By David Ball

Move over Woodstock and Monterey Pop…

Over 450,000 people attended Canada’s largest outdoor concert, which was held on July 30, 2003, at Downsview Park in Toronto.

Officially titled Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto, but commonly referred to as SARSfest, the show was a benefit to help Toronto’s struggling economy and once-thriving tourism industry, which was savaged by the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak accompanied by a travel warning issued by the World Health Organization. (In fact, much of Canada was painted with the same SARS brush by the rest of the world.)

The benefit was organized at the behest of the headliners, The Rolling Stones, who wanted to help the city they’ve had a long – and sometimes sordid – relationship with. Their star power ensured a lucrative payday and enhanced the city’s battered international image across the globe. (I lived through this and can tell you most of my fellow Torontonians considered the worldwide reaction to SARS overblown, misinformed, unfounded and xenophobic.) The CBC and MuchMoreMusic provided television coverage, and the world press reported the event as well.

I think the only one dreading the feel-good gig was the owner of the nearby Idomo Furniture store, Gerrit de Boer, who no doubt feared a repeat of the wall of raw sewage that flooded his flagship location during Pope John Paul II’s World Youth Day visit to Downsview Park the previous summer. The park’s 7,000 portable toilets were unable to accommodate over 800,000 worshippers, causing the sewer lines to back up and consequently send a Noah’s Ark–like level of decidedly unholy human sludge (32,000 litres) into the store, desecrating nearly his entire inventory.

Organized in just a month, SARSfest featured both daytime and evening bills. The afternoon lineup was a hodgepodge of dissimilar acts linked together for the greater good, including (in order of appearance): The Have Love Will Travel Revue (Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi’s blues revival), Sam Roberts, Kathleen Edwards, La Chicane, The Tea Party, The Flaming Lips, Sass Jordan, The Isley Brothers and Blue Rodeo.

The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne at Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto, July 30, 2003.

Far more interesting was the star-studded evening lineup: Justin Timberlake, a reunited Guess Who, Rush, AC/DC and The Rolling Stones. Unfortunately, Timberlake’s 20-minute set was memorable for all the wrong reasons. The former ’N Sync standout had to endure thousands of boos and angry taunts from AC/DC fans – as well as dodge the occasional thrown water bottle. What a bunch of jerks! Sure Timberlake may not have fit the rock-heavy evening lineup, but he was there in good faith and volunteered to help the beleaguered city. Leave it to some moron AC/DC fans to attack the talented performer. To his credit, Timberlake was all class regarding his poor reception. To paraphrase: If I was here to see AC/DC, I’d boo me too.

Jerk fans aside, if SARSfest had a competition for best performance, AC/DC would have won hands down. The quintet delivered rock anthem after rock anthem, including “Hell’s Bells” and “Thunderstruck,” thrilling the decidedly pro-AC/DC audience. Almost as good were The Flaming Lips and The Guess Who. The former ’60s icons reformed for this special event with Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings sounding as fresh as ever. Unfortunately, Rush put in an uncharacteristically sloppy performance, though the prog-rock trio had a good excuse: they were the last band added to the lineup and didn’t have enough time to properly rehearse (they also felt obligated to take part since they’re from Toronto).

The Rolling Stones at Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto, July 30, 2003.

As a longtime Stones fan, I think they sounded pretty tight – no surprise given they interrupted their European tour to headline the show. They had no trouble whipping the crowd up during most of their 90-minute set and sent everyone home happy with classics “Tumbling Dice,” “Ruby Tuesday” and “Sympathy for the Devil.” One of their only missteps was when AC/DC whipping boy Timberlake joined the legends for a duet on “Miss You.”

As Jane Stephenson wrote in her original Sun Media review of the show: “Unfortunately, Jagger and Timberlake didn’t really mesh in terms of style, particularly when Timberlake inserted the chorus of his song, ‘Cry Me a River,’ into the Stones’ disco-inflected chestnut.”

Many fans booed, which visibly infuriated Keith Richards (he’d clearly had enough of the crowd’s anti-Timberlake antics). I love this man and thank you Rolling Stones!

Sincerely,
Canada

 

On August 3, 1954, The Crew Cuts remained at No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart for a second straight week with “Sh-Boom” (sometimes referred to as “Life Could Be a Dream”). Originally released by R&B vocal group The Chords earlier the same year, the groundbreaking Toronto pop band did a more traditional big band take on the doo-wop cut. (The Chords’ single is considered to be one of the first pop songs to reach the Top 10 – it peaked at No. 9.) The Crew Cuts’ “Sh-Boom” stayed at No. 1 for an impressive nine straight weeks and remained on the charts for over two months. Sh-Wow!!!

Although they had many self-penned hits in Canada, The Crew Cuts made their fortune in the United States doing covers of doo-wop and R&B songs. The quartet broke up in 1964, but reunited in Nashville in 1977 and again in 1984 when they were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame with fellow vocal groups The Four Lads and The Diamonds.

 

Another feel-good event took place on August 5, 1989.

Rod Stewart headlined a benefit concert in Boston, Massachusetts, in honour of Terry Fox. The Marathon of Hope runner lost his battle with cancer in 1981, but his legacy continues to inspire the world. At the benefit, Stewart performed the soulful song “Never Give Up on a Dream,” which he co-wrote with Bernie Taupin and Jim Cregan, and that captures the essence of Fox’s journey.

Since the track – which was recorded on Stewart’s 1981 album Tonight I’m Yours – is about Canada’s greatest national hero (in my humble opinion, but I’m right) it immediately became one of my all-time favourites. I especially like the lines: “Inspiring all to never lose/It’ll take a long, long time for someone to fill your shoes/ It’ll take somebody who is a lot like you/Who never gave up on a dream.”

Note: On September 1, 1981, after 143 days and more than 5,300 kilometres, the young one-legged crusader was forced to abandon his cross-Canada run to raise funds and awareness for cancer research.

The idea for the tune came sometime in late 1980 or early 1981 when the British rocker happened to watch a documentary about Terry Fox: “I saw it on TV and thought that’s certainly worth a song.”

Epic understatement aside, it’s unfortunate Stewart has never composed any other songs during his long and productive career that rival the depth and compassion of the Fox tribute – unless, that is, you find “Tonight I’m Yours” and “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” truly inspirational.

Regardless, because of “Never Give Up on a Dream” and the Boston benefit concert (the money raised went to cancer research), Stewart gets a free pass for life from me. I’d even look the other way if he released an album of all Ke$ha tunes. Well, maybe not.

Next week: Procol Harum and Metallica

“Never Give Up on a Dream” by Rod Stewart


By James Sandham

Riding a bike is a wonderful thing to do at any time of the year, but never more so than during the warm months of summer. Bike riding and summertime just seem to be made for each other – maybe because they share a lot of the same associations: freedom, easy-goingness, innocence and relaxation.

Just as summer will always be associated with summer vacation in my mind, bike riding will always be associated with the carefree feelings of childhood – and that’s a good thing to hold on to, I think. Plus, when you’re in a sea of sweltering traffic, there’s something undeniably liberating about just being able to cruise on by it or, like here in Toronto, being able to hop down to the lakefront trail and ride home peacefully. So to celebrate summer’s most sublime pastime, here are a few clips and artists singing of the bicycle’s glory.

Mark Ronson and The Business Intl. – “The Bike Song”

Mark Ronson is an English DJ, musician, music producer, artist and the co-founder of Allido Records. He’s also the man behind this song and video. More than just “a” bike song, it’s “the” bike song, a whole cinematic tribute to two-wheeled pedal power and the joyful freedom that comes with carefree cruising. With a plot that centres around some nefarious bike-thievery and the subsequent thwarting of said bike-thievery by autonomously operating bikes, followed by a whole lot of general bike-related awesomeness, it’s pretty much normal life on a bike.

 

Lily Allen – “LDN”

Here’s another ode to two-wheeled glory from across the pond, courtesy of recording artist, actress and fashion designer Lily Allen. Those Brits really seem to dig their bikes. Consigned to her bike because “the filth took away my licence,” Allen subsequently realizes that bike riding “doesn’t get me down and I feel OK, ’cause the sights that I’m seeing are priceless.” Just one of the many benefits of the bicycle. Ride on, fair Lily.

 

Robin Thicke – “When I Get You Alone”

The son of Canadian actor, comedian, songwriter, and game and talk show host Alan Thicke, Robin Thicke is an R&B singer-songwriter, musician and composer. His “When I Get You Alone” isn’t about bikes or bike riding per se, but the music video depicts the love song through the story of a very passionate and soulful New York City bicycle courier. Then again, who knows? The love Thicke sings about could very well be the love he feels for riding his bike.

 

Toronto Bicycle Music Festival featuring “Funeral Song” by Richard Laviolette

Here’s another interesting bike and music-related bit: the Toronto Bicycle Music Festival. It’s a free community event that’s been running for a few years now, sponsored by both the Toronto Arts Council and Ontario Arts Council. It basically involves a series of outdoor, pedal-powered concerts, which this year will feature Snowblink, Gentleman Reg and Rae Spoon among others. It takes place Saturday, September 15, 2012. For more information check out the Toronto Bicycle Music Festival website or watch the festival’s short film.

 

Queen – “Bicycle Race”

And to finish things off, how could we not include the one that started them all, bike song of all bike songs: Queen’s original tribute to simple, sustainable transportation. This song says it all. So go forth, music lovers, and ride!


By David Ball

At the end of their July 25, 1969, gig at the Fillmore East in New York City, Crosby, Stills and Nash were joined by Neil Young for the first time, which made the folk-rock supergroup even more supergroupy. The trio were looking to expand their sound, so Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegün recommended the Toronto-born rocker and Stephen Stills’ old Buffalo Springfield band mate.

Somewhat surprisingly, Stills was originally leery of bringing his old collaborator aboard (he apparently wanted to distance himself from Buffalo Springfield). Graham Nash also needed convincing since he didn’t know much about Young. After a series of meetings, the duo agreed to add him to the group. (Young’s contract allowed him to also maintain his career with his new band, Crazy Horse.)

David Crosby’s reaction to the new addition: “Where am I?!” Actually, I made that up, but it is David Crosby, so it could be true, don’t you think?

Young appeared on only a few songs at the Fillmore gig, mainly in a supporting role. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young kicked off their first tour (fleshed out with supporting members drummer Dallas Taylor and Motown bassist Greg Reeves) with an August 17, 1969, concert at Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. The band’s second tour stop was at a small, insignificant music and art fair called Woodstock, where, interestingly, Young skipped most of the group’s hour-long acoustic set and requested to be cut out of the documentary.

As a full-time member of the group, Young wrote some of the band’s best songs, including the Canadian folk masterpiece “Helpless” and one of rock’s best and most virulent protest songs, “Ohio.”

CSN&Y broke up in 1971, but have reformed many times over the years. Their last studio album, Looking Forward, came out in 1999, and the group staged a well-received “Freedom of Speech” tour in 2006.

 

Paul Anka’s “Lonely Boy” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on July 26, 1959. Written by Anka, the song was the Ottawa-born teen idol’s only No. 1 hit in his illustrious – and still active – 57-year career. He had score another chart-topper in 1957 with “Diana,” but that was on the Billboard Best Sellers in Stores chart, a precursor to the Hot 100.

Anka can be seen performing “Lonely Boy” in the low-budget exploitation teen film, Girls Town, which was released on October 5, 1959. In this truly unwatchable motion picture, the singer-songwriter also performed “It’s Time to Cry,” “Girls Town Blues” and “Ave Maria.”

In addition to featuring Anka in his first on-screen role, the film also starred blond “sex bomb” Mamie Van Doren and jazz singer Mel Tormé, as well as a supporting cast featuring several children of famous actors, including the hack sons of silent film legends Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. Incidentally, Anka’s 1959 followup single was the far more timeless “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard singles chart.

 

Honestly, I didn’t make this up…

A riot erupted after MC Hammer’s July 28, 1991, concert in Penticton, B.C., – he was in town as one of the headliners for the Penticton Peach Festival. Approximately 2,000 fans looted and smashed stores in the downtown area and wrecked tourist hot spots located on the nearby beach. Penticton’s then-mayor, Jake Kimberley, read the Riot Act and 90 idiots were jailed while 60 people received injuries during the mayhem.

What caused the riot? Well, I have a few theories: Hammer’s faulty decision to open with “U Can’t Touch This,” followed by 90 minutes of all-new untested material; the Los Angeles–based rapper was misheard by approximately 2,000 fans as saying “It’s riot time!” instead of “It’s Hammer time!”; or approximately 2,000 fans finally realized en masse that they actually paid money to see MC Hammer perform.

Joking aside – although I’m kind of being serious about the latter theory – according to a Castanet.net story from 2006, “the cumulation of several large events over one weekend resulted in a mob of thousands descending on the downtown area.”

Founded in 1947, the Penticton Peach Festival is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year from August 8 to 12, and two of the fest headliners are the great Canadian rock bands Lighthouse and 54-40. No riots are expected, unless Hammer is a last-minute replacement for 54-40 lead singer Neil Osborne.

 

A happy birthday goes out to one of the most influential bassists in rock!

Gary Lee Weinrib, better known to the music world as Geddy Lee, the bassist, keyboardist and lead singer for progressive rock band, Rush, was born in North York, Ont., on July 29, 1953. Gary became “Geddy” because Lee’s mother, a Polish immigrant and Second World War concentration camp survivor, had a thick accent and had trouble pronouncing his name.

Lee took up bass as a teenager, influenced by the likes of Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, The Who’s John Entwistle and Cream’s Jack Bruce. He was recruited to join Rush by childhood friend Alex Lifeson when he was just 15 years old, also assuming lead singer duties. Rounding out the young power trio was drummer John Rutsey.

Lee’s dexterous and highly adventurous bass style was clearly inspired by his musical heroes, however even in their formative years, Rush sounded nothing like the heavy blues bands that they were reportedly influenced by, such as Blue Cheer, Cream and especially Led Zeppelin; only “Here Again,” from their 1974 self-titled debut, comes close.

Still, Rush weren’t a full-on progressive rock band until Neil Peart replaced Rutsey in the summer of 1974. The proficient drummer and deep-thinking lyricist helped redefine the trio. The conventional rock heard on the first album was replaced with harder-hitting and technically challenging material – and a slew of hit albums soon followed.

During the mid-1970s through the 1980s, Rush became one of the most popular touring bands in the world and produced some of progressive rock’s greatest albums: 2112, A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres (not to mention two of rock’s most admired live albums, 1976’s All the World’s a Stage and 1981’s Exit…Stage Left). And when the band’s defining albums, Moving Pictures and Signals, were released in the early ’80s, Rush became one of the biggest rock bands in the world. The affable threesome remain superstars today and continue to put out one bestselling studio album after another. Their latest effort, Clockwork Angels, harkens back to their 1970s hard-hitting prime.

Even though his voice is off-putting to some, Lee’s high-register vocal chops – compared favourably, believe it or not, to Woody Woodpecker and Robert Plant on speed – put a distinctive stamp on Rush’s music. It’s impossible to imagine any other singer capable of doing a better job on the group’s dozens of radio hits, including “Fly by Night,” “Closer to the Heart,” “The Spirit of Radio,” “Tom Sawyer” and “Subdivisions.”

An avid wine collector and huge baseball fan, Lee is one of the most respected bassists of his generation. His legion of admirers includes Primus’ Les Claypool, Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris and Metallica’s Cliff Burton. Lee is a six-time winner of GuitarPlayer’s Best Rock Bass award and is also enshrined in the respected magazine’s Hall of Fame.

My favourite of Lee’s non-Rush work includes his memorable comedic turn on Bob and Doug McKenzie’s 1981 hit single “Take Off.” Lee and his band mates were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1994 and made officers of the Order of Canada in 1996.

 

Next week: The Crew Cuts and Terry Fox

“Closer to the Heart” by Rush, from Exit…Stage Left


By James Sandham

Few things define the Canadian summer experience like a weekend at the cottage, and few things define a weekend at the cottage like the music you bring up there. I just happen to be heading to the cottage myself this weekend, and in that spirit, I’ve been busy crafting the perfect cottage playlist. It’s a difficult balance – you need music for the daytime, maybe some slower stuff for later in the evening as things wind down and of course you need tunes to listen to on the car ride up. I’ve still got a couple of days to get things finalized, but here’s what I’ve been working with so far.

Canned Heat – “Going Up the Country”

But of course. This is like the official theme song for leaving the city behind you and heading straight out for the wild green yonder of the North. It’s an integral song for the drive and totally sets the mood.

 

Bryan Adams – “Summer of ’69”

And who better to keep the spirits high on that long drive than the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2006 inductee? This song’s one for the ages. Adams may have only been 10 years old when the summer of ’69 actually transpired, but that’s beside the point. The exuberance of this song speaks to people of all eras and is the perfect giddy indulgence to pass the time on the road.

 

Lighthouse – “Sunny Days”

And speaking of 1969, how could we not include Lighthouse, the iconic Toronto rockers whose self-titled debut came out that year? While this particular track wasn’t included on that album, its release nonetheless ushered in a career that would span decades.

Did you know that Howard Shore, one of the band’s original 13 members, went on to score films, and that he won Academy Awards for the music to the Lord of the Rings trilogy? This one, though, remains one of Lighthouse’s best.

 

Mungo Jerry – “In the Summertime”

This one is another summertime classic, perfect for that first day at the cottage when you’ve finally arrived, unpacked your stuff and the only thing left is to run down to the dock and jump in the drink. Easy living.

 

Otis Redding – (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay

And speaking of docks, last but not least we have a little Otis Redding. This is basically a whole song dedicated to something I plan to be doing a lot of at the cottage: dock-sitting. I can almost hear the water lapping now. Hope you’re enjoying your summer!


By David Ball

Funkster Rick James’ “Give It to Me Baby” peaked at No. 40 on Billboard’s pop chart on July 18, 1981. The first single from his multi-platinum LP Street Songs became his second crossover Top 40 pop hit, although it spent an impressive five weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B chart, two spots higher than the album’s more famous followup track, “Super Freak.”

The accompanying music video was extremely popular thanks to heavy exposure via MTV and then a few years later on both MuchMusic and the groundbreaking NBC program “Friday Night Videos.” “Give It to Me Baby” still airs semi-regularly on Bell Media’s specialty music video channel, MuchVIBE (MuchMusic’s sister channel). James became one of the first artists in the early 1980s to capitalize on the power of the music video and consequently became one of the decade’s biggest stars.

You may be wondering why I’m mentioning Rick James in the first place, given This Week in Music History’s penchant for focusing on Canadian-related stories. Well, I want to float a motion that makes the super freak himself an honorary Canuck.

WHAAAT?!!!

Hear me out: Arcade Fire count a couple of proud Americans in its ranks – brothers Win and William Butler – but the band is still considered as Canadian as Stompin’ Tom Connors. It helps that the Grammy and JUNO Award–winning supergroup are card-carrying Montreal ambassadors, absolutely love this country and produce music that falls under Canadian content parameters. Yes, the California-born, Texas-raised Butler brothers have more than earned their honorary Canadian status.

Same thing goes for Levon Helm and The Band. The Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees are from Stratford, Ont., but the pioneering rock quintet’s late great drummer and singer was from Arkansas. The way I look at it, Helm is a freakin’ honorary Canadian Hall of Fame ambassador!

Then there’s Neko Case. Because of her associations with Canadian indie rockers The New Pornographers and The Sadies, I bet there are lots of folks out there who think the ultra-cool singer-songwriter is originally from British Columbia. Nope. She was born in Alexandria, Virginia, and spent her formative years in Tacoma, Washington, as well as Seattle, Chicago and Vancouver. So add her to the honorary Canadian list too!

But how does this relate to Rick James as an honorary Canadian?

In the mid-1960s James shared a flat in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood with Canadian icon Neil Young. During his tenure in the Ontario capital (James fled the United States to avoid the Vietnam War) he founded one of the most exciting Canadian R&B bands of the decade, The Mynah Birds (who were active from 1964 to 1967). Although they didn’t produce any albums or hit singles, they did sign an impressive seven-year contract with Motown Records, though the deal reportedly fell apart in 1966 during a recording session in Detroit when James got busted for being absent without leave from the US Navy.

Those facts alone should cement James status as a honorary hoser, but there’s more…

The Mynah Birds, with Neil Young, Bruce Palmer and Rick James

The Mynah Birds front man and leader helped nurture the careers of fellow bandmates Neil Young and Bruce Palmer (shortly before the Canadian duo would head south to form Buffalo Springfield) and future Steppenwolf members, Nick St. Nicholas and Goldy McJohn (and many others). Take James out of the equation and the rock ’n’ roll landscape on this side of the border would sound a whole lot different/worse. And a few last quick hits: James was born in Buffalo, New York, which is pretty damn close to Canada; when James got busted Bruce Palmer stated: “We thought he was Canadian”; and the invaluable but occasionally erroneous online Canadian history website Northern Blue Publishing refers to James as a “Canadian blues artist.” So, at least consider the possibility that Rick James should be an honorary Canadian… as long as we can all forgive his horrific drug-fuelled convictions from the early 1990s. Hey, at least he was damn funny on Dave Chappelle’s sketch comedy program!

 

Rich Little’s short-lived hour-long NBC variety show ended its 14-episode run on July 19, 1976. Hosted by the Ottawa-born impressionist, “The Rich Little Show” featured comedy sketches, stand-up routines and musical segments; some of the series regulars included Charlotte Rae and Little’s own sheepdog, Dudley. No wonder it was cancelled! (I kid!) Notably, one of the show’s writers was Barry Levinson, who would go on to direct the acclaimed films Diner and Rain Man.

During the show’s short run, some of the guests appearing on the program included fellow impressionist Frank Gorshin (Batman’s original Riddler), The Jackson 5 (they sang “Forever Came Today”), Susan Saint James (she did a tap dance routine), Glenn Ford (the prolific Canadian-born actor performed with a pack of Dalmatians – I’d kill to see that video clip) and game show host/cheesy entertainer John Davidson (who incited a near-riot with his balls-to-the-wall medley of “Feelings,” “Mandy” and “My Eyes Adored You”). Other notable guests included George Burns, Peter Marshall, Mel Tormé, The Hudson Brothers, Glen Campbell, Bernadette Peters, Bing Crosby, The Silvers, Ron Howard, Sherman Hemsley, Tom Bosley, Bill Cosby, McLean Stevenson (still on a roll from his brilliant decision to quit MASH) and, of course, Betty White.

Little stuck to doing what he does best throughout the show’s 14 episodes, including a spot-on Johnny Carson impression and spoofs such as Inspector Clumseau (a “Pink Panther” parody) and Welcome Back Kosher (a take on the popular John Travolta/Gabe Kaplan sitcom). Little’s series may not have lasted very long, but he remains one of the world’s greatest impressionists. The 73-year-old still performs in Las Vegas and occasionally lends his vast vocal talents to animated feature films and television programs.

 

Canada’s first major jazz festival kicked off in Toronto on July 22, 1959. Toronto Jazz Festival was held over four days at the CNE Grandstand and featured over 30 local and international artists including Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Oscar Peterson (his name still does NOT grace Canada’s Walk of Fame – at this rate, Rick James will beat him to the sidewalk) and Maynard Ferguson, along with special guest Louis Armstrong. Canada sure picked a great time to hold its first big festival. Commercially and creatively speaking, 1959 is considered by many scholars as jazz’s zenith and one the greatest eras in the history of American music. (NOTE: 1959 was also the year that saw the untimely passing of Billie Holiday and saxophone giant Lester Young.)

The Oscar Peterson Trio, circa 1959

Some of the genre’s most important albums ever were recorded or released in 1959: Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis, Time Out by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Mingus Ah Um by Charles Mingus, Giant Steps by John Coltrane, Portrait in Jazz by the Bill Evans Trio and The Shape of Jazz to Come by Ornette Coleman (not to be confused with Refused’s hardcore punk masterpiece, The Shape of Punk to Come).

Not to be outdone, the Toronto festival’s homegrown headliners, Peterson and Ferguson, were already stars in their own right: the former released 15 albums alone in 1959, including one of his best, The Jazz Soul of Oscar Peterson (a year removed from his sensational live effort, On the Town). There’s piss-poor historical data regarding this important bit of Canadian history, so once again, I wish I had a time machine to experience everything firsthand!

Next week: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Paul Anka

“I’ve Got You in My Soul” by The Mynah Birds


By James Sandham

Nothing seems to go quite as well with July beers as April Wine. Whether you’re on the deck of a cottage, the balcony of your apartment or just hanging out at your local patio, Nova Scotia’s big-haired hard-rockers are always a reliable seasonal complement to summer debauchery. And more than 40 years after their inception – with Roy “Nip” Nichol replacing Blair Mackay at the drums – the quartet is still going strong with upcoming tour dates in Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia to name but a few.

It’s hard to believe it all began more than four decades ago – in 1969, to be precise – when brothers David and Ritchie Henman got together with their cousin Jim Henman and Myles Goodwyn to form a band. While Goodwyn remains the only original member of the group, April Wine has released 16 studio albums, nine live albums, numerous compilations and a boxed set, and has performed thousands of live concerts as their lineup has changed over the decades. But it all began for the original foursome when they moved to Montreal in 1970. They were making their self-titled debut album at the time, and its song “Fast Train” ended up receiving a lot of airplay. This enabled the group to release a second album, On Record, in 1972. Its single, a cover of Hot Chocolate’s “You Could Have Been a Lady,” was a phenomenal hit, reaching No. 5 on the Canadian charts and peaking at No. 32 in the United States, where it stayed for 11 weeks.

Despite these early successes, the Henman brothers left the band during the recording of April Wine’s third album, Electric Jewels. Drummer Jerry Mercer and guitarist Gary Moffet would eventually replace them, and together with Goodwyn and Jim Clench (who had replaced Jim Henman in ’71) they completed Electric Jewels, embarking on a pyrotechnics-filled tour shortly thereafter to promote the album. It wasn’t until their fourth release, however, that things really started to take off: 1975’s Stand Back went double platinum in Canada and its song “Oowatanite” became one of the most popular songs the band has ever recorded.

The band’s fifth album, The Whole World’s Goin’ Crazy, was an ever bigger success, going platinum on advanced sales alone, and by 1977, the year of the band’s sixth release, April Wine would be doing a charity event at Toronto’s El Mocambo with none other than The Rolling Stones. While the Stones were “secretly” billed as “The Cockroaches,” word got out pretty quick and huge crowds awaited the performance. Needless to say, the show was a huge success. As a result, April Wine got its first chance at touring the U.S., first opening for The Rolling Stones, then for various popular headliners, including Styx and fellow Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Rush. They’d round off the decade with two more albums: First Glance in 1978 and Harder… Faster in 1979, both of which produced Billboard hits.

That was nothing, however, compared to what the ’80s would bring. April Wine’s The Nature of the Beast LP was released in January 1981 and included the smash hits “Just Between You and Me” and “Sign of the Gypsy Queen.” The album would go multi-platinum in Canada and sell well over a million copies in the U.S. too. This was the peak of the band’s commercial success. They embarked on an exhausting support tour to promote the album, playing to their largest crowds ever and filling arenas everywhere they went. Then, in 1982, they released Power Play, their 10th studio album, and embarked on their largest tour yet, including the huge stage and lighting show that fans had come to expect.

While fans flocked to the tour and the album had decent sales, Power Play wasn’t met with the same critical acclaim that April Wine’s previous two albums had generated, and the band saw it as a letdown. Goodwyn moved from Canada to the Bahamas with his family while recording the followup, and a rift opened in the band. By 1984 they were announcing their farewell tour.

As we all know though, that certainly wasn’t the end of the line for April Wine. The “farewell tour” was so successful that it spawned April Wine’s fifth live album, 1985’s One for the Road. And Walking Through Fire, their 12th studio album, came out just a year later in 1986. There was a bit of a lull in the band’s career after that point, but by 1988 Goodwyn had returned to Canada and by 1992 the band was touring again.

Attitude, their 13th studio album, came out in 1993 and was certified gold in Canada. Frigate followed in 1994, as well as Back to the Mansion in 2001 and Roughly Speaking in 2006. In 2010, April Wine was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. And this summer, they will still probably be playing somewhere near where you live.

April Wine – “Sign of the Gypsy Queen”


By David Ball

The world premiere of Neil Young’s concert film Rust Never Sleeps took place at the Bruin Theatre in Westwood, California, on July 11, 1979; the album of the same name was released earlier that day.

The nearly two-hour-long flick offers both a thrilling and interesting (more on that later) look at the multi-JUNO Award winner and 1982 inductee of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in prime live form, both unaccompanied and with legendary backing band Crazy Horse, at their October 22, 1978 gig at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. The solid 17-song set features some of Young’s best songs, including “Cortez the Killer,” “The Needle and the Damage Done” and “Cinnamon Girl,” plus showcases excellent new material from his 1978 Rust Never Sleeps tour, including “Powderfinger” and the hard-rock arena-rocker of arena-rockers, “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).”

But be forewarned: If you plan on watching the film for the first time, get ready to be weirded out by frequent on-stage appearances by disturbing Jawa-like Star Wars creatures with glowing eyes – Young refers to them as “road-eyes” – setting up gigantic prop and often accompanied by equally disturbing dancers and white-coated men. But if you can endure these – and a few other – unsettling production flourishes, Young will rock your socks off.

And then there is that little Rust Never Sleeps album…

Upon its July 11, 1979, release, Rust Never Sleeps was hailed as one of Young’s finest efforts from his most important decade of music. It peaked at No. 8 on Billboard and impressively won Rolling Stone’s Critics Poll for Album of the Year for 1979.

The majority of the half-acoustic, half-electric recording was culled from the aforementioned Cow Palace gig, with audience noise mostly edited out. Only two of the LP’s nine tracks were produced in the studio: “Sail Away” from the Comes a Time sessions and a haunting 1975 solo performance of “Pocahontas.”

The album title is an aphorism as Young tries to overcome irrelevance through rebirth, summarized in the prophetic lines: “Rock and roll is here to stay/It’s better to burn out/Than to fade away” from the brilliant acoustic opening track “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue).” The sludgy anthemic closer, “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black),” is one of the most potent rock statements of the 1970s. For all of its 5:18 runtime, Neil Young and Crazy Horse manage to acknowledge the ongoing legacy of Elvis, the past and the influence of punk while pushing the sonic boundaries of garage rock to near metal heights. Alas, Rust Never Sleeps signifies Young’s last serious commercial blast before his career went into a state of flux through most of the 1980s, caused in part by his highly publicized creative and legal battles with Geffen. However, the “Godfather of Grunge” returned with a vengeance in 1989 with Freedom and hasn’t missed a beat since.

 

I can think of no other Canadian musician more deserving of this honour:

On July 13, 1993, Geddy Lee, lead singer and bassist for multi-JUNO Award–winning band and 1994 Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Rush, sang “O Canada” a cappella at Major League Baseball’s 64th All-Star Game at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland.

Photo from 1993 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

Lee was the perfect choice to sing our anthem. Canada’s baseball profile was at an all-time high at the 64th edition of the midsummer classic, with an unprecedented eight Toronto Blue Jays players representing Toronto and four in the American League (AL) starting lineup (on the National League side, Marquis Grissom was the only selection from the Montreal Expos). The Jays were also the reigning World Series champs and would go on to win their second World Series in a row just three months later. Under the managerial guidance of Blue Jays skipper Cito Gaston, the AL whipped its Senior Circuit rivals 9–3. (For all you baseball fans, this was the infamous All-Star Game where Baltimore Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina caused a ruckus by trying to show up Gaston by warming up late in the game without getting the manager’s official go-ahead.)

As I was saying, Geddy Lee was the most deserving to sing our anthem because…

There’s no bigger baseball fan in all of Canadian music than the respected Toronto musician, at least on my unscientific but 100 per cent accurate list. For example, Lee is a lifelong fan and noted amateur baseball historian, who in 2008 donated his entire collection of signed Negro League baseballs, totalling nearly 200, to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. And anyone who has watched Toronto Blue Jays home games on television over the past number of years has undoubtedly spied the unmistakable Mr. Lee sitting in the second row behind home plate often wearing a Blue Jays hat as he cheers on his favourite team. I’ve dubbed where he sits the “Geddy Lee seats” due to how damn good they are.

Hey Geddy, next time you sing our anthem, how about finishing it off by breaking into a bass solo or singing something from “The Fountain of Lamneth” or a verse from “By-Tor and the Snow Dog”?

 

Sloan’s 1992 full-length debut, Smeared, was certified gold in Canada on July 12, 1995. The Halifax power-pop quartet has produced many domestic hit songs over their 21-year career, but the album’s lead single, “Underwhelmed,” remains their highest charting track outside of Canada, reaching No. 25 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks.

Smeared’s other four singles failed to chart in Canada, but the LP remains a favourite among critics and the band’s large fan base, and placed a solid No. 86 on Bob Mersereau’s respected book, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (Goose Lane Editions, 2007). Incidentally, two other Sloan albums made it on Mesereau’s list, the highest ranked is 1994’s Twice Removed at No. 14.

 

Canadian celebrity rock brats tie the knot…

On July 15, 2006, Napanee, Ontario’s Avril Lavigne married Sum 41’s Deryck Whibley in Montecito, California; the pair got engaged a year earlier. Lavigne originally wanted a rock ’n’ roll goth wedding, but thought better of it when imagining what the photos would look like 20 years down the road. (I’m thinking those folks currently sporting wraparound barbwire arm tattoos back in the 1990s should have used the same philosophy.) Lavigne chose to go the traditional route and wore a white dress, designed by Vera Wang. About 110 people attended the ceremony at a private estate.

The couple’s first dance was the decidedly unpunk “Iris” by adult contemporary stalwarts, Goo Goo Dolls. For Whibley, I’m pretty sure the song choice was either a compromise or a guilty pleasure (but for me it would be grounds for divorce). Seven months into their marriage, Lavigne stated that she was “the best thing that ever happened to him” because the Belleville, Ont.–born popster was instrumental in helping him keep off drugs. Tragically, their marriage was short-lived. The couple announced on September 17, 2009, that they had split up and that divorce proceedings would soon follow (there was no truth to the rumour that part of the reason for the split was having to dance to that cursed Goo Goo Dolls song). Their divorce was finalized on November 16, 2010, but they remain friends to this day.

Next week: Rick James and Rich Little

“Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” by Neil Young and Crazy Horse from Rust Never Sleeps


By James Sandham

Well hello there. Hope you had a good Canada Day weekend. Maybe you went up to the cottage? I didn’t manage to make it up north – the traditional Canada Day destination of many – but I did manage to sit in an Adirondack chair in the next best place: my in-laws’ farm, down in the mighty wine lands of Niagara. And in true holiday form, we drank a lot of local beer, sat around a bonfire and even got around to wearing some plaid flannels – a very Canadian experience indeed. It wouldn’t have been complete without music though, and there’s really only one kind of music to listen to on a weekend like that: classic Canadian rock. There are so many good songs, but here is a selection of some of the best.

“Acadian Driftwood” by The Band

“Acadian Driftwood” came out on The Band’s 1975 album Northern Lights – Southern Cross, the first album recorded at their new California studio. The song is a bit of a Canadian history lesson, detailing the expulsion of the Acadians during the French and Indian War of 1754–1763. Robbie Robertson’s lyrics were based on the poem “Evangeline” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and though they take a bit of license with the historical record – for example, the deportations happened during the war, not “when the war was over” – they nonetheless immortalize an important part of our country’s history.

 

“Wheat Kings” by The Tragically Hip

“Wheat Kings” – from The Tragically Hip’s 1992 album Fully Completely – is one of those classic Canadian songs that always seems to come on at a barbecue or at the cottage or, like this past weekend, while you’re sitting around the campfire in your Woolrich plaid. Again, if you listen to the lyrics, the song is actually about a specific event in Canadian history – in this case, the story of David Milgaard, a young Winnipeg-born hippie wrongly convicted of the grisly rape and murder of Saskatchewan nurse Gail Miller.

Unfortunately, Milgaard’s story is only one in a too-long list of wrongful convictions in Canada, and is even more tragic for the fact that Milgaard was still a minor (17) at the time of his conviction. He spent the next 23 years of his life behind bars. And though he had many opportunities for parole during this time period, he did not once make a request for early release, as it would have required him to admit to committing the crime, something he was never prepared to do.

 

“Lakeside Park” by Rush

Here’s another classic Canada Day weekend song, but with lyrics that are a little more uplifting than the previous one. From Rush’s 1975 album, Caress of Steel, the song is about an actual place, Lakeside Park in Port Dalhousie, St. Catharines, Ont. – not far from where I grew up. And as Geddy Lee sings, it is indeed an idyllic little place, complete with a summer fair, midway and vintage merry-go-round. Or that’s the way it was the last time I was there. Word around Port Dalhousie these days is that condos are going up, and we all know what that means for these quaint little places.

 

“Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon” by The Guess Who

What Canada Day weekend would be complete without this song? This classic from the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1987 inductees, The Guess Who, was originally recorded live for their 1972 release, Live at the Paramount. With references to places that only a Canadian would recognize – such as Moose Jaw, Red Deer, and Medicine Hat – it’s practically a theme song to the country. It also goes well with Victoria Day, or any time there are beer specials available.

 

“Oh…Canada” by Classified

And to wrap it all up, why not throw in something a little more unconventional, a little more contemporary from Nova Scotian Luke Boyd (a.k.a. Classified). Peaking at No. 14 on the Canadian Hot 100, the reworking of the national anthem was a surprise hit off Boyd’s 2009 release Self Explanatory. It was even nominated for a JUNO Award in 2011 for Single of the Year.

Hope you had a good Canada Day!


By David Ball

Making history and shutting ’er down…

One of Canada’s best-loved – and loudest – touring bands, Big Sugar, released their fifth studio album, Brothers and Sisters, Are You Ready?, concurrently with its French-language twin, Brothers and Sisters, Êtes Vous Ready?, on July 3, 2001. Leave it to the band’s enigmatic singer and guitarist Gordie Johnson to create a bit history: the release of both versions signifies the first time ever that an English-based Canadian band put out an album in our country’s both official languages simultaneously. Brothers and Sisters, Are You Ready? was nominated for Rock Album of the Year (formerly Best Rock Album) at the 2002 JUNO Awards and contains the great Johnson guitar rockers “Nicotina (She’s All That)” and “Red Rover.” Reviews were mixed, but the LP became another bestseller for the Toronto-based four-time JUNO Award nominees.

Although still in their prime, Johnson decided to put Big Sugar on an extended hiatus after their gig on December 31, 2003, so he could work on other projects, such as his Austin, Texas–based southern rock band Grady, as well as producing albums for other acts, including Gov’t Mule, Taj Mahal and Joel Plaskett. But just like pro wrestlers, boxers, porn stars and Larry King, rock groups never seem to retire for good (look no further than The Who, The Beach Boys, Black Sabbath, The Police, etc.). Big Sugar reformed in 2010 and released a new studio album last year. On a related and final overdriven-Gibson-through-a-Marshall-stack note, I proclaim Big Sugar’s hit “Ride Like Hell” from the 1993 album Five Hundred Pounds the greatest heavy-blues song this country has ever produced!

 

As a wee broth of a lad growing up in Kingston, Ontario, I didn’t run across many Northern Irish folks other than my late County Down–born grandmother Francis Melrose (Up Down!) and the guy featured in this next story…

One day waaaaay back during my tenure at Queen’s University, circa 1990, I was browsing through the fantasy and sci-fi section of a bookstore on lower Princess Street, Kingston’s lovely main drag stretch of restaurants, shops, limestone-bricked offices and historic buildings… not to be confused with upper Princess Street, Kingston’s not-so-lovely main drag stretch of dive motels, used car dealerships, above-ground parking lots and seamy strip-malls. Anyway, the store’s front door opened and in walked a wisp of a man sporting a red beard and wearing a traditional Irish tweed flat cap.

I thought: “That can’t be that singer dude from The Irish Rovers, can it?” Moments later I overhead him speaking with a watered-down lilt as he asked the storeowner: “Do you have any books about Ireland?” What more proof did I need?! There he was in the extra-pale flesh, Will Millar, one of the founding members of The Irish Rovers, looking for books about his homeland. No stereotype there, eh?

My little brush with Millar occurred nearly five years before this unfortunate July 4, 1995, item featuring the former frontman of the award-winning Irish-Canadian folk group, best known for popular jigs “The Unicorn” and “Wasn’t That a Party.” (Anyone remember The Rovers’ popular CBC variety show?)

After 30 years, the County Antrim–born singer (Up Antrim!) shocked fans when he quit The Irish Rovers following their gig in Seattle on March 20, 1995. Initial reports stated the split was amicable (Millar claimed he was tired of the band’s heavy touring schedule). However, less than four months later he sued his former mates alleging that they – including his brother George – conspired to kick him out of the band and misappropriated songwriting royalties owed to him. Millar also wanted ownership of the band’s name. No details were released – at least I couldn’t find anything using the “trusty” fact-finding tool known as the Internet – but the suit was settled out of court. Millar retired from performing in 2008 after a successful post-Rovers solo career.

 

The angry student chants at Montreal’s tuition fee protests don’t count…

The July 4, 1989, free concert by American jazz guitarist Pat Metheny at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (FIJM) attracted over 100,000 people to Montreal’s downtown core – the largest music-related gathering ever in the city. FIJM is one of the genre’s leading events in the world – rivaling the Montreux Jazz Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival – and is Canada’s largest annual festival.

Thanks to Metheny, the 10th edition of the fest attracted over one million jazz lovers to 35 venues spread over 10 days. It’s not overly surprising that the Missouri native’s performance drew so many fans considering the universally renowned guitar god has been one of the genre’s brightest stars ever since the release of 1978’s Pat Metheny Group, the brilliant debut from his jazz-fusion quartet. Even before that album dropped, though, Metheny was a hot commodity by way of his stellar collaborations with bass legend Jaco Pastorius and drummer Bob Moses.

By the summer of 1989, the 34-year-old Metheny (or as my uncle Bill calls him, “Mentheny”) had already amassed a whopping 10 Top 10 jazz albums – three of which hit No. 1 – and four Grammy Awards. But I bet Montreal’s song selections, featuring vocalist Pedro Aznar’s excruciating syrupy harmonies (scroll down to the bottom for video evidence), sent thousands fleeing to the nearest beer tent; many were probably already in line within the first few notes of the guitar synthesizer Metheny so loves to play (his Roland uses digital samples of other instruments).

Personally, if I want to hear piano or trumpet, I’ll listen to some Oscar Peterson or Wynton Marsalis. It’s true that his use of the guitar synth has a tendency to tick off more traditional-minded jazz fans, but, to be fair, Metheny does keep changing things up. There’s nothing predictable about this genius, that’s for sure. And from all reports, his free concert was one for the ages.

 

Just for fun, I’m starting a new semi-regular category: Top 10 singles on Canada’s RPM Chart (for the week that was). Kicking things off is the Top 10 beginning on July 7, 1984.

Jumping from the previous week’s 18th position to the 10th spot is the Footloose soundtrack power ballad “Almost Paradise” by Loverboy’s Mike Reno and Heart’s Ann Wilson. No. 9 goes to another, less-slick power ballad, “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger, and dropping down one spot to eighth is Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Heart of Rock and Roll.” Holding down the seventh position for the second straight week is “Eyes Without a Face” by pre–train wreck glam-punker Billy Idol (featuring some fine guitar work from Steve Stevens), while Duran Duran’s “The Reflex” (must… fight… the… urge… to… hate) is at No. 6. Dropping three spots to No. 5 is Cyndi Lauper’s bittersweet “Time After Time,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” the first single from Born in the USA, slides into the fourth position. Next, at No. 3 is Laura Branigan’s “Self Control,” which would later reach No. 1. Deniece Williams’ Footloose single “Let’s Hear it For the Boy” clocks in at No. 2, and reigning supreme at No. 1 is… (cue drumroll):

… Journey lead singer Steve Perry’s solo single “Oh Sherrie.”

What annoyed me the most while writing this summary was hearing these songs as they played over and over again in my head (though I do like the Boss single).

Next week: Neil Young and Geddy Lee

“Full Circle” by The Pat Metheny Group at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, 1989