CANADA’S ROCK SCENE: GOING, GOING...
THE THOUGHT at first crossed a few minds that it might all be a large hype, so much PR man’s big-mouthing. But there was the word anyway, passing around in the right circles. It started in the winter of 1967. “Toronto,” Bob McAdorey said at the time (he’s the music director at CHUM, the flag rock ’n’ roll station in Canada), “is just like Liverpool before the Beatles made it.” “There is this incredible group from Toronto called The Paupers,” Richard Goldstein, rock critic, wrote last February in the Village Voice. “They swooped out of nowhere, from a scene nobody knew about, and suddenly they were playing real electronic music with a teenage audience screaming allegience in the background.” The Saturday Evening Post detected the trend in July: “Toronto is becoming one of the [rock] music capitals of North America.” And by the fall the word turned into a gospel that no one really aware was about to deny. “American interests,” murmured Brian (Prez) Skinner, CHUM's most popular disc jockey, “are already looking around the Toronto scene.”
A rock capital in Canada?! The concept, hype or no hype, is staggering. Rock ’n’ roll — the background music of the hippie life; the anthems of teenyboppers everywhere; the most monied pop music of all; the sounds of storied and remarkable performers, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Doors, The Mothers of Invention; the first pop music to achieve acceptance, through the experiments of the Beatles, as an art form. Has Canada brought something original and fresh to all of this? Is there a new quirky rhythm in the air over Toronto? What is it that’s different about rock in Toronto? Is there a sound to capture? Does Toronto Rock actually exist?
WHAT TORONTO sets out with at least are the three bases on which a rock dynasty is founded: a Top-40 radio station, recording studios, and a milieu where the men-boys who play rock can learn the trade.
The station is CHUM or, more specifically, Bob McAdorey, the man who has the last word on the records CHUM airs. “Bob McAdorey is Mr. Music in Canada,” says Ian Tyson. “When Sylvia and I made Lovin’ Feeling early last year, I took the first tape to McAdorey because I know if he plays a song, every rock station from Newfoundland to the Rockies will fall in line.”
What the groups want from CHUM is simple exposure to an audience that will turn out for them at local clubs and dance halls. That’s where the money is; where it isn’t is in the record sales. Twenty-five thousand, a stunning figure in Canada, is our equivalent of a golden million-disc sale in the U.S. It still translates peanuts. “If McAdorey went on the take, he’s in a position where / continued on page 39
CANADA’S ROCK SCENE continued from page 34
How do you make it? Get a “sound”
theoretically he could be a rich man.” says Bill Gilliland of Arc (Canada) Records. “But he isn't because, one. he's too straight, and. two. if you set out to bribe him to give your record a lot of play, you wouldn't make enough bread on the sales to earn back the bribe.”
“You might as well put your money down at the track,” says the Great Music Director himself, “as gamble it on a Canadian hit record.” Part of the gamble for Canadian groups is cutting their records in Toronto's own studios. There are four of them — RCA Victor. Bay (Arc). Sound Canada. Hallmark — and they’re making a beginning at establishing a local industry. A small beginning: in 1966 Toronto produced about 200 rock singles, modest beside th; hordes of singles churned out in the U.S. One trouble, it’s hinted, may he that for all their multithousand-dollar electronic equipment and their diabolically talented engineers. the four studios still don't measure up “The Toronto studios produce a distortion.” says Ray Purdue of the Stormy Clovers. “It's, well, less than excellent sound.” And while Ian and Sylvia rehearse their new music at RCA in Toronto, they slip into New York when it's taping time.
Yorkville Village does measure up to the East Village in New York or Haight Ashbury in San Francisco. It’s an area that reads hippie weirdsville to the old folks, refuge to runaway teenyhoppers and a place to play for
rock musicians. “Yorkville is where it all happens." says Chuck Beal. The Paupers' lead guitarist. “There's a whole special mood there, and it gives a lot of bands a chance to play six nights a week and to compete against the band next door.” There are, depending on which night you happen to be making your count, five to eight Yorkville clubs devoted to rock. And they vary in their attitude to the music. Boris' Red Gas, for instance, is reserved for creative. Beatleoriented bands, the Penny Farthing goes in for more conventional, less experimental folk-rock sounds. But one thing all the cluhs boast arc hip. nearly rapturous audiences; they're as knowledgeable in their groovy way as the hockey crowds who turn out at Maple Leaf Gardens on Saturday nights are in their more decorous way.
And it's just exactly the ferment of Yorkville that has thrown up Toronto's 400 union rock bands and 1.000 more outside the union. All of them talk mysteriously and earnestly about “the next Beatles.” They are. they suggest, each one of them, going to make it with their ow n sound. Some are coming close.
L.et us consider the adventures of three of them: The Lords of London. The Power Project. The Kensington Market. They may be instructive.
GREG LEE FITZPATRICK Still wobbles slightly when he walks down the street in his pointy boots. Greg is
16 and the boots are his first pair of high heels. He also favors string ties these days, silk shirts with giant polka dots, and tight black pants that have large rectangular red patches sewn into the thighs. He wears his hair cut in bangs low over his forehead the way Davey Jones of The Monkees wears his. He has round Orphan Annie eyes, a thick lower lip, and he appears to be winning at last his personal battle with acne.
Small girls across Canada sigh at the sight of Greg Lee Fitzpatrick, and when he drops his lower lip and sings, as he does in teen clubs, ice-less hockey rinks and rural dance pavilions six or seven times a week, they crowd close to the bandstand, slump their shoulders, squeeze their arms against their hips and thighs and turn red. They adore Greg. Early last fall they were humming off to school, warmed by the lyrics of Cornflakes and Ice Cream, a song Greg wrote and recorded with his group, The Lords of London. The record was released early in the summer and, by the time school opened in September, it had escalated to No. 1. toppling Bobbie Gentry's Ode to Billy Joe on the charts at CHUM. It’s a wistful, childlike song, filled with lyrics about Crackerjack and paper dolls.
"We cater to the teenyboppers, not to the older kids in the Beatle generation,” Greg says in his earnest way. Perhaps he is too earnest; he has an ulcer. “We can communicate with them. The Monkees try to be kids. We don’t have to try. We are kids. We started playing together at school in the east end [of Toronto] a couple of years ago. The other kids went crazy over us even though we didn't know what we were doing.”
Since the success of Cornflakes and Ice Cream, the Lords’ price for a oncnighter has reached $800. They expect that the figure will jump again because they know how to satisfy their audience. They wear funny clothes on stage, pyjamas and Monkees hats, and they throw things at each other, paper cups of water and occasionally a cream pie. Their music is notable mainly for its heavy, danceable beat; and the songs they sing, many of them written by Greg, deal with the less-complicated passions of life.
“I’m inspired by everything I notice around me,” Greg says. “Like. I love dogs a lot, so I’ve written a song about a dog who is jealous because his master goes off with a girl. We think it’ll be as popular on record as Cornflakes and Ice Cream. It’s called Poor Georpe. The dog commits suicide.”
“I’LL TELL YOU how long I’ve been managing rock ’n’ roll groups. I was booking Little Caesar and the Consuls back when none of them needed hairpieces.” This is Ron Scribner, manager of The Hawks Nest, a Toronto teen club, mastermind behind The Power Project, a new rhythm-andblues group, and rock entrepreneur. “The Consuls were the first big popular Canadian rock band 10 years ago, and they’re still doing exactly the same thing they were then, with one difference. Two Consuls wear wigs because, I mean, nobody is going to groove with a bald rock player. Also they’re rich. All the Consuls drive T-birds.” continued on page 42
CANADA’S ROCK SCENE continued
“If we move with the times, we can hang on nearly forever”
Scribner doesn’t need a car. He leases an apartment on the 30th floor of Sutton Place, a tony new apartment-hotel near The Hawks Nest. He also owns a $40,()()() house in North Toronto. He clears about $50,000 a year and he is 25 years old. Rock is a young musician’s music, and as Brian Epstein, Phil Spector and, in his more modest way, Ron Scribner have demonstrated, it is a young businessman’s business.
"1 started out eight years ago running a dance at a Y club. There wasn’t anyone booking rock groups in those days, so I thought, what the hell, why not me?
I went out and memorized the music scene in every city across the country. I was the pioneer and, after a couple of years, rock bands didn’t stand a chance if my agency. Bigland, wouldn’t book them.
One year Bigland grossed
Scribner went out of the booking business last April when the musicians' union took away his license. He had offended the union by booking bands for less than union-scale prices.
But then, he’d been doing that for years; in the beginning. he explains, rock bands wouldn't have survived if they'd insisted on union rates. Scribner, whose constant cool suggests he has studied the style of the late Brian Epstein. shrugs at the injustice of it all. He is trying to go big league in this bush atmosphere.
The Power Project,
Scribner’s latest enterprise, organized last July, display all the trappings of rock splendor. They work with a lighting system; six baby spotlights, a pinpoint spot, two slide projectors, a set of psychedelic slides, two flickering strobe lights.
Their instruments are pasted with pieces of broken mirror that flash the lights back into the audience in eerie patterns.
They wear blue-and-redstriped suits that make them look like antic Union Jacks, and their entrance on stage, in darkness, is heralded by a tape recording of soaring outer-space echos, electronic roars and an invocation, intoned by CHUM disc jockey “Prez” Skinner, to “experience The Power Project."
“In all the dance halls.” Scribner says, “this sucks the kids up to the stage like a giant vacuum cleaner.”
Alas, the display overwhelms the music. The Power Project play a brand of rhythm and blues, partly influenced by the Chicago white school, partly by the San Francisco psychedelics, but their rhythms are leaden
rather than forceful, and the group's singer, a 21-year-old from Toronto named Doug Stokes, phrases and looks like Paul Anka: too prissy by far for rock. Scribner mentions that Stokes is taking voice and dance lessons. He wants The Power Project to move as well as play with feeling. But, bathed in flickering lights and in the spidery images of the psychedelic
slides, they resemble marionettes, manipulated and lifeless.
Still. Scribner’s instinct for the Canadian rock audience remains sound; The Power Project are a success. The group tours mainly through Ontario and the eastern U.S., and without playing any club more than once, except The Hawks Nest, their price is climbing to $1,000 per night. They can afford a traveling retinue of four assistants—two to set up the lighting, two to set up the instruments; they have almost paid in full for all their
equipment, $25,000 worth of it; and Chess Records of Chicago, among others, is anxious to record their music.
"We’re not a creative group,” Scribner admits. "We’re commercial, and commercial right now means with light shows. If we move with the times, we can hang on nearly forever. Like Little Caesar.”
SEEING THEM side by side, you don’t believe Keith McKie and Bernie Finklestein. Beauty and the beast. McKie is a collage of Mick Jaggar and a matador, all brooding mouth and elegant lines, holding his head with that proud lift Manolete must have flashed near the end of the corrida. Finklestein is shapeless, hairy, big-rumped, an Alley Oop character. McKie is the lead singer in The Kensington Market, and Finklestein manages the group.
The two got together last spring at
a time when Finklestein’s managing career was golden and McKie, as a musician, was scuffling. Finklestein, only 22, had been responsible for promoting The Paupers into what is still the most successful showing of any Canadian rock group. He made $30,000 from The Paupers in less than a year, and then, last March, he sold their contract to Albert Grossman, the preeminent American pop-music manipulator, for $20,000. McKie, 19, meanwhile, had been crisscrossing Ontario and the Prairies with The Vendettas, a folk -rock group with no particular merit except his own indelible singing.
With Finklestein’s help, McKie recruited from Yorkville clubs four musicians who had, like McKie, paid their dues on the Canadian rock and R&B scene — including a dramatic blues singer-guitarist named Luke Gibson, who abandoned his own group, Luke and the Apostles, to join the Market. And while McKie took the band into a waterfront warehouse for six weeks to find a sound and a repertoire, Finklestein set out on one of his virtuoso displays of promotion. Both emerged smelling sweetly successful.
The sound of the Market is intense, strong, occasionally breathtakingly powerful, more frequently filled with the pale fleeting images that McKie invests in the songs he has written for the band: “Sand-castle thoughts kissed by wind lips / White sheep floating over comicpaper ships/ And stars telling stories of a million summer trips.” In performance, the Market offers no lights, no flash, and their clothes run to casual mixtures of epauletted jackets, Indian beads and hiphugger pants. By current rock standards, the band operates on a refreshing take-it-or-leave-it basis.
“We’re not a trend band,” McKie says. “We’re not going deliberately into a commercial thing. We play only original stuff and we play it the way each song says. They aren't just tunes anyway — they’re like total compositions. Experiences.”
As it turns out, the Market is commercially successful. They have cut one near-hit record. Kensington Market. and they can demand about $800 a night. They are working regularly
— Bernie Finkelstein sells them hard
— and they signed with a U.S. record company. Bell, in January and took on a U.S. rep, Felix Papilardi, a big name in rock. But the Market, perhaps astonishingly, thinks first of its music, not its rewards. “Writing songs, man,” says Keith McKie, “that’s all
continued on page 44
CANADA’S ROCK SCENE continued
Originality? Forget it. Copy the Big Ones—
if you want work
I care about.” And the group’s proudest accomplishment is still the soundtrack music it composed, arranged and recorded last summer for Don Owen’s new National Film Board film, The Ernie Game. Somehow, to The Kensington Market, that was serious stuff.
ONE TiPOFF on the status of the Ca-
nadian rock scene may be that no one can once and for all define “Toronto Sound,” a term that, in the style of Motown Sound. Mersey Sound and Memphis Soul Sound, sprang into currency about the time when word went out proclaiming Toronto The Rock Capital. “The Toronto Sound is like Chicago’s, only in a white way,” re-
ports a clerk at Long and McQuade, the leading seller in Canada of guitars, amplifiers and other essential rockgroup equipment. “Toronto kids play the San Francisco thing,” says Ian Tyson perversely. A CBC radio program recently attempted to pin down the Sound and came up with versions ranging from Ray Purdue’s, “It’s
white blues with folk-rock adhesions,” to Albert Grossman’s, “A combination of English and folk and Anglican Church music and hard blues from the U.S.”
The notion begins to grow irresistible that Toronto has so far struck out in its attempts to create its own rock. The white hopes have largely failed. Richard Goldstein came to Toronto last September, listened to the City Muffin Boys, the band currently touted as the group destined to lead Toronto finally into rock glory, and pronounced them “aging hippies, nervous people.” “Their music,” he said, “is too pretentious. You don’t make it just by singing ‘Medusa’ and ‘Sevenup’ in the same verse.” Goldstein left Toronto wondering where the scene was.
Too many bands, leaving aside the occasional flashes of originality, such as The Kensington Market, pattern themselves mirrorlike on proven American or English sounds. Thus, the Sugar Shoppe do the Mamas and the Papas, Jackie Gabriel sings Aretha Franklin or Fontella Bass at her whim, the Staccatos exist as Xeroxes of The Four Seasons. The Ugly Ducklings come on in a Rolling Stones bag, even though they have their own thing, because, as lead singer Dave Bingham says, “that’s where the money’s at.”
“The managers say, ‘Sound like this,’ and the bands accept the direction,” says Ian Tyson, “or else they don’t work.”
Gradually, the Toronto rock scene begins to take on a look and feel of naïveté. There’s an atmosphere about it, even now, of converted hockey rinks and dance pavilions left over from the summer nights long ago when Claude Thornhill came through town. How tentative it feels, as if this, of all the rock in the world, will blow away tomorrow. It isn’t real. It never happened. And so maybe it was, last year, a lot of hype after all. ★