By Adam Bunch

THE BIRTH OF THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL

It all started in the basement of the Albert Hotel in New York City’s Greenwich Village. It was the early 1960s. A Toronto guitarist by the name of Zal Yanovsky had been living there with some friends and former bandmates, but most of them were gone now – they’d recently dropped acid, thrown a dart at a map and headed off to the Virgin Islands to become The Mamas and The Papas. Yanovsky stayed behind. Instead of becoming Papa Zal, he teamed up with another friend – a harmonica player named John Sebastian – and they started to write some songs together. When their neighbours complained about the noise, the pair was forced down into the hotel’s basement, where they rehearsed their upbeat pop tunes surrounded by cockroaches and puddles.

It was a humble beginning for one of the most popular bands of the 1960s: The Lovin’ Spoonful. But they would soon leave that basement behind. The band’s very first single, “Do You Believe In Magic,” headed straight up the charts, all the way to the Top 10 – and that was just the beginning. Their second single was called “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice.” It was released during this week in 1965. After that, they did it again and again and again. The Lovin’ Spoonful put every single one of their first seven singles into the Top 10 – a better start to their career than even The Beatles or The Rolling Stones had enjoyed. Three decades later, Zal Yanovksy would be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

“YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO BE SO NICE” BY THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL

*****

CANADA’S FIRST VIOLINS

The story starts in the 1530s. That’s when the French explorer Jacques Cartier led an expedition up the St. Lawrence River – with more than a little help from the local First Nations – to become the first European ever to set eyes on that part of Canada. At the very same time that Cartier and his men were spending a winter stuck in the ice not far from where Quebec City is now, a new musical instrument was becoming popular back on the other side of the Atlantic. The European violin had gradually evolved from a series of Middle Eastern stringed instruments and now it was catching on.

It would be another few decades before Quebec City was founded, but when it was, the violin followed close behind. There were still only a few hundred people living in town when the first violins arrived. Many of those early inhabitants were Jesuit missionaries, and it was one of them who made an interesting note that has been passed down to us nearly 400 years later. It was during this week in 1645 that two violins were played at a wedding in Quebec City. It was, as far as we know, the very first time the sound of a violin was ever heard in Canada.

“O CANADA” ON VIOLIN


By Adam Bunch

THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’S BIGGEST HIT

During the summer of 1966, The Lovin’ Spoonful was at the height of its powers. The group had only been around for a couple of years, but was already one of the most popular bands in the world. The band had first formed as part of the early 1960s folk scene in New York City’s Greenwich Village. American John Sebastian (son of a classical harmonica player) teamed up with Toronto’s Zal Yanovsky (who once lived in a dryer in a Yorkville laundromat, played in a folk-pop band with Mama Cass and fellow Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Papa Denny Doherty, and was also the husband of future “Road To Avonlea” actor Jackie Burroughs). It only took the Spoonful about a year to release its very first single and it was a smash hit: in the summer of 1965, “Do You Believe In Magic” raced up the Billboard charts all the way into the Top 10.

That was just the beginning. “Do You Believe In Magic” was the first of seven straight Lovin’ Spoonful singles to reach the Top 10, including “Daydream,” “You Didn’t Have to Be so Nice” and “Did You Ever Have to Make up Your Mind?” The group was one of only two 1960s bands to get off to such an impressive start on the charts. The other was Gary Lewis and The Playboys. Not even The Beatles or The Rolling Stones were able to match their record.

The biggest hit of them all was “Summer in the City.” It was released during the summer of 1966 and nearly 50 years later is still one of the most iconic songs of the season, played on radio stations all over the world when the weather gets warm. During this week in August 1966, the song climbed all the way to the very top spot on the Billboard Hot 100, where it would stay for three consecutive weeks.

Zal Yanovsky was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1996.

“SUMMER IN THE CITY” BY THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL

*****

THE KING OF THE BANJO

Canada’s “King of the Banjo” was born in New Brunswick during the winter of 1920. His name was Maurice Bolyer. Growing up, he learned to play a wide range of instruments, including the piano, but as a teenager he picked up the one that would make him famous.

By the time he was in his early twenties, Bolyer was making appearances playing banjo on a local radio station, performing with Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Hank Snow. Before long, he would be heard in kitchens and living rooms all across the country as a regular guest on the CBC’s “Tommy Hunter Show” – first on radio and then TV – and then all across the continent thanks to American programs like “The Lawrence Welk Show.” By the time his career came to an end, Bolyer had earned a place as one of the greats in the history of his favourite instrument and in Canadian country music as a whole.

Maurice Bolyer, the King of the Banjo, passed away during this week in 1978.


By Adam Bunch

 

THE CANADIAN BEHIND THE POPULARITY OF ‘AULD LANG SYNE’

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.

GUY LOMBARDO AND HIS ROYAL CANADIANS PLAY NEW YEAR’S EVE IN 1957

*****

THE HALIFAX THREE IS BORN

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.

“HEADIN’ ON HOME AGAIN” – THE HALIFAX THREE


By Adam Bunch

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

THE BIRTH OF THE HORSESHOE TAVERN

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.

*****

THE DEATH OF ZAL YANOVSKY

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 David Ball

I’m a fan of most music genres and styles, and jazz is no exception. (Exceptions include drum circles and primary school band recitals).

The Newport Jazz Festival, one of the world’s most prestigious jazz festivals and the first to take place in the United States, made its debut on July 17, 1954. And talk about kicking things off with a big BANG! The annual summer event held in the historic Rhode Island town premiered with one of the greatest lineups ever assembled in any genre. I don’t want to undersell the awesomeness, so here is the entire lineup, in order of appearance.

Newport Jazz Festival 1954 program

Saturday: Eddie Condon; Modern Jazz Quartet (featuring the “lightweight” ensemble: Milt Jackson, Kenny Clarke, Percy Heath and Horace Silver); Oscar Peterson Trio (the piano great’s legendary backing band consisted of Herb Ellis and Ray Brown); Billie Holiday (the iconic singer’s self-titled hit album, with Peterson on piano, was released a few months prior to her Newport appearance); Dizzy Gillespie Quintet; and Day 1 capper The Gerry Mulligan Quartet (a fantastic talent to be sure, but methinks the puffy-cheeked trumpet phenom Gillespie should’ve been the closing act).

Dizzy Gillespie @ Newport Jazz Festival, 1954

Not to be outdone, Sunday’s bill was equally impressive: Tribute to Count Basie (featuring trumpet pioneer Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Vic Dickenson, Philly Joe Jones, Milt Hinton and Teddy Wilson); Oscar Peterson Trio (the Canadian Music Hall of Famer and 2013 inductee onto Canada’s Walk of Fame was one of jazz’s hottest young lions in 1954, so it makes perfect sense to book him twice!); Johnnie Smith; Dizzy Gillespie Quintet; Bill Harris; George Shearing Quintet; Erroll Garner (with Philly Joe Jones and Milt Hinton); Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz; Gene Krupa Trio; and Newport 1954’s final performance by Ella Fitzgerald.

Duke Ellington (left) with George Wein and Erroll Garner @ Newport Jazz Festival, 1954

The Newport Jazz Festival, referred to as “the grandfather of all jazz festivals,” was founded by renowned impresario George Wein. Nearing its 50th anniversary, the event has played host to scores of celebrated performances over the years by leading and aspiring talents in both jazz and blues. Some landmark appearances include Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

*****

Neil Young and his manager Elliot Roberts formed their own indie label, Vapor Records, based out of Santa Monica, California, on July 18, 1995.

The background information on the company is a little light – make that a LOT light – and perhaps purposely so. For example, all I could find in regards to Vapor Records was its brief mission statement (“We are the sum of our parts. Please check out the music of our bands to understand what words can’t explain.”) and even briefer company overview (“We actually like the music we put out!”). That being said, some of the artists on the rock legend’s tiny label are not insignificant and speak to both quality and eclecticism.

Here are some of the acts that are under the Vapor umbrella: Tegan and Sara (the JUNO Award–nominated twin singer-songwriters from Calgary have produced five albums for Vapor, including 2013’s Billboard Top 5 hit Heartthrob); Spoon; Jonathan Richman (the ex–Modern Lovers front man has worked with Young and Roberts’ company since 1996); Vic Chesnutt; Everest; Pegi Young (Neil’s equally gifted sister); Victoria, B.C.’s Jets Overhead; and Neil Young himself, with the film soundtrack for Jim Jarmusch’s masterful 1995 psychological western, Dead Man (Native-Canadian character actor Gary Farmer steals every scene he’s in, which is saying something given he shares the screen with Johnny Depp, Robert Mitchum and John Hurt).

Tegan and Sara’s Heartthrob peaked at No. 3 on Billboard’s album chart in 2013

Pitchfork gave this Jonathan Richman 2010 LP from Vapor Records a 7.8 rating, which is indeed impressive given that the reviews from this influential hipster music website can sometimes be harsh.

Neil Young’s experimental instrumental score is one of the highlights of Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 film, one of the best psychological westerns ever made, right up there with There Will Be Blood, High Noon, William Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident, 3:10 to Yuma (meaning the the 1957 Glenn Ford original) and Anthony Mann’s anti-hero epics starring James Stewart (The Far Country, Bend of the River, Winchester ’73 etc.).

*****

Archeologist Ivan Turk unearthed the world’s oldest known musical instrument in Slovenia’s Indrica River Valley on July 18, 1995.

The Neanderthal relic is believed to be between 43,000 and 67,000 years old and is made out of a bear bone with four artificial holes carved into its length. Canadian musicologist Bob Fink stated in a 1997 essay that the instrument, dubbed the Divje Babe flute, could have been used to play four notes of a diatonic scale (eight notes and seven pitches and a repeated octave). No doubt music lessons, even waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back then, were still pretty expensive.

Divje Babe flute artifact (dated 45,000 B.C.)

Bob Fink’s interpretation of an intact Divje Babe flute

Interesting side story: Also discovered in the same cave where the artifact was found are wall drawings depicting a man wearing animal skins playing the Divje Babe flute in front of a woman (perhaps his wife or mother), who appears to be telling him to, loosely translated from early Neanderthal: “SHUT UP!!!”

*****

Surprisingly, this next song was never the theme song for any of these noted sleight-of-hand tricksters: Criss Angel (he’s more into metal, makeup and tattoos), David Blaine, David Copperfield, Canada’s Doug Henning, or the greatest of them all: Arrested Development’s Gob Bluth.

“Do You Believe in Magic,” the first-ever single by New York City–based folk-rock quartet The Lovin’ Spoonful, was released on July 20, 1965. The tune, written and sung by bandleader John Sebastian, went on to reach No. 9 on the American pop charts.

The Lovin’ Spoonful in 1965: Zal Yanovsky (bottom left, sporting a Beatles-inspired mop-top), John Sebastian (top left, looking a lot like the late Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek), Joe Butler (centre) and Steve Boone, wearing the T-shirt billboard.

From 1965 to 1966, the future Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees (class of 2000) would score an impressive seven Top 10 Billboard singles, all featuring founding member Zal Yanovsky, who is also a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. The versatile Toronto-born guitarist (whose style was once described by Sebastian as a mix of bluesman Elmore James, Nashville pianist Floyd Cramer and Chuck Berry) would leave the group in 1967 after his infamous arrest on a marijuana-related charge, which led to his return to Canada. Yanovsky left the music business in the late ’70s to work as a restaurateur in Kingston, Ontario, a career he continued to do right up until his death in 2002. By the way, take Yanovsky’s two fine-dining establishments, Chez Piggy and Pan Chancho Bakery, out of Kingston’s historic downtown core and the loss to the city would be nothing short of catastrophic (take this as fact from me, a born and raised Kingston boy).

Next week: Guitar Hero (video game) and The Clash

“Dead Man (Theme Song)” by Neil Young