By Adam Bunch



For nearly half a century, Guy Lombardo was the sound of New Year’s Eve. He was born in London, Ontario, all the way back in 1902, and he formed his first orchestra with his brothers when he was still just a boy. By the time he was a young man, Lombardo was recording big-band tunes for some of the biggest record labels in the world. But it was in the late 1920s that he got the gig that would make him a legend: playing at The Roosevelt Hotel in New York City on New Year’s Eve.

Those shows at the Roosevelt would quickly become one of the most popular New Year’s traditions on the planet: broadcast both on CBS and NBC Radio, and then later on television, so that Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians became the soundtrack to the final night of every year for millions of people across the continent. Most famously, Lombardo, the son of Italian-Canadian immigrants, embraced a Scottish New Year’s Eve tradition by playing a melody written to accompany words by the great Scottish poet Robert Burns. And so, it was thanks to Guy Lombardo that “Auld Lang Syne” became the most popular song played to mark the arrival of every new year.

Lombardo, who earned the nickname “Mr. New Year’s Eve,” played the New Year Eve’s broadcast every single year for essentially half of the 1900s, until he finally passed away in 1977. But His Royal Canadians continued on for a couple of years after that. Even today, in homes and restaurants and bars – and even at the celebration in Times Square itself – Lombardo’s recording of “Auld Lang Syne” rings out in the first few moments of every new year. It’s a fitting tribute to the Ontario musician who was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1978.




On New Year’s Eve in 1960, while Guy Lombardo was busy playing his usual gig in New York, another future Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee was having a big night a thousand kilometres away in Halifax.

That’s where folk musician Denny Doherty was playing a New Year’s Eve party, singing for the very first time with a couple of new bandmates. They called themselves The Colonials at first, but they soon changed their name to The Halifax Three. They were only together for a few years after that, but they managed to release two full-length albums, travelled all over the continent and eventually added another member from Toronto’s Yorkville folk scene: Zal Yanovsky. That, in the end, is what made The Halifax Three famous: it brought Doherty and Yanovsky together.

The pair ended up moving to Greenwich Village in New York City, where they formed a new band – The Mugwumps – with an up-and-coming folksinger by the name of Mama Cass. The Mugwumps didn’t last very long either, but when the group broke up, two new folk-pop bands rose from its ashes. Yanovsky became a founding member of The Lovin’ Spoonful, while Doherty and Cass went on to create The Mamas and The Papas. And so, by the end of the 1960s, two former members of The Halifax Three had become two of the most famous musicians in the world.


By James Sandham

Now that the rush of Christmas is done, it’s time to sit back, watch the kids play with their toys, maybe take a stab at that new book you got and consider whether or not to make another turkey sandwich. There’s probably some leftover pudding in the fridge, too; maybe that would be a better option? Yes, it’s these sorts of quandaries that plague the mind on Boxing Day, and mulling the options over can drive one to paralysis. That’s why it is absolutely vital to have an appropriate soundtrack for your thoughts. Here are a few down-tempo classics to help you on your way.



When I think of Boxing Day, it’s songs like this one that set the mood. Tommy Dorsey died nearly 30 years before I was even born, but his music still somehow brings me back to a special, imaginary time when things were simple, innocent and wholesome – much the way I feel Boxing Day should be. Avoid the malls – it’s a much better idea to stay in and listen to this song instead.



I don’t know what it is about the big bands at this time of year, but I just can’t get enough of them. I plan on spending Boxing Day in my housecoat, drifting about the house in a pleasant, semi-conscious food daze, and this is pretty much the perfect music for doing exactly that. It’s comforting, elegant and classic.



If anyone is fit to break up the big-band stuff, it’s Leonard Cohen, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1991 inductee. This song, which was first released on a tribute album in 1986 before making it onto Cohen’s 1988 studio album I’m Your Man in a slightly altered form, always reminds me of my parents, who played it a lot when I was a kid. So, as long as I’m getting nostalgic with the playlist here, this one needs a spot.



As long as we’re playing classics from the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, how can we overlook their 1978 inductee, the ineffable Oscar Peterson? Here he is live in Denmark in 1964, laying down one of his best-known compositions. It’s an essential track with which to revel in the glory of post-Christmas calm.



To switch things up from these down-tempo styles – and to keep the holiday spirit moving, so to speak – let’s end things off with this little number from the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1997 inductee Mr. Maynard Ferguson, who you may remember from our This Week in Music History post at the end of November. The man clearly knows how to have a good time, and we hope you have one too as we head into the new year. Happy holidays!

By Adam Bunch



Reginald Fessenden might not be a household name, but he’s one of the most important Canadian inventors of all time. He was born in Quebec in 1866 – just as Canada was about to become a country – and by the time he was a teenager attending school in Ontario, it was obvious that he was unusually intelligent. It was the beginning of a life that would see him on the forefront of the new technologies that changed the world over the course of the next few decades.

Fessenden worked for Thomas Edison, helped to design one of the first big power plants at Niagara Falls and assisted with the legendary electrical display at the Chicago World’s Fair. He offered his services to the Canadian military during the First World War and developed new kinds of sonar for submarines, as well as for ships who wanted to detect icebergs and avoid the fate of the Titanic. By the time he passed away during the Great Depression, Fessenden had registered more than 500 patents. The places were he lived and worked are still remembered with plaques, and his home in Newton, Massachusetts, is officially recognized as a United States National Historic Landmark.

But it was Fessenden’s work in early radio transmissions that he’s best remembered for. By the late 1800s, some inventors were able to send wireless transmissions from one place to another using radio waves. It was, of course, a huge breakthrough. Fessenden quickly built on that early work, making even more advances. In 1900, he is thought to have sent the very first voice communication over radio waves. Just a few years later, he was the first person to send a message across the Atlantic Ocean and have a reply sent back. And on Christmas Eve of 1906, he sent the very first public radio broadcast in history.

It was a short program transmitted from his headquarters at Brant Rock, Massachusetts. He read a passage from the Bible, played a phonograph of a classical piece by Handel and performed a rendition of “O Holy Night” on the violin. People could pick up the signal from hundreds of kilometres away.

They say it may very well have been the first time music was ever played on the radio.



It was on another Christmas Eve, 44 years later, that Glenn Gould made his debut on CBC Radio. The Toronto pianist performed as part of a show titled “Sunday Morning Recital” in 1950. It would prove to be the beginning of the end of Gould’s live performances; he decided that he would much rather perform for a microphone than an audience.

“I detest audiences,” he would tell the CBC years later. “I think they’re a force of evil… I find it a very chilling fact; it seems to me the rule of mob law.”

By the mid-1960s, he had decided to give up on live performances altogether.

“I really thank God that I’m able to sit in the studio with enormous concentration and enjoyment, doing things many times if necessary… and taking – what is more important – a view of the work that I’m recording, which lets me in on the composing secrets.”

Gould would, however, remain a familiar presence on the CBC. He is now remembered with a statue outside of the Corporation’s headquarters in downtown Toronto, as well as in the name of their recording theatre on the ground floor: the Glenn Gould Studio.


By James Sandham

Well, folks, there’s less than a week until the big day. While, at this point, Christmas carols may only serve to remind you of how insane your last trip to the mall was, there’s still something touchingly sweet about the Christmas classics – those seasonal ditties that were laid down on vinyl without any computer circuitry and that practically smell of crackling fire and taste like figgy pudding. (Or is that just my synesthesia?) I guess what I’m saying is, no matter how overplayed Christmas carols can be, there are still a few that bring me back to bygone days, to the innocence and joy of Christmases long ago, and these are some of the best of those.



Now this is what I’m talking about. From those opening trumpet notes you can tell this is no wishy-washy Christmas track, but a big-band classic, the kind of carol that takes you back to watching your grandmother baste the turkey or hearing your parents’ voices drift up the stairwell as they host the neighbours for mulled wine. That kind of stuff: real honest-to-goodness Christmas spirit.



This little beauty starts off quietly – all gentle, like falling snow, and that’s the kind of imagery it conjures up, like you’re coming home for the holidays, wandering kind of awestruck and absent-mindedly down the streets of your hometown, making your way back to Mom and Dad’s house, just kind of marvelling at how little it’s changed and how it brings you back to when you were a kid again. Then it picks up, like you’ve arrived and, what do you know, your hilarious uncle is already there with your favourite cousins and they’ve already got a good bottle of port open, just making merry and welcoming you in. That’s right, this song, good times.



C’mon now, how can you not feel jolly with a song like this one? This song has always struck me as a bit more of an urban Christmas song. Imagine walking down main street with your parents (or, now, maybe with kids of your own), just checking out the storefront displays and noticing the city-hung decorations as people bustle around you with bags and parcels because, even though it’s still early, it’s clear: it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and you’re stoked.



Another classic. Then again, what else would you expect from ol’ blue eyes? You can practically see the people bustling about in their trilbies and overcoats with this one.



Last, but not least, this masterpiece from Andy Williams – the soundtrack to practically every Christmas flick I’ve seen and for good reason: it really is the most wonderful time of the year. Hope you and yours are having a good one. Enjoy the holidays!

By Adam Bunch


Wilf Carter was born during this week all the way back in 1904. He would eventually become known as “the father of Canadian country music,” but he started out his life as a young boy growing up in Nova Scotia, inspired to sing by a travelling yodeler who came through town. By the time he was 15 years old, he’d left home: the first adventure in what would prove to be one heck of an interesting life. Carter rode the rails, singing songs to hobos in boxcars. He worked as a lumberjack in the forests of the Maritimes and spent some time as a cowboy in Alberta. He led tourists on horseback through the Rockies for the Canadian Pacific Railway and sang on board a British cruise ship during the Great Depression.

His big break came in 1930, when he got a gig singing Friday night hoedowns for a radio station in Calgary. A few years later, Carter headed down to New York City, got the nickname Montana Slim and became the host of his own country music radio show with CBS. Soon, he was back in Canada, living on a ranch in Alberta, but his career continued to soar. By the time he died at the ripe old of age of 91, Carter had written hundreds of songs, appeared on dozens of albums and had a deep influence on generations of country musicians – not just in Canada, but around the world.

Wilf Carter was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1985.




In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Canada was welcoming a new wave of immigration. For the first time, large numbers of new Canadians were coming north from the Caribbean, many of them from the island nation of Jamaica. Like the generations of immigrants before them, they would have an important influence on music in Canada. Soon, reggae and other tropical sounds were mixing with the genres of music already being played in clubs across the country, producing new styles and new bands. One of the most famous new arrivals was Jackie Mittoo.

Mittoo had already made a big name for himself back home in Jamaica. He’s been hailed as “the preeminent keyboardist in reggae history,” and was a founding member of one of the most famous ska groups of all time: The Skatalites. They were an important part of the legendary Jamaican music scene centred around Studio One in Kingston, where musicians and producers including Bob Marley, The Wailers, Toots and The Maytals, Lee “Scratch” Perry and Coxsone Dodd were recording songs that would become hits all over the world. When Mittoo, like many of Jamaica’s greatest musicians, headed to Toronto, he continued to produce some of the best reggae in the world.

His 1971 album, Wishbone, has been called “the first true Canadian-produced reggae release,” and it’s brilliant, combining his Caribbean sound with R&B and soul influences. It’s the kind of stuff that earned Toronto a reputation as one of the hardest rocking cities in the world during the mid-’60s. The record of slick organ-based tunes (that will remind many people of groups such as The Bar-Kays and Booker T. & The MGs) even features performances by some members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. It recently earned a spot on NOW Magazine’s list of the 50 greatest Toronto albums of all time.

Sadly, Mittoo’s career would be cut short. He was only 42 years old when he died in Toronto of cancer during this week in 1990.


By James Sandham

So it’s December and, if you’ll indulge me in a personal announcement, I must confess that I’m expecting a very special package to be arriving soon. No, it’s not something to be dropped down the chimney by a fat elf and eight tiny reindeer, but rather the impending birth of my daughter – my first child! – who, heck, may already be here by the time this post is published.

It subsequently goes without saying that I’ve got baby on the brain these days, so this week I thought I’d share a little thematic soundtrack with you: the songs I’ve been playing lately and to which she may very well be arriving!



This 1979 album is basically proof that you can’t judge a book (or a record) by its cover. Cheesy though the album art is, it conceals some seriously amazing tracks, including this gem, below, the chorus of which has pretty much been on repeat in my head lately.

Interesting fact: the Fruitland, Washington brothers who recorded and pressed this album in their home studio then proceeded to do absolutely nothing with it! It was only rediscovered by happenstance when record collector Jack Fleischer found a sealed copy in a Spokane, WA antique shop, happened to pick it up and then mentioned it on his blog. It’s since grown into an underground hit.



Since I’m having a daughter, this song by Loudon Wainwright III has had, shall we say, a certain resonance with me – and she’s not even born yet. God, I’m gonna be bawling my eyes out to this one, I can already tell.



This one doesn’t have quite the same emotional connection as Loudon Wainwright’s ode, but Pearl Jam‘s “Daughter” is still a classic and always reminds me of my own childhood, back in the flannel-clad, mid-1990s heyday of grunge. Man, have things ever changed since then!



OK, so I don’t know if childbirth was exactly what Blue Rodeo, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2012 inductees, were thinking of when they wrote this song, but it can’t be argued that some of its lyrics ring uncannily true. To wit: “We’ll still be sitting here / Waiting till the big push comes / The moment that you’ll finally realize / Now the moment we’ve been waiting for.”



Twelve years before he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Neil Young was making the case for himself by contributing to great songs like this one. It features the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia on pedal steel, a favour that was arranged in return for CSNY teaching the Dead how to sing harmony for their then-upcoming albums Working Man’s Dead and American Beauty. The song is said to have been inspired by an image Graham Nash saw of an angry-looking child holding a toy weapon. The lyrics are great, because while they exhort parents to “teach your children well,” they also speak about how much there is to learn from those “of tender years.” So yeah, another tear-jerker – just what I needed to finish off this list.

By Adam Bunch

The Horseshoe Tavern (left); and The Lovin' Spoonful (right)


Last week, we celebrated the 84th anniversary of the opening of one of Vancouver’s most storied music venues: the Commodore Ballroom. This week, we do the same for Toronto: it’s the 66th anniversary of The Horseshoe Tavern.

The legendary building on Queen Street West started out as a blacksmith’s shop all the way back in 1861. More than 60 years passed before the property was bought by an entrepreneur with the memorable name of Jack Starr, who turned it into the earliest version of The Horseshoe Tavern we know and love. It first opened its doors during this week in 1947.

There was music at the Horseshoe right from the very beginning, but at first the tavern was better known as a restaurant with some famously sketchy clientele. Notorious Toronto gangster Edwin Alonzo Boyd was a regular patron: he would go down in the history books for his brazen bank robberies and the TWO times he escaped from the Don Jail (once by having a fellow inmate hide a file inside his wooden leg).

It wasn’t until the 1950s that the Horseshoe started making a real name for itself as a music venue, playing host to country and folk acts including Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and local Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Ian & Sylvia. Over the next few decades, the bookers and promoters would change many times, and with them the style of music the Horseshoe was known for. As a result, the list of the greatest shows to have ever graced the stage at the ’Shoe covers a wide variety of genres: from the Canadian folk music of Stompin’ Tom Connors to the bloody chaos of punk rockers such as The Viletones and The Diodes to the sprawling indie-rock residencies of The Rheostatics during the 1990s and the early 2000s.

Today, nearly 70 years after The Horseshoe Tavern first opened its doors, it is still supporting Canadian music. Shows at the ’Shoe this month include up-and-coming local acts such as Dangerband and The BB Guns, along with established acts such as Matt Mays and The Sadies.



There’s also a sadder anniversary in Canadian music history this week: it was on December 13, 2002, that Zal Yanovsky, guitarist for The Lovin’ Spoonful, passed away in Kingston, Ontario.

He grew up in Toronto and spent parts of his summers at Camp Naivelt just outside of the city. It was a hotbed for young musicians who were inspired by the folk legends who came to visit – people like Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs – while the RCMP took down license plate numbers at the gate in fear of the socialist politics being discussed inside. By the time the early 1960s rolled around, Yanovsky had dropped out of high school and wandered down to Yorkville, where a burgeoning music scene was taking shape in that neighbourhood’s smoke-filled Beatnik coffeehouses. Soon, Yanovsky would be making a very modest living as a waiter and a folk musician, supplementing his income by stealing milk bottles off front porches and sleeping in a dryer at a nearby laundromat.

They say that laundromat is where he met his future wife, Jackie Burroughs, the actor who played Aunt Hetty on “Road To Avonlea.” But it was another new friend who would prove to be even more famous: Denny Doherty. He, too, was living without a permanent address as a musician in Yorkville and he asked Yanovsky to join his band. Soon, they had moved down to New York City, where they hung out with a group of folk musicians in Greenwich Village, taking drugs and playing music.

Half of them ended up dropping acid, throwing a dart at a map and moving to the Virgin Islands, living on a beach together until the governor kicked them out. By the time they returned to the United States, they were calling themselves The Mamas & The Papas and they had written some of the biggest hits of the 1960s. Denny Doherty, now Papa Denny, would eventually be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

But Yanovsky stayed behind in Greenwich Village. He formed a new band with a drug-dealing harmonica player by the name of John Sebastian. While The Mamas & The Papas were writing their upbeat and catchy tunes on a tropical beach, Yanovsky and Sebastian rehearsed theirs in the dank basement of the Hotel Albert, surrounded by puddles and cockroaches. But they, too, would quickly become famous. They called themselves The Lovin’ Spoonful and wrote massive hits including “Summer in the City” and “Do You Believe in Magic?”

For Yanovsky, the ride wouldn’t last very long. When he was arrested on drug charges and threatened with deportation back to Canada, he gave the police the name of the person who had sold him the drugs. Fans boycotted The Lovin’ Spoonful, Yanovsky was ostracized by the music community and he eventually returned to Canada and quit music. He spent the latter part of his life running a pair of popular restaurants in Kingston until he passed away.

He would be well remembered, though: as a legend of Canadian rock ’n’ roll. Zal Yanovsky was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1996.

By James Sandham


Need a dose of late-1970s nostalgia? Look no further than Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre, where hard-rocking sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson – better known as rock ’n’ roll legend Heart – will be performing mid-month. With over 30 million albums sold worldwide, you can expect some classics (like the one below), along with more recent fare from their 2010 release Red Velvet Car, the group’s latest offering to return them to the Top 10 lists.

Heart – “Magic Man”



Paul Langlois, guitarist for the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2005 inductees, The Tragically Hip, is promoting his second solo release, Not Guilty, with a Canadian tour that is taking him right across the country. He’ll be making plenty of stops along the way, but if you’re in Calgary this weekend, you can catch him at the Palomino Showroom on Saturday night with special guests Greg Ball and Pete Murray. Check out the video below for a taste of what you can expect.

Paul Langlois – “Not Guilty”



Ever since Miley Cyrus’ big moment at the MTV Video Music Awards earlier this year, the word “twerk” has been on everyone’s lips. Heck, it was even a runner up for the Oxford English Dictionary’s 2013 word of the year. So it was only a matter of time before someone adopted it as their stage name, and the latest addition to the Mad Decent crew, a duo comprised of Benzi and eSenTRIK, has done just that. They’ll be making it clap at Union Sound Hall on December 13.




It’s short notice, but if you’re an April Wine fan you likely already know that the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2010 inductees will be rocking the Orillia Opera House on Friday, the final stop of their 2013 tour dates. Catch ’em while you can!

April Wine – “Roller”



Last but not least – Moist! Remember these guys? “Silver”? “Push”? Oh man this brings me back. Well, for all of you who came of age in the 1990s, you may be interested/surprised to know that David Usher and the boys (minus drummer Paul Wilcox, who’s been replaced by Francis Fillion) have reunited and are currently playing a limited series of gigs across the country. You can catch ’em in Montreal on December 14. In the meantime, here’s a little something to jog your memory.

Moist – “Silver”

By Adam Bunch

The Commodore Ballroom in 1933 (left, via the Vancouver City Archives); Regina in 1912 (right, via Wikimedia Commons)


The timing couldn’t have been any worse. In the autumn of 1929, the stock market crashed. It was the end of the roaring prosperity of the Jazz Age and the beginning of that decade of extreme poverty we know as the Great Depression. On December 3, only about a month after the economy collapsed, the swanky Commodore Cabaret opened its doors in Vancouver. Over the course of that miserable winter, as unemployment soared and unrest spread across the city, the new Art Deco building struggled to attract visitors. It was fighting a losing battle. Just four months after the ballroom opened its doors, they were shut again. The Commodore had closed.

But the venue’s managing directors refused to give up. The following winter, as bread lines snaked through the heart of Vancouver, the Commodore Cabaret re-opened. This time, it stuck around. The Commodore boasted a rare sprung dance floor and beautiful architecture. The new space would thrive over the next few decades, attracting some of the biggest names in jazz – including Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and Sammy Davis Jr. – and then some of the biggest names in rock ’n’ roll, like David Bowie and KISS. The Commodore was the first place in Vancouver to host Patti Smith, Blondie and The Police. It was the first place in North America to host The Clash.

During the 1990s, long after it changed its name to the Commodore Ballroom, it once again fell on hard on times. The venue was forced to close its doors for a few years, but it was soon reopened by House of Blues and is still going strong today. Upcoming shows include exciting young Canadian talent like A Tribe Called Red, Hannah Georgas and Said The Whale.

Nirvana plays “Breed” at the Commodore Ballroom in 1991



It was exactly 21 years to the day before the Commodore Ballroom opened – more than a thousand kilometres away, over the Rockies and across the Prairies – that Canada’s oldest symphony orchestra was born. It was founded by a cellist from Scotland: Franklin Ludwig Laubach. Back home on the other side of the Atlantic, he had been a successful musician, even becoming the bandmaster of the King’s Bodyguard in Scotland. And so, having moved to Saskatchewan to join his son, he set to work bringing classical music to the prairie.

He took over a choir at a local church, established the first music festival in the province and organized the Regina Orchestral Society. It was on December 3, 1908, that they gave their very first performance. More than 100 years later, they’re known as the Regina Symphony Orchestra, they’ve gained patronage from Prince Charles, they’re heavily involved in the community and free outdoor concerts, and they’ve been continually performing for longer than any other symphony orchestra anywhere else in Canada.

The Regina Symphony Orchestra performs the Harry Potter score