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Celebrating Canadian Music
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Celebrating Canadian Music

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Books about the Canadian music scene
Have Not Been the Same (rev)

Have Not Been the Same (rev)

The CanRock Renaissance 1985-1995
edition:Paperback

 

?Published in autumn 2001, Have Not Been the Same became the first book to comprehensively document the rise of Canadian underground rock between the years 1985 and 1995. It was a tumultuous decade that saw the arrival of Blue Rodeo, The Tragically Hip, Sarah McLachlan, Sloan, Barenaked Ladies, Daniel Lanois, and many others who made an indelible mark not only on Canadian culture, but on the global stage as well. Have Not Been the Same tells all of their stories in rich detail through extensive …

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Excerpt

 

You Can Come From Here

 

One of the most revolutionary changes wrought by the CanRock renaissance also stems from folk, something so obvious that it seems incredulous that it should even be an issue. But before 1985, Canadian rock acts rarely ever sang specifically about their own country, avoiding place names or other signifiers like a plague.

There are plenty of theories as to why this was. Perhaps bands didn’t want to appear “far too Canadian,” to borrow a phrase from Spirit of the West, because Canadianisms were the epitome of uncool in a scene that still pined to be anywhere else but here. For more commercially minded bands, perhaps they made a decision, conscious or not, to make their songs more “universal” and not limit them to Canada. When the Tragically Hip became superstars in Canada and nowhere else, some crippling culture commentators on both sides of the border suggested that the band’s fate was doomed to their own country because of Gord Downie’s choice of subject matter. For a songwriter like John K. Samson, however, “Gord Downie has such a remarkable and original voice, both on the page and in the air. He certainly made a great contribution to songwriters in this land. The Hip made all the difference. There was suddenly less striving, less grasping. People were more comfortable with who they are and where they’re from.”

Of all the prominent Canadian rock musicians to come of age in the ’60s — if you relegate Gordon Lightfoot, Ian & Sylvia and Leonard Cohen to the folk world — only the Guess Who made a point of “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon,” although their biggest hit, “American Woman,” was Canadian only as reflected through a negative, by defining Americans as an “other.” Otherwise, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young only slipped into Canadian specifics when they were homesick ( as in “River” and “Helpless,” respectively ); Robbie Robertson was too wrapped up in American mythology to bother with his native land. British writer Barney Hoskyns, author of a biography of the Band, notes that the first lyrical manifestation of Robertson’s roots was “Acadian Driftwood,” written at the Band’s twilight. “It took Robbie Robertson almost a decade of living in America to write a song about Canada,” Hoskyns writes in Across the Great Divide. “Sitting in his Malibu beach house in the summer of 1975, he was writing about his homeland with the same empathy and compassion that had infused ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.’ Canada had finally become as distant and romantic to Robertson as the American South had seemed to him back in 1960.” With this evidence forming Canada’s musical canon, it’s no wonder that it took years to overcome this cultural insecurity in song.

“In Canadian music,” says Kurt Swinghammer, “there was always a sense that if you wanted to be successful, you had to hide the fact that you’re from Canada, which is so stupid. It’s way more accepted now. Maybe that’s just part of the evolution of a culture that’s still young and growing and shaking off some insecurities about where it’s from.”

“I’ve always loved peculiarities and regionalism in stories,” says Joel Plaskett, who was a budding teenage songwriter when he saw Sloan’s second show. There, the band played a song called “Underwhelmed,” which referenced a girl who tells the narrator to loosen up on his way to the L.C.— a reference to the liquor commission of the province. “You don’t call the liquor store the ‘liquor commission’ in the States or in any other province except Nova Scotia, and I thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever heard. I thought it was beautifully insular, and it totally spoke to me.”

John K. Samson grew up admiring the Prairie pop band the Northern Pikes, both for their early independent success and the way they “crafted really remarkable songs and wrote about small towns and cities in an unpatronizing way.” But it was hearing two artists from Toronto — a city which, Samson admits as a Westerner, he was raised to despise — changed the way he thought about writing locally. “The Rheostatics were a big deal to me,” he says. “They sang about things that I didn’t think people could sing about, while making this beautiful and unique music. They could have been from Austin, Texas, as far as I’m concerned: Toronto was so far away for me; it was a foreign land. And hearing Ron Hawkins of Lowest of the Low sing about the Carlaw Bridge [ in Toronto ] or places that I’d never been to certainly reinforced the idea that I could write about the places that I was from, that it wasn’t unrealistic or a stupid idea. There were writers here [ in Winnipeg ] at the time who were enforcing the same thing, but mostly they were poets and fiction writers. Those Toronto people reinforced that it could be done in a musical way.”

Tom Wilson of Junkhouse and Blackie & the Rodeo Kings welcomed the change. “People like Blue Rodeo and Gord Downie have been embraced in such a huge way,” says Wilson, “that suddenly you didn’t have to be singing about the Mississippi River or have a poncey British accent to get your point across. You could sing about Lake Ontario or wheat kings or do what the Rheostatics do so fabulously well. That became really important to a generation of listeners. In the early ’90s, it was a rediscovery. It’s all there: we should stop being so British and asking what our identity is, stop worrying about how many books or records or movies we sell in the States, and be happy with who we are.”

John Critchley of 13 Engines says, “We were proud to be from Canada and we definitely had Canadian influences in our music, as well as others from around the world. I’m proud of where I’m from and I’ve written songs about where I’m from. But I don’t think music and politics should be confused. You should be proud of where you’re from and write about what you know.” But, he adds, sometimes doing so runs the risk of jingoism.

 

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Gods of the Hammer

Gods of the Hammer

The Teenage Head Story
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

'Teenage Head changed the face of music in this country. I would not be who I am today without their first record ... In 1979 they were the only band that mattered.’—Hugh Dillon

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, no Canadian band rocked harder, louder or to more hardcore fans than Hamilton, Ontario's own Teenage Head. Although usually lumped in the dubiously inevitable 'punk rock' category of the day, this high-Â?energy quartet Â?Â?consistingof four guys who'd known each other since high s …

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Perfect Youth

Perfect Youth

The Birth of Canadian Punk
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback Audiobook (CD)

While many volumes devoted to the punk and hardcore scenes in America grace bookstore shelves, CanadaÓ³ contributions to the genre remain largely unacknowledged. For the first time, the birth of Canadian punkØ¡ transformative cultural force that spread across the country at the end of the 1970sØ©s captured between the pages of this important resource. Delving deeper than standard band biographies, this book articulates how the advent of punk reshaped the culture of cities across Canada, sp …

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Treat Me Like Dirt

Treat Me Like Dirt

An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond 1977–1981
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

This gritty chronicle illustrates the emergence of punk rock in Toronto for the first time. The visionary bands that brought the original scene to life — and who still maintain loyal fans across North America — are documented in detail, from the Diodes, Viletones, and Teenage Head to the B-Girls, Forgotten Rebels, Johnny & the G-Rays, and more. Full of chaos, betrayal, failure, success, and pure rock 'n' roll energy, this layered history is assembled from interviews with those now recognized …

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Music Express

Music Express

The Rise, Fall & Resurrection of Canada's Music Magazine
by Keith Sharp
foreword by Alan Frew
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

The glory days of rock from the perspective of Canada’s original music magazine.
The story of Music Express is told through the unique perspective of Keith Sharp, the magazine’s founder and editor. During its seventeen-year existence, Music Express rose from a small, Calgary-based regional magazine to an international publication. The interviews, anecdotes, and stories cover the golden era of Canadian music, with the rise to global status of such icons as Bryan Adams, Loverboy, Rush, Celin …

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On a Cold Road

On a Cold Road

Tales of Adventure in Canadian Rock
edition:Paperback
tagged : rock

David Bidini, rhythm guitarist with the Rheostatics, knows all too well what the life of a rock band in Canada involves: storied arenas one tour and bars wallpapered with photos of forgotten bands the next. Zit-speckled fans begging for a guitar pick and angry drunks chucking twenty-sixers and pint glasses. Opulent tour buses riding through apocalyptic snowstorms and cramped vans that reek of dope and beer. Brilliant performances and heart-sinking break-ups.

Bidini has played all across the count …

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Excerpt

I was nothing but a pimply little question mark on the day my sister and I first walked into Ken Jones Music in Etobicoke. Sunlight streamed through the windows, dappling the guitars that hung behind the counter and bathing the small music shop at the back of the Westway Plaza in warm light. The store was cluttered with drums stacked on top of each other, keyboards leaning three deep against the walls, dusty racks of unread sheet music, long outdated band want-ads taped to the cash register, and ashtrays scattered across old chairs and window ledges. At the back of the store, young boys sat in tiny rooms plucking guitars through amplifiers that buzzed like heat bugs, the sound of their hammer-ons and finger-rolls and string-benders snaking out to where I stood, sucking it all in like sugar through a Pixie-Stik.
 
After our first taste of this place, my sister and I signed up for guitar lessons, which I grew to hate. My disdain might have had something to do with the fact that Cathy had mastered the basic chords and strumming technique before I’d grown my first finger callus. She out-licked me on “Kum Ba Yah,” “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore,” and “House of the Rising Sun,” which we debuted for our parents in our living room sitting on bridge table chairs behind music stands. I’d like to tell you that I rose to her challenge and went on to become a blurry-fingered virtuoso of the fretboard whose technique set the world’s pants on fire. But I did not.
 
Instead, I quit.
 
Cathy played her hand just right. My room was papered with an Aerosmith poster over my bed, 10cc above my night table, and Rush’s Farewell to Kings staring at me each night as I hit my pillow. Every other inch of the walls was pasted with photos culled from Hit Parader, Creem, and Circus magazines, or purchased at Flash Jack’s Head Shop, the scuzzy Yonge Street epicentre of high school stonerdom, where they sold roach clips and hash pipes and lurid pictures of Linda Ronstadt. These pictures of my favourite bands were testament to my desire to be like them, but they were also witness to my failure to do anything about it. I’d wander into my sister’s austere room – shockingly devoid of rock shrine-ography – and stare at her acoustic guitar, Mel Bay How-to-Play book, and music stand casually draped with belts, purses and other young-girl ephemera. In this display of coolness, Cathy seemed indifferent that she was better than me. My jealousy deepened. School ended. Summer passed. Winter descended. My sister played on.
 
But then a year later, mysteriously, she stopped. As soon as Cathy put away her guitar, I picked mine up again. I went back to Ken Jones Music to sign up for more lessons, still a damp patty of clay waiting to be palmed, but this time confident enough to look into the future and see someone other than who I was: a nervous child dressed in brown, ankle-riding cords and a maroon sweater that scratched like steel wool. No, this time I could see myself as a figure straight from my walls – a sparkling giant outfitted in electrically lit platform shoes and a spangly jumpsuit, flaunting a great bramble of chest hair, and topped by a frizzy afro and bug sunglasses.
 
I approached the counter, where an unclean fellow sat with his feet up, plucking a mandolin.
 
“I was wondering about guitar lessons,” I gulped.
 
“Do you play guitar, man?” asked the freak.
 
“No. Well, I did. But I’m not very good,” I said.
 
“Excellent,” he replied, strangely.
 
Stu looked like he’d just strode off a Three Dog Night album cover. He had that Jesus-as-folksinger look, thin-framed with a moustache and straggly beard. It was 1975. The first time I smelled pot, it was rising like steam off his flower-patched denim jacket. But while Stu was a prodigious stoner, he was a lot easier to understand than most of my teachers at school. He’d sit with me while I waited for my lesson with Ken and describe all the bands I’d never heard of whose music books he sold at the store – ZZ Top, the Eagles, Humble Pie, the James Gang. He told me about rigging a stage, setting up microphones, sound-checking, recording, tuning, and keeping your instrument in playable condition. He let me in on these mysteries as if he were spooling out paradigms from a lost language.
 
When a few friends and I finally got a band together, we set up in the store so that Stu could teach us the basic tenets of songwriting and arranging. We paid him with money given to us by our parents, who had parted with their hard-earned dollars even though they knew the money would be going to an indolent hippie who wore love beads and smoked skunk-weed from a water pipe. Stu took us through the looking glass, and we followed like Alice.
 
Our little combo was enthusiastic, if musically repugnant. We were four fourteen-year-olds playing the Triumph version of “Rocky Mountain Way” on out-of-tune instruments. Everybody took a solo, even our drummer, Mario Molinaro, who played so hard that he punched his sticks through his drumskins and shredded the hi-hats into shrapnel. But no matter how hellacious our din, Stu would listen patiently, bemused, and then show us what a bridge was. We were thrilled. Every now and then, his own group rehearsed in the store. We’d camp outside and listen to them play Led Zeppelin and Rush songs with three-tiered synthesizers, double-neck guitars, roto-tom drum terraces, disembowellingly loud bass guitars, and vocal mikes cabled through a Traynor P.A. To us it was like hearing the Stones at the Gardens. We vowed that we’d be good enough to have gear that real and a sound that big. Stu just tapped his head and said, “You will, you will,” then folded his hands in his lap.
 
Stu worked the front of the store, but the fellow whose name was on the place did most of the work. Ken Jones was a round, balding fellow who looked shockingly like Captain Kangaroo without the mendacious eyebrows. Ken sold me my first guitar, a white El Degas Stratocaster copy with a soft neck and a tone that was as warm and forgiving as a tire crunching glass. Ken showed me the basics out of the Mel Bay books, and soon I was putting two notes together, pretending to play “Rock and Roll Hoochie- Koo.” That Ken had the patience to take me this far was remarkable considering that he spent most of his time locked away in a closet-sized room teaching sweaty teenagers with breath like milk gone bad how to cop Eric Clapton licks or strum church hymns. He eventually passed me on to a local long-haired rock troll who tried teaching me Frank Marino, Joe Walsh, and Domenic Troiano riffs while his girlfriend sat cross-legged smoking in the corner. This often led to lead-guitar duels with him in which I placed a distant second. I was put off playing solos for the rest of my life, but Ken and Stu had already turned me on to music and there was no going back.
 
A few years after I left the store for other musical experiences, the Toronto Star wrote an article about the Rheostatics’ first gig at the Edge in February 1980. We were seventeen years old at the time and had to get a special liquor permit to play in the club. About fifty kids from high school came to see us play, and when we finished, the band we were opening for pleaded with us to get our friends to stay. But it was a school night. The Star found all of this interminably cute and dispatched a reporter to interview and photograph us on the bleachers of a high-school football field. I owe it to my mom for calling them and suggesting the idea in the first place. It was the first time I ever saw myself in print, and it was a shock. In the photo, I’m wearing blue trousers, a white striped blazer, and a T-shirt with an exclamation mark on it. Even though I’m sporting my most expensive haircut to date – thirty dollars at Super Cutz in Sherway Gardens – my head still looks like a luge helmet.
 
 
Ken Jones posted the clipping in his shop. He drew an arrow pointing to me and wrote, “I taught him!” on it. He didn’t do it because he had any intuition that we would dent the mug of Canadian rock, or grow up to dazzle industry captains or play sold-out concerts in hockey rinks or take champagne baths in rooms wallpapered with money. It was because of one gig.
 
One.
Three dollars. Tuesday night.
The Edge.
 
Sixteen years, handfuls of tours, walls of faces, miles of strings and cables, thickets of magnetic and electrical tape, lakes of beer, numberless clubhouse sandwiches, and six hundred gigs later, we were asked to do a national tour with the Tragically Hip in the winter of 1996 to support their Trouble at the Henhouse album. The biggest tour by a Canadian band in the history of music in Canada. It would put the Rheostatics in front of almost half a million people and finally give us a chance to play our music to the mass audience that till then had eluded us. Since our inaugural gig at the Edge in 1980, we’d gone through many changes in sound and had suffered the loss of our drummer of fourteen years, Dave Clark, who quit the band sixteen months before our tour. People like Stu and Ken and a million others had floated across those years, and as I set out to write down my experiences about being on the road, I found myself thinking not only about them, but also about the bands and musicians whose songs I’d heard on the radio as a kid, and whose bravura had founded the musical culture in which I now lived and explored.
 
I decided to track down these figures from my past. I wanted to understand, through them, the anatomy of making music in a country noted more for space and snow than for money or people. I was fully aware of the struggle it takes to sustain a musical career in Canada (I was painfully conscious that a small number of consumers supported Canadian bands – 19 per cent of total sales – and that our scant population meant that musicians shared the same audience in ten cities across the country), but I knew very little about the artists themselves. It became important to me to know what it was like for the early bands, the first to leave their home towns hauling P.A. systems and glitter balls, chasing down one-nighters in towns that barely existed. They’d established the east-west route that every Canadian group now travelled, and more than likely took for granted. Without their perseverance, neither we nor the Hip would have had reason to exist, let alone to light out for the coast, let alone to write this book.

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Music in Range

Music in Range

The Culture of Canadian Campus Radio
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Music in Range explores the history of Canadian campus radio, highlighting the factors that have shaped its close relationship with local music and culture. The book traces how campus radio practitioners have expanded stations from campus borders to sur-rounding musical and cultural communities by acquiring FM licenses and establishing community-based mandates.
The culture of a campus station extends beyond its studio and into the wider community where it is connected to the local music scene w …

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Top 100 Canadian Albums

Top 100 Canadian Albums

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback

Straight from the heart of the music industry, a book that answers a question that has nagged music fans across the nation. What are the best Canadian albums of all time? A unique panel of those who live and breathe Canadian music was assembled. Musicians, broadcasters, club owners, retailers, roadies, and more — literally hundreds of people across the country cast their votes in this unprecedented poll. Rush's Neil Peart, Ron Sexsmith, Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies, Holly Cole, Kim Stockwo …

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