Pat Blythe: Ruminations
It’s Tuesday night, November 17. My renovations are nearing completion, the house is dead quiet as I sit here, stretched out on the couch, looking around at this home we lived in together for 18 years. Remembering all the wonderful celebrations, dinners, Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners, TV watching, companionable “book reading”, and just quietly being, soaking up each other’s presence.
Now the second floor and backyard have been completely redone. Except for the election and the Paris bombings, the TV hasn’t been on since February. Books lie unread, dinners are non-existent, rushed or eaten elsewhere and even though I can, unexplainably, distinctly smell his cologne (however briefly) every once-in-a-while, there is no other presence. The changes over the past year have been major. He hasn’t been erased, the edges have been smoothed out, and his unique and quirky touches abound throughout the house. It’s been a busy 24 months and it looks like there is no slowing down in the foreseeable future.
Reflection, contemplation, musing, thinking, ruminating, whatever you want to call it, sometimes helps to clarify current events, putting the past into perspective without dwelling on it. “The now” is looked at through different eyes, understanding that what has been is a springboard into what is now and what will come. If you comprehend all that…..and no, it’s not the gin and tonic speaking.
So on that “past” note I’d like to remind of you of some of Toronto’s famous rock ‘n roll sons and daughters, all of whom have contributed, and continue to contribute, to this vibrant musical community we all have been so fortunate to participate in, and experience. Snippets of their past and present. I think this is a beginning of a new series….
Toronto (the band)
L-R Nick Costello, Jimmy Fox, Sheron Alton, Holly Woods, Scott Kreyer, Brian Allen
Formed in 1979, the initial line-up was San Franciscan Annie “Holly” Woods (lead vocals), Brian Allen (guitar), Sheron Alton (guitar/backing vocals), New Yorkers Scott Kreyer (keyboards), Nick Costello (bass) and Jimmy Fox (drums). Named after their base city, Toronto released their first album, Lookin’ for Trouble, in 1980. They had a minor hit with the single “Even The Score”. Costello and Fox left and were replaced by Gary LaLonde (Honeymoon Suite) and Barry Connors (Coney Hatch). The is line-up recorded and released their next album, Get It On Credit, in 1982. The lead single, “Your Daddy Don’t Know”, was number 5 in Canada and reached number 77 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. To this day it remains the band’s best-known hit. Band members shifted and changed once again and the next album was released in 1983. Girls Night Out was followed by Greatest Hits in 1984 and Holly Woods was nominated for a Juno for ‘Female Vocalist of the Year’. Toronto’s last album, Assault and Flattery was released in 1985. They were forced to disband after their label, Solid Gold Records went bankrupt. One of the band’s biggest achievements was the song “What About Love”. Written by Alton, Allen and Vallance, the song was recorded during the Get It On Credit sessions but for some reason was never included on the LP. The song was picked up and recorded by Heart, becoming an international hit and one of their signature songs. In 2003 “Your Daddy Don’t Know” was covered by the New Pornographers for the movie Fubar: The Album.
Holly Woods & Toronto currently perform and tour across Canada. The ‘all-star’ band features Steve Shelski (Coney Hatch) on guitar, Tom Lewis (Tom Cochrane, Alan Frew, Amanda Marshall) on bass and vocals, Peter Kadar (Alan Frew) on keyboards and Barry Connors on drums.
What About Love – Toronto
Frank Soda and the Imps
Born in Mangone, Calabria, Italy and raised in B.C., Frank Soda picked up the guitar in the early 60s and, as many young men did at that time, used the instrument as a way to express himself. Soda’s raw energy, guitar-playing style was heavily influenced by guitar legends Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page. Deeply involved in the local, vibrant B.C. music scene he won the Northwest Battle of the Bands in 1969 and 1970. Honing his chops over the years he crossed paths with Jim Vallance (Bryan Adams’ songwriting partner), Howard Froese (Chilliwack), Blair Thornton (BTO), bands such as Winter’s Green (Trooper), Seeds of Time (Prism), The Collectors (Chilliwack)….and the list goes on.
In 1973 Frank Soda and his band, Jumping Bad were ask by Thor (Jon Mikl) to join him on an eastern tour of Canada. Mikl needed a backing band for his act and some help in the recording studio. Jumping Bad’s lineup at the time was Jon Lechesseur on drums, Charles Towers on bass and Frank Soda on guitar. Due to the band’s diminutive size in statures, Mikl dubbed them The Imps and the name stuck. In 1976 Thor’s debut album Muscle Rock was released with The Imps as the backing band. The Imps and Thor parted company a few years later but continued to gain a loyal following as The Imps. Hooking up with manager Robert Connolly, they were encouraged to perform some of their original material mixed in with the cover tunes. A highly visual act, the band began to develop various themes for their shows. “TV Man” became their anthem and Soda would wear an exploding TV “head” during the performance, subsequently leading to Moon Man and Smokin’ Pig exploding heads. “Another head gear was a gigantic working camera he took pictures of the audience with was the theme to “Take My Picture Please,” whose new wave feel added to Soda’s repetoire.”
Frank Soda and exploding TV head
The Imps, in association with CHUM FM, recorded Live In The Tube, recorded live off the floor at the Piccadilly Tube. The band signed with Quality Records and released Soda Pop in 1980. “Take My Picture Please” and “Oversexed and Underfed” became the singles off the album. The original Imps disbanded in 1981 but Soda continued to play and tour using various back-up players including Peter Crolly on bass (The Instructions, Plateau) and Glen Gratto on drums (Madcats). Soda was back in Vancouver by 1988 working on various projects. By 1992 he had set up his own recording studio and recorded Classic Soda with his vocalist wife Joyce. Frank Soda &The Imps Greatest Hits was released in 1995 on Pacemaker Records giving new life to infamous stage show.
Saturday Night Getaway
Soda was elected vice president of the Pacific Songwriters Association in 1998. He continues to write, perform and record at local clubs and halls in the Vancouver area as well as various music festivals in Canada and the U.S.
The Rhinegold story is really the Lawrence Gowan story. A Glaswegian by birth and a Torontonian by choice, Gowan’s family moved to Canada from Scotland while he was still a child. A natural on the keyboards (classically trained at the Royal Conservatory of Music), Gowan also studied with The Canadian Ballet. A formidable showman, his stage presence dominates any performance. He formed Rhinegold in 1976 with school hood chums, drummer Daniel Bourne and guitarist Pat Bourke. A “prog rock” band, Gowan’s classical training was a predominant part of Rhinegold’s sound. His charisma was legendary. “The group was Gowan’s first venue for writing tales of magic, myth and folklore, such as Black Forest Riders and Two Faces and A Black Dog Grin.” Their sound was reminiscent of Genesis, Supertramp or Queen, blending first-rate storytelling with wonderful, often flowing melodies. The band’s, and Gowan’s, ability to hold an audience captive was supported not only by the stories and music, but “a light and stage show to rival the stadium acts complete with costume changes (they even had a song about their costumers – “Madame Malabar“). According to Canoe.com, “Larry regularly danced on top of his baby grand piano and pranced about the state like a wild man on fire.” ….and indeed he did.
Lawrence Gowan as Spiderman during one of his performances
Although popular on the club circuit, Rhinegold never broke as a band and Gown called in quits in 1980. No significant response from the music industry and five years traveling the club circuit were enough. Competing with other local bands including Rush, Triumph and Klaatu, Rhinegold was lost in the noise. By the late 70’s disco was king and over-the-top rock productions were dead. I saw Rhinegold a number of times and they had become one of my favourite bands, the music and the stories just drew me right in.
Gowan of course went on to a successful solo career, recording “(You’re a) Strange Animal” and “Criminal Minds” before going on to join Styx in 1999, replacing lead singer Dennis De Young and where he remains today.
Criminal Mind – Lawrence Gowen
I am realizing there is very little in the way of photographic “evidence” of many of these local Toronto bands. (Rhinegold is a good case in point) Traveling through my husband’s photographic archives is proving to be an overwhelming and, at times, onerous task, but one I am now realizing is becoming more and more important. Chris visually documented much of what was going on musically in the GTA beginning in the mid-seventies right through to the mid-nineties. Living at Cottingham Sound in the west end of Toronto from 1974 to 1979 gave him a true birds-eye view of the goings on in the local music scene. Many bands (famous and infamous) traipsed through the studio to lay down their bed tracks, stopping for food and good conversation in the main kitchen. Yes, Chris loved to cook too and would feed hungry mouths in the studio’s kitchen. He loved learning, discussing, discovering, observing and his innate, intuitive sense of the person within the person gave him a special edge in his photography. I have no idea what Chris has tucked away in the bowels of the basement. As I dig and sift through this small piece of Toronto’s history, I’m learning it’s now more critical than ever.
BlogTO, Wikipedia, YouTube, Canadian Bands, Canadian Encyclopedia, Frank Soda official website, AllMusic, Canoe.com, Nick Costello, Jimmy Fox, Sheron Alton, Holly Woods, Scott Kreyer, and Brian Allen.
Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.
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In “real” life Pat Blythe has spent the past 32 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry. After an extended absence Pat is now heading back to the GTA clubs, immersing herself in the local music scene, tasting what’s on offer, talking to people and writing once again — sharing her passions and her deep love of music. Together for 34 years, Pat also worked alongside her late husbandChristopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who shot much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, Plateau, Buzzsaw, Hellfield….) as well as national and international acts, Currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, Pat is currently compiling a photographic history of the local GTA music scene from 1975 to 1985. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance!