Frank Gutch Jr: O Canada: A Nod to The Great White North— (and more of them goddamn notes)

FrankJr2

 I am a lost Son of Canada.  I must be.  I love Canadian bacon, though bacon it not really be (except maybe technically).  I love Jennifer Dale, an actor who deserved much more than she has been afforded,  respect-wise (I reveled in her work on Canadian TV and film during Comcast’s all-too-short span of including CTV and CBC on their cable lineups in the ’80s).  I love Due South, one of the most creative and funny-on-so-many-levels series TV has ever created (the transition of Ray to Ray— David Marciano to Callum Keith Rennie— a work of pure writing craftmanship).

I love the New Canadian Library roster of books— My God, but do Canadians realize the wealth of literature they have/have had over the decades and centuries— Ringuet‘s Thirty Acres, Fred Bosworth‘s The Last of the Curlews, Mordecai Richler‘s The Incomparable Atuk, and Gabrielle Roy‘s Where Nests the Water Hen just the tip of the iceberg in their excellent list of works of Canadian authors?  I love Canada for the works of W.P. Kinsella alone, and I’m not talking Shoeless Joe.  I love Canadian Football, though I loved the earlier version more, before us Americans (well, corporate Americans, anyway) went north and fucked it up.  I love Victoria, an incredibly beautiful city I just recently visited (I would move there if I was independently wealthy, or even dependently so.  And I love the fact that Canada supports their arts, something the neocons in the US consider an act of terrorism.  But most of all, I love Chloe Albert and the long string of Canadian artists and bands, past and present, which enrich my life daily.

bidinionacoldroadIt wasn’t all that long ago that Bob Segarini, advocate of most things Canadian, mentioned Dave Bidini, supplying one of the Segarini quotes Bidini had used in his tome about Canadian Rockery— On a Cold Road: Tales of Adventure in Canadian Rock.  I forget the question to which Bidini was the answer, but Bob basically said, read this book.  So isn’t it prophetic that I should walk into a book store in Victoria during the recent trip mentioned earlier and find, on a stack of books which had to do with neither Canada nor music, that very book.  What caught my eye was the backwards printing of “RHEOSTATICS”, a mirror image of the destination/inhabitants from the inside of a bus.  When I picked it up, I studied the book cover, struck by the tour bus ambience, the cinematic look at band through an artist’s eyes (the artist, in this case, Martin Tielli), and the wraparound glimpse of whom I believe is Bidini himself, either going down for the last time or snapping a selfie before selfies became international fad.

The book was published in 1998, but the date is significant only to rock music historians.  The importance lies in the capsulized histories— moments in time— provided by not only Bidini and Segarini, but by a myriad of musicians of The Great White North— glimpses at a music and culture already fading into the past but so important to an understanding of that past.  The musical past.  The Canadian past.  The real past.  The past we sometimes deny ourselves.

We look upon celebrities as bigger than life.  We remember people we don’t even know with the reverence afforded gods, yet those gods were not long before just people perhaps looking towards other celebrities.  One moment can destroy a myth.  Bidini found that out meeting Devo.

We once found out where Devo were staying in Toronto, he writes, and presented them with a bag of potatoes and a box of Cap’n Crunch.  Singer Mark Mothersbaugh invited us up to their rooms, but I wish I’d never gone.  Drapes drawn, television blaring, four po-faced men in jeans and T-shirts sat around a lone teenage groupie, smoking a joint.  I felt like asking, “Hey, guys, where the fuck’s the plastic hair?” but it was no use.  I haven’t listened to much Devo since.

rheostaticsThe Rheostatics are the common thread.  I had no idea who they were until I found Jane Gowan and her band, Shade.  Indeed, it would take us two years to get to them.  Our first common thread was The Beige, a Vancouver BC band who put out an adventurous album titled el Angel Exterminador a few years back.  Jane played trumpet on the album and asked if I would review her band Shade‘s then new album (Highway) after reading my review of Exterminador.  Turns out, I liked it.  A lot.  But the connection forward did not come until the second release, One Last Show of Hearts (2011).  Messages back and forth uncovered the activities of one Tim Vesely and I mentioned him to Jane in a positive light.  He was with The Violet Archers, she said, as if I was supposed to know who that was, but I did my homework and found two albums by them which more than caught my attention (read, dominated my MP3 player for quite some time).  So I thanked Jane profusely, asked about another release from her (she is working on it right now, it turns out) and was about to drop it when she dropped this one me.  “You know The Rheostatics, right?”  Why, no, I don’t.  “Tim’s earlier band?”  Aha!  He had an earlier band.  This was good.  “They were pretty big up here (meaning Canada).”  So I again put about doing my homework and, voila!, the saga continued.  Continues.  While I still haven’t tracked down any Rheostatics albums (I’ve decided I want physical copies, just as I want actual CDs of the Archers), I have waltzed through a number of music videos and thought I had a good idea of the trials and tribulations of said band.  Until now.  Reading On a Cold Road has me revisiting the myths in my head— in fact, re-evaluating everything I thought I knew about the life of every road musician who hit the pavement for the glory and the music.  But first, a little musical interlude.  Don’t worry.  It is related.

Did you see those hockey sticks?  How cool are they?  Reminds me of my childhood when, in the stead of hockey sticks, we took old baseball bats and hit rocks until they were shredded so bad that you could no longer hear a thunk when you made contact.  Man, Canada is like a different and yet the same planet.

That’s Tim Vesely there, tripping the night fantastic.  Post-Rheostatics, of course.  But I digress.

When I found my way back to The Rheostatics, I was stunned.  Expecting a one-hit wonder (Claire was mentioned in the vast majority of articles and reviews) I instead was met with a string of albums and recordings of live performances.  I dove in.  Not just Pop.  Quite adventurous when the albums were played outside of the confines of release.  Interesting, at the very least.  Damn good at the best.

Why was I unaware?  The largest part of the digital revolution had not yet hit.  Labels still relied on radio and videos were rampant.  The quality of both the music and the videos were there.  So why was I unaware?

I am thinking that the answer lies somewhere in this book.  Not that Bidini knows any great secrets of the universe, but he is uncovering the roots of why it is so hard to make it in any of the arts these days without even realizing it (keep in mind, I am only a third of the way through and he may have the key by the time I am finished).  It lies somewhere in the volume of musicians very well thought of in the Northlands yet virtually unknown to most of us in the States.  It lies in a music business— indeed, an entertainment business— which, on the whole, we see as a farm system to the major labels here.  It lies in the myth that Canadian musicians pretty much believe— that to make it, they have to make it in the States.  There are so many factors and as I study the situation, there are so many more.  Maybe it lies somewhere on a cold road.

tragically hipThe book is not just about The Rheostatics, though they are the core.  Bidini brilliantly intersperses thoughts and stories about the band and, especially, their 1996 tour with The Tragically Hip.  I remember the Hip, but they weren’t burning up the circuits down here in the States.  Or were they?  Looking on their website, they list shows at a number of topnotch venues down here, but no further info.  Perhaps they weren’t headlining many of those.  Then again, perhaps they were and I was just out of touch.  I see Saturday Night Live listed.  Maybe they were bigger than I thought.

Bidini makes a stop in the book I will quote here because, at a certain point in time, he realized what I knew from the time I discovered music— that music was more than the hits and the stars.  After a gig at Slo-Helen’s, the restaurant at The Waverly Hotel in Melville, he had an epiphany.

I found myself staring at a wall covered with photos of bands who’d performed at Slo-Helen’s over the years.  Two acts stood out:  a local new wave combo called FX, whose members looked like apple-cheeked kids from a W.O. Mitchell story except for the shocking pink and blue hair; and the bizarre McRory, a musclebound keyboardist with drum pads fastened to his upper body, giving him the look of Lawrence Gowan on steroids.  Their photos were stapled among hundreds of other faceless groups, many of them with generic names, and while I’d sworn as a young rock pug that I’d never end up being a forgotten musician on a beer-soaked plank, looking at these groups, I suddenly felt drawn to their heritage and forgotten leagues.

rheostatics-melvilleI realized that these artists existed.  Even though few of them would ever be heard outside Saskatchewan, this hadn’t stopped them from writing songs, doing a photo session, pressing a record, requesting their own songs on the radio, renting a van, booking a tour, and kissing their girlfriends goodbye, a routine that was no different than, say, The Tragically Hip’s.  I finally saw these groups for what they were, not for what they weren’t, and the more I thought about it, the less it mattered whether our own careers were Juno-bound.  Standing there in The Waverly, it seemed enough to be part of the common musical legacy of bands making music in brutal winters across our hard country.  While I’d always wanted to be considered in the tradition of artists like The Band, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Rush, that was only part of it; I realized that I was already born into one.  Looking at those faces on Helen’s sticky tavern wall, another fathom of Canadian music had been revealed, one that I’d always missed seeing, perhaps for fear of finding myself in it.  So before leaving Melville, we signed an 8 X 10 and Helen went over and put it up.

We joined the ranks.

We existed.

davebidini-220

I feel real camaraderie toward the man who wrote those words.  I have always admired those who do, not those who talk about doing.  While it is a good thing to record, it is enough sometimes to exist.  To be a band or an artist.  To plug into an amp and make noise.  To stand before a mic and sing a song, warbling if need be.  To exist.  That is a good thing.

I love the way Bidini has organized this book, too.  Between recollections of bus odors and crazy (and stupid) happenstances, he prints others’ recollections— Canadian musicians of worth and sadly, again, some little known down here:  Kelly Jay, Greg Godovitz, Darby Mills, Frank Soda, and more.  Little snippets recalling moments in time but moments which I find intriguing and sometimes downright exhilarating.  DBAWIS‘s own Bob Segarini and Gary Pig Gold put in their two-cents-worth alongside the others.  It is a treasury of rock ‘n’ roll moments, some fascinating, some hilarious, all entertaining.

The book has me thinking about the Canadian musicians I have adopted over the past few years, too.  While I discovered Laurie Biagini before Mr. Segarini offered me the chance to write here, so many others came after the fact— Paint the Ocean (whose self-titled album was my pick for Album of the Year in 2012), The Dementians (actually, a guy named David Jacques who spends hours in his basement creating some damn entertaining music), Xprime (a band I am sure I never would have found but for DBAWIS), the aforementioned Shade and The Beige, Chloe Albert (an artist I will be mentioning from this point on), and so many more.

In fact, here are a handful of videos by those artists and bands.  I am assuming that some of you have not taken the time to discover them and their music.  Now’s your chance.

And I will finish my section (except for the ever popular Notes, which is the high point of everyone who reads my column’s day) with a video I post probably too often— but in my mind, that is an impossibility— by Chloe Albert.  Some people have called her a future great.  I think she already is.  Recorded live in a basement.  Dig those background vocals.  You gotta love stuff like this.

Onward and Sideways…..

So I get it into my head, what the hell do Canadians think about music in Canada?  I asked a small group of Canucks (and one semi-Canuck in the form of Bobert Segarinski) to give me their knee-jerk choices of what represents that country, music-wise.  You know, the first thing that pops into their head.  Here is what they came up with.

Darrell Vickers…..  Even though he has lived in L.A. most of his working life, Darrell is probably still a Canadian.  Canada is like the Scientologists.  When you’re in, you can’t get out.  When he jerks his knees, they automatically jerk north.  His explanation:  “I think the word “Canadian” just drove me to think of videos that I knew from The New Music Show on City TV.  On the camp side – Thor‘s Keep the Dogs Away comes to mind. That is my knee-jerk/non-thinking reaction. I just associate Canadian music videos with that show and that period in time.

Of course, that wasn’t his original choice.  He thought that one would ruin the poll.  Why he thought this was a poll, I have no idea.  He hasn’t been thinking straight since the seventh pin was screwed into his thumb.  Damn!  Just typing that made my thumbs start hurting.  So let’s just lay out his actual first pick.  No real video, but it could ruin a poll or two, I am sure.

Roxanne Tellier…..  You can’t trust Roxanne if only because she knows so many damn people.  She has a personal attachment to just about every band or song coming out of the Northlands, past present and future.  It didn’t surprise me at all when she pulled Pursuit of Happiness out of her hat.  PoH’s I’m an Adult Now, in fact.  “It rocked the city of Toronto in ’86 so hard,” she explained.  “… great band, great visuals.   I was working for Canadian Home Shopping Network as an on-air host … the guy in the red jacket who rocks out midway was one of our computer guys … blew my mind!”  And now it can blow ours.

I should have known better than to ask Jaimie Vernon his choice.  Not only is the guy a walking encyclopedia of Canadian rock, he wrote the damn encyclopedia!   Well, The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia, anyway.  And it’s a beaut!  You can order it directly from Jaimie by clicking here (and I suggest you do— Christmas is just around the corner, you know).

Anyway, Jaimie sent me his pick with this long preface— read it before watching the video— it will help.

gowancriminalmindGOWAN: A Criminal Mind— Most Americans know Lawrence Gowan as the replacement for Dennis DeYoung in the perpetually touring Styx – a job he’s now held a year LONGER than DeYoung. But in Larry’s home country of Canada (hey, he had a solo album entitled …But You Can Call Me Larry so I’m allowed the informality) he was known for years as, simply, Gowan. His solo career started following the road-blocked prog-rock bar band Rhinegold he once fronted who, despite SRO crowds at all their gigs, were getting doors slammed in their faces (it might have had something to do with the bloated set of Supertramp and Styx covers they liked to play).  But it was the 1980s.  Prog was so 2112 ago. Yet he managed to get signed to CBS based on sketches of piano rock songs – with a vision of churning out a few hits like labelmates Burton Cummings or Billy Joel.  The self-titled debut album was a straight up cut-and-paste middle of the road yawner even with help from his Canadian friend Kim Mitchell (Max Webster).  That was in 1982.  Surprisingly, CBS was willing to give him another shot, so he disappeared for two years, wrote new material, ditched his leather jacket and Joey Ramone hairdo and emerged at the beginning of 1985 with his sophomore release Strange Animal.

gowanGowan didn’t just re-invent himself. He killed off his Prog Rock former self and gave us British Pomp. Producer David Tickle (fresh off turning Platinum Blonde into overnight sensations back in Canada) dragged Gowan to England and recorded at the famed Friar’s Park which was owned by Ringo Starr at the time.  Ringo hung out but didn’t play on the record.  Gowan had better players on hand – Peter Gabriel‘s backing band: Tony Levin (bass), Jerry Marotta (drums), and David Rhodes (guitar). Gowan was surfing Gabriel, Eno and Kate Bush territory now.  The album would yield four Top 40 singles in Canada. But it was the album’s run-out groove that became his showstopper – and the only solo tune he performs with Styx.  A Criminal Mind tells the story of the thought process of a sociopath. The video was a brilliant cutting-edge affair in 1985 – when Canada’s MuchMusic was barely a year old.  In fact, members of the MuchMusic staff appear in it and the live action/animation cross-over was deftly executed (pun intended) by the same man who had made Platinum Blonde visually appealing to teens – Rob Quartly.  As a comic book reading of the lyrics – including narration by the legendary Canadian voice-over master Len CarlsonA Criminal Mind could be considered one of the first literal music videos of its kind and holds up well in our current pop culture obsessed world.

To see Quartly’s visual thumb print check out the video that started it all and earned him a dozen awards in 1984.

I stepped outside the DBAWIS fold for the next one.  Bobby Gottesman recently started his own music site (I Can’t Believe My Earz) and has been developing go-to pages for Canucks rocking the tundra.  He spends a lot of his time passing bands along for my perusal and he has passed along some beauties.  Which is why I was surprised to receive his choice as the All Canadian ICBME pick— Sloan‘s Losing California.  Not that it isn’t impressive, just that Bobby spends most of his time buried beneath a mountain of true Indies.

I woke Bob Segarini up from a nap to get his choice.  He can be a grumpy sonofobitch— except when it comes to his music, which he many times prefers tongue-in-cheek (or other parts of the body).  Called me a whiny bastard, he did, but it was worth it because he handed me this:

Damn, this stuff can kill you!  But look, if you want a solid read about Canada and its music, rock-wise, Bidini’s On a Cold Road might be it.  He did a yeoman’s job and it is entertaining as hell.  You can order a copy from McClelland & Stewart by clicking here.

That’s it for this week.  I think I will hit the sack, as soon as I pass along a few…..

Music Notes smallNotes…..  Again, I hope my habit of posting crowdfunding efforts here does not turn anyone off, but sometimes the music overtakes the reluctance to beat the drum before the fact.  Take the case of Caitlin Canty, whom I just discovered this morning.  She has just started a Kickstarter campaign to promote and pay off the debts of her new album.  She placed four samples of the songs on her page (which you can access by clicking here) and I am finding it hard not to write a review based on those four samples.  She has a voice not unlike that of Nicki Bluhm— immediate, sincere— and the caitlincantybandfour songs posted grip me much the same as Bluhm.  I have no doubt that that has something to do with her band lineup (Jeffrey Focault, Billy Conway, Jeremy Moses Curtis (who plays with one of my favorite bands, The Curtis Mayflower), Eric Heywood (a killer pedal steel player), Matt Lorenz, Kate Lorenz, and Justin Pizzoferrato— a lot of talent there), but it mainly has to do with Canty.  Do yourself a favor.  Click on the link provided above and listen to the samples.  Then decide.  I personally am anxiously awaiting this release.  Already.

Musician and songwriter-extraordinaire David Olney and I have been trading videos and quips the past few months.  It started with his weekly video blog, You’ll Never Know, posted every Tuesday on YouTube, and has continued with regularity.  Steve Young and Jubal Lee Young both pointed me toward Olney a long while ago and I have been following him since.  He is a songwriter of the story-telling ilk mostly, but he has been known to let it hang out on occasion.  Like on this live video.  An aside:  I have noticed “partnerships” over the years, such as that of Jackson Browne and David Lindley.  The best of these today, that I have experienced, anyway, are those of Bill Jackson and Pete Fidler (they’re Australian, folks), and David Olney and Sergio Webb.  After seeing/hearing this video, you will understand.

Speaking of Jackson and Fidler, here they are doing a song so good that Olney recorded it on his recent album, When the Deal Goes DownYou can stream that Olney album here.  Before you do, though, check out this  video.

With Jubal Lee Young‘s On a Dark Highway ready to be released on September 16th, I think it appropriate to pay tribute to Jubal’s parents.  Here is a video of mother Terrye Newkirk‘s My Oklahoma taken from her album Pure and Simple and put together by my (and Terrye’s) friend, Jim Terr.  Jubal has done a standout cover of this song which he is including on the new album.

You  know Jubal isn’t going to leave out father Steve Young, with whom he has toured more than a few times.  And what better song to cover than Steve’s The White Trash Song.  Jubal’s voice is a natural for the song, but how do you one-up the original?

Bobby Gottesman (known as The Gottesfather by those in the know) has been working overtime lately digging up music.  This time, it is Toronto’s South of Bloor, a pop band with a little meat on them.  Check out this video, then head out to their bandcamp page (click here) to listen to four more earworthy tracks.  You won’t regret it.  In case you didn’t know, Bobby holds down the fort at I Can’t Believe My Earz, a site hard at work dragging the river of indie music for the little known and unknown.  Stop by the site when you feel the need for something musically adventurous and refreshing.

All Americans should be able to appreciate this— from The Voice of Appalachia series— Jeff Ellis, The Men in Sago Mine.  This was partially how stories got told in the old days.

And sometimes, it’s just the riff.

=FGJ=

Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonFrank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.” 

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