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Archive for April, 2013

This Week in Music History: April 29 to May 5

Posted on: April 30th, 2013 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By David Ball

Unfortunately, replacing a key member – or members – of a given pop and/or rock band often leads to suckage: e.g., The Who, Guns N’ Roses (they should’ve been put out of their debauched misery when Izzy Stradlin quit), Red Hot Chili Peppers (the moment brilliant burnt-out genius John Frusciante left equalled immediate mayonnaise), Evanescence (they’ve managed to suck even more), Oasis (of course), Smashing Pumpkins (of course), Journey (egregious lineup shuffles include a revolving door of bassists and, I kid you not, Filipino-born “cover-band sensation” Arnel Pineda replacing lead singer Steve Perry), The Supremes, the tribute band that calls itself “Lynyrd Skynyrd,” Phil Collins’ stint in Led Zeppelin, Emmerson, Lake & Powell, the Chris No. 2 era of “The Partridge Family” (kidding, kinda) and Van Halen.

Speaking of the 1980s heavy metal gods, they achieved a rare trifecta of bad: Sammy Hagar took over for David Lee Roth; Gary Cherone subbed in for Hagar; and Wolfgang Van Halen, son of twin-like couple Eddie Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli, has assumed the role of original member Mike Anthony, minus his Jack Daniels bass, samurai outfit and irreplaceable backing vocals.

Wolfgang Van Halen with his twin-like parents

But thankfully suckage didn’t happen in the case of 54-40

One of Canada’s most important alt-rock bands from the 1980s, 54-40 released its pivotal seventh studio effort, Trusted by Millions, on April 30, 1996. Pivotal you say? You bet! This was the Vancouver quartet’s first LP featuring new guitarist Dave Genn, formerly of Matthew Good Band.

After six acclaimed albums and 13 years of touring, 54-40’s longtime lead guitarist Phil Comparelli decided he’d had enough, which no doubt displeased his many admirers across the country. Comparelli’s soaring Crazy Horse–meets–Replacements solos and solid backing vocals were a huge part of the band’s appeal. (Do yourself a favour and revisit the band’s defining early hit “Baby Ran” and the antiwar anthem “One Gun.”) But frontman Neil Osborne and company chose their new guitarist wisely, because the group’s popularity and creativity didn’t sag one bit with Genn in the fold.

Do not adjust your set: the album cover’s stretched look is intentional

Trusted by Millions was a critical and commercial triumph (with lots of memorable guitar work). It was the band’s third album to be certified platinum, and two of its three singles – “Love You All” and “Lies to Me” – reached the RPM Top 20. Genn gelled even better on the group’s 1998 follow-up, Since When, which went gold and reached the RPM Top 20. Its title track became the highest-ranking single (No. 11) in the band’s history.

54-40

I tip my vintage Toronto Blue Jays cap to 54-40 for surviving and prospering for over 30 years without ever “making it” in the United States (even though, due to their many cross-border gigs in Seattle back in the early years, they have been credited in some circles for helping spur on the grunge movement). Heck, they aren’t even household names in Canada, at least not to the same level as their immediate peers Cowboy Junkies and The Tragically Hip. No matter. They continue to endure while bigger Canuck bands from the ’80s have long faded into obscurity.

 

Barenaked Ladies – a.k.a. former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall’s “favourite band” – peaked in the RPM Top 20 on May 3, 1993, with “Brian Wilson,” the fourth of five hit singles from their Canadian breakthrough, Gordon (RPM No. 1 in 1992).

 

However, it was the recording of “Brian Wilson” from the band’s 1996 live debut Rock Spectacle that finally forced the American mainstream market to take notice of the amiable Scarborough, Ontario quintet. The live single was a hit on three Billboard charts burgeoned by heavy spins of its companion music video on MTV and MTV2 (I used to frequently watch MTV’s sister channel back in 1996-’97 when it seemed as though “Brian Wilson” was on a permanent payola-like rotation).

The Gordon single is great in its own right (former BNL co-leader Steven Page has stated that there are at least five versions of it), but the Rock Spectacle track and its spirited extended instrumental coda announced to the world that the oft-jokey band were also serious musicians and, in turn, helped legitimize their inclusion in the jam band–dominated H.O.R.D.E. Festival tour (a precursor to Bonnaroo). In fact, Barenaked Ladies were the fest’s breakout stars, proving they could more than hold their own with headlining heavyweights Gov’t Mule, Blues Traveler and Ben Harper.

Speaking of replacements…

Lawrence Gowan – Dennis DeYoung’s solid sub in the current incarnation of Styx – scored his second-ever solo RPM Top 10 on May 4, 1987, with the new-wavy pop ballad “Moonlight Desires” from his third album, Great Dirty World. During the ’80s and early ’90s, the Scottish-born Canadian, known back then as just “Gowan,” had a handful of big Canadian-only hits, beginning in 1985 with the Top 5 “A Criminal Mind” from Strange Animal.

Surprisingly, “Moonlight Desires” (featuring backing vocal support by Yes’s Jon Anderson) performed five spots better on the domestic pop chart than Gowan’s most famous song, the JUNO Award–nominated “(You’re a) Strange Animal” (RPM No. 15).

The talented singer-songwriter with the Jaromír Jágr–calibre mullet (see below), who could once fill hockey arenas across the country, has been nominated for 12 JUNOs and won twice in 1985 for Best Video (“[You’re a] Strange Animal”) and Best Album Graphics (Strange Animal).

Jaromír Jágr... I mean, Gowan

I hated Jágr during his Pittsburgh Penguin days... but I’ve grown to like him in my old age, especially now that he’s a member of my Boston Bruins

 

After two acclaimed albums and a couple of hit singles, the influential California psychedelic rock quintet Buffalo Springfield (co-founded by three good old Canadian boys, two of whom were ex–Mynah Byrds: Neil Young and Bruce Palmer) announced it was disbanding on May 5, 1968.

In the end, the breakup was a win-win for rock fans, because Stephen Stills joined Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young became Neil Young, Richie Furay co-founded the pioneering country-rock band Poco, and Jim Messina hooked up with hairy singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins to form the maddening-yet-successful soft-rock duo Loggins & Messina (Palmer was replaced by Messina in 1968 after the Toronto-born bassist was deported to Canada following his second drug bust for marijuana possession).

Original Buffalo Springfield lineup, from left to right: Stephen Stills, Dewey Martin, Bruce Palmer, Richie Furay and Neil Young

Sadly, Bruce Palmer’s post-Springfield career has few highlights, although he did briefly perform with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in 1969 and two years later released his only solo effort, The Cycle Is Complete. Although the druggy four-song 55-minute album was a commercial disaster and led to Palmer’s virtual withdrawal from music, the album has gained cult-like reverence in recent years, likened to similar mind-bending works by Syd Barrett and Traffic.

Palmer resurfaced in the early ’80s to play bass as part of Neil Young’s Trans Band for a tour of North America and Europe. He died in 2004 at age 58 in Belleville, Ontario.

Last, but not least, is original drummer Dewey Martin from Chesterfield, Ontario. His post-Springfield path is perhaps best described as “checkered.” In 1968 he started up the ill-fated – and ill-advised – “New Buffalo Springfield,” which consisted of session musicians and Martin as the only original Buffalo Springfield member. In 1970 he moved on to form another short-lived band, Medicine Ball, and the following year he recorded five songs with Elvis before retiring from the music industry.

Martin rematerialized in the mid-1980s to play skins for the next four years alongside his old buddy Bruce Palmer in Buffalo Springfield Revisited (both Stills and Young gave them their blessing to use the band name). Martin died on January 31, 2009, at age 68 in Van Nyus, California.

Next week: Spirit of the West and “First Cut is the Deepest”

“Brian Wilson” by Barenaked Ladies (Live 2007)

This Week in Music History: April 22 to 28

Posted on: April 26th, 2013 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By David Ball

This week’s article is dedicated to the irreplaceable Rita MacNeil, who passed away on April 16, 2013. May your gentle and beautiful soul rest in peace.

 

Who doesn’t love Farm Aid?

The brainchild of Willie Nelson and Neil Young, the annual all-star benefit concert began on September 22, 1985, as a way of raising money for beleaguered American farmers from coast to coast.

The need for assistance was at an all-time high when Farm Aid VI was held in Ames, Iowa, on April 24, 1993. A few weeks prior to the concert, heavy rains caused the waters of both the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers to overflow and subsequently flood large swaths of the American Midwest. Towns were swallowed, thousands of people were left homeless and over eight million acres of crops were ruined. In a region already hard hit with never-ending debt and low farm prices, people didn’t have the means to deal with flood damage that totalled $15 billion; at the time it was the worst natural disaster in United States history. The U.S. government initially put aside $2.5 billion in aid for the Midwest.

Farm Aid VI featured over 10 hours of music and close to 40 acts, with performances by some of the biggest names in rock, country, roots and blues, including Johnny Cash, Lyle Lovett, The Jayhawks, Ringo Starr, Willie Nelson, Bruce Hornsby, John Mellencamp, Marty Stuart, Martina McBride and The Highwaymen (Cash, Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson). Troubled hard rockers Alice in Chains pulled out at the last minute. Canada was well represented at the Iowa concert with topnotch sets by Bryan Adams, Jann Arden (fresh off her ’93 American breakthrough “I Will Remember You”) and Neil Young, of course.

Speaking of the legendary rocker, Young was rightfully steamed at then-president Bill Clinton’s administration for sending only two representatives to the event: a bureaucrat from the Department of Agriculture and Roger Clinton, the president’s buffoonish brother. “I thought when we got rid of Bush and Reagan, there’d be a change,” Young was reported to have said, addressing the new administration. “But where are they?”

Young continued his attack on the U.S. government throughout his headlining slot, driving home his point during the debut of his new song, “Mother Nature,” which was written specifically for Farm Aid and struggling farmers: “From Champaign to Austin, Nebraska to the Hoosier Dome/From Texas Stadium up to Ames, Iowa/For seven long years we’ve been fighting for a change/Lookin’ for a country that don’t need Farm Aid.”

The outspoken singer-songwriter and member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame makes a good point. Since its inception, Farm Aid has raised $35 million through public and private donations while thousands of small farms struggle to grab a tiny piece of the U.S. government’s annual $20 billion subsidy, most of which gets gobbled up by large factory farms. Lynyrd Skynyrd famously called out Young in their song  “Sweet Home Alabama” when the late, great Ronnie Van Zant sang: “Well I hope Neil Young will remember/A southern man don’t need him around anyhow.” It turns out Southern men need Mr. Young around more than ever.

 

“Goin’ Down” by Montreal singer Allan Nicholls peaked at No. 38 on the RPM pop chart on April 25, 1978. I bet I know what you’re thinking… Who the heck is Allan Nicholls?! Some blues fans may also be thinking: Is his hit yet another cover of the blues standard made famous by Albert King and Jeff Beck?

To answer the latter: No. It’s actually a remake of a decidedly non-bluesy tune (co-written by Canadian Galt MacDermot) from the original 1968 hippy musical Hair. With all due respect to Nicholls and his family – and his presumably cult-sized fan base – before last week his name didn’t resonate with me, which is surprising, since for the past 45 odd years he’s certainly been involved in high-profile projects both in and out of pop music.

J.B. and The Playboys looking very Beach Boys–ish (Nicholls is second from the left)

Nicholls was the lead singer in the popular Beatles-influenced 1960s rock band J.B. and The Playboys. After a string of charting Canadian singles in the mid-1960s, the Montreal-based quintet moved to Toronto in the spring of ’66, changed the band’s name to The Jaybees (to avoid confusion with Gary Lewis and The Playboys) and promptly snagged more hits, with “I’m a Loner” cracking the RPM Top 30. By the late ’60s – and after a couple more name changes – the group split up, with Nicholls moving to New York City to perform as a cast member in big Broadway productions of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. In the mid-1970s, Nicholls decided to give Hollywood a try and wound up landing bit acting parts in many films, including the Robert Altman–directed films Nashville (1975) and Popeye (1980).

Nicholls’ most memorable role, however, is that of Johnny Upton in the iconic Paul Newman comedy Slap Shot (what many Canadians think is a hockey biopic). I should receive a match penalty or a punch in the face (with foiled-up knuckles) by one of the Hanson brothers for not placing Nicholls’ name to the face of Johnny Upton!

Charlestown Chief’s Johnny Upton (Nicholls) wearing the captain’s “C”

Nicholls eventually switched to production and found a niche working mainly as an assistant director (AD). Some of his AD credits include: “Saturday Night Live” (21 episodes from 1989 to 1990); Altman’s late-career masterpieces Short Cuts and The Player; Timothy Robbins’ political satire Bob Roberts (Nicholls was also associate producer); and the Sean Penn “feel-good” flick Dead Man Walking. Nicholls was nominated for a British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award and a Writers Guild of America Award for writing Altman’s 1978 comedy A Wedding (he composed the film’s score, too).

As a lifelong Boston Bruins fan, I find this part a little hard to write about, although count me impressed nonetheless: Nicholls’ grandfather was Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender and three-time Stanley Cup winner Riley Hern, who played for the Montreal Wanderers (a precursor of the Montreal Canadiens) for five seasons.

 

Don’t most of us wear leather jackets while showering? (See video below.)

Rock and Hyde’s “Dirty Water” from their 1987 album Under the Volcano peaked at No. 15 on the RPM pop chart on April 27, 1987. The co-conspirators in the influential Victoria, B.C.–based new wave/punk band The Payolas (1978 to 1986) rebranded themselves as Rock and Hyde for this one-off Bruce Fairburn–produced collaborative.

“Dirty Water” also became a hit on two Billboard charts: it rippled in at No. 61 on the Hot 100 while making a cannonball-like splash at No. 6 on the U.S. mainstream rock chart.

The duo was at a crossroads at the time of the album’s release. Bob Rock was two years away from becoming a superstar record producer (Sonic Temple by The Cult and Dr. Feelgood by Mötley Crüe) whereas Paul Hyde was on the cusp of what would become a relatively low-key solo career. The Payolas reformed in 2003, but ceased operations for good in 2007 after issuing a new EP, Langford Part One. I hope fans aren’t waiting for Part Two!

Next week: 54-40 and Barenaked Ladies

“Dirty Water” by Rock and Hyde

The Next Generation of Canadian Music Hall of Fame Inductees

Posted on: April 26th, 2013 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By James Sandham

Ever wonder where rock stars come from? I was thinking that maybe they’re born in little cosmic rock nebulas, from which they scatter across the universe. It certainly seems that way sometimes, so other-worldly are these particular types of performers.

But no, the rather mundane fact is that rock stars grow up right here, alongside you and me – but with, perhaps, a little extra rock ’n’ roll help. To wit: Girls Rock Camp, which we introduced you to last week. Girls Rock Camp has been helping nurture young female rockers since 2001, when students at Portland State University founded the camp’s Oregon chapter. Since then, the camps have spread around the world with Canadian chapters in Vancouver, Peterborough, Mississauga and, of course, right here in Toronto.

Girls Rock Camp V. Photo by Meaghan Bent.

Now in its third year, the Toronto chapter of Girls Rock Camp is going strong, so we decided to get in touch with its founders, Magali Meagher and Alysha Haugen, to see what it’s all about.

And a heads up for any rockers out there: If you’re interested in volunteering with the camp, the deadline to do so is May 1. You can find more information at http://girlsrocktoronto.org/.

 

Q: How did Girls Rock Camp start? Did you work with the Portland originators when starting the Toronto chapter or have Girls Rock Camps grown and expanded in a more independent and organic kind of way?

A: We knew about the Girls Rock Camp movement and were inspired by what could be accomplished here in our own community. Toronto’s camp developed independently. We went to our first Girls Rock Camp Alliance conference in Atlanta, Georgia, this year [2013] and made really rad connections with some amazing women from around the world.

 

Q: Why do you think this kind of camp experience is important for girls specifically?

A: It’s a scientific fact that for girls, something happens on the way to becoming a teenager: they lose their self-esteem. Every summer we witness girls who walk in on the first day of camp afraid to say their name in front of the other campers. In one week, by the time the showcase concert rolls around, they are transformed into shredders and divas. The transformation is so tangible. At our camp, we encourage all of the girls to try an instrument they’ve never played before. Trying new things in a supportive environment builds confidence and that is one of the principal goals of Girls Rock Camp. Having women musicians as mentors reinforces the idea that girls can be accomplished in music, no matter what the style. When creating music collaboratively, campers learn so many life skills that go beyond just music making! Things like communication, conflict resolution, patience and consideration will serve campers well in other aspects of their lives.

 

Q: Can you talk a bit about the role music has played in your own life, personally? In what ways have you found it to be transformative or empowering?

A: Meagher: For me music has been a form of expression as well as a social activity. The process of writing a song, arranging it, collaborating with others and then performing it in public is pretty fulfilling. There are lots of activities that go on within that sequence and I like variety. Music also gives me a sense of place. I like being with people who are making stuff (and stuff happen). Some people call it “community.”

 

Q: Can you talk a bit about the corollary activities – for example, the ’zine workshops and media literacy components of the camp – and how they tie into the camp’s general ethos?

A: Not only are campers making music all week long, they are exposed to a jam-packed schedule full of workshops like ’zine making, media literacy, improvisation and performance among others. These workshops either give girls additional skills that will help them enhance their music making, expose them to other art forms or help them think critically about the world around them. Remember, the Rock Camp mission is to build self-esteem and self-expression in girls, so it makes a lot of sense to include activities that get girls talking and learning about all sorts of modes of expression and thinking critically about the world they inhabit.

 

This ain’t your grandma’s summer day camp. But it sounds like the future of rock ’n’ roll is going to be in good hands.

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