Archive for April, 2012

Can We Talk About How Awesome She Is? Buffy Sainte-Marie

Posted on: April 30th, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By James Sandham

Hey there, music lover. Good to see you back on the blog. You know, I’ve been listening to a lot of Buffy Sainte-Marie this week. I started with her hits “Universal Soldier” and “Until It’s Time for You to Go” because I was on a bit of a ’60s revival kick last weekend – and the more I listened, the more I was like, man, I gotta find out who this woman is.

She sings about some really powerful themes – war, indigenous rights, crazy mystic stuff – and it turns out her life is just as diverse and mind-blowingly insane, and I mean that in best way possible. She’s packed more into her 71 years on earth than most people could hope to pack into a dozen lifetimes. For example, she’s not only a musician, singer and social activist – which seem to be her main claims to fame – but she’s also a JUNO Award winner and a Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee; she’s won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe Award; she’s taught digital music as an adjunct professor at several different colleges; and she also acted on “Sesame Street” for five years. What’s more, that’s only a small sample of what she’s accomplished in her life. Can we talk about how awesome Buffy Sainte-Marie is?

Let’s start at the start: Sainte-Marie was born in 1941 on the Piapot Cree Indian reserve in Saskatchewan’s Qu’Appelle Valley. Her birth name was Beverly, and she was orphaned. Albert and Winifred Sainte-Marie, who were related to her biological parents, adopted her, and she was raised by them in Wakefield, Massachusetts, where she’d go on to study at the state university, the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She earned her bachelor of arts and doctor of philosophy there, in teaching and Oriental philosophy, and graduated in the top 10 of her class. And for most people, as far as academia goes, that would be a totally legitimate achievement and maybe they’d call it a day. But not Sainte-Marie: She went on to receive honorary doctor of laws degrees from the University of Regina and Carleton University, an honorary doctor of letters from the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, an honorary doctor of music from the University of Western Ontario – and others! Awesome.

But what else was going on in her life while she was racking up her incredible knowledge? Well she was touring, for one thing: By the age of 24, Sainte-Marie had appeared all over Europe, Canada, Australia and Asia, and she was spending a fair amount of time in the coffeehouses of Toronto’s Yorkville district – which was hippies-ville back in the ’60s, not the “mink mile” of designer stores that it is now – and in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Often, in these places, she’d perform alongside other emerging Canadian folk singers such as fellow Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. She was kind of in the underground during this time, but many of her songs were covered by other people – “Until It’s Time For You to Go,” for example, was covered by Elvis Presley, Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond, among others – and turned into big hits. But staying in the underground didn’t last long, and by 1964 Billboard magazine was naming Sainte-Marie their best new artist. Very awesome.

There were, of course, parts of Sainte-Marie’s life that weren’t so awesome. For instance, she became addicted to codeine in 1963 while recovering from a throat infection; but even that was kind of awesome, because it inspired one of her best songs, “Cod’ine,” which was later covered by everyone from Donovan to Courtney Love. Other non-awesome things include being blacklisted during the Lyndon Johnson years, and then having Nixon come down pretty hard on her too, due to the Lakota uprising and the Siege of Wounded Knee in 1973. During that period, Sainte-Marie’s radio play was severely curtailed and she was advised not to talk about native issues on TV.

By 1976, though, things were getting back to being pretty awesome, and she was appearing regularly on “Sesame Street” along with her first son, Dakota Starblanket Wolfchild, whom she famously breastfed in one episode. In ’79 she scored a film that was entered at the Cannes Film Festival, and life just continued from there. She started getting into the use of computers to record her music and visual art, kept going to school, had her music used in TV series and more movies, got married and divorced (four and three times, respectively) – including one marriage to a surfing instructor in Hawaii. In other words, she generally just kept being awesome, and today she lives in Hawaii, which is also pretty awesome.

“Cod’ine” by Buffy Sainte-Marie:

This Week in History: April 30 to May 6

Posted on: April 30th, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By David Ball

Even if you’ve never heard of him, chances are you’ve shadowboxed listening to his most famous song. And if the tune inspired your breakfast regimens to include downing a glass of raw eggs and jogging whilst wearing a ratty-looking hoodie, then all the better…

Maynard Ferguson, the world-famous jazz trumpeter and prolific bandleader who became a crossover pop star with the Rocky movie theme “Gonna Fly Now,” was born in Verdun, Que., on May 4, 1928. The 1997 Canadian Music Hall of Fame (CMHF) inductee began life as a performer when he was only four, encouraged to learn violin and piano by his musician parents. Before his 10th birthday he was introduced to the instrument of his calling via the cornet that he heard played at a local church. By age 13, Ferguson was a child prodigy and featured soloist with the CBC Orchestra and won a scholarship with Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal, where he studied from 1943 to 1948. Ferguson left school in late ’48 and moved to the United States to join Stan Kenton’s orchestra, but they had disbanded, so the young trumpeter cut his teeth in other outfits led by Jimmy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet and Boyd Raeburn.

By January 1950, Ferguson finally teamed with Kenton in the bandleader’s new brass-heavy band, The Innovations Orchestra. However, he initially wasn’t the featured trumpeter despite his talent and near-unmatched high register range, which earned him the title of DownBeat magazine’s best trumpeter from 1950 to 1953.

Ferguson left Kenton’s band in 1953 and became a highly sought after – and busy – session player for Paramount Pictures, performing on 46 soundtracks, including The Ten Commandments and several Martin and Lewis films. After leaving Paramount in 1956, he fronted the short-lived all-star Birdland Dream Band (together for just two albums). After they disbanded, he led another big band for nine years which included ex-Dream Band core members Joe Zawinul, Jaki Byard, Bill Chase and John Bunch. The music they produced was the most important and best of Ferguson’s storied career. (All of the band’s recordings can be found on Roulette’s comprehensive Mosaic box set.)

The declining popularity of big bands in the mid-1960s forced Ferguson to perform and record more infrequently. He travelled to India, moved to England for five years and during his “exile,” released a number of pop-friendly experiments to mixed results, especially among jazz purists. But his M.F. Horn series was met with favourable reviews. He moved back to the United States in the mid-1970s where he continued to fuse big band jazz with pop and other fashionable sounds such as funk, rock and… shudder… disco.

Although always a top-notch soloist and concert draw, Ferguson returned to form, style-wise, in the late ‘80s with his traditional nine-piece bebop band, Big Bop Nouveau, to the delight – and no doubt, relief – of purists and his old fan base. He toured and recorded with Big Bop Nouveau until his sudden death on August 23, 2006. On an aside, my uncle Bill is a huge Maynard Ferguson fan, and my earliest jazz memories came from visits to his Kingston-area house in the mid to late 1970s (man, I’m old). Bill always seemed to have albums by Ferguson or another CMHF inductee, Moe Koffman, playing on his higher-than-high-end stereo. I can’t remember if I ever shadowboxed to the Rocky theme in his living room, but I probably showed up wearing a ratty-looking hoodie from time to time.

Strange, but true: I had a dream the other night where the late great Peter Gzowski showed me around CBC’s Toronto headquarters and, believe it or not, Don Cherry was nowhere in sight. Although I think I spied that Gerry Dee guy looking to sign autographs down by the main entrance.

“Red River Rally,” a four-hour all-star fundraising concert, was held on May 2, 1997, on CBC Radio’s “Morningside,” hosted by the venerable radio host Peter Gzowski. The special raised $450,000, with proceeds going to Manitoba’s Red River flood victims. Many of Canada’s top performers generously took part, including Tom Cochrane, Ben Heppner, Loreena McKennitt and Moxy Früvous (with pre-“Q” host Jian Ghomeshi). Other highlights included folk legend Murray McLauchlan (11-time JUNO Award winner and member of the Order of Canada) singing an emotional version of his “Red River Valley” and Valdy (two-time JUNO Award winner) unveiling a new song inspired by the unfortunate incident, “As the Waters Fall.” Several dramatic readings also took place by renowned actors Graham Greene, Sara Botsford, Linda Griffiths and others.

This wasn’t the first time the Red River caused damage and destruction. On May 5, 1950, 80-kilometre-per-hour winds caused waves to crash through the dikes protecting Winnipeg, leaving one dead and over $100 million in damage. One-third of the Manitoba capital’s citizens were forced from their homes.

On May 5, 1987, multiple JUNO Award winner Bryan Adams kicked off his North American tour in Shreveport, Loooosiania – of all places – in support of his underrated fifth album, Into the Fire. Adams and his band criss-crossed North America before taking the tour overseas to parts of Asia and Europe and ending things up in Switzerland.

Although Into the Fire was considered somewhat of a disappointment following the otherworldly success of his previous effort, Reckless, the album sold four million copies worldwide and spawned six singles, including the top 10 hit “Heat of the Night,” featuring a rare – and pretty darn good – Bryan Adams guitar solo. The title track (and its accompanying live-shot music video) is one of Adams’ best songs ever, too.

No worries, because their names are literally all over the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame anyway (I was there recently and took notes, literally)…

Neil Young and Joni Mitchell (both multiple JUNO Award winners and CMHF members) failed to show up at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cleveland, Ohio, on May 6, 1997. Their excuses were certainly intriguing: Mitchell couldn’t attend (Graham Nash accepted for her) because she had just found the daughter she gave up for adoption over 30 years earlier, and Young – inducted for his work in Buffalo Springfield – bailed because organizers refused to give him another free ticket to the event.

Mitchell with daughter Kilauren Gibb

Even if the ceremony has strict rules, you’d think one of rock’s most important artists of all time has earned the right to get another free ticket if he wanted one, no questions asked. Heck, he deserves a lifetime luxury box suite.

I hear the real reason for the ticket snub was that Young’s old Buffalo Springfield buddy, Stephen Stills, bought up the entire front row. I kid! Actually, Buffalo Springfield were joined in the Hall of Fame Class of 1997 with the members of Parliament-Funkadelic, all 16 of them, so seats to the event were definitely at a premium. We all lose though, because the ceremony’s celebrated end-of-night jam could have used Neil Young rocking it out on “Mr Soul.”

Next week: Bruce Cockburn and Jimi Hendrix

“Gonna Fly Now” by Maynard Ferguson

This Week in History: April 23 to 29

Posted on: April 25th, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By David Ball

Having already conquered most of Europe, Australia and New Zealand earlier in the year, The Rolling Stones kicked off their landmark first North American tour with a sold-out concert at Maurice Richard Arena in Montreal on April 23, 1965. The highly anticipated tour was supported by their 1965 American studio album, The Rolling Stones, Now!, and highlighted by one of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ early compositions, the Top 20 hit “Heart of Stone.” Not surprisingly, each night’s set list relied heavily on the band’s early era blues and R&B influences, and the short-but-sweet 10-song Montreal show was no exception: two originals – “Off the Hook” and “The Last Time” – placed nicely among eight covers, including the Solomon Burke opener “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” Chuck Berry’s “Carol,” Howlin’ Wolf’s “Little Red Rooster” and set closer Bo Diddley’s “I’m Aright.” Unfortunately, given the madness surrounding the British Invasion, incessant screaming from hormonal girl-fans marred most of the recordings.

Brian Jones, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger with fans in Montreal in April of 1965.

After their quick visit to La Belle Province, the burgeoning rock superstars played three Ontario gigs in three straight days beginning on April 24 at the nation’s capital, followed by a stop in Toronto the following evening and a final stop in London before crossing the border on April 29 to play two shows in Albany, N.Y. In total, Jagger, Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts performed 24 concerts in 21 days, ending their gruelling schedule with a threefer on May 29 at New York City’s Academy of Music. Note: The Rolling Stones’ second American tour also began in Montreal, on October 10, 1965.

R.I.P. to a great guitarist, respected songwriter and producer with the best damn nickname in rock history…

Brian “Too Loud” MacLeod, best known for his pivotal work in bands Chilliwack and Headpins, died on April 25, 1992. He was 39. The Halifax-born musician collapsed on stage in 1990 and was later diagnosed with sarcoma cancer, which had spread to his bone marrow.

MacLeod played in a couple of bands based in St. John’s, N.L., in the mid-1970s, most notably Huski and Garrison Hill. By 1977, he had moved to Ontario and was discovered by Chilliwack while playing gigs with bar band Stingaree. MacLeod made his Chilliwack debut on the popular Vancouver rockers’ seventh album, Lights From the Valley (released in 1978), where he contributed on guitar and vocals and composed two tracks.

Before work began on the band’s eighth studio effort, Breakdown in Paradise, three original members quit, leaving only founding member Bill Henderson and MacLeod from the previous lineup. Note: Around this time, MacLeod and Chilliwack bassist Ab Bryant formed a side project, Headpins (more on this later). Henderson and MacLeod shared producer credits and wrote all the songs on Breakdown in Paradise and remained creative partners on subsequent – and pivotal – Chilliwack albums, 1981’s Wanna Be a Star and 1982’s Opus X. The former LP went to No. 1 in Canada and the MacLeod-Henderson hit “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” gave Chilliwack their long-deserved Top 40 breakthrough in the United States while Opus X and its singles “Whatcha Gonna Do (When I’m Gone)” and “Secret Information” won MacLeod and Henderson the 1983 JUNO Award for Producer of the Year.

However, during the height of Chilliwack’s popularity, MacLeod and Bryant departed to try their luck with their side project, Headpins, full time. Although the duo’s decision seemed surprising and somewhat bold, 1982’s Turn it Loud went double platinum thanks to hit “Don’t It Make Ya Feel,” and the album remains one of the most successful debuts in Canadian history. Headpins’ 1983 followup, Line Of Fire, was also a bestseller. One more studio album followed in 1985, minus lead singer Darby Mills, before the band went on hiatus. MacLeod continued to work behind the scenes on a variety of projects, including producing albums by the likes of D.O.A. and Holly Woods (Toronto) as well as penning songs with Bryan Adams and Doug and the Slugs.

On April 27, 1939, chrome-dome drummer Jerry Mercer of the Montreal-based rock group April Wine was born in Newfoundland. The former member of Mashmakhan replaced original timekeeper, Richie Henman, in 1973 and anchored the rhythm section through the band’s glory years – including through his successful battle with prostate cancer in 1997 – right up to his retirement in 2008. Mercer continues to work for Monolith Drums, a company he co-founded over 20 years ago.

His first public appearance with the band came when they opened for T. Rex at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition Stadium. Before getting the call to join April Wine, “Mr. Clean” (Mercer’s nickname due to his resemblance to the cleaning product character) worked as, I kid you not, both a cattle farmer and IBM programmer. His versatile style can be heard putting a charge in classic April Wine arena rockers “Oowatanite” from 1975, “Say Hello” and “I Like to Rock,” both from the 1979 LP Harder… Faster, and hit power ballad “Just Between You and Me” from their biggest album, The Nature of the Beast, released in 1981.

During their heyday, April Wine received 10 JUNO Award nominations, scored five bestselling albums and became one of Canada’s most successful touring bands. I was fortunate enough to catch their $10.50 general admission gig (with opening act Harlequin) at the Memorial Centre in Kingston, Ont., near the tail end of their commercial peak. I was very, very, very, very young back then. Truthfully, I was barely a teenager (man I’m old), but I do recall grinning ear-to-ear while watching Mercer pound away during his trademark looooooooooooooooong drum solo on their cover of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man.” I bought the Power Play tour shirt after the encore, which I wore proudly for my high school yearbook photo. Man I’m old.

Time for another instalment of “This Week in Céline Dion History”:

Australia scooped the world – by a few days – when Dion’s live CD/concert DVD combo, Taking Chances World Tour: The Concert, was released on April 29, 2010. Two versions (English and French) were recorded over four nights – two shows at TD Garden in Boston on August 12 and 13, 2008, and two more in Montreal at the Bell Centre on August 31 and September 1 – and the discs capture prime Dion in the midst of what would become the second-highest grossing tour ever by a solo artist. The critically acclaimed concert combo features most of her best-known songs and, not surprisingly, became another international bestseller on both the album and DVD charts.

Next week: Morningside’s Red River Rally and Maynard Ferguson

“Don’t It Make You Feel” by Headpins

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