Monday, August 3, 2015

T is for The Tragically Hip, Shania Twain, Tegan and Sara

     Like Sloan (in yesterday's post) and Rush, a few posts before that, The Tragically Hip have enjoyed a decades-long run of success, employing a lineup that has remained completely intact, right from the beginning.  Formed in Kingston, Ontario, lead singer Gord Downie, guitarists, Rob Baker,  Paul Langlois, Gord Sinclair and drummer, Johnny Fay, have served to create one of Canada's all-time most successful bands.  They have produced nine #1 albums, they have won 14 Juno Awards and they are already enshrined in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, even though they are still actively producing new material and successfully touring the country.

     The Tragically Hip are a rock band and produce straight-ahead rock songs.  What separates The Hip, as they are known, from other rock bands in Canada (such as Nickelback) is the poetry of their lyrics and their commitment to writing about Canada and all things Canadian.  Being able to hear songs about ourselves is a precious thing in this country and no one does it like The Tragically Hip.  They write about real people and real events in a way that elevates the importance of their stories and helps create a mythology that doesn't often happen in Canada.   For example, 50 Mission Gap is about Toronto Maple Leaf hockey player, Bill Barilko, who died mysteriously in a plane crash after scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal for The Leafs. Wheat Kings is a lovely song about David Milgaard, who was falsely accused of murder and imprisoned for many years.  Nautical Disaster is about the sinking of the British battleship Hood by the German battleship, Bismarck in World War II.  Bobcaygeon alludes to Toronto-area Nazi sympathizer, Ernst Zundel.  Three Pistols is about famous Canadian painter, Tom Thomson. And, on and on, it goes.   Even though many of these songs reference real life, they are nothing at all like nostalgic folk tunes.  They are powerful arena rock songs, delivered by Canada's most flamboyant and enigmatic showman, Gord Downie, and his friends, the Hip.  

     Whether seeing The Hip live or else, blasting their tunes with the top down, cruising down the highway, The Tragically Hip are Canada's national band.  Their music is the story of our lives in Canada. Their musical catalogue stretches into the hundreds of songs. Some of my favourites include, Ahead By A Century, Locked in the Trunk of a CarCourage (for Hugh MacLennan), Looking for a Place to Happen, Poets, At The Hundredth Meridian and 38 Years Old.   There are many, many more excellent Hip tunes but, for now, I will leave you with The Tragically Hip when they came to my hometown of Cobourg, Ontario.  I was in the crowd that night, along with my Father-in-Law, in a sea of lumberjack shirts and hockey jerseys, bottled blondes with skinny jeans and knee-high boots; all of  us, fists a-pumping, hearts a-pounding, shouting out our anthems.  As always, The Hip put on an awesome show.  In this year of 2015, they are the reigning and undisputed champions of Canadian music.

     Eilleen Regina Edwards was born in 1965 and was raised in a poor household, in an Ojibwe community near Timmins, Ontario.  Her father died when she was very young and her mother re-married, causing Eilleen to change her last name to Twain.  Twain witnessed many acts of domestic violence between her step-father and her mother. Not surprisingly, music became a refuge and an escape.  In order to help earn money, Eilleen Twain began performing on stage in local bars before she even had entered her teenage years.   Years later, when her music career had taken off and people called her, Shania, Twain recalled those early days of performing in bars or hunting lodges as being her form of a "School of the Performing Arts."   Twain claims that, in many ways, her hard-knock upbringing paid positive dividends because it helped her to develop a strong work ethic, a personal drive to succeed and survive, as well as, providing her with many opportunities to hone her skills as a musician while developing her craft as a songwriter.

    Eventually, Shania Twain came to the attention of local music producers who introduced her to producers further along the musical food chain, eventually culminating in a meeting with legendary music producer, Mutt Lange, in Nashville.  The two formed a musical, as well as, personal partnership that lasted all through Shania Twain's most successful period as a performer.   Always a combination of soulful songwriter, engaging live performer and very beautiful woman, Shania Twain was a huge star on many levels, with many different demographic groups.  She was equally as popular with men and as with women. Twain had her feet firmly planted in both, the world of Country Music and the world of Pop.  And, finally, Twain was just as proudly Canadian, as she was an international star.

   Shania Twain has sold more Country Music albums than anyone in history.  She has sold over 85 million records overall, making her one of the best-selling performers of all time, in any genre.  She is a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and has her own star on Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto, as well as, on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in California.  She has won multiple Juno, Grammy and Country Music Awards over the course of her career and is the only artist, ever, to have earned three consecutive "diamond" status records by the R.I.A.A. in the U.S.    Shania Twain has many, many hit songs such as Man! I Feel Like a Woman, That Don't Impress Me Much, Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under, Any Man of MineFrom This Moment On, I'm Gonna Getcha Good, Up and Forever and For Always.  

     Shania Twain has known the highest of the high points in her career; a career built upon a foundation of hard work and experience and personal struggle.  So, not surprisingly, when her marriage to Lange fell apart and she developed lesions on her vocal cords and had to retire from the limelight, Twain was able to survive with her dignity intact. Shania Twain is respected by fans, peers and critics alike for the quality of the person she is.  Consequently, now that she is taking the first, tentative steps back toward resuming her singing career, hopes are held high that she will succeed.


    As is quite often the case whenever a band achieves "overnight" success, the road travelled to that moment is often quite long.   In 2014, Tegan and Sara exploded onto the world musical scene with an album called Heartthrob and a hit song called, Closer.   Because of that album and that particular song, Tegan and Sara won three Juno Awards, as well as, several Western Canada Music Awards, too.  They were, also, shortlisted for The Polaris Music Prize.

     They have had several other hit songs emerge from that album, and, in earlier years, such as I Was a Fool, Goodbye Goodbye, I'm Not Your Hero, Call it Off and Back in Your Head.   But, none have reached the dizzy heights of Closer which has found its' way onto both of my daughter's iTunes playlists!   Whenever we hear the song on the radio, both girls sing it, word for word.  I am happy that they are old enough to appreciate a catchy pop song but, young enough to not fully understand what it means by lines such as, "I want you underneath me." :)

     In any case, twins Tegan and Sara Quin have been performing in their hometown of Calgary for almost half of their lives.  In 1997, while in high school, they won a Calgary-based competition for unsigned bands called Bandwarz. The prize of time in a professional recording studio allowed them to properly record a demo of some of their original, early songs.  This demo. helped pave the way for their first album called Under Feet Like Ours.   This album earned them the YTV Award for Best Band Achievement.  The notoriety that arose from this album earned them opportunities to sing at festivals and/or with other bands on tours and at concerts.  It, also, allowed them to become involved in recording songs for the soundtracks of television shows and for movies.   Gradually, ever so slowly, Tegan and Sara gained enough experience as performers that they were able to marshall the maturity needed to create a crticially-acclaimed album such as Heartthrob. 
     Tegan and Sara are definitely not an overnight success. But, they are poised to have a big year in 2015.

     A big tip of the hat goes out to the following performers whose names begin with a "T":

Modern rockers, Tokyo Police Club and Timber Timbre, legendary country/folk singers, Ian and Sylvia Tyson, rockers Three Doors Down, Punk pioneers, Teenage Head, Singer/songwriter, Ian Thomas, Singer, David Clayton Thomas (of Blood, Sweat and Tears), 2014 Polaris Music Prize Winner and Inuit throat singer, Tanya Tagaq, Soul act, Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers, Singer, Ian Thornley (of Big Wreck), Singer Margo Timmins (of The Cowboy Junkies) who, one night in Toronto, was able to walk across the street because I stopped my car to allow her to cross. She mouthed a "thank you" to me which makes us BFFs now, right?!  Carrying on...., Singer, Ken Tobias, Rapper, Tre Mission, Singer, Domenic Troiano, Rocker, Pat Travers, Pop star, Kreesha Turner, Rockers, Tupelo Honey, Metal band, Three Inches of Blood,  Alt-rockers, The Tea Party, Folk band, Tanglefoot, HipHop band, TBTBT (Too Bad To Be True), Psychedelic rockers, Tetrix, Rockers, Theory of a Deadman, Joel Plaskett's first band, Thrush Hermit, 80s rock band, Toronto, New wavers, Trans-X, 90s Alt-rock band, Treble Charger, rock band, The Trews, 70s supergroups, Triumph and Trooper, Electronic band, Tear Garden and, finally, a group that has been ripping it up through the Aboriginal music industry in Canada for a while now and who are now breaking through to the mainstream, Electronic/Techno stars, A Tribe Called Red

Sunday, August 2, 2015

S is for Sloan, Ron Sexsmith and Jane Siberry

     Sloan has been together for almost 25 years now and has maintained the same line-up since the release of their first album, Smeared.  Smeared  contained the smash hit Underwhelmed.  The members of Sloan are Chris Murphy, Andrew Scott, Patrick Peatland and Jay Ferguson.  One of the very cool things about Sloan is that each member of the band takes the lead in writing songs for their albums. In turn, they, also, switch instruments accordingly depending upon whose song is being performed at any given time on stage. Possessing such strong, multi-instrumental skills has allowed each band member to be able to approach the writing of songs from a myriad of perspectives and, as a result, Sloan has produced a steady stream of Indie/Alternative/Rock and Pop sounding songs over the years such as Coax MeMoney City Maniacs, If It Feels Good Do It and The Good In Everyone
     Sloan has won a Juno Award, as well as, several East Coast Music Awards. However, Sloan is best known for the integrity with which they have conducted their affairs over the years.  They are known as principled band; one that refuses to comprise its' ideals in pursuit of larger commercial gain.  Consequently, Sloan remain one of the most highly-respected bands among other bands in Canada.  They are routinely voted as being at, or near the top, of annual rankings of rock bands in Canada.  In fact, their second album, Twice Removed was voted as the Top Canadian Album of all time in a reader poll in Chart Magazine in 1995. It was ranked third in the same poll in 2000 and, back to #1 in this very poll in 2005.
     Halifax, Nova Scotia serves as home base for Sloan.  As stated in interviews, the band prefers to operate out of Halifax because of the city's vibrant music scene but, more importantly, because the people of the Maritimes help keep them grounded and able to maintain their perspective on what constitutes a healthy lifestyle, even for as prodigious a rock and roll band as Canada has ever produced.  Sloan does, indeed, rock!  

    *The video below is from the Choir! Choir! Choir! Sessions.  It is pretty cool in its own buttoned-down way.  The regular rock version is in the link above. :)

   There is the classic Ron Sexsmith story that is told concerning the time Sexsmith found himself at a local coffee shop and a tune of his began to play in the store. The young lady serving him remarked that she loved the song and thought  (fellow Canadian singer) Rufus Wainwright was really talented.  When Sexsmith corrected her and claimed that he was, in fact, the singer of the song she was listening to, she replied, "And, who are you?"

     Who Ron Sexsmith is, is one of Canada's most respected songwriters.  Sexsmith has written songs for Leslie Feist, Sir Elton John, Chris Martin (of Coldplay), Elvis Costello and for Steve Earle, just to mention a few.  All of these industry heavyweights sing Sexsmith's praises.  They all laud him for his ability to create such delicate tapestries with his words. It is claimed that Sexsmith can infuse his characters with a sense of fragility or loneliness or confusion or loss, on a scale unmatched by his peers.  Yet, Sexsmith has never enjoyed a top 40 hit of his own.

     I was born two days before Ron Sexsmith was.  I feel a kinship with him because, on a much smaller scale, I have been told many praiseworthy things about myself, too. I have been told that I should publish my work. I have been called The Wizard of Words by an admirer. I have witnessed others become intimidated, at times, by the power of what I have to say.  I have seen and heard it all before and yet, I never truly feel worthy of the praise.  I always am plagued by feelings of inadequacy.  I never really believe that I am deserving of success. I am not a good advocate for my own work.  Yet, I find it pleasing when my work is well-received.   Ron Sexsmith desires recognition, too.
     On a much larger stage, Sexsmith has been fawned over by critics, fans and by peers but, he has rarely broken into the Top 100 charts, let alone the Top 40 record charts.  He is a Juno Award winner, as well as, being shortlisted for The Polaris Music Prize but, there seems to be no place in mainstream radio for such intricately-crafted musical gems such as Gold in Them Hills, Just My Heart Talkin', Fallen, Brandy Alexander and Whatever it Takes.....unless covered by others such as, Feist (with Brandy Alexander) or K.D. Lang (with Fallen).  Whether this is a sign the times or else, a sign of the songwriter, it is hard to say.  All that I know is that anonymity can be a defence mechanism employed to avoid having to deal with the world beyond our own thoughts.  While I enjoy the occasional public pat on the back or kind-hearted comment, I, also, enjoy a sense of relative freedom that comes from being unknown. Consequently, I know exactly how it feels to just be, like Ron Sexsmith, simply the next guy in line for my coffee.


     Finally, I give you one of our country's most beautiful and delicate voices, Jane Siberry.  Often compared to the legendary Kate Bush, Siberry has released many songs which were well-received by critics and the public such as Mimi on the Beach, I Muse AloudOne More Colour, Bound by the Beauty and, with K.D. Lang, Calling All Angels.  

    After experiencing popularity and notoriety, Siberry began releasing albums that contained more complex and lengthy songs. So much so that she began to find her music didn't fit mainstream radio formats any longer. Her on-stage performances stopped being concerts in the traditional sense and became a collection of songs, spoken word poetry, experimental dance; all of which made some of her shows difficult to interpret. As a result, Jane Siberry fell out of favour with audiences and, for awhile, she stopped performing altogether.

    Jane Siberry always believed in her music being on her terms.  As a child, she taught herself to play guitar by practising in her room to Leonard Cohen records. As a songwriter, Siberry believed in the vision she possessed of the poetry in her own words.  Even during the height of her fame in the early 80s, when music videos were just gaining in popularity, Siberry's videos for her hit songs are all very unique and original.  She was never comfortable wearing the uniform provided for her by the Music Industry. So, when Siberry put her career on hold because of the increasingly negative reaction to her work, she claims it was a turning point for her but, in a positive way.

     A comparable story to Siberry's can be found in the recent best-selling book, The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer.  Palmer is a social media sensation. She once sang lead vocals for a successful local band in the Boston area called The Dresden Dolls.   In her book, Palmer described the tension that would develop between the band and the record label when it came to how she was to interact with her audience.  Palmer always maintained that she desired as direct a connection as possible, even if it meant staying late to sign as many autographs as were needed and selling and merchandising their CDs and t-shirts themselves.  Eventually, the major label dropped the band and Palmer reacted by using social media to connect directly with her audience in a new way. She marketed her songs and albums directly to her fans, asking them to pay whatever they felt the songs were worth.   It was her experience that, given the freedom to choose what to pay that, in many cases, fans will over pay.
     Jane Siberry has approached the second half of her career in exactly the same manner.  Remaining true to her artistic vision, Siberry has established a self-pay system for all of her songs and merchandise. Like Palmer, Siberry has found success raising capital on her terms by removing herself from the restrictive conditions required to play the Industry game.  Jane Siberry is as unique and original a talent as Canada has produced and has enjoyed a successful career on whose terms it matters most to her; her fans and herself.

     A big tip of the hat to the following list of performers whose names begin with the letter, "S":

     Modern day rockers, The Sheepdogs and The Strumbellas, singer/songwriter, Sarah Slean, the legendary singer, Buffy St. Marie, Alt-folksters, The Skydiggers, New Wave stars, The Spoons, Singer/songwriter, Skye Sweetnam, Rockers, Sons of Freedom, Singer, Amy Sky, East coast star, Gordie Sampson, Pop-rockers, Stereos, Montreal's Stars, 70s Supergroup, The Stampeders, Former teen heart throb, Rene Simard, Glam rockers, Sweeney Todd, Jazz star, Chase Sanborn, Rapper Saukrates, Pop star/activist, Lorranie Segato, Singer Jay Semko (of The Northern Pikes), HipHop star, Radio host, Shad, Leader of The World's Most Dangerous Band, Paul Shaffer, Soul singer, Remy Shand, Composer, Howard Shore, Ojibwa singer/songwriter, Shingoose, Soulful lady, Liberty Silver,  Rapper, Snow, Country legend, Hank Snow, Singer/songwriter, Kurt Swinghammer, Pop-rocker, Kim Stockwood, Alt-rockers, The Sadies, Rockers from Quebec, See Spot Run, 70s rockers, Saga, Rockers, Serial Joe, Alt-rockers, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, Children's performers, Sharon, Lois and Bram, Jazz/funk stars, The Shuffle Demons, Pop-Rockers, Simple Plan, Rockers, Skinny Puppy, Alt-rockers, The Stills, 80s One-hit wonder, Strange Advance, Hip Hop stars, Swollen Members, Rockers, Sum 41 and Svengali and, finally, the band whose song of drunken excess served as my wedding song for our first dance, Spirit of the West.

Friday, July 31, 2015

R is for Serena Ryder, Sam Roberts and The Rheostatics

     In this, our "young turks" edition of Canadian performers whose names begins with an "R", I will start with the ladies and give you a singer who has been a strong presence in the music scene for a number of years but who is now, just beginning to make her star turn on the national stage and that is, Serena Ryder.

     Serena Ryder has been performing for audiences since she was a little girl of six or seven.  Performing in Legion Halls and community events around the Millbrook and Peterborough areas, Ryder grew proficient in playing guitar and in marrying that sound to the poetry of the words she was expressing in the form of her original songs.  Serena Ryder came to the attention of Peterborough-area music producers and then, in turn, to performer, Hawksley Workman, who signed her to his label.  She has been described as having a deep, raspy singing voice and has been compared to "a young Aretha Franklin."

     Serena Ryder has won 6 Juno Awards in categories ranging from "Artist of the Year", "Album of the Year", "Video of the Year" or "Songwriter of the Year."  She recently penned the song, Together We Are One for the recent 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto and appeared live during the closing ceremonies with Pitbull and Kanye West.  She has enjoyed many hits in recent years such as,  Stompa, Weak in the Knees, What I Wouldn't Do and A Little Bit of Red.  Serena Ryder is definitely poised to have a breakout year in 2015 and the folks at the Millbrook Legion Hall couldn't be prouder.


     In 2003, a strange new respiratory disease swept through parts of Asia and then, because of an infected traveller contracting the disease in Hong Kong and bringing it back to Canada, Toronto experienced an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or, S.A.R.S.  Forty-four people died from S.A.R.S., most of them, in the Toronto area.  In order to contain the contagion, The World Health Organization officially deemed Toronto as being unsafe for tourists to visit.  This designation caused the largest city in Canada to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism revenue.  Toronto's local economy reeled, almost as much as the medical community did.  So, when the S.A.R.S. outbreak finally stabilized, immediate attention was turned to revitalizing tourism and letting the world know that Toronto was a safe place to visit.  One of the ways that was deemed best was to hold a high-profile event, such as a concert. Thus, under the leadership of The Rolling Stones, AC/DC and Canadian comedy star, Dan Ackroyd, a large concert was planned for Downsview Park in Toronto. This concert became known as "SARS Stock".   The first performer of the day was a young man from Montreal named Sam Roberts.

     Sam Roberts grew up as a part of Montreal's burgeoning music scene, along with The Dears and Stars.  By the time The Sam Roberts Band came to play the S.A.R.S. benefit concert, he was already riding high on the success of his debut album called Brother Down and the two hit singles that emerged from it, Brother Down and Don't Walk Away, Eileen.  Since then, Sam Roberts has produced a steady string of commercially and critically successful albums, with hits such as Where Have All The Good People Gone, Hard Road and Bridge to Nowhere.  The Sam Roberts Band has won 6 Juno Awards, including "Album of the Year", "Artist of the Year" and "Video of the Year".
     Sam Roberts plays good, solid pop-rock tunes that speak to his love of Canada and of his craftsmanship as a songwriter.  While he has enjoyed a consistent rate of success, it was his great job launching the S.A.R.S. stock concert that is, perhaps, his most important and memorable moment as a Canadian musician.  Thanks, Sam!

     Finally, I will close out the "young turks" edition the letter "R" with a band that are, definitely, not young but, instead, have made a career of being inventive and unconventional, the iconic and influential, Rheostatics.  If I was a true cool kid with my finger on the pulse of the Canadian music scene, I would tell you that I knew The Rheostatics when they were playing shows at The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto and making a name for themselves with their obscure, quirky takes on such famous Canadian songs as Gordon Lightfoot's Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.  But, during the 80s and 90s, my musical awakening was just beginning and my first real sense of who The Rheostatics were came from the opening line of The Tragically Hip's live album, Live Between Us, when lead singer, Gord Downie, famously declared, "This is for The Rheostatics...we are all richer for having seen them tonight."

     The fact that The Rheostatics were opening for the hugely commercially successful band, The Tragically Hip, is noteworthy on several levels. First of all, The Tragically Hip, like many Canadian singers and bands; especially those from Ontario, were hugely influenced by The Rheostatics.  To include them on a stadium/arena tour was to, not only acknowledge a musical debt of sorts but, also, to showcase the band in front of larger audiences than they had ever played for before, as if to say, "Come on, folks!  Don't you realize how great these guys are!?"  Already a cult band, The Rheostatics never craved commercial success.  They seemed content to be artistically excellent and to go against the grain of mainstream musical tastes. In fact, they have had only one Top Forty hit in their career; a song that won them a Genie Award (Canada's Motion Picture Awards) for Best Song for the movie, Whale Music.  The success that they achieved as a result of Whale Music nearly broke up the band. So, to be included on a national tour with The Tragically Hip, was a creative and intellectual experience like no other.

     The Rheostatics produced two albums that critics and fans routinely rate as being among the top dozen or so albums ever made in the history of Canadian music; Whale Music and Melville.   Whale Music was based on the book of the same name by author Paul Quarrington.  The "hit" song was called Claire and goes to prove the literary bent that was so characteristic of the band's approach.  In fact, one of the key members of The Rheostatics, Dave Bidini, has gone on to achieve a fair measure of fame and success as a writer of books and as a newspaper columnist.  To those who saw The Rheostatics live, for example, at their once annual eleven-night gigs at The Horseshoe Tavern which became known as The Fall Nationals,  the essence of who The Rheostatics were was best seen and experienced at their live shows.  A mixture of poetry, Canadiana, rock licks, sweat and defiance mingled with the smell of cigarettes and marijuana and the feel of sawdust and beer-soaked floors.  The Rheostatics are, arguably, the band that most closely conveyed the Canadian identity through their songs and live shows. Nary a hit but, a presence that reverberates across the land.
     Hopefully, you are richer for having read about them, too.

     A final big tip of the hat to these awesome performers whose name begins with an "R":

Robbie Robertson (solo artist and, of The Band), Punk/New Wave provocateurs, Rough Trade, Country star, Deric Ruttan, Singer/Songwriter, Ian Robb (of Fiddler's Green), Aboriginal Drag Queen/anti-bullying advocate, Iceis Rain, Alternative band, Rusty, Rockers, The Rainbow Butt Monkeys (later, Finger Eleven), Alt-rockers, Rymes With Orange, Alt-country singer, Justin Rutledge, Family pop stars, The Raes, Acadian HipHop band, Radio Radio, Two-time U.S. National Fingerstyle guitarist, Don Ross, Rappers, Rascalz, the first band I ever got drunk listening to, Rational Youth,  Alternative band, The Rose Chronicles, 80s rockers, Rubber (later Harem Scarem),  Indie band, Rah Rah, legendary rock band, Red Rider (with Tom Cochrane) and, finally, the band and the song that started this series all off, Rueben and the Dark.  It was Bow and Arrow that I listened to as I sank into my easy chair, decompressing emotionally and intellectually from the end of another school year and the return of my own life to me.  From Rueben and the Dark, I found Lowell and Love You Money and then, Hayden with Nowhere We Can't Go and then, shortly thereafter, came the desire to turn my free time into the productive project that you are viewing now.  Inspiration gives rise to creation. I hope you are liking my work.  :)  

Thursday, July 30, 2015

R is for Stan Rogers, The Rankins and some band called Rush.

     June 2, 1983, Air Canada Flight 797 took off from Dallas and soared into the hot Texas sky. Approximately one hour into the flight, noxious fumes begun to fill the cabin of the plane.  A fire had started in an electrical panel in a washroom, causing critical components of the plane's electrical system to shut down.  The pilots were forced to make an emergency landing in Cincinnati, Ohio.  As the crew opened the doors to deploy the emergency evacuation chutes, fresh oxygen was sucked into the cabin and a flash fire engulfed the remaining passengers and crew. A total of 23 people lost their lives that day, including Canada's greatest folk singer, Stan Rogers.

     Stan Rogers (and his brother Garnet) are to Canadian Folk Music, what Woody Guthrie was to American Folk Music.  Stan Rogers was born in Hamilton, ONtario but, spent much of his life near the Atlantic Ocean in Nova Scotia.  He wrote many songs that chronicled aspects of life in Canada or else, our history.  He sang with a comforting, rich baritone singing voice. Some of his classic hits include Northwest Passage, Barrett's Privateers, The Mary Ellen Carter, Make and Break Harbour, The Field Behind the Plow, Fogarty's Cove and Forty-five Years.  

    In this video, Rogers son, Nathan does a fine job of showing why Northwest Passage has been voted as Canada's alternate national anthem. The Rogers Family are a gift to our fair Nation. Their ability to bring our history to life in song is unparalleled.  Stan Rogers is remembered and honoured at various Folk Festivals each year such as the Canmore Folk Festival, the Simmerfolk Festival in Owen Sound and, of course, The Stan Rogers Folk Festival, held in Canso, Nova Scotia, not far from my beloved Canso Causeway and its' "Welcome to Cape Breton" sign.

    The death of those 23 souls aboard Air Canada 797 has not be completely in vain.  The good that comes from such tragedy can be measured in the lives that have since been saved by improving passenger safety with measures such as installing smoke detectors in washrooms. For more information on Flight 797 and its' impact on passenger safety, click here.
    Stan Rogers ashes were spread across the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, becoming one with the water that so shaped his life and his music.  He was 33 years old.

     We often grow our families big back home on Cape Breton island. The Rankin Family had a total of twelve siblings in all. Originally, the elder Rankin children began singing at weddings and ceilidhs in and around their home town of Mabou in Nova Scotia.  But, over time, as some moved away to pursue higher educational callings or to pursue a career, the members of the group that became known as The Rankin Family settled upon brothers, Jimmy and John Morris and sisters, Cookie, Raylene and Heather.

    These five members began to coalesce as a band, around the same time as Rita McNeil was already becoming a star on our national stage.  Rita was very generous when it came to sharing the spotlight with other Celtic acts and so it was that she gave a helping hand to The Rankin Family by inviting them to sing with her on tour or on her TV Show, Rita and Friends.  Years of performing locally had prepared the Rankin clan well so that when their moment came to be introduced to Canada, they were  ready with, what became a huge hit for them, Fare Thee Well.

     The success of Fare Thee Well paved the way for a string of hits that followed such as The North Country, Gillis Mountain, We Rise Again and the haunting Gaelic classic, An Innis Aigh or "The Happy Isle", which they recorded with Ireland's, The Chieftains.

     The Rankin Family have represented Cape Breton Island well, winning 15 East Coast Music Awards, six Juno awards and multiple Canadian Country Music awards, too.  Of the original five members, two have since passed away; John Morris in a car accident in 2000 and Raylene due to cancer in 2012.  John Morris' daughter, Mollie is now gaining fame as the lead singer for the up-and-coming band, Alvvays.  Jimmy Rankin tours as a solo act now and has released several Celtic/country-oriented albums.  Heather and Cookie perform sporadically but, just like Rita McNeil, who had her Tearoom, the Rankin Family own the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou and, if you visit on the right day, you may just find yourself privileged to hear the best in-house band anywhere in the country!

     Finally, I give you, Rush!

     For over four decades, Alex Leifson, Neil Peart and Geddy Lee have been writing and performing together. They are, without question, the most respected and successful rock band that Canada has ever produced.  With record sales estimated at 40 million, Rush find themselves ranked among the luminaries of Rock History from all over the world.

     Formed in Willowdale, Ontario, Rush's early work was heavily influenced by the complex, multi-chaptered prog rock that was being played by groups such as Yes, early Genesis and King Crimson.  Some early songs typically reached twenty minutes in length.  While the length and complexity of the arrangements helped each player to develop virtuoso-like skills, mainstream radio radio found their songs too long and, as such, Rush became more of a live, performance band rather than a chart-topping radio band.
     In the early 80s, Rush acknowledged the need to become more "radio friendly" and began producing some of the songs that most people now regard as their classic hits such as, Limelight, Tom Sawyer, Subdivisions, Closer to the Heart, Big Money, Spirit of Radio and New World Man.  Rush is, also, known for releasing Live albums, of which there are now 17 (!) versions of full albums or specific tour scenes available.
     Over the course of their entire career, Rush has earned the most consecutive Gold records sales in music history, sitting only behind The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.  They are members of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, as well as, The U.S. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
     But no matter how great their acclaim on the international stage, I adore Rush for the part they played in one of my favourite all-time Canadian television moments. Appearing on the raunchy TV Show, Trailer Park Boys, Alex Leifson and Bubbles (with the coke-bottle glasses) end the episode playing Closer to the Heart together. The episode is a classic but, it is not intended for a young audience. Viewer discretion is strongly advised. Enjoy the whole episode.

A big tip of the hat goes out to the following performers whose name begins with an "R":

Children's star, Raffi, Josh Ramsay (of Marianas Trench), Pop star, Alyssa Reid, Quebec legend, Ginette Reno, Loverboy lead singer, Mike Reno, Alternative rising stars, Rural Alberta Advantage, Mother and daughter, Gospel/Jazz/Blues queens, Jackie and Kim Richardson, Brad Roberts (of Crash Test Dummies), Ed Robertson (of The Barenaked Ladies), Composer of the French version of our nation anthem, Adolphe Basile Routhier, Celtic/Irish group, Ryan's Fancy and, finally, for today, producer extraordinaire, Bob Rock.

***Tomorrow:  Part #2 of "R":  the Young Turks Edition!!!    So, if you don't see your favourite r-rated performer in today's post.....and yes, I mean you, Johnny.......they will be there Tomorrow.  :)


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Q is for Quartette and Utter Q-lessness

     I would really rather be discussing a whole host of great new performers whose name begins with a "Q" but, in reality, there is only one group/performer of note; a group called, Quartette. They are a folk-country group whose members include, Cindy Church, Sylvia Tyson and, at one time, Colleen Peterson. Quartette have won two Juno Awards since their inception.  Here is their moment in the @Cobourgcobbie spotlight:

    They possess sweet, soulful and beautiful voices.  I thank them for naming themselves as they did because, otherwise, I would be completely Q-less, as it were. :)

     So, my plan with the rest of this post is to introduce you to a few performers that I have unintentionally omitted during the course of this series and to give you a bit of news at the end. So, here we go:

    I can't believe that I missed Breeding Ground when I was creating "B is for Breau. Broken Social Scene and Bahamas".  When I was living in Toronto (attending Ryerson Polytechnical Institue), my musical universe was exploding!  There were so many new singers and bands, so many parties and clubs to go to, so many good times waiting to be had.  Breeding Ground was one of those new bands. This particular song, Happy Now I Know was very popular at the time of its' release in the early 80s. The female singer, as you may have guessed, is a young Molly Johnson, who was mentioned in an earlier post, "J is for Mendleson Joe, Carolyn Dawn John and the Japandroids!"
    Another Ryerson-era favourite that slipped past my gaze was Blue Peter.

     Blue Peter had big hits with Don't Walk on Past and with, Radio Silence.  But, more than that, Blue Peter had a "cool" look about him and, as a result, feel free to picture me, in all my late teen/early twenties gawkiness, wearing my hair the same way, donning my skinny ties and showing off my white-boy jerky-swaying dance moves at all of the parties.  It was a glorious time in my life-long love affair with all things nerdy.

      While I have missed a few of my favourite artists in the fog of nostalgia, I have, also, omitted two current artists, both of whom are making a big name for themselves in Canada and the U.S.  The first in Lindi Ortega.  Originally from Toronto, Ortega has recently recorded albums in Nashville that have been very well-received across North America.  She has a folk-country style that has earned her nominations for The Polaris Prize, two Juno Awards, as well as, several Canadian Country Music Awards.  She has enjoyed hits with Tin Star, Little Red Boots and, with this video, Cigarettes and Truckstops.  Ortega is certainly someone to keep an eye on. Her star is, definitely, on the rise. Enjoy.

    The other performer is a young lady from Prince Edward Island named Jenn Grant.  Jenn Grant sings a combination of Alternative and Adult Contemporary. She has been nominated for several Juno Awards, has been shortlisted for The Polaris Prize and has won three Eastcoast Music awards for Song of the Year for her hits called, The Beautiful Wild and I've Got Your Fire.  Her song, Dreamer, is the theme song to the hit CBC TV show, Heartland

     Jenn Grant is climbing the ladder to success but, as she does, she does so with a heavy heart.  Two years ago, she released a song that was dedicated to her mother called, The Fighter.  Grant's mother lost her fight with cancer not long after the song was released.

     As for me, my bit of news is that I am approaching 1000 page views for this series. While those numbers may not seem overwhelming for my successful published author friends, they are encouraging for me.  In the course of those 1000 page views,  someone from, a Cape Breton firm dedicated to promoting Hiking and Camping and all things Cape Breton, picked up my post, "M is for Rita, Ashley, Natalie, Buddy and the Barras" and has published it in their on-line newspaper called, "The Moose's Mouth".   Again, The Moose's Mouth is a long way from The New York Times but, when you are a writer just starting out, it feels good to be noticed.

     Thanks to every one of you for reading and sharing my work and for leaving such encouraging comments.  It all means a lot.  :)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

P: is for Plaskett, Purity Ring and, the Man, Oscar Peterson.

     Kids today!  I have two daughters; neither one old enough to have her own newspaper route. But, both girls have their own iPods. Both girls primarily use the TV to stream movies and their favourite series On Demand. Both girls routinely set the wallpaper on the family computer, bookmark their own websites and immediately "Google" the answer to any question that may pop into their heads.

    That these girls, aged five and nine, can seamlessly and innately interact with technology is not news.  Today's youth are universally regarded as being technically proficient at a level, often, much higher than that of the adults in their lives; be it parents or classroom teachers. The scary or, proud, fact of the matter is that I have done very little to educate my daughters in the ways of cyberspace, I have merely allowed them to watch what I do and they have taken their own learning in their own hands from there.

      My evolution from technological neanderthal truly began with iTunes.   When I first drank the Apple Co. Kool-aid and bought a Mac computer, I was the proud owner of almost 1000 music CDs.
I was very proud of my music collection. In fact, after I have digitized the collection onto iTunes and realized that I no longer had a need for a physical copy of an artist's music and went to sell my CDs, the guy at the used record store mistook me for a DJ!
     But, this post is not about my technological awakening but more, about the fact that I have a lot of music "in the Cloud" and that my two daughters have listened to much of it by rifling through the ranks of my records, digitally.   Both girls have their own iTunes playlists that were created by listening to my songs and then clicking and dragging their favourites over to their own playlists where, the songs "magically" appear.   As a teacher, I have always stressed the importance of reading aloud to children and of exposing them to rich literature. The same is true for Music.  Creativity takes so many forms that, as a parent, I can never bring enough beautifully written lyrics or clever compositions into the lives of my children. So girls, have at my collection of music; one day you will grow to understand what Daddy sees in Radiohead and Bjork.  But, for now, learn and grown and dance and sing your hearts out.  It is all good.

     One of the songs both girls love is Nowhere With You by The Joel Plaskett Emergency.  In the song, he sings the line, "I took the Dartmouth Ferry into the Town, spent my pennies, bumming around.........".   Joel Plaskett has spent much of his musical career in Halifax, Nova Scotia and, like many people who reside there, he has taken the Dartmouth Ferry, back and forth across the harbour many times in his life.  My sister lives in Dartmouth so, when we head home during the summer, the dartmouth Ferry has become a focal point for our stops.
In this photo, my sister waves good-bye from that very same, Dartmouth Ferry, after spending the day with us in Halifax recently.

     What I love about Joel Plaskett the most is how he writes about Canada as it really is.  He doesn't shy away from writing and singing about the real places that exist in this country and the real people who live here.  Like my daughters, Joel Plaskett grew up listening to his parents music.  He was influenced by everyone from energy and anarchy of The Sex Pistols, to the folksy poetry of Joni Mitchell, to the sharply written rock of Neil Young. As a result, Joel Plaskett is a multifaceted performer whose music comfort zone spans the boundaries of many genres and styles.  He was, originally, in a Halifax band called Thrush Hermit. But, the majority of his success has come from his solo career.  He has had high praise from critics for songs such as Through and Through and Through, Fashionable PeopleLightning Bolt and, of course, Nowhere With You. 

     Joel Plaskett has won a Juno Award, he has won 17(!) East Coast Music Awards, he recently received the Lifetime Achievement Award from CBC Radio3 for his songwriting, too.  He has won awards at several international songwriting contests such as The Billboard World Song Contest and The Great American Song Contest.  Plaskett's musical catalogue is one of the most revered in Canada yet, he rarely receives airplay on mainstream radio. Hopefully, this highly acclaimed and very talented man will receive a slight push from the fifty or so readers of this post (who are encouraged to re-post my work and help to fan the flames of the careers of talented folks like Joel Plaskett.)
     I feel very proud every time my girls lend their voices to Joel Plaskett's Nowhere With You  and allow his words to paint happy pictures in their minds of people and places that are important to them. It just reinforces the notion that music has the power to validate our souls and lift our hearts.  How lucky are children who grow up in homes where good music is played!

     As my girls sift through my music collection, they are doing so in ways that reflect their personalities.  Both girls like to dance and move and so, both girls are drawn to the dance-oriented tunes that I own.  One of the groups that has captured their attention is an Edmonton-based duo named Purity Ring.  Purity Ring consist of singer, Megan James and musician, Corin Roddick.  James and Roddick have been an official band for only the past four years but, in that time, they have quickly gained a large following both, of fans and, of music critics, who adore them.  The band name was chosen because, just like an actual religious purity ring, the band wants their music to be "pure" and, as such, they write their own songs, create their own instruments and, even, design and sew their own clothes that they wear on stage.
     Their debut album, Shines, rose as high as #2 on Billboard's Dance Music chart.  It was, also, so well-received that it was shortlisted for The Polaris Prize.  They have had lots of success with singles such as Lofticries, Fineshrine and Belispeak.  My girls are partial to Heartsigh.  I prefer Begin Again.  
I, actually, enjoy all of their songs but, it really tickles my fancy to know that around our dinner table, I am able to have intelligent conversations with my growing girls about music and about what the songs they listen to are saying and how they sound.  I love how the fires of creativity are being kindled by bands such as Purity Ring.

     The one area of my daughter's musical knowledge set that I am disappointed in, for the time being, is their willingness to embrace artists from the past.  I will admit that they have a mild interest in classical composers such as Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms but, whenever I mention Jazz or The Blues, the conversation remains short-lived.  That is too bad because they will have to read Daddy's blog in order to understand the significance of a gentleman named Oscar Peterson.

     With some performers, a song is just a song. But, with some other performers, music becomes the voice of whole cultures or races. Its' soul yields the power to confront injustice, to stir passions in the masses and to give dignity to the oppressed and the ragged among us.  So it was with Mr. Oscar Peterson.
     Peterson grew up in Montreal in a family setting where Jazz was loved and where classical music was respected. While still a young man, Oscar Peterson took formal piano training in the classical style. But, within his heart and mind, the lure of Jazz, Bebop and Boogie-Woogie music competed for his attention. Peterson was consumed by them all and practised relentlessly under the tutelage of the finest music teachers in Montreal.

     Peterson is considered one of the finest Jazz pianists the world has ever seen.  He has had this reputation most of his life.  However, despite the universal acclaim that was directed toward him, Peterson's musical journey was anything but simple, simply because, Oscar Peterson was black.  The ugly reality of racism and, in particular, of racial segregation played a great part in Oscar Peterson's career.  He was refused entry to certain venues because of his colour. Sometimes, he would be denied his wages for having played, because he was black.  There were other times when Oscar Peterson wasn't even allowed to share the same taxi with his white manager!  Genius and virtuosity should grant the bearer a certain freedom to simply be. But, that was not Peterson's destiny.  He was never to be "just a jazz player".  The historical events of his time called upon Oscar Peterson to be a difference maker beyond the field of music. Fortunately for all of us, Peterson, like Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King, proved to be a giant upon whose shoulders the rest of us have been allowed the privilege of standing.

     The fight against racism fuelled the passion of displaying and helped him bring that piano to the brink of flames, many a night on many a stage.  While he played with fire in his fingertips, he comported himself with dignity, good humour and with class.  His life was as above reproach as was his Jazz.  But, as we all know, actions can speak louder than words. He faced racial hostility head on in the best way possible, by integrating his band.  The Oscar Peterson Trio featured both, black and white players.  The skill level of all three musicians was very high; so high as to disabuse everyone of the notion that the races could not work together in such harmony and with such complimentary skill.

     Oscar Peterson is one of the most respected and decorated citizens Canada has ever produced.  He has won too many wards to list but, some included, 8 Grammy Awards, multiple Juno awards, too.  He is a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Juno Awards Hall of Fame, The Jazz and Blues Hall of Fame and he has a star of Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto.  Oscar Peterson has been awarded The Companion to the Order of Canada, The Order of Ontario, The National Order of Quebec and the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France.  Finally, Concordia University in Montreal has named their concert hall, The Oscar Peterson Concert Hall, in his honour.

     For now, my daughters believe that I am the best man that there is. Some days, they believe that honour belongs to their Poppa.  In time, however, they will grow to learn that there have been people in our country who have moved mountains in the course of their lives. They will learn the names and recognize the faces of these heroes who have endured so much and helped make the world a better place for their having been there.  One day, my girls will come to know who Oscar Peterson is and, when they do, I hope the first thing they mention about him is how well he could really play!

     Lots of great "P" performers today so, let's give them all a big tip of the old hat:

Toronto's own, The Pursuit of Happiness, The Parachute Club, Platinum Blonde and the Pukka Orchestra, 80s rockers, The Payolas, Children's entertainer, Fred Penner, Steven Page (formally of the Barenaked Ladies), Neil Peart (of Rush), Electro punk singer, Peaches, Pop-rock band, The Partland Brothers, Country band, Prairie Oyster, Singer/songwriter, Colleen Peterson, the Original Bad girl, Carole Pope (of Rough Trade), Pop star, Daniel Powter (of "American Idol loser"-fame), Two-time Juno nominee, Peter Pringle, Soul stars, The Philosopher Kings, Stiff Records first ever punk signing, The Pointed Sticks, 70s stars, The Poppy Family, 80s rockers, Prism, Pride of the Durham Region in Ontario, Metalists, Protest the Hero, Rap-Metalheads, Project Wyze, Alt-rockers, Pure, Vancouver folk-rockers, Pink Mountaintops and, finally, punk rockers/metalhaeads from Portage and Main, Propaghandi.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

O is for Our Lady Peace and the Polka King

     Success means different things to different people.  To many of us, the measure of success is purely quantitative; those who have the most are the most successful because, well, they have the most.  The Education System is groaning under the weight of using standardized testing to measure success. In Music, record sales and concert ticket sales are often the standard by which the success of a singer or band is measured.  But, is this fair?

     In order for data-driven criteria to be the most valid indicator of a success in Music, an artist or band has to play that game as well.  While record sales are always important, in so much as they generate income and help pay the bills that allow artists to produce albums and to hold concerts, for some artists, record sales are just a means to an end and are not the single most important measure of success for them.  Sometimes, an artist is in it for something grander. Sometimes, an artist aspires to use their fame and notoriety to promote a cause that they champion that, is important to them and that, in their eyes, is more more than ticket sales and album units moved.  Such a band was Our Lady Peace.

     Our Lady Peace was a fairly successful pop-rock band. Over the course of their career, they were awarded four Juno Awards and nine Much Music Video awards (the most ever by a single band.) They had numerous Top Ten radio hits such as, Is Anybody Home, Starseed, Life, Innocent, Superman's Dead, Somewhere Out There and Clumsy.   While never quite ascending to the lofty heights of stadium rock maintained by bands such as Rush or Bryan Adams in his day, Our Lady Peace still managed to be that band that would come to your hometown and sell out the local theatre or hockey rink.  They were a made-in-Canada and maintained-in-Canada success story, as far as record sales are concerned.  But, record sales do not tell the whole story.

    Lead singer, Raine Maida, has always been noted for having one of the most powerful and unique voices in Canadian rock.  He is handsome and personable, too.  In the early days of Our Lady Peace, Maida was certainly being groomed to be a "rock star", in the mood of a Corey Hart, perhaps.  But Maida, to his credit, had a higher purpose to his life and refused to be lured into the false trappings of stardom.  Raine Maida is married to fellow singer Chantel Kreviazuk.  Lovely and talented as they both are, the potential to be a musical "power couple" was certainly there. However, both performers are Christians.  Because of their personal beliefs, both singers have dedicated much of their adult lives to helping others in need.  They perform at benefit concerts, they do mission work in third world countries and, at home, they have both dedicated sales of their hit songs to charity.  In the case of Our Lady Peace, sales of one of their biggest hits, Clumsy, have all been directed to helping support an anti-bullying venture in Canada known as Kids Help Phone, where children who feel lost or scared and alone can call and talk to a supportive adult.

     In my eyes, Our Lady Peace has to be considered a great Canadian success story. They have used their music to make a positive difference in the lives of others. At the end of the day, knowing that what you did mattered is among the most important measures of success there is.  Ask any kid who was contemplating suicide but didn't because of that voice on the phone. Ask any refugee who was given shelter and a warm meal. Ask any church whose coffers were bolstered because Our Lady Peace and Chantel Krevizuk appeared, without fanfare, at their church hall for a benefit concert.....ask any of them and they will tell you that fame, itself, is not the measure of success but, instead, it is using fame as a tool to make a difference that can make one a success.  Our Lady Peace had that figured out all along and, as a result, have enjoyed a most successful career as there has been.

     Someone else who seems to have done a terrific job of not letting fame cloud his vision of what constitutes a good life is the man known as Canada's Polka King, Walter Ostanek.  Ostanek has won three Grammy Awards and has been nominated thirteen times!  He has won countless Juno Awards, he is a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the U.S and Canadian Polka Halls of Fame and he even has his own star on Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto.  But, Canada's Polka King, remains incredibly grounded.
     He still resides in his hometown of St. Catherine's, Ontario and, up until just recently, he worked at his own music store called, simply, Ostanek's.  He plays few concerts but can always be counted on  to show up in Kitchener/Waterloo during Octoberfest time.  His good humour and warm personality help contribute to the aura that surrounds this man.  He is as beloved a Canadian performer as there is. In fact, way back in the glory days of television show, SCTV, it was Ostanek upon whom John Candy based the Schmenge Brothers polka skit.

     There is a tendency, at times, to relegate genres such as polka music, to the lesser ranks of our musical canon. However, truth be told, music is music. It takes hours of practise to master the techniques required to produce beautiful notes and harmonies that emanate from guitars and drums and fiddles and, yes, even from accordions.  Walter Ostanek is to be lauded and commended for mastering his craft like no other. He can be proud of everything he has accomplished because his skill has been nurtured with love and with dedication to excellence. Our Polka King has earned our respect. Well done, Walter. Well done!

     Please join me in giving a big tip of the old hat to the following group of performers whose name starts with the letter, "O".

Ottawa pop stars, One to One, Gospel stars, Ocean, the comedic stylings of Organized Rhyme (Can you spot the talented star who emerged from this group?), Vancouver pop-rockers, The Odds, Conductor/composer, Peter Oundjian, Edmonton's pop and Christian singer/songwriter, Maren Ord, Alt-country singer, Oh Susanna, Alternative sister act, Ohbijou, Vancouver rockers, The Organ and finally, the lovely and talented singer/songwriter, Mary Margaret O'Hara.