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.


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.


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.


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.


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”


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.

By Adam Bunch

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


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.



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.

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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.

By Adam Bunch


It was the summer of 1880. Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day was approaching. In recent decades, Quebec’s “national holiday” has become partially associated with separatism, but its roots go all the way back to a Catholic feast held by Canada’s first French settlers in the 1600s. The event in 1880 was going to be a special one: French-Canadians from all over the country were gathering in Quebec City to celebrate the holiday by holding the first-ever Congrès national des Canadiens français (National Congress of French-Canadians). The Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society wanted to honour the occasion by commissioning a brand new patriotic song, and to compose it, they turned to a man with an extraordinary name: Calixa Lavallée.

Born just outside of Montreal in the 1840s, Lavallée showed early promise as a musician, learning to play several instruments as a young boy. In fact, he was so good that, as a teenager, he was invited to join a famous violinist’s tour of the southern half of the Western Hemisphere. And that was only the beginning of his travels. A few years later, Lavallée was signed on as a musician for the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was wounded in the leg at the infamous Battle of Antietam, “the bloodiest single-day battle in American history.” He would later marry an American woman in Massachusetts and become the director of the Grand Opera House in New York City (until the owner was assassinated in the street). He even spent a couple of years studying in Paris.

Lavallée was in his early thirties by the time he returned to settle in Montreal. He spent the next few years making a name for himself in Quebec as a composer, conductor, choirmaster and organist. That’s how he came to the attention of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society and was chosen to write the music for “O Canada.”

The words came from a poem, written in French by a Québécois Superior Court judge – and future knight – Adolphe-Basile Routhier. It would be more than another 20 years before the lyrics were translated into English, when the future King George V came to visit Canada in the early 1900s. That helped the song to gain popularity with Anglophones, too. And so, a century after it was first composed, “O Canada” was chosen as our new national anthem on July 1, 1980.

But that’s how it all started: as a patriotic song composed by an American Civil War veteran in honour of Quebec’s nationalist holiday more than 130 years ago.

Calixa Lavallée died during this week in 1891.




Calixa Lavallée wasn’t the only veteran of the American military to make his mark on Canadian music. In fact, another such man was born during this very same week in 1936. Jack Scott spent some time in the United States Army during the 1950s, but he’s much better known as one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll singers of all time. He was born in Windsor, Ontario, and grew up in Detroit, splitting his album releases between both American and Canadian record labels. During one stretch of about three-and-a-half years, he put out an amazing 19 singles; only The Beatles released more hits more quickly. A dozen of Scott’s songs became hits – and that was just from his first solo record.

Fifty years later, he’s still going strong.


By James Sandham

Well, folks, as we pointed out last week, now that the holidays are over we can basically see the Canadian winter for what it is – not a festive, frosty wonderland of gifts and good cheer, but a dark, cold and loveless apocalypse in which everything good about life has died. Foliage, sunshine, vitamin D – they’re all conspicuously absent these days.

Instead of dwelling upon it, though, why not take a look at what’s ahead: summer. Or, at the very least, maybe a little vacation in the meantime, preferably to someplace not so cold. There are, of course, those of us who won’t be so lucky, who will simply have to stay here, toughing it out through the snowmageddon, but at least we’ll have our music. So, to that end, here are a few of our favourite songs to help transport us to sunnier climes.



Obviously. When it comes to odes to the finer things in life – i.e. sunshine – there are few better than this little ditty by the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1981 inductee, Joni Mitchell. This was the lead track from the B-side of her 1971 album, Blue. Wistful but optimistic, it perfectly sums up the feeling many of us have as we huddle through yet another snowstorm, all the while telling ourselves: “The days are getting longer, the days are getting longer.”



A close runner-up is this hit from Denny Doherty et al., first released as a single in 1965 and then included as the B-side of The Mamas and the Papas’ 1966 debut, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears. The song was actually written by John and Michelle Phillips before The Mamas and the Papas formed – back when they were still members of The New Journeymen and living in New York City. While it wasn’t an immediate hit, “California Dreamin’” eventually hit No. 4 on the Hot 100, where it sat for 17 weeks. Today, it’s an icon of its era and the perfect song to push away the winter blues.



Joni Mitchell and Denny Doherty may be California dreamin’, but April Wine have their sights set a little farther afield: Lyford Cay, Bahamas, to be precise, the exclusive community founded by Canadian businessman (and thoroughbred horse racer) Edward Plunkett Taylor on New Providence Island. Of course, as the band goes on to explain, Santa Fe or San Jose would be just fine, too. I couldn’t agree more.



Santa Fe, San Jose… or what about San Juan? It too would be quite alright, as far as I’m concerned. Daniel Lanois, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2002 inductee, appears to concur. The track comes from his 2003 album, Shine, which was his first solo release in 10 years at the time.



Last but not least, let’s allow Gordon Lightfoot to give expression to what we’re all thinking. Save your California dreams, because I’m not even that picky: the dream of summertime – no matter where it’s located – is all I need. Incidentally, it’s all I’ve got as well, because there are no vacations in my future this year. So as far as winter goes, a “Summertime Dream” will have to see me through.

By Adam Bunch


They started out as Al and The Silvertones all the way back in 1958. Then it was Chad Allan and The Reflections, and then Chad Allan and The Expressions. But during this week in 1965, the group finally put out their first single under the enigmatic name they’d become famous with: The Guess Who.

That first single was one they had already released: a cover of “Shakin’ All Over,” originally performed by an English group called Johnny Kidd and The Pirates. But this time, the band’s record company decided to release it under the mysterious name of “Guess Who?” in the hope that fans would think the band might be a more famous outfit or a super-group featuring their favourite musicians. The scheme worked. Under the new name, the song became a smash hit. It went all the way to No. 1 on the charts in Canada and landed just outside the Top 20 in the United States.

Of course, the band would prove to be about far more than a memorable moniker. The Guess Who went on to become one of the most universally beloved bands in Canadian history. They were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1987.

“Shakin’ All Over” – The Guess Who



It was during this week in 1962 that the famous Musical Ride of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police became a permanent full-time fixture of Canadian culture. But its roots go back much further than that. The tradition started in the 1800s as a way for police officers to spend their free time: performing cavalry drill movements to music. By the end of 1887, the rides had become an officially sanctioned part of the job, with the first recorded professional ride being held in Regina.

Still, it wasn’t until 1901 that the first ride was performed in front of a public audience. Twenty red-coated Mounties took part in that inaugural public spectacle. A couple of decades later, the tradition of using only black horses was established and one of the iconic images of Canadian culture was born. The Musical Ride was even featured on the back of the old Canadian $50 bill.

In recent years, the Musical Ride has faced some controversy. One female officer has launched a lawsuit against the RCMP, in which she alleges that she faced brutal treatment during hazing rituals in the 1980s. More recently, the organizers apologized for having a horse perform while injured. Still, the Musical Ride endures as one of the most instantly recognizable emblems of Canadiana. Today, a group of 36 riders performs across the country as many as 50 times a year.

Here’s a short National Film Board documentary about the Musical Ride from 1954.

Image of the Musical Ride via the RCMP website.

By James Sandham

So, Christmas is behind us. New Year’s Eve, too. Looks like all we’ve got left to look forward to is the bleak, barren heart of the Canadian winter. Well, cosy up, because this week we’re looking at songs about the cold.



Let’s start things off with the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1986 inductee, Gordon Lightfoot. Originally from his 1976 album, Summertime Dream, this is probably Lightfoot’s best-known song. It is also the best song to start this playlist, because there is nothing colder than perishing beneath the icy grey waters of Lake Superior, as the 29 crew members of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald did that fateful night in November. Nobody said the Canadian winter was pretty.



Well, that was heavy. As if we needed another reason to get bummed out – it’s not like my seasonal affective disorder isn’t in full swing. So, let’s lighten the winter with a little something from Simon and Garfunkel. While this song is still essentially a lament about winter’s dreariness, at least it’s upbeat.



OK, now we’re talking. The title of this song may be “Cold as Ice,” but musically, things are definitely starting to heat up. This track comes from Foreigner’s 1977 self-titled debut and it has certainly passed the test of time: not only does it serve as a sample for hip-hop group M.O.P.’s eponymous rap, but it also features as a track in the video game Rock Band 3.



As far as songs about the cold go, this one has to be among my favourites. It comes from Tom Waits’ 1987 album, Franks Wild Years, the songs of which also make up the score to a play of the same name, which he wrote with his wife.



Last, but not least, Vancouver’s legends of rock: the ineffable Trooper. I don’t think they’re singing about the Toronto weather in this one, per se, but at this time of year the description is certainly apt, not only in its intended metaphorical sense, but literally, too. It’s freezing. So bundle up.

By Adam Bunch


During this week in the winter of 1927, a brand-new baby girl was born in Winnipeg. Her name was Marie Marguerite Louise Gisèle LaFlèche, but she would become better known as Gisèle MacKenzie, “Canada’s first lady of song.”

MacKenzie showed early promise as a musician, studying violin at the prestigious Royal Conservatory of Music in downtown Toronto. By the end of the 1940s, she had made a name for herself at the CBC as the host of a radio program titled “Meet Gisèle.” It gave her a chance to welcome some of the biggest stars in the world, including Jimmy Stewart, Fred Astaire, Clark Gable and Jack Benny. In fact, years later, she and Benny would perform a famous gag together: a violin duet in which he is grumpily upstaged by her virtuosic flourishes. You can still find it on YouTube.

That was after she’d moved to the United States in order to replace The Andrews Sisters on a CBS Radio show called “Club 15.” It was just the beginning of her American stardom. MacKenzie would become a regular performer on NBC’s pop music show “Your Hit Parade” (where another Canadian, Norman Jewison, worked as a director), but was also known to make appearances on everything from “The Jack Benny Program” to “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Eventually, she’d land her own Saturday night variety program, “The Gisèle MacKenzie Show,” where she performed with stars such as Jimmie Rodgers, Dean Martin and Ronald Reagan. By the early 1960s, she’d even nabbed the role of Sid Caesar’s wife on “The Sid Caesar Show.” By the time the 1980s rolled around, MacKenzie was still going strong, showing up on the legendary soap opera “The Young and The Restless.” By the time her career was over, she’d earned two Emmy nominations, released several full-length albums and was even given her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.




Gisèle MacKenzie isn’t the only Canadian musician to celebrate her birthday this week. During this week in 1955, Mike Reno was born in New Westminster, British Columbia. After high school, he moved to Calgary where he met a young guitarist by the name of Paul Dean. Together, they would form Loverboy and would go on to become one of the biggest bands in Canada during the 1980s. The band’s sophomore album, Get Lucky, featured the smash hit “Working for the Weekend” and went all the way up to No. 7 on the Billboard charts, selling more than four million copies.

Loverboy was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2009.

By James Sandham

With a new year comes a new raft of great live shows to see. Here are a few of our picks for over the coming month.



Perennially well-dressed Torontonian Royal Wood takes his JUNO Award–nominated music on the road with a tour of Western Canada, including stops in Banff, Nelson, Prince George and North Vancouver, B.C., before heading back east for shows in Markham, London and St. Catharines, Ont., among others, and finally winding things up in Halifax in May. A mesmerizing live performer, he’s not to be missed.

Royal Wood – “The Glory”



The Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2010 inductees have had a packed year of touring, and that continues into 2014 as they roll into Calgary’s Deerfoot Inn & Casino. With multiple JUNO Award nominations to their credit, and hundreds of thousands of album sales, you can expect a night of hits, like the one below.

April Wine – “Like a Lover, Like a Song”



Blue Rodeo begins the new year with gusto. Starting on January 2 in Vancouver, the 2012 Canadian Music Hall of Famers will be working their way east to Montreal with plenty of stops along the way. If you’re in Winnipeg on January 23, you can catch the alt-country pioneers at the MTS Centre, along with vocalist Jim Cuddy’s son, Devin Cuddy, who will be opening.

Blue Rodeo – “Bad Timing”



Jay Z certainly seems to have the Midas touch. Not only is his latest release, 2013’s Magna Carta Holy Grail, leading the pack in Grammy nominations, it’s even carrying along all those who are associated with it, including, incongruously, Nirvana, as a sample of the band’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” appears in the track below, resulting in Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic being listed among the songwriters for Best Rap Song. Find out what else turns to gold when his show rolls into Toronto at the end of the month.

Jay Z – “Holy Grail”



Experimental and often noisy American indie-rockers Neutral Milk Hotel have been cited as an influence by acts such as Arcade Fire, Bon Iver and Franz Ferdinand, yet still remain somewhat obscure outside of indie music circles. Having reunited in 2013 after a multi-year hiatus, we now have the opportunity to get acquainted with them all over again. They’ll be at the Olympia Theatre as part of their multi-date North American tour before heading off to Europe

Neutral Milk Hotel – “Holland, 1945”