By James Sandham

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve probably heard us mention The Squires, a Winnipeg band that formed in 1963 and was one of Neil Young’s first groups. The band only released one record, a single, which contained the instrumental tracks “The Sultan” and “Aurora,” both later released on the Buffalo Springfield bootleg Down to the Wire, but originally recorded by V Records and released in a very small pressing of 300 copies.

Of those 300 copies, only 10 are still known to exist, which makes this one of the rarest 45 RPM records in the world – kind of the “white rhino” of Neil Young fandom. Being quite a fan of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1982 inductee myself, I decided I’d have a dig around on the web just to see if I could find out more about this elusive beast.

What I came across instead, however, was this: another group, also called The Squires, who were also active in the ’60s, also extremely obscure and who also happen to be amazing. What’s more, they even have a Canadian connection: their lead singer, Mike Bouyea, ended up in Toronto after serving in Vietnam and was a radio personality on 1050 CHUM. He even recorded a theme song for the Toronto Blue Jays.

I couldn’t believe it, it all just seemed to be such a serendipitous discovery that I knew I had to share it.

The Squires – “Going All the Way”

So: While the other Squires hailed from Bristol, Connecticut, like the Winnipeg Squires they too only released a single 45. It came out on Atco Records and “Going All the Way” (above) was its A side. However, when the single came out in 1966 it was a major failure. It didn’t chart regionally, it found no success elsewhere and the label didn’t bother with any kind of followup. The band broke up not too much later and, while Bouyea released a few more singles on his own, they eventually faded into obscurity.

Today, on the other hand, “Going All the Way” is regarded (among music nerds, at least) as an esoteric classic of its time. It was eventually reissued on the first Pebbles compilation in 1979 and also appeared on others.

The Squires – “Go Ahead”

Even better than “Going All the Way” though, at least in my opinion, was the single’s B side: “Go Ahead.” This song is a dreamy, jangly treasure of ’60s garage pop and it’s totally infectious. I’ve been listening to it for days straight now.

The Rogues – “It’s the Same All Over the World”

Having become completely addicted to “Go Ahead,” I thought it would be totally tragic if this was all there was of The Squires. Having released only one 45, it seemed that was the case – at least until I discovered The Rogues.

It’s the same band, it turns out, but recording under the name they had used prior to their Atco Records debut. Even in this incarnation they only managed to release one 45 – the one above, “It’s the Same All Over the World” – on a local label called Peyton.

The Rogues – “Oh! No!”

“Oh! No!” was the B side to that record and at the time of this writing it has had only a measly 264 views on YouTube. It seems I stumbled into the far annals of obscurity with that one. Other than “Oh! No!,” it appears the band only released one other track, “The Original,” but I couldn’t find it anywhere on YouTube.

I thought I had come to the end of the line as far as things went with The Rogues/The Squires, but then, to my great delight, I stumbled over this: a 1986 reissue by Crypt Records of all of their singles, plus other previous unreleased material. There were still six tracks I hadn’t heard yet, including a cover of “Gloria.”

What’s more, there are still copies available – and in mint condition – which I could buy used online. It was another happy discovery and a great ending to this nerdy musical mini-adventure.

Oh, and then there’s this: Bouyea’s 1985 recording for the Jays. And this time, ironically, he actually made it onto the charts – and stayed there for five weeks, reaching as high as No. 17! It just goes to show that there’s no logic to taste. Anyhow, hope you enjoy!

We Got the Blue Jays – “Home Run”


By David Ball

“Earth Angel” by Canadian vocal pop group The Crew-Cuts entered the American singles chart on January 29, 1955.

Originally a Top 10 R&B hit by black doo-wop quartet The Penguins, The Crew-Cuts’ shined-up barbershop rendition would become one of the Toronto foursome’s major international hits, reaching the Top 5 in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Signed undated photo of The Crew-Cuts, likely from 1955

Several 45-inch Crew-Cuts originals ended up in the Canadian Top 20, including “Mostly Martha” and “Crazy ’Bout You, Baby” (the latter was written by group members Rudi Maugeri and Pat Barrett). However, only their covers received airplay – and jukebox spins – in the U.S.

Because of the popularity of “Earth Angel” and their previous No. 1 hit “Sh-Boom,” the quartet’s label, Mercury Records, pushed them into a somewhat controversial but lucrative musical direction: reworking R&B originals to appeal to a wider (and mostly white) audience. It was a strategy echoed by several rising white talents, including Elvis Presley and noted rock-and-roll pacifier Pat Boone, and it worked until 1956, when the St. Michael’s Choir School grads shockingly abandoned mining R&B covers altogether – a decision, along with switching record labels in 1958, that put a needle-scratching halt to any further hits for them in the U.S. market.

The talented harmonizers broke up in 1964, but their legacy was recognized 20 years later when The Crew-Cuts were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame with a class that included fellow Canadian vocal pop groups The Four Lads and The Diamonds. Count me, The David Ball, pretty darn impressed.

I must say that some of The Crew-Cuts’ best-loved covers, including “Earth Angel,” are pretty darn good in their own right and were produced in the spirit of the R&B originals. Give ’em a spin sometime.  However, I highly recommend (and I can’t stress this enough) avoiding most of the early rock-and-roll covers by Pat Boone, especially his sanitized interpretations of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” and “Tutti Frutti.” I won’t dare get into his Beatles tunes…

 

Before I forget, relax all you rabid fans of Sarah McLachlan! I didn’t overlook her January 28 birthday. I covered it – and her career – in last year’s edition, so check it out (along with other TWIMH stories) at your leisure.

 

“It’s better to burn out, than to fade away…”

Neil Young certainly wasn’t singing about Streetheart in “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue),” but his defiant and timeless rock catchphrase certainly fits the one-time big-time band’s relatively brief but bright career.

Formed in Regina in 1976, the hard-touring quintet officially called it quits in 1984 due to bankruptcy just four years after scoring their commercial breakthrough with a glammy cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb.” The JUNO Award–nominated lead single from their 1979 second full-length release, Under Heaven Over Hell, made it into RPM’s Top 20 on February 2, 1980, making it the biggest hit of an impressive career that landed the band six bestselling albums, several charting singles including another cover, “Here Comes The Night,” and a JUNO Award in 1980 for Most Promising Group of the Year.

Streetheart’s early ’80s lineup

I realize that some of you may be too young to remember Streetheart or don’t listen to Canadian classic rock radio at all, but I’ll wager an ugly new polymer $20 bill that most of you know at least one Loverboy tune. Well, two founding members of Streetheart – lead guitarist Paul Dean and drummer Matt Frenette – left the group in the late ’70s to help form one of the biggest Canadian bands of the 1980s, headbands, red leather pants and all.

Original Streetheart lineup circa 1977 with leader Kenny Shields (second from right) and Loverboy’s Matt Frenette (second from left) and Paul Dean (far right)

When I was a wee broth of a lad living in Kingston, Ontario, Streetheart played a gig with opening act Photograph on February 10, 1981, at the barn-like Memorial Centre at the height of their popularity. I wanted to go, but the $6.50 ticket price really took a chunk out of my allowance and I believe my parents weren’t keen on letting me leave the nest for a few unsupervised hours to see a rock show. No doubt the erroneous decision was made by my late father, who thought that all rock stars were “weirdos” who should get “real jobs.” Dad never did understand that being a full-time musician is indeed a real job!

As it goes with almost every retired rock act, being away from the spotlight never lasts forever (exceptions to the rule include Pink Floyd and The Beatles). As of the early 2000s, original lead singer Kenny Shields is back working his “real job” again with a reformed Streetheart, joined by core members Daryl Gutheil and Jeff Neill, so I may just get a chance to see them after all, but hopefully not at the Memorial Centre.

 

Jerry Lewis n’est pas le seul en Amérique du Nord énorme en France (use the Google translator if you must)…

After his 1989 album, Hélène, sold three million LPs and conquered the charts in Quebec, France, French Belgium, Switzerland and Norway (wow and huh?!), Roch Voisine won the award for Francophone Album of the Year at the prestigious Victoires de la musique awards in France on February 3, 1990. Une grande raison for the success of his third effort was the breakthrough title track, which spent nine weeks at No. 1 on the French singles chart and became a million-seller in that country alone. Still, I don’t quite get the love for the genial Edmunston, New Brunswick–born pop star from the decidedly non-francophone Norway, where the single peaked at No. 3 – but I suppose a great tune is a great tune and can transcend any language and culture.

The title track also made crossover ripples on Canada’s RPM’s English pop chart while impressively reaching its adult contemporary Top 10. The squeaky clean singer-songwriter has enjoyed a prolific and profitable career since his debut and continues to produce top-selling records in both of Canada’s official languages, but Hélène remains his only francophone-sung crossover hit.

Next week: Jann Arden and Stompin’ Tom Connors


By James Sandham

I don’t know how things are going in your city, but here in Toronto the temperature shot up to over 10°C for a few days the other week, and while it’s now dropped precipitously back below zero (the hair in my nose was freezing on my way into work this morning), that brief stint of warm(ish) weather was enough to jar me from my vitamin D withdrawal–induced state of catatonia and get me thinking: I need to get out of here. I need to go on a trip or something, because I’ve spent way too much time shuffling around in a parka lately.

Whether this will actually happen or not remains to be seen – I am chronically indecisive when it comes to shelling out the money it actually takes to do these sorts of things – but in the meantime I’ve been amusing myself by building various fantasy vacations. The latest one includes stops in Austria and Slovenia before heading on to Italy. I’ve also been thinking about what clothes to bring and, of course, what music I’d have to have with me. These days, with iPods, you can pretty much bring it all – but here are a few of the top tracks I’ve decided I could not be without.

 

Kings of Convenience – “Boat Behind”

This song is a favourite of mine and always tends to feature on my playlists, which of course is why I’d have to have it with me on a trip. It’s by Norwegian duo Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe and, as far as I can tell, it’s basically the perfect tune for messing around to on a little transatlantic journey. It’s just so happy and carefree. The song comes from their 2009 album, Declaration of Dependence, which is a totally solid album if you’re into the Simon and Garfunkel kind of sound.

 

Daniela Nardi – “Via Con Me”

Part of my fantasy trip is a stop in Italy, so obviously I need something for that leg of the voyage, and this track seems like a pretty good fit. It’s from Daniela Nardi’s album Espresso Manifesto and it’s a cover of a tune by Italian singer, songwriter, pianist, composer and lawyer Paolo Conte. Nardi is a classically trained Toronto singer and in 2009 she was chosen as the Best Canadian Female Vocalist at the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards. The video above was recorded at Toronto’s Lula Lounge.

 

Gogol Bordello – “Start Wearing Purple”

As long as I’m heading off to Slovenia on this fantasy trip, I figure I might as well include a little Gogol Bordello on my playlist as – despite hailing from the Lower East Side of Manhattan – they have a distinctly eastern European sound. This song comes from the band’s third album, Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike, which was released by SideOneDummy Records in 2005. When I think of carousing around the Adriatic this is the song that comes into my head.

 

Feist – “Mushaboom”

I love this song. It’s so pleasant, which of course is just the vibe you want to have on any trip, so this one would be coming with me, too. Plus, the music video is filmed in Paris, which  though it wasn’t on my initial itinerary, I might as well add. This is a fantasy trip, after all. This track comes from the multi–JUNO Award–winning musician’s second album, Let It Die, which was released in 2004.

 

Charles Aznavour – “Et Pourtant”

And speaking of Paris, I’d also have to have this song with me if I was traipsing about Europe. It’s by Shahnour Vaghenag Aznavourian, who is better known by his stage name Charles Aznavour. Born in Paris, Aznavour is the composer of over a thousand songs and has sold well over a hundred million records. He was named Entertainer of the Century by CNN in 1998, beating out both Elvis and Bob Dylan, and in 2009 he was appointed ambassador of Armenia to Switzerland and Armenia’s permanent delegate at the United Nations in Geneva. At a current 88 years of age, he was still touring as recently as 2011.

 


By David Ball

The old adage “Timing is everything” certainly applies here…

Blues rocker Colin James scored his chart breakthrough when “Five Long Years,” the second single from his 1988 self-titled debut, entered the Canadian Top 40 on January 22, 1989.

The 24-year-old Regina-born hotshot guitarist broke onto the music scene at a time when blues was in the midst of a decade-long renaissance thanks to the inroads made by contemporary artists Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robert Cray, The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Gary Moore, along with the return to prominence of 1960s and ’70s era giants Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton.

Colin James’ 1988 self-titled debut album – gotta love the lightning-bolt guitar strap

But as it often goes, blues guitar phenoms are already well-known commodities long before the release of any sort of official album – and James was no exception (other examples are Derek Trucks, Joe Bonamassa, Gary Clark Jr. and Ottawa’s Sue Foley). By 1986 James had earned a reputation in blues and rock circles as a brilliant young guitarist and fiery live performer who proved he could hold his own opening for his early mentor, Stevie Ray Vaughan, on several defining North American tours.

Still, “Five Long Years” and the album’s other James-penned hit, “Voodoo Thing,” signified his commercial coming out party and offered a perfect introduction to his immense talents. The debut was also the fastest selling album in Canadian history, so it’s no surprise that James (who is also a gifted singer) won the 1989 JUNO Award for Most Promising Male Vocalist of the Year. The category’s other nominees included Jeff Healey, Art Bergmann, Andrew Cash and Michael Breen.

Colin James with Stevie Ray Vaughan duelling it out on stage, circa 1986

Of course, you can’t talk about the winner of six JUNO Awards and a staggering 16 Maple Blues Awards without keying in on his killer guitar chops. Unfortunately, I’m going to save this discussion – and why James is a rarity among technical lead players – for May, when he’ll be celebrating his birthday. Book it!

 

All of the revolutionary power trios from the 1960s and early ’70s – Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and, of course, the heaviest of them all, Peter Paul and Mary – had one thing in common: a badass drummer. One of these acts might not seem like the others, but “Puff the Magic Dragon” has been known to melt faces. OK! OK! Onto the matter at hand!

Hendrix had Mitch Mitchell and Ginger Baker anchored Cream, but another hard rock pioneer, Mountain, and the band’s Canadian drummer, Corky Laing, are almost always included among the best of the best power trios.

Corky Laing circa early 1970s

Born in Montreal on January 26, 1948, Laing is perhaps best known for providing the thunder for guitarist Leslie West and bassist Felix Pappalardi in Mountain. However, his career has remained interesting 40 years after his famous group first disbanded.

Mountain: Leslie West, Felix Pappalardi and Corky Laing. (Check out Corky’s cool jacket!)

Laing landed his first professional job time-keeping for the legendary doo-wop quartet The Ink Spots. He eventually switched to rock with the group Energy (who were produced by Pappalardi), but left in 1969 when he was recruited by Mountain to replace original drummer N.D. Smart. Although Laing missed out on Mountain’s celebrated gig at Woodstock, he was hired just in time to collaborate on the band’s pivotal 1970 debut Climbing! and their pre-metal signature hit song “Mississippi Queen,” which he co-wrote. Mountain split up in 1972, a year after the release of the partially live Flowers of Evil; however, the band reformed off and on in various guises for the next 40 years, but never again with its most famous lineup (Pappalardi was shot and killed by his wife in 1983).

A few months after Mountain’s initial breakup, Laing co-founded the short-lived power trio West, Bruce and Laing, which was comprised of Leslie West and Cream bassist/singer Jack Bruce. Some of Laing’s other non-Mountain projects include his critically acclaimed 1977 solo debut Makin’ It on the Street, as well as collaborations with a diverse array of talented artists, including Bo Diddley, John Lennon, Ten Years After, Meat Loaf, Mahogany Rush, Men Without Hats and Cork, the “almost” supergroup he formed in the late ’90s with Jimi Hendrix bassist Noel Redding and Eric Schenkman (the Spin Doctors guitarist is the cause for the “almost”).

In 2003, Laing and West co-authored the Mountain narrative Nantucket Sleighride and Other Mountain on-the-Road Stories, and in 2007 Laing recorded an audio autobiography titled Stick It!

Laing calls Toronto’s trendy Liberty Village home, which explains why he occasionally makes surprise guest appearances at live gigs in and around the downtown core. I was fortunate enough to see him join heavy blues and Mountain disciples Gov’t Mule on July 31, 2000, at the Comfort Zone (or as I call the cramped low-ceiling dingy dive in Toronto’s Chinatown: the “Uncomfort Zone”). On this blurry booze-filled night, Laing helped the powerhouse trio kick out the jams on two covers, Mountain’s “Never in My Life” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” (I had to look up the particulars, due to the reason provided at the beginning of the previous sentence.) Shockingly, one month after the Comfort Zone show, Gov’t Mule’s founding member and bassist Allen Woody (also of the Allman Brothers) was found dead in a New York hotel room. As a giant Allman Brothers fan, the unexpected and terrible news hit me like a perfectly thrown George Chuvalo left hook. But today I feel damn lucky to have witnessed the original Mule lineup one last time, with Corky Laing no less.

 

“Don’t Shed a Tear” by Paul Carrack peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 on January 25, 1988, the highest chart showing in his long and sometimes illustrious solo career.

Whatever, right? Well, have you ever wondered why the ear-pleasing mid-tempo pop ballad by the journeyman English singer still airs in semi-regular rotation on almost every pop-based radio station across this country? Carrack had other hits with three of his former bands – Ace, Mike + The Mechanics and Squeeze – but “Don’t Shed a Tear” loosely qualifies as Canadian content because it was previously recorded and co-written by JUNO Award–winning Toronto musician and producer Eddie Schwartz. Curiously, the single didn’t do particularly well in Canada, stalling at No. 34 on the RPM Top 40.

I’ve never been a fan of Carrack et al., but his work with both Squeeze (“Tempted”) and Ace was generally fantastic (I’m purposely overlooking his Roxy Music stint). By the way, ever since I started writing this Carrack story I can’t seem to get the chorus from Ace’s hit “How Long” out of my freakin’ brain… and I write reeeaaaaalllly sloooooow. Here’s what’s in my head spinning and torturing me right now: “How long has this been goin’ on?” and repeat… and repeat… and repeat… Aaahhh!!!

Sorry, but I’m ending on a sombre note, my favourite Carrack-sung tune: “The Living Years.” I don’t care too much about Mike + The Mechanics, but I get really darn emotional every time I hear their heartbreaking 1989 hit. Anyone who has dealt with the loss of a father without having a chance to say goodbye knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Next week: The Crew-Cuts and Streetheart

“Mississippi Queen” by Mountain (original album track)


By David Ball

Count me among the ignorant people who have never heard of Gordon Delamont (b. October 27, 1918). In fact, I deserve a minor penalty and a visit to the penalty box, as described by Charlestown Chiefs goalie Denis Lemieux in the opening scene of the raucously funny hockey comedy Slap Shot: “Two minutes, by yourself, you know and you feel shame….” The Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan–born composer, educator, author, trumpeter and “guiding figure in Canada in the third-stream movement” passed away on January 16, 1981.

Raised in Vancouver, Delamont was taught the trumpet by his father and became a soloist in an all-boys band before his move to Toronto in 1939. For the next five years, he was the lead trumpet player for the CBC Radio Orchestra, while simultaneously gigging with local dance bands in the Toronto area.

Delamont fronted his own dance group from 1945 to 1949, performing at Toronto’s Club Top Hat in Sunnyside and throughout Southern Ontario. He relocated to New York City in the spring of 1949 to study theory and composition under the tutelage of renowned composer and arranger Maury Deutsch. Later that summer, Delamont was back in Toronto teaching theory, composition, counterpoint (independent and interdependent vocal harmonizing) and Third Stream (an innovative blending of classical and improvised jazz) at his own private studio, which he ran until the late 1970s.

From 1953 to 1962, Delamont directed a rehearsal ensemble for his students, providing a vehicle for their compositional development. Several of Delamont’s theoretical texts, including Modern Arranging Techniques (Delavan, 1965), have been studied by musicians and in schools throughout North America. His most popular music composition, “Three Entertainments for Saxophone Quartet” (1970), was recorded by world-renowned jazz ensemble New York Saxophone Quartet.

But even if the name Gordon Delamont doesn’t ring a bell-like note, there’s a good chance that you’ll recognize the names of at least a few of his prized pupils, counted as some of the finest composers and musicians from this country: Moe Koffman, Rob McConnell, Jimmy Dale, Hagood Hardy, Fred Stone, Ron Collier, Norman Symonds and my mom’s all-time favourite, vibraphonist Peter Appleyard. Speaking of the latter, whenever jazz comes up in conversation with my mom, it inevitably leads to: “David, do you ever listen to Peter Appleyard? You need to broaden your horizons! He’s wooonderful! Did you go with me to his show in Kingston a few years ago?” Next time, I promise. Love, David.

 

It was a time of hooting and hollering for the citizens of Los Angeles, especially the approximately half-million ex-pat Canadians who call the sprawling, car-dependent West Coast metropolis home. The city of L.A. declared January 18, 1982, to be “Bob and Doug McKenzie Day,” and with it, hopefully, came mass utterances of the words “hoser,” “beauty,” “take off” and “eh” through exaggerated Ottawa Valley accents, as well as a significant spike in doughnut sales, folks donning tuques and winter coats, and lots of beer chugged from brown stubby bottles.

It’s not totally shocking that the satiric faux siblings who embody Canadian stereotypes were honoured with their very own day. In the early 1980s, the dimwitted hicks were as hot as wearing a fur-lined North Pole–endorsed Canada Goose parka in July. (Just this past sizzling summer, I saw countless hipsters bundled up in the trendy hooded overcoats to brave the harsh +31°C weather… but with the wind chill it felt like +30°C.)

The Canuck brothers’ hilarious Grammy Award–nominated and JUNO Award–winning comedy album The Great White North (featuring the Top 20 Billboard single “Take Off” with guest vocalist Geddy Lee) was a North American bestseller. Plus, NBC had a hit with “SCTV,” its CBC co-produced late-night sketch show where Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas’ Bob and Doug McKenzie characters were the show’s breakout stars. Bob and Doug also had a feature film in production, Strange Brew, which was inspired by beer and Hamlet and co-starred the legendary, but decidedly non-comedic Swedish actor Max von Sydow (The Seventh Seal, The Exorcist).

Released in 1983, Strange Brew was an instant cult classic and was greeted with mostly positive reviews, especially from highbrow dailies the Globe and Mail and the New York Times. The 91-minute feature still maintains a solid 70% approval rating on the film review website Rotten Tomatoes. I’m ashamed to admit this, but I still haven’t seen Strange Brew. I know, I know… I certainly deserve ire and/or outright disgust for this affront, especially since “SCTV” is one of my all-time favourite shows. I’ll remedy this soon enough, perhaps in a double bill with another classic Canadian film I’ve never seen: Goin’ Down the Road.

 

Unlike Bob and Doug, these brothers are from the same mother…

The Cooper Brothers scored their biggest hit when “The Dream Never Dies” broke onto RPM’s Top 30 singles chart on January 20, 1979. The southern rock band from Ottawa released two other minor charting RPM and Billboard singles during their late ’70s commercial peak, “Show Some Emotion” and “I’ll Know Her When I See Her,” but the aforementioned track from their 1978 self-titled debut remains their most famous, and subsequently most covered (Bill Anderson’s version was a Top 40 Billboard country hit in 1979).

Self-titled 1978 album

Brothers Brian and Dick Cooper and their friend Terry King founded the group in the early ’70s and released their first set of singles in 1974 (produced by Five Man Electrical Band’s Les Emmerson). The Cooper Brothers were signed to Capricorn Records in 1978, joining other southern rock label-mates The Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker and Elvin Bishop. In their late ’70s to early ’80s heyday, the Cooper Brothers were a popular live band and toured across North America supporting many big acts, including The Doobie Brothers, Joe Cocker, Black Oak Arkansas and Charlie Daniels. The Cooper Brothers split up in 1983, three years after Capricorn folded.

Original 45-inch single

Good news! After 23 years, the dream of creating more music didn’t die. The brothers reunited in 2006 to release the compilation The Best of The Cooper Brothers. They soon began performing sold-out club dates across Ontario and made a celebrated appearance at Ottawa Bluesfest in 2008. The following year the bros went into a Nashville recording studio to record a new studio album, In From The Cold, which was produced by JUNO Award winner Colin Linden. The band’s first single, “Hard Luck Girl,” features Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy on vocals and harkens back to the brothers’ past while suggesting there’s plenty of gas left in the tank for the road ahead.

Next week: Colin James and Mountain

“The Dream Never Dies” by The Cooper Brothers


By James Sandham

Blue Rodeo, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2012 inductees, released their debut album, Outskirts, in 1987. Released by Warner, the album heralded the blossoming of one of Toronto’s most fecund music scenes – alt-country – and it continues to flourish today.

The Cameron House – former home to Blue Rodeo and the epicentre of Toronto’s early alt-country scene – has become a venue staple for this genre, a near-legendary place of performance space and artists’ studios. The venue even has its own in-house label, Cameron House Records. More recently, venues like The Dakota Tavern have joined the Cameron House in providing spaces for these artists to perform. It’s no surprise, then, that the musicians contributing to the alt-country scene have continued to develop and expand, building on a uniquely Canadian heritage of songwriting and music craft that has typically emphasized lyrical substance and compositional skill over mass-marketability. After more than two decades, the scene is healthier than ever. Here are a few of the bands taking the alt-country tradition to new audiences today.

 

Lindi Ortega – “Cigarettes & Truckstops”

Lindi Ortega has been referred to as “the love child of Johnny Cash and Nancy Sinatra,” as well as “Toronto’s best kept secret.” Sadly, however, she’s no longer a secret – because Nashville’s gone and got her. She was a staple, nonetheless, of Toronto’s alt-country scene, and continues to be still, as she’ll be playing a sold-out show at the Rivoli on January 24. This track comes from the album of the same name, which came out last year on Last Gang Records, the followup to her 2011 JUNO Award–nominated and Polaris Muisc Prize–long-listed Little Red Boots. Interesting genre-crossing fact: Ortega is also featured on Major Lazer’s song “Good Enough,” along with Collie Budz.

 

Dustin Bentall – “Draft Dodger”

A West-Coaster by birth, Dustin Bentall will nonetheless be contributing to Toronto’s burgeoning alt-country scene when he rolls into town with who else but Lindi Ortega on her cross-Canada tour. The son of Canadian roots rocker Barney Bentall, Dustin has opened shows for the likes of Kathleen Edwards, Blue Rodeo, Sam Roberts and Matt Mays. “Draft Dodger” was recorded and filmed at Toronto’s Dakota Tavern.

 

The Long Haul – “There Comes a Time”

One of the best things about Toronto’s alt-country scene is how it continues to produce new talent. Case in point: The Long Haul, a younger group that has been playing together for the last few years. While the band has “officially” been around since 2009, its debut album didn’t appear until a little more than a year later – but it was certainly worth the wait. Mixed by JUNO Award–nominated mixing engineer Darryl Neudorf (Neko Case, Blue Rodeo), the self-titled album is a promising collection of songs, featuring both the track above, as well as my favourite track, below – for which there is sadly no video.

 

Nichol Robertson & His Honkytonk/Boogaloo Boys – “Panhandle Rag”

Another talented young musician, Nichol Robertson, can be seen and heard around town where he teaches guitar and banjo in addition to playing with the likes of The Devin Cuddy Band (that would be the son of Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy – yes, it’s a small world here), “Colonel” Tom Parker, and – surprise, surprise – the aforementioned Dustin Bentall. His debut album, Stranger Things, was recently released, and it features a classic country and blue grass sound.

 

Blue Rodeo – “Try”

And of course, here we have the band that ostensibly started it all  – “ostensibly” because where can you really say things start in music? it’s an ongoing, timeless process, isn’t it? – Toronto’s very own Blue Rodeo. Taken from their debut album, this was the band’s first hit. Over the following 20-plus years, Blue Rodeo has released 11 more albums, won multiple awards, toured internationally, and finally, last year, the guys were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. That’s pretty big. But in the process, the band birthed something even bigger that only continues to grow today.


By James Sandham

The holidays are over, most of us have probably already cast our new year’s resolutions by the wayside, and all that seems to stretch out before us is the unwavering twilight of another gloomy Canadian winter.

Well, that’s why we have music: to get us through this. Plus, it’s healthier than beer – though beer, too, works extremely well, especially when paired with the former. So why not grab some friends, make a date and go check out one of these – or any number of other – great shows taking place across the country over the next few weeks.

Montreal – Riff Raff – January 12 @ Le Belmont

If you’re in Montreal this weekend, you have the opportunity to see the surreally strange YouTube sensation (and former “From G’s to Gents” contestant) spit his nonsensical, free-association rhymes in the flesh. If anything can shake off the winter blues, it is this. Most likely to leave you dumbfounded, here’s a video from early in his rise to notoriety.

Riff Raff – “Jose Canseco”

 

Toronto – The Darkness – January 21 @ Phoenix Concert Theatre

Remember The Darkness? The Suffolk, England, glam rock band that burst onto the scene back in 2003, all decked out in big hair, sequins and pants nearly tight enough to amputate the wearer’s legs? Of course you do – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” was inescapable – and now, thank God, they’re back just in time to dispel the darkness of this God-forsaken winter. Toronto, The Darkness is yours in a few weeks time, promoting their third album, Hot Cakes, which was released last summer.

The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”

 

Winnipeg – The Tragically Hip – January 26 @ MTS Centre

Canada’s iconic rock quintet plays Winnipeg’s MTS Centre at the end of the month, so there’s no point moping around with the winter blues when that’s on the horizon. Push away your seasonal affective disorder, go down to your local record shop and buy some tickets. And just think, by the time the show rolls around, you’ll only have… maybe two months of winter left. There’s a light at the end of this tunnel, my friends.

 

Calgary – Daniel Romano – January 31 @ Knox United Church

Daniel Romano is someone I harp on about every once in a while, but only because he deserves it. And now you, Calgary, have the opportunity to see him live at the end of the month! It’s like the best Christmas gift was lost behind the couch somewhere and has only now been recovered. If you’re into country, you’ll like this guy. Like a modern day Hank Williams (if Hank Williams was raised in the derelict former steel and auto town of Welland, Ontario), he’ll be plucking at your heartstrings.

Daniel Romano – “A New Love (Can be Found)”

 

Vancouver – The Courtneys – February 1 @ The Railway Club

Vancouver-based fuzz-pop trio The Courtneys play their fair city’s Railway Club on February 1, blaring their distorted, summery, surf-rock inspired sound right in winter’s face. Take that, winter: You may be cold, dreary and dark, but there’s fun to be had yet. The Courtneys have just released the video for their single “90210,” which you can watch below while thinking of sunnier days.

The Courtneys – “90210”


By David Ball

Thanks for nothing…

On January 7, 1992, American-based Capitol Records decided to not renew its contract with superstar songbird Anne Murray, ending a profitable partnership that had lasted 22 years, 30 albums and dozens of Top 10 hit singles, including “Snowbird” and “You Needed Me.” Her first effort with Capitol was 1969’s This Way is My Way, her commercial breakthrough and second studio album overall. Her final record with her old label made RPM’s Top 10 country chart in 1996 and was certified gold in Canada. Thanks for nothing, indeed!

I reckon Murray was too nice to feel vindicated when What a Wonderful World, her first album with new label, EMI, cracked Billboard’s Top 40 album chart and went platinum in both the United States and Canada. Well, I’m not too nice: “In.Your.Face, Capitol!”

I got into the drink last night, so my recollection of the last 12 hours is still kinda hazy. Perhaps it was all just a crazy booze-infested dream, which would explain my disturbing thoughts of finishing off a half-eaten hotdog I found sticking out of my coat pocket, carousing with Lindsay and Dina Lohan, firing off a rambling, expletive-filled drunk text to my boss from a jail cell and signing a contract with a charming red fellow with horns by the name of “Beelzebub.” In other words, I’m ready to pay homage to the late, great Gasworks.

Yes, the iconic Toronto hard rock club located at 585 Yonge Street, host of many of North America’s best live acts for nearly a quarter century, dead-bolted its doors for good on January 9, 1993 – but not before celebrating its rich, debauched, big-haired history with one final sloppy 13-hour send-off.

Hundreds of lucky fans packed the joint and rocked out to a killer all-star lineup consisting of some of the club’s most famous Canadian alums. Goddo featuring Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach acted as the house band and performed throughout the night with members of Triumph, Saga, Platinum Blonde (singer Mark Holmes), Killer Dwarfs, Anvil, Coney Hatch, Teenage Head, Forgotten Rebels and Helix. It’s a pity Scarborough, Ontario’s Mike Myers didn’t make an appearance, since he famously immortalized the glorious dive in his blockbuster comedy Wayne’s World: “an excellent metal bar, every night a babe-fest.”

Sebastian Bach rocking it out at Gasworks on January 9, 1993

Goddo with Platinum Blonde’s Mark Holmes performing at Gasworks’ closing night

One of Gasworks’ many indignant post-rock incarnations

Although its abrupt closure shocked the rock community, by the early 1990s, the era of hair metal was all but over (thank you Nirvana, Mudhoney et. al.). So if you’re going down, why not go down swinging in The Last Waltz style – minus Neil Diamond, of course!

 

Birthday well wishes go out to a Canadian legend known as “Mr. Dynamo,” “Sir Ronnie,” “Rompin’ Ronnie” and “The Hawk”!

That’s right, Ronnie Hawkins was born in Huntsville, Arkansas, on January 10, 1935. The rock and roll pioneer, JUNO Award winner and Canada’s Walk of Fame inductee with an uncanny eye and ear for discovering fresh talent, formed his original band, The Hawks, in the mid-1950s while attending the University of Arkansas. A year after his unsuccessful 1957 audition with famed Sun Records (shame on you, Sam Phillips), Hawkins heeded the advice of Conway Twitty and headed to Canada.

Ronnie Hawkins (centre) with his original Hawks (Levon Helm on immediate left)

His first gig on this side of the border was in 1958 at The Grange in Hamilton, Ontario. Although he immediately adopted Canada as his home, Hawkins officially became a permanent resident in 1964, a decision that caused all of the members of The Hawks to quit, with the exception of drummer Levon Helm. I think most of you know the four Southern Ontario lads Hawkins hired as their replacements: Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel. However, their partnership was short-lived as The Hawks split from their leader over creative differences later in 1964 and went on to form a group of their own, the 1989 Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees The Band.

Hawkins’ Canadian-based backing band circa 1964, from left to right: Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson

Hawkins scored his first hit in 1958 with a cover of “Hey! Bo Diddley” and followed it up a year later with his self-titled debut and the charting singles “Forty Days” and “Mary Lou,” the latter which turned him into a teen idol. Hawkins signed a five-year contract with New York’s Roulette Records, but company owner Morris Levy was unable to entice the Canada-loving singer to relocate back to the United States. Five decades later, Hawkins’ career is rolling right along, even through his battle with pancreatic cancer, a disease he courageously beat in 2002 and which was chronicled in the excellent documentary Ronnie Hawkins: Still Alive and Kicking.

Hawkins in action with The Hawks. His backing band would go on to form The Band.

On a personal note, being a huge Allman Brothers fan, my favourite Hawkins effort is his 1970 Muscle Shoals studio collaboration with 23-year-old guitarist Duane Allman.

Ronnie Hawkins’ self-titled 1970 album featuring Duane Allman

You can’t talk about Hawkins’ incredible music career without mentioning his role as a master recruiter and mentor for burgeoning Canadian talent. Even though the line up of The Hawks has always been in a state of flux, the bearded bandleader has done a remarkable job of replacing outgoing members with outstanding new talent. Not long after the departure of his most famous quintet, Hawkins filled their shoes with future members of Janis Joplin’s Full Tilt Boogie Band. Other Hawks graduates over the years include actress-singer Beverly D’Angelo, “Strange Animal” Lawrence Gowan and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees David Clayton-Thomas, Burton Cummings and David Foster.

The Hawk jamming with the late Jeff Healey at his 60th birthday celebration and tribute at Toronto’s Massey Hall on January 8, 1995

Fittingly, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences presented Hawkins with the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award in 1996 in recognition of his contributions in developing Canada’s recording industry. This makes a perfect bookend with SOCAN’s Special Achievement Award, which was presented to The Hawk in 2007 for his involvement in Canada’s music industry over the course of his career.

Hawkins’ many famous admirers include John Lennon and Yoko Ono (Hawkins was involved in the celebrity couple’s late-1960s peace campaign and world tour) and Bill Clinton (The Hawk was invited to perform at the president’s 1992 inauguration party), and he’s performed for every Canadian prime minister since John Diefenbaker.

 

Hawkins most recent studio album, his 27th, was released in 2002, appropriately titled: Still Cruisin’. No kidding!

Next week: Gordon Delamont and Bob and Doug McKenzie


By David Ball

I’ll wager New Year’s Day can be somewhat anticlimactic for this legend…

Burton Cummings, one of the greatest singers – and owner of one of the greatest moustaches – in rock history, was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on December 31, 1947.

Cummings was a member of The Deverons before he joined The Guess Who in 1965. His tenure as singer, songwriter and piano player with the 1987 Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees lasted 10 years before he left to pursue a solo career. Cummings wrote or co-wrote many of The Guess Who’s biggest singles, including “American Woman,” “Share the Land,” “No Time,” “These Eyes” and “Laughing” (the latter three hits were co-written with the band’s guitarist Randy Bachman), as well as my personal favourites “Clap for the Wolfman” and “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon.”

Speaking of solo Cummings, his post–Guess Who output was on a roll not long after his 1975 exit from the band. His 1976 self-titled debut peaked at No. 5 on the RPM album chart and its first single, “Stand Tall,” sold over one million copies. Plus, not one, not two, but a whopping six of Cummings’ 10 solo albums became platinum-sellers (and four were certified double-platinum), while a handful of his tunes became domestic hits, including “Fine State of Affairs,” “I Will Play a Rhapsody,” “My Own Way to Rock” and “Break it to Them Gently.” If I were compiling a list titled “The 100 Best Canadian Songs,” I think all of the aforementioned tracks would belong on it. Fo’ shizzle.

The new millennium found Cummings on a creative upswing. In 2000 he reunited with two of his old bandmates, Randy Bachman and original drummer Gary Peterson, and they toured the country as The Guess Who. The legendary group even threw their support behind Toronto’s crippled economy, putting on a memorable performance at the all-star Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto “SARSstock” fundraiser in 2002.

In 2006 The Bachman-Cummings Band released three compilations and staged well-received casino shows across Canada. Cummings also put out his first book of poetry and was named a recipient of the Order of Manitoba in 2001 and an officer of the Order of Canada in 2009. He received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2011, and the old Walker Theatre in downtown Winnipeg was recently renamed the Burton Cummings Theatre for the Performing Arts. His last studio effort, Above the Ground, was released in 2008, and cracked the Canadian adult contemporary album Top 20.

And if you’ve ever had the pleasure and privilege of attending a concert by one of this country’s most entertaining live performers, you’ll know that the amount of sweat Burton Cummings generates is the stuff of almost legend – though it’s still nowhere near the droplet level produced by Elvis during his sequin suit neck-towel-flicking era or by Paul Newman or any of his fellow cast-mates in his classic prison film Cool Hand Luke (what my friend Paul refers to as “the sweatiest film ever made”).

 

Ah, New Year’s Day, the day when millions of lightweight revellers around the world wake up with their annual hangover. But back in 1941, if there was ever a voice that would clear out the cobwebs or shake you to your foundation, it was Lorne Greene’s.

On the first day of 1941, CBC’s new national news service assigned Greene as its first announcer. His serious and authoritative deep tones during the radio network’s Second World War broadcasts earned him the nickname “The Voice of Doom.”

Greene was bitten by the acting bug while studying chemical engineering at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. I bet he didn’t dye his gold leather Queen’s jacket purple like the rest of the school’s despicable engineering students are traditionally wont to do, though. Sincerely, David Ball (Queen’s University Arts ’91).

Greene could be heard regularly with the Drama Guild’s Radio Workshop on CFRC, the campus radio station. Upon graduation he abandoned a job in chemical engineering to take up a radio announcer position at the CBC. During his early tenure with the “Mother Corp” he also narrated several wartime documentaries for the National Film Board of Canada, including the Academy Award–winning 1941 film Churchill’s Island, which won the first-ever Oscar for a documentary short.

But Greene never abandoned acting. His illustrious 40-year career spanned the stage, the silver screen and television, and during the 1960s he was one of North America’s biggest stars by way of his role as patriarch Ben Cartwright on the long-running western drama Bonanza. Of course, he also became an unlikely pop star, too, releasing 10 albums and two hits: “Ringo” and “The Man.”

 

Canadian composer and pianist, Ruth Lowe – best known for penning the Tommy Dorsey hit “I’ll Never Smile Again” and providing Frank Sinatra with one of his closing theme songs, “Put Your Dreams Away (For Another Day)” – died on January 4, 1981.

Born in Toronto on August 14, 1918, Lowe began playing piano in Toronto music stores in her mid-teens. She eventually paired with Sair Lee as a piano duo and performed in nightclubs around the Toronto area. She landed a regular gig on CKNC in 1933, working with singer George Taggart, and also lent her vocal chops to the radio station’s all-girl group, The Shadows. In the mid-1930s, Lowe moved to the United States and did a stint in Ina Ray Hutton’s all-girl ensemble. She was also the pianist for a Chicago publishing company from 1937 to ’39.

In June 1939, Lowe moved back to Toronto and wrote “I’ll Never Smile Again.” The song was inspired by the death of her first husband, Harold Cohen. Lowe knew Tommy Dorsey’s saxophone player and passed him a recording of the tune in hopes that the popular American bandleader would like it… and he did. The Dorsey version, featuring Sinatra on vocals, was inducted into both the Grammy Hall of Fame and Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Frank Sinatra with Ruth Lowe and Tommy Dorsey circa 1940

Although only in her early 20s, Lowe retired from performing, though she did continue to write songs. The 1990 Toronto musical, Ruthie, was based on Lowe’s life and featured several of her songs, and her story was also told in the 2001 television documentary “I’ll Never Smile Again: The Ruth Lowe Story.”

 

On January 6, 1971, Neil Young made his first trip back to Canada after becoming a megastar, performing a much anticipated gig as part of his Journey Through the Past solo tour at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Photo from the Journey Through The Past solo tour at Massey Hall on January 19, 1971

The Toronto native left Canada for Los Angeles, California, in 1966, and found a winner with his first band, the psychedelic rock quintet Buffalo Springfield. After they split up, Young pursued a solo career, and his excellent self-titled debut hit record stores in late 1968. He signed on with Crosby, Stills and Nash in the summer of 1969, a few months after he released his groundbreaking second effort, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (the first with backing band Crazy Horse). Note: Young brought his Journey Through the Past solo tour to Toronto’s Massey Hall on January 19, 1971. The acoustic show was recorded and finally released in March 2007. Neil Young at Massey Hall 1971 went to No. 1 in Canada and made the Top 10 on the Billboard album chart.

Bootleg of Journey Through The Past in Boulder, Colorado

The 1971 solo tour set lists featured cuts from his most recent effort, After the Gold Rush, along with selections from most of his other projects, including Buffalo Springfield (“On the Way Home”), Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young  (“Ohio”) and the Neil Young and Crazy Horse anthem “Cowgirl in the Sand.” Some unreleased new songs were also unveiled on this tour, such as “Old Man” and “The Needle and the Damage Done” (both from 1972’s Harvest).

Next week: The Gasworks and Anne Murray