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 INFAMOUS TOUR OF DOOM
They called it “The Doom Tour.” Promoted by Billy Graham and armed with giant new speaker systems, it was hailed as “the first large-scale stadium tour in rock history.”
During the summer of 1974, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (CSNY) were reunited to play shows together for the first time in years. The tour would take them to 30 different stadiums across North America, including stops at Varsity Stadium in Toronto and the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. However, the shows have been remembered more for what happened backstage than on stage: a debauched orgy of drugs and sex that helped to fuel tensions between the members of the band. That’s why David Crosby gave it the “Doom Tour” nickname.
“We actually had a guy that was employed just to provide us with cocaine,” Graham Nash admitted recently to Rolling Stone. The magazine compiled an oral history of the infamous tour. There are stories about smuggling joints and balls of coke through security, of snorting the stuff off of the carpet, of having meetings in the middle of sexual encounters. The general consensus is that the music suffered as a result. As the band tried to pioneer the big outdoor rock show, they were hardly at their sharpest.
“It’s a horrible drug,” Crosby said of cocaine, “and it has a terrible effect on your psyche and your work. The more we did it, the worse things got.”
For his part, Neil Young chose to keep his distance from the debauchery, travelling on his own bus with his son. “The tour was disappointing to me,” he remembered years later. “I think CSNY really blew it.”
But it was also a time of incredible creativity. The band members were constantly writing new songs, debuting them on stage before they’d even learned how to play them properly. And Young was leading the way. “Neil… My God….” Crosby remembered. “He knocked it out of the park over and over and over. He set the bar very, very high.”
It was on the Saturday afternoon of this week in 1974 that The Doom Tour headed across the Atlantic for one final show in London, England. The band took the stage at Wembley Stadium in front of nearly 100,000 people—and they weren’t alone. The concert was a 10-hour spectacle featuring two of Young’s fellow Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees: Joni Mitchell and The Band.
Earlier this summer, the show was released as part of a box set of live recordings from The Doom Tour. CSNY 1974 features audio and video from nine of the shows the band played on the tour, with some of the flaws edited out to give the recordings a more polished feel. The three-disc album has been met with rave reviews. Even when CSNY weren’t at their best, they were one of the best. Even on one of the most infamous tours in the history of rock and roll.
“ALMOST CUT MY HAIR” BY CSNY, LIVE AT WEMBLEY STADIUM IN 1974
By Adam Bunch
THE VERY BEGINNING OF NEIL YOUNG’S RECORDING CAREER
In 1963, Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Neil Young was only 17 years old. He had been born in Toronto, spent some time in the sleepy Ontario town of Omemee and went to high school in the suburb of Pickering. But when his parents broke up, he moved with his mother to Winnipeg, and that’s where his passion for music really took off.
These were the early years of the 1960s: the golden age of rock ’n’ roll. So the young Young grew up listening to jukebox legends such as Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. It wasn’t long before he started playing music himself. As a teenager in Winnipeg, Young joined a few different bands. The one we remember best was called The Squires.
That’s because The Squires was the very first band that Neil Young ever recorded with. It was during this week in the summer of 1963 that Young and his bandmates walked into the studio of a local Winnipeg radio station, CKRC. That day, they recorded two songs – “The Sultan” and “Aurora” – with one of the station’s DJs serving as the producer. V Records released the tunes as a single, with only 300 copies pressed. Today, only 10 are thought to have survived. It’s one of the rarest 45s in the world and an important piece of history, because that was the day that Neil Young’s recording career officially began.
“THE SULTAN” BY THE SQUIRES
ROGER WATERS AND HALL OF FAMERS CELEBRATE THE FALL OF THE WALL
He said he would never perform “The Wall” again. This was in the early 1980s. Roger Waters was done with Pink Floyd, calling the band “a spent force.” It seemed safe to say that the elaborate theatrical live version of the group’s classic anti-fascist album – which was co-produced by Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Bob Ezrin – was a thing of the past. Unless, he added with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, the Berlin Wall came down. Then he’d have to. At the time, the fall of the wall seemed like something that might never happen; the Soviet Union was still very much a superpower. But then, of course, it did.
Just a few months later, Waters arrived in Berlin. He picked a spot that had been part of the no man’s land between the two sections of the city and there, during this week in 1990, he put together one of the biggest rock shows in the history of music.
The concert, which aimed to raise money for the Memorial Fund for Disaster Relief, also included a symbolic tearing down of a temporary wall. It included plenty of guest appearances, too. Three of them were by Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees: Joni Mitchell, Bryan Adams and The Band. They performed to a massive worldwide audience. The show sold a quarter of a million tickets, gave free admission to 100,000 more, was aired on television in 65 different countries, produced a live album and came out on VHS. The days of the Berlin Wall were over. “The Wall” was back.
“GOODBYE BLUE SKY” PERFORMED BY JONI MITCHELL IN BERLIN
By Adam Bunch
THE BIRTH OF THE BASEMENT TAPES
In the summer of 1966, Bob Dylan had an accident. He was riding his motorcycle near his home – just outside of Woodstock in New York State – when he hit a patch of oil and spun out of control. He came out of it in rough shape: with terrible road rash and a cracked vertebra.
It was a turning point. In the wake of the crash, Dylan not only cancelled his upcoming tour, but he also seized the opportunity to withdraw from public life. He was at the height of his powers – “Blonde On Blonde” had just been released – but the last few years had been gruelling ones. On top of all of the stress of being one of the most famous people in the world, his decision to go electric had earned him a chorus of boos from folk purists during his last tour. So Dylan decided to take a break from being a world-famous rock star and to spend some time with his family instead.
“Truth was that I wanted to get out of the rat race,” he later wrote. “Having children changed my life….”
But none of that meant he was going to slow down creatively. In fact, he’d just found some exciting new songwriting partners from Canada.
They were originally called The Hawks. Dylan discovered them in Toronto, where they’d made a name for themselves playing rock and roll in bars along the Yonge Street strip – originally as the backing band for Ronnie Hawkins and then on their own. They were exactly what Dylan needed. He invited them to join him on tour, to back him up as he played those controversial new electric songs. From the fall of 1965 right through to the spring of 1966, they survived those long nights of folkniks booing them, heckling them and storming out of theatres.
“Don’t worry,” Dylan told the crowd at one show, “I’m just as eager to finish and leave as you are.”
On the road, they were billed as “Bob Dylan and the Band” and, eventually, that simple name stuck. The Hawks became known as The Band.
When Dylan went on hiatus, he kept right on working with them. They moved to Woodstock, too – rented out a pink house. During the months that Dylan disappeared from the public eye, they recorded more than 100 songs together, many of them in the basement of the house they called “The Big Pink.”
It’s not entirely clear when exactly they started the recordings, but it was sometime around this point in June of 1967. It marked the beginning of an extraordinary period; those 100 songs were something special. For a long time only a few people knew about the relatively secret sessions, but as bootleg recordings spread, the buzz grew.
Many of the songs that came out of that basement were destined to become hits. “Too Much of Nothing” was eventually covered by Peter, Paul and Mary, and ended up on the Top 40 of the Billboard charts. “Mighty Quinn” broke into the Top 10 when Manfred Mann recorded it. “Tears of Rage” and “I Shall Be Released” proved to be two of The Band’s most famous songs ever. They served as bookends to the group’s debut album, which eventually emerged from those basement sessions at the big pink house. The future Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees called the record Music From Big Pink.
It wasn’t the only album that owed a debt to that basement. Eight years after Dylan and The Band recorded those 100+ songs, many of them were finally released by Columbia Records. The Basement Tapes turned out to be a hugely influential LP, inspiring everyone from Elvis Costello to Billy Bragg, foreshadowing the Americana genre, earning a place on Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest albums of all time, and climbing all the way to No. 6 on the Billboard record chart.
“I SHALL BE RELEASED” BY THE BAND
By Adam Bunch
THE RETURN OF BOB DYLAN AND THE BAND
Bob Dylan’s 1966 world tour is one of the most famous tours in the history of rock ’n’ roll. It was the first time he hit the road after going electric at the Newport Folk Festival and it was also the first time he played with Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees The Band as his backing outfit. It was a controversial series of shows. Folk fans upset with Dylan’s new sound booed him, even called him Judas. It was a tough reception at the end of an exhausting period in Dylan’s life.
“I was on the road for almost five years,” he told Rolling Stone. “It wore me down. I was on drugs, a lot of things… just to keep going, you know?”
After it was all over, Dylan had a terrible motorcycle accident. He wouldn’t stage another major tour for eight years after that. He didn’t hit the road again until 1974.
But Tour ’74 was a triumphant return. Fans were now used to Dylan’s electric sound and The Band had become famous in their own right: they’d released five albums in those eight years, including their landmark debut Music From Big Pink. While the musicians would later admit they didn’t enjoy themselves on the 1974 tour, it was a very different experience for the crowds. Millions of fans tried to get tickets to the 40 shows in 21 cities played over the course of six weeks, including two shows in The Band’s hometown of Toronto and another two in Montreal.
It was during this week in 1974 that the tour finally came to end, on Valentine’s Day in Los Angeles. In the audience that night were some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, including Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Carole King and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Neil Young.
Ringo Starr was there too. “It was bloody fantastic,” he said. “The best concert I’ve ever been to.”
Bob Dylan performs “Tangled Up In Blue” in 1974
POKING FUN AT THE OPERA
Long before Seth Rogen, Mike Myers and the cast of “SCTV,” Canada was already producing some of the world’s most popular comedians. Take, for instance, Anna Russell. She was born in England in 1911 and studied piano at the prestigious Royal College of Music in London. But in her late twenties, she and her family moved to Canada and settled in Toronto. She had already met with some success back in the United Kingdom – she did everything from singing folk songs on the BBC to appearing on stage in operas – but it was in Toronto that her career really took off.
The key was that Russell saw the lighter side of music. (It might have helped that she once tripped on stage during an opera in England, accidentally pulling down part of the set.) In Canada, instead of simply performing the music she loved, she poked fun at it. Her “The Ring of the Nibelungs (An Analysis),” which hilariously dissected Richard Wagner’s opera, became a hit. So did her spoof “How To Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera.” Before long, Russell was famous. She toured the world, released bestselling albums, wrote books, worked in film, won awards and performed at Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall and on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
And it all started during this week in 1942. On a wintry Wednesday night at the Eaton Auditorium (now The Carlu) in downtown Toronto, Anna Russell took to the stage with her one-woman show for the very first time.
“The Ring of the Nibelungs (An Analysis)” – Anna Russell
By James Sandham
It’s been a busy week-and-a-half here in Toronto as the Toronto International Film Festival opened and the whole circus that accompanies it rolled into town. Between the film stars, the rabid fans and the hundreds of film screenings that just wrapped up this past Sunday, it’s been hard to think of anything but movies (sorry, “films”) lately.
Amid all of the celebrity and glamour though, there does seem to be one element of the medium that often gets overlooked – I’m talking, of course, about the soundtracks. Sometimes they can be just as important as the actors and films themselves, so this week I thought we’d take a look at some of the best music in movies.
When it comes to music in movies, Tim Burton’s 1988 comedy-horror classic Beetlejuice not only stands the test of time, but it also completely obliterates much of the competition. This is due, primarily, to the incredible sounds of Harry Belafonte. What makes the music in this movie unique – the film features Belafonte’s songs “Jump in the Line,” “Man Smart (Woman Smarter)” and, of course, “Day-O” (below) – is the integral role it plays with the action – often to iconic effect.
Harry Belafonte – “Day-O”
Bruce McDonald’s Hard Core Logo, an adaptation of Michael Turner’s novel of the same name, was released in 1996 and is generally regarded as one of the greatest movies to have come out of Canada.
Featuring Headstones vocalist Hugh Dillon as Joe Dick, a fictional punk band’s frontman, the mockumentary focuses on the self-destruction of punk rock. As such, punk music plays a huge role in the film and, even though the band is fake, the music they play is amazing.
Hard Core Logo – “Who the Hell Do You Think You Are?”
Sometimes the music in a movie is more than just the soundtrack, it’s the movie itself. As far as the concert movie genre goes, The Last Waltz has to be one of the best. This film features the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1989 inductees, The Band, playing their last show (or at least their last show with the original members – Robbie Robertson left to pursue a solo career after this) at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. The Band is accompanied by such musical luminaries as Bob Dylan, Ronnie Hawkins, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters and others. The film was directed by Martin Scorsese and is regarded as a classic.
The Band – “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”
Once is an Irish film that was released in 2007, starring musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. It tells the story of a Dublin busker (Hansard) and his struggles while performing on the street. With the love of an unnamed Czech flower seller (Irglova) who he meets while busking, his music is given the strength to shine. The song below won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Original Song. If you’d like to hear more, a live musical version of the movie is set to be staged at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre beginning in November of this year.
Once – “Falling Slowly”
Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, the film adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s cult hit novel, had such a good soundtrack that it came out twice: the first album was released in July 1996, just after the movie’s debut, and then another album came out in October of the following year. Featuring a veritable who’s who in excellent music – including Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, David Bowie, Primal Scream, New Order, Lou Reed and Pulp (below) among others – it’s no wonder they needed two releases to cover it. Awesome tunes for an awesome movie. And now… fade to black.
Pulp – “Mile End”
By Adam Bunch
Little Caesar & The Consuls Hit The Charts
Little Caesar & The Consuls were one of Canada’s very first rock ’n’ roll bands. They formed in Toronto all the way back in 1957 and quickly made a name for themselves on the high school dance circuit. That was thanks in part to their teenage guitar phenom, Robbie Robertson. His distinctive, raunchy playing would have a profound influence on the young musicians who saw him perform at their school dances in those early days – and it’s Robertson, more than anyone else, who gets credit for developing the gritty “Toronto Sound” that swept through the city in the 1960s. For the next decade, Yorkville and the Yonge Street strip would be full of guitarists trying to sound like him.
Robertson wasn’t with Little Caesar & The Consuls for very long, though. He would soon join another one of the city’s most popular early rock acts: Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks. A few years later – after leaving Hawkins, meeting Bob Dylan and re-naming themselves The Band – the former Hawks would become one of the most famous rock groups on Earth. They were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1989.
Even without Robertson, Little Caesar & The Consuls made a mark on the Canadian music scene. They had a string of hits, including a cover of “(My Girl) Sloopy,” which was in the top 10 of the CHUM Chart during this week in 1965.
“Takin’ Care of Business” in the Summer of ’74
Bachman-Turner Overdrive (BTO) formed more than 40 years ago, in the wake of Randy Bachman’s departure from The Guess Who. Decades later, the band’s biggest hit is still a staple of radio station playlists and summer barbecues all over the country. But it was never more popular than it was during this week in 1974. That’s when “Takin’ Care of Business” sat atop the CHUM Chart.
The song would spend 15 weeks on the chart and become one of the defining songs of the summer of 1974, sharing the airwaves with other new hits such as “I Shot the Sheriff” by Eric Clapton, “Waterloo” by ABBA, “Band on the Run” by Wings and “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot. Even The Guess Who got in on the act with “Clap for the Wolfman.”
It actually could have been two hits for The Guess Who, as Bachman originally wrote “Takin’ Care of Business” for them. It was called “White Collar Worker” back then and it had a different chorus. Burton Cummings refused to record it, though, dismissing it as a ripoff of The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer.” After Bachman left the band and started BTO he made some changes to the song – including a new, catchier chorus – and turned it into a No. 1 hit.
Bachman was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame as a member of The Guess Who in 1987.
The Birth of Maureen Forrester
On July 25, 1930, one of Canada’s greatest opera singers was born. Maureen Forrester grew up in Montreal, the daughter of British immigrants. They weren’t a rich family; she was forced to drop out of school at the age of 13 in order to get a job. But through it all, she kept singing: in choirs, in church and eventually on the stage.
By the time Forrester was in her mid-20s, she was ready to make her concert debut. It came in 1957 with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of one of the most revered conductors of the 20th century: Otto Klemperer. Before long, Forrester had established herself as one of the most talented contraltos in the world. She sang on five different continents by the end of her career, which lasted for decades.
Still, Canada always had a special place in her heart. Forrester spent years serving as the chair of the Canada Council for the Arts and she made sure to perform work by Canadian composers, bringing their talent to the attention of the rest of the world. She was made a companion of the Order of Canada in 1967, the very first year that honour was created, and was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1990.