Segarini: Canadian, Eh? Happy Canada Day!

Bob SegariniThis is a slightly revised column from November of 2011. Thought I would share it with you gain because, well…even though I am supposed to be taking the week off, I’m not, so there will be a couple of new posts here later this week while the rest of the crew takes some much needed (and deserved) time off. Have a safe and happy Canada Day…I love you all. And yes…this IS the Greatest Country in the World…even if some of us don’t know it.

Having lived in Canada for the past 39 years (my 41st anniversary here is next November) I proudly call myself a Canarican even though, truth be told, I am more Canadian in a lot of ways than most. A transplant from the lower 48 who moved here with the band I was in (The Wackers) solely on the basis of how much great music you could hear regardless of where you went or what kind of music you liked, how many places there were to play, Montreal radio and media’s acceptance of our music, and how wonderfully audiences reacted to our shows. It didn’t occur to me at the time that part of that acceptance was because we were from the U.S, specifically California, and that (in some mysterious,  and completely goofball way) we were believed to be ‘better’ than our local counterparts. Say hello to The Great Canadian Insecurity Complex, boys and girls.

Segarini CanadaNo longer as pervasive as it once was, The Great Canadian Inferiority Complex still hinders our ability to recognize and embrace our homegrown talent, and not just when it comes to music. Canada, a country with less than a tenth of the population of the U.S of A, around the same amount of people as   the state of California, supplies the world with more comedians, writers, movie crews and technical support persons per capita than anywhere else in the world. Our contributions to the music, acting, and songwriting fields are usually recognized first by the Americans or British after years of under appreciated slogging in their fields here at home. Canadians, feeling less than equal to people from the U.S or even other countries, work themselves to the bone to get better at their craft in the misguided belief that they are never going to be good enough, only to discover they are better at what they do than the very people they are so desperate to be as good as when they ply their craft anywhere outside of Canada. We so doubt our own relevance to the point of not even being able to recognize greatness in our own accomplishments until someone else points them out to us. This National trait lies deep within us in almost every aspect of our daily lives. Timed traffic lights, city core downtown one way street systems, even 4 way crosswalks, all developed here in Toronto and in place in almost every major city in the world, still haven’t been implemented here where we suffer incredible gridlock and congestion.

Segarini AvrilHow many of our now National Treasures were brought into the public’s consciousness only after acceptance in the U.S or elsewhere? From Neil Young to Avril Levigne, from Jim Carrey to Arcade Fire, the mainstream didn’t get it until someone else told us it was okay to like these people. Jesus.

I know artists who have been told they are “too Canadian” to make it in the States. WTF does that mean, exactly? I guess no one learned anything from SCTV, an insanely Canadian export which even today, decades since any new skits were filmed for television, still makes Saturday Night Live (invented by a Canadian, Lorne Michaels, and whose best work was done by transplanted Canadians) look like what it has become; a layover for ‘comedians’ looking to get a sitcom deal or become movie stars. Feh….

Harvey'sThe Public, taken as a whole, really can’t be trusted to decide what’s great and what isn’t. The Public Whim is a hit and miss way to tell what is worth your time and what isn’t. Collectively, we are more interested in popularity than we are talent or depth of quality. Harvey’s, the Canadian hamburger chain is hanging by a thread here, even though they make a hamburger a beautiful thing, hands down the best fast food franchise burger out there. Fresh, grilled, made to order, Harvey’s has a fraction of the mcdonald-cheeseburgermarket share of McDonald’s and Burger King, but take an American visitor to Harvey’s and they won’t stop raving about it. Mickey D’s is WAY more popular than the clearly superior and much more tasteful Harvey’s. Can anybody explain this to me without citing voodoo or hypnosis as the reason McDonald’s is so fucking popular.

Popular things can be popular for a variety of reasons, none of which are based in any form of logic. We are, for better or worse, attracted to bright shiny objects, loud noises, and sexually stimulating images. Lady Ga Ga, Nickelback, and the FergieBlack Eyed Peas’ Fergie explained. We are our own worst enemy when it comes to suffering through what becomes popular, even though it is us who make these trivialities so bloody successful. The real problem, however, lies with what we are exposed to in the first place. That’s right record industry and radio corporations…I’m talking about you. Again. Sorry, but you only have yourselves to blame. Ultimately, however, it is us, the public, who are most responsible for the proliferation of style over substance, icing over cake, and sizzle over steak.

There was a time when we could trust the majors and radio to turn us on to great music. Of course they fed us crap too, but we (every generation) tends to like our McDonald’s along with our prime rib. Just because radio played Wooly Bully and You Light Up My Life and Who Let the Dogs Out didn’t mean we had to like it, but Gee Whiz, how could you not? Thing is, they also used to who-let-the-dogs-out11serve up a lot of new, interesting, and musically and lyrically wonderfulness too. Enough so that we trusted them completely, knowing they would sift through the stacks of hopefuls and expose us to the best of what was out there. Now, it seems, they expose us to what they think will be popular, not necessarily what deserves to be heard. And Lord knows what deserves to be heard these days generally isn’t, because it doesn’t fit the format.

Of course there are exceptions, but how many songs and artists have been lost because the criteria for label signings and radio content has changed so much? How many careers have been stalled, how many artists have thrown in the towel, how many great pieces of music go unheard because the right producers, label, and songwriters weren’t attached to the project? How many wonderful round pegs were cast aside because they didn’t fit the square hole?

All of these artists have had some success, some have fair to middling careers, and some have actually done pretty well. Some, unfortunately either gave up, or worse. What I’m saying is just how big could they have gotten/could get if The Great Canadian Inferiority Complex hadn’t been/isn’t in play? If Mainstream radio had played these earlier songs? If the labels  they were on (or the public) hadn’t dropped the ball? Of course, major labels and radio airplay are no longer the goal of most artists these days. Pity.

CadenceCadence – I Wish: I can remember when mainstream radio played a cappella music without blinking. Canada even embraced The Nylons years ago who followed up their Canadian success with a good deal of American and European success. This Toronto area based group should have been all over the radio when this amazing cover of the Stevie Wonder classic was released, but I never heard it on the radio, ever. I find that unconscionable.

Major Label: No

Radio Airplay: Little if any.

Career: Yes

cameo blues andCameo Blues Band – Rockin’ My Life Away: There are myriad versions of this Jerry Lee Lewis chestnut out there but none of them (including the original) come close to this incredible little gem. A mainstay in the hipper blues rooms around the GTA for decades, the Cameos are underrated even in their hometown. This, to me, is even more puzzling than the George W. Bush presidency.

Major Label: No

Radio Airplay: Limited if any.

Career: They can always get gigs.

bbgaborBB Gabor – Girls of the Future: When Beeb started out he was the darling of local radio station CFNY when it really was The Spirit of Radio and, like all of Toronto’s local radio stations at the time,were proud to play local artists and champion them. We all expected, knew, really, that he was destined for greatness. This track, the title cut from his second album, is a good example of his songwriting and guitar and vocal skills. You can hear why Todd Rundgren became a huge fan and produced some of BB’s recordings which were, unfortunately, never released. My favourite song of his is Girls of the Future, but there are so many great ones you need to hear. Here’s a link to the whole LP. Frustrated by his lack of success after the Girls of the Future album, BB committed suicide in 1990.

Major Label: Distribution.

Radio Airplay: Yes

Career: No

MoxyFruvousMoxy Fruvous – The Gulf War Song: Another a cappella masterpiece from a Canadian group, also from Toronto. Nothing against the Barenaked Ladies (I do love their theme for the Big Bang Theory), but I always preferred Moxy Fruvous over them.  As poignant (and sadly still relevant) as this song is, the ridiculously intelligent and humorous lyrics found in the majority of their material is still unmatched by any contemporary artist. They were a must-see for me when they were playing the clubs, and had one of the most engaging and entertaining live shows you could hope for. Why they didn’t go on to major success is beyond me. One of the members, Jian Ghomeshi has gone on to success as a host on CBC.

Major Label: Yes

Radio Airplay: Limited

Career: No longer together.

DalaDala – Levi Blues: I became a fan of Dala after seeing their first couple of live shows, the second of which was in a church basement. The purity of their voices, songwriting skills, and the out and out joyousness of their harmony sold me out of the gate. Like the Fleetwoods, Patience and Prudence, and Ponytails before them, they embodied the soft, ethereal delivery of words that cut to the heart of what makes a young girl a woman. When you listen to this song, you can almost picture them at a slumber party or on the phone, sharing the dream of the perfect love and the perfect life with the perfect boy. Such a refreshing change from forced beats, rude lyrics, auto-tuned sameness, and meat dresses. Timeless.

Major Label: Since 2005

Radio Airplay: Yes

Career: Yes.

The WackersThe Wackers – Oh My Love: This track, from the Hot Wacks album, ended up on over 100 Beatle bootlegs as the version cut by the Beatles for inclusion on the Abbey Road album. Kinda cool, but weird as hell too, because I don’t think it sounds like The Beatles at all, even though we asked ourselves how would they have done it if they were still together. Elektra had high hopes for the single and so did we. We were beat out by a version by The Letterman, whose recording was the equivalent of Pat Boone doing a Little Richard song. Oh well.

Major Label: Yes.

Radio Airplay: Limited.

Career: No longer together.

JunkhouseJunkhouse – Shine: Tom Wilson. This guy is a national treasure. His catalog is impressive and his music is unique. Hopefully, one day he’ll be the household name he deserves to be. Track down his Florida Razors, Junkhouse, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, and Lee Harvey Osmond CDs.

Major Label: Yes.

Radio Airplay: Limited

Career: Yes for most members.

The RespectablesThe Respectables – Sweet Mama: Good Lord, this should have been the number one rock record of the year when it was released. This is rock and roll at it’s most authentic and honest best. I would love to see a Rival Sons, Respectables double bill one of these days. Eat your heart out Kid Rock.

Major Label: Distribution.

Radio Airplay: Limited.

Career: Yes.

blue-shadowsBlue Shadows – Riding Only Down: With just two albums, this group, fronted by ex Cowsill Billy Cowsill, instantly became the band everyone who heard them wanted to see succeed. A cross between the Everly Brothers’ vocal prowess and the early Beatles jangle driven guitar sound, the Blue Shadows represented the alt-country, early rock and roll community better than anyone else at the time. For whatever reason, their great sound, loyal fans, and even their label, couldn’t bring this group to fruition. After the two albums failed, they broke up, and Billy formed another band called the Co-Dependents who met with the same lack of success. It is still hard for me to understand why this vital, eerily haunting music didn’t break through. Billy passed away at home in Calgary in 2006 after years of failing health.

Major Label: Yes.

Radio Airplay: Very Limited.

Career: No. 

Michel PagliaroMichel Pagliaro – J’entends Frapper Even after his initial massive success in Quebec, Pag remains virtually unknown outside his Province with the exception of every rock musician in the country who speak of him in reverent, awe-inspired voices. Of all the artists on this very short list, Pag is the one who is regarded as the Great Canadian Rockstar and an inspiration to every singer/songwriter in the country. Bands still cover his songs, and I have been part of dozens of kitchen table discussions as to why this man never got the attention, and rewards he deserved. He still packs a wallop live, lives up to his cult-like status, and remains the creator of some of the greatest rock songs to ever call Canada home.Here are some other Pag tracks that have stood the test of time. I envy you if this is the first time you have ever heard him.

Michel Pagliaro – What the Hell I Got

Michel Pagliaro – Some Sing Some Dance

Michel Pagliaro – Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy

Major Label: Yes, more than one.

Radio Airplay: Yes.

Career: Yes.

And finally, here’s an artist that may break through in the foreseeable future.

CeliaDavid Celia – Best Thing Ever: Personally, I think this guy is the best singer/songwriter/guitarist this countyry has produced so far. The depth and breadth of David’s material is jaw dropping. The man easily shits gears from rock, to country, to Beatlesque pop and Grateful Dead psychedelia in the space of a single set or CD and still manages to leave his individual stamp on all of it. David has done some self produced CDs which sell well at his shows, and when he lands some major distribution and continues to record these 3 minute gems, he is going to have the ability to rise as high as he wants to. David just got back from a tour of house concerts in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and returns to England again in the Spring. If you’re in Toronto you can catch him at The Cameron House every Friday from 6:00 until 8:00 pm. Go see him and judge for yourself. Here’s another Celia song to whet your appetite.

David Celia – Welcome to the Show

Major Label: No

Radio Airplay: Very limited.

Career: Yes.

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Segarini’s regular columns appear here whenever Joanie Loves Chachi

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7giphyBob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, and The Segarini Band and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” 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 85), and now publishes, edits, and writes for DBAWIS, continues to write music, make music, and record.

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One Response to “Segarini: Canadian, Eh? Happy Canada Day!”

  1. Penney (Burklacich) Bedrick Says:

    he bob – greetings from the not-so-great white south (marin county). thinking of family tree after seeing TIME mag. cover july 8-15. Miss Butters lives!

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