Segarini: Workin’ the Bars…and a GREAT video tribute to one of Canada’s most charismatic Record Industry Icons.

When I first moved to Canada I was drawn to the music coming out of Montreal. We (The Wackers) had gone there in the first place to record the follow up to our first album, Wackering Heights as a kind of reward for making such a good debut LP. Our producer, the legendary Gary Usher, had promised to take us somewhere exotic to do the next record if the first either sold a pant-load, or the record was really good. The record was really good. Although I had played Vancouver at various times in different bands, Montreal was a mystery to me. Usher told me, “You’ll love it! They all speak French!” Wow, I thought, we’re going to Europe. Then I looked Montreal up in our huge Rand McNally World Atlas. Oh. We’re going to Canada. Fuck!

After numerous trips to Montreal and then five years living there, I found myself, my wife, and our newborn moving to Toronto because the newly elected Levesque government had made living in Quebec ‘uncomfortable’ for Anglo’s, the Montreal music scene fueled by Pagliaro, Mahogany Rush, April Wine, Nanette Workman, and dozens of other great artists was in disarray, and a friend, journalist Martin Melhuish, had arranged for me to have studio time in Toronto where I was working on what was to become Gotta Have Pop. I was not looking forward to the move. I had grown to love Canada and Montreal so much, I became a Canarican. Canada was now my home, but I had heard terrible things about Toronto. After almost 35 years in The Big Smoke I can honestly say that like a lot of ‘news and information’ on Facebook, there was no truth to what I had heard.

At first, Toronto did seem different, and it was in several different ways. Where Montreal was urbane, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and oh so world weary, Toronto was measured, straight-laced, and open faced like a young innocent, (not like a sandwich). Toronto was just coming of age, and it had the fresh-faced innocence of a Mormon in a strip club; happy to be there and smiling, but unsure of how to act. After we settled in, it became apparent that my first impressions of the city were mostly based on the surface and increasingly ill-founded. Toronto had a soft white under-belly, a big-time after-dark underground, and an amazing, thriving, music scene that dated back to the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Where the Yonge Street clubs had been fuelled by R&B and the sound of early rock, they now embraced the rock scene that had evolved out of the British Invasion, Psychedelic movement, and Prog-rock. Even with all of that, Punk and it’s dressed up brother New Wave, were already getting a foot hold all over the city, the result of which was Toronto being (along with London England and New York) one of the few cities in the world who saw the future of popular music coming.

While we were recording Gotta Have Pop, I discovered the vast and diverse bar scene in Toronto and was shocked at the amount of places a band could play. There were dozens of bars that featured live music, and more than enough bands to fill them six nights a week, and these bands were good. The quality of music and musicianship was impressive. These players worked hard to achieve a professionalism and sound that would lead to a great number of them getting record deals and going on to decent careers. Not only that, Toronto’s radio stations played those records. You were almost always assured that the music you heard on the radio could be heard in the local clubs. Disc Jockeys from the stations would even show up at these clubs and introduce the bands, whose gigs were announced daily on the radio stations who were all playing local artists. A symbiotic relationship sorely missed today. Like Montreal, you could play high schools and colleges, and many did, but you could actually make a living playing the bars in and around Toronto. And oh, what bars! You could work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday at one place, move two blocks down Yonge Street and play Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and still draw big crowds. The audiences were hard drinking, chain-smoking street kids, college and frat boys, secretaries, and students, off-duty cops, strippers, and bad-boys. They would hit 2 or 3 clubs a night, almost every night. Some would become fans, friends, or followers, all of them loved music.

If the bands weren’t working you would spot the members in the audience at someone else’s gig. It was a community, and it was an insane amount of fun. When you were on the circuit you played all the time, were usually treated with respect, and no one had to play for free.

In no particular order, here are some of the bands, and bars, who made up the years 1977 through 1980. These are just a handful of artists and places, but they are indicative of the width and breadth of Toronto’s rock culture. Add the punk and new wave bands and venues (which we’ll get to in a future column), and Toronto was bristling with electricity, hope, and more music than any one person could take in. In 1978, The Segarini Band played over 250 dates, and almost all of them were within 10 miles of Yonge and Bloor. It’s a good thing too; we were usually too loaded to drive much further.

The Piccadilly Tube

The first time The Segarini Band played in Toronto we were just a 4 piece. We were working on what would become Gotta Have Pop and needed to play live. Spending time in the studio was heaven, but you really need to get out there and play to an audience or you can go bat-shit crazy. An old friend, Greg Godovitz (we had met backstage at CFCF filming a television show in Montreal when he was in Fludd and I was in The Wackers) arranged for us to open for his band Goddo at the cavernous Piccadilly Tube on Yonge Street. Because no one knew who we were and the record wasn’t out yet we played under an assumed name; Don Valley and the Parkways. This bar had been home to Rush for a week back in ’74, and like them, Goddo was doing a full week there. The room was large, echo-y, and kind of cold, but full of patrons, the place just rocked. This was also the place where we were introduced to the legendary Myra, self-proclaimed manager of Goddo and every other local band she took a shine to. Imagine your craziest aunt dressed like Cindy Lauper in ripped stockings and high school prom crinolines and about the same shape and size of a Garden Gnome and that was Myra. She was very possessive about her bands, and nuttier than a Christmas Fruitcake. If she didn’t think you belonged in the dressing room she would strong arm you out of there and slam the door in your face. We were all pretty much afraid of her and for good reason. She packed a pretty good wallop for a hobbit.  Goddo: There Goes My Baby

Hotel California

This was a wee tiny club on Jarvis Street that held about 50 people. The stage was the same size as a coffee table and faced a wall. Some of the audience was seated behind you, and the sight lines were all but non-existent. Still, The Hotel California was one of my favourite places to play. Not only was it like a  house party every night, there was a little diner at the front with 4 or 5 tables that served the best barbecue ribs, cornbread, collard greens and corn on the cobb I have ever had north of the Mason-Dixon line. Wes and his moms (from Birmingham Alabama if I remember correctly) served up this delicious dinner and we ate there every chance we got. When we recorded our last album, Vox Populii, Wes catered every session. I’m surprised we ever got anything done. There was one table directly in front of the stage about 4 feet away and set against the wall. One night I noticed my daughter’s nanny sitting there with Roger Taylor, Queen’s drummer. Another night, Howie Mandel showed up with another comedian from Calgary named Dennis, whose stock in trade was a dead-on impression of Steve Martin. He was identical in looks, delivery, the sound of his voice, everything. Howie did a set and introduced Dennis as Steve Martin, and then got the audience to demand a set from him. It was perfect. I thought the place was going to explode.

A lot of great performers played this little dive. Among my favourites was this gentleman. Eugene Smith – Those Lovin’ Ways

The Knob Hill

Ah, The Knobby. You could get 4 things in this Scarborough institution; a paper plate full of fried kielbasa and mustard for a dollar, drunk, a damn fine bar brawl, and a hell of a lot of kick ass rock and roll. It was big, loud, and the perfect place to shake off the doldrums of the suburbs, drink yourself into a coma, and hear the best bands of the day at ear-shattering volume. The first time I ever saw Triumph they were winding out impressive versions of Led Zeppelin and other fan faves as well as their own brand of rock, louder than Zep themselves. Rik Emmett was prowling the top of a room divider like a gymnast on the beam while cranking out memorable lick after memorable lick. Impressive from the start, Triumph was made for the Knobby. Triumph – Rocky Mountain Way  This was a big room, and the bands that did their best there were the ones who knew how to put on a show. Rhinegold, Crack of Dawn, Goddo, and Cleveland, made the Knob Hill the king of the East end bars for a long time. Check out these three great bands from the era. Zon – Back Down to Earth, and The Hunt – Little Miss Perfection/I Want to be King. And who can forget Max Webster – Let Go the Line

The Gasworks

If the Knob Hill was ground zero for music and mayhem in the ‘Burbs, then the Gasworks was the downtown destination for the same crowd. Immortalized in Wayne’s World, The Gasworks was a no-nonsense shrine to the best of Toronto’s hard rocking bands. Not only were you assured of a great night of local colour and sound, you occasionally got in on the ground floor of new and powerful music like Saga – Don’t Be Late, Lee Aaron – Under Your Spell, and Moxy – Sail On Sail Away. Upstairs at the lesser known Chimney, you could hear music like Rough Trade – High School Confidential before it exploded on the radio and nationally. The Gasworks is still remembered fondly (as are the other clubs in this list) because the music that was played was so good, and there were life-long friendships forged in these places. The women were hot, the music was loud, the bouncers were huge, and the veal sandwich was really good…what more can you ask for?

The Midwich Cuckoo

The Midwich was another Yonge Street bar that drew a wide variety of artists and a hardcore downtown crowd. One of my fondest memories of the place besides playing there, was one night going to see McLean and McLean with Manhattan Transfer’s Laurel Masse and Rough Trade’s Carol Pope in tow. The Cuckoo’s stage also played host to David Wilcox and Morgan Davis on more than one occasion. David Wilcox – Do the Bearcat

The Jarvis House

A club that catered mostly to the college crowd, this smoke filled, high ceilinged joint was always packed. The Segarini’s played there numerous times until an incident that got us banned for life. We had a 3 day weekend stint at the venue and were really looking forward to it. Around 5:00 the first night I got a call from a friend telling me he was coming by in a limo to pick me up to go to Hamilton.

“I can’t go. I have a gig”, I told him.

“You’re coming with me”, he argued, “It’s important.”

“Can’t do it. The band would kill me.”

“You’ll be back in plenty of time.” His voice now with a little catch in it. “C’mon, man, it means a lot to me.”

“What’s so important, anyway”, I asked him, trying to figure out when I’d have to leave Hamilton in time to be on stage at the Jarvis House.

“I’m going to ask Cheryl to marry me and seeing as you and Brian introduced us and kind of set us up, I thought you should be there”.

Shit, I thought, how can I say no to that…especially since it’s Burton Cummings.

Long story short, didn’t get back to Toronto in time, band gets fired and the guys are still pissed off at me. It was Burt’s fault. He wouldn’t let me leave. He got mad at me one night because we were writing a song together and I didn’t like what he wanted to do. He never forgave me for that. I ended up being the best man at his wedding though, but since the divorce he hasn’t forgiven me for that, either.

Burton saw a band at the Jarvis House he really liked (as did we all) and came back time and again to see them. There was even talk of him producing the band and taking them on the road as his band. The band was called Oliver Heavyside. When they finally did record, they changed their name and had a massive hit. Partland Brothers – Soul City

The Nickelodeon

Great venue, great sound. Saw so many good shows here I still miss the place. Became a club for Ronnie Hawkins to play at every night, and is now the beautiful upstairs live music venue for the Hard Rock Café called Club 279. The Nick was owned by the same guys who owned the Hotel California. They always put a case of beer and a bottle of Jack in the dressing rooms of both venues. Most of the bars back then were good about taking care of the bands. We also had a manager that fought for us when it came to things like that. He once gave Godovitz and I t-shirts with his number on them. “Don’t talk to anyone if you fuck up, just tell them to call me. If you talk, you’ll just screw things up worse. You guys are a pain in the ass.” Love ya, Blue.

The El Mocambo

At the time, The ElMo was the crown jewel of the Toronto clubs. You actually had to earn the right to play there, and why wouldn’t you? Everyone from Meatloaf, to Elvis Costello, to The Rolling Stones played this venerable institution and for a local act to headline upstairs, you had to prove yourself to be afforded the privilege. My band was blessed with being able to do the upstairs show room many times, but my history with the bar was, shall we say, ‘spotted’.

When I was still living in Montreal and The Wackers and All the Young Dudes were behind me, I put together the first version of The Segarini Band and booked a week in the downstairs pub at the ElMo. It was a disaster. The band was dynamite, but we were all original, dabbled in jazz and other softer areas of music and the rock crowd in the downstairs bar were more interested in getting shit faced and hearing something they recognized. Still, we managed to finish out the week and made some fine music. I was more determined than ever to do something along these lines instead of repeating myself.

After the move to Toronto, I went to the venue quite often because the entertainment upstairs was always first rate. I was also heavily invested in spreading the word about the brand new punk scene and would talk about it passionately with whomever wanted to discuss it. One night, the discourse turned to argument and I was escorted out of the club by a bouncer named Reggie. He literally tossed ne down the stairs and out the door. Several months go by and Gotta Have Pop (and my band) became very popular in Toronto. I was offered the upstairs venue and was thrilled beyond belief. After all, the closest I had come to playing there was when April Wine played two songs I had written when they opened for The Rolling Stones at The ElMo.

My only concern was with the bouncer who had thrown me out months earlier. Was he going to be a problem? Would he even let me in the club? I hadn’t been back since. Was this going to be a train wreck?

I get to the club and there, standing on the sidewalk, is Reggie the bouncer. He glares at me. Here we go, I think, wondering how fast I’ll have to be to outrun him.

Reg walks up to me, picks me up off my feet and carries me up two flights of stairs to the showroom. He walks me over to the stage and puts me down right in front of it.

“Uh, Thanks”, I manage.

“No problem”, says Reggie, “Really like the album. Have a great show”, and turns to walk away.

“So why the hell did you carry me up here”, I ask.

He looked back over his shoulder at me as he walked away, “I threw you down the stairs the last time you were here. The least I could do was carry you back up”, and disappeared around the corner. We became good friends. Segarini – Goodbye L.A

So many bars. The Rondun, Nags Head North 20 Grand, Tony’s East, Queensbury Arms, and so many more. And music like Kick Axe – A Little Help From My Friends. If you’re a fan of Toronto’s bands from that era, see how many members you can pick out of this picture and the accompanying video.

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This is a wonderful tribute put together by Ron Camilleri, who along with his brother Rick, is part of the incredible legacy left behind by their father Charlie. This man accomplished so much, Ron wanted to celebrate his father’s life by sharing some of the highlights with all of us. Charlie was one of the great record men who helped put Canada on the map in more ways than one. Rest in Peace, Charlie. Charlie Camilleri: A Life Well Lived

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Segarini’s column appears every Monday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, The Segarini Band, and Cats and Dogs, and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late GreatMovies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now sadly gone), and now provides content for radiothatdoesntsuck.com with RadioZombie, The Iceage, and PsychShack. Along with the love of his life, Jade (Pie) Dunlop, (who hosts and writes “I’ve Heard That Song Before” on RTDS), continues to write, make music, and record.

32 Responses to “Segarini: Workin’ the Bars…and a GREAT video tribute to one of Canada’s most charismatic Record Industry Icons.”

  1. Kendall McCullough Says:

    Thanks for the memorys Bob, I was at many of those places and had fun every time. Ah Mondays ,Gotta Have Blog!

  2. re: jarvis house…..to be clear, we were the segarini band and hadn’t performed ever performed as a unit outside of that context; hell, aside from a fast week working through originals that we didn’t record before hitting the planks for 600+ appearances in 2 years, 3 months, we rarely rehearsed (3-5 times aside from soundchecks….we had no ‘real’ cover set and our lead singer sometimes couldn’t remember the lyrics he’d written, so why should we be expected to remember lyrics….so, no bob, no real organized hope…..and clay kept reassuring us that you were gonna show up…..so screw the jarvis house if they couldn’t take a joke….AND, that is ‘one’ reason the band is still angry with you….there’s a reason for everyday of the week, for every member of the band…..but, thanks for the mammaries…..

  3. Don Lamont Says:

    Ah, the old clubs. The Nickelodeon [The Nick] was mere steps away from where I went to college for three years. I think I spent most of it in the Nick and the Gasworks. Great aticle Bob, Johnny LaRue couldn’t have done better.

  4. David Aplin Says:

    Bob, Enjoyed your article about Toronto clubs. Very entertaining! Brought back many memories, having lived and played in all of those old places. How about “Spats” in Rexdale… The “New” Shamrock on Coxwell Ave., Yonge Station, and many many more.
    Keep writing about Canadian rock history.
    Best,
    David Aplin

  5. Larry LeBlanc Says:

    I recall getting absolutely wrecked with you and the Dudes somewhere at a club in northern Toronto. I had toured earlier with you when I was with BS&T and the Dudes opened for them in Ontario and Quebec. Of course, you and I go back to The Mandala at the Whiskey in LA with Family Tree opening.

    Well-written piece and plenty of nostalgia. Refreshed my memory with some of the club names.

  6. There’s no shortage of great music venues and performers in this city nowadays. Old ones like The Horseshoe Tavern and El Mocambo are still around. We’ve also got Lee’s Palace, Sneaky Dee’s, grimy places like The Bovine. And those are just a few.

    Times have changed, venues have changed, but the music never left us. Check out the North By North East music festival if you want to see.

  7. stevecanuck1960 Says:

    Please, Please, Please…

    Do a reunion concert

  8. Great reading. I went to so many of the bars you listed in Toronto. Piccadilly Tube was my favorite one. Gas Works, Yonge Station, plus many more we went to. Most of the time I was under aged, they never ID’d you back then. If you were female, they let you in…lol I still love rock and roll music, I can’t get my head out of the 70’s

    • I am with you there Kathy..all us girls were under aged .loved all the people, bands and the many nights I don’t remember.

  9. […] in. We played all the best clubs in Toronto and southern Ontario including the Colonial, Chimney, Midwich Cuckoo, El Mocambo, Fryfogel’s in London. It was a fun band and we were like a family. I’m not sure […]

  10. H. Ozel Says:

    Wow! I haven’t heard these places and band names for a long time. I grew up in Toronto and frequented most of these places. I remember looking at the Thursday newspapers to see who was playing where. Harbinger would always play Tony’s East, Oliver Heavyside at Spats in Rexdale, Liverpool at the Queensbury Arms, Blue Peter at the Nickelodeon and Goddo at the Knob (I also remember the 10 cent draft.) One place that I can’t remember the name of was out on the west end where Bloor and Dundas crossed. Please post if you know. Thanks for the article Bob.

  11. Hi Bob! Frequented the Nick and Tube mostly. Always went to the Nick if you were playing. My girlfriends and I had quite the crush on you! I always remember the wings and bread too! Good times, great music!

  12. Amy Mech Says:

    The good news is “The Knobby” is being resurrected as The ROCKPILE East!

  13. OMG talk about a stroll down Memory Lane…I’m getting misty here…great work, Bob, what a blast. Especially the bouncer incident lol!

  14. What a great article…memories…thank you!!.. I worked at the Midwich and it was on Jarvis..not Yonge St…regardless..the best time in all these clubs to hear amazing music

  15. Bob Graham Says:

    What a great slice of memories!Lived at Markham and Lawrence in Scarborough during my high school years.Worked at The Tube one summer and part time during the school year.Yonge St was a shut down to vehicles.24 hr party central.Fantastic Music Scene Period!

  16. Saw Santers and Lee Aaron many times at the Knob and Gasworks. She was in that Kick Axe video but I’m trying to figure out the other ladies. Some of the other female rockers I remember from those years: Terry Crawford, Lydia Taylor, Cindy Valentine, Lisa Price….?

    • Hey johnny i know about that video its by Canadian legends kick axe called a little help from my friends i know two ppl in that video if you want help with the rest of thoes in that video send me a message

  17. B.M. Armstrong Says:

    We used to stumble across Rexdale across from the Racetrack , to a bar called SPATS. It was the late 70’s and I was in my prime and hung out with some of the best Jockeys and Trainers in the world. Robin had just won another Queens plate and we were all in celebration mode. We landed up at SPATS and it said 3 dollar cover! It had better be a good band, we said to each other! A short while later we were mesmerized by the geekiest looking band we ever saw! But boy they were good! The CARS went on to fame and fortune and we were truly blessed at the cheapest front row seat concert that ever took place! SPATS is long gone. In it’s place is the Woodbine Center and a big condo. But the memories will last forever!

  18. Ed Rabold Says:

    Great article, Bob, on Toronto’s rock bar history in the 70’s and 80’s. I was also a part of that scene as a drummer with the band “Harbinger”. I am still active as a musician today, but in a part time sense, as the glory days of full time gigging on the Yonge Street strip are just a great memory. I remember one night, in particular, when we were playing at Larry’s Hideaway, when in walked Phil and the rest of “Thin Lizzy” after their Garden’s gig. It was a great night. I really enjoyed reading your article. It brought back a lot of memories. Thanks.

  19. Well done Bob and a great piece of Toronto history!! Many nights of my youth with friends were spent on Yonge St. seeing great talent at the venues you have listed. I can remember passing by and seeing Rush playing outside of Trinity Church to a small crowd. Really enjoyed your article.

    P.S. -Still have a copy of your record Gotta Have Pop. (Special pinkish vinyl copy)

  20. Beverley vaillancourt Says:

    Just wanted to give a shout out to Cheryl S. Used to work with her in the 80’s
    Only knew Bob in passing but Cheryl is very cool

  21. clayton Says:

    Anyone remember the Dovercourt Tavern?

  22. Great memories of all these places and bands. Thanks Bob what a great stroll down memory lane…xo

  23. I MISS THE 60S ,I LIVED DANFORTH RD. AND MIDLAND AVE.IN MY TEENS USE TO BE AROUND EGLINTON AVE. BRIMLEY WHERE KNOB HILL WAS WENT IN COUPLE TIMES, MEMORIES YOU WANTED THOSE SPECIAL SUMMER TIMES TO STAND STILL, AMAZING GROWING UP IN Scarborough AT THAT TIME, WHOLE DIFFERENT WORLD,MISS IT,I LIVED NEAR SCABORO HOUSE HOTEL, NEVER WENT THERE TILL I MOVED AWAY AND IT WAS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, CARS MUSIC ATMOSPHERE, SPECIAL

  24. Awwww I’m so glad to have run across this!!
    Although I have no “real” memories of the parties OR bars.
    My dad is Wes and my Grandmother Alberta who was not from Birmingham or anywhere else in Alabama was an amazing cook as was my dad.
    As young as I was I do remember being there playing ignorantly somewhere or being showed off by Daddy…
    Its so nice to have stumbled upon such a good memory!!

    • Thank you so much for this! I think I confused your garndmother with Conridge Holloway’s momma, who IS from Birmingham…either that, or Wes was pulling my leg.
      Your daddy was a good man and a good friend, and his ribs, corn, collard greens, and black eyed peas fueled our live performances as well as the album he so graciously catered for us. Best wishes to you and your family….

  25. Roger March Says:

    Thanks for reminding me of my love for those places and musicians.Be well.

  26. Jayne Martin Says:

    Hey Bob. Great article. Lovely jaunt down memory lane. I remember Reggie at the El Mo. Not sure how you could forget The Edge. We enjoyed some great times there!

  27. Cathy L Hurless Says:

    I found a menu from 1976 Generator/Chimney/Gasworks, etc in a file from my ’76 Olypmic trip. Would love to give it to the bar owners if they are still around

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