By James Sandham
Hello, summer. Hello, beers, patios and the best live music across the country. Here is this month’s picks of what to see.
Vancouver – Oldfolks Home @ The Railway Club – June 17
Oldfolks Home is the stage name of Ricardo Lopez-Aguilar. He’s kind of like a one-man Broken Social Scene – think the same sort of swelling, emotional, folk-fusion sound – and on June 17 you can see him in Vancouver at The Railway Club as part of the last leg of his North American tour (which includes stops across Canada as well as in the United States). He’ll be promoting his album Black & Blue, which just came out this year and is apparently the result of the breakdown of his marriage. If you think you’ll be in for a cry-fest, don’t worry. This is “the world’s first happy divorce,” according to his record label. Joyful stuff, as you can hear from the track below.
Oldfolks Home – “Garland’s Moving to Vancouver”
Calgary – Rykka @ Wine-Ohs – June 14
Vancouver-born dance-rocker Rykka (a.k.a. Christina Maria) will be coming back to Canada after an extended stint in Europe to launch her debut album, Kodiak, in her hometown. From there she’ll be touring east across the country, including this stop, one of two shows she’ll be doing in Calgary. From there it’s on to Switzerland and Germany, so catch her while you can. Get a taste from the track below.
Rykka – “Blackie”
Winnipeg – The Highest Order @ The Park Theatre – June 13
If I was in Winnipeg on June 13, there’s only one place I’d be: the Park Theatre, seeing Toronto’s amazing The Highest Order as they lay down their brand of fluttering, dreamy, psych-infused country. Think The Sadies, but on some kind of hallucinogen. They’ll be promoting their debut album, If It’s Real, which just came out earlier this year on Idée Fixe Records. Below, they cover Charlie Rich’s “Lonely Weekends” – one of many fine tracks from the disc.
The Highest Order – “Lonely Weekends”
Toronto – Broken Social Scene et al. @ Fort York – June 8
There will be performances from all of the Arts & Crafts regulars – including Stars, Hayden, Jason Collett, Dan Mangan and more – and, of course, from the label’s big names, like headliners Broken Social Scene and Feist. It’s general admission and tickets are already on sale. Nothing says summer in Toronto like a Broken Social Scene show.
Broken Social Scene – “Meet Me in the Basement”
Montreal – Striker @ Café Chaos – June 21
Just to top things off, why not start the summer with some metal? And I mean REAL, screaming, ’80s-inspired, hard-partying metal – the kind of stuff that would have made Jeff Hanneman proud. Look no further than Edmonton’s Striker, who’ll be playing dates across the country as part of their Heavy Metal Rampage ’13 tour. The summer begins. So, party on, dude.
Striker – “Forever”
By David Ball
On May 29, 1971, Anne Murray snagged a Top 30 RPM hit with “It Takes Time,” a song written by Shirley Eikhard, a talented 15-year-old upstart living in Oshawa, Ontario, a.k.a. Canada’s arts and culture hotbed. I kid… kinda!
The talented teenager, who was originally from Sackville, New Brunswick, would find fame on her own as a producer and JUNO Award–winning performer and composer. Several of her reported 500 songs have been covered by the likes of Cher,The Pointer Sisters, Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt. Eikhard’s best-known song is “Something to Talk About,” a track that would win Raitt, the red-headed blues guitarist, a 1991 Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance.
“It Takes Time” was also recorded by Eikhard for her 1972 debut and became the first of many RPM Top 40 hits for the under-rated singer-songwriter.
“Making it Work” by Doug and the Slugs peaked at No. 29 on RPM’s singles chart on May 30, 1983. It was the second Top 30 hit off of the popular Vancouver band’s JUNO Award–nominated third album, Music For the Hard of Thinking.
If you put a gun to my head, I’ll freely tell you that Doug and the Slugs’ brand of fun-loving, novelty pub rock comes off sounding like a poor-man’s Huey Lewis and The News, which shouldn’t be construed as an insult. Doug Bennett and his rotating cast of Slugs were a larger-than-life club band that eventually managed a fair level of commercial success during the 1980s and ’90s, almost exclusively in Canada, except for the times MTV would air some of their videos and when Norm Macdonald used the group’s first hit “Too Bad” as the theme song for his short-lived ABC cult sitcom, “The Norm Show” (1999-2001).
Doug Bennett continued to tour with the Slugs until his death in 2004.
When some artists reach a certain level of notoriety, they choose to shorten their official stage names – take Cher, Wynonna, Bono (the Ego Hall of Famer even abbreviated his fake name) and Diddy (or however the hell Sean Combs refers to himself these days) for example. But leave it to the artist formerly known as “Alanis” to shake up the trend.
The rebirth of the once lightly regarded first-name-only teen queen (b. June 1, 1974) into multiple JUNO and Grammy Award winner Alanis Morissette, one of the most influential and successful female singer-songwriters of the past 25 years, blindsided the media and the music establishment alike in North America and around the world. Few saw the Ottawa native’s meteoric Robert Johnson–like nobody-to-somebody transformation coming. Although, unlike the unfortunate Delta blues legend, Morissette’s relatively quick assent to superstardom didn’t involve selling her soul to the devil at the crossroads.
In the spring of 1991, when she was living in Toronto, the release of the then-16-year-old big-haired dance-pop singer’s self-titled debut generated decent sales in Canada, selling over 100,000 units and peaking in the RPM Top 30, as well as generally mixed reviews. (Many critics backhandedly compared Alanis to similar-sounding young dance-pop performers of the day, specifically Debbie Gibson and Tiffany.) Yet, the album did win Alanis her first JUNO Award for Most Promising Female Vocalist of the Year in 1992 and elicited three Canadian hits, including the RPM No. 14 “Too Hot.”
“Too Hot” by Alanis
It’s safe to say that Alanis’s career may have evolved in a completely different and less impactful direction had the reception been less chilly to her more mature ballad-based 1992 effort, Now Is the Time. As it turned out, her two-record contract with MCA Canada wasn’t renewed, but this was a good thing.
In 1995, Morissette hooked up with a new manager, moved to Los Angeles and met famed producer Glen Ballard. The pair hit it off and began writing a bunch of new songs, which resulted in a deal with Madonna-owned label Maverick Records and the subsequent recording of a little something called Jagged Little Pill.
In case you don’t know what happened next, let me provide some highlights: Jagged Little Pill was a worldwide smash and produced six big hits, including the edgy breakthrough single “You Oughta Know” and “Hand in My Pocket.” The album stayed in Billboard’s Top 10 for 69 weeks, reigned over Canada for six months and made it to No. 1 in a total of 12 countries. It sold over 16 million copies during its initial run (the tally currently sits at 33 million) while collecting four Grammy Awards and eight JUNOs.
But Morissette proved she was no one-trick pony…
Her highly anticipated follow-up, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, set a U.S. record in 1998 as the highest selling first-week release by a female artist and topped the album charts in six countries. The album also captured a JUNO Award for Best Album, while one of its four hit singles, “Thank U,” was nominated for a Grammy. While it’s true that none of Morissette’s other albums (including Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie) have found anywhere near the same level of earthshaking adulation as Jagged Little Pill did (and still does), all have done well internationally, as have her 15 headlining world tours.
Morissette’s first brush with celebrity was as an actress on CJOH Ottawa’s teen sketch comedy and variety program “You Can’t Do That on Television.” If memory serves me correctly, I think she even got a bucket of the show’s trademark green slime dumped on her head from time to time.
Morissette continued acting throughout the years, appearing on stage (The Vagina Monologues), in other TV shows (“Weeds” and “Degrassi: The Next Generation”) and in seven feature films (she was rather good as God in Kevin Smith’s hack comedy Dogma; I almost walked out of the theatre).
The devout vegan, environmentalist, Buddhist-convert, former girlfriend of “Full House” mullet-head Dave Coulier and ex-fiancée of Canadian Hollywood star Ryan Reynolds married rapper Mario “MC Souleye” Treadway in the spring of 2010. In December of that year they became proud parents of a daughter named Ever Imre Morissette-Treadway.
It’s all a far cry from her first-ever tour opening for that flash-in-the-pan “gangsta-rapper” Vanilla Ice, that’s for damn sure, yo!
A riot broke out at Toronto’s Ontario Place on June 2, 1980, during a punk concert? COOOOOOOL! Well, maybe not uppercase COOL. Perhaps more like just coooool, but not surprising given punk’s underlying rebellious history.
Here’s the story in a nutshell…
Two of Canada’s most promising rock acts at the time, Hamilton, Ontario’s Teenage Head and Toronto power-pop outfit Segarini Band, were hosting a free concert at outdoor Ontario Place Forum (now the site of the more spacious, yet inferior Molson Amphitheatre).
Teenage Head was readying itself for the big-time with songs from its latest album, Frantic City, which was already receiving heavy airplay on Toronto’s big rock radio stations Q107, CHUM AM and FM, and CFNY (now known as The Edge). Excitement was noticeably high for this freebee, and lathered-up faithfuls numbering in the hundreds began lining up many hours before the Ontario Place gates opened.
Ten thousand mostly inebriated fans, described by Toronto Star scribe Geoff Pevere in 2011 as “an undulating mass of humanity,” surrounded Ontario Place’s unique rotating stage at 7:30 p.m. and proceeded to boo opener Segarini Band. However, the fans weren’t jeering Bob Segarini and his bandmates at all, although nobody told the guys this relevant fact during their 30-minute set.
Nope. What set off the boos that eventually snowballed into a full-scale riot near the end of Teenage Head’s headlining slot was the decision made by Ontario Place staff to close the front gates in order to keep 5,000 fans from entering the grounds, which were already at over-capacity, with no security. Naturally, people didn’t like this one bit. Emotions escalated and folks began breaking through fences while others began jumping on stage with Teenage Head.
Cops were called in to curb the mayhem, which also included the usual hurled beer bottles and minor tussles. The June 2, 1980, concert was dubbed “The Punk Rock Riot.”
My punker friend Stu (formerly of Hamilton’s The Dik Van Dykes) took part in the madness on that fateful warm summer day. I asked him recently what he thought of the show.
“The Alice Cooper riot paled by comparison,” he said.
Stu was referring to the ghoulish rocker’s infamous no-show at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition a few months after the Ontario Place incident.
“The Punk Rock Riot” was immortalized in 1981 by The Items’ in their song “Ontario Place Riot.” For more information, check out Pevere’s article on the event in the Toronto Star.
Next week: Guns N’ Roses and Prince’s Trust Concert
“Ontario Place Riot” by The Items
By James Sandham
One of the best things about the Internet is the way you can stumble upon just about anything – sometimes without even looking. Which is why I was extremely stoked when a friend of mine happened to share a track with me from an album he happened to come across online: The World Ends: Afro Rock & Psychedelia in 1970s Nigeria. I don’t think it gets much more obscure than that.
But lo and behold, there’s a whole wealth of this stuff floating around online, and all of it is seriously awesome. Subsequently, I’ve been on a huge (HUGE) afro-psych-rock kick this week, an interest that has now spilled across continental borders to include Lao and Thai mor lam, another musical genre that happens to incorporate elements of psychedelia. So this week I want to share some of the standout tracks I’ve come across on this journey.
Ify Jerry Krusade – “Nwantinti/Die Die”
OK, so somehow (at the time of writing) this track had a mere 178 views on YouTube (a good many of which have probably come from me). Not exactly surprising, I guess, given its esoteric nature, but a travesty nonetheless, because this song rocks. It’s the track that piqued my whole interest in the genre, and it sounds like it could have come straight out of 1960s San Fran.
A little historical background from the album’s publisher, Soundway Records: “As the summer of love was blossoming in London and San Francisco, Nigeria was imploding into civil war. Also known as the Biafran War of 1967, it was a grisly conflict taking over three million lives. Yet at the same time as the country was being pulled apart there was a new world beginning. The tracks featured represent a forgotten chapter in Nigeria’s musical history when the youth threw their varied morsels into the pot from hard rock to psychedelic soul when guitars were cherished instruments, symbolic of a new movement, when highlife and Afrobeat played second fiddle to ‘the beat.’”
Everything I’ve heard from this album is amazing.
The Hygrades – “Rough Rider”
These guys were also featured on the World Ends compilation. Like Ify Jerry Krusade, it’s a bit difficult to track down any information on The Hygrades, but what I’ve been able to glean so far is this: according to Soundway’s Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-Rock & Jazz Funk in 1970s Nigeria CD booklet, The Hygrades were the creation of Enugu-based guitarist and producer Goddy Oku, and they released a string of 45s for HMV/EMI in the early 1970s.
Oku, who was a talented musician, also had a reputation as a bit of a technical genius. He was known for building his own sound equipment and amps, and even his own guitars. As of 2008, when Nigeria Rock Special was released, he was still running his Godiac studio in Enugu in the east of Nigeria. As this song attests, the world is richer for his work.
Chaweewan Dumnern – “Sao Lam Plearn”
Let’s branch out a bit now – from Nigeria to Thailand, which is where Chaweewan hail from. This track comes from another Soundway compilation – The Sound of Siam: Leftfield Luk Thung, Jazz & Molam in Thailand 1964-75 – and is just as mind-blowingly good as The World Ends et al. On this album, Soundway digs into Thailand’s vinyl archives and unearths a broad range of vintage sounds to offer a unique vantage point on the country’s experimental period in musical history.
The Funkees – “Akula Owu Onyeara”
This track comes from another of Soundway’s Nigerian complilations, Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Nigerian Blues 1970-6, and brings some serious funk to the mix. Originally released as a single in 1973, the title means “don’t beat the madman” in Ibo. The members of The Funkees were all veterans of the Biafran War and recorded a number of singles in the 1970s for HMV and EMI Nigeria, before moving to London to record their debut album The Point Of No Return.
Batida – “Algeria”
Last, but not least, how about something a little more modern? This is some of the more recent stuff coming from Soundway, taken from Batida’s self-titled album, which was released last year. The video was made using 1970s archival footage of the Carnival of Luanda, mixed with images of current routines in one day of concert at the Knowledge Pavillion in Lisbon, a brilliant update on some traditional sounds.
Check out the Soundway Records website for more great music. Happy exploring!
By James Sandham
Well, it’s been another wonderful week of warm weather, and as the mercury’s risen, my musical preferences have undergone a slow shift toward more frivolous things. I’m talking pop music: synthesizers, simple lyrics and a good beat you can bop around to while riding your bike.
Yes, summer is certainly on the way, and so to celebrate, here are a few gems we’ve dredged up from the Internet.
Dead Leaf Echo – “Kingmaker” (Sensual Harassment Remix)
Dead Leaf Echo (their name comes from a passage in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita) is a New York City band that has been around since 2008. Having released various EPs, singles and remixes – as well as film noir videos – the band is now at the self-proclaimed “forefront of the indie NYC music scene.” They refer to their sound as “nouveau wave” and it kind of reminds me of 1980s goth stuff.
Distinctly different from that, however, is this remix by Sensual Harassment, which might just be my song of the summer (admittedly, it’s still early, but this is definitely in the running). With dreamy, spaced-out synths and a kind of narcotic drawl, it reminds me of the Neon Indian and Washed Out stuff that was coming out a few summers back. It practically bleeds warm sunshine.
Mikal Cronin – “Get Along”
Mikal Cronin is an up-and-coming American musician who has received recent exposure as part of the Adult Swim– and Dr. Pepper–sponsored Garage Swim compilation, an album that features other underground luminaries such as the Black Lips, King Khan and Bass Drum of Death (and can be downloaded freely and legally here). This isn’t the track featured on that specific album, but it has the same kind of vibe and is the perfect segue into summer. Happy, upbeat, with just a bit of a punk edge, it’s what great garage music is all about.
Cool Ghouls – “Natural Life”
This comes from the Cool Ghouls’ hot-off-the-press, self-titled debut LP, and it couldn’t have been timed better. It gives “Kingmaker” a serious run for its money in terms of my song of the summer, and the video (above), like the song, features basically everything you want your summer to be all rolled into one cheery little package: road trips, hiking, sun, surf and friends. Aesthetically, it kind of reminds me of The Monkees.
pomDeter – “Call Me a Hole”
Summer – or last summer, at least – was basically synonymous with Canadian pop-starlet Carly Rae Jepsen’s international mega-hit “Call Me Maybe.” But for some, perhaps, her sugary ABBA-esque anthem was just a little too sweet. Well, I think this pomDeter mash-up manages to atone for that quite well, fusing Jepsen’s addictively bright instrumental with the vocal track of none other than 1990s industrial icon Trent Reznor, a.k.a. Nine Inch Nails. A completely counterintuitive pairing, it somehow works – the perfect balance of light and dark, like sitting in the shade on a hot summer day.
Tenor Saw – “Ring the Alarm”
Last, but not least, I gotta throw a little reggae into the mix – because nothing heralds summer’s approach better than reggae does. This track is from 1985 and was the biggest hit of Tenor Saw’s all-too-short career.
By David Ball
One of the few times I can say that I was a fan before an artist became famous…
Canadian Music Hall of Famer Bryan Adams found himself in the RPM Top 30 for the first time on May 22, 1982, with “Fits Ya Good,” the only hit from his underappreciated 1981 second studio album, You Want It You Got It. More importantly, the riff-heavy Adams and Jim Vallance composition was my favourite song in the summer of 1981 thanks to heavy spins on the late, great FM radio station 94 Rock, based in Syracuse, New York.
This might come as long-delayed breaking news to some, but Adams was a regional star in Pennsylvania and Upstate and Central New York – and consequently some parts of eastern Ontario – almost a full year before “Fits Ya Good” helped put his name on the map in Canada. Rock radio DJs in Albany, Syracuse and Rochester, among others, recognized Adams’ talent early on and began playing the heck out of You Want It You Got It, particularly its two other standout tracks, “Lonely Nights” and power ballad “Coming Home.” (I’m from nearby Kingston, Ontario, and many kids’ music tastes in eastern Ontario during the 1970s and ’80s were shaped by powerful northeast United States–based FM rock radio.) Of course, Adams’ status as an American discovery came to an abrupt end in 1983 following the release of the JUNO Award–winning worldwide smash Cuts Like a Knife.
Max Webster’s “Paradise Skies” from the band’s only platinum-selling LP, A Million Vacations, finally dropped out of RPM’s Top 100 on May 24, 1980. Written by group frontman/guitarist Kim Mitchell and Pye Dubois, and sung by Mitchell, the future “wild party” solo artist and current Q107 Classic Rock DJ, the single had one of the best chart runs of any song in the hard-rocking Sarnia, Ontario quartet’s nine-year career; it peaked in the Top 15 a month earlier.
Although Max Webster was a great live band and garnered four JUNO Award nominations, they never had much luck on the domestic singles charts and remained virtual unknown in the United States. Essentially, they were a regional band that remained a regional band – big in southern Ontario and in prog-rock loving Montreal (that is, cities with FM rock radio stations), but with a much smaller following in other parts of the province and country.
True story: Back in the late ’80s when I was attending Queen’s University, I wasn’t sure if Max Webster was a dude or a band, although I was quite familiar with Kim Mitchell thanks to his many solo hits, including “Patio Lanterns” and “Go for Soda.”
My friend at Queen’s University had a poster of this album cover on his dorm room wall. The first time I saw it I asked him: “Who’s the manly woman in the halter top?” My first real introduction to Max Webster began soon after I moved to Toronto in 1991, where their songs were generously sprinkled throughout Q107’s daily playlists.
Perhaps watching those smoke-filled flicks would have been more illuminating if I partook in the hippy lettuce? Not a chance. I even like my Grateful Dead served up stone sober. That being said, I did enjoy watching a few of the genre’s best: Dazed and Confused, Friday and Up in Smoke.
Speaking of the benchmark Cheech & Chong big screen debut…
Before Canada’s own Tommy Chong (b. May 24, 1938) began making hippies and non-hippies alike laugh in the 1970s with his Hispanic-American buddy Cheech Marin, the Edmonton-born son of a Chinese truck driver and Scottish-Irish and French mother first made a name for himself in the mid-1960s as a guitarist with the R&B group Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers. The band signed with Gordy Records (a subsidiary of Motown), released its self-titled debut in 1965 and even scored a Top 30 Billboard hit with “Does Your Mamma Know About Me,” co-written by Chong. After two more singles and a tour of the U.S. with the Jackson 5 – Michael and his older brothers were the openers! – Chong was fired. But music’s loss was the world of comedy’s gain.
Chong hooked up with Cheech Marin in the late 1960s and they became one of the most successful comedy teams in history. During the 1970s and ’80s, the Grammy Award–winning Cheech & Chong produced several bestselling albums featuring pot-themed routines, doped up yet edgy counterculture satire and music. Some of their best-loved singles and sketches include “Santa Claus and His Old Lady,” “Basketball Jones featuring Tyrone Shoelaces” (No. 15 on Billboard), “Dave” (which contains the famous Chong line: “Dave’s not here”) and “Born in East L.A.”
Cheech & Chong eventually ventured into filmmaking and released their debut film, Up in Smoke, in 1978 (its hit soundtrack contained the duo’s Billboard and RPM Top 10 “Earache My Eye” and resurrected the War favourite “Low Rider”), followed by two relatively successful sequels, Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie (1980) and Nice Dreams (1981). After two more stoner features, the bud-loving buddies made their first – and last – weedless movie, Cheech & Chong’s The Corsican Brothers, directed by Chong (the Canadian standup legend helmed four of the duo’s films). Even if you hit the bong like a hoggish herb-addicted hippy beforehand, the parody of the Alexander Dumas tome will probably elicit fewer laughs than an episode of “Criminal Minds.” No surprise that the film bombed at the box office.
The iconic duo broke up in 1985 (Cheech wanted to pursue an acting career), but after several on-again off-gain attempts, they finally reunited in 2008 for a North American tour called “Light Up America and Canada” and “The Felimony Tour.” The latter refers to Chong’s 2003 arrest and subsequent conviction of selling pot paraphernalia with his son and partner through their company Chong’s Glass/Nice Dreams (the elder Chong was fined $20,000 and spent nine months in federal prison; the whole ordeal was filmed and later released as an acclaimed documentary, a/k/a Tommy Chong).
Over Tommy Chong’s 50-year career, the naturalized U.S. citizen has co-starred in over 30 movies and made guest appearances in several high-rated television shows, including “Miami Vice,” “South Park,” “That ’70s Show” and “The Simpsons.” Best of all, Chong deserves a citation for bringing his hot-as-blazes daughter, actress Rae Dawn Chong, into the world.
Diagnosed with prostate cancer in the summer of 2012, Chong, staying true to form, began treating the disease with hemp oil – and it seemed to work. The tough hippy recently stated that he’s 99% cancer free. With Cheech & Chong back on the comedy circuit it’s no surprise that they’re making films again, too. In April 2013 they released Cheech & Chong’s Animated Movie and they’re said to be working on Up in Smoke 2. Far out!
“Pukka” is a Hindu term for “permanent,” which is ironic given this band’s short existence…
On May 26, 1984, Pukka Orchestra peaked in RPM’s Top 20 with their superior version of Tom Robinson’s “Atmospherics (Listen to the Radio),” which was co-written by Peter Gabriel (I’m no fan of the former lead singer of Genesis, or of Genesis for that matter). Formed in Toronto in 1979, the promising new wave trio released its self-titled debut with Solid Gold Records in 1984; the album spawned two other popular charting Canadian singles, “Cherry Beach Express” and “Might As Well Be On Mars.”
Unfortunately, the group’s success was short-lived. Just as Pukka Orchestra’s career was heating up, lead singer Graeme Williamson developed kidney problems and moved to Scotland to be near his family. Making matters even worse, Solid Gold folded at the height of their album’s popularity. Too bad, too, since the trio (a fixture in Toronto’s Queen Street West neighbourhood) had just won a CASBY Award for “Most Promising Group.”
Williamson received a kidney transplant in 1985 and two years later headed into the recording studio with his old mates (Neil Chapman and Tony Duggan-Smith), resulting in Pukka Orchestra’s comeback EP, The Palace of Money (1987). Pukka Orchestra’s final effort, Dear Harry, was released in 1992.
Next week: Doug and the Slugs and Alanis Morissette
“Dave” by Cheech & Chong
By David Ball
This week’s article is dedicated to longtime Toronto Star entertainment critic and respected musician Greg Quill. The transplanted Australian died at age 66 in his Hamilton, Ontario, home on Sunday, May 5, 2013. The newspaper won’t be the same without his music writings, that’s for damn sure. R.I.P.
I wonder what Mr. Quill thought of the band featured in my first story…
One of my early “real” jobs in Toronto was as a technical video assistant (TVA) for MuchMusic’s “Intimate and Interactive” back in the late 1990s to early 2000s. The innovative semi-regular live program featured performances and interviews with some of the era’s hottest artists, back when “The Nation’s Music Station” skewed to a more seasoned 12 to 24 age demographic rather than today’s elementary school to, let’s say, Grade 11 or 12 age bracket.
Some of my favourite shifts included: rubbing elbows, literally, with Neil Young and Crazy Horse; receiving “Who the f#%k are you?” looks by all of the members of the Foo Fighters as they lounged in the iconic CHUM Building’s Green Room (which was well worth it since I strummed on both Pat Smear’s and Dave Grohl’s white Swedish-made Hagstrom guitars when they weren’t looking); and lending a helping hand to a seamless show featuring a very pleasant Sarah McLachlan.
However, since I needed the money, I volunteered to work on the May 13, 1997, show starring one of my Top 5 least favourite bands of the 1990s: quasi ska-punk revivalists No Doubt (the Anaheim, California, quartet was still riding high and milking hit singles from its 1996 Billboard No. 1 album Tragic Kingdom).
Although being a TVA during the shoot was fairly trying (what with the annoying over-the-top tunes combined with manoeuvring camera and power cables around throngs of screaming kids), I recently re-watched some of the old footage and darn it if Gwen Stefani isn’t anywhere near as insufferable as I remember her during her interview segments with respected MuchMusic VJ and host Master T. The bottle-blond lead singer and noted fashionista (who was voted one of People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People in 2004) actually comes off as sincere, which is astonishing as she’s recently gained entry into my Obnoxious Hall of Fame, along with fellow inductees Cameron Diaz and Gwyneth Paltrow. Blame my sketchy “I and I” memories on the numbing beers I chugged before the show at the late, great Beverley Tavern located all-too-conveniently across the street from the shoot.
Anyway, No Doubt’s “I and I” was broadcast from Toronto to HMV stores around the world, including stores in New York City and Sydney, Australia, as well as stores in parts of Asia. It’s estimated that more than 10,000 in-store fans worldwide witnessed the live program and the luckiest ones were able to personally ask the band questions after the concert. Jumping to today, if I had the chance to ask the three dudes in No Doubt just one question, it would have to be: “Hey guys, can you give me your honest opinion of Gwen’s solo hit ‘Holla Back Girl’?”
Tom Cochrane was born in the mining town of Lynn Lake, Manitoba, on May 14, 1959. The Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee and officer of the Order of Canada first garnered national attention as the lead singer of the popular 1980s rock band Red Rider. The following decade he became one of Canada’s most reliable hit-makers (both with his band and as a solo artist) and workhorse live performers.
Cochrane’s family moved to southern Ontario (first Acton, then later to Etobicoke) when he was a youngster. He began writings songs by age 11, which was around the same time he received his first guitar. In his late teens Cochrane cut his on-stage teeth appearing in coffee houses and bars, and eventually landed a contract with Daffodil Records, who released his professional – and almost immediately forgotten – debut, Hang On To Your Resistance, in 1974.
After years of bouncing around from odd job to odd job, Cochrane joined Red Rider in 1978 after a meeting with members of the band at Toronto’s famed nightclub the El Mocambo. The quintet released four acclaimed records billed as Red Rider – including their 1980 debut album Don’t Fight It and the 1981 Billboard hit record As Far As Siam (featuring breakthrough rock radio single “Lunatic Fringe”) – before officially changing its name to Tom Cochrane & Red Rider in 1986. The band went on to release three more albums and several memorable hits, including their only two RPM Top 5ers – “Good Times” and “Big League” – both from 1988’s double-platinum and triple-JUNO Award–nominated Victory Day.
Cochrane’s solo career got off to a rousing start in 1991 with Mad Mad World. The album, which won four JUNO Awards, contained his first-ever RPM No. 1 (and only Billboard Top 10), “Life is a Highway,” as well as the Top 5 Canadian single “No Regrets” (which also landed in the Top 10 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart). His second solo album, 1995’s Ragged Ass Road (named after a street in Yellowknife, NWT), proved to be nearly as successful as its predecessor, although it failed to catch the attention of the American market.
Even though Cochrane, a member of Canada’s Walk of Fame hasn’t had a hit single since 1999’s “Willie Dixon Said,” he continues to produce solid albums (both as a solo artist and with Red Rider) and his tours still draw big crowds from coast to coast.
Now, about that “Life is a Highway” six-million-seller…
Covers are rarely better than originals (see last week’s Sheryl Crow diatribe for an example), and Rascal Flatts‘ countrified version of “Life is a Highway” from the soundtrack to the unbelievably overrated 2006 Disney/Pixar film Cars is no exception. However, the superstar duo did take the song to No. 7 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and to No. 18 on the American country charts, despite it never being officially released to country radio as a single. Believe it or not, I’m OK with the success of Rascal Flatts’ version ONLY because Cochrane must still be receiving some healthy royalty cheques.
Back in the 1980s and early ’90s, it bloody well seemed like every BIG rock album was produced by either Vancouver-born Bruce Fairbairn, his star pupil Bob Rock or Shania Twain’s ex-husband Robert John “Mutt” Lange.
Fairbairn, arguably the most successful of the three, was found dead at the far-too-young age of 49 on May 17, 1999. Born in Vancouver, Fairbairn was manning the controls for megahits by Bon Jovi, Loverboy, Poison, AC/DC, Van Hagar… I mean Van Halen… and helped do what many thought was an impossible task at the time: drag Aerosmith out of the ruts and into stardom once again.
Fairbairn began playing trumpet and piano during his childhood and was performing with R&B bands throughout his teenage years. In the early 1970s he became the behind-the-scenes bandleader and producer for the jazz-rock ensemble Sunshyne. After unsuccessful attempts at securing a recording contract, Fairbairn asked renowned songsmith Jim Vallance for assistance. Vallance reworked some Sunshyne tunes, and also provided a couple of his own, and the end result won over an executive at GRT Records who signed the group, now officially known as Prism, in 1976.
Fairbairn was at the helm of the first four Prism albums, beginning in 1977 with the group’s platinum-selling debut. The next three studio efforts were also hits and cemented the talented quintet as one of Canada’s best prog-rock bands. Armageddon, Prism’s second-to-last album with Fairbairn as its leader, won two JUNO Awards in 1980 for Producer of the Year (the first of three for Fairbairn) and Group of the Year.
Of Fairbairn’s high-profile projects (all recorded at Vancouver’s famed Little Mountain Sound Studios), his collaboration with Aerosmith remains the most impressive and remarkable, which is saying loads considering he also produced Loverboy’s self-titled debut and their follow-up albums Get Luck and Keep It Up; Poison’s Flesh and Blood; AC/DC’s commercial comeback The Razor’s Edge; one of the better Sammy Hagar–era Van Halen records, Balance; and Bon Jovi’s “insignificant” 12-times-platinum-selling international chart-topper Slippery When Wet.
Through the early to mid-1980s Aerosmith were down-and-out laughing stocks of the rock world. (We can blame a whole lot of unlistenable, bad music on years of debilitating excess and other internal disruptions.) But Fairbairn, with help from his old Prism partner Vallance and engineer Bob Rock, helped resuscitate the Boston blues rockers’ careers from flat-lining death, steering them back on the road to glory after their druggy messes Night in the Ruts and Rock in a Hard Place, and their uninspiring substance-free “first comeback” Done With Mirrors.
A cleaned-up and focused “Toxic Twins” (the well-earned nickname of Aerosmith’s singer, Steven Tyler, and guitarist, Joe Perry), a few good new songs and Fairbairn’s tight punchy production landed Aerosmith back on the charts in a big way with 1987’s five-times-platinum second comeback Permanent Vacation and the even bigger follow-ups Pump and Get a Grip. (One gripe: I wonder if Fairbairn, like the rest of us, ever noticed that these albums’ hit power-ballads “Angel,” “What it Takes,” “Cryin’,” “Amazing” and “Crazy” are essentially the exact same song?)
Before his death, Fairbairn took part in KISS’s OK reunion album Psycho Circus, as well as Elegantly Wasted, the decent 1997 INXS swan song with Michael Hutchence. The last project he was working on was The Ladder by art rock pioneers Yes.
Fairbairn was found dead at his Vancouver home by Yes’ lead singer Jon Anderson and Armoury Recording Studios’ manager Sheryl Preston. His funeral featured performances by Yes’ Anderson and Steve Howe, and Fairbairn’s son Brent played “Taps” using his father’s old trumpet. Bruce Fairbairn was posthumously elected into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2000.
Edmonton’s mercifully short-lived hair band Big House (not to be confused with the still-active American country band of the same name) – which consisted of two transplanted Swedish ex-punk rockers – scored their third and final Canadian hit when “Baby Doll” from their self-titled full-length debut peaked in RPM’s Top 20 on May 18, 1992. It’s not hard to figure out why the single sold well. It’s basically a mash-up of several other more famous – and better – power-ballads of the era, with particular nods to Guns N’ Roses’ “Patience” and Poison’s “Every Rose Has its Thorn.” Break out the lighters folks…
The band packed it in before recording a second album. One post–Big House sidebar: bassist Craig Beakhouse was briefly a member of an early incarnation of the Headstones.
Next week: Tommy Chong and Max Webster
Red Rider – “Lunatic Fringe”
By James Sandham
So now that it’s practically summer, the streets are awash in summer fashions. Being a bit of a music nerd this of course got me thinking of music and fashion. Rock ’n’ roll and fashion, to be precise – because the two just seem to go hand-in-hand.
Over the years, rock has always been one of the major influences on style – what the musicians wear, the fans are soon to adopt. And that’s not just the case when it comes to clothes. Musicians have been trendsetters in all aspects of the fashion spectrum, including facial hair. Sometimes this is for good, sometimes for bad.
This week, I thought we’d take a little trip back through time to explore rock ’n’ roll’s most iconic statements – in facial hair.
What’s old is new again, and Blitzen Trapper, one of the big buzz bands of the last few years, seems to embody the current indie facial hair ethos to a T. Like their eponymous single, Blitzen Trapper is a band of “furr” – that man-boy growth that symbolizes transition, the growth of maturation and the rugged headlong plunge into exploration of the unknown. Rustic yet youthful, it is the calling card of all young, folk-inspired singer-songwriters. But beware! Followed to its logical conclusion, the result can be this:
The Matted Manhood Mask
Here we have another contemporary artist, also opting for a strong facial hair statement. Less a beard than a matted mask of raw sexuality, Sébastien Tellier’s facial hair is the perfect physical reflection of his art. Trimmed, but not too neat; sleazy, but not too greasy; exotic, yet all too familiar: the man’s beard is the epitome of his craft. It also beautifully balances the bottom half of his face with his retina surgery–inspired glasses.
Beard of Sadness
If it wasn’t plaid flannel, then it was certainly Cobain-esque stubble that came to symbolize the grunge movement and everything Gen-X associated. Moody, unkempt and devoid of pretense, it was a follicular reflection of everything Cobain’s music – and the music of his era – stood for.
The Multi-Divot Eyebrow
Robert Van Winkle may not have been much of a musical visionary, but what he lacked in talent was clearly compensated for in facial hair creativity. To wit: the multi-divot eyebrow. While its origins are unclear, Vanilla Ice was certainly one of the first to introduce the multi-divot eyebrow to the living rooms of suburban America. Complemented by matching divotation along the sides of his updo, it was an experiment in facial hair modification that few have had the guts to follow.
The Full Moon Glow
This certainly wasn’t an icon of its era, but how could we not slot Jerry Garcia’s facial hair in somewhere on a list like this? Like his music, there was something harmless yet untamed about Garcia’s facial hair. It’s like Santa Clause, your grandfather and the man in the moon all wrapped up into one big greying head of hair. It just makes you want to snuggle up in it, drop some mescaline and then lay around comfortably tripping to repetitions of colourful dancing bears.
The Village People
These people took body hair – facial and otherwise – and transformed it from ornamentation into a lifestyle. The T-bar moustache, for example, is now irrevocably associated with gay disco and the YMCA. But this was never just hair: it’s a jungle of righteous man-love.
A man a million miles ahead of his time, Freddie Mercury rocked the ironic ’stache before there was even anything ironic about it. Like a luxuriant caterpillar perched atop his upper lip, Freddie’s moustache was an icon of confident excess and it remained comfortably ensconced over a mouth whose influence still echoes. This isn’t just hair, it’s the statement of an entire community.
In retrospect, Jim Morrison comes off alternately as an overweight, narcissistic drug addict or a daydreamer carried away by the romance of his ideas. His “side slugs” – those overweight sideburns that gradually came to envelop the whole of his lower face – are emblematic of this conflicted legacy. Are they just hairy little receptacles of body oil or are they a throwback to the sensually poetic Romantic era? Only history will tell, my friends.
The Beard of Harmony
Not only was John Lennon a musical god, but he also took direction from Him in terms of how he grew his facial hair. You can’t deny it: All those apparitions on mouldy walls or grilled cheese sandwiches – they all have hair like Lennon! But where does the hair end and the beard begin? The question is a paradox, because it is all One.
The Classic ’Burn
And here’s where it all started (and by “all” I mean what we now know as contemporary rock ’n’ roll). They don’t call him the King for nothing – because these sidies rule. They somehow manage to ooze both authority and anti-authority at the same time, and with a complete lack of effort, too. A facial hair pioneer, Elvis Presley made the sideburn a staple of North American culture. You can’t even buy an Elvis wig without sideburns coming attached to it. Now that’s a trendsetter.
By David Ball
Happy birthday to Hank Snow! One of country music’s greatest entertainers was born in Brooklyn, Nova Scotia, on May 9, 1914.
In 1926, Clarence Eugene “Hank” Snow was a 12-year-old runaway working as a shiphand. His life took a turn for the better in 1930, however, when his grandmother gave him a stack of records by country pioneer Jimmie Rodgers. Not surprisingly, Snow’s music style during his early gigs in Halifax was stylized after his hero’s affinity for travelling and the railroad and his trademark yodel (three elements that remained a part of Snow’s sound throughout his long career).
Snow made his radio debut in 1933 on CHNS Halifax with “Clarence Snow and His Guitar.” Three years later he recorded his first two singles for RCA Victor as Hank, the Yodeling Ranger: “Lonesome Blue Yodel” and “The Prisoned Cowboy.” Snow enjoyed a productive 10-year career in Canada, recording dozens of domestic hit 78s (look it up, kids), appearing regularly on national CBC broadcasts and touring across the country. But Snow longed to make it big in the United States, so he adapted a cowboy persona and headed to Nashville in 1946 (by then he was known by his most famous moniker “The Singing Ranger” – no doubt an homage to Jimmie Rodgers’ alias “The Singing Brakeman”). With the help of another soon-to-be-legend, Ernest Tubb, Snow landed a regular gig at the Grand Ole Opry and remained a veritable on-stage fixture at the country music shire until the early 1990s. The Singing Ranger was still performing at the Opry just a few years prior to his death in 1999.
Snow remains one of the most popular country artists of all time. During his six decade–long career he sold over 70 million records and put a staggering 85 singles on the Billboard charts over a 30-year run (1949-1979), eight of which were chart-toppers, while another 16 reached the Top 5. Of the No. 1s, 1950’s “I’m Moving On” held the top spot on the American country chart for a then-record 21 straight weeks, ranking as one of the most popular country music singles of the first half of the 20th century. But Snow was more than just a hit machine; he was a mighty fine guitar picker, too. Check out his two collaborations with the great Chet Atkins.
Although Snow made Nashville his permanent home in the late 1940s and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1958, he returned regularly to his homeland during his later career, making frequent concert and television appearances. He even embarked on a cross-country tour in the early 1980s with fellow founding father of Canadian country Wilf Carter.
With someone of his stature you’d expect the medal haul to be extensive – and it is. Snow was inducted into the International Songwriters Association’s Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame (he was the third-ever inductee, in 1979), the Canadian Country Music Association Hall of Honour, the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame (obviously), the Nova Scotia Country Music Hall of Fame (big surprise) and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (he was among the list of first-ever inductees in 2003).
Given Madonna’s unrivalled vanity, one would imagine she firmly believed Truth or Dare would be revered as the music world’s greatest documentary EVER MADE mere moments after its premiere in select North American theatres on May 10, 1991. After all, it stars the Material Girl and chronicles her brazen 1990 Blond Ambition world tour, one that survived rain and sound problems in Japan, a visit by her troubled brother in Detroit and threats of arrests for indecency in Toronto!
Well, Madge’s mostly egomaniacal 120-minute black-and-white feature certainly ain’t of the quality of Gimme Shelter, Festival Express or the mad genius that is Anvil: The Story of Anvil, but it is a bona fide masterpiece when compared to Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience, The Song Remains The Same (admit it, Led Zeppelin fans, it’s excruciatingly boooooooring) and the upcoming and guaranteed-to-be-impossible-to-watch Ke$ha documentary “My Beautiful Life.”
In truth, Truth or Dare does contain some interesting staged backstage antics and watchable concert footage – but, most importantly, it captures Madonna’s best acting performance of her career (I particularly admire her nearly sincere attempts at trying to be a real live grounded person in scenes with her father, along with an awkward run-in with one of her old childhood friends). But it’s an agitated, slightly grumpy, but generally engaging Warren Beatty who provides the doc’s only perceptive commentary, especially in the scene where he suggests that his then-girlfriend (Madonna, obviously) is shallow and unable to exist “off-camera.”
The critical response toward Madonna’s epic was mixed, although the late, great Siskel and Ebert gave it “Two Thumbs Up” and the total box office take was just over $29 million, which is decent bounty for a documentary of any kind and proves that Madonna’s fans are loyal indeed.
Spirit of the West was on a roll when the band recorded its eighth album, Open Heart Symphony, at Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre with that city’s respected symphony orchestra on May 12 and 13, 1995. The British Columbia rockers had just completed an exhaustive five-month cross-country tour in support of their first RPM Top 20 album, Two Headed, and were just a few months shy of appearing with Blues Traveler, Ziggy Marley, The Rheostatics and others in The Tragically Hip’s semi-annual summer travelling festival, Another Roadside Attraction (1993-1997).
Armed with a handful of great new songs, most written with the orchestra specifically for the gigs (album opener “Williamson’s Garage” is terrific), it’s no surprise that Open Heart Symphony is arguably one of the ensemble’s most satisfying efforts. It also marks a return of sorts to the band’s Celtic folk-rock roots after Two Headed’s hard-rock diversion.
Open Heart Symphony was filmed for broadcast by the arts and entertainment network Bravo! and was SOTW’s final charting RPM Top 40 album (No. 36 in 1996). On a personal note, every time I see a SOTW video on television or on YouTube, two things come to mind: First, I tend to blur together SOTW’s most famous song, “And Venus is Sinking” (1993), with The Waterboys’ equally excellent Celtic-rock classic “Fisherman’s Blues,” minus the former’s saucy “with an erection of a horse” lyric. Second, the group’s unmistakable lead singer/guitarist and sometimes actor, John Mann, looks like a cross between hockey great Mark Messier, American actor Willem Dafoe and hard-working Canadian actor Ian Tracey.
United Kingdom–born Canadian singer and occasional radio DJ and television host Keith Hampshire scored his only RPM chart-topper with a cover of “The First Cut is the Deepest” on May 12, 1973. Hampshire’s jazz-rock Blood, Sweat and Tears-y track was written by Cat Stevens and was originally a hit by American soul singer P. P. Arnold in 1967 (her version is featured prominently in the recent Quentin Tarantino rip-off Seven Psychopaths).
By the way, if the name Keith Hampshire still means nothing to you, then you may recognize his other two RPM Top 5 singles: “Daytime Night-time” and “Big Time Operator.” No? Well, if you’re a Toronto Blue Jays fan (these are trying times indeed), you definitely know Hampshire since he’s none other than the guy who recorded the baseball team’s unofficial theme song “OK Blue Jays” with his one-off backing band The Bat Boys. You know the tune, played at every home game since its 1983 inception…
“The First Cut is the Deepest” was also a hit on two other occasions, the most famous and arguably best version is the 1977 pop ballad by Rod Stewart. Last – and definitely least – is Sheryl Crow’s calculated country cover from her 2003 greatest hits album. Tragically, it became one of the former Lance Armstrong sidecar’s biggest pop chart hits (Billboard No. 14) and also became her first-ever Top 40 country solo single. Ugh!!!
Next week: Tom Cochrane and Bruce Fairbairn
“The First Cut is the Deepest” by Keith Hampshire
By James Sandham
It’s May, thank God – I didn’t think I could take much more of this winter. What even happened to spring? It disappeared somewhere into the bowels of April, lost in a tease of sunshine, but ultimately blotted out by flurries.
Enough of it, though. April is all behind us now, so let’s look forward to what this lovely month of May is sure to bring: the beginnings of summer and, of course, a bevy of wonderful concerts. Here is a taste of what caught our eye.
Vancouver – The Black Angels @ the Commodore Ballroom – May 14
Starting on the West Coast we’ve got The Black Angels at the Commodore Ballroom, which is a pretty good way to start things off. I’ve seen these guys a couple of times and can personally vouch for the quality of their shows – that is, if you’re in the mood for some reverb-heavy psych-rock (but who isn’t?). The following track comes from their latest release, Indigo Meadow, which came out last month, just in time for the Angels’ gig at Austin Psych Fest (Austin, Texas, being the Angels’ home base). Now that would have been a show – the band is definitely doing its part to “keep Austin weird.” For now, though, the Commodore is the place to be.
The Black Angels – “Don’t Play With Guns”
Calgary – The Belle Game @ Republik – May 8
With members hailing from Vancouver and Montreal, The Belle Game has been around for a few years now. After two EPs, the band just released its first full-length album last month, from which the following song comes. They do a sort of “dark, orchestral pop” (their words) that is kind of reminiscent of Arcade Fire. There’s some serious Canadian talent here. Catch them if you can, Calgary.
The Belle Game – “Wait Up For You”
Winnipeg – Castle River @ The Cavern – May 17
Speaking of serious Canadian talent, check out Saskatoon-based duo Matt Castle and Billy Rivers a.k.a. Castle River (clever name). They showcased at this year’s JUNO Awards and later this month they’ll be opening for John Antoniuk a.k.a. Smokekiller at The Cavern in Winnipeg (among other cross-country show dates). Though it seems they have only a four-track EP to their name at this point, they carry the promise of bigger things to come.
Castle River – “Ghosts”
Toronto – Ghost B.C. @ The Opera House – May 6
We started with The Black Angels, moved on to “Ghosts” by Castle River and now we’ve got Sweden’s Ghost B.C. playing here in Toronto. I think I’m beginning to see some kind of morbid theme emerging here – that, or I’m just still haunted by the icy hand of winter. No matter: If you’re in Toronto and looking for a dose of schlocky, ghoulish fun, why not start your month at The Opera House, where macabre phantoms will be haunting. Their video for “Secular Haze” (below) is hilarious.
Ghost B.C. – “Secular Haze”
Montreal – Folly and the Hunter @ Cabaret Du Mile End – May 22
And last but not least, here’s a band I happened to hear on CBC’s “Espace Musique” the other night and really fell in love with – this song below in particular. Folly and the Hunter is comprised of Nick Vallee (from Vancouver), Chris Fox (from Sussex, England) and Laurie Torres (a francophone native of Quebec), and they’ll be playing their home base of Montreal at the end of the month, having just released their second album, Tragic Care. It’s powerful, emotionally charged musicianship. Other good tracks to check out include “Vultures” and “Watch for Deer at Dawn.”
Folly and the Hunter – “Moth in the Porchlight”