetto on The Band’s definitive version of the oft-covered Dylan-penned hymn “I Shall Be Released.”

Following the success of The Band’s debut and self-titled 1969 follow-up, Manuel married his long-time girlfriend, Jane Kristiansen, in Toronto; the couple had two children but would divorce in 1976. By the time of the filming of their “final” curtain call via the acclaimed 1976 Martin Scorsese music documentary, The Last Waltz, Manuel and The Band were one of the most popular rock groups in the world. The film’s interview segments reveal Manuel’s genial personality and introverted nature – along with bouts of intoxication. The Band reformed without leader Robertson in 1983, with Manuel reportedly healthy after a successful stint in rehab. Sadly, the comeback was short-lived. Distraught over the death of former group manager and mentor Albert Grossman in January 1986 and disillusioned with the current state of music, Manuel took solace in his old addictions and tragically took his own life while on tour with the retooled Band. Manuel is buried at Avondale Cemetery in Stratford. Manuel and his former bandmates were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1989.

Next week: Madonna at MuchMusic

“I Shall Be Released” by The Band