Pat Blythe – Chris …and Music

Boy, am I late!!! Soooo late starting this column. Tuesday is my “writing” day, but far too much seemed to get in the way and now it’s 6:15pm and I’m on my third sentence! Good news is I received congratulations from our friends in Ottawa for attaining “senior citizen” status. Not only that, how absolutely thrilled they are to be sending me a monthly stipend of what nobody could live on. I should be grateful I receive anything (and I am), but if that’s what today’s 65-and-up population have to survive on, it’s no wonder we’ve got so many elderly living far below the poverty line. What I am extremely grateful for is that I can still work (when we’re not in the middle of a shitstorm) and continue earning a reasonable living. For how long is anyone’s guess, but this body and brain just keep chugging along.

I’m late

Now it’s 6:23pm and I’ve managed to complete an entire paragraph! 6:25 and still thinking…… I think my phone is ready to take off….it’s been non-stop calls and messages all day; so distracting. Okay, my mind is now a complete blank…………………………….

7:26pm………………………………….

Today’s podcast post seems to have triggered a lot of memories for the hard rock, Gasworks, late 70s/early 80s folks. It was the heyday of the bar scenes across Canada but particularly in Toronto. I didn’t move here until 1979 and although I already knew a number of people in involved in the music scene here in this fine city, it was about to get much deeper…..for a while.

I’ve written and recounted the story of how Chris and I met ad nauseam, but I’m going to “ad nauseam” once more. We were introduced at the Gasworks’ in 1979, only five weeks after I had moved to Toronto. I knew many of Chris’s friends but had never met Chris in person. Into the patio area he sauntered with a lovely lady on his arm. We were introduced, shook hands and said hello, all while I was sitting on another man’s lap (grin). Chris was celebrating his 25th birthday and was already a number of drinks in, compliments of several patrons at the Colonial, where he bartended. About twenty minutes after his arrival I had to head to work. As I was walking by him I wished him a happy birthday. He leaned over, touched my arm and pulled me down so he could whisper in my ear. We’ll leave it at that.

What I didn’t expect was to meet up with him again in the kitchen of a recording studio a few weeks later. He invited me to join him on his walk to the liquor store so I did. We got caught in a huge thunderstorm getting completely soaked…..and the rest, as they say, is history. Thirty-four years later he lost his life to cancer. The eighth anniversary of his death is coming up on October 1, so right now, there are a lot of memories flooding through my mind, and this particular interview with Mitchell Field has taken me back to that day I first met Chris. You see, Chris was on his way to Maple Leaf Gardens that evening to photograph Hellfield and The Cars.

Chris’s story….in short

I’m not going back to baby bottles and diapers. I’m heading back to 1974 when Chris first moved to Toronto with his mom and her second husband. Living together above the bank on the corner of Queen St. E. and Kingston Road lasted all of about a minute, before Chris decided seeking other accommodation was a good idea. He got word there was a room (or rooms) available above a recording studio in the west end of Toronto. He moved upstairs into the building that housed Cottingham Sound, a then state-of-the-art, eight-track recording studio. So began Chris’s professional career in music photography.

Chris at home….Cottingham Sound, 1977/78

He was already quite familiar with Toronto’s network of roads, side streets, back alleys, short cuts, etc. He was a “postie”, known today as the “mailman” or if you prefer, “mailperson”. To this day, I’ve never met anyone who knew this city, or its people, the way Chris did. He had also worked at Film House and Quinn Labs prior to moving here from Oshawa. I remember him telling me (several times) about sitting cross-legged in the middle of Front St. at 3am, for about 45 minutes, to have his “lunch”. Traffic was not just light; it was non-existent at that time of night.

First promo/ad in a magazine

He had been photographing for a number of but had never focused on the music business. Now he was right in the thick of it. He built himself a dark room and created a photo studio. Postie by day, bartender at the Colonial by afternoon, photographer by night; he never stopped, and he loved every minute of it. He was constantly experimenting with his shooting and getting creative in the darkroom. He was in his element. He was also an artist in the kitchen. When bands came through the studio, he would offer to cook meals…..collecting money from each band member, shopping for the ingredients and preparing the feast. The studio’s mascot, Larry the Wonder Dog, was always nearby making sure the floor was clean. Larry, by the way, was actually a “she”.

Ian Anderson chose this photograph to be used in his 50th Anniversary Book celebrating Jethro Tull. Chris would have been so proud! The photo was taken at MLG in October 1978

Burton Cummings, Chris de Burgh, Long John Baldry, Kathi McDonald, Roy Young, The Guess Who, McLean and McLean, Teenage Head, The Viletones, Hellfield, Rhinegold, Dave Mason, Canada Jam, The Segarini Band, The Imps, Frank Soda, Bayb, Moxy, Buzz Shearman, Shooter, Rose, Santana, Queen, Jethro Tull, The Lydia Taylor Band, BB Gabor……the list goes on. Not all of these artists mentioned here used Cottingham facilities. Many did, but as he got to know the musicians and the folks working in the business, his circle of connections and friends grew so much that he was doing pretty much what I’ve been doing for the past six years…..shooting Toronto’s music scene.

On the Road Somewhere 1979

Chris also toured…..with Burton Cummings and McLean and McLean; with Lydia Taylor; with Shooter (formerly the Greaseball Boogie Band) and others. His camera was busy capturing acts at Maple Leaf Gardens, the CNE, O’Keefe Centre, Canada Jam, Arthur Pop as well as the many bars and clubs throughout southwestern Ontario. He designed posters and logos, some of which I still have the original artwork. He took photos for all those wonderful 8xl0 glossies that were required by every artist and band back in the day. He continued until he couldn’t anymore.

By mid-1980s he had enough and walked away from the music scene for good. Once he made the decision, I don’t recall him stepping inside a bar or live music venue again. The environment was no longer conducive to making a living anymore…..everything was changing and he felt it was time to move on.

Chris and Thom, 2002

He became the official photographer for Premier Bill Davis (1983/4) and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (1985-?). He was also the oft-called upon photographer for the PR firm I work for at the time, Burson-Marsteller (BM). Burson was the world’s largest public relations company. He segued into writing and became an award-winning technology writer and columnist. He was a hands-on father, raising our son while I worked ridiculous hours. He started a new photographic series called Patterns in Nature. He was writing a blog and seriously involved in municipal politics. He was still on the Gardiner and Lakeshore task forces, trying to stop the destruction of the Gardiner ramp, when he passed away. But, from 1969 to 2013, he never put down the camera.

I have only one question…..who meets their future husband at the Gasworks of all places…..Canada’s premier rock bar and meat market?? I still shake my head.

Missing Chris this week, but loving the memories. This week’s music will be some of Chris’s favourites. Wide and varied…..as eclectic as he was.

Rise – Herb Alpert

Our Sunday morning go to music. I can still see Chris dancing around the apartment like a piece of wet spaghetti, loving every note in this song.

Blackbird – The Beatles

Patricia – Chris de Burgh

Journey – Plateau

For all you prog/rock fans out there, this a forgotten gem from 1978. Journey was recorded in a single take. Frank Russell/drums, Dave Beatty/guitar, Peter Crowley/bass, Robert Connolly/keys and synth, Howard/lyricist/vocals

Golden Lady – Stevie Wonder

Love’s In Need of Love Today – Stevie Wonder

Only You – The Platters

I Fall to Pieces – Patsy Cline

Tears of a Clown – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

(I’ve Been) Searching So Long – Chicago

Georgia – Boz Scaggs

Dancing in the Moonlight – King Harvest

It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) Ella Fitzgerald & Duke Ellington

Sounds of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel

Unchained Melody – The Righteous Brothers

Abraxas – Santana

One of Chris’s all time favourite songs was the following rendition of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling by Long John Baldry and Kathi McDonald. From the album Baldry’s Out, the bed tracks were recorded at Cottingham Sound where Chris met Baldry and Kathi. Chris frequently talked about the first time he heard them sing this piece at the studio. He said Kathi’s voice made the hairs all over his body stand up on end.

Chris and Baldry became great friends and we would visit Baldry at his condo at Village by the Grange. Kathi was a wonderful, warm funny woman with an incredible set of pipes. We shared the same birth date, and if she happened to be in Toronto during our birthdays, we would spend the day trolling the shops of Toronto. One of her favourite spots was Kensington Market.

I found the photographs Chris took at the ElMo of Baldry, Kathi and (almost Beatle) Roy Young. Unfortunately, Chris and Baldry lost touch a few years after Baldry moved out west. This video is a live performance with Baldry, Kathi and Roy. All three are gone now.

You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling – Long John Baldry and Kathi McDonald

I’d Rather Go Blind – Kathi McDonald

Cheers!

All photographs of Chris are ©1977-2021 Pat Blythe

The photograph of Ian Anderson ©1978-2021 Christopher Blythe The Picture Taker and Pat Blythe

Here’s the link to Part One of my conversation with Mitchell Field, founder of the rock band Hellfield.

https://luvthemusic.podbean.com

=PB=

Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

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.

little-red-headed-dancing-girl

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! 

3 Responses to “Pat Blythe – Chris …and Music”

  1. Deborah Morden Says:

    Chris was a wonderful human being … loved the memories. Also – didn’t know he also liked one of my favourites “Patricia” (Chris de Burgh) … I have just had a great sign-along – and then on to Boz …

  2. Christine Romard Says:

    Lovely memories Pat. What a “Gas” you guys really had! He is truly missed.

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