Pat Blythe – The Stories Behind the Songs Part 4….
It’s a miserable, cold, sodden, rainy, pathetically dreary, rather dismal night. Moisture and freezing temperatures will create your very own skating rink on the sidewalk, front lawn and even the roadway. I look out the window and see everything enveloped in ice. Jane Harbury had very kindly invited me down to her Discoveries series at Tranzac tonight but between prior commitments and the weather, my ass is safely ensconced on the couch writing this. I have one artificial hip…..I don’t need two and I’d prefer to keep any modicum of dignity intact.
This is not how I want to end up….
Do you remember when vanity plates for your vehicles were just becoming all the rage? Every once-in-a-while you would end up behind a car with one and spend the entire red light trying to figure out what it said. Some were exceptionally creative while some were exceptionally idiotic. I do remember one that made me laugh out loud….“EEJIT”. I often wonder if the owner knew that was slang for ‘idiot’ in England. My favourite has always been the woman who was driving a white Volkswagon Rabbit around Toronto. I actually saw her a number of times. Her vanity plate…..“IM LATE”. Perfect segue into our first song….
In the mid-sixties, singer Grace Slick was a member of the band The Great Society and penned the song White Rabbit during her time with them. In 1966, when the band broke up, Jefferson Airplane invited Slick to replace departing singer Signe Toly Anderson who was leaving after the birth of her child. Slick brought two songs with her from The Great Society, “White Rabbit” and “Somebody To Love”. The latter was written by her brother-in-law Darby Slick. The former was written on old battered upright piano missing eight keys.
A cast of characters….
According to SongFacts, “Slick got the idea for this song after taking LSD and spending (24) hours (straight) listening to the Miles Davis album Sketches Of Spain. The Spanish beat she came up with was also influenced by Ravel’s “Bolero”“. Of course the references to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the sequel, Through The Looking Glass, are unmistakeable. Slick has stated on a number of occasions the Lewis Carroll fairytale remained vividly imprinted on her mind well into adulthood.
Mind-expanding, (or mind altering) hallucinogenics were part of the 1960s sub-culture and Slick addresses this in the song quite skillfully, managing to get past the radio censors. However, according to Slick, “the composition was intended to be a slap to parents who read their children such novels, and then wondered why their children later used drugs.” For Slick, ““White Rabbit” is about following your curiosity. The White Rabbit is your curiosity“. In another interview with Q Magazine, Slick again claimed “the song was aimed not at the young but at their parents….they’d read us all these stories where you’d take some kind of chemical and have a great adventure. Alice in Wonderland is blatant; she gets literally high, too big for the room, while the caterpillar sits on a psychedelic mushroom smoking opium. In The Wizard of Oz, they land in a field of opium poppies, wake up and see this Emerald City. Peter Pan? Sprinkle some white dust-cocaine-on your head and you can fly.”
White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane
The theme song for the 1973 movie Go Ask Alice, “White Rabbit” is also used by The Blue Man Group and appeared on their album The Complex in 2003. Considered one of the defining songs of the “Summer of Love”, “White Rabbit” was often heard playing in the background of many Vietnam War protests, used to intimate drug-induced hazes in movies and capped off Jefferson Airplane’s performance at Woodstock. As for the album title Surrealistic Pillow…..according to Slick’s autobiography, the name came from a comment made by Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead when he first heard the mastered studio tapes…”sounds like a surrealistic pillow”. Slick says she “loved the fact that the phrase Surrealistic Pillow leaves the interpretation up to the beholder. Asleep or awake on the pillow? Dreaming? Making love? The adjective ‘surrealistic’ leaves the picture wide open.”
For good measure, the following song always seems to go hand-in-hand with White Rabbit.
Somebody To Love – Jefferson Airplane
(Sidenote: clips of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas perfectly synched with song….I think I need to see this movie)
Greg Simpson posted this song for TAFT last Friday although it’s also a song I have previously listed in one my columns as a big favourite. However, someone mused about what inspired the name of the group so I decided to find out. Five (of six) siblings made up this group of four brothers and their sister. The Burke children — lead singer Clarence Jr., James, Dennis, Kenneth (Keni) and sister Alohe — were named The Five Stairsteps because mother Burke thought her kids looked like stairsteps when they lined up according to their ages. Baby Cubie was with them for a very short period of time. After winning first prize in a talent contest, the group were introduced to Curtis Mayfield who signed them to his Windy City imprint, distributed by the Cameo Parkway record label.
Cameo Parkway folded and Windy City was taken over by Buddah Records. Written by Stan Vincent, an in-house producer for Buddah Records, “Ooh Child” has become The Five Stairsteps signature song and has inspired over 20 covers since its release in 1970. With its inspirational message and smooth R&B sound, the song is ranked at #402 in Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
O-o-h Child – The Five Stairsteps
….and the ‘B’ side was “Dear Prudence”. Originally, “Ooh Child” was set to be the ‘B’ side with The Five Stairsteps’ version of “Dear Prudence” on side ‘A’. Just prior to the single’s release this changed and “Ooh Child” hit the airwaves with a bang, selling over a million copies and making it to #8 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
Dear Prudence – The Five Stairsteps
When the family group broke up, Clarence Jr. went on to form the Invisible Man’s Band with Alex Masucci in 1981. Clarence refused to record without his brothers so Keni, James and Dennis joined him along with Dean Grant and Steve Forrone in New York’s Brill Building. The single “All Night Thing” broke the top 10 on both the Billboard R&B chart and the pop chart. The bass in this just snaps and pops. Sadly Clarence Jr. died in 2013 at the age of 64. Keni Burke died in 2014. He was only 49.
All Night Thing – The Invisible Man’s Band
Bits and Pieces – Dave Clark Five
Discoveries regular home is Hugh’s Room but since financial troubles have temporarily (fingers crossed) closed the doors, singer/songwriters Ezra Jordan, Tyler Simmons and Lilly Mason along with vocalist Mikalyn Hays were relocated to Tranzac who graciously offered to host. Here’s a taste of what I missed. All I can say is “wow”!
Unaware – Ezra Jordan
Not Today (Me Before You) – Tyler Simmons
Free As A Bird – Mikalyn Hay
Dreaming – Lilly Mason
Ritchie Yorke and Doug Thompson
A nod to Ritchie Yorke who supported this industry we love so damn much! Billboard’s Canadian editor for ten years, we lost a good ‘un, an Australian who was more Canadian than most, who had an enormous impact on the Canadian music scene. Yorke, who departed this mortal coil February 6, was partially responsible for CANCON and also published the first book, Axes, Chops & Hot Licks, devoted entirely to the Canadian music culture. It was also the first book outside of the U.S. or England devoted entire to any music scene. Thanks to my esteemed editor who posted the following interview, and to Doug Thompson who captured Yorke (and many others) for his Hi Fi Salutes series. I love stories, all sorts of stories, especially if they’re stories about the music business. At only twelve minutes in length, Yorke is a great storyteller and snares your attention with no release. Before you know it your twelve minutes are up and you’re left wanting more.
Hi Fi Music & Art Salute Ritchie Yorke
Again, Greg Simpson strikes again. He first introduced me to the music and guitar playing skills of Bill Durst a couple of years ago. I distinctly remember heading to Centennial Hall in London, Ontario to see one of the area’s most popular bands…..London based Thundermug! I loved these guys and they put on an awesome live show. Durst was the lead guitarist in the band and I saw him (with the band) perform several times in 1970’s. Fast forward many years and Durst has developed a solo career, still writing and performing, now a highly respected, renowned blues artist.
I’m Alright – Bill Durst
Africa – Thundermug
Okay, one more…. I first heard this tune during my trip to Vancouver Island having traversed with Greg Simpson from the Vancouver Island MusicFest in Courtenay to the 39 Days In July music festival in Duncan. Relaxing in Longevity John’s Duncan Showroom, this song was played for us through the sound system. It was heaven.
All The Blues in the World – Bill Durst
Headed to Axis Gallery and Grill on Saturday to take in Sam Taylor and The East End Love. This night Maia Van Raes joined them on stage, seating herself at the old but warm sounding upright piano. The woman can play! (she teaches too) An evening of originals and covers, it ended on a high note (literally and metaphorically).
Maia Van Raes
The Viletones were at the epicentre of Toronto’s punk rock scene in the late 70’s along with The Diodes, The Battered Wives and Teenage Head. Formed by lead singer Steve Leckie, The Viletones’ original lineup included Mike Anderson (drums), Chris Paputts (bass) and Freddy Pompeii (lead guitar). On Sunday, February 5 a benefit was held at The Garrison to raise money for Pompeii who is suffering from lung cancer. The music community banded together and showed up in force. T-shirts, CDs, memorabilia and even cookies (no, not those kind) were sold. There was a 50/50 draw and three 11×14 photographs of Pompeii raffled off (I donated one of the photographs Chris took at the Hotel Isabella in 1978). Approximately $6,000 was raised to help Pompeii get through his treatments.
The list of people who contributed their time, energy and dollars is long….from those who worked tirelessly to put the benefit together to the performers, sound and lighting people, the “run off her feet” bartender who handled the crowd and their high demand for liquid refreshments with grace, aplomb and expediency, the merch girls, The Garrison, the crowd of supporters and everyone else….I say “kudos” to you all. A fantastic night. Good luck Freddy!
Unfortunately I do not know everyone’s name but here is a small montage of some of the performers…..
Mary Margaret O’Hara and M. Skin
Lucasta Ross (B Girls)
Wikipedia, YouTube, SongFacts, Facebook
Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.
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“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence — 33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto. Together for 34 years, Pat also worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance!