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Archive for January, 2014

Five Things: Bachman-Turner Overdrive

Posted on: January 30th, 2014 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By James Sandham

By now you may already know that Winnipeg’s hard-rocking blue-collar boys – a.k.a. Bachman-Turner Overdrive – have been selected as the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2014 inductees. But did you know that their initial demo tape was rejected 26 times? Or that their name was inspired by a trucker magazine they happened across in Windsor? Well, it’s true. Here are five more facts you may not have heard about BTO.

1. THE CMHF INDUCTION – THAT’S BEEN A LONG TIME COMIN’

It was more than 10 years ago that The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences was ready to give BTO their honours, but due to various members still fighting over who had the right to use the band’s name, the induction never happened. Until now, that is, featuring the lineup of Randy Bachman, Fred Turner, Blair Thornton and Robin “Robbie” Bachman, the creators of the band’s 1974 hit album, Not Fragile.

2. “IF THE GUESS WHO WERE IN THE RIGHT STATE OF MIND… THERE NEVER WOULD HAVE BEEN A BTO.”

Or so claims Randy Bachman in a recent interview with the CBC. Here’s the backstory: It was May of 1970 and Bachman had decided – abruptly – to part ways with his previous band, The Guess Who. It was just months after the release of American Woman and he’d been suffering nightly visits to the emergency room due to a series of gallbladder attacks that left him fevered and vomiting blood. He told The Guess Who he couldn’t continue touring, so they lined up a temporary replacement for his absence.

“Looking back at it,” Bachman tells the CBC, “if The Guess Who were in the right state of mind… [they] would have recognized that Randy has a problem. He’s bleeding to death. He’s in pain. We’re number one, [so] let’s take a month off and see what’s wrong, get him fixed and go back on the road.”

They didn’t. So Bachman left the band instead, and BTO was born.

3. A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME?

BTO was born, but not quite – because, before Bachman-Turner Overdrive there was Brave Belt. Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it? But that was the name of the band Bachman formed after splitting from Burton Cummings et al. Formed with substantial help from fellow CMHF inductee and Winnipeg native Neil Young, Brave Belt was to be a country-pop group. Members included Randy’s brother Robin, former Guess Who associate Chad Allan and, later, Fred Turner on bass. They put out two records that “kind of went nowhere,” says Bachman. Their third got them dropped from their label, Reprise Records.

It wasn’t until Bachman had shopped it around – and racked up more than 20 refusals – that Warner Bros. showed any interest. They had one condition, however: that the band change its name to capitalize on Bachman’s name recognition. The boys switched to Bachman-Turner, then picked up “Overdrive” from a trucker magazine. Suddenly, Bachman says, they “had this magical thing”: the band’s first self-titled album – that old Brave Belt record that no one had wanted – went on to go gold in sales.

4. THEY WERE LITERALLY TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS

BTO could just as well stand for “bars,” “taverns” and… uh… “open cans of beer”? OK, maybe that’s a little weak, but my point is that BTO has always been associated with a beer-soaked, party-hardy kind of scene. Strange, then, that the band members never had much time for hard living itself.

“We were drug free and pretty much alcohol free,” confesses Randy Bachman to the CBC. “I was investing my money from The Guess Who in the band… We didn’t have any roadies, we set up our own gear, we set up our own PA…. I wasn’t going to waste my money on guys who wanted to party and wanted chicks. This was a business to me. At that time, I had two children and a limited amount of money from The Guess Who because I got shafted on that whole thing.”

Bachman-Turner Overdrive – “Takin’ Care of Business”

5. THEY PRESENTED A MEDAL TO THE KING

The king of rock ’n’ roll, that is! It was 1975 and the boys were down in Las Vegas, watching one of Elvis’s shows. After being swarmed by autograph seekers, they were called back to meet him, at which point Blair Thornton presented Elvis with the medal: a silver medallion inscribed with Takin’ Care of Business.

“Basically, we talked to him about karate, firearms and cars,” Robbie Bachman says of the encounter.

This Week in Music History: January 27 to February 2

Posted on: January 28th, 2014 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By Adam Bunch

Neil Young (left, from the album cover of Neil Young); Yorkville in 1967 (right, via the Clara Thomas Archives)

THE VERY BEGINNING OF NEIL YOUNG’S CAREER

Neil Young was just 17 years old in 1963. He was born in Toronto and grew up, in part, around that city – attending high school in Pickering, just to the east of the metropolis. But when his parents got divorced, he moved with his mother to Winnipeg, and that’s where he really got into music.

Inspired by early rock ’n’ rollers, such as Elvis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, the young Young learned to play the ukulele – then a banjo ukulele, then a baritone ukulele – before finally turning to the guitar. He formed his earliest groups when he was still just a teenager and it was with one of them, The Squires, that he played his first-ever professional gig at a country club in Winnipeg during this week in 1963.

Eventually, Young would move back to Toronto and join the folk scene in Yorkville. While he was there, he even formed a rock band with the draft-dodging Rick “Super Freak” James. They were called The Mynah Birds and they recorded a few songs for the Motown label (though Young wasn’t a part of those sessions). Still, it wasn’t until Young and The Mynah Birds’ bassist, Bruce Palmer, climbed into a hearse and drove it all the way to Los Angeles that Young’s career finally took off. Within a few days of arriving in California, they’d formed yet another new band: Buffalo Springfield. The rest, as they say, is history.

Earlier this month, Neil Young completed a cross-country tour called Honour The Treaties in support of the First Nations and in opposition to the development of the oil sands. More than 50 years after his first gig, Young is still a vital part of the Canadian music scene. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1982.

Here’s one of his earliest songs, “Sugar Mountain,” recorded as a demo during his Yorkville days in 1965.

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YORKVILLE STORMS THE CHARTS

Of course, Neil Young wasn’t the only musician from Yorkville who made it big in the 1960s. During this week in 1967, the evidence was written all over the CHUM Chart. Right alongside The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Marvin Gaye and Sonny and Cher, a half-dozen artists with connections to the Yorkville scene had climbed into the Top 50.

The highest spot of the lot belonged to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Go-Go Round” at No. 7. By that point, Lightfoot had already spent a few years making a name for himself in Yorkville’s coffeehouses. “Go-Go Round” was a single off of his second full-length album, The Way I Feel, which was about to be released in July of that year. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1986.

But Lightfoot was far from alone on the chart: at No. 11 sat “If I Call You By Some Name” by The Paupers. At the time, The Paupers were one of the scene’s most promising psychedelic acts. Just a few months later, they’d be playing at the legendary Monterey Pop Festival with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding and The Who. Drugs and personal conflicts would derail their career before they made it big, but members of the band would go on to form other groups, including Lighthouse and McKenna Mendelson Mainline. “If I Call You By Some Name” is one of the group’s most mellow, folk-influenced tunes.

Yorkville might be best remembered for its folk musicians, but The Paupers were far from the only psychedelic rockers shaking the neighbourhood’s foundations during those years. The chart also included another one of Yorkville’s loudest rock groups: The Ugly Ducklings. They were one of the most popular Canadian outfits at the time, no strangers to the CHUM Chart. By this point, they’d already opened for The Rolling Stones; Mick Jagger called them his favourite Canadian band. Their fuzzy garage rock single, “Just In Case You Wonder,” was sitting at No. 33 during this week in 1967.

Mandala, on the other hand, was exploring the psychedelic possibilities of funk. The group had started off as the house band at Club Bluenote, the Yonge Street after-hours soul club where the biggest soul stars in the world would come to jam after their regular Toronto gigs – people like Stevie Wonder, Edwin Starr and The Supremes. But the members of Mandala spent some time in Yorkville, too, and their track “Opportunity” was sitting at No. 40 during this week in 1967 on a trip all the way up to No. 3. The band’s guitarist, Domenic Troiano, would also spend some time in The Guess Who. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1996.

Mandala also included, for a brief time, another familiar face to the Yorkville scene: David Clayton-Thomas, who would go on to fame as the frontman for Blood, Sweat and Tears. He, too, was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, at the same time as Troiano.

Finally, two of the graduates from Yorkville’s folk scene had gone on to fame with American bands. Zal Yanovksy and Denny Doherty had played together in a group called The Halifax Three that was based out of Yorkville for a while. They eventually moved to the United States and started a new band, The Mugwumps, with an up-and-coming folk singer by the name of Mama Cass. Doherty and Cass went on to form The Mamas and The Papas, who were sitting at No. 12 on the CHUM Chart with “Words of Love.” Doherty was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1996.

Meanwhile, Yanovksy went on to form The Lovin’ Spoonful, who were at No. 9 with “Nashville Cats.” He also joined the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1996, the very same year as Doherty, Troiano and Clayton-Thomas.

Cover Me: Leonard Cohen

Posted on: January 23rd, 2014 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By James Sandham

It goes without saying that there are a lot of talented songwriters out there. To be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, though, it takes more than just the talent to write a good song. You have to be able to create that truly special form of music, those songs that are more than just songs—closer to touchstones of an era—that connect with something so universal that they resonate with everyone.

An example par excellence would have to be Leonard Cohen, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1991 inductee. According to The Leonard Cohen Files, there have been more than 2,700 covers of his compositions from artists around the world. You don’t get that kind of tribute unless the music you’re making contains a touch of magic. So, for this month’s Cover Me, we thought we’d take a look at some of these: the best covers of Leonard Cohen.

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NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS – “AVALANCHE”

After Nick Cave’s first band, The Birthday Party (formerly known as The Boys Next Door), broke up, he knew he had to make a splash with his next one. Well, what better way than with a cover of Cohen’s “Avalanche”? It was the lead track on Nick Cave and the Bad Seed’s 1984 debut, From Her to Eternity, and it was a snarling, vicious take on Cohen’s 1971 classic.

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JOHNNY CASH – “BIRD ON THE WIRE”

The man in black always imbues what he sings with a nearly supernatural gravitas, so when you give him a Leonard Cohen tune, he’s bound to come out with something seriously serious. Here he is at Montreux in 1994, singing the lead track of Cohen’s 1969 release, Songs from a Room. No small coincidence that the album Johnny Cash’s version comes from, American Recordings, revitalized his career.

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CONCRETE BLONDE – “EVERYBODY KNOWS”

Los Angeles alt-rockers Concrete Blonde were initially active from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, the heyday of college rock that encompassed the emergence of grunge. Here they’ve taken that sound and channeled it into Cohen’s 1988 release, “Everybody Knows,” with excellent results. This track comes from the soundtrack to the 1990 Christian Slater film Pump Up the Volume, but was also released by the band as a single.

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THE LEMONHEADS (FT. LIV TYLER) – “HEY, THAT’S NO WAY TO SAY GOODBYE”

This song originally comes from Cohen’s 1967 debut, Songs of Leonard Cohen, but we couldn’t resist including The Lemonheads‘ version of it here—more as an oddity than anything else—because it features the vocals of actress Liv Tyler. She does a beautiful job with it, too, further proof of just how widely the tributes to Cohen can be pulled.

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BOYS NOIZE AND EROL ALKAN (FT. JARVIS COCKER) – “AVALANCHE”

And here we are, back where we started, with another cover of “Avalanche,” but this time done in a distinctly different style. Leonard Cohen isn’t usually associated with electronic dance music, but that’s just what German producer and DJ Alexander Ridha (a.k.a. Boys Noize) and London-based Erol Alkan have done with this track. Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker provides the spoken word re-interpretation of the classic Cohen lyrics.

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