Sunday, 24 November 2019

Boys Brigade


  In the aftermath of the initial upheaval in the Canadian music scene, (especially in the Toronto area) caused by the “punk” movement, a number of groups who would be categorized as Canadian New Wave became prominent. Ironically, it was primarily these acts, rather than the punk rock musicians, who would have commercial success and who would reap the benefits of the opportunities the new music styles created. 
One of the Canadian groups that rose to prominence in this genre was a darling of the Queen Street West scene, "Boys Brigade". The group was formed in 1981 around Malcolm Burn (vocals and keyboards) and Tony Lester (vocals and guitar). Completing the lineup was bassist Wayne Lorenz, drummer Billie Brock, and David Porter and Jeff Packer as backing vocalists and percussionists. The band hooked up with an enterprising booking agent who not only was successful at getting the band into the usual clubs on Queen Street, but was also able to get them into Queen Street venues such as the Rex Hotel, places that at the time were not known for live music. The band continued working on their sound and on writing original material, and they submitted a song in a competition being held by one of Toronto’s bigger rock FM radio stations. This effort was successful, and the song “Mannequin” was included in the 1981 “Homegrown” compilation album released by Q 107. 

The band built upon their success and eventually Geddy Lee of Rush fame agreed to produce their initial self titled album, after having heard them. Interestingly, Malcolm Burn, who would later go on to work extensively with noted Canadian producer Daniel Lanois, and who himself would have great international success as a producer and engineer, said in a 2004 interview that while his wish was for Lanois to produce the band's first album, their manager of the time, along with other band members, were not interested. Of course, Lanois would go onto to working quite successfully with other Canadian New Wave acts of the time such as the Parachute Club and Martha and The Muffins. 

In 1983 the band’s self titled debut, “Boys Brigade” was released in Canada on Anthem records (and in the US on Capitol). One of the singles from the album, “Melody” enjoyed chart success, especially in the Toronto market. There was also a video created to support the song, which was great exposure for the band with advent of the MuchMusic video channel. The band would hit the road for a couple of years, but by 1985 had everyone decided to go their separate ways. 

“Melody”, with its spoken word verse and keyboard textures serves as a fitting to tribute to one of our lesser known Canadian groups form the early 1980’s. 


Thursday, 2 May 2019

May 2, 2019

B. B. Gabor

“Soviet Jewellry”

B. B. Gabor (real name Gabor Hegedus) was an outstanding musician and singer/songwriter who was part of Toronto’s “New Wave” music scene in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Gabor was Hungarian by birth, and his early years were indelibly affected by the trauma he and his family suffered during the 1956 revolution in Hungary, and the subsequent savage repression by the Soviet Union. The family was forced to flee their homeland, and after going through the various hardships assorted with being refugees, the family settled in London, England. In 1973, Gabor emigrated to Toronto and became involved in the local music scene. His hard work and dedication to his craft earned him a record deal in 1979 with one of Canada’s better independent labels of the period, Anthem Records. His enigmatic and irrepressible musical style was great fit with this label. His songs mixed witty, yet perceptive lyrics with great pop music sensibilities. It was music that would appeal to those on the dance floor as well as the more thoughtful types listening through their Walkman’s. 
Recorded in June of 1979 and released in 1980, B. B. Gabor’s self titled debut album was well received, with two of the singles “Metropolitan Life” and “Nyet, Nyet Soviet (Soviet Jewellry)” becoming staples on Toronto radio. B. B. Gabor received a Juno nomination and toured in support of the album. He was also a great live act, and this author has very fond memories of watching him at a club in Toronto.     

Tragically, B.B. Gabor died at a far too young age, robbing Canada (and music in general) of a very talented individual. However, his musical legacy will always be a testament to his tremendous abilities, which certainly enriched the Canadian music scene of the early 1980’s.            

Tuesday, 29 January 2019


Western Canada has always been fertile ground when it comes to rock music. The Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive automatically come to mind, but it would doing a disservice to many other bands if we didn’t acknowledge the depth and talent that was (and I am sure still is) out there on the Prairies and the Rockies. Hammersmith, from Calgary Alberta, was a prime example.
Hammersmith was a band that was formed in 1975. Most of the members had previously performed together in another group called “Painter” (that also hailed from Calgary) which had some chart success in 1973 with the song “West Coast Woman”. However, in 1975 the members decided to start afresh and decided on the name “Hammersmith”. The group was a quintet comprising of Dan Lowe (lead guitar), Doran Beattie (lead vocals), Royden Morice (bass & keys), Jeff Boyne (rhythm guitar) and Jim Llewellyn (drums). Not long after forming, they released their eponymously  titled debut album on Mercury.
The initial single from the album was a catchy number called “Late Night Lovin’ Man” (also the lead track on side one of the album).  The style of music the band performed would be best described as “hard rock”. Nowadays that term seems to have been superseded by the designation  “metal”, but it would be a mistake to assume that these types of rock and roll are the same. Hard rock meant loud guitars, but usually also meant music that had a strong beat and was danceable, and the debut single by Hammersmith was no exception. The song itself is a great example of mid 1970’s commercial rock music, a style that within a year or so of this song’s release would begin to reflect the influence first of disco, and then not long after, new wave. As someone who spent at least part of his misspent youth at high school dances (when the dances still featured live music from bands you could actually hear on the local radio station), “Late Night Lovin’ Man” is redolent of what those dances were like. 
I reached out to Hammersmith’s drummer Jim Llewellyn to find out some more about the band. he very graciously answered my questions about the band. Jim was a regular in the Calgary music scene, and as such was familiar with the musicians from Painter. When their drummer decided to leave, he auditioned and became the new drummer. Jim advised that the band had Bruce Allan as their manager, who was also Bachman Turner Overdrive’s manager at the time. With the release of their debut album, Hammersmith found themselves on the road, opening for some of the era’s top acts. Jim recalls being on the same bill as Kiss, Spirit, Styx, Rod Stewart, Kansas, Jethro Tull and others. He advised me that it was an incredible time for him, playing in front of crowds of up to 20,000 people, and standing backstage watching some the top drummers in the field ply their trade (and in the process learning a great deal about drumming). I would highly recommend visiting Jim’s great website for more details about his fascinating career. It is located at

For a great example of Canadian rock from the mid 70’s, give a Hammersmith a listen. I’ll bet you won’t be disappointed.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Bill Evans - Green Dolphin Street

It has been alleged that when President Richard Nixon made his famous trip to China in 1972, he asked the Chinese premier Chou En Lai what Chou thought of the effect of the French Revolution on history. Chou's enigmatic reply is said to have been "It is too soon to tell". Although this story may in fact be an exaggeration, or nothing more than an offhand comment, one wonders if perhaps the impact of Bill Evans on jazz piano could not also be considered in the same light.

Bill Evans was never noted as a great composer or soloist, yet his influence and standing in jazz since his untimely passing in 1980 has been pervasive. Many of the younger jazz pianists recording over the last twenty years seem to have assimilated much of his style in their approach to the instrument. Not unlike John Coltrane, who also passed away at a young age, Bill Evan's musical contributions to the jazz art form are still highly regarded. Bill Evans' recordings are still being released and played, and a recent discovery of an unreleased recording from 1968 generated intense interest when it was located and subsequently released.

Which brings us to one of Bill Evan's lesser known releases, and the subject of today's post, Green Dolphin Street. Recorded in 1959, but not released until almost 20 years later, the trio tracks that make up most the album include Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums. The story goes that Bill Evans along with Paul Chamber and Philly Joe Jones were the rhythm section on a Chet Baker recording date in New York. Orrin Keepnews, the famed producer and part owner of Riverside Records, was overseeing the date, and after the sessions with Baker were over, he asked the trio to stay and record some material. It was a spontaneous date, and while the three players had been playing with Miles Davis and were familiar with each other, they did not normally work together as a trio. However, they decided to record at least six songs.  The decision was made that this would be considered a Bill Evans date, and he specifically requested that the tapes not be released until he had a chance to listen to them later.

It was not until the mid 1970's that both Bill Evans and Orrin Keepnews returned to the recording, which, as Orrin Keepenews states in the album's liner notes, miraculously had remained untouched and in storage for at least 15 years. Upon listening to it again Bill Evans agreed the session could be released, and in 1977 it was. It should be noted that Orrin Keepnews agreed completely with Bill Evan's decision.

While the session that produced the trio tracks had not been previously planned, it would be inaccurate to think of it as nothing more than a throwaway. Bill Evans had a meticulous approach to a song, and the trio decided upon songs that they were already playing with Miles Davis, as well as some mutually familiar standards. The result was a wonderful piece of music, featuring three artists familiar with each other and capable of performing at the highest levels of proficiency on their respective instruments.  There is no particular standout in my opinion, but the title track is a great extended reading with lots of room for solos.

This particular version of Green Dolphin Street is a vinyl release on Waxtime, a European label specializing in reissues.  Although there is some degree of uncertainty (or perhaps controversy) concerning the sources used to make these records, my version has a clean, pristine and warm sound. No complaints.

Bill Evans' influence on jazz will continue to be felt for many years to come. Perhaps it is too early to attempt to quantify how significant that influence will be, but it is unquestionable that it is profound


Saturday, 3 February 2018

Dusty In Memphis

Dusty Springfield was a British singer who became popular in her home country around the same time as the Beatles started their trajectory towards becoming the greatest band in the history of popular music. While the Beatles are still well known and revered, the name Dusty Springfield does not trigger the same recognition. But she was one of the great pop music singers of her era, and has been responsible for at least one of its best records. She was blessed with a beautiful voice, and although she sang in a somewhat understated manner, she was able to convey a tremendous amount of emotional content into the songs she performed. 
She enjoyed great success in her home country in the early and mid 1960’s, as well as some significant sales in the United States. By 1968 her career had started to wane however. She decided to enter into a contract with the R&B giant Atlantic Records, and come to America to record her next album, in hopes of reclaiming her popularity. It was an inspired choice, as the powers that be at Atlantic held her in high regard and were determined to pull out all the stops when it came to making a record with her. Jerry Wexler, at that time a partner in Atlantic and their top producer, would co-produce the album with Atlantic’s top recording engineer, Tom Dowd. Jerry also had Arif Mardin write the arrangements for the record. All that was left was to pick the recording studio. Jerry originally wanted to use the Muscle Shoals studio, but it was unavailable, so they went with American Sound Studio, in Memphis, Tennessee. Atlantic was familiar with the studio, and held it and its owner in high regard. Other classic sides had been cut there, so Jerry knew that for the kind of record Dusty wanted to make, Memphis was the place to go. From the beginning, this was going to be an album with plenty of soul, and a real R&B feel. In hindsight, the studio musicians (house players at American Sound) were the perfect fit for the project. The music grooved, but the players were polished enough to ensure that they could provide whatever level of musicianship the songs needed. 
While Jerry was the ideal producer and project manager, that didn't mean that he and Dusty always agreed on how to conduct the sessions. Prior to the project, he had spent a considerable amount of time reviewing songs he felt would be suitable for her. She turned down the majority of them. Although Dusty was in Memphis for the project, she declined to put any vocal tracks down at the time. Despite Jerry’s desire to record her in Memphis, Dusty said she was too intimidated by the musicians, and the other artists that had recorded there, and felt insecure about her singing. Whether or not that’s true, she recorded the vocals for the album in New York. So although the majority of the songs were recorded in Memphis, her vocals weren’t. While overdubbing the vocals in New York, she and Jerry also clashed on how she would sing her vocal tracks. Although Jerry wanted them recorded a certain way, Dusty insisted in doing it her way. To his credit, Jerry has since said she was right, and she completed her vocal parts with “perfect intonation, every note correct, gorgeous tone production and her own trademark individual phrasing”. 
Dusty said that her favourite singer was Aretha Franklin, and I am sure that played a part in decision to come to America, and to try her hand at recording an album of the type of music that Aretha was having so much success with. Atlantic was also Aretha’s label, and they had certainly made her a superstar, which again must have been something Dusty considered. Although the album is considered today a “blue eyed soul” classic, and Dusty’s finest moment, it was not a big seller at the time. The one song that was a hit as a single, and the one that most people have heard, was “Son Of A Preacher Man”. The song has all the ingredients to be considered as a classic in the R&B genre. The tongue-in-cheek lyrics, a slinky (though funky) groove, tasty horn section and of course, the Sweet Inspirations providing backing vocals. 
As indicated earlier, the album did not sell particularly well, and was a disappointment commercially. Ironically, it has subsequently achieved legendary status and is considered a landmark recording. It has been through several re-issues on compact disc. The original Atlantic release was catalogue number SD 8214. Since the album only sold around 100,000 copies originally, and has since with the passage of time been declared a masterpiece, finding a copy (that hasn’t been played to death or just abused) can be difficult and costly. It is readily available in other formats though, and is well worth having. Dusty In Memphis is an example of an artist in her prime, with the perfect cast of supporting musicians, classic song material and excellent production. 

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Last Train To Clarksville

The Monkees; Revisited 

Fifty years after their television debut, what are we to make of The Monkees? At one time, the very mention of their name was sufficient to bring howls of derision upon the poor soul unfortunate enough to speak it. After all, when the credibility of any self respecting rock and roll musician could be only be substantiated by their commitment to their art form and their rejection of the “establishment”, how could four young men in a television comedy program about a fictional band hope to be taken seriously? Yet the facts belie much of the histrionics that were in common usage about the group, and its members. For a group that was supposedly nothing more than a cynical and commercial ploy dreamed up by middle aged cigar-chomping Hollywood types, The Monkees sold an astonishing 75 million records worldwide, and in their heyday in the mid 1960’s, had three number one hits according to Billboard’s record sales charts (“Last Train To Clarksville”, “Daydream Believer” and “I’m A Believer”). They released seven albums and went on three tours (including shows overseas) between 1966 and 1969, and even had Frank Zappa appear on their show.  So were their sins that irredeemable, or were they simply sacrificed on the alter of rock music’s pretence to authenticity? 

With the benefit of hindsight, much of the ridicule they were subjected to seems overblown, if not hypocritical. The primary criticism was that they didn’t play their own instruments on their records. With the passage of time, we now know that very few artists from that time period actually played on their own recordings. “The Wrecking Crew”, a 2008 documentary film about a group of  session musicians in Los Angeles, showed that in fact the majority of “top forty” recordings that were being made during the 1960’s were cut by a select group of pros (mostly older jazz musicians) as opposed to the young men and women who were pictured on the record’s sleeves. While this was not exactly a closely guarded secret, it was not something that either the actual band members or the session musicians themselves were anxious to discuss publicly. The studio players on the sessions were not overly enamoured of the music (if the truth were to be told), and were in it for the money (which was good, and much better than they were going to make playing jazz). It was their expertise in the recording studio that made it cost effective to have them record the songs, instead of the actual band members (although this would soon begin to change). 

It is sometimes overlooked in evaluating The Monkees, that from the beginning, it was a television show first and foremost (and the four young men chosen to be the fictitious band’s members were there as actors). Perhaps more credit is due to Don Kirshner, the man behind much of the band’s musical success. The two television producers behind the show wanted someone with music business credentials to look after the songs (and the musicians to perform them) for the show, and settled on Don Kirshner. Don was responsible for bringing the songwriters in for the early songs that solidified the band’s success. Perhaps if the band had only been a hit on television, and the songs themselves that The Monkees sang on had not been the hits they were, the desire from the four young men to have more control over the musical aspects of the band might not have been so important to them. But that wasn’t the case. The first song released under the band’s name was the single “Last Train To Clarksville”, which came out prior to the debut of the television show, and was a huge hit. As well, with the success The Monkees were having in selling records and as a television series, the people behind the band decided they should tour. Under these circumstances, it is easy to see why the band’s members would want to be more involved. Specifically, Mike Nesmith, a guitarist who had successfully auditioned for one of the four roles on the show, wanted The Monkees to start to act like a “real band”, and write and perform their own songs. This lead to break with Don Kirshner, who flew from New York to Los Angeles to meet with the band members and clear the air. The meeting did not go well, notwithstanding that the band members were given royalty cheques for over a million dollars. It soon became clear that with respect to the future of The Monkees, it was going to be Don’s ways or the highway, so it was the highway (for Don that is). 
One aspect of the band’s success that is often (I would say deliberately) overlooked by its critics is that they always sang on their own records, a pretty important facet of any pop recording. While there was nothing about the singing that was especially noteworthy, it fit the songs perfectly, and who can argue with records that were hits? In hindsight, it is understandable to see why the band members would see their contributions as the crucial factor in the band’s success, and why they probably felt that they would just as successful if they wrote their own songs and played on them during the recording sessions. Like many young people, (especially with the hubris that comes with being a musical group that has sold millions of records), they thought they knew better and once they were in charge, they could do a better job. Of course, that would not be the case. Although they would continue to perform and record, the television would be cancelled after the conclusion of its second season in 1968, which was the beginning of the end. The next two years saw an original member leave, declining popularity of the remaining three members, and eventual dissolution of the group. 

  So in the context of the music business during the late 1960’s it is hard not to conclude that The Monkees were more sinned against than they were guilty of sinning themselves. In the current musical environment of 2017, where pop stars and their image are micromanaged, and their musical output completely contrived, the fact that a group was artificially created for a television series and didn’t write their own songs, or perform on their own recordings would seem absolutely par for the course. That the group would then become extremely popular with everyone involved making a boatload of dough would be seen as a great success with accolades all around for those involved.  In my humble opinion, it is high time that The Monkees were cut some slack, and the hypocrites need to look in the mirror before pronouncing judgement.    

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Ian and Sylvia - Northern Journey

Ian and Sylvia were a couple from Canada who were part of the folk music boom that occurred in the early 1960’s. Ian Tyson was originally from British Columbia and Sylvia Fricker was originally from Chatham, Ontario. They met in Toronto through a mutual friend, and started a professional musical relationship there. Although there was a folk music scene in Canada, the real action was in New York City. Ian and Sylvia felt that had gone as far as they could in their native land, so in early 1962 they headed to New York to see if they could take the next step to a career in the music business. 
It is difficult today to appreciate the influence and popularity that folk music had as the decade of the 1950’s ended, and the early 1960’s began. There seems to be a general belief the popular music of that era was rock and roll, and that it all started with Elvis, until the Beatles took over. In fact, folk music actually eclipsed what Elvis  and his early rock and roll contemporaries had been doing. Folk music was the music of choice of the most of the young  adult population, particularly those in college. By the time Ian and Sylvia headed to New York, folk music groups such as the Kingston Trio were selling millions of records. In contrast to rock and roll, folk music was thought of as “serious” music, wherein the lyrics dealt with contemporary social issues. In our current age of cynicism, it seems quaint that sincere young people strumming guitars and singing about progressive issues would be taken seriously, but in fact that musical genre was considered vital and important.  
As is often said, “timing is everything”, and Ian and Sylvia were well positioned to take advantage of the current popularity of the type of music they were performing. They appeared in New York City at a time when it was the centre of the folk music world. They were a striking couple, both visually and musically. Like any successful singing duo, the voices complimented each other, and made an immediate impact on the listener. They also arrived ready to play, having honed their skills in Toronto, and possessing a unique and powerful sound. They also had the great fortune of being selected as clients of Albert Grossman, a real up and comer in the management of artists. He understood the business, and would ensure they could concentrate on their art, while he looked after the commercial end of things.
After becoming clients of Mr. Grossman, the next step was for the duo to sign with a record label. Albert Grossman already had a good relationship with Warner Brothers records after bringing them the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary (whom he also represented). Peter, Paul and Mary had enjoyed commercial success right away, so Albert Grossman’s stock was high. However, Ian and Sylvia had other ideas. They preferred to go with a smaller independent record label that specialized in folk music, and already had a certain cachet, and so they signed with Vanguard Records. This decision would be a mixed blessing for Ian and Sylvia. Being a smaller label that specialized in their type of music, there was no doubt that the label would be able to focus more of its attention on them. On the other hand though, Vanguard would never be able to compete with a major label in the amount of support (in the terms of marketing and promotion) that it could provide Ian and Sylvia. One advantage that Vanguard did have however was their approach to recording their artists. Rather than use a commercial recording studio, Vanguard would look for a location that had great natural acoustic properties. The recording equipment would then be brought to that location. The advantage to this approach was that there was an emphasis on capturing the artist’s unique and personal sound, as opposed to creating a sound in the studio, and fitting the artist into it. While this approach eschewed the technical practices of overdubbing and editing that were to become so prominent (and standard procedure) in the making of a record, it captured the spontaneity and organic aspects that are part and parcel of musicians performing a piece of music together. In his excellent biography of Ian and Sylvia, John Einarson quotes Sylvia Tyson as she recalls recording the first Ian and Sylvia album live “off the floor”, with a single microphone hanging from the ceiling. 
In early March of 1964, Ian and Sylvia returned to New York to record what is generally considered their best Vanguard album. “Northern Journey” was recorded in New York’s Manhattan Towers Ballroom. The songs on the album showcase the amazing empathy that Ian and Sylvia had when they sang together. The harmonies are subtle yet beautiful, shifting throughout the songs as they sing them. The album would also feature two of their most well-known and loved songs, Sylvia’s “You Were On My Mind”, and Ian’s “Some Day Soon”. The instrumentation on Northern Journey was typical of what you would expect from a folk music record of that time; guitar, auto-harp, mandolin and string bass along with Ian and Sylvia’s vocals. The album is a potpourri of folk styled music, with country and bluegrass influences alongside old English ballads. The musicianship is first-rate, with the recording process beautifully capturing the depth and nuances of their incredible vocal talents. The instrumental sidemen acquit themselves admirably, with some fine guitar playing from John Herald. In keeping with the practice of the day, the album was released in both mono and stereo versions (the mono version is Vanguard VRS-9154 and the stereo version VSD-79154). 
With the release of Northern Journey in September of 1964, it would seem that the future was bright for Ian and Sylvia. However, a musical change was in the air. 1964 was the year the Beatles arrived in America, and changed popular music forever. While the change didn't occur overnight, serious and sincere young adults strumming acoustic guitars gradually became passé, and rock and roll returned with a vengeance. Ian and Sylvia would continue to make great music, and would evolve their styles to accommodate the shift in public tastes. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Northern Journey would be a very successful record for Ian and Sylvia and is a testament to the vital and beautiful music being made before everything started to change. For more on this talented couple, I would highly recommend John Einarson’s excellent book about them.