By James Sandham

Well, music lover, happy New Year! It’s been a pleasure having you here on the blog.

Hopefully as you read this you’re reflecting on another 365 days that were well spent. Or maybe you’re looking ahead to the days that are coming. Whatever you’re up to, we hope you’re having a good one, and to that end we’ve picked out some songs that can probably go along with anything you’re doing.

Like, just relaxing.

Oscar Peterson – “C Jam Blues”

If you’re just relaxing, there’s nothing better than a little jazz on the stereo. And if we’re talking jazz, nothing beats a little Oscar Peterson, one of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1978 inductees. He’s seen here playing the hell out of the ivories, live in Denmark in 1964. It’s a perfect tune for lazing around the house, post–New Year’s festivities.

And perhaps you’re getting a little sentimental while you chill.

Matt Pond – “Love to Get Used”

Or perhaps you’re doing a little bit of soul searching. The new year, after all, is a time when many of us take a look back on the last year of our life, re-examining and taking stock of things. You know, giving some long, hard thought to what really matters. In which case, may I recommend this track by New York troubadour Matt Pond? It’s got a great little video that goes with it, too – a sort of visual journey down memory lane told through old photographs.

Or maybe you’re just hung over… and not really thinking of much at all.

Ravi and Anoushka Shankar – “Raga Anandi Kalyan”

New Year’s Eve is, of course, the biggest party night of the year – which means that for many of us, the first few days of the new year are spent in a groggy haze. If that’s the case for you, I can think of no better tune than this raga by the late, great Ravi Shankar, who left us on December 11, 2012, at the age of 92. He plays here with his daughter, Anoushka Shankar, who – interesting footnote – is also the paternal half-sister of Norah Jones. This is music to soothe your soul – and maybe even your pounding headache.

You might also be thinking you’ll never touch another cigarette again.

Princess Chelsea – “Cigarette Duet”

After all that partying, the thought of cigarettes is probably as appealing as… well… breathing lung-fulls of carcinogenic chemicals into your body. So hold onto that thought, remember that feeling and let it serve you well as you move into the new year. Do whatever you need to in order to quit. Change your routine. Maybe try something totally new, like…

Learning another language.

Plastic Bertrand – “Ça Plane Pour Moi”

Like French. Why not? It’s a new year. Anything is possible. Go forth – and embrace it!

Hope you’re having a good one so far!


By James Sandham

Eggnog, plum pudding, garish sweaters: there are some things that just seem to go with this season, no matter how repulsive they may seem during the other 11 months of the year. And we can add Christmas albums to this list, too, I think.

Renowned for their tacky cover art, Christmas albums are the proverbial lumps of coal in most artists’ catalogues of work. Yet, somehow, at this time of year, even they can take on their own special appeal, so we’ve come up with a few of the best of them.

Let’s start with Christmas With Colonel Sanders, because… well… why not? After all, the Colonel is kind of like Santa Claus – except with pieces of deep fried chicken instead of toys, which he hands out all year long through a chain of transnational restaurants instead of once annually through a reindeer-powered sleigh. But yeah, you get the idea, the parallels should be pretty obvious. This album was released in 1969, at the height of the hippie movement, so perhaps this kind of fuzzy thinking can be forgiven. Featured artists include Harry Belafonte and Henry Mancini, and, through the magic of the Internet, you can listen to them here.

Christmas With Colonel Sanders – Tracks 1 through 6

While Christmas with the world’s foremost deep-fried food purveyor may sound fun, perhaps it’s not quite your taste. In which case, I would definitely recommend Christmas – or The Night Before Christmas, at least – with David Hasselhoff. Like the Colonel, Hasselhoff has been known to set hearts a-racing, but for totally different reasons, which are oh-so-evident as you can see from his handsome mug on the cover.

I looked Hasselhoff’s Christmas album up on amazon.com and the people who bought it were also likely to buy things such as the Regis Philbin Christmas Album; Hung for the Holidays, a Christmas album by William Hung (remember? The “American Idol” guy?); and Twisted Christmas with Twisted Sister. I think that says all we need to know about it – by which I mean, this is clearly the perfect gift for your office’s Secret Santa party.

Someone I wouldn’t want to spend Christmas with, however, is King Diamond. He looks like my Uncle Fred, who always gets way too out of hand with the eggnog and then usually says something mortifying or just passes out drunk right when we were all about to sit down and watch A Christmas Carol. Bad memories aside, though, this album art does hold a certain low-brow esthetic charm. For the record, King Diamond is a Dane and a Grammy Award–nominated musician in addition to being a virulent gift-aphobe.

Equally intriguing, esthetically – if of little practical appeal – is Death Row Records’ Christmas on Death Row. This album was released by the label in 1996 as “a form of charity for the community” (although I’m not quite sure what that means, exactly) and somehow managed to sell a neat 200,000 copies or so, no doubt thanks to such contributing artists as Snoop Dogg (with “Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto”), O.F.T.B. (with “Christmas in the Ghetto”) and J-Flexx (with “Party 4 Da Homies”). Better save this one until after the grandparents have gone home from dinner.

And last but not least, this little beauty – because nothing says Christmas like Singer sewing machines. Just look at the expressions of joy on this undoubtedly typical family’s faces when they see the new Singer. With an album like this, you could experience that joy again and again, all season long. A classic to be sure.

Keep counting the days! Happy holidays!


By David Ball

Like many of us, I sometimes prefer Christmas Eve to the “Big Day” itself.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), with (from left to right) Lionel Barrymore (I can see his grand-niece, Drew, around the eyes), Donna Reed and James Stewart

I like the peace and quiet it provides. And I’m hardly alone in the Christmas morning tradition of being far too hung over and exhausted to fully enjoy ripping open finely wrapped examples of materialism. Part of the blame goes to staying up late on December 24, sipping copious cups of cheer while watching Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life or seeing Alastair Sim transform from a miserable miser to beloved “Uncle Ebenezer” in 1951’s Scrooge (a.k.a. A Christmas Carol). Who’s with me on this one?

Alastair Sim as Scrooge (1951)

This year, I challenged myself to somehow find the time to screen a Bob Clark doubleheader beginning with his wonderful black comedy A Christmas Story, followed by the 1974 Canadian slasher classic Black Christmas.

Of course, there’s always a wide range of music-themed Christmas movies and specials to choose from, too, whether on the tube, DVD or digital download. My favourite is the original 1966 animated masterpiece How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, starring Boris Karloff. But you can’t go wrong with most family fare, including 1954’s White Christmas and the ever-popular CTV all-star special from 2000, Rita MacNeil’s Christmas. For all you tweens out there, how about the encore presentation of 2011’s “Much Presents: Justin Bieber – Home For The Holidays”?

Then there’s the oft-commercialized Christmas Day itself, featuring kitchen chaos, lots of holly jolly music, opening presents whilst drinking “special” coffee (spiked with Baileys or the up-and-coming Canadian rival, Forty Creek) and, later in the afternoon, downing too much wine before finally sitting down for a giant feast capped off with heated verbal dust-ups with family members. But I digress…

 

Some Billboard watchers may remember the American music publication’s heavily maple syrup–flavoured Christmas Day album chart tally from 2011. If not, here’s a refresher…

A diverse group of Canadian artists dominated Billboard 200’s Top 10 for the week ending December 25, 2011. And no doubt many Christmas stockings around the world were filled with titles from the following hosers.

Burnaby, BC’s Michael Bublé and his double platinum–selling seventh studio effort, Christmas, which is comprised of festive favourites and yuletide originals, held the top spot on December 25 (his third chart-topper), while teenage pop sensation Justin Bieber’s Under the Mistletoe, which is also made up of festive favourites and yuletide originals, closed out the week at No. 4. The latter achievement is not too shabby considering the fact that the album was only the Stratford, Ontario, native’s second full-length LP and it had been on the market for over two months. What’s even more impressive is that both Canadian superstars’ holiday recordings were Top 10 bestsellers for 2011, with the jazz crooner’s JUNO Award winning collection finishing a distant, but respectable runner-up to the chart juggernaut: 21 by Adele.

Not to be outdone, also making a dent in the same December 25, 2011, Billboard Top 10 were two other big Canuck acts: Drake and Nickelback. The former “Degrassi: The Next Generation” star’s acclaimed sophomore effort, Take Care, occupied the fifth spot, while Nickelback’s Here and Now, the bombastic Vancouver hard rockers’ seventh studio LP, still hovered in the Top 10 (No. 8), nearly five weeks after it peaked at No. 2 (the same day it was released). By the by, the year-end North American sales tally had Drake’s LP in the seventh spot.

 

For many of us, including my sister and mother, Boxing Day represents the day before you return most of your Christmas presents, but I doubt you’d want to return anything with this artist’s name on it…

Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) Hall of Famer Ronnie Prophet was born in Hawkesbury, Ont., on Boxing Day in 1937. The versatile singer, guitarist, entertainer and television host grew up in the nearby Ottawa Valley town of Calumet, Quebec, and made his professional debut at age 15 on the CFRA Radio program “The Happy Wanderers.” A few years later Prophet packed up his guitar and headed to Montreal, where he performed in clubs until the mid-1960s. He then took his burgeoning talents to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for a while, before settling in Nashville in the late ’60s, where he owned and operated Ronnie Prophet’s Carousel Club for several years.

Prophet’s 30-year recording career got off to a modest start when the song “San Diego” from his 1973 debut, Faces & Phases of Ronnie Prophet, snuck into the Canadian Top 40 country singles chart, stalling at No. 36. However, his self-titled 1976 followup became his North American commercial breakthrough by way of four charting singles, including the Top 30 Billboard country hit “Sanctuary,” which reached No. 20 in Canada.

Even though his name all but disappeared on the American charts following the minor 1977 hit “It Ain’t Easy Loving Me,” Prophet’s profile in Canada remained strong throughout the 1980s and early ’90s, with a succession of bestselling singles, including several hit duets with wife Glory-Anne Carriere.

As a successful touring vet, musician, impressionist and comedian (his one-man shows are legendary), Prophet channelled these attributes into his equally impressive other career as a TV host, which began in 1973 with CBC’s “Country Roads,” followed by “The Ronnie Prophet Show” in 1974, and CTV’s award-winning variety program “Grande Old Country” from 1975 to 1981, which I remember as a kid, thanks to my country-loving late father’s forced indoctrination. The latter took home the Big Country Award for the Top Canadian Country TV show in 1976, 1977 and 1979. His last TV vehicle was in the early ’90s on CJOH’s “Ronnie ’n’ the Browns” (The Family Brown).

When the two-time JUNO Award winner for Country Male Vocalist of the Year, and the CCMA’s 1984 Entertainer of the Year isn’t on the road, he can be found in Branson, Missouri, his home since the early ’90s, where he and his wife stage their own club show (reminiscent of his old television variety years).

 

On December 29, 2004, just over three months after its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Beyond the Sea – Kevin Spacey’s heartfelt biopic about the late genre-bending 1950s to ’70s singer and actor, Bobby Darin – opened in select movie theatres across North America.

Spacey produced, directed, co-wrote and starred in his $23 million labour of love. It’s really too bad that Beyond the Sea didn’t make more of a “splish-splash” at the box office – it earned only a measly $8 million. Part of the movie-goers’ apathy can probably be blamed on the lethal combination of the film critics’ less-than-enthusiastic reviews (the film scores a below average 43% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and the fact that many people under the age of 40 had probably never even heard of Spacey’s music hero, regardless of the fact that the Oscar-winning actor was clearly born to play – and sing – the role of the doomed singer. Darin died at age 37 from heart surgery complications.

I’m inclined to agree with Toronto Star critic Peter Howell’s generally favourable take in his original 2004 review: “[Spacey]’s been talking about his abiding love of Darin for quite some time, and he nails Darin in look, deed and buttery croon, making up for many of the film’s structural deficiencies.”

If I had to compare music biopics, Beyond the Sea easily holds its own with its more acclaimed rivals Ray and the Johnny Cash snapshot Walk the Line – and the songs are just as good too.

Next week: Burton Cummings and The Voice of Doom


By James Sandham

Well, music lover, somehow we’re already well into the month of December, Christmas is right around the corner and shopping mall PA systems everywhere are likely forcing you into near diabetic shock with their sickly sweet playlists of Christmas anthems.

Musically speaking, it may seem as though we’ve reached the proverbial winter of our discontent. But fear not – there are still plenty of fine holiday anthems out there, and I’ve assembled a few of the finest for your aural pleasures.

 

Oscar Peterson – “The Christmas Waltz”

Ah yes, good ol’ Oscar Peterson, one of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1978 inductees, doing what he does best: laying down a groove so smooth you can practically slide away on it. It seems that no matter how many pop Christmas song remakes and remixes come out, they still can’t top a classic jam by one of Canada’s best pianists. This is the kind of song that conjures up ideas of a warm hearth, stockings hung from the mantle, eggnog and familial comfort – what this season is all about, really.

 

The Pogues – “Fairytale of New York”

And what about this one, by London, England’s The Pogues? This was a veritable Christmas classic around my house when I was growing up, the first song to be put on after the traditional airing of Handel’s Messiah, which played while we opened presents. I think its popularity on the home front was due mainly to the fact that my father worked in a mall and, by Christmas day, this was probably one of the only seasonal songs that he hadn’t heard ad nauseam.

 

Dropkick Murphys – “The Season’s Upon Us”

In a similar strain, here’s something from Boston’s Dropkick Murphys: their new music video for “The Season’s Upon Us,” from their forthcoming album “Signed and Sealed in Blood.” It’s a tale of holiday madness that I’m sure most families can relate to.

 

Guy Lombardo – “Auld Lang Syne”

But let’s bring it back to something a little more traditional – like this little ditty from the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s other 1978 inductee, Guy Lombardo. “Auld Lang Syne” is originally a Scots poem from around 1788. It is attributed to Robert Burns, but the traditional folk song to which it is set has been around forever. Traditionally, it’s used to celebrate the start of the new year at the stroke of midnight. Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians used to perform it yearly at New York City’s Roosevelt Hotel, and it was broadcast around the continent.

 

Bob and Doug McKenzie – “Twelve Days of Christmas”

And last, but not least, this one, from Canada’s two iconic hosers. It’s a song we’re all familiar with and I think this rendition speaks for itself. If it doesn’t put you in the holiday spirit, it might at least inspire you to get drunk and, in a pinch, that can pass as a reasonable facsimile.

Happy Holidays!


By David Ball

It’s pretty sweet that the married co-leaders of Canadian new wave pioneers Martha and the Muffins celebrate their birthdays during the same week. Singer/keyboardist Martha Johnson was born in Toronto on December 18, 1950, while her guitarist husband and fellow Hogtown native, Mark Gane, was delivered into the world on December 17, three years earlier. The pair met in the late 1970s when Gane was attending the Ontario College of Art (OCA) and Johnson was recruited to play keyboards in his newish band. Their first gig as Martha and the Muffins (which was originally intended as a temporary name) was at an OCA Halloween house party in 1977.

Martha and the Muffins circa 1980

But “more importantly” than all of this, Martha and the Muffins’ 1981 JUNO Award–winning single “Echo Beach” has earned the rare distinction of being included on my hallowed “Songs I Used to Hate, But Now I Like” list. Hey, it took my ears and thick-as-a-brick classic rock-ravaged skull a while to finally accept new wave and some ’80s Britpop – like 30 years or something.

Martha Johnson and Mark Gane

In case you’re wondering, other songs that have made the final cut on my lifelong slowly expanding “hate-to-like” list include most of the hits in the Tears for Fears catalogue, “Holding Back the Years” by Simply Red, “My Sharona” by The Knack and both of Joy Division’s studio LPs. But you won’t catch me wearing a Smiths T-shirt or whistling The Cure’s “Lovesong” anytime soon, although dressing up as Robert Smith on Halloween would be ghoulishly frightening.

On another M+M (their rebranded and mercifully short-lived mid-’80s moniker) note, I was one of 4,000 fans scratching our collective heads at My Morning Jacket’s show at Toronto’s Echo Beach in August 2012 when Jim James referred to the barely year-old concert venue as “historic.”

My Morning Jacket at Echo Beach in Toronto, August 2012

However, the talented frontman is indeed enigmatic, unpredictable and a bit of a music historian, so he might have known that the great new outdoor pavilion nestled on the shores of Lake Ontario was, in fact, named after the Martha and the Muffins hit. In any case, if and when the popular Louisville, Kentucky, indie rockers play there again, I expect a 10-minute balls-to-the-wall guitar epic cover of “Echo Beach.”

 

On December 21, 1965, Sherbrooke, Quebec–born film and theatre producer Harry Saltzman (October 27, 1915 – September 28, 1994) and his American partner Albert R. Broccoli premiered their James Bond blockbuster, Thunderball, round the clock at Premiere Showcase and Paramount theatres in New York City.

The Canadian Army Second World War veteran purchased the film rights to Ian Fleming’s 007 character in the early 1960s and went on to produce nine Bond films, beginning with the 1962 franchise debut, Dr. No. Saltzman’s final Bond feature, The Man with the Golden Gun, hit theatres in 1974 and was one of the better efforts starring Roger Moore.

From the onset of the franchise, the films’ producers hired some of the hottest pop acts to record theme songs for the iconic spy series. Some are terrific (such as Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better” for 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me and Adele’s old-school throwback, “Skyfall,” which accompanies the latest Daniel Craig 007 flick), some are not (Madonna’s “Die Another Day” springs immediately to mind), while others downright suck (look no further than the horrors unleashed by the likes of A-ha with “The Living Daylights” and, of course, Sheryl Crow’s Sweeney Todd–like butchery of the great k.d. lang original “Tomorrow Never Dies”). Somewhat surprising is that most of the Bond theme songs released during the Saltzman-Broccoli era can be filed under “terrific” – including what most consider to be the greatest of them all (see end of story).

Here’s a quick non-chronological overview (including a few personal observations, naturally): “James Bond Theme,” the surf guitar–driven instrumental originally performed by John Barry and Orchestra for Dr. No, quickly became associated with the Bond brand and has set the mood and tone in the opening credits of every film ever since. Tom Jones was signed on to record “Thunderball” (another one of my misbegotten past porno aliases) in the spring of 1965, a few months after “It’s Not Unusual” catapulted the Welsh singer to stardom – and it remains one of his more popular songs. Jazz giant Louis Armstrong laid down his heartfelt vocals for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s 1969 theme, “We Have All the Time in the World,” just two weeks before his death. European crooner Matt Monroe’s lush ballad, “From Russia With Love” (1963), is also pretty decent in a Perry Como sort of way. “You Only Live Twice” by Nancy Sinatra is one of the most endearing title tracks and has been redone many times over the years, including a couple of recent standout covers by Coldplay and that loony-but-talented Icelandic cherub Björk. Two of the best from any Bond era (perhaps No. 2 and 3 of all time) are courtesy of Shirley Bassey: “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Goldfinger.” But leave it to Sir Paul McCartney and Wings to hit the bull’s-eye with the finest 007 track of the whole kit and caboodle: “Live and Let Die.”

Ex-Beatles producer George Martin oversaw the 1973 recording and it remains one of Macca’s most memorable singles of the ’70s, peaking at No. 2 on Billboard. However, Saltzman originally had other aspirations for the single. He wanted only black female singers to record the track, but Martin eventually talked him out of it. Too bad Martin didn’t talk Guns N’ Roses out of covering “Live and Let Die” in 1991. The bombastic and pointless Use Your Illusion I single will never leave the Top 10 in my hallowed “Songs I Used to Hate, And Still Hate” list.

 

I can’t decide which historic Trudeau family feat is the coolest…

Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s meeting with John Lennon and Yoko Ono; his then-wife Margaret Trudeau’s well-documented 1977 run-in with the Rolling Stones at Toronto’s El Mocambo; or the former couple’s eldest son and Liberal MP Justin Trudeau laying a can of whoop ass on Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau in their charity boxing match in March 2012. Actually, a three-way tie seems appropriate, although I still smile every time I mentally flashback to Justin’s third round TKO over the heavily favoured, heavily tattooed and heavily confident martial arts expert. But I digress…

With Trudeaumania running about as hot in Canada as Beatlemania was in its heyday around the world, it is indeed cool that John and Yoko requested an interview with Canada’s audacious first-year prime minister as part of their world peace crusade. At 11:00 a.m. on December 22, 1969, the famous couple dropped by Trudeau’s Centre Block office on Parliament Hill for a behind-closed-doors visit.

Although no specific details of the 50-minute meeting were made public, Lennon heaped praise on our prime minister at the post-interview press scrum, stating that if “all politicians were like Mr. Trudeau there would be world peace.”

The soon-to-be-ex-Beatle also thought of Trudeau as a beautiful person, while the intellectual Canadian leader referred to John and Yoko as ambassadors. After their trip to Parliament Hill, the young newlyweds headed out to talk to Health Minister John Munro to discuss softening the penalties for smoking pot. The meeting lasted over two hours!

Next week: Christmas and Ronnie Prophet

“Echo Beach” by Martha and the Muffins


By James Sandham

Well, music lover, by now you’ve probably heard that jazz legend Dave Brubeck died last week, succumbing to heart failure on December 5. He was 92 years old and lived a hell of a life, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to reflect on some of the highlights.

Brubeck was born on December 6, 1920, in the San Francisco Bay area of California, and grew up in the city of Ione (which, incidentally, had previously held the names Bed Bug, Freeze Out, Hardscrabble and Rickeyville, among others… but I digress). His father, Peter Brubeck, was a cattle rancher; his mother, Elizabeth (née Levy), was a piano teacher, and had actually studied under Myra Hess, a famous British pianist who was well known during the Second World War. It was from his mother that Brubeck received his first piano lessons. He couldn’t read sheet music at the time (a difficulty attributed to his poor eyesight), but he was good enough to fake his way through.

Piano, however, was not initially the direction in which the young Brubeck thought to take his life. In fact, he had planned to join his father on the ranch and, to that end, studied veterinary science at College of the Pacific (now University of the Pacific) in Stockton, California. But even his teachers could tell this wasn’t the way things should go, and the college’s head of zoology reportedly told Brubeck: “Your mind’s… in the conservatory. Please go there. Stop wasting my time.”

Brubeck took the advice to heart. And while he was later almost expelled from said conservatory due to his aforementioned difficulties with sheet music, several of his professors came to his defence, arguing that his skills with counterpoint and harmony more than compensated. Nonetheless, the college was so afraid that this could cause a scandal that it only agreed to let Brubeck graduate if he promised never to teach.

After finishing school in 1942, Brubeck was drafted into the military and – whether he could read sheet music or not – it was here that piano may have saved his life. Serving overseas, he was spared service in the Battle of the Bulge (where roughly 19,000 American soldiers lost their lives) after volunteering to play piano for the Red Cross. His show went over so well that he was ordered to form a band, which he did: The Wolfpack, one of the United States Armed Forces’ first racially integrated groups.

After serving four years in the military, Brubeck returned to college, and from there went on to help establish the new California jazz label Fantasy Records. Soon the company was shipping 40,000 to 50,000 copies of Brubeck, and making enormous profits in doing so. Brubeck even worked as a sort of artists and repertoire man for the company for a bit, believing he had a half interest in the enterprise. However, he later found out that he only had a half interest in his own recording. Brubeck subsequently jumped ship for Columbia Records. By 1954 he was featured on the cover of Time magazine, only the second jazz musician to be so honoured (after Louis Armstrong, five years earlier).

Brubeck continued to make records and tour throughout the 1950s and ’60s, going as far abroad as Asia on the U.S. State Department’s 1958 tour. In spite of this success, he refused to compromise his values and was known to cancel concerts if club owners or hall managers were resistant to the idea of an integrated band on their stage. He released Time Out in 1959, which contained a majority of songs in uncommon time signatures – 9/8, 5/4, 3/4, 6/4 – which was inspired by the Eurasian folk music he’d experienced on the State Department tour. Columbia – though enthusiastic – was hesitant to release it; however, their doubts were unfounded, because the album quickly went platinum, the first jazz album to ever sell more than a million copies. It was a style Brubeck would continue to use as he released ever more albums (up to four a year, during his quartet’s peak in the ’60s). He even developed a jazz musical, The Real Ambassadors, with his wife, based in part on his experiences while touring with the State Department.

Brubeck disbanded the quartet in 1967, opting to focus on longer, extended orchestral and choral works, as well as his family. In 1969 he produced The Gates of Justice, a cantata mixing biblical scripture with the words of Martin Luther King Jr. He converted to Catholicism in 1980.

In 1996 Brubeck received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2000 he founded the Brubeck Institute with his wife, Iola, at their alma mater, the University of the Pacific. The institute contains a special archive of the Brubecks’ personal documents and has expanded to provide fellowships and educational opportunities in jazz for students. In 2006 Brubeck performed for the University of Notre Dame’s graduating class and was awarded the university’s Laetare Medal, the oldest and most prestigious honour given to American Catholics. And last week he died. He will be missed. But his music will always live on.

Dave Brubeck – “Take Five”


By David Ball

“His productions from the start were marked by his bilingualism, his explorations into multimedia, his homosexuality, and an ongoing study of the act of creation itself. His works… reveal a vivid imagination, a love of startling imagery, and an experimentation with new technology. Sometimes theatrical form itself is called into question.” – Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia

The above comments really only apply to this world-class playwright, peerless theatre director and multidisciplinary performance artist…

Robert Lepage was born in Quebec City on December 12, 1957. Raised in a bilingual household with two adopted anglophone siblings, Lepage began his journey studying at the Conservatoire de musique et d’art dramatique du Québec. He soon joined Théâtre Repère – a company that made its name staging exploratory and challenging creations – as an actor. He later became the company’s artistic director and toured the country with the first production under his supervision, Circulations (1984). A year later Lepage became an international sensation with his breakthrough, La Trilogie des dragons. (He would return to the Shanghai-based storyline and the continuing deconstructing of ever-evolving modern China in 2009 with The Blue Dragon.)

Fearless, subversive and wildly inventive, Lepage’s works examine a broad range of artistic themes and disciplines, from the metaphysical detective story Polygraph (1988) to the socio-geographical Tectonic Plates (1988) to a work on the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright titled The Geometry of Miracles. He has also directed Shakespeare for the National Theatre of Great Britain and the Festival de Théâtre des Amériques, bringing his audacious interpretations to Europe, Asia and the Americas, and has worked in opera, designing and directing Erwartung for the Canadian Opera Company and the celebrated, spectacular and interactive Das Rheingold for New York City’s Metropolitan Opera in 2010. Lepage also worked on Cirque du Soleil’s Totem and was Peter Gabriel’s stage director for two world tours.

Robert Lepage’s production of Das Rheingold at the New York Metropolitan Opera

Photo from Lepage’s 2009 epic The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, produced by the Canadian Opera Company. (Photo courtesy of the National Post.)

Photo from Lepage’s Bluebeard’s Castle at Quebec City’s Grand Théâtre in 2008. (Photo courtesy of Ex Machina.)

Presiding over his own company, Ex Machina, since 1994, Lepage’s impressive resumé also includes the role of director of several of the world’s most prestigious institutions, including the National Arts Centre’s French-language theatre (from 1989 to 1993), the Canadian Opera Company, the National Theatre of both London and Munich, and Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre. He is also an accomplished stage and silver screen actor (he’s appeared in two movies directed by Denys Arcand) and has directed five feature films, including 2003’s The Far Side of the Moon. To go along with several high-profile international awards (his most recent is the 2012 Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Lepage received the National Order of Quebec in 1999, was named a companion of the Order of Canada in 2009, and received the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in 2009. His 1994 film, Le Confessionnal, captured both a Claude Jutra Award and a Genie Award for Best Canadian Film.

 

I never want to be accused of being a cheerleading public relations man, but hip hop is alive and thriving in the East Coast thanks in a big way to Nova Scotia’s Classified.

Born Luke Boyd in Enfield, N.S., on December 13, 1977, the multi-talented underground rapper, producer, label owner and staunch hip-hop flag bearer (“hip hop is the cause for the DJ, the MC”) has been socking out punchy rhymes for over 15 years. He released his first full-length LP, Time’s Up, Kid, on his own Half Life Records in 1995.

Although the family man and father of two has flirted with the mainstream since 2005’s Boy-Cott-In the Industry (featuring the MuchMusic Video Award–winning single, “No Mistakes”), his commercial breakthrough finally occurred in 2009 with the Top 20 hit “Oh…Canada,” the third single from his JUNO Award–nominated platinum-selling 13th album, Self Explanatory.

He followed that album up in 2011 with his second major label release, Handshakes and Middle Fingers. The 15-song effort, arguably Classified’s most realized and diverse recording to date, features some of his most brutally honest words: “I’ve been lied to and cheated on / I’ve been s**t talked, beat down, treated wrong – And I won’t forgive or forget” from the single “The Day Doesn’t Die.” Classified’s raps and rhythms are underscored by a gamut of diverging music styles, sampling everything from funk to classical, but the album’s boldest curveball is his country-rock collaboration with Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy on “The Hangover.”

The four-time East Coast Music Award–winner is more about, in his own words, “a hard-hitting beat and lyrics than ever wanting to become a celebrity,” but he’s also a tireless road warrior who has performed in front of millions around the globe, touring with rap legends Wu-Tang Clan and Nas. And one last thing: How could anyone not love seeing Classified wearing a Toronto Blue Jays cap in his music video for “That Ain’t Classy”?!

 

So sue me for including yet another Anne Murray story…

The Nova Scotia-born “Snowbird” singer scored her second-to-last American country No. 1 when her duet with Dave Loggins, “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do,” occupied Billboard’s top spot for one week beginning on December 15, 1984. The single also went on to conquer RPM’s country and adult contemporary charts, respectively.

The song was the only country chart-topper for Loggins (no relation to Kenny, thankfully), although he penned many successful tunes for other artists, including Three Dog Night, Wynonna Judd, Alabama and Toby Keith. He also wrote Kenny Rogers’ No. 1 hit “Morning Desire.”

I’m not speaking ill of the recently deceased, because I’ll take Murray and Loggins’ Country Music Association Award–winning original any day over the schmaltzy Whitney Houston and Jermaine Jackson cover, especially after hearing that the Jackson family’s fourth child recently filed to change his famous last name to “Jacksun” for “artistic reasons” – whatever that means. No word on whether La Toya and Tito are planning on doing the same thing, yet.

Next week: Martha and the Muffins, plus John and Yoko and Pierre Trudeau

 

Robert Lepage


By James Sandham

Movember may be behind us, but if you haven’t had enough hair-oriented hilarity/awareness-raising, fear not – there’s always Decembeard. Loosely affiliated with the Movember men’s health awareness movement, Decembeard – the month preceding Manuary – is now upon us.

As usual, there is a certain social milieu in which the beard has traditionally been taken to great heights (or perhaps lengths). I refer, of course, to the music world and, in that vein, I’d like to take a look at some of the fine musicians whose beards have graced our lives over the years.

Let’s start things off with the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1989 inductees, The Band, shown here in 1968 looking like a bunch of prospector pioneers who haven’t seen a razor since the gold rush began. We have, from left to right, Rick Danko (actually looking relatively clean shaven around the chops), Levon Helm (with a full box beard/moustache combo), Richard Manuel (also disappointingly clean shaven), the ineffable Garth Hudson (rocking an absolutely bushy beast across his chin, compensating for the paltry efforts of Danko and Manuel) and, of course, Robbie Robertson (taking a more refined approach to the beard-growing endeavour). They are pictured here in the Catskill Mountains, posing for their album Music from Big Pink.

And what about this guy? It’s Lenny Breau, one of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1997 inductees, luxuriating in the soft foliage of his chin forest. Breau was referred to as the Chopin of guitar by none other than guitar legend Chet Atkins, and his beard practically oozes smooth jazz guitar riffs. We should all listen to more Lenny Breau. The world would be a better place.

Another Canadian with undeniable follicular charisma is Gordon Lightfoot, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1986 inductee, pictured here on the cover of his 1975 compilation album Gord’s Gold. The album couldn’t have been named more aptly: Lightfoot certainly looks the golden boy in this shot from the record’s sleeve, due primarily to the well-manicured yet nevertheless rugged swath of golden hair enveloping his cheeks. This man is a model for Decembeardists everywhere.

And what about this scruffy little ruffian? It’s six-time JUNO Award winner Sam Roberts, looking like Rasputin’s cuter younger brother and rocking a beard worthy of any Northern Canadian lumber camp. Decembeard isn’t merely a month for this man – it’s a way of life. And he lives every day of it to the fullest.

Of course, we needn’t stick strictly to Canadian musicians to find a good beard. While our weather may perhaps give us an edge in the propensity for hairy neck warmers, there are also bands like ZZ Top – as Southern-fried as they get – who’ve practically built their band’s entire reputation on their beards. Co-vocalists Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill are iconic for their belly-length beards, while the trio’s drummer, Frank Beard – though clean shaven – has the group’s aegis in his name. I cannot think of three better beard ambassadors than these men.

And on that note, I wish you happy bearding.


By David Ball

Move over Ricky Nelson, David Cassidy, David “Hutch” Soul, Don Johnson, Miley Cyrus and all of the other TV actors turned pop stars (Johnson’s “Miami Vice” partner Philip Michael Thomas doesn’t count)…

As unlikely as it seems, Lorne Greene became only the second Canadian to have a No. 1 Billboard hit when “Ringo” topped the American pop singles chart on December 5, 1964.

I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that Greene was a legitimate – albeit unlikely – pop star. He was, after all, the same man who was gifted with the booming authoritarian Orson Welles–like baritone and who was once dubbed “The Voice of Canada” (for his role as a Second World War newsreader on CBC Radio). Greene went on to become beloved silver-haired patriarch Ben Cartwright on NBC’s long-running western series “Bonanza” (1959-73), the original Commander Adama on the 1970s cult Star Wars rip-off Battlestar Galactica, the host of CTV’s “Lorne Greene’s New Wilderness” and a respected film actor. Regardless, a No. 1 is a No. 1, so count me pretty frackin’ impressed. Take that, BSG’s other Commander Adama, Mr. Edward James Olmos!

Lorne Greene as Commander Adama in the original “Battlestar Galactica”

Even more frackin’ (the greatest sci-fi swearword ever) impressive is that the dusty country ballad features almost no singing – there’s simply a male chorus and a chugging train song rhythm underscoring Greene’s commanding voice as he narrates the tale of a Wild West gunfighter named Ringo. I know it doesn’t sound like hit material, but it’s campy fun. The single’s lofty chart status can be (partly) attributed to runoff from the massive popularity of “Bonanza”: it was the No. 1 rated TV show in the United States in 1964. I can’t remember ever hearing even a note from Greene’s tune before I started doing research for this piece, but I certainly have no problem conjuring up the melody of “Leader of the Pack” by the Shangri-Las, which is the song “Ringo” dethroned as Billboard’s pop singles champ.

The cast of “Bonanza,” from left to right: Dan Blocker, Michael Landon, Lorne Greene and Pernell Roberts

Greene’s music career was rather short lived. “Ringo” was his only significant American hit (it also topped the RPM pop chart on December 7, 1964), although his next single, “The Man,” made it into the Canadian Country Top 5 in 1965. Still, Greene was rather prolific from 1961 to 1966, producing 10 albums. His last single was released in 1976.

 

The father of Canadian country music, Wilf Carter, died at the age of 91 on December 5, 1996.

Also known as “Montana Slim,” Carter was born on December 18, 1904, in Port Hilford, Nova Scotia. Canada’s answer to Jimmie Rodgers (his music career began around the same time as that of the trailblazing American country singer), Carter adopted his trademark yodel as a kid when a travelling show came through town and introduced him to country music. In fact, he began developing his trademark style before Rogers, a.k.a. “The Singing Brakeman,” had ever uttered his first yodel.

During his early teen years, Carter helped support his poor and very large family (he was one of nine children) by working on farms in central Nova Scotia. After a heated quarrel with his strict Baptist missionary father, the then-17-year-old fled to Boston for a brief spell before winding up in Alberta, where he began working as a cowboy, harvesting crops and breaking horses. It was in the Prairies that Carter began singing at local dances and in 1925 he snagged his first radio show audition.

After a move to Calgary in 1929, Carter’s first professional gig was performing once a week on CFCN Radio’s “The Voice of the Prairies,” which led to a song-writing job with the CBC. At the same time, Carter began working for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). In fact, it was while working for CPR that Carter introduced his brand of yodelling country music to folks from coast to coast. During a visit to Montreal in 1933, Carter signed his first recording contract and released his two-side debut 78 single – “My Swiss Moonlight Lullaby” backed with “The Capture of Albert Johnson” – on Bluebird Records, a sub-label of RCA Victor. The following year, Carter moved to New York City and took the name “Montana Slim” while working on CBS Radio. From this point on he would assume the American-centric persona in the United States and use his birth name in Canada.

Wilf Carter (circa 1936) courtesy of the Calgary Herald

Before the Second World War, Carter had released over 200 songs, and his profile on American radio and continual partnership with the CBC brought “Montana Slim” both notoriety and wealth. But because of wartime rationing and a serious automobile accident in 1940, Carter’s output slowed down considerably; he even stopped producing music for four years to recover from injuries sustained in the mishap.

Carter re-emerged in 1947 – the same year he made his only appearance on the Grand Old Opry – and began recording with RCA Victor. His relationship with RCA ended in 1952 and two years later he signed a contract with Decca. Carter’s first records with his new label were cut in Nashville and the recording sessions featured a hotshot backing band that included Chet Atkins and Grady Martin. The success of the RCA singles, released on Apex in Canada, found Carter’s career back on a commercial upswing and he severed ties with Decca to re-sign with RCA in 1957.

Montana Slim’s popularity began to wane in the U.S. in the ’60s, but his career in Canada always remained consistent and profitable, with Carter releasing records for Victor almost up to his last yodel. With over 500 songs and over 40 albums to his credit, Carter was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971, the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1984, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007.

 

Here’s a quick fun question… with only one correct answer (see my subjective, yet correct answer below):

Which of the following RPM Top 5 charts from December 8, 1984, is the better one? Here are the two candidates:

The RPM 100 Pop Singles Chart

No. 1: “Caribbean Queen” by Billy Ocean – unlistenable post-1984, although unintentionally hilarious at Live Aid

No. 2: “I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder – I have no snide remarks here: it’s Stevie freakin’ Wonder!

No. 3: “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham!  – their Richard Simmons–esque shorts still give me nightmares

No. 4: “The Wild Boys” by Duran Duran  – if you exclude the Mad Max–themed music video from the overall experience, all seven minutes and 43 frenzied seconds of it, the song is pretty monotonous, even if it is one of their biggest hits. I’ll surely get some heat from two of my best lady pals/Duran Duran loyalists over this.

No. 5: “Out of Touch” by Hall & Oates – it ain’t no “Maneater”

 

The RPM Cancon Top 30 Singles Chart

No. 1: “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)” by Glass Tiger – their most successful single to date, co-written by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance

No. 2: “Now and Forever (You and Me)” by Anne Murray

No. 3: “Flippin’ to the ‘A’ Side” by Cats Can Fly – I love cats (not the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical though) and this easily trumps that incorrigible Wham! single

No. 4: “There Was a Time” by One to One – I’m not a champion of slick ’80s dance pop, but lead singer Louise Reny sure rocked those black leather pants. Check out the video and come back and talk to me.

No. 5: “Eurasian Eyes” by Corey Hart

The answer to my question? In my non-humble opinion, the Cancon list is the far better of the two Top 5 RPM charts. Was there ever any doubt? I’m not about to vote against Anne Murray, Louise Reny’s leather pants – or flying cats.

Next week: Classified and Robert Lepage

“Ringo” by Lorne Greene