Pat Blythe – A Soda, a Wilson, a Taylor and a Merry Christmas!

Curled up on the upstairs couch this morning, enjoying my little Christmas tree with the snow gently falling outside the window, once again leafing through Lisa MacIntosh’s book Music Makers: Stories of The Great Hall. I’m discovering pictures of people I have also photographed during my treks through the Toronto club and concert scene. Faces I recognize but didn’t necessarily know their names or even who they were. (I keep hearing the voice of my friend Sam Taylor in the back of my head….”you know him, you shot him at the Kelly Jay benefit….ya, you know her/him too from (insert show/club/etc. here)…”

Sam, apparently knows everybody….Sam is also in the book Others I can identify immediately with a number of surprises! The book has provided lots of “food for thought” as I sort out Chris’s work…..his thousands of negatives and slides at Toronto Image Works getting digitized and those awaiting their turn. Maybe, just maybe, a book would be worthwhile after all. There are thousands of forums all over social media for bands and artists MIA, long gone or forgotten and many of them are part of Chris’s archives. Lisa has agreed to help me… second pair of eyes. She “sees” what Chris “saw”. Their “eye” is very similar and  I find great comfort in that. It’s very different from mine. I thank Music Makers, Jeff Jones and Julian Taylor every day for, in a very roundabout way, introducing me to this warm, lovely, wears-her-heart-on-her-sleeve, person. Something just clicked over FB of all places (Lisa and I have now managed to get together twice for long chats and coffee) and a beautiful new friendship has been forged. It has also given me the impetus to think about my own work. Much love to Lisa.

SOLD OUT!!!!! …..all 500 of them!

I follow in Chris’s footsteps, photographing the “music makers” in all sorts of places, in and around the GTA, as far west as Windsor and as far east as Ottawa and Brockville. Performers I find on the street, at festivals, large and small concert halls, tiny little bars and clubs, dance halls, coffee shops….pretty much anywhere you find the music, and always live. Over the past three years I have shot tens of thousands of frames and hundreds of bands and solo artists…..brand new, up-and-coming, mature, nostalgic, some long forgotten and others who no longer play among us. As with Lisa’s book, they all have their own stories to tell. Chris shot in the 70’s and 80’s, fast forward 40 years and I’m right behind him. I don’t look for the perfect shot (what is that anyway?). I seek the passion and heart of the performer, attempting to capture what THEY feel, the instruments and the hands that make them sing…..I seek the music, and I hope that is what I portray in my images, and what Chris depicted in his so many years ago.

Chris shooting me while I’m shooting him…..England, 2012

Now…..The Bands, The Music……

When I wrote about a new discovery a couple of columns ago I did not forget the performer I had actually gone to see at the Rockpile West….Frank Soda. Now Soda and Chris go back 40 years….the years of exploding TV heads and the crazy on-stage antics of Frank Soda and The Imps. Chris worked closely with Soda on his first two album covers (I have since discovered the mock-up artwork for one album cover) and photographed the band innumerable times (I have a plentitude of negatives to show for it). I have never seen Soda or his band perform before now but have been keeping in touch with Soda over the past couple of years….he currently lives in Vancouver….regarding Chris’s work. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to photograph Soda myself and reconnect.

What a night!!! First an extremely surprising opening act (Vinyl Ambush). Then I find out good friends Gene Pool are also performing. Seeing Karl Anderson, John Jamieson, Joe Vilardo, Chris Brown and Gene Scarpelli perform again was fantastic! These guys have been working in the studio, writing and recording so getting to see them perform is like searching for the elusive Sasquatch….very rare appearances. Waiting and watching patiently, but when you finally do spot either one…..okay so I’ve never actually spotted the Sasquatch….butchaya never know….I have spotted Gene Pool and it’s a rare treat when I do.

Thor and The Imps (Soda is far left)

Back to Soda. He and his band performed some of his originals dating back to the Tube Record days, a few covers and then brought on special guest Thor, real name Jon Mikl Thor, another performer I’ve never seen. Dressed in full Viking regalia and strutting on to the stage, Thor proceeded to march, leap and pace around the stage wielding  Thor’s hammer and goading the audience on. From Wikipedia, “a vocalist, musician and body building champion who won title such as Mr. USA and Mr. World Canada….he decided to combine muscle with music. In every show, Jon would appear as “Thor The Rock Warrior”. Mikl Body Rock aka “Thor” toured throughout North America seeking fame and to garnish enough attention to secure a record deal. The press dubbed them “Kings of Muscle Rock” or “Warriors of Gladiator Rock”. Soda and Thor met in 1976 and joined forces, touring as Thor and The Imps. One album, Muscle Rock, was recorded and released in 1976 and shortly after Soda and Thor parted ways, with Thor headlining at the Aladdin Resort and Casino in Las Vegas while Soda continuing to tour as Frank Soda and The Imps. The album, by the way, was quite successful and garnered Thor a recording contract.

Photography by The Picture Taker (front and back covers)

Soda, born in Italy and raised in Vancouver, began playing guitar in the 1960s. Fast forward to the late 70’s and the band, Frank Soda and The Imps met up with manager Robert (Bob) Connolly who was running Tube Records. Known for their wild shows with Thor, the band needed to be memorable visually as well as musically. This is when Soda began developing themes for his music, including all those crazy head pieces. Chris played a key role in setting up the exploding TV and one particular piece of head gear, the giant working camera. TV People became a live favourite and eventually the band’s signature “anthem”. Soda actually took pics of the audience while wearing the giant camera and the song, of course, was the theme to his Take My Picture Please The fantasical heads led to Moon Man and Smokin’ Pig and what I saw on the Friday night, Skeleton Man (that’s what I call it). From Canadian Bands, “The Imps even got to use the same pyro gear as KISS, and Triumph whenever they played in Detroit. The shows didn’t always go off without a hitch though, and Soda remembered one mishap with the ‘moon man’ head that could’ve been fatal. “It was at the Gasworks in Toronto. It burned my hair and skin, and prompted a massive head shave by everyone else in the band.”

Saturday Night Getaway – Frank Soda

Going Down The Tube Blues – Frank Soda and The Imps

“Soda Camera”

Connolly set the band up to record LIVE IN THE TUBE, at the Picadilly Tube, by CHUM FM with Connolly producing. Mixed off the floor, songs included Toxic Takeover and Going Down The Tube Blues. The band signed with Quality Records, released Soda Pop in 1980 (Take My Picture Please was the single) and shared stages with a number of bands including Triumph, Powder Blues, Ian Hunter, Savoy Brown and Max Webster.

Chris arriving home to a surprise birthday party (1980) with the “hot off the presses” (literally) album Soda Pop. This was our first apartment and we’d been together only eight months at this point.

Soda has since performed or recorded with Lee Aaron, Rick Emmett, Buzz Shearman, Rick Santers, released an EP Adventures of Sodaman, subsequently moved back to Vancouver in 1988 and started up another project, the 1988 all-girl band The Pop Tarts. He proceeded to work with Trooper, Bryan Adams, Randy Bachman and Loverboy, toured with Colin James, Goddo, Frozen Ghost, BTO and Glass Tiger, set up his own recording studio, recorded Classic Soda with wife Joyce (hits from the 50’s, blues and country), released Frank Soda and The Imps Greatest Hits through Pacemaker Records and was elected VP of the Pacific Songwriters Association in 1998. Soda continues to perform in local clubs in and around the Vancouver area with Joyce. He’s also back touring and performing with The Imps and hits Toronto once or twice a year. It was a pleasure to see Soda again and for some reason, I do believe Chris was in the audience somewhere.

Beautiful Scars – Blackie and The Rodeo Kings

Beautiful Scars….the name of Tom Wilson’s new autobiography. I had the pleasure of meeting Wilson for the second time (the first was photographing him at the CNE Bandshell two years ago) at his book launch held at the Gladstone Hotel. Wilson was interviewed, did a reading and performed one of his songs. It was a packed house with the crowd spilling out into the lobby and bar next door. There were lineups to purchase the book and an even longer lineup to get them signed. I ended up at what I thought would be the end of the line but another surge of folks ended up behind me.

This is definitely not your normal, average rock ‘n’ roll biography. Wilson, a popular, loved and well respected performer/singer/songwriter and all round rapscallion in his young adulthood, has, for the past few years, been on the trail of rediscovering his Mohawk heritage and meeting his blood family members, many for the first time. Adopted into the Wilson family at six months, he never felt like he quite “belonged”. Music, especially the guitar, became his escape, his pillow, his sanctuary, his lifeblood and he pursued it and the ensuing lifestyle with a vengeance, losing himself in the music while hiding behind the booze, drugs and whatever else temporarily bandaged the wound. Wilson is an imposing presence, literally and metaphorically. He fills a room just by standing in it… don’t have to turn around to know he’s there. That presence belies both a lost and caring soul with a huge heart along with the incessant hunger to know and understand who he is. Always busy with his music and bands Blackie and The Rodeo Kings, Lee Harvey Osmand and his solo career, Wilson is also a “large” part of MacIntosh’s book as well. It took him almost two years for his schedule to permit him time to finally sit for the photo shoot. Told in the first person, Beautiful Scars is an personal and intimate read of man returning to the family he lost and then found. Highly recommended!

Beautiful Scars – Tom Wilson (on CBC’s Q) performing the song for the first time

Dreams Come and Go – LeE HarvEy OsMOND

Boots of Leather – Blackie and The Rodeo Kings

Once again guesting with Robbie Lane and The Disciples, Sam Taylor put on a blistering performance at the The DukeLive. There was smoke coming out of that guitar… favourite B&W Gretsch. The Disciples were hot and Taylor was on fire. I get so enthralled watching him I sometimes forget the camera. A Christmas party, a packed to the rafters house, good food, a congested dance floor….the place was heaving. The blues are part of every fibre of Taylor’s being. His guitar work combined with that wonderfully distinctive voice that sounds like it was scraped off the floor of a New Orleans blues club back in the 50’s, blows the room apart every single time. Although his songwriting includes folk and what he calls soul/pop, the blues run through Taylor’s veins thicker than blood. If you’ve witnessed one of his performances, there is no denying that. It runs deep and true.

The hands, the guitar

I have been photographing Taylor now for almost two years and have watched him grow, change, mature and get better and stronger. (The growing part includes his signature, trademark hair). He and his fiancée Maia van Raes have become extremely close friends of mine. Maia now performs on keys with Taylor as part of The East End Love. Both teach at the same music school and although van Raes is classically trained, she is rapidly becoming a skilled blues pianist under Taylor’s tutelage. Music is definitely a family affair and I look forward to their future.

The hair………

Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas……

This is the last column before Christmas so I would like to take this opportunity to wish EVERYONE, a very, very Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Nollaig Chridheil (for all you Scots out there) buon Natale, joyeux Noël, Fröhliche Weihnachten, καλά Χριστούγεννα, Wesołych Świąt, boldog Karácsonyt, 圣诞节快乐 (Shèngdàn jié kuàilè), Maligayang Pasko, 메리 크리스마스 (meli keuliseumaseu), Nadolig Llawen , etc. (figure it out) and a wonderful, happy, healthy, prosperous, may-your-hopes-and -dreams-come-true 2018. Take care of each other, your families and especially yourselves. Don’t put off that visit, that phone call, note or email. Remember the old commercial “reach out and touch someone”…..DO IT!!!  Enjoy all that winter has to offer…..and in the immortal words of Frank Zappa, “please don’t eat the yellow snow.”

A huge, huge thank you goes out to all of you for taking the time to read my words and listen to the music each week.

Some of my favourite Christmas pieces…..

Gorgeous piece by Toronto singer/songwriter David Shaw.  I just love this song.

Christmas All Over the World – David Shaw Trio

This one is done like a Gregorian Chant….gives me chills…. Chris wasn’t much for Manheim but I love them.

Veni Veni – Manheim Steamroller

The Holly and The Ivy – Manheim Steamroller

A Powerful Piece…..

Christmas Eve/Serejavo – Transiberian Orchestra

This one’s been making the rounds. A great contrast between the two singers and lovely to see the young Bowie with the great Bing Crosby.

The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth – David Bowie and Bing Crosby

It isn’t Christmas without my all time favourite Christmas movie and music…..

A Charlie Brown Christmas (full album) – Vince Guaraldi

Worth the repeat and visuals are great!

Charlie Brown Christmas Dance

Live, laugh, love….


All photographs ©A Girl With A Camera “The Picture Taker” except for Thor and The Imps, Soda Camera, the book cover of Beautiful Scars, the book cover of Music Makers: Portraits at The Great Hall ©Lisa MacIntosh Photography


Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

Contact us at:

dbawis-button7“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 little-red-headed-dancing-girlalso 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! 

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