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Archive for November, 2012

Forever Young

Posted on: November 29th, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By James Sandham

Neil Young was the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1982 inductee, and 30 years later, at the age of 67, he seems more ubiquitous than ever.

His memoir, Waging Heavy Peace, came out to critical acclaim this autumn, as did Psychedelic Pill, the first album of original material released by Young and his longtime band Crazy Horse in nearly 10 years. Plus, he played an explosive show at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre last week, proving that, while he may be an old man, he’s still rocking in the free world. To celebrate the greatness that is Neil Young, I thought I’d do a brief retrospective of some of, if not his best or most well-known songs, then at least his most interesting ones.

 

The Squires – “The Sultan”

The Squires – also known as “Neil Young and the Squires” – was a surf-rock band that Young formed back in 1963, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he’d moved with his mother after his parents’ divorce. Along with Ken Koblun, Jeff Wuckert and Bill Edmondson, Young recorded “The Sultan,” a single that was released by V Records with “Aurora” as its B-side. Only 300 copies of the album were pressed and only 10 are known to still exist, making it one of the rarest 45s in the world. Both tracks were re-released on the 1965 Buffalo Springfield bootleg Down to the Wire.

 

The Mynah Birds – “It’s My Time”

Toronto band The Mynah Birds was active between 1964 and 1967. Though the group never released an album over the three years it was together, it consisted of a variety of talented musicians, most notably Neil Young and Rick James (he’s the one singing in this track). In 1966 the group signed a seven-year deal with Motown Records, recording a number of songs, but before anything could be released James was arrested for deserting the United States Navy. The Mynah Birds’ recordings were subsequently shelved and it wasn’t until relatively recently that they were rediscovered and released as part of the 2006 box set The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 6: 1966. Young left the band after James’ arrest.

 

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – “Helpless”

After leaving The Mynah Birds, Young headed to Los Angeles with the band’s bass player, Bruce Palmer, where they joined forces with Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and Dewey Martin to form Buffalo Springfield. The group released three albums before breaking up, at which point Young signed a solo deal with Reprise Records.

Young released two albums with Reprise –  1968’s Neil Young and 1969’s Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (which is also credited to Crazy Horse) – before reuniting with Stephen Stills to form Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. “Helpless” was released on their first album, Déjà Vu, which came out in 1970, although it was originally recorded with Crazy Horse in 1969, before Young’s new CSNY band-mates convinced him it would suit them better. More recently, “Helpless” was the song 1,623 Canadians chose to strum when they packed Yonge and Dundas Square in Toronto in 2009 to try to make it into the Guinness World Records as the largest guitar ensemble. While their attempt failed, the song remains great.

 

Neil Young and Pearl Jam – “Downtown”

In 1995, many years after CSNY, Young collaborated with some of the members of Pearl Jam to release Mirror Ball, his 23rd studio album. “Downtown” was one of the album’s most successful tracks, reaching number 6 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Charts, and it has always held a special kind of place for me. I was about 11 years old when it came out, just starting to really get into music and to develop my own taste, and this song opened my eyes to two great bands that I’ve enjoyed ever since.

 

Neil Young – “Heart of Gold”

Of course I have to end with this track, one of my favourite songs by Neil Young. It was released on his 1972 album, Harvest, but this version was recorded a year earlier at the BBC. I like this version mainly for Young’s pre-song banter and how unfamiliar he seems to be with this “new” song of his – which of course would go on to be one of his most iconic. As you’ll see in the video, “Heart of Gold” floors the audience – just like Young’s been doing for half a century.

This Week in Music History: November 26 to December 2

Posted on: November 27th, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By David Ball

I know I’ve given ’em a lot of love recently, but cut me some slack: it’s the freakin’ Band!

The 1989 Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees struck gold for the first time with their self-titled second album on November 26, 1969. Shockingly, The Band’s 12-song masterpiece beat their equally brilliant and even more revered 1968 debut, Music From Big Pink, to the gold punch by several years.

It’s no surprise that The Band eventually sold well over a million copies of the album as it contains at least two of the 20th century’s greatest songs: “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Up On Cripple Creek.” There’s not even an argument here, folks.

The recording was a Top 10 Billboard hit and ranked a solid No. 45 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 greatest albums of all time. Impressively, when The Band was re-released in 2000, it cracked Billboard’s Top 10 on its Internet Albums chart.

 

There must’ve been something in the holy water…

Toronto’s 1972 production of Godspell has taken on mythical status over the decades, not so much because of the hippy rock musical’s then–record breaking 15-month run, but more so because its original cast was loaded with rising talent on the cusp of stardom, including Gilda Radner, Jayne Eastwood and Victor Garber, as well as Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Derek McGrath and Dave Thomas of “SCTV.” Pulling the strings offstage was a rookie musical conductor from Thunder Bay, Ontario, by the name of Paul Shaffer. The future “Late Show with David Letterman” sidekick was born in the northern outpost on November 28, 1949.

With Godspell most likely at the top of his resumé, Shaffer secured his next gig tickling the ivories for the 1974 Broadway production of The Magic Show, starring Canadian magician Doug Henning. A year later he landed his first high-profile television job on “Saturday Night Live” (SNL), as the pianist and leader of the show’s original house band, which was conducted by another rising Canadian talent of note, Howard Shore (who was formerly of Lighthouse and would go on to a career as an Academy Award–winning composer).

Paul Shaffer with Gilda Radner circa “Saturday Night Live"

Shaffer got to show off his comedic chops every so often throughout his five seasons on SNL. His most notable performances included his spot-on impersonation of numbingly boring concert promoter Don Kirshner and his role as the piano player for Bill Murray’s cheeseball “Nick the Lounge Singer” character. The duo performing John Williams’ Star Wars instrumental theme with added lyrics is one of my favourite SNL moments ever: “And hey, what about that nutty Star Wars bar? Can you forget all the creatures in there? / And hey, Darth Vader in that dark and evil mask? Did he scare you as much as he scared me?!”

Paul Shaffer with Bill Murray as “Nick the Lounge Singer” on “Saturday Night Live”

During his tenure on “Saturday Night Live,” Shaffer worked as bandleader on many of its music-themed skits, including the most renowned side project in the groundbreaking ensemble’s history: The Blues Brothers. He led Jake and Elwood Blues’ backing band both on record and on tour, but was dropped from the production of the John Landis–directed 1980 blockbuster feature film, The Blues Brothers, allegedly because John Belushi (a.k.a. Jake Blues) was upset that Shaffer was too busy double-dipping on other SNL side projects with Gilda Radner.

The diminutive and follicle–challenged composer and arranger became a household name in the early 1980s as the bandleader on NBC’s “Late Night with David Letterman.” He jumped ship to rival network CBS in 1993 to conduct the CBS Orchestra on the “Late Show with David Letterman” following his on-air boss’ infamous contract battle with NBC and Jay Leno for Johnny Carson’s vacated Tonight Show chair.

Along with leading the heated music interludes in and out of commercial breaks, Shaffer’s most significant work on the award-winning CBS comedy variety program occurs when his chameleon-like house band collaborates with various guest performers. When called upon, Shaffer and his versatile ensemble rarely ever sound obtrusive. And when they aren’t tastefully accompanying a solo artist or group, they can often be heard providing some much-needed oomph to the crappy live lightweights performing on any given night – although, Britney Spears didn’t require Shaffer’s services for her blatant and brutal (but not surprising) lip-synched 2008 performance of “I’m a Slave For U.” Dave didn’t look impressed.

Shaffer jamming with Dave Mason, Keith Richards, Tom Petty and Billy Gibbons at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony

Here’s a snapshot of some of Shaffer’s other career highlights, beginning with the most important: he was the first to utter the “F-word” on SNL.  Shaffer has been the musical director and producer of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony since its inception in 1986, and he was the musical director of the closing ceremony of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. One of his two solo albums received a Grammy nomination; he has recorded with B.B. King, Robert Plant, Warren Zevon, Bootsy Collins and Brian Wilson; and he appeared in one of the funniest movies of all time, This is Spinal Tap. Shaffer has received two honorary doctorates, including one from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, where he also has a street named after him. A spokesperson for Epilepsy Canada, Shaffer received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2006. Most important of all, he makes being bald cool.

 

This year and the next finds The Who embroiled on a 37-date North American tour celebrating the 40th anniversary of their landmark rock opera, Quadrophenia. Since the legendary British Invasion quartet is down to just two members of its original four, I think it’s totally reasonable and more accurate to refer to what is left of the band as: “The Two” or “Rog and Pete” or perhaps even “Combo Quadrophenia 40th Anniversary and Pete Townshend book tour.”

Anyway… I stumbled across a little-known Canadian content nugget regarding the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers’ first Quadrophenia tour and some of the cloudy events surrounding their show in Montreal on December 2, 1973.

By all accounts, The Who’s gig at the historic Montreal Forum was a good one. This was indeed surprising, as night after night the staging of the ambitious tour was afflicted with many onstage problems low-lighted by malfunctioning backing bed tracks (such as sounds of thunder and lightning, crashing waves, seagulls, etc.) along with Townshend feeling the need to constantly explain – in depth – the Quadrophenia/Mod storyline to audiences who just wanted to rock.

It should have come as no shock, then, that the messy tour led to the guitarist’s breakdown. Here’s what an increasingly frustrated Townshend said while introducing “I’m One” to an apathetic Forum crowd: “It’s all about – shut up for a minute and I’ll tell you what it’s all about – the song is all about a kid when he gets to that part of life when he feels he’s just not worth a dime. It’s like the f-ing French Revolution.”

The Who in action in 1973

Now, I don’t know all the particulars – and judging by The Who’s late great bassist John Entwistle in his song “Cell Number 7,” neither did he – but it seems that Townshend, Entwistle, Keith Moon and their hangers-on spent the night in a Montreal jail following some sordid post-show revelry back at their hotel. (Roger Daltrey wasn’t involved.) There’s little doubt the fuzz had just cause to throw these rock gods in the hoosegow to sober up for the night given that the ringleader was likely their irreplaceable wild man drummer, who fully embraced/earned his reputation for destroying hotel rooms (and drum kits, houses, cars, relationships and his poor liver).

One of Keith Moon’s hotel rooms (undated)

According to Quadrophenia.net, Montreal’s celebrations involved lots of carousing and heavy debauchery at a suite in the Bonaventure Hotel: “Unfortunately, the last person to leave left the lights on and left the door ajar. This was spotted by a night porter who glanced inside and was horrified by the damage.”

The police were called and they jailed 14 individuals. The following morning, the indomitable concert promoter Donald K. Donald paid the police nearly $6,000 and everyone was released at 1:15 p.m. For more information, check out these excerpts from Entwistle’s “Cell Number 7” from his 1975 solo effort, Mad Dog (it actually reads better than heard):

Six thirty in the morning, I’d just got to sleep / I felt so tired didn’t even count sheep / I woke up with six policemen standing by the bed.”

“Meanwhile in Boston the kids were queuing / Back in Montreal we were just stewing / In cell number 7.”

And my favourite: “The promoter’s tearing out his hair screaming ‘Where’s the band?’”

Next week: Wilf Carter and Lorne Greene

“Almost” by the Blues Brothers with Paul Shaffer, live 1979 (Downchild Blues Band cover)

Mustachioed Musicians of Movember

Posted on: November 22nd, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By James Sandham

It’s nearly the end of November and many men have taken the opportunity to flex their follicular muscles by growing a ’stache as part of Movember, the burgeoning men’s health awareness movement. Men from all walks of life participate, but there is certainly one group among them that stands out particularly in this regard: musicians. As a group, musicians have been rocking the mo’ since time eternal. In fact, some of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s most auspicious members were mo’ bros long before Movember was ever heard of. So let’s take a look at some of their preferred styles.


April Wine

Now here’s a hearty helping of facial hair. Not one, not two, but three of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2010 inductees were rocking moustaches on the cover of their 1979 Greatest Hits album – with beards to boot. From left to right we have Gary Moffet, sporting a short boxed beard; Brian Greenway (hairless); Myles Goodwyn (also hairless); Jerry Mercer, also rocking a short boxed beard – a classic style; and finally Steve Lang in identical moustache/beard combo. Overall affect: Dishevelled, hard-partying rock and roll.

 

David Clayton-Thomas

Here we have English-born, Toronto-raised former Blood, Sweat & Tears vocalist David Clayton-Thomas, one of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1996 inductees. He’s photographed here at the 2010 Canada’s Walk of Fame ceremony in Toronto and, apropos of the occasion, he’s chosen a neatly trimmed Van Dyke beard and moustache combo – still rugged enough for rock and roll, but classy enough for any occasion that requires a bow tie. Well done, Mr. Clayton-Thomas.


Domenic Troiano

Here’s another CMHF inductee from 1996, Mr. Domenic Troiano. Born in Modugno, Italy, he was raised in Toronto and would go on to various musical achievements, perhaps most notably as a member of The Guess Who, playing guitar on their 1974 album, Flavours, and their 1975 album, Power in the Music. Troiano then went on to release two albums with his own eponymously named band – the first of which appears here. For the cover, he has adopted a fairly standard issue ’stache, paired with medium-length hair and a beret for an overall Che Guevara–esque portrait effect.


John Kay

What was going on with the 1996 CMHF inductees? Here’s another one – Steppenwolf’s John Kay – and he too is rocking a totally legit ’stache, seen here luxuriating on his upper lip like a well-manicured caterpillar. Somewhat more reserved than Troiano’s hairy masterpiece, it is a testament to the ethos informing such Kay hits as “Magic Carpet Ride,” “Rock Me” and “The Pusher.”


Zal Yanovsky

And finally, I’d like to conclude with the late, great Zal Yanovsky, yet another CMHF inductee from 1996 and the guitarist for The Lovin’ Spoonful. He can be seen here at his beloved Kingston, Ontario, restaurant, Chez Piggy, buried beneath a veritable mass of hair, one aspect of which is, of course, the mighty moustache. This is kind of a Rasputin style of hair/beard/’stache, and while it’s hard to pull off, it seems to suit him well.

Happy Movember.

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