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FINDING THE GROOVE THAT REAL FANS SEEK

There is a quiet genius to Wayne DeAdder, lead guitar player for ‘The beat Heathens’, a local band that I’ve featured a number of times here in this space. Having performed as a touring musician for over twenty-five years, Wayne is among many artists who have settled into mainstream life, but kept the creative juices alive through part time gigging with his own trio. What DeAdder has created though, is a unique take on a theme started by the late, great Levon Helm after his playing days ended with ‘The Band’.

Levon started a thing called ‘The Midnight Ramble’ on his property in Woodstock, where touring musicians were openly invited to join in on sessions with Helm’s family home band. The result would be an evening of musical improv that was wholly unique with every gig. Borrowing that theme and with ‘The Beat Heathens’ trio acting as anchor for DeAdder’s concept, once a month a guest musician of renown has sat in to jam at ‘The Moonshine Café’ in Oakville, Ontario. Simply called ‘The Ramble’, this series has seen six different guest artists join Wayne, drummer Scott, and bassist Mike onstage. Each separate evening has produced a different sound while utilizing a similar song set, serving to stretch the band’s own abilities to new heights.

The culmination of the series to date came last Thursday night when guitar great Kevin Breit, joined Wayne and his bandmates onstage. An impresario of dizzying skill and imagination, Breit brought solos to rock and blues classics the likes of which I’ve never heard before. This was truly one of those ‘you had to be there’ moments. Infusing his jazz roots developed from award winning work over many years with his own band; ‘The Sisters Euclid’, and now matched with a solid rock trio in the Beat Heathens, Breit mesmerized the packed house with every successive solo.

Unless you were there to witness this set, you may interpret his musings as simply showing off. What can’t be conveyed by a couple of mere videos though, is the sheer joy displayed in the interaction between the band’s members and their guest soloist. I’ve never seen four musicians have more fun living out on the musical edge.

DeAdder has called Kevin one of his biggest musical heroes, and to afford himself the opportunity to trade licks with his mentor was nothing less than an obvious thrill. Wayne quipped later, “when you’re playing with someone at Kevin’s level, you can’t help but ‘squeeze the stick’ a little tighter. What resulted though, to carry the hockey analogy a little further, was an evening that can only be described as some kind of glorious musical shinny. Freewheeling, open ice runs through some of classic rock’s best made this show unlike any other, and no one wanted it to end.

So the question now becomes, where does ‘The Ramble’ go from here? Wayne himself admits he’s not really sure. Quite rightly, he’s reluctant to push a good thing too far, but what of the unforeseen moments yet to come? The beauty of ‘the Ramble’ concept is that each event is unique unto its own. Every new guest that shares the stage with The Beat Heathens is a breath of fresh air; a leap away from the mundane of ‘same time, same set, same band’ that we’ve become all too familiar with. If DeAdder is able to tap into and attract more musicians he’s met from his musical travels, why shouldn’t audiences benefit from each new experience?

Of course, as a fan this is a sentiment that’s easy to say. Ultimately the decision to continue the series rests with Wayne DeAdder, his bandmates, and John Marlatt; gracious host and owner of ‘The Moonshine Café’. Whatever his decision, I suspect Wayne would delight in the idea that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. After all, borrowing a concept from a legend like Levon Helm was just so. Perhaps some other artist out there will take a page out of Wayne DeAdder’s book, and develop their own series of shows in a similar fashion. What a win that would be for the future of live local music.

You can find all the videos relating to this post on our YouTube page

Zepology performs Stairway To Heaven

WHAT LIES BENEATH THE COVER

When Joe Cocker burst on the music scene in the late sixties, few ever wondered how this English singer would carve out a successful career as a cover artist. With his bluesy cover version of a Beatles signature tune, Joe served notice that his voice would be delighting fans for decades to come, and mostly with other cover songs. Music lovers hardly cared that these offerings were from other artists’ original material, because Joe Cocker’s voice and unique performance style allowed him take a well-known piece and make it entirely his own. Cocker would go on to a fruitful and lengthy career, carrying on the tradition of superstars like Frank Sinatra before him, as an interpretive voice. In fact, after hearing what he described as a version of his song having more soul, Paul McCartney thanked Joe personally for his rendition of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’. All of the Beatles members were delighted to allow Cocker to cover two more songs from their ‘Abbey Road’ record for his own second album. Pouring his heart and soul into every performance, Joe brought fresh resonance to every piece he covered.

Success in covering previously recorded music is hardly a new phenomenon, or unique to only ‘the Golden Age’ of Rock and Roll. Opera houses and concert halls the world over have been hosting sellout crowds by showcasing what are essentially cover bands, for hundreds of years. Our parents and grandparents would dress up on Saturday evenings to witness the latest interpretation of their favourite songwriters; composers that produced iconic symphonies and operas. How different is that really from today’s cover band? Gifted musicians still come together to recreate our favourite artists’ greatest work.

Whether expressed as an altogether unique and creative rearrangement, or as a note by note homage to a classic work, cover musicians keep the heart of our musical past pumping well beyond it’s time of creation. For many of us, it’s the only opportunity we’ll ever have to hear this music in a live setting. We will never know what it was like to see Mozart or any of the great classical geniuses perform their masterpieces for a live audience. We continue to enjoy them however, through the artistry of great musicians.

Think what our descendants a hundred years on or more, will experience when they listen to gifted artists performing the music of our day. The truly great work will always survive that span. Granted, not every cover performance stands up to original quality, but when a band really nails someone’s previous work, what an exhilarating experience that is for the listener. When they have faithfully recreated a classic artist, or they’ve brought a fresh perspective to an old tune, cover musicians deserve our admiration and support. The creative process depends on the recognition of what precedes it, and many times imitation is a necessary ingredient.

The next time someone suggests to you that cover bands are just riding the coat tails of established musicians, remind them that almost every large city around the world has an orchestra that does exactly the same thing; they cover great music. Paintings and sculptures hang in purpose built galleries for posterity. Symphony halls are erected to honour the maestros from our history. So too should settings exist that house the music of our more recent past. Today they are mostly clubs and bars, but they perpetuate a time honoured tradition; telling the stories weaved from human creativity. Cover artists remind us of past great achievements, and propel us to set new heights.

Long live the re-presenters of our rich musical heritage, and may generations continue to benefit from the experience.

SLASH ON CANVAS

CONTEST WINNER

Congratulations to Leonard B. of Mississauga,ON, winner of the limited edition SLASH canvas poster.

Thanks from StageWages to all who entered!

 

flame lit for live music

WHEN THE FLAME IS LIT

In one of my first blogs called ‘When Sparks Fly’, I wrote about a moment that occurs when musicians capture the collective imaginations of an otherwise inattentive audience. When performers rise above the noise of daily club activity and become the focal point, they begin to be recognized for their artistry. But, when musical talent gains a following and performs in a setting of mostly exhilarant repeat fans, something else entirely occurs.

The other night I returned to ‘The Moonshine Café’ in Oakville, Ontario to see a group called ‘The Beat Heathens’ for the second time. The band’s leader, guitarist Wayne DeAdder, created a three part series of gigs involving a different featured artist for each performance. On this their third offering, their special guest was a guitar virtuoso named Mike Branton. On the heels of their previous two performances, this night sold out fairly quickly. Those fortunate enough to witness the jam session between these seasoned players, was nothing short of electrifying.

With brilliant simplicity DeAdder had created an event that would attract returning fans to ‘The Moonshine’, in anticipation of familiar sounds from an act they already knew, and the band did not disappoint. ‘The Beat Heathens’ played numbers from the past two shows, rearranged to feature their guest soloist’s unique talents. Mike added blues riffs from his own repertoire, including a tribute to Peter Green; founding member of Fleetwood Mac. The culmination was a whole new show, made all the more memorable by an appreciative audience. Primed and ready for more of The Beat Heathens’ unique style, an entire room of music lovers riveted their attention to the stage the entire night. Each successive offering was met with more encouragement from a music hungry crowd.

Fans were now insiders; part of the show, and anyone unaware of what was occurring on this night were outside, unable to get a seat. Imagine; a sellout show performed in front of returning fans. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Everyone left ‘The Moonshine Café’ happy that night. Live music lovers were delighted with the repeat performance from a band they love to follow. The club’s owner, John Marlatt enjoyed a packed house for his terrific venue, and each of the band’s members walked away stoked by the knowledge that loyalties were consummated in recognition of their craft. As people filed out that evening, it seemed more like the end of a family reunion than a club closing for the night.

None of this occurred by accident, of course. It’s not likely to happen at your local sports bar either, unless management is willing to shut off the televisions and focus on the music. The fun starts with an opportunity created in unison by the club, the band, and their initial followers. It grows into a lovefest for the best reason of all; GREAT LIVE MUSIC!
Live music lovers remind yourselves you have an equal and vital part in making special events like the one described happen. Let your club owners and your favourite bands know when they are on the right track. Done well, and with love for the event, everyone will benefit. From a spark comes a flame. You know what happens from there.

LOCAL LIVE MUSIC DOES MATTER!

Let’s make it happen more often.

check The Beat Heathens out on our YouTube channel

opportunity, persistence, optimism, Robin Williams

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS; PERSISTENCE HAMMERS!

It’s hard to fathom that three years have passed since Robin Williams left this earth. The great actor/comedian’s personal struggles have been well documented, but for me his legacy will always be a reminder of two simple concepts; optimism and hope. Throughout the body of Williams’ work runs this wide eyed, unquenchable belief that our futures are forever tied to our personal outlook on life. As Winston Churchill once famously said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Robin Williams was the embodiment of this phrase. As I look back on this man’s unparalleled talent, there is an unmistakable theme that threads through his film roles.

With every character’s struggle portrayed by Robin, the one constant was his ability to rise above seemingly insurmountable obstacles and thrive. Yes, for the most part all these men that Williams played were fictional, but his personal desire to bring each to life on screen was no accident. Perhaps taking a cue from a television comedy pioneer Milton Berle who once quipped, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door“, Robin selected roles that represented more than what immediately meets the eye. In his very first appearance on television as an alien misfit, he took a four line cameo appearance in a seventies’ sitcom, and turned the ‘Mork’ character into an iconic figure in a few short years. Looking back on that character as a lonely being just trying to fit in, we may have been given a very clear view of what made Robin Williams tick.

The true power of any artists’ performance begins with what they’re willing to give away of themselves. Better than any other, Williams gave us more than just a glimpse of his true self. Every moment in front of the camera for Robin was a lesson in how obstacles were merely tools of opportunity. Beginning with his interpretation of the very real Adrian Cronauer in ‘Good Morning Vietnam’, to his follow-up performance as Professor Keating in ‘Dead Poets Society’, Williams characters struggled with societal pressures and norms to find a place for one’s own uniqueness. As Keating would emphasize to his pupils; ‘Carpe Diem’ was more than some overused cliché. ‘Seize the day’; in fact the moment, would be the rallying point of almost every role in his illustrious career.

Remarkable characters he portrayed in films like ‘The Fisher King’, ‘Good Will Hunting’, ‘Awakenings’, and even the comedy theatrics of ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’, were reminders of who Williams really was as a human being. In an interview he once said, “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”  Robin believed in that sentiment enough to propel himself to artistic genius on his own terms. It takes more than mere words though to achieve excellence. Williams proved that by pouring his soul into every performance. The cost may have been high from our perspective, but oh what a legacy he left us.

Thomas Edison was quoted as saying, “We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.”  When we’re truly willing to roll up our sleeves and do the work necessary, there‘s no telling what heights can be achieved. Fear of the unknown is simply a part of human nature. When we approach the abyss though with optimism, hope and a willingness to learn from any experience, treasures may appear before never thought possible. Success is a place where preparation, optimism and opportunity collide. John Keating, Sean Maguire, Patch Adams, and Euphegenia Doubtfire knew that adage all too well. Let’s remember Robin Williams for those qualities and perhaps emulate them in ourselves.

Carpe Diem indeed.

local live music

I FOUND EXACTLY WHAT I’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR!

Last week I wrote a piece about a blues club in London, England, and lamented the lack of similar music focused clubs here in Canada. I had proposed the theory that rather than sharing live talent with sporting events and other sideshows, a return to specialized venues would bring a resurgence of live entertainment in cities and towns all over the country. Well, I am both chagrined and pleased to report there is a still place near me where live music lovers can go to enjoy their entertainment without distraction. I am embarrassed to say I hadn’t heard of this place before, and yet delighted to have been introduced to this treasure of live music.

Last Thursday a friend brought me for a visit to the Moonshine Café in Oakville, Ontario. From the very moment I entered the tiny premises and met the Moonshine’s owner, John Marlatt, I knew I was in for a very special evening. Everything about the atmosphere here screamed the words, “You have arrived at a place for music…and nothing but!”. The storefront property just off the strip of highbrow shops and restaurants of downtown Oakville was a welcome breath of fresh air; without airs. In a town that has spent countless energy on redefining its image as an upwardly mobile landing spot, here stands a potential icon for days fondly remembered. Inside these walls magic happens on a nightly basis, if you know what to look for.

Marlatt and partner Jane MacKay have only two things in mind with the Moonshine Café; promoting live music for those who truly love it, and making sure you have a really good time with the experience. The sixty odd seat setting’s walls are dotted with photos of past performers, local artists’ work for sale, and tributes to greats of our musical past. Better yet, as the cafe’s website states, this is indeed an intimate venue… and there’s NO TV. Also on the website, patrons are encouraged to be respectful of the performing artists, or in other words; pay close attention to the stage and you might witness something really special.

Special did occur this night, mostly because of a regular band here called ‘The Beat Heathens’ and their guest artist, Jimmy Bowskill. If you are unfamiliar with the name, Bowskill is a touring member with ‘The Sheepdogs”; has also played with ‘Blue Rodeo’, and was discovered by the late Jeff Healey. Together with his seasoned bandmates on this night, the atmosphere was nothing short of electric. Weaving through sets of music ranging from Hank Williams to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and Little Feat, the band brought the packed house to its collective feet on numerous occasions. Bowskill’s abundant talent, both vocally and as a guitar player were on full display. All the while, a single bartender managed to keep everyone well supplied. John himself, happily set up kitchen outside with a propane barbecue, serving up very good wings, sausages, and grilled chicken breasts. Every aspect of this warm, summer evening was a music lover’s dream. For a cover charge of $15 and the reasonable cost of refreshments, live music fans were treated to a full on exhibition of seasoned professionals thriving in their element.

Now isn’t that what entertainment is all about?

I understand of course that every night’s performance can’t be like this one. On other dates customers are asked to pay $5 to hear emerging artists as they perfect their craft in a live environment. Certainly that’s a small price to pay to be on the cutting edge of potential greatness. Imagine the energy released when a relatively unknown performer knocks one out of the park, and you and sixty other lucky listeners get to witness the beginning of something big. That’s what places like the Moonshine Café are all about, and they deserve; no, require our support. People like John and Jane provide these havens for artists and the people who truly love the art. You can catch a game almost anywhere else. There’s no reason to make musicians or any live performer compete with distractions.

If you have a special spot like the Moonshine Café in your area, please share it here at StageWages. We exist only to help them thrive.

london live music

SPECIALIZING OUR WAY BACK TO LIVE MUSIC PROMINENCE IN CANADA

There seems to be a growing sentiment that live music on the local scene has lost its lustre as a preferred entertainment option. This disturbing trend has caused countless clubs that were once considered iconic, to shut their doors permanently.  Some would blame the growing affection for cover bands, claiming their lack of professional prowess and individuality. Others choose to point out that younger generations are flocking more to the DJ style club scene, and are less interested in live artists. Whichever the case, the epidemic closing of local live entertainment venues in Canada should at the very least, be forcing us to re-evaluate how we present live music as a viable piece of our culture. After all, there are other places in the world where local live music continues to thrive.

I recently had an opportunity to visit London, England, and while there I chanced to take in some of the local musical culture near the Soho district. The venue of choice was a tiny pub called ‘Ain’t Nothin’ But’ on Kingly Street. My friend and I arrived at around 7.30PM where a trio featuring a singer songwriter named Jack J. Hutchinson were completing an early set. There were about twenty people in the bar at the time, which actually made it look half full (This is a really tiny place). The age range of the patrons, and the band spanned from mid-thirties to late sixties.

Hutchinson played mostly original compositions from an album he was touting for sale at the bar. His artful mix of folk and blues acoustic was compelling, to say the least. I would later learn that Jack and his band, ‘The Boom Boom Brotherhood’ have actually produced nine recordings for sale on his website. In fact, this artist who was playing what was essentially an early evening jam session is an accomplished and well-travelled musician. Today, Hutchinson was performing an acoustic set with two local musicians from the area. After the group completed its final tune of the set, three older gentlemen who were seated in front of the stage, thanked the musicians for the entertainment, had the CD they just bought autographed by the recording artist, and left the premises with smiles and waves to all.

My buddy and I took advantage of the vacated seats, and sipped on our ales while we waited for the next act to perform. The songwriter, Hutchinson stayed at the bar for a time talking with some mates. The bass player having already packed up his instrument, rushed out of the club claiming he had to sprint to another gig down the street.  The elder of the trio, the harp player, disappeared into a back room. Evidently he was either the owner of the pub, or he worked here. It became immediately clear to me there was something quite different about this place from my experiences at home.

Soon, the evening’s featured artist arrived to set up their equipment on the tiny stage. The drummer appeared with two snares and symbols under his arm, which he attached to the house supplied bass drum and symbol stands. He contorted himself behind the kit in the left corner as the bass player took up position a mere foot away. The lead guitar player was setting up at stage right, which couldn’t have been more than eight feet away. All three musicians appeared to be in their early thirties. A few minutes later a thin but muscular man, appearing to be in his late fifties or more, took the stage to stand between the bass and guitar players. He brought two saxophones and a harp with him for the performance. As the band’s leader, he introduced ‘Sub Atomic Souls’, and they broke into the first blues number.

The foursome continued playing a stellar set of blues and funk numbers; incorporating solid solo offerings from each member. The seats around us were quickly filled during the first few songs, and in no time it seemed, the joint was rocking. What I didn’t realize while enjoying the band in front of me on stage was that the entire standing area around the bar had completely filled with music lovers. There was literally no room to move. As people clambered for space, the bar for another pint or visiting the restroom became an arduous task, but the crowd made their best effort to accommodate everyone.

There was one particularly astonishing thing about this throng of people, though. For the most part they all seemed to be ‘millennials’. Not only was this tiny venue jammed with young people, their collective attention was firmly riveted to the musicians on stage. Now I had just come from a place where I was told that millennials don’t care about live music, let alone classic blues. I had also been lead to believe that audiences were growing tired of acts featuring only cover sets. Why was this place across the ocean so different? Certainly, the UK has nurtured a vibrant local music scene for decades longer than we have in Canada. What can Canadian live entertainment learn from our ancestral home?

That’s when it hit me.

A couple of distinct differences occurred to me about the UK and Canadian local live scenes. Unlike most Canadian bars and clubs, ‘Ain’t Nothin’ But’ resided in a strictly pedestrian urban area, and the venue itself was purposed designed to promote music only. Though there was one lonely sign on the wall suggesting that customers sample the ‘Fabulous’ nachos, I can’t remember seeing a single person ordering food in this place. Yes, there was plenty of alcohol flowing from the ample size bar (mostly beer in fact), but no one appeared to be getting remotely out of hand. That may have had something to do with there being only walk up service for drinks. There simply wasn’t room for wait staff. One bartender spent most of the evening wriggling between bodies to collect glasses for washing.

The music was the thing here, the only thing, and this crowd of young people were lapping up every delicious morsel.  Something else then struck me that was so different here from the Canadian scene. Not one single television screen hung from any wall in the entire place. The performers on stage weren’t being forced to compete for the audience’s attention with some sporting event. I’m sure there was no shortage of ‘Premiere League’ action to be witnessed that night, but that’s not what this crowd was here for, and neither was this club. Walking out on to the pedestrian street later on, I discovered several spots that catered to varying interest. Some were food emporiums while others were sports pubs.

So, when was it decided in Canadian venues that it was a good idea to have a live band playing at the same place where we could watch a play-off hockey game at the same moment? Is that fair to the artist, no matter what their talent level? If you went to a comedy club, which there are precious few left, would you expect a comedian to compete with TV screens? When we buy tickets for hockey games, all we expect to see is hockey, right?  You wouldn’t want scores and updates interrupting a live theatre performance, would you?

A focused, singular form of entertainment experience is a large part of what makes the club scene in London and other places so successful. If you travel to great musical cities in the US, places like New Orleans or Chicago, you will find numerous clubs dedicated to the sole purpose of offering live music to their patrons. As well, go to any club where a DJ pumps out dance music until the wee hours in almost any city in the western world, and you would be hard pressed to find a television anywhere in these places. The only video experience on display will be part of the show.

Pubs and restaurants in Canada are only doing whatever it takes to compete in an environment of too many choices. I understand the challenges forced on small business people. But, perhaps then we can learn something from venues that thrive with specialized themes. If club owners around Canada were willing to take a calculated risk by not being all things to all people, but by providing a special venue again for performance art, then maybe there’s a chance to rekindle a vital aspect of our own culture.

Artists like Jack J Hutchinson still return to places in Britain that were once proving grounds for his work. How cool would it be to see members of The Arkells or The Sheepdogs returning to clubs where they started for an acoustic set? Chuck Jackson of ‘Downchild Blues Band’ fame still does a Sunday afternoon set at Roc’N Doc’s, as well as other venues in his hometown of Port Credit, Ontario.

When will we return to a time when the music is the only show? There must be enough enterprising club owners who would at least be willing to test the theory. Many sports bars thrive by being only about sports entertainment.  One less will hardly be noticed. Let’s make live music about the musicians again, for all our sake.  All good intentions aside, if we aren’t prepared to take appropriate action to repair this vital cultural dilemma, then we have no one to blame but ourselves. If local live still matters; let’s show it by giving musical talent our full attention.

canada-sample

WHO ARE OUR GREATEST SONGWRITERS?

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of our great nation presents the perfect opportunity to honour the people who have best documented our history; in song. What better instrument to exemplify the magnificence of Canada, than the poetry and lyrics of our finest story tellers. From the earliest known prose of Irish poet Thomas Moore who penned “A Canadian Boat Song” while travelling the St’ Lawrence River in 1805, to the laureates of today; Canadian artists have boasted our magnificence and lamented our growth pains with music through the years.

From the works of Oscar Peterson who  composed “Canadiana Suite”, a brilliant jazz journey across the country, to Stompin’ Tom Connors’ “Sudbury Saturday Night” and the venerable “The Hockey Song”, Canada’s artist have portrayed a vision for us all what it means to be Canadian. There are countless examples of Canadian songwriters who have achieved star status worldwide. Leonard Cohen, Paul Anka, Joni Mitchell, Stan Rogers and Anne Murray are but a few.

One artist in particular though comes into sharp focus when considering work that represents this country directly. Gordon Lightfoot should be considered the patriarch of music that makes us Canadian, with masterworks like “Alberta Bound” and “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”, which chronicles the great effort to connect the nation by rail in the 19th century. Lightfoot’s lyrics, baritone voice, and twelve string acoustic guitar have defined Canadian folk music for more than six decades. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” may have been written about an American ship, but when he writes a line like, ’Superior never gives up her dead’, we know Gordon is speaking for numerous sailors of our own who have braved the seas and Great Lakes of this country. As a story teller Gordon Lightfoot has no equal. The simple humanity in his songs, “Early Morning Rain”, “If You Could Read My Mind”, and “Rainy Day People”, are only a small sample of his genius. One need not dig very deep to find words in these pieces that speak to the Canadian psyche. Robbie Robertson, legendary guitarist for ‘The Band’ rightly called Gordon Lightfoot a national treasure.

There have been many Canadian song writing artists to achieve global status; who arguably garnered greater success than Lightfoot. Neil Young is a Rock icon with firm roots in his Ontario upbringing. Though “Helpless” may be the only of Young’s songs that refer directly to his homeland, his distinctly Canadian sensibility can be gleaned from many of his other lyrics. “Running Back to Saskatoon” by Burton Cummings of ‘The Guess Who’ fame, is another great Canadian treasure as is ‘Lakeside Park” by ‘Rush’. None of these artists mentioned though, have yet to surpass Gordon Lightfoot’s imprint on Canadian culture.

Then however, we come to Gord Downie who is without a doubt the most prolific chronicler of Canada in song that we have ever enjoyed. Beginning with ”38 Years Old”, Downie would continue to weave uniquely Canadian stories and concepts into his lyrics for nearly thirty years. Songs like “Bobcaygeon”, “Wheat Kings”, and “Fifty Mission Cap” aren’t merely Canadian rock anthems. They are stories from our history that Gord Downie has masterfully shone a spotlight on with his poetry, and showcased musically with his bandmates. This is the song master that bares the soul of a nation for all to see, and for us all to reflect. As if this weren’t enough, with the sudden affliction that Downie has been forced to wrestle with now, he carries the weight of his words to what will most likely become his greatest legacy.

Gord’s ‘Secret Path’ project is so much more than another Canadian story. With accompanying book and animated film, the ‘Secret Path’ album has opened our eyes hopefully, with the potential to provide real healing and reconciliation to a horrible time in this country’s history. Bringing recognition and focus to our indigenous people’s pain and suffering with a long overdue dialogue can become a defining moment in the evolution of Canada as a great nation. Let us all walk the path with Gord Downie’s guidance and continue the healing process. Perhaps then we can all truly celebrate our nation together.

There’s one interesting phenomenon regarding ‘The Tragically Hip’ in particular, when celebrating the achievements of Canadians. They are one of the few artists that didn’t seek validation from success south of the border, in order to embed themselves in the Canadian consciousness while propelling them to stardom. This is a group of gifted musicians that chose to remain distinctly true to their Canadian roots, proving without any doubt that great success can be achieved in our own back yard. Their worldwide appeal may have been stunted  a bit, but would we or they have had it any other way? Anyone from abroad wanting to learn more about this land would do well to listen carefully to stories by ‘The Hip’. After 150 years of searching for our own collective self-esteem, Gord Downie and his mates have finally made being Canadian cool for its own sake; a goal that is certainly worth pursuing by us all.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CANADA!

B a 'LIVE' Saver

BE A ‘LIVE’ SAVER TONIGHT!

Last Friday evening the CBC’s ‘The National’ ran a story about the epidemic closing of music venues in the city of Toronto. The piece followed the perspective from club owners and artists, that the rampant real estate market boom is one of the chief causes of this dilemma. Where once the city’s older industrial districts like ‘Liberty Village’ for example provided ideal music club spaces, are now turning into refurbished lofts; or they’re being torn down completely and being replaced by high-rise condominiums. The dwindling numbers of venues that remain physically untouched by rapid residential development are being strangled by rising rental expenses, and other operating costs for their properties.

Toronto’s ‘Now’ magazine in fact, has been posting articles almost weekly concerning this very issue. Famous venue closures like The Brunswick House, The Silver Dollar, The Hideout, and Hugh’s Room however, signal more than just economic shifts in city life. These unfortunate and tragic occurrences also spark radical changes in Toronto’s culture as a whole. It seems that it’s becoming more difficult to find what was once billed as ‘Music City’. Moreover, if one even begins to harbour the notion that suburban areas and small towns are immune to ‘big city progress’; think again. In Southern Ontario, as hamlets outside of Toronto, Ottawa, and Hamilton reinvent themselves, the conditions for the venue operator change exponentially. With every new face lift on Main Street, the cost of doing business naturally goes up.

While many artists and music lovers have turned to DYI style venues as an alternative, the inherent dangers and illegalities always linger. Several municipalities have also suggested and tested community based venues as a solution to disappearing live outlets. Their motives emphasize the inclusion of younger concert lovers as a growth producer of future fans and artists; a valuable and underfunded perspective, indeed. But, if the culture of nightly local entertainment is to maintain any status, perhaps we all need to take more of a part in its preservation.

We all know the places where future stars grow; where musicians, comedians, actors and live performers of all disciplines earn their stripes. They achieve their greatness from grinding it out night after night, moving from town to town, club to club. Honing their craft and developing the stamina and fortitude required to rise to new levels in performance art. True talent emerges from the very places that have always been a vital part of our culture, and now they are rapidly disappearing. Perhaps, one or two nights per month club owners could introduce a more inclusive feature to their schedule. Encouraging parents to attend a gig together with their children on a traditionally slower night; with a meal attached to the event, this might be another opportunity to grow the fan base from within. Local theatre companies regularly put family friendly events on their schedules.

Supporting our local live clubs isn’t just about economics or civic identity. Going out and enjoying your local venue is an opportunity to witness the beginning of something big. Everyone loves seeing a local act on TV, only to be able to say they remember them before they made it huge. Of course, we all know that performances can’t always live up to these extraordinary standards. Some artists may be merely content with the prospect of entertaining people as a sideline, covering classics and creating a party atmosphere when they play. If all they did was provide you and friends with a fun night out, wasn’t it worth the trip? The bottom line is, every working artist deserves our support; and so do the business people who provide their stages. Without the continuing patronage and support of live loving fans, more venues that represent the vitality of local culture will be destined to fail. The real tragedy here is that we’d only have ourselves to blame. The artists will always be ready to perform, given the chance.

Please be a ‘LIVE SAVER’ today. You won’t be disappointed. You will most certainly be appreciated more than you may know.

Female singer and guitarist silhouette on violet background.

EQUAL TIME FOR EQUAL INFLUENCERS

Among the myriad of extraordinary voices from stages past and present, there are in my mind three voices from popular music history that must be recognized as ‘game changers’ for generations of female vocalists. Time is due these icons, to recount their stories of struggle with gender inequality and personal demons to define their musical generation, not just as women, but as forces of nature. At a time in our musical journey when female artists dominate our airwaves with stamina and grace, paying homage to these three in particular is long overdue.

Beginning with present day, who can argue the power and impact that Stevie Nicks has had on several generations of music lovers? During the mid-seventies when the rock genre was saturated with post psychedelic era male voices, Stevie quickly became more than just a breath of fresh air. Her distinctive tone and carefully crafted persona would make Nicks one of the most notable collaborators for decades, including today. More importantly, Stevie Nicks is widely considered to be one the greatest songwriters of all time. Deeply rooted in symbolism, songs like ‘Landslide’ and ‘Rhiannon’ carry the distinctively ‘Stevie Nicks’ stamp that has made her a rock icon; male or female. Her personal relationship conflicts and struggles with substance abuse are well documented. Through all that though, she is today still one of the most sought out singer-songwriters by other musicians from varying genres. Along with her successes with Fleetwood Mac and Lindsey Buckingham before and after, Nicks has worked with star performers Don Henley, Tom Petty, and Dave Stewart to name a few.

Incredibly though with all her body of work post and prior to Fleetwood Mac days, Stevie has never been honoured with a personal Grammy award. When you consider the lyrical genius and artistry of her voice, and songs with her own lyrics like, ‘Edge of Seventeen’, ‘Stand Back’, and ‘Talk to Me’ just to name a very few, one can only wonder at this omission. Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ album is generally regarded as one of Nicks’ crowning achievements, but Stevie has gone on to record multiple successful solo albums and duets with pop’s most famous names. Dubbed the ‘Queen of Rock and Roll’, Stevie Nicks remains to be a major influence on musicians both male and female who follow in her footsteps. Along with Grace Slick from ‘Jefferson Airplane’ fame, Stevie Nicks has often cited our next icon as a huge influence on her own career.

Janis Lyn Joplin emerged out of Port Arthur, Texas as an awkward and troubled teenager, to become one of the tumultuous and frenzied ‘sixties’ most defining voices. Who can deny the impact Joplin’s bluesy rasp has had on Rock music history? From her breakthrough appearance on stage at the Monterey Festival in the summer of 1967, Janis gave clear notice there would only be one true Queen of the psychedelic era. Had she been able to successfully fight the demons of drug and alcohol abuse, there’s no telling what heights she would have scaled as a vocal phenomenon. When Joplin took to the mic, she commanded an audience’s attention through the sheer force of her instrument.

Without her renditions on songs like ‘Ball & Chain’, ‘Summertime’, ‘Piece of My Heart’, and ‘Cry Baby’, in my opinion Big Brother and the Holding Company would have been just another ‘sixties’ rock band. Stevie Nicks in fact summed up Joplin perfectly stating, “Janis put herself out there completely, and her voice was not only strong and soulful, it was painfully and beautifully real”, adding also that, “she brought her own dangerous, sexy rock & roll edge to every single song.” I believe Janis Joplin’s beauty transcended the physical the moment she began to sing. How we’ve been robbed of a richer legacy from this marvel of vocal talent.

Joplin’s own influences are found in the jazz and blues singers from earlier eras, so much so that she was possessed to erect a stone tablet on the unmarked grave of the great Bessy Smith. Admittedly, my knowledge of Smith’s influence as an artist is limited, but her impact as a pioneer for female vocalists, is undeniable. However, there is one other woman from the same era who I believe deserves accolades beyond any other. As a black female working with some of the greatest names in jazz, both black and white, this magnificent talent needs to be revered and remembered.

When she arrived on the American jazz music scene in the late nineteen twenties, Billie Holiday offered a sultriness and bluesy improvisation skill never before heard. ‘Lady Day’, as she became known, trail blazed a path for female singers in America, no matter their race, for generations. Born Eleanora Fagan in 1915, she later adopted the surname of her estranged father, who was a travelling jazz banjo player. It would be Billie Holiday’s vocal styling that would pioneer a new jazz age in the thirties and forties. It was almost as if she deliberately lagged behind the beat of the music when she sang. In a 1958 interview the legendary crooner Frank Sinatra noted, “With few exceptions, every major pop singer in the US during her generation has been touched in some way by her genius. It is Billie Holiday who was, and still remains, the greatest single musical influence on me. Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing in the last twenty years.”

Strangely though, this supremely talented woman, when travelling with an all-white orchestra wasn’t even allowed to ride in the same elevator with them, much less stay in the same hotel. Ironically, Holiday’s biggest break came when she reluctantly agreed to sing a stirring poem detailing lynching of blacks in America. ‘Strange Fruit’ remains one of the most haunting numbers ever recorded. Fearing retaliation of some kind when she first sang it, Billie’s soulful tones blister with an empathy that can only be described as naked honesty and emotion. When the song later became part of her performance repertoire, many have told of the stirring silence that befell a room whenever she began to sing those disturbing lyrics. ‘Strange Fruit’ was of the biggest risk taking efforts in an era of social unrest, so it took a special person like Billie to command an audience’s attention.

If you haven’t availed yourself the opportunity to learn about Holiday’s career, consider her song writing prowess as proof of her genius. ‘Lady Sings the Blues’, and ‘God Bless the Child’, which was inspired by an argument over money with her mother, are testaments to her greatness. When she sang her own ‘Fine and Mellow’ during a rare TV appearance, it was as if she were bearing her soul right on camera. The interchange between herself and lifelong friend and soulmate, saxophone player Lester ‘The Prez’ Young, is nothing short of electric, especially when you consider their mutual history. I urge you to spend some valuable time with ‘Lady Day’, and learn the story of a remarkable human being. She was certainly no shrinking violet, but for better or worse, Billie Holiday mostly lived her life on her own terms. The same is also true for Joplin and Nicks. May the memory of ‘Lady Day’s’ inspiration, and that of Janis and Stevie who followed, live on forever.