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Archive for June, 2012

Leonard Cohen: Part 3

Posted on: June 28th, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By James Sandham

Welcome back to the blog, music lover. When we left off with our man Leonard Cohen before the Father’s Day weekend, we had just learned that he’d been threatened with a crossbow by music producer Phil Spector and had – coincidentally, I’m sure – decided to abandon Spector as a producer in favour of self-producing his albums. The first of these was his 1979 release, Recent Songs, which blended Cohen’s traditional acoustic style with jazz, oriental and Mediterranean influences.

As Cohen moved into the 1980s, however, he adopted a more modern sound, incorporating synthesizers and a heavier emphasis on the vocals of Jennifer Warnes, who he had collaborated with previously. In fact, Warnes was given co-writing credits on Various Positions, his first release of that decade. Though it was originally rejected by Cohen’s home label, Columbia, the album was released by Passport Records in 1984. Columbia eventually came to their senses in 1990, acquiring Various Positions for their catalogue and releasing it on CD – but not before Cohen conducted his biggest promotional tour to date, making stops in Europe and Australia, as well as in Canada and the United States, where he hadn’t toured since 1975. The album included two of Cohen’s biggest hits, “Hallelujah” and “Dance Me to the End of Love,” the latter which was promoted with Cohen’s first-ever music video.

Cohen’s career in the United States was nonetheless flagging. It was somewhat revitalized with the release of Warnes’ tribute album, Famous Blue Raincoat, in 1987, but it wasn’t until the following year, when Cohen released I’m Your Man, that his fortunes really turned. His eighth studio album remains one of his most critically acclaimed, and it was promoted, among other means, by his first-ever appearance on PBS’s “Austin City Limits.” The use of the album’s track “Everybody Knows” in the 1990 film Pump Up the Volume helped expose Cohen’s work to a younger audience, as did the use of “Waiting for the Miracle,” “The Future,” and “Anthem” (all from his 1992 release, The Future) in Oliver Stone’s 1994 film Natural Born Killers.

Cohen was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1991. In 1994 he retreated to the Mt. Baldy Zen Center in Los Angeles, where he began what would turn out to be five years of seclusion there. He was ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk in 1996, and took the dharma name “Jikan,” which means “silence.” There was subsequently a general impression that Cohen would not resume publishing or making music.

To everyone’s surprise though, Cohen returned to secular life in 1999 and began contributing to The Leonard Cohen Files fan website. Two years later he released Ten New Songs, co-written and produced by Sharon Robinson. The album went platinum in Canada and was a huge success in Poland, where Cohen had performed a series of highly emotional and politically controversial shows during the 1980s, while Poland was under martial law. (His song “The Partisan” is practically the hymn of the Polish solidarity movement.) Ten New Songs, which included the hit single “My Secret Life,” also reached No. 1 on the Norwegian charts.

After the release of Dear Heather in 2004, however, financial disaster struck, and on October 8, 2005, Cohen alleged that his longtime former manager, Kelley Lynch, had misappropriated over $5 million from his retirement fund, leaving only $150,000. This disclosure resulted in Cohen being sued in turn by other former business associates. Though Cohen won a March 2006 civil suit in a Los Angeles County superior court awarding him $9 million, Lynch ignored the suit and did not respond to a subpoena issued for her financial records. It was subsequently widely reported that Cohen might never be able to collect the amount he was awarded.

Still, 2006 wasn’t all bad news. Cohen published Book of Longing, a collection of poetry and drawings that quickly topped bestseller lists in Canada, drawing crowds of thousands to in-store promotional events, his first public appearances in 13 years. The composer Philip Glass then set the book’s poetry to music, and Cohen recorded the spoken text; by 2008 he was announcing a world tour. It would last, in various legs, for two years, and included performances at the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, London’s O2 Arena, New York City’s Beacon Theatre, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, the Piazza San Marco in Venice, and elsewhere. The 2009 leg alone earned a reported $9.5 million, putting Cohen at No. 39 on Billboard’s list of the year’s top musical moneymakers.

And that about brings us up to today. I don’t know about you, but I’m reeling. Cohen basically defines what it means to have a legendary career, not to mention a legendary life. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the retrospective. We’ll wrap it up for good with one last song – and his first music video – “Dance Me to the End of Love.”

Leonard Cohen – “Dance Me to the End of Love”

This Week in Music History: June 25 to July 1

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

By David Ball

Pop quiz: Name the most important Quebec rocker ever. If you picked Mitsou, you’d be wrong… and perhaps in need of some form of psychological evaluation. But if you picked Robert Charlebois, you’d be absolutely correct!

Robert Charlebois, the most important Québécois rock singer-songwriter in history (not to mention a pretty solid actor and damn fine brewery entrepreneur: see – or guzzle – Unibroue’s delicious Maudite and La Fin du Monde), was born in Montreal on June 25, 1944. Performing as “Garou,” one of his many aliases, Charlebois briefly flirted with mainstream English Canada as a folk singer in the late 1960s and early ’70s, but for nearly 50 years he’s been known as a bona fide pop-rock superstar in French-speaking households across the nation.

Charlebois began studying piano and exploring acting as a youth, and attended Montreal’s National Theatre School from 1962 to 1965. Around this time, he embarked on a professional career as a folk singer, releasing his acclaimed debut, Volume 1, in 1965. Intellectuals and students alike embraced Charlebois’ polite, clean-cut persona, and his thoughtful lyrical folk style was a nod to France’s influential poet-singer Georges Brassens, fellow French-Canadian musician Félix Leclerc and evocative Belgian star Jacques Brel.

It was his third LP – Robert Charlebois/Louise Forestier (also known as Lindberg) – that, upon its release in 1968, stood Quebec’s music world on its head. Charlebois’ previous album, 1967’s Demain l’hiver, had featured a series of simple acoustic folk tunes, but he visited California later that year and came back a drastically changed man. Influenced by the West Coast flower power movement and its counterculture trappings, the new album was a brash, madcap and profane blast of psychedelic rock. Charlebois single-handedly incited Quebec’s staid radio airwaves to accept the 1960s counterculture, along with its radical musical arrangements. The revolutionary album’s first single, “Lindberg,” is considered Quebec’s first psychedelic song (not to mention the first song to contain swearing) and it became a French-rock hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

According to AllMusic’s François Couture, the album had a “similar impact on young Quebecers as the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” It’s no surprise, then, that Charlebois appeared at the Toronto Pop Festival 1969 and was also a member of 1970’s Festival Express, the historically important cross-Canada train ride tour headlined by Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead and The Band.

In the early to mid-1970s, Charlebois’ sound flipped between early folk and his more adventurous late ’60s sound, which resulted in a trio of monumental albums, often in collaboration with lyricists Claudine Monfette (a.k.a. Mouffe) and Réjean Ducharme: 1972’s Robert Charlebois (a.k.a. Fu Man Chu), 1973’s Solidaritude and 1974’s Robert Charlebois (a.k.a. Je rêve à Rio). Charlebois took a two-year break in 1974 after taking part in a groundbreaking concert on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City with two other contemporary Quebec visionaries, Gilles Vigneault and Félix Leclerc, who together with Charlebois helped shape the tradition of popular song in Quebec. The historic event was broadcast by CBC and also aired later in France.

Partly because of changing music trends, Charlebois found his musical career in decline throughout the 1980s. But by 1992 he was back in the spotlight once again with Immensément, one of the best albums of his career, which won him a Victoires de la Musique award, France’s equivalent to the JUNO or Grammy Awards. In 1999, Charlebois was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada. In more recent years, his albums of new material have been few and far between, but Charlebois continues to be a major concert draw and powerhouse live performer. Magnifique!

 

Hey, Government of Canada, what took you so long?! I wrote this next item with my hand over my heart…

On June 27, 1980, the House of Commons and Senate of Canada passed the National Anthem Act, proclaiming the song “O Canada” our official national anthem and dropping the Commonwealth stalwart “God Save the Queen.” It was good timing, as “O Canada” was celebrating its 100th birthday. The bill allowed for some tweaks to Robert Stanley Weir’s English lyrics (which were reportedly overseen by then–prime minister Pierre Trudeau). Although “O Canada” was approved as our anthem by Parliament 13 years earlier, the act made it official. The original “O Canada” was composed by Calixa Lavallée with lyrics by Adolphe-Basile Routhier and made its debut in Quebec City in 1880. The song wasn’t heard outside of Quebec until the early 1900s (information courtesy of Northern Blue Publishing).

I’m not sure if any musical acts were invited to Ottawa to witness the official ceremony declaring “O Canada” as our national anthem, but it must have been cool to take part in the Parliament Hill celebration on Canada Day that year, especially with then–governor general of Canada Edward Schreyer, noted “crazy man hard-partier,” hosting the festivities. The public ceremony took place at noon with 100,000 revellers witnessing Schreyer, as the Queen’s representative, signing the royal proclamation making Lavallée’s “O Canada” the anthem of the country. Trudeau was on hand at the event, as were the descendants of the song’s lyricists, Weir and Routhier.

 

Murray McLauchlan, one of this country’s most popular folk singer-songwriters, was born on June 30, 1948, in Paisley, Scotland. His family immigrated to Canada when McLauchlan was five years old, settling in Toronto. Fast-forward 12 years and a 17-year-old McLauchlan could be found performing regularly in the coffee houses in Toronto’s fabled bohemian Yorkville neighbourhood. He later enrolled at Central Technical School as an art major. Upon graduating he moved to New York City for a few years to pursue a full-time career in music. He moved back to Toronto in 1968 due to the area’s exploding folk scene and recorded his modest debut, Song from the Street, in 1971. But it was the success of his 1972 self-titled followup that got his name out among the established Canadian folk elite. The album’s JUNO Award–winning single, “Farmer’s Song,” was also a smash crossover country and adult contemporary hit.

For the next 10 years McLauchlan was a fixture on the Canadian pop and country charts. Day to Day Dust (1973) was his highest ranking album, peaking at No. 13 on RPM’s pop chart, while Boulevard (1976), Greatest Hits (1978) and Whispering Rain (1979) all achieved gold status. His last album to make a foray onto the charts was 1998’s country hit Swinging on a Star. McLauchlan released only two studio albums in the ’90s, but this perceived lack of productivity can be partly blamed on his being too busy writing an autobiography and piloting bush planes in Northern Canada. The good news is that he has released four critically acclaimed efforts since 2004, including 2011’s Human Writes, and he helped form Lunch at Allen’s, a rootsy supergroup that also includes Marc Jordan, Ian Thomas and Cindy Church.

McLauchlan’s name is synonymous with the Canadian folk scene. So who cares if the 11-time JUNO Award winner and member of the Order of Canada’s Canuck-centric music hasn’t translated into success south of the border? He has headlined folk and country festivals since the early 1970s and has written some of Canada’s most endearing and culturally important songs, including “Down by the Henry Moore” (about a statue in front of Toronto City Hall where students would gather in the late ’60s and 1970s) as well as “Child’s Song,” “Little Dreamer,” “Do You Dream of Being Somebody” and many more.

 

Happy Canada Day everyone! Wear some red and white, crank up some Trooper, David Wilcox, Kim Mitchell, Tragically Hip, Rush, Gordon Lightfoot, Murray McLauchlan or any other Canadian artist – and try not to make drunken asses of yourselves at backyard parties and/or all-day neighbourhood park celebrations. At least make it to the lighting of the burning schoolhouse.

That’s an order, from me, your…

Maple syrup–sucking, two-four-swilling, Smarties- and poutine-eating, all-dressed-chips- and Kraft Dinner (what Americans call “mac and cheese”)–consuming, peameal bacon (instead of “Canadian back bacon”)–calling, seldom-if-ever Muskoka dinner jacket–wearing, urban-living, commuter-biking, non-pacifist, tree-hugging, Mountie-respecting, rusty hockey- and blues-guitar-playing, Ontario-loving (except for urban sprawl… and developers), seldom “eh,” but frequent “sorry” and “zed” instead of “zee”–saying, mostly metric–embracing, CBC Radio One–listening, Neil Young and “SCTV”–admiring, Terry Fox–idolizing and Great White North–defending very proud hoser.

Next week: Pat Metheny and The Irish Rovers

“Lindberg” by Robert Charlebois

This Week in Music History: June 18 to 24

Posted on: June 18th, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By David Ball

I tend to relish embellishing most of my stories with cheeky quips and/or the odd personal anecdote, but I’ve got nothing regarding the subject in question – other than that she is a national treasure. And I’ll challenge anyone who doesn’t agree with me to a duel at sunrise, single shot at 20 paces.

One of Canada’s… scratch that… one of the world’s most talented and popular female singers, Anne Murray, was born in the tiny mining town of Springhill, Nova Scotia (located about an hour’s drive south of Moncton, New Brunswick) on June 20, 1945. The young lass, who practised piano for six years and began taking voice lessons at age 15, would go on to become a 24-time JUNO Award winner and member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame (not to mention the recipient of countless other awards and personal honours).

Murray was influenced by the pop music her parents loved (Perry Como and Rosemary Clooney), along with the Top 40 music she was exposed to via AM radio from New York State. She studied physical education at the University of New Brunswick after high school, honing her singing skills on various school projects, and after graduating in 1966 she taught phys-ed for a year while continuing to pursue a career in music.

She landed her first gig as a cast member on CBC-TV’s “Singalong Jubilee.” During her brief stint on the popular television variety program, Murray was persuaded to move to Toronto to embark on a solo career by the show’s musical director, Brian Ahern. And she did just that. Her first album, What About Me, was released in 1968, but it failed to make the charts. However, her 1969 followup, This Way Is My Way, turned Murray into a star. The album’s single, “Snowbird,” went to No. 1 in Canada and was a three-way Top 10 crossover hit in the United States. Most impressive was its six-week run atop Billboard’s Easy Listening chart. More importantly, “Snowbird” was the first U.S. gold record ever awarded to a Canadian female artist (it eventually became a million-seller) and is widely recognized as one of our nation’s most culturally important songs.

Not always comfortable with fame, Murray withdrew from the spotlight throughout the early to mid-1970s while she raised a family with her husband and business partner Bill Langstroth. However, she still had time to produce a few moderately successful pop-country singles. Her career skyrocketed once again in 1978 after she switched to a new producer, Jim Ed Norman, who worked on the platinum-selling LP Let’s Keep It That Way and its hit singles “Walk Right Back” and “You Needed Me,” as well as the equally popular followup, 1979’s New Kind of Feeling. Both LPs were HUGE hits on both the pop and country charts.

For the next eight years, Murray achieved a stunning string of Top 10 singles and nine No. 1 country hits, from 1979’s “I Just Fall in Love Again” to 1986’s “Now and Forever (You and Me).” The hits began to subside in the late ’80s and 1990s, especially in the U.S., but Murray continued to maintain a healthy fan base on both sides of the border. Since 1999, she has produced four platinum-selling albums in Canada – two of which also went gold and platinum in the U.S. – while her most recent studio effort, Duets: Friends & Legends, returned her to the Billboard Top 10 country chart once again in 2007.

 

Scooping Woodstock by a few months and using some of the same performers too…

From June 21 to 22, 1969, 60,000 fans – including “FashionTelevision” icon Jeanne Beker (more on her later) – packed Varsity Stadium to witness Toronto’s first rock festival. Spread over two days, the Toronto Pop Festival 1969 hosted Saturday and Sunday afternoon and evening bills with advance tickets priced reasonably at $6 per day or $10 for the entire weekend. The reviews of the two-day event were positive; everything ran smoothly with only a few “bad trips” and no incidents of violence between cops and attendees. Even the weather co-operated for the most part.

Interestingly, as reported in a recent story on the Torontoist website: “Mayor William Dennison reportedly refused to provide an official greeting from the City to the festival (via letter or an appearance at the stadium) due to his distrust of ‘hippies.’”

Hmmm… it seems history does indeed repeat itself, considering current Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s refusal to attend last year’s Pride Toronto events. But I digress, again.

If I had a gun to my head and was forced to choose between the two diverse double-bills, I’d go with Saturday, by a hair. The heavy-hitting afternoon lineup included the one-two punch of Al Kooper and The Band (with their smash debut, Music from Big Pink, promoted alongside their name on official gig posters), while the evening session packed an even bigger wallop with hip acts Johnny Winter, The Velvet Underground and Sly and the Family Stone.

That being said, Sunday clearly did not suck. The daytime lineup featured the likes of Procol Harum, Edwin Starr, blues legend Slim Harpo, Chuck Berry and Ronnie Hawkins. The energetic sets by the latter two rock pioneers reportedly trumped the evening’s white-hot closing acts Dr. John, Blood, Sweat and Tears, and Steppenwolf. A 17-year-old Jeanne Beker certainly thought the Hawk’s performance was inspirational. The Toronto Telegram semi-immortalized the future TV star by printing Beker’s name attached to four photos (two of which reveal her wearing a yellow bikini top) of her dancing to Hawkins’ “mean rendition” of “Hey! Bo Diddley.”

Photos of Jeanne Beker (with her surname misspelled in the caption) from The Toronto Telegram

Toronto Pop also spotlighted some lesser known artists and local talent, such as Kensington Market, Modern Rock Quartet and Québécois star Robert Charlebois, as well as a notable performance by the then-unfamiliar group Alice Cooper, who were called in as a last-minute replacement for Saturday’s co-headliner, The Bonzo Dog Band.

According to the undeniably credible eye-witness account from a dude calling himself “The Surreal Hippie” – who wants to bet me that’s the actual name on his birth certificate? – Alice Cooper wasn’t even listed on the bill: “They were introduced as a band from L.A. on Frank Zappa’s label, and nobody had heard of them. That didn’t last long. They came out in metallic outfits and changed the face of rock music. From flying drumsticks to a little theatre, to what they called sci-fi rock, it was a great show I’ll never forget.”

I’m glad Mr. Hippie’s recollection of certain parts of the historic festival are so vivid, but his spelling of “Younge Street” on his blog is, at least, a little curious. Yonge is only the “longest street in the world” and one of the most famous roadways in the country. Even more curious is The Surreal Hippie’s decision to skip Toronto Pop’s finale by Steppenwolf, foreshadowing Woodstock to a small extent, where only a fraction of the estimated 500,000 attendees remained to witness Jimi Hendrix close out the revolutionary festival.

 

Speaking of hippie-like behaviour…

Chubby Checker, along with three members of his band, was arrested and charged with possession of “dangerous drugs” on the American side of the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls, New York, on June 23, 1970. The illicit substances in question were marijuana, hashish and unidentified capsules. Ernest Evans – a.k.a. Checker – was busted as he entered New York after performing in the city on the better/Canadian side of the falls. (The dope was found in his car).

The rock ’n’ roll dance-craze icon released a bunch of successful-but-soon-forgotten tunes in the early to mid-1960s, however most of the people attending the Niagara Falls concert were there to hear “The Twist” or the nearly identical “Let’s Twist Again.” Both singles were big hits, with the former recognized as one of the most popular No. 1 singles ever recorded.

At the time of the arrest, the 28-year-old South Philadelphia–raised singer was experimenting with new sounds and was on the verge of putting out a psychedelic album. So, in retrospect, perhaps this drug bust wasn’t too shocking after all. And at least Chubby didn’t try to get out of the charges by saying “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!”  to the customs officers like every other overly inflated C-celebrity seems to do when trying to weasel out of a charge. With not even a sniff of the Top 10 since 1962, at least Checker finally got his name back into the newspaper headlines. (I kid.) Checker was released on $1,000 cash bail and has been milking “The Twist” for all its worth ever since.

Next week: Robert Charlebois and Murray McLauchlan

“Snowbird” by Anne Murray. Live in 1973.

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