By Adam Bunch
THE LAST WALTZ HITS THE BIG SCREEN
It all started in the early 1960s, when a musician from Arkansas moved to Canada. Ronnie Hawkins brought his backing band, The Hawks, with him to play the raucous nightclubs of Toronto’s Yonge Street strip, but over time most of them returned home and were replaced by Canadians. Before long, drummer Levon Helm was the only American left. He was joined by Toronto’s Robbie Robertson, London’s Garth Hudson, Stratford’s Richard Manuel and bassist Rick Danko from the tiny hamlet of Green’s Corners.
It was in 1964 that they left Hawkins and struck out on their own. For a while, they were playing as the Levon Helm Sextet, then as Levon and The Hawks, then as the Canadian Squires…. But they would change their name one more time before they became famous. In 1965, a folk singer from Minnesota came to Toronto to see them play. He offered them a job – and so, they became Bob Dylan’s backing group and called themselves, quite simply, The Band.
They spent the next decade as one of the most popular rock ’n’ roll outfits on the planet, but it all came to an end in 1976. They called their final show “The Last Waltz.” The Band took the stage at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco and were joined by a long list of all-star guests, including Hawkins, Dylan and fellow Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. The whole event was filmed by director Martin Scorsese and turned into one of the greatest concert films of all time.
It was during this week in 1977 that The Last Waltz premiered on the big screen for the very first time.
“THE WEIGHT” BY THE BAND IN THE LAST WALTZ
BLOOD SWEAT AND TEARS CLIMB THE CHARTS… AGAIN
The Band weren’t the only future Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees making a name for themselves on the 1960s Yonge Street strip. It’s also where David Clayton-Thomas got his start, serving as the powerfully lunged frontman for rhythm and blues outfits such as The Shays and The Bossmen. In 1966, at the same time The Band was first teaming up with Bob Dylan, Clayton-Thomas followed the legendary blues singer John Lee Hooker to New York City, where he stayed on after their gigs together were over. Eventually, he was recruited to become the new frontman for Blood Sweat and Tears, who had broken up after their first album.
Now, with Clayton-Thomas giving the group new life, they released a second. The self-titled record was a smash hit; it even edged out The Beatles’ Abbey Road for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards. The album’s first single, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” climbed all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The second single, “Spinning Wheel,” did the very same thing. And it was during this week in 1969 that the third single, “And When I Die,” broke into the Top 10 on its way to becoming the band’s third straight single to climb all way up to No. 2.
“AND WHEN I DIE” BY BLOOD SWEAT AND TEARS
By Adam Bunch
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.
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.