Roxanne Tellier: My Toronto – Part Two

january roxanneToronto was a different place in the late 1970’s and early eighties. Although it’s easy to look back with rose coloured glasses, it was, in fact, a watershed time for Toronto musicians. Everywhere you turned, you were surrounded by outstanding music, made by dedicated and very talented players, who enjoyed the freedom to create their art, and make a living at the same time.

 

 

yonge st toronto 70s

I won’t wax nostalgic about the city they once described as “like New York run by the Swiss.”  I’ll let this montage from 1978 City TV do the talking.

While Tommy Ambrose was singing that song of praise, his nephew, Steve Ambrose, was fronting The Lincolns, a terrific r&b band that packed ‘em in all over Toronto.  Prakash John (who had previously been a bassist for Lou Reed and Alice Cooper, among many other bands) had put together an outstanding choreographed classic soul band, wearing tailored trousers, suspenders, and ties. From their first gig, they had their pick of venues, especially in the Yonge and Eglinton district, where the “young and eligible” gladly handed over whatever cover charge they were asked to pay, six nights a week.

Although I then lived in that area, I’d often travel midtown to Jarvis Street, where I could find melodic but powerful pub rock at the Hotel California. In the summer, you could relax on the patio with a cold bevvy, and then head inside for a set. Whether it was unknown acts just on the verge of hitting it big, or bands that struck the right chord to management’s ears, you knew you could sonically relax here, assured of hearing some primo tuneage. I fondly remember seeing Jackson Hawke at the club several times. The group featured awesome harmonies; their voices could take you somewhere far away. Any song they performed was a treat to listen to. Jackson Hawke had a huge hit with their song “You Can’t Dance,” which became an international hit for England Dan and John Ford Coley. But I always loved their cover version of Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic.”

The city was bursting with pent up energy. Across from the Eaton Centre, and next door to the Hard Rock Café, you’d climbthe stairs to the Nickelodeon, a huge room that featured acts both local and international. One of my fondest memories is the night I got to see my buddies in Twitch showcase on that huge stage. Band leader Garwood Wallace was like a shaken can of pop just about to blow, and he wrote angular, jangly power pop. Bassist Brian Pratt and (at the time) drummer Stephano Leroux completed the trio. Their sound made me dance my feet off whenever I heard them play. Our own Bob Segarini took the boys under his wing, made them his opening act for a gig at the El Mocambo, which lead to Twitch becoming the El Mo’s house band, and also recorded Wallace’s song, “Rock ‘N Roll Moment” for the ‘Goodbye L.A.’ album. This live video, with Steve Feldman on drums, is for the song, “What Do You Say” from their album “Twitch and Shout,” on Bomb Records.

Before the Eaton Centre existed, there was a very cool bar called the Piccadilly Tube at Yonge and Dundas. The room was massive, and was always packed with rabid fans. Every band, from Rush to Goddo, wanted to play there, and if the group had a theatrical bent, this was where you could really let loose.  Frank Soda’s rock theatre was a natural for the room. Frank liked to blow stuff up … on his head. For the song TV People, he exploded a television set that he was wearing as a hat.  Other exploding head gear, such as the Moon Man, and Smoking Pig, followed, and led to the taking of the audiences’ picture with a gigantic camera on his head in the song “Take My Picture Please“. Frank Soda and The Imps were great live – as long as you didn’t get too close to the stage!

Another landmark downtown venue was Larry’s Hideaway. Head Space at Larry’s was a legendary punk/thrash night where bands like The Cramps, the Viletones, Killing Joke, or Hamilton’s Teenage Head could showcase. And yes, the room was as dirty, depraved, and nasty as you’d imagine. Upstairs, the rooms could be rented by the hour. Downstairs, you were lucky if you got out alive, between the bacteria and the bouncers. But for those who wanted cutting edge punk and new wave, it was an important room. One band that made it from Larry’s to the big time was Teenage Head. Bobcast friend Geoff Pevere has written a book about Teenage Head, called Gods of the Hammer. Read all about it – and have a look at them here …

At Church and Gerrard, The Edge was another room booking the new music. Concert promoters Gary Topp and Gary Cormier, together known as The Garys, have a long and honorable history, and I’d urge you to read this article to get a sense of their impact on the Toronto cultural scene.

http://www.thegridto.com/culture/music/then-now-the-edge/

The Garys brought extraordinary live music to Egerton’s, including major international artists alongside the locals.  Every night was a new experience musically, and the room went from zero to hero amongst the cognoscenti. Everyone from Martha and the Muffins, to Wayne/Jayne County, Sun Ra, Nico, and XTC hit the stage. And of course, this was the room where emerging supergroup, The Police, played to a handful of hip people on March 23, 1979, before exploding upon the world’s consciousness. Many nights, The Viletones, arguably Toronto’s first punk band, ruled over a pogoing, slam dancing audience

Yonge and Wellesley was like ground zero for the best live music. I’m surprised the sidewalk didn’t crumble under the constant foot traffic of fans swarming between the Forge, the Chimney, and of course, the legendary Gasworks.

I’ll never forget the first time I (almost) saw Goddo. My escort had told me about the band for months, and he couldn’t wait for me to finally see them play live. We dutifully arrived at The Forge two hours early, in order to get prime seats, halfway back in the room. The club was enormous, and packed to the gills.

When the band finally appeared on stage and hit that first power chord, my hair blew back like the dude in the old Maxel ad … the sound was so deafening that it was all I could do to stand up and tell my date I had to leave before my eardrums began to bleed. But the rest of Toronto couldn’t get enough of the trio, and they were and are legends. This clip is from the City TV/ Chum FM simulcast Church Video

I can’t think of the Chimney, the room above the Gasworks, without thinking of Rough Trade. I saw the band so often, I could have stepped into backup singer JoAnn Brooks shoes on any given night. Carole Pope’s shockingly sensual and sexual lyrics and stage performances rocked, shocked and titillated Toronto. They were the first rock band to record a direct to disc album with 1976’s Rough Trade Live, and in 1977, the band presented a newly created live musical called Restless Underwear which co-starred Divine. I still have the poster for that show. In 1978, Tim Curry covered their song “Birds of a Feather,” and by 1980, Pope and partner Kevan Staples were signed to True North, where they recorded and released several more albums over the next few years. Although they were best known for the controversial “High School Confidential,” my best memories are of the early days, when I’d chat with bassist Hap Roderman in their little Chimney dressing room.

The third side of that remarkable triangle of most excellent venues was of course – the Gasworks. Every player in the city passed through those venerable doors, including Coney Hatch, Harlequin, Moxy, Foot in Cold Water, Goddo, Crowbar, Max Webster, Toronto, Saga, Brutus, Hellfield and of course, my own band Performer. As a dear friend said to me recently, “such was the venue that the room itself raised the status of every band that played there”

You went to see and be seen, and you never knew who’d drop by after playing a larger venue, like Maple Leaf Gardens.

Black Sabbath’s Ozzy Osbourne practically lived in the club in 1978. “”Toronto’s a rock ‘n’ roll city, man,” he said. “In actual fact, the last Black Sabbath album, Never Say Die, was half-written in Toronto.”  His favourite bar was the old Gasworks on Yonge Street. “I got carried out of that club many a night.” (jam.canoe.ca, 2003)

My sister once had a shoving match with Burton Cummings over a particularly fine pinball machine they both wanted to play, and of course, the Mike Myers film “Waynes World” put the place on the map in his homage to a fictional version he called “The Gas Works.” Always a babefest.

Any time I had a chance to see Saga on that stage, I was there. Their stage show was impressive, their playing impeccable, and their sound was out of this world. I was at the ‘Works the night they announced they’d be leaving for Europe, where their progressive/rock style was very popular. I was happy for their success, but mourned Toronto’s loss.

Another electrifying Canadian band always welcomed at the ‘Works, this one out of Winnipeg, Manitoba, was Streetheart. You’d have to get to the club very early to even have a chance at getting standing room space. Leather lunged singer Kenny Shields brought it every time he stepped on stage, and the band scored a number of radio hits, including “Action”, “Hollywood”, “Teenage Rage”, “One More Time”, “Tin Soldier”, “What Kind of Love is This“, and their disco hybrid cover of the Rolling StonesUnder My Thumb“.

The Gasworks closed on January 9th, 1993.

It’s a very small world, so I’ll tie up this overly long column with a little information on a documentary about the legendary club that has been in the making for some time. Longtime friend and colleague Ben Bergmann, who recently wrapped up his editing/camera/creative role in the new Goddo documentary “In Goddo We Trust,” has been gathering information, testimonials, footage and the like since the club closed, for a planned video homage. For more information, or to add your voice or memories to this tribute to the Gasworks, follow this link to his site.

http://gasworks.eyedropvideo.com/

= RT =

Roxanne’s column appears here every Sunday 

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonRoxanne Tellier has been singing since she was 10 months old … no, really. Not like she’s telling anyone else how to live their lives, because she’s not judgmental, and most 10 month olds need a little more time to figure out how to hold a microphone. After years of doing things she didn’t want to do, she’s found herself working with a bunch of crazy people who are as batshit crazy and devoted to music as she is, and so she can be found every Monday at Cherry Cola’s, completely unable to think of anything funny to say, as the co-host of Bob Segarini’s The Bobcast. Come and mock her. She’s good with that. And she laughs. A lot. But not at you.

One Response to “Roxanne Tellier: My Toronto – Part Two”

  1. dennis saunders Says:

    Great article…great memories.

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