My own first vivid memory of NAC rock is seeing Springsteen there in ’73, on one of his first post-Newsweek/TIME cover sorties outside of the
Which has to do with Canadian music how?
A smaller, but domestic noise in rock’n’roll history, generated by un Michel Pagliaro. I first witnessed Michel Pagliaro – known also solely by his surname or as “Pag” – at the NAC, too. A native of
Pag’s perfect pop triumvirate – in English; his French hits are more numerous but no less accomplished – comprises “Rainshowers”, “Some Sing, SomeDance”, and “Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy”. “Rainshowers”, all dolorous, shimmering treble balladry, is superb. “Some Sing, Some Dance”, by contrast bold strokes of tom-tom torn up by a middle eight of near-cheese flamenco vibes glossed with strings and rescued by a shortcut back to the killer chorus, is even better. But it’s “Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy”, with its telltale Pag Beatlesque harmonies and melodies that is the sucker punch, a strange hybrid of quirky Quebecois diction wed to universal pop principles of purity and potency. Backed by his trusty band of
Moonquake made two albums of their own of laudable quality. “Remember”, their paean to The Hippy Age, my band The Barracudas lovingly rendered on a long-lost B-side; my careful copping of singer Hans Hagopian’s hard rock, Quebecois-accented inflection is a matter of pride even now. Moonquake’s second album, with a suitably glossy, cheesy sleeve, was entitled “Star Struck” and made their sound sweeter; it worked, in a way, but the harder rock incarnation gets the vote for its more authentic French-Canadian Anglo-lingo limbo vambo.
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I was sixteen or seventeen when I took my first girlfriend to the NAC to see Murray McLauchlan. Born in
McLauchlan was a fine folkcore pioneer. "Down by the Henry Moore” is classic folk-rock crossover, with its funky downtown
Later, he won
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My earliest memory of Canadian music would be Anne Murray chirping “Snowbird”, a marvellous, much-covered C&W standard that based on her beautiful, crystalline tones catapulted her at a tender age to stardom which she parleyed into a considerable tenure thereafter. Around the same time, and as much as in a parallel universe, another titan of Canadian song, gritty Stompin’ Tom Connors, was poised to churn out some of the greatest high quality hokum ever to grace a 45 spindle or, indeed, 33 platen.
My God, where do I begin with Stompin’ Tom, whose telltale pounding of the stage with his solid cowboy boot heal bequeathed to him a nickname and legend as vast and enduring in his homeland as the more remote stands of pine that even the greediest cutters strive in vain to hew? (It was reported that when asked about his "stompin' board", Tom replied, "It's just a stage I'm going through") After all the crazy shit about him that you can get into and give out, his music is unbelievably wonderful. At his peak, in the late Sixties and early Seventies, this jobbing musical native of
Almost unknown outside Canada, Tom proved anybody can turn out a “Tommy” anytime, but only a Stompin’ Tom can craft “The Ketchup Song”, celebrating the, uh, relationship between tomatoes and potatoes! Take your existentialism and shove it! That ain’t all! “Bud the Spud”, about the regular mini-epic truck potato-toting round-tripping from
Yet, much as Tom could (can…at 74 he lives still, and gigs!) play it for laughs, at times his social commentary was superb, as on “Sudbury Saturday Night”, about an average weekend in the northern Ontario hard rock town renowned for its Inco robber baryonic nickel and working class class:
“The girls are out to bingo and the boys are gettin' stinko,
And we think no more of Inco on a
The glasses they will tinkle when our eyes begin to twinkle,
And we'll think no more of Inco on a
”With Irish Jim O'Connel there and Scotty Jack MacDonald,
There's honky Fredrick Hurchell gettin' tight, but that's alright,
There's happy German Fritzy there with Frenchy getting tipsy,
And even Joe the Gypsy knows it's Saturday tonight.”
The Five Man Electrical Band (originally The Staccatos) was a rock group from my hometown of
“And the sign said "Long-haired freaky people need not apply, so I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why/ He said ‘You look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you'll do’/ So I took off my hat, I said "Imagine that. Huh! Me workin' for you!"
A song borne of and milking a little world of baby Billy Jacks and haltered Hanoi Janes, tapping into a collective consciousness of processed alienation and middle class tantrums, it is both universal and quite Canadian, its cowpoke redneckery going back loam alone, knocking back Angst Lite that is the moodstuff of the Canadian, a kind of kinder rebellion that relies on civilized values and discourse to make its sharpest points.
It was with BTO – Bachman Turner Overdrive – that Canrock truly took off. Based on The Guess Who, unusual for a Canadian rock act in having been heard off beyond Canadian borders, BTO were battery farmed Quo, a backward Canuck Clamplett boogie formula and whose pounding pablum was irresistible to connoisseurs and cavemen alike. Music of density but never depth, ringing with thuds and thudding with rinks (stay with me, the Canconsciousness is rolling down the highway) BTO’s “Taking Care of Business”, which brought them to the world stage, is still a textbook on the noggin for anybody aspiring to drag the no-brainer buck into their corner. Sounding very much like snowmobile Slade, its raucous chorus a joy, and with its user-friendly, working class hosebag lyric, this is blue collar glam – like its portly purveyors – too fat to roll, instead stomping. “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” is even better, a glorious cascading riffslide and staccato chorus ripping your resistance out with blunt chainsaw teeth. Damn, it’s glam without the glam! It’s Canglam! A root canal of the soul, a who-gives-a-f**k at the prevailing prog excretions of the day, this is music made to endear and endure. “Rock’n’Roll Is My Life, This Is My Song” is so Canadian you nearly need a decoder ring and beaver entrails to divine its inner meaning so we will leave it to one side, as it were, on the woodpile.
BTO showed the world that even more than Lightfoot – by then an international brand – and The Guess Who – who, to the end self-effacing Canadians, had many hits but failed to become a real “name” – that domestic Canadian music could travel. Neil Young and Joni Mitchell were voluntary exiles extraordinaire both, with L.A. in their blood, transfusing Canada according to song requirements, but it was the home grown, mostly homebound acts that, with their enhanced sales reach, must have somehow influenced the Toronto punk class of ‘76 and ’77 to believe that they could, too, with a fair wind conquer the world.
That they did not was never a question of quality: in the Viletones Toronto spawned one of the truly great punk bands, a fierce, funny and supremely fucked up combo, the Stones to The Diodes art school Who. Rejoicing in John Catto’s hard turned punk rock preoccupation with axe heroics (I recorded with Catto myself and he is a great player and technician who has quite the CV at this point), The Diodes amazed the Canadian music establishment by not dying at birth, on the contrary bagging a deal with CBS and making a great debut album featuring covers to die for in “Red Rubber Ball” and “The Shape of Things to Come”. A follow-up yielded the power pop perfection of “Tired of Waking Up Tired”, a short, slick stab at the charts that almost made it. Almost. Meanwhile, as The Diodes looked for a new route to the boardroom Grail, The Viletones, the brainchild of son of an advertising man Steven Leckie, make one incredible EP (and a second bordering on incredible) and then foundered due to their leader’s predilection for the usual vices, plus a nice line in self-mutilation. As utterly barking a showman as his stage name Nazi Dog suggests, Leckie was in is prime one of the finest performers I have seen, swaggering, abusive, hilarious, tragic, a middle class mutant with a brief to personally terminate “civilisation”. In the States he might have been shadowed by the FBI; in genteel
The Diodes were the Earp’s to the Viletones’s Clanton’s. Well-dressed, intelligent (their first album has a song on it about tennis, way!), precocious and guided by an experienced Toronto music biz boffin, Ralph Alfonso (as opposed to the ‘tones cowboy Greek outfit;), as given to pop as to punk, with many, many more ideas than they knew what to do with – as opposed to Leckie’s one idea he knew all too well what to do with – these guys dug Generation X, did the right things and like I said got a major label to indulge them. The Diodes’ shows are not from this remove as memorable as the Viletones – who, given blood and theatrics from the asylum have a distinct advantage in triggering recall – but they were extremely cool.
Living for six months in
The last of the great underground Toronto rock’n’roll acts of the period was Johnny and the G-Rays, led by Johnny McLeod, and whose debut album “Every Twist Reminds” is a small masterpiece; “Put the Blame On Me” alone justifies hunting down this extinct gem. They recently reformed for a show in
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In time, Canadian rock would again triumph, The Cowboy Junkies and Crash Test Dummies, Avril Lavigne became a skater sensation, Celine Dion – another Quebecois – became a schmaltz empress. two acts that defied the odds to break past the border.
You can hear some of the above artists here:
For more information: Wikipedia carries entries for all of the artists discussed above. If you want to get anal, try Google.ca, the Canadian Google.
Liz Worth’s excellent “Treat Me Like Dirt”, an oral history of
An interview with Liz follows.
An Interview with Liz Worth, author of “Treat Me Like Dirt”.
What was your chief motivation for creating “Treat Me Like Dirt”? It strikes me as a classic “labour of love”. How long did it take to write? And how did you hook up with my old friend Ralph Alfonso?
I had started getting into bands like the Diodes and the Viletones after reading a novel called ‘1978’ by a
You’re right in assessing it as a “labour of love.” Once I got started, I let it take over my life for two years straight. I worked on it every day during that time. Every time I went out to hang out with friends or whatever, I would feel guilty because I didn’t want to be away from it for too long. I think it would have taken longer to put together if I hadn’t have been so obsessive about it, but when you get that kind of a feeling with a project you’ve just got to go with it. I did 200 interviews for it altogether. After I’d handed in the final manuscript, there was about another year of it being in the hands of Ralph Alfonso, my publisher, and it went through its proofreading and design phases then.
Ralph is actually one of the interview subjects for TMLD. I did three or four interviews with him, and during one of those conversations he said that he would be interested in considering TMLD for publication once it was completed. So when the manuscript was ready, I sent it off to Ralph and we moved on from there. It was an ideal situation because Ralph was, and still is, the manager of the Diodes. He also helped run the Crash ‘n’ Burn, a really important venue in the history of
There is a lot of obscurity with some of the bands in TMLD, but there is also reach well beyond the city. The Viletones can name people like Daryl Jenifer of Bad Brains as a fan. The Diodes did a couple of tour dates in
The Viletones were one of the great punk rock bands of all time, in my humble opinion. What was the main reason that they failed to make it outside of
Well, they didn’t actually get out of
The original line-up of the band didn’t last very long, either, and it can take a while for a band to break out. Especially in
But if they’d had a label behind them, pushing the band to get an album out there, would it have gone further? I don’t know. All anyone can do is speculate at this point. A lot of punk bands, not just in
There is awareness of the Viletones outside of
So they did make it, in some ways, when you consider things like that.
To what extent are the recordings of the bands you’ve documented available now and would it be right to say that their legacy has been an influence on Canadian music in general?
In the 1990s, a local label called Other People’s Music started releasing a lot of
So there is music around, but it can still be hard to find, although there’s been a strong resurgence around
I think you can say that they have left a legacy on Canadian music, although I don’t think that their influence has been so obvious. In
I can’t speak for other cities in
I’ve been away a very long time. What is the punk scene in
There hasn’t been a Viletones gig in a few years, but Steven Leckie did play a show back in the winter, but it was a totally different thing. The Diodes just wrapped up a tour in southern
There’s also always a lot going on in
Which of all the bands you’ve documented do you like the best yourself? Whose music stands up still? Who was, in hindsight, overrated? Underrated? Simply useless?
I always liked the Diodes. They were the first
It's hard to say that any of these bands were overrated, considering that no one made millions. There were a lot of bands that never even put out a full-length record. So it's hard to say anyone was overrated or underrated in a scene where not even the more known bands can be considered household names.
The Diodes’ Paul Robinson & John Catto.
At the remove of so much time, how do the halcyon days of The Diodes and CBS strike you?
PAUL: I am just glad to have anyone remember us at this stage.We are still alive and well in
JOHN: A long time ago & naive and chaotic on both sides, CBS really hadn't got a clue about anything, we were better, but not enough so and certainly not aggressive enough in our knowledge of being so. I wish I could time travel back to then with that opportunity in my hot little hand and what I know now in my head. The music industry is constantly being reinvented but really always stays the same, that's the genius of that whole KLF "The Manual" thing.
Would each of you please choose one Diodes song as your fave and explain why you chose it and provide some background to its writing and recording.
PAUL: Child Star written as homage to Buffy! recorded demo with Mark Gain from Martha and the Muffins at OCA still sounds strong. Something old, something I wrote, ahh "Time Damage", I'm almost surprised I came up with that to be honest. It deals directly with that inevitable discovery that time not only isn't linear, for one thing accelerating as you get older but also folds onto itself. All hideous stuff of course but hey it still works great on stage as well!
JOHN: Something old, something I wrote, ahh "Time Damage", I'm almost surprised I came up with that to be honest. It deals directly with that inevitable discovery that time not only isn't linear, for one thing accelerating as you get older but also folds onto itself. All hideous stuff of course but hey it still works great on stage as well!
You are both, like me, expatriates transplanted to the Mother Country. How did that happen and why have you not repatriated yourselves permanently?
PAUL: Love the
JOHN: I never meant it to be to be honest, it just happened, then the various anchors took root. Certainly when I arrived here I didn't realize that I was viewing the last gasps of the British (well London) live music scene and that by a few years later a combination of venues greed, lack of direction, faddishness and lethargic audiences would have killed it off forever. Toronto's music scene is stronger than ever however, how the hell did that happen? How come in the last few days I was in TO I got recognized in the subway (tube) multiple times by SEVENTEEN year old kids who aren't even supposed to know whether I lived or died, what did I think? ... need more all ages shows! ha ha
How did you come to play to the Italians of late? I assume The Diodes are a cult concern there? Tell me about the new vinyl live album!
PAUL: New vinyl out in
JOHN: Two questions, sorta one answer. Rave up records approached us, wondering whether we had anything we wanted to release, they were already "fans" and familiar with the history of the band. We had the Mocambo things so it all fell together. The same people did "Road To Ruin" so one thing led to another. It was really fun to do, great people. The live Vinyl album is a terrific artifact sonically and cute as a button as a thing, what can I say!uck