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)


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


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.


By James Sandham

The music geek’s equivalent to Christmas comes but once a year. Yes, this Saturday is Record Store Day, the international date on which audiophiles from around the world venture out from under their headphones to root through dusty milk crates of vinyl and to take a little time to reflect on just what makes the record so special. Is it the warm, resonant sound? Is it the fact that you can practically hear history crackling and hissing at every phonographic pop? Or is it just the fact that records look so cool, with their big sleeves and foldout album art and all their attendant physical glory?

Yeah, it must be the covers. After all, how can you not love records when they’re sheathed in artistic masterpieces like these ones?

I’ve never really understood this album cover. It pops up on all sorts of worst/weirdest/most amazing album art lists and it always baffles my mind. Even stranger, it appears to be the only lasting contribution to music that Dethkorps ever really made. It’s nearly impossible to track down any actual information on the band or even on any of their songs for that matter, yet Metal Tit is all across the Internet, living on in album art ignominy.

Nicknamed “the Underworld Preacher,” Freddie Gage is apparently a reformed drug addict from Texas, which provides some indication as to why all of his friends are dead. He also has a book out by this name and he’s still preaching.

Whoa! I’m… I’m not quite sure what to even say about this one. It’s like a weird, hairy, oily, jazz flute–toting precursor to that D’Angelo album. Or a real-life Ron Burgundy. Whoever designed this beast must have been a genius – the image alone is enough to move copies! Interestingly enough, however – despite this credibility-obliterating album art – Herbie Mann is nonetheless referred to as “perhaps jazz music’s preeminent flautist during the 1960s” on his Wikipedia page. But that was the ’60s, eh. Go figure.

Oh well, here we go: an album cover that doesn’t waste time on anything like artistic interpretation, bare-chestedness or oil, and just cuts right to the point: Nancy Walker hates men. So much so, in fact, that she has resorted to the ancient practice of black magic voodoo. I’m not sure how this album did, but suffice it to say that Walker is probably better remembered for her acting career, including the role of Ida Morgenstern on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

And finally, this gem. Released by Word – “the finest name in sacred music” – it is exactly what it looks like: an album of addicts singing (well, “former” addicts, technically – which can’t help but improve things, in my opinion).

If that wasn’t enough to get your hand on your wallet, ready for an impulse buy, you only have to look at the back cover, adorned with a delightful image of a man shooting up into his forearm, to realize that this is a real keeper.

There are plenty other such treasures out there. So this Saturday – go forth! Invade your local record store and see what you can dig up!

The Addicts – “The Addicts March”


By James Sandham

So spring may barely be here, but if you’re a parent with young kids you’re probably already thinking of summer. Summer camp, in particular, and which one to send them to.

Well, if you happen to be raising daughters (sorry, no boys allowed) who have an inclination for rock and roll (or maybe that’s just something you want to foster – in which case, more power to you), then Girls Rock Camp may be the way to go.

Girls Rock Camp began back in 2001. It was founded by students at Portland State University as a summer day camp and was known as Rock ’N’ Roll Camp for Girls (or RNRC4G). The camp’s goal was to build girls’ self-esteem through music creation and performance, and it provided workshops and technical training. Through a supportive community of peers and mentors, it ultimately sought to encourage social change through self-empowerment and the development of life skills.

More than 10 years later, the camp is still going strong. It is still a non-profit organization and it has garnered growing interest, being featured everywhere from books (Rock ’n’ Roll Camp for Girls: How to Start a Band, Write Songs, Record an Album, and Rock Out! [Chronicle Books, 2008]) to The New York Times to movies (2008’s Girls Rock! The Movie). Now, it has expanded internationally.

According to the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, more than 40 camps currently exist around the world – including the first in South America (which opened this year) and five throughout Canada in Vancouver, Toronto, Mississauga, Peterborough and Montreal.

I first heard of Girls Rock Camp through its Toronto chapter, after a friend’s band (the righteous all-girl quintet Planet Creature) got involved to provide some authentic rock and roll pedagogy for the campers. This is the third year that the Toronto camp has been running, and the feedback and press received have been positive. With instrument instruction in the morning and band practice and workshops in the afternoon, the camp focuses on self-esteem and leadership development as much as musical components.

“It builds musical skill and character, but also self-confidence, conflict resolution and a community of mentors and peers. We’re excited to give a generation of girls a safe space to rock out, meet new people and have fun,” explains camp co-founder Magali Meagher. “Being lady musicians who started playing at a young age, we know first-hand the benefits that playing in a band has in those formative years.”

Yes, music is a powerful thing. It can change people, and people in turn can change the world. So start ’em young. Or start a camp of your own. You can find out how at girlsrockcampalliance.org.


By David Ball

Move over Paul Anka…

Six months after celebrating his 16th birthday on April 17, 1959, Bobby Curtola was well on the way to becoming Canada’s next teen idol. The Port Arthur, Ontario native signed a solo deal with Tartan Records following a brief stint fronting his first band, Bobby and the Bobcats. With Curtola’s movie-star looks, charming personality and engaging singing voice – and the fact that he was guided by a shrewd management and songwriting team consisting of brothers Dyer and Basil Hurdon – it didn’t take long for the upstart rock and roller to strike chart gold, scoring his first hit in 1960 with “Hand in Your Hand” (RPM No. 26).

Curtola proved to be more than just a typical teen idol with limited substance and short-term bobby-socks appeal (think Fabian or Tommy Steele). From 1960 to 1967, Curtola had an incredible 31 consecutive pop singles in the Canadian Top 40, including a dozen Top 10s, such as the non-politically correct “Indian Giver,” “Mean Woman Blues” and his only international bestseller, “Fortuneteller” (written by the Hurdon brothers).

After the hit parade ended in the early 1970s, Curtola became a popular television host and successful Las Vegas entertainer (he was the first Canadian to ink a long-term multimillion-dollar contract in the decadent Nevada outpost).

Here is a snapshot of some of his most impressive accomplishments: he is a humanitarian; he was one of the first Canadians to receive the RPM Gold Leaf Award for Top Male Artist in 1966; he was inducted into the RPM Magazine Canadian Music Hall of Fame; he was the first Canuck to earn a gold record; he has a star on the Italian Walk of Fame in Toronto’s Little Italy neighbourhood; and he is a member of the Order of Canada.

Nowadays, Curtola is still doing what he loves best: performing live shows around the world and helping out the less fortunate.

 

My beef with Todd Rundgren stems not from his larger-than-it-deserves-to-be memorabilia exhibit at Cleveland, Ohio’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (especially since he hasn’t been inducted yet). Nor does it stem from those of his musical projects that I don’t particularly care for: that is, everything I’ve ever heard from his legendary prog-rock band Utopia; The New Cars, his ill-advised Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr–less reboot of The Cars; or the fact that he produced Shaun Cassidy’s final LP, Wasp.

One of the greatest album covers EVER!

Nope, I’m still ticked at “Runt” for thinking that Moe Berg of Toronto band The Pursuit of Happiness sucked as a lead guitarist.

Rundgren expressed interest in producing TPOH’s 1988 major label debut, but had big problems with Berg’s solo techniques after hearing the power-pop band’s two previously released 12-inch indie singles, “Killed by Love” and “I’m an Adult Now” (RPM No. 35 on April 18, 1987).

During the recording sessions for Love Junk, Rundgren (who was a hero of Berg’s) revamped the six-string style of the round-rimmed glasses–wearing bandleader in an effort to make his solos more interesting. It’s hard to argue with the results. Most songs on the platinum-selling breakthrough – including the hits “Hard to Laugh” and “She’s So Young” – contain generally memorable lead guitar chunks. However, it’s ironic that the only true bad solo of the lot is on the rerecorded version of “I’m an Adult Now.” So boo to you, award-winning producer, rock star and surrogate father to the surprisingly grounded Liv Tyler!

Moe Berg circa 1990. Seeing this man walking purposefully around Toronto’s downtown core back in the day was as common as seeing raccoons running amuck in your green bin today.

While it’s true that the Rundgren-produced 1988 update is far punchier and more straightforward than the original, Rundgren’s heavy-handed studio tweaks, specifically the decision to use a pitch-shift harmonizer on Berg’s lead notes, created a grating banshee-like solo that inevitably ruined an otherwise solid (but still inferior) redo. The remake didn’t crack the Canadian pop charts, but it was a minor hit in Australia.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Admittedly, the guitar bridge on the original 12-inch single may be a little long and out of control, but it’s honest and bristles with enough fire and passion to do what all good guitars solos should: serve as a lyrical and emotional extension (of the musician) and fundamentally make the song better. The Love Junk solo is a failure, dragged down by effects excess and an overzealous producer…but you be the judge.

By the way, the original music video, in all of its 1980s downtown Toronto/Queen Street West glory, blows the newer version out of the waters of Lake Ontario.

Iconic MuchMusic VJ Erica Ehm introducing the 1986 original version of “I’m an Adult Now”

The 1988 Rundgren-produced version of “I’m an Adult Now”

 

On April 19, 1995, The Cult announced that they were breaking up… for the first time.

Co-leaders Billy Duffy and one-time Hamilton, Ontario resident Ian Astbury were reportedly not getting along; no doubt the extra stress of seeing the group’s most recent self-titled effort bombing on the charts didn’t help their occasionally combative relationship.

The Cult broke onto the music scene in 1985 with the Doors-y psychedelic rock hit “She Sells Sanctuary” from their second studio album, Love. The wide-reaching popularity of that album – as well as their hard-rock follow-up Electric (1987) and the Bob Rock–produced Sonic Temple (1989) – made the British quartet superstars, but by the early 1990s the tires started falling off of their love removal machine.

But just like sciatica, gout and prizefighters, The Cult has staged various comebacks since their initial breakup, to differing degrees of success, and their most recent album, 2012’s Choice of Weapon, debuted at No. 15 in Canada.

 

A big Happy Birthday goes out to Michael Timmins, one of Canada’s most criminally overlooked guitarists. Born in Montreal on April 21, 1959, Timmins is a co-founding member of the groundbreaking Toronto alt-country quartet Cowboy Junkies, and is every bit as irreplaceable as his younger scene-stealing sister/bandmate Margo.

Although the Cowboy Junkies have released many acclaimed albums over their near 30-year career, Michael’s crowning achievement as the band’s main songwriter and arranger occurred on their transcendental 1988 masterpiece Trinity Session.

I was fortunate enough to review the great Junkies’ 20th anniversary Trinity Session concert at Massey Hall on February 23, 2008, where Michael was clearly the unsung hero. I think he chooses to fly under the radar and “lets his guitar do the talking.” Why mess with a good thing?

Next week: Allan Nicholls and Farm Aid VI

“Fortuneteller” by Bobby Curtola


By David Ball

With all of the manufactured Top 40 sewage that was pumped out in the early 1990s, it’s hard to believe the Headstones’ audacious platinum-selling debut, Picture of Health, didn’t chart. And yet, bad boy frontman Hugh Dillon and his punk-infused hard rock quartet’s less revered second effort, Teeth and Tissue, did manage to wedge its way into the RPM album tally on April 10, 1995.

Praise heaped on the Kingston, Ontario band and especially on its notorious singer/up-and-coming actor (Dillon landed a star-making part in Bruce McDonald’s unforgettable 1996 mockumentary Hard Core Logo) certainly helped Teeth and Tissue muster enough sales to achieve gold status in Canada and snag a JUNO Award nomination for Best Rock Album; a pretty impressive feat given the LP topped out at a measly No. 62 and its two singles, “Heart, Love & Honour” and “Unsound,” bombed on the RPM Hot 100.

The Headstones haven’t been heard from since 2002, but are set to release a comeback album in the spring of 2013. This is indeed good news to their legion of fans, although I’d be just as happy to see Dillon get more quality acting roles and/or announce the comeback of his underrated Canadian TV series “Durham County.”

 

Prince’s March 1, 2013, performance on NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” proved a few things. First, the Purple One is still a great live performer; second, he can be a jerk (at the end of his two-song segment he callously smashed the vintage 1961 Epiphone Crestwood he had borrowed from The Roots’ “Captain” Kirk Douglas); and third, Donna Grantis, the young Toronto woman with an unusual hairdo who was trading flashy solos on stage with the legend, has all the makings of becoming a renowned guitar hero in her own right.

Grantis and her unusual hairdo playing a Canadian-made Traynor amp (Prince used two guitars – the one in the photo was not smashed)

Heck, I’ll bet my rascally rescue cat Jason “Sensation” Voorhees that Grantis’ star may one day burn nearly as bright as two-time JUNO Award nominee Pat Travers’ did during his 1970s heyday, which reminds me…

Consummated in the 1960s, the guitar hero was born in the 1970s. The decade known for developing heavy metal, arena rock and punk (not to mention sick-inducing disco) also produced a ton of great guitarists. To receive godlike worship for your six-string acrobatics, however – well, you’d have to be extremely talented indeed to gain entry into that exclusive club. Kudos to Toronto’s Pat Travers (b. April 12, 1954) for being one of the precious few Canadian shredders in the 1970s (outside of the usual suspects Alex Lifeson and Randy Bachman) to attain a significant amount of fame and worldwide face-melting adulation, and to be admitted into the guitar hero fraternity. (I put Travers in the same class as Rick Derringer, Robin Trower, Gary Moore and Ted Nugent.)

Pat Travers 1976 self-titled debut (no kidding)

Travers first began pickin’ and strumming in 1966, soon after attending a concert by The Jimi Hendrix Experience in Ottawa. Throughout his teenage years he toiled in several bar bands, influenced by ’60s guitar innovators Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck etc. In the early ’70s he got his big break touring with Ronnie Hawkins, but his tenure with the R&B legend was short-lived. Attracted to the hard rock and blues hybrid that was all the rage at the time (see Led Zeppelin, Free, Thin Lizzy, Humble Pie, Black Sabbath), Travers moved to London, England, in the hope of further enhancing his style and sound.

With only a demo – as well as a reputation of wowing audiences with his brand of bluesy rock and awe-inspiring guitar chops – Travers landed a contract with Polydor Records in 1975. His solid debut was released in 1976 and two more studio albums were issued within a 12-month period, including his breakthrough, Putting It Straight (Billboard No. 70 in 1977).

Travers eventually wanted a piece of the decidedly more lucrative North American market, so he moved back home in the late ’70s and promptly formed a new band consisting of his U.K. bassist Peter “Mars” Cowling, drummer Tommy Aldridge (Ozzy Osborne, Whitesnake) and second guitarist Pat Thrall. The relocation initially paid off, as his first three North American–produced albums were rock radio hits, particularly 1979’s career-defining statement: Live! Go for What You Know (one of the finest live albums from a decade over-ripe with great concert LPs).

His next effort, 1980’s Crash and Burn, featuring rock radio anthem “Snortin’ Whiskey,” became Travers’ most commercially accessible album (making the Billboard Album Top 20), but the popularity of blues rock was on the decline, prompting Travers to sever ties with Polydor in the mid-1980s; he didn’t put together another studio until 1990’s School of Hard Knocks. Over the past two decades he’s released over 20 albums and he continues to tour regularly. I assume his guitar melts the odd face or two in the process, possibly even Donna Grantis’?!

 

Some one-hit wonders are good (New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give It” and Blind Melon’s “No Rain”) while others are not (Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” and, of course, Gerado’s “Rico Suave”). Cats Can Fly’s excruciatingly happy synth-pop single “Flippin’ to the A-Side” had haters across North America flippin’ their radios to the “off” switch by the time it caterwauled its way into the RPM Top 10 on April 13, 1986 (also reaching No. 16 on Billboard).

Formerly known as Scamp, the North York, Ont. quartet changed its name to Cats Can Fly in 1982 and were signed to CBS Records in the mid ’80s after winning a cross-Canada talent contest sponsored by an evil cigarette company that sounds exactly like “raven- eh.” The popularity of the group’s self-titled debut and one-and-only hit led to a 1986 JUNO Award nomination for Most Promising New Group. As a reward, CBS unceremoniously euthanized the flying cats contract in 1988 and the band subsequently broke up. Meow…

Next week: Bobby Curtola revisited and The Pursuit of Happiness

“It Makes No Difference” by the Pat Travers Band Live 1976


By James Sandham

So if you’ve been reading the blog lately you might have heard mention a few weeks back that I’ve been on a serious classical music kick now that spring’s first inklings are here, because seriously, after a long winter of darkness, nothing quite tickles the spirit like an uplifting fugue.

You may also remember that I had mentioned seeing The Junction Trio’s performance of Antonín Dvořák’s American String Quartet back at the end of February, which is somewhat of a standing date for the group: on the last Wednesday of each month they cover selections of a classical composer, part of their long-running “Post-Industrial Wednesdays” series.

Well, since then another month somehow slipped by, so last Wednesday I headed back over to St. Anne’s beautiful Byzantine dome, the Toronto location at which the Trio performs, looking forward to the next instalment of the series. After Dvořák, which was a very pleasant and soothing experience indeed, I was excited to hear this month’s selection: Haydn. I was surprised and blown away, confronted with what I can only describe as an extremely trippy audio-visual experience.

You see, before I went down there I basically had this whole post planned out in my head and figured the Trio’s presentation of Haydn would be much like their presentation of Dvořák: refined, graceful and an all-around civilized way to spend a pleasant mid-week evening. Instead, I kind of had my mind of blown, which is not what I was expecting from a night of classical music at a local church, but a highly recommended experience nonetheless.

I had a feeling something was up from the moment I walked in the door. I entered the yawning, intricately painted Byzantine-style church to find musician Ashok Salwan on cedar flute, playing something improvisational that straddled the line of disconcerting and enchanting. This was backed by the mesmerizing substratum of David Shelly’s Treeotica, which as far as I can tell is a sort of ambient, stringed electronic instrument constructed from a tree branch. Behind them, projected on a large video screen, was an image of a man encircled by stones sitting in the desert, over top of which someone was actively creating additional layers of abstract imagery through an adjacent projector, gels and coloured oils. The overall effect was strange and primal: with the church’s arched dome above, the low light, the rich and resonant acoustics, and the strange, almost primitivistic projections, I had the odd impression of being in a cave while watching shadow play upon the walls. I’ve never actually been in a cave under those conditions, but for some reason this was how I imagined it would be. There was definitely something atavistic about it, and it was a cool, experimental experience. It began to wind down as two flutists entered the rear of the nave and made their way toward the front, blending seamlessly into the sonic mélange.

And then, almost out of nowhere, the ambient stuff stopped, a brief introductory talk was given and the Trio (or what constituted the Trio this time around – Jamie Thompson was the only regular member present) launched into Haydn’s Divertimento No. 4, the strange visual projections evolving all the while behind them.

Thus began what proved to be two-and-a-half hours of disorienting superimpositions of both the aural and visual variety. I’m not quite sure how to describe it all, but somehow an entire evening slipped away from underneath me, and I left the church feeling a little like I’d ingested too much Robitussin.

What am I trying to say here? It was an interesting and beautiful experience, an instance of the magic music has: the way it weaves a spell, makes a space and creates a small community of all those in its thrall. It was something special. If you’re in the Dufferin and Dundas area of Toronto, it’s something I’d recommend checking out. There are two more performances scheduled this year – Vivaldi in April and Ravel in May – and you can find out more at the Trio’s website, here: http://thejunctiontrio.webs.com/.


By David Ball

Here’s a look at some music headlines for the first week of April:

Avril Lavigne set to release Nickelback tribute album

Ke$ha adds new lyrics to her cover of “The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald”

Snoop Lion changes name to Doggy Dog Cat

Elvis and Jim Morrison are dead

Madonna’s ego finally releases solo album

Rita MacNeil and Anne Murray’s lost 1989 collaboration with Skinny Puppy unearthed

Happy April Fools’ Day everyone, although anything is possible from the man formerly known as Snoop Dog and Snoop Doggy Dog.

 

I wonder how many driving accidents were caused by fans adhering to this song’s lyrics…

The RPM chart run came to an end for “Sunglasses at Night” when it stalled at No. 24 on April 3, 1984. A surprisingly low ranking for one of Corey Hart’s defining songs, eh? The Montreal-born pop singer probably took solace in the fact that the lead single from his 1983 debut album, First Offense, peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went on to win Best Video at the 1984 JUNO Awards.

 

I wish the following admission was another joke: I never heard this very popular Canadian rock song until late last week…

“Janine” became Trooper’s highest-ranking single when it reached No. 7 on RPM on April 3, 1980. In my feeble defence, the power ballad isn’t on either of the two Trooper albums I own, nor has it ever been in rotation on any rock station I listened to growing up (still isn’t) – and for the life of me I can’t recall hearing the tune when I caught their live show at the Lakeview Manor back in the late ’80s, around the same time I decided to skip the filming of The Tragically Hip music video for “Small Town Bringdown” at the infamous strip club nestled on the shores of Kingston, Ontario’s Portsmouth Olympic Harbour. And to think I call myself an ever-so-casual Trooper fan!

Sadly, this Trooper album is not among the two that I own

One of Canada’s premiere touring acts and bar bands for the better part of the past four decades (the “bar band” comment isn’t a crack – the band is best experienced in an intimate setting) had many unforgettable hits during their commercial zenith (for example, “Raise a Little Hell,” “We’re Here For a Good Time [Not a Long Time],” and “Oh, Pretty Lady”). But it’s surprising (especially to yours truly) that “Janine,” from the band’s double-platinum fifth studio effort, Flying Colors, was their only tune to end up in RPM’s Top 10 (I would’ve bet $$$ that the three well-known tunes mentioned above reached the Top 5).

The workhorse Vancouver quintet led by Ra McGuire and Brian Smith was discovered by Randy Bachman and signed to his Legend label in the early 1970s (the Bachman-Turner Overdrive/Guess Who guitarist and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee produced their 1975 self-titled debut). Trooper released a career retrospective, Hits From 10 Albums, in 2010 and the band continues to be a big concert draw from coast to coast, especially around big provincial and national holidays such as May 24 and Canada Day.

 

Move over all of you young girls with your blinding out-of-control hormones, because male teen idols have been around a lot longer than Justin Bieber, One Direction or that kid I’ve mercifully never heard of: Austin Mahone.

Austin either needs a smaller hat or a bigger head

Indeed, back in Roman times, the likes of Frankie Avalon, Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin, Cliff Richard and talent-deprived Fabian made many of your grand- and perhaps great-grandmothers swoon. And during this ancient era (that is, the 1950s to 1960s AD), young Canadians had two homegrown teen idols to call our own: Bobby Curtola and Paul Anka.

While the latter became a superstar, the former was pretty much a sensation only in Canada (aside from his brief flirtation with the American Top 40 in 1961 with a cover of “Fortune Teller”). However, the Port Arthur, Ontario–born singer’s achievements are nothing to sneeze at. With matinee good looks and working with a keen production team, Curtola scored over 30 domestic hits in a span of 10 years (1960 to 1970) including a baker’s dozen that landed in RPM’s Top 10.

“Mean Woman Blues” was covered more famously by Elvis and Roy Orbison, but the Italian-Canadian performer did mighty fine with his version, which reached RPM’s No. 3 spot on April 5, 1964. Stay tuned for more Curtola talk in an upcoming TWIMH (the ’60s pop singer has an April birthday coming up).

 

Ah, the good old days…

I’ll always hold “WKRP in Cincinnati” DJ Johnny Fever’s refusal to play “just one disco song” (he threatened to throw himself in front of Donna Summer’s tour bus), as well as the Chicago White Sox’s July 12, 1979, Disco Demolition Night, near and very dear to my heart.

Disco Demolition Night: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8dA2nFqex4

Given that it was a hit on both sides of the border (No. 7 on RPM on April 7, 1979), one should assume that Scarborough, Ontario dance queen Claudja Barry’s “(Boogie Woogie) Dancin’ Shoes” was buried somewhere in the soon-to-be-exploded malodorous vinyl mountain located in centre field of old Comiskey Park. The intensely pretty Ms. Barry and the rest of the bell-bottomed disco world were no doubt horrified by the incident, but count me impressed since her 45 was at least deemed memorable enough to be worthy of obliteration.

After graduating from high school in the early 1970s, the Jamaica-born singer moved to New York City and landed her first major role in the musical Hair followed by another role in Catch My Soul. The latter play toured West Germany in 1975, where Barry hooked up with producer Frank Farian and signed on as a member of his dance vocal group, Boney M (I think one of my old K-Tel 8-track cassettes has a Boney M song on it… shudder).

Tired of lip-syncing, Barry left the popular ensemble in 1976 to pursue a solo career. She released seven fairly successful albums between 1976 and 1987, while several of her singles were dance hits, including “Dancin’ Fever,” “Radio Action,” “Born to Love” and “Down and Counting” (which spent six weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart in 1986). Although she’s laid low since the late ’90s, Barry is said to be working on a long-awaited comeback record. I’ll be sure to dust off my disco ball!

Next week: The Headstones and Pat Travers

“(Boogie Woogie) Dancin’ Shoes” by Claudja Barry