By James Sandham

We’re all familiar with the idea of “six degrees of separation.” But as we’ve noted before on this blog, when it comes to the music world – and to the world of Canadian music in particular – those six degrees often shrink quite quickly, and there are a surprising number of direct relations between artists.

Take, for example, the song “Boat Behind” by Kings of Convenience. It came out in 2009, but it’s basically been the song of my summer so far. I’ve been listening to it non-stop since the warm weather hit, and it really does go well with everything seasonal – from riding bikes to reading in the shade to sipping sweet vermouth on ice (all of which, combined, constitute a considerable portion of my spare time these days). Despite being written by a Norwegian band, I came across the track while reading up on Feist, the winner of the 2012 JUNO Award for Artist of the Year. It just so happens that these guys collaborated with Feist after she finished recording her 2004 album, Let It Die. It was a happy coincidence, because otherwise I probably never would have heard this tune.

Despite having released albums on major labels, including EMI and Astralwerks, the Kings of Convenience are nonetheless a rather low-profile kind of group – so much so that it’s often been wondered, over the course of their career, whether they haven’t perhaps innocuously broken up. For instance, Declaration of Dependence (the album that “Boat Behind” is from) came out after five years of silence from the duo. Before that they’d released their debut album, Quiet is the New Loud, in 2001, before going on to collaborate with Feist for their 2004 release, Riot on an Empty Street.

As their album titles imply, “quiet” is a prominent theme for the band – so perhaps long periods of silence are only to be expected. In any case, those uncertain waits between record releases are certainly worth it when you’re rewarded with songs like “Boat Behind.” That track has seriously set the pace of my life for the next three months, and the pace is supremely easy – like waking up on a warm summer weekend. It just makes me want to take time to enjoy things. I find myself humming it as I put my breakfast together. Even as I ride my bike to work it plays in the back of my head – and the ride doesn’t seem so bad. In fact, it’s nice just to be out in the warm morning air.

There are any number of additional reasons why “Boat Behind” may be the perfect song for summer. Its video, for one, is a nearly perfect summer daydream: a sun-drenched drive around the European countryside, the sunroof open, taking time and meeting interesting people. There’s something equally carefree and innocent about the song’s sound too, a certain nostalgia that dovetails beautifully with summer. After all, you can’t have summer without thinking of summer holidays – no matter how long ago you last had one. The fact that summer comes to Canada only as rarely and fleetingly as it does merely amplifies that sense of distant connection. This song, like the season, is familiar and comfortable, like meeting an old friend. It’s a perfect way to take the time to get reacquainted. So put it on, pour yourself a drink and find a shady spot. Take the time to get reacquainted with the summer.

“Boat Behind” by Kings of Convenience


By David Ball

I hope they didn’t think it was a tip?

Glass Tiger cut short their May 31, 1991, concert in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, after lead singer Alan Frew was smacked in the head by a loonie thrown by a rowdy audience member. Scottish-born Frew later said that three or four fans repeatedly hurled coins at the five-time JUNO Award–winning pop-rockers and wouldn’t stop. Perhaps these local yokels were still upset by the disappointing last-place finish of their beloved Ontario Hockey League Soo Greyhounds at the recent Memorial Cup? Whatever the reason, these good old boys (assuming they were guys) no doubt got encouragement by nipping copious amounts of Labatt 50 or some other tepid domestic served at the old Sault Memorial Gardens. (The 57-year-old barn was demolished in 2006.)

The Newmarket, Ont., band’s stop in the northern border town was in support of their 1991 album, Simple Mission, which contains four Canadian Top 5 hits, including their collaboration with Rod Stewart, “My Town.” (Ironically, I heard the single at my local pub last night and remarked to my wife that it has dated really well.) Thankfully, Frew and company weren’t treated with copycat loonie-lobs on the remainder of their cross-country tour.

Bed-In No. 2… Part 2

Last week’s TWIMH lightly touched on some of the events surrounding Montreal’s “Bed-In for Peace.” This week, let’s lightly look back at “Give Peace a Chance.” The revolutionary song was recorded near the end of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s weeklong honeymoon in their crowded room at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel. When the celebrity couple were asked by a reporter what they were trying to accomplish with their second “Bed-In,” the outspoken Beatle replied: “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” Lennon took his spontaneous catchphrase and made it the crux of a new tune he was working on during the duo’s “vacation.”

On June 1, 1969, a young local-area producer and musician, André Perry, was asked by the couple to record the anthem. Perry used a simple setup of four microphones feeding a 4-track tape recorder, all rentals from a local recording studio. Attending the session were dozens of journalists and celebrities, many who joined in singing the famous anti-war refrain. However, only a few are credited on the track: Lennon (vocals and guitar) and Ono (backing vocals, tambourine and handclaps) with other backing vocals provided by LSD guru Timothy Leary, Beatles’ press officer Derek Taylor, poet Allen Ginsberg and comic Tommy Smothers, with the latter also sharing acoustic guitar duties (easily one of the least funny collaborations done by either Smothers Brother). The song was originally credited to Lennon and Paul McCartney (the Beatles were still together) and released as a single by the Plastic Ono Band – not by coincidence – on July 4, 1969. It reached No. 8 in Canada, No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at No. 2 in the United Kingdom. The song was later included on the Plastic Ono Band’s debut LP, Live Peace in Toronto 1969, which includes the supergroup’s entire set from the historic festival.

Stan Rogers, one of the most beloved and important singer-songwriters this country has ever produced, died in a fire aboard an Air Canada DC-9 at the Greater Cincinnati Airport on June 2, 1983. He was en route back to Canada after his set at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas. The two-time JUNO Award nominee’s death at age 33 not only shocked fans in our native land, but it also sent ripples through large folk centres in the United States, such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New England, where he was finally emerging as a star.

The son of transplanted Maritimers was born in Hamilton, Ont., and spent the summers of his youth in Canso, Nova Scotia. At the age of five, he was given his first guitar by his uncle, and by age 14 he began making his first appearances at local Hamilton coffee houses singing Jimmy Rogers covers and Maritime-themed tunes. A big man, at 6-foot-4, blessed with an affecting bellowing baritone, Rogers originally played rock bass but was encouraged by family members to write personal folk songs inspired by his ancestral and regional roots. Good advice!

Rogers began his professional career in 1969, playing in clubs and folk festivals in Eastern Canada. By the mid-1970s, he had landed regular CBC Radio gigs and did frequent guest stints on television programs hosted by John Allan Cameron, Noel Harrison and Bob Ruzicka. After his coming out party at the 1975 Winnipeg Folk Festival, Rogers recorded his pivotal debut, Fogarty’s Cove, one of this country’s finest slices of Canadiana. Mostly about Nova Scotia – its people, history, beauty and life on the sea – 11 of the LP’s 12 tracks are originals, including the classic “Fisherman’s Wharf” and the impossible not to love “Barrett’s Privateers” – or as my friend Tamara Brogan from North Sydney, N.S., stated on May 21, 2012: “I don’t even want to know ANYONE who doesn’t like ‘Barrett’s Privateers!’” I couldn’t agree more.

Rogers produced four albums and composed nearly 100 songs during his lifetime, giving voice to the everyday Canadian experience while exploring near-and-dear landscapes across this great land, including the Prairies and Ontario. His popular a cappella song from 1981, “Northwest Passage,” ranked fourth in 2005 on the CBC Radio One series “50 Tracks: The Canadian Version” and is rumoured to be Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s choice as Canada’s unofficial national anthem. Our PM has good taste – he’s also a Who fan!

Regarding “Barrett’s Privateers”…

I played the heck out of the rousing American Revolutionary maritime tale during my Ireland road trip back in ’07. When my wife, Vicki, and I were travelling around the Ring of Kerry, a very nice scruffy-looking man asked us for a ride to the nearest town (unbeknownst to us, he’d paid for our ferry ride to the Skellig Islands since it was cash only and we foolishly only had credit cards). We obliged and during the drive he asked us if we had any Canadian songs cued up on our car stereo since he hadn’t “been out of Ireland in over 30 years.” He alluded to having a sordid past that may have involved being affiliated with the Irish Republican Army. Whatever. So we cranked “Barrett’s Privateers” and watched through the rear-view mirror as he beamed away in the backseat of our rented, gutless Volkswagen Polo, swinging his right arm around like an orchestra conductor and singing: “How I wish I was in Sherbrooke now” and “God damn them all!” I think Stan would’ve approved.

Next week: CHUM-AM and The Band

“Barrett’s Privateers” by Stan Rogers


By James Sandham

Summer brings more than warm weather, nights on the patio and days in the office spent wishing we were outside – it also brings new music. Or different music – for me at least. That’s because I’m probably one of the few people who still hasn’t bought an iPhone or an MP3 player. Subsequently, I don’t always have all of my music with me. Some of it is on my computer, I’ve got a bunch of vinyl I can only listen to in the dining room, and of course, there’s the old CD player out in the sunroom along with all of my old CDs.

This is a somewhat inconvenient arrangement. But in another way it’s good, because when summer hits and my wife and I start hanging out in the sunroom again, we get to rediscover all the old music out there – and some of it is really good. It also brings back memories: You pick up an album and think, “Oh yeah, I remember this, we were listening to this all the time when [whatever] happened.” And that’s what music’s all about, in a way. It’s more than just the sound, it’s the association those sounds have for you, and I think that’s something that’s forgotten in the rush toward digitalization and cloud computing. Things come, go, and get forgotten so quickly now that there’s no time for them to develop any meaning or personal resonance. You don’t have that problem with vinyl or CDs – they’re physical, you see them, you naturally form associations. So, if you’ll indulge me, here are a few CDs I’ve recently rediscovered, and some of the associations they hold.

Bran Van 3000
Glee
This was one of the first CDs I ever bought. It’s by a Montreal band, and came out in 1997, and even though that’s like – wow, 15 years ago?! – it’s still fantastic. Especially the track “Gimme Sheldon” – I’ve listened to that song more times than I can count. It always seems to come on when a party’s just getting started, when people are showing up and just kind of milling around out in the backyard and no one really knows what they want to do yet – it’s great background noise for that. But the whole album’s really good too.

Bran Van 3000 – “Gimme Sheldon”

 

The Detroit Cobras
Tied & True
This is an album I got when I first started writing. I used to volunteer anywhere, mainly for music blogs that paid you by letting you keep the CDs you reviewed – and this is one of them. The last LP released by the band, it came out in 2007 and is just awesome Detroit-style rock and roll: real gritty female vocals, great for parties. It reminds me of ripping it up in our first apartment and just generally having a good time in those halcyon days after university, but before we had any actual responsibilities. *Tear*

 

The Disraelis
Demonstration
I got this one as a promotional piece, too – and I’m pretty sure I must have given it a good review, because I still listen to it every summer when we reopen the sunroom. It was officially released in 2008, on Optical Sounds, which is a Toronto-based micro-label an old friend of mine runs. We’ve lost touch in the intermediate years, but whenever I hear this album I always remember those few summers when we were hanging out, when his label was starting, and when The Disraelis were playing around town with the other local psych-rock bands he would end up signing. He threw some really good parties. And as far as I know, he’s still doing that.

 

Code Pie
The Most Trusted Name in Yous
This is a band that was kind of making it around the same time as Broken Social Scene, and they have that same kind of sound – a big, messy, orchestral exuberance. The music has a lot of horns in it, which gives it a really joyful kind of feeling, and even though I’m not really into that sound anymore, I still really like this album.

Code Pie – “Paradise”

 

Miracle Fortress
Five Roses
Last but not least is Miracle Fortress. They came to attention back in the mid-to-late 2000s, when Arcade Fire and the whole Montreal scene (which they came out of) were really blowing up. This is a pretty mellow, dreamy album that I guess reminds me a bit of Postal Service, and it’s really good for rainy summer days. I put it on and read on the couch out in the sunroom, listening to the rain on the leaves of the garden, and in that way it’s just like all of these albums – full of happy memories.



By David Ball

On May 22, 1972, The Guess Who recorded their first live effort, Live at the Paramount, in Seattle, Washington; a followup concert LP wouldn’t be recorded until 1984’s reunion tour. The exciting and fascinating album showcases the Winnipeg rockers at their best since the 1970 departure of the band’s co-founder and guitarist, Randy Bachman.

The Seattle disc was greeted with excellent reviews following its release in August 1972, with pianist and lead singer Burton Cummings in stellar form supported by the potent duel guitar–attack from Kurt Winter and recent addition Donnie McDougall. Highlights include a killer nearly 17–minute version of “American Woman” and the LP’s Cummings-Winter hit single, “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon,” the latter of which is a rollicking road trip postcard to Western Canada.

There really is no justice…

Pioneering Canadian hip-hoppers Dream Warriors, comprised of King Lou and Capital Q, made their live U.S. debut at SOB’s in New York City on May 23, 1991. The Toronto duo were in the Big Apple attempting to drum up support for their sensational debut, And Now the Legacy Begins, which saw its official U.S. release a month earlier. Note: The LP garnered rave reviews (making many Best Of 1991 album lists, including Melody MakerQ MagazineNME and Eye Weekly), reached No. 18 in the U.K., No. 34 in Canada (where it went gold) and went on to sell 800,000 copies worldwide.

The aforementioned album also won the 1992 JUNO Award for Rap Recording of the Year and spawned four well-known singles, including Dream Warriors’ iconic signature song, “My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style.” However, neither the album or its singles – or any of the group’s other releases – ever made a splash in the U.S. Yes, there really is no justice for this type of madness, especially since the era’s lesser-light rappers Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer – even Bubba Sparxxx – became household names in America. Are you freaking kidding me?!

Find me someone under the age of 40 who claims to have never heard this band’s big song and I’ll call them a liar.

Toronto hip-hop indie-pop outfit and one-hit wonder Len, led by brother and sister Marc and Sharon Costanzo, released You Can’t Stop the Bum Rush, their major-label debut (and their third album overall) on May 25, 1999. Catapulting the band to stardom – for about a calendar year – was the album’s leadoff single, “Steal My Sunshine,” written by Marc Costanzo and respected disco-oriented musician and producer Gregg Diamond. The song is a feel-good piece of summery bubblegum pop and it was no surprise that it reached the top of Canada’s RPM singles chart and No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. Its remarkable success (it was also a big hit in the United Kingdom and Australia, and cracked the top 10 on four other Billboard singles charts) helped boost sales of You Can’t Stop the Bum Rush to over a million units in the United States alone.

“Steal My Sunshine” aside, several of the LP’s other tracks should have been hits and reviews from critics were generally favourable. All Music Guide’s John Bush, for instance, called You Can’t Stop the Bum Rush “a low-rent version of the Beastie Boys’ 1998 album Hello Nasty – Biz Markie makes a few appearances as he did with the Beasties, and master turntablist Mr. Dibbs takes the role of Mix Master Mike with major contributions to one (very short) track. Still, the album’s few derivative qualities never really get in the way of an enjoyable listen.” Even if Bush’s critique is a somewhat backhanded one, being compared to the Beasties is still high praise.

Back to Len’s claim to fame…

It’s a good thing that “Steal My Sunshine” was included on the soundtrack for the pretty good film Go, which starred Canadian actor-director Sarah Polley and was released March 30, 1999. Len’s single began getting heavy airplay, which forced their label to push up the LP’s original release date from June to May.

Some of you may be wondering why the Canadian one-hit wonders are deserving of a four-paragraph dissertation, albeit a rather lowbrow one. Well, that big song of theirs was everywhere in the summer of ’99. Radio stations of all formats played the tune seemingly every couple of minutes. You’d also hear it blaring in bars, cars, shopping malls, grocery stores and in elevators, too. Heck, I remember hitting about 20 rides at Canada’s Wonderland back in ’99 and hearing that cursedly catchy guilty pleasure about 20 times. And MuchMusic, in its infinite wisdom, put the video in heavy Gaga-like rotation for six months. More importantly, the seasonal popularity of the song placed Len in the “Timeless Summer Tune” ranks joining other Canadian acts such as Lighthouse (“Sunny Days”), Terry Jacks (“Seasons in the Sun”), The Tragically Hip (“Bobcaygeon”), Bryan Adams (“Summer of ’69”) and Gordon Lightfoot (“Sundown”).

“Steal My Sunshine” went on to win three MuchMusic Video Awards and the group was nominated for three JUNO Awards in 2000: Best New Group, Best Album and Best Single for “Steal My Sunshine.” Rumour has it that the Costanzos and/or some incarnation of Len are still together looking for that second hit – but they’ve already achieved immortality.

Bed-In No. 2… Part 1

The second “Bed-In” for John Lennon and Yoko Ono took place on May 26, 1969, at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. Near the end of their seven-day stay in La Belle Province, on June 1 to be exact, the Beatle and his wife recorded the revolutionary “Give Peace a Chance.” Their two Bed-Ins for Peace (the first was held during their March 1969 honeymoon in Amsterdam) were a non-violent way to protest the Vietnam War and to promote world peace.

John and Yoko with journalists in Room 1742 of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal.

Neither Montreal nor Amsterdam were cosy or intimate getaways… unless the celebrity newlyweds’ ideas of “cosy and intimate” involved sharing hotel rooms with a mishmash of casual friends and acquaintances, including funnyman Tommy Smothers, influential disc jockey Murray the K, psychologist and author Timothy Leary, satirist and activist Dick Gregory, cartoonist Al Capp (who famously called the couple “famous freaks”) and many more – including the international press. The entire event was recorded by the CBC and the mother corporation also conducted interviews during the weeklong affair. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the story in next week’s TWIMH.

Next week: John and Yoko’s second “Bed-In” (Part 2) and Stan Rogers

“Steal My Sunshine” by Len


By James Sandham

Well there, music lover, the warm weather continues, and as the leaves blossom on the trees and the sun hangs high in the sky, our thoughts inevitably turn to one thing: that classic Canadian experience, the road trip. It almost seems to be what this country was made for – to get out in the open, feel the wind in your hair and set yourself free with the spirit of discovery. Or so I’ve always envisioned it. Generally I don’t actually make it much further than a few blocks from my house, and usually by bike or foot. In any case, the romance of the road trip would be nothing without a good soundtrack, so here are a few of the Canadian classics indelibly linked with that freewheeling ideal.

Tom Cochrane
“Life Is a Highway”

This is probably the ultimate road trip song. Sure it’s been overplayed, and maybe it’s a bit corny, but that’s part of the whole road trip idea – the kitsch factor, the nostalgia for simpler times when freedom was as easy to access as pushing the pedal to the floor. Tom Cochrane, who was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2003, embodies all that in this song. And that harmonica solo, I mean, come on!

Red Rider
“Lunatic Fringe”

Speaking of Tom Cochrane, who can forget Red Rider, the band he formed with Rob Baker, Jeff Jones, Peter Boynton and Ken Greer in 1978. “Lunatic Fringe” was from their second album, As Far As Siam, and it’s pretty much a classic rock staple. Even though it’s not really about driving – or has anything to do with road trips, really – there’s just something about it that sounds good coming from a car stereo. Must be that bass line: It’s like it’s ticking off the dotted lines as you plow down the open highway.

Steppenwolf
“Born to Be Wild”

Eh? What’s a road trip without this one? It’s cheesy to the point of parody – perhaps. But come on: This song is what driving is all about. Preferably on a motorcycle.

Bachman-Turner Overdrive
“Let It Ride”

Another tune with a great bass line for driving, Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Let It Ride” was actually inspired by on-the-road experiences. According to songfacts.com, BTO “got the idea for this song when they were on tour. They were driving along a highway in the US when a few truckers decided to have some fun with the band, who were riding in the little van from Canada. The truckers boxed them in and slowed down to a crawl. When they finally turned into a truck stop the band followed them with the intent to give them a good talking to. Unfortunately, in the words of Randy Bachman, ‘The trucker looked like a Volkswagen with a head.’ The truckers had a good laugh and told the band that they needed to learn to ‘Let It Ride.’ The song was written that night.”

Arcade Fire
“Keep the Car Running”

And last but not least – Montreal’s pride and joy, Arcade Fire. This is another song with a driving beat, and there’s something about it – the dark lyrics maybe – that immediately gives me visions of driving through the night. It’s got the spirit of escape written all over it, and that’s totally the spirit of a road trip.


By David Ball

Lighthouse, one of Canada’s largest – originally 13 members – and most popular touring bands of the early to mid-1970s made its live debut at The Rock Pile, Toronto’s beloved rough-and-tumble dive, on May 14, 1969. Get this, their first-ever introduction was done by the legendary Duke Ellington: “I’m beginning to see the light… house.” Ah Duke, you slay me all these years later. Two-time JUNO Award winner, Lighthouse was among a small number of trailblazing big ensembles operating in the late 1960s that incorporated elements of brassy big-band jazz with rock and roll. The list also includes Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears, however, Lighthouse differed from their contemporaries with the inclusion of classical strings.

Formed in Toronto in 1968 by drummer Skip Prokop and vibraphonist Paul Hoffert, Lighthouse released both their self-titled first effort and their follow-up Suite Feeling for RCA in 1969. After their Rock Pile debut, they quickly became a hot concert draw, performing early gigs at Carnegie Hall, both Fillmore East and Fillmore West, and several prestigious rock and jazz festivals, including an unprecedented two nights at 1970’s Isle of Wight Festival (joining only Jimi Hendrix to play the fest on both days). In 1971 Lighthouse signed to a new label and replaced their original lead singer, Pinky Dauvin, with Bob McBride. Lighthouse achieved a string of chart successes during the McBride era, beginning with the hit title track from 1971’s gold-selling album One Fine Morning (the single peaked at No. 2 in Canada and No. 24 in the United States); their followup LP, Thoughts of Moving On, also went gold. Interestingly, 1972’s Lighthouse Live! – recorded at Carnegie Hall – made history as the first Canuck-produced album to be certified platinum in Canada, which is fitting since it’s a terrific live document. Lighthouse Live! holds a special place in my heart because it was one of my earliest introductions to rock. When I was around 6 or 7 years old, my much older neighbour, Cliff, always seemed to be spinning the opening track, “I Just Wanna Be Your Friend”; its “cats from Canada” intro is forever seared into my brain.

Although Lighthouse’s last kick at the charts were the 1972 album Sunny Days, its great summertime hit title track and 1973’s “Pretty Lady,” the band continued to be a popular concert draw until disbanding in 1976. Lighthouse reformed in 1992 and the group is still going strong today, led by founding members Prokop and Hoffert; sadly, McBride died in 1998. So far, the band’s original alto sax player and most famous alum, Howard Shore, hasn’t rejoined his buddies, yet. He’s been too busy composing film scores, receiving international honours and winning Oscar, Golden Globe and Grammy awards.

There must be some old boxing fans out there in Toronto who are still kicking themselves for skipping this…

The Quintet performed at Massey Hall on May 15, 1953. Regarded as one of the greatest bands ever assembled, The Quintet consisted of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker, pianist Bud Powell, bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach. The Massey Hall concert was the only time these jazz giants ever recorded together as a unit; it also signified the last recorded get-together with Parker and Gillespie. My non-jazz-trained ears can’t tell that Parker was blowing through a plastic-moulded Grafton saxophone (later made famous by Ornette Coleman). Credited on the album as Charlie Chan due to contractual obligations with Mercury Records, Parker sold his regular horn to score smack before the gig. Regarded as one of the greatest moments in jazz history (and one of Bird’s last important performances), the live album almost didn’t happen:

“Attendance was poor because the gig clashed with the heavyweight fight between Rocky Marciano and Jersey Joe Walcott. If Mingus hadn’t recorded it (though his own bass part was inaudible and had to be dubbed in later) the gig might have ended up as little more than a jazz footnote. But the show was released later as The Quintet – Jazz At Massey Hall, one of the great recorded live shows in the history of the genre.”  – John Fordham, guardian.com.uk

I’d love to jump in a time machine, plunk myself down in one of the legendary venue’s plush red chairs (even behind a post) and hear The Quintet blast through their 14-song set, which included Gillespie standards “Salt Peanuts” and the amazing show closer “A Night in Tunisia.” But sipping a beer in Massey Hall’s basement bar before a recent Pixies concert while peering at The Quintet’s original gig poster is just like being there, right?

In the category: “This Is Madness!”

On May 17, 1989, it was announced that The Who’s 25th anniversary tour stop in Montreal, which was slated for July 5, was cancelled due to poor ticket sales. WTF?! Tickets for the other 25 dates on the reunion tour moved briskly or were sold out.

I was one of the 64,000-plus fans who attended their first of two Toronto shows at the Canadian National Exhibition that summer (second overall of the tour) and it was pretty fantastic. And I’ll go to my grave believing I prompted the en masse crowd-clap during the synth break before Simon Phillips’ thunderous drum solo on “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Hey, I realized at the time that this wasn’t powerhouse Live at Leeds-era Who, nor would the stage be destroyed à la Monterey Pop, nor would there be an encore staging of Yippie activist Abbie Hoffman getting smashed in the head by Pete Townshend’s guitar at Woodstock in 1969. Keith Moon was long dead and Townshend was forced to play mostly on acoustic guitar, his hearing ravaged by tinnitus (he was also sporting a cast after impaling his hand on his Strat’s whammy bar the night before in Glens Falls, New York, doing one of his patented windmills). However, this older and gentler Who on their 1989 reunion tour could still deliver the live goods, especially since they were doing their iconic rock opera Tommy in its entirety for the first time since their heyday. Ya missed a good ‘un, Montreal.

In the category: “This is Madness, Reprise”

Explain to me again why The Who’s 1989 concert in Montreal was cancelled due to poor ticket sales while Yoko Ono’s May 20, 1986, gig went on as scheduled in the aforementioned city?! Most of the North American dates on Ono’s critically panned 1986 Starpeace tour were cancelled due to poor ticket sales, including shows booked on the European leg.

Hey, I really admire Ono. She’s an interesting artist and has earned high praise for her ongoing devotion to charitable causes and world peace. (In fact, opposition to Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defence system was one of the major topics of her 1985 Starpeace concept album.) However, even though she has a small but devout fan base, her avant-garde solo music is at best an acquired taste, although some of material from her old Plastic Ono Band and other collaborations with husband John Lennon are timeless.

Next week: Len and Dream Warriors

“Take it Slow” by Lighthouse, live 1972


By David Ball

As a youngster I was continually dismayed by the state of music, so I thanked the rock gods when Calgary band Loverboy broke onto the commercial radio charts.

Loverboy’s self-titled debut album was certified gold in the United States on May 8, 1981. Although the album originally dropped in March 1980, its success in our great country finally forced Columbia Records to release it stateside eight months later, where it eventually peaked at No. 13 on Billboard’s albums chart and No. 17 in Canada. The LP has gone five times platinum in Canada and sold over two million copies in the United States since its release. The band was inducted to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2009 and has won six JUNO Awards.

I can pinpoint two times in my life – both in 1981 – where hearing Loverboy’s debut’s lead single, “Turn Me Loose,” salvaged a night of really wretched music. Once at a disco-infused dance held in my public school gymnasium and again at my dad’s old-timer hockey league’s country-pop dance party. I’ve forgiven my late father for the ear abuse – and even for the lasting images of seeing middle-aged men wearing velour V-neck sweaters and beige rugby pants – but there are still a few scars from that torturous disco night that I think will never fade.

The world would be a better place with more cats…

Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Bruce Cockburn performed his wonderful – and sobering – song “Wondering Where the Lions Are” on the May 10, 1980, broadcast of “Saturday Night Live.” The venerable Bob Newhart hosted Episode 18 of the long-running NBC program’s transitional fifth season, while the “Not Ready For Prime Time Players” featured Bill Murray, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman and Harry Shearer with support from Paul Shaffer, Al Franken and Brian Doyle-Murray. (Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi had left the show after Season 4 as their film and music careers were booming.)

What was somewhat surprising was that the innovative Canuck guitarist and brilliant singer-songwriter wasn’t the show’s sole musical guest; he shared the bill with The Amazing Rhythm Aces, a semi-popular country-rock group best known for their 1975 crossover pop hit “Third Rate Romance.”

“Wondering Where the Lions Are,” which was Cockburn’s lead single from 1979’s Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws, remains his only top 40 hit in the United States, having peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. On my unscientific and ever-so-opinionated list of greatest Canadian songs, the song sits firmly at No. 2, which is significantly higher – 26 spots in fact – than its criminally average ranking on CBC Radio One’s 2005 series, “50 Tracks: The Canadian Version.”

That being said, I wholeheartedly agree with the 50 Tracks voters when it comes to their choice of the country’s No. 1 essential tune: Ian and Sylvia’s “Four Strong Winds.”

Incidentally, the current incarnation of “Saturday Night Live” should really start booking more quality live acts such as Cockburn in order to lessen the chances of repeating recent musical guest debacles: I’m looking at you Ashlee Simpson, you and your awkward lip-sync disaster and your even more awkward stage-exit jig. Not to mention Ke$ha grinding on stage wearing glow-in-the-dark body paint whilst non-harmonizing “Your Love Is My Drug” before ending things with the question: “It’s Saturday night… Wanna make out?” Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmm… no.

Historically, I DO NOT believe the excuses of disqualified blood-doping Tour de France cyclists or pleas of innocence from banned Olympic athletes, but I give this guy a free pass for this one (and so did the law)…

On May 12, 1968, Jimi Hendrix was arrested at the U.S.-Canadian border for possession of hashish and heroin. The world’s greatest guitarist (don’t even try to argue this fact with me) was on his way to a gig in Toronto and claimed that the hash and smack weren’t his – that they were planted.

Hendrix was later cleared of the charges, but his Toronto show, in support of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s second album, Axis: Bold as Love, was cancelled. Interestingly, almost one year later to the day, history repeated itself when he was arrested again at the border for possession of hashish and heroin, but that time the Toronto gig went on as scheduled.

It’s a testament to these metal gods and their ongoing relevance and box-office appeal that if the same concert were held today, they’d draw tens of thousands more headbangers…

Iron Maiden kicked off their 1988 world tour on May 13 in Moncton, New Brunswick. The English heavy rockers’ “7th Tour of a 7th Tour” was in support of their recently released LP, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. That night, 7,200 devil-signing fist-pumping fans filled the sold out Moncton Coliseum and rocked out to a 16-song set highlighted by breakthrough hit “The Number of the Beast” and the encore’s first number, “Run to the Hills.” However, some of the aforementioned devil-signing fist-pumping fans were responsible for the abrupt end of Guns N’ Roses’ opening set. Axl Rose and the boys were pelted with choruses of boos and projectiles and left the stage after only six songs – the last tune being “Welcome to the Jungle.”

Iron Maiden performed 56 more dates across North America before embarking on extensive tours of the United Kingdom and Europe. I’d be amiss not to mention the tour’s other opening bands (hopefully they didn’t receive the same G N’ R Moncton salute): David Lee Roth, Anthrax, Megadeth, W.A.S.P., Helloween, Killer Dwarfs, Trust, Ossian, L.A. Guns, Great White, Backstreet Girls and Frehley’s Comet (former KISS lead guitarist Ace Frehley’s OK solo project).

Maiden’s seventh album was an immediate international bestseller, especially in their native U.K. where it occupied the No. 1 spot for 18 weeks, and was certified two times platinum in Canada in 2006.

Next week: Lighthouse and The Who

Iron Maiden: “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son,” live in 1988


By James Sandham

Levon Helm (May 26, 1940, to April 19, 2012) was born Mark Lavon Helm on May 26, 1940, in Elaine, Arkansas. He grew up in Turkey Scratch, a hamlet west of Helena, Arkansas, and was the second of four children born to Nell and Diamond Helm. His parents had a deep love of music and encouraged their children to learn to play instruments and often took them to see travelling shows. Helm attended the first of these shows – Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys – at age 6. According to his 1993 autobiography, This Wheel’s on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of The Band, the experience “tattooed [his] brain,” and he never forgot it.

By the age of 14, Helm was seeing performances by musicians such as Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley. Helm remembered Scotty Moore accompanying the young Presley on guitar, with Bill Black doing duty on standup bass. The music was early jazz-fuelled rockabilly, and though the group didn’t have a drummer, the audience went wild. A year after that Helm would see The King again. Presley’s star still hadn’t exploded, but this time he had D.J. Fontana on drums and Black’s bass was electric. Helm couldn’t get over the difference – the added instruments changed the sound completely and people were jumping out of their seats to dance. Mississippi Delta blues had fused with thunderous, heart-pumping rhythms to create a hot new sound: rock and roll.

This was the music that Helm grew up on. By the time he was a high school junior he had formed his own rock band, The Jungle Bush Beaters. They drew their influence from Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. In fact, it was after watching Lewis’ drummer, Jimmy Van Eaton, that Helm actually began seriously thinking of playing the drums himself.

By the early 1960s the thought was a reality, and Helm was recruited to drum for Ronnie Hawkins, touring across Canada along with Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson. By 1965, though, Helm had split from Hawkins, and Levon and The Hawks (as the band was then known) were picked up by Bob Dylan to help him “go electric.” Dylan signed the group to tour, but when his fans didn’t respond favourably to the new sound, Helm was dropped for drummer Mickey Jones, thus initiating a two-year layoff during which Helm returned to Arkansas to work the offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

When Capitol Records gave the group a recording contract, however, Danko called up Helm and asked him to rejoin them. They were reunited at the band’s new residence in Woodstock, New York: a large pink house where they were writing and rehearsing new material. The result was 1968’s Music from Big Pink, which made The Band (as they were now calling themselves) a household name. Their self-titled follow-up came out the next year and is now widely considered a masterpiece. In fact, the album was preserved in 2009 by the National Recording Registry as it is considered “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” music that “informs or reflects life in the United States.”

In 1974 Helm met Sandra Dodd at a Sunset Boulevard pool; they would marry seven years later, on September 7, 1981. By that point The Band had already held their farewell concert, which happened at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom in 1976 and was immortalized by Martin Scorsese in his film The Last Waltz. The concert included performances by Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Muddy Waters, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, among others, and is widely considered the greatest rock and roll film ever made.

After their farewell show, The Band’s members went on to individual pursuits. Helm cut his debut solo album Levon Helm and The RCO All-Stars, in 1977, followed by the self-titled Levon Helm in 1978. His third solo album, American Son, was released in 1980, the same year he played Loretta Lynn’s father in Coal Miner’s Daughter, the first of several films in which he’d act.

The Band was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1989. Over the next decade, they recorded three more albums: Jericho in 1993, High on the Hog in 1996 and Jubilation in 1998. By 1996, however, Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer. He continued to play the drums, mandolin and harmonica, but further tragedy struck the group in 1999 when Rick Danko passed away the day after his 56th birthday.

Danko’s death marked the end of an era. Helm’s voice, on the other hand, would miraculously recover, and in 2004 he launched Midnight Ramble Sessions Volume I and II, a series of live performances at his Woodstock studios. His comeback album, 2007’s Dirt Farmer, would earn him a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album, and his 2009 follow-up, Electric Dirt, would win the inaugural Grammy Award for Best Americana Album. In 2011, Helm’s live album, Ramble at the Ryman, would win another Grammy in the same category.

On April 17, 2012, Helm’s wife and daughter announced that he was “in the final stages of his battle with cancer.” Two days later, Helm died at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. His family posted the following message on his website:

Dear Friends,

Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer. Please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey.

Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration… he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage…

We appreciate all the love and support and concern.

From his daughter Amy, and wife Sandy

Fans were invited to a public wake on April 26, 2012. Approximately 2,000 people came to pay their respects. A private funeral service was followed by a procession through the streets of Woodstock, and Helm was finally buried in the Woodstock Cemetery on April 27, 2012, next to Rick Danko. He will be missed.