By Jessica Allen - Friday, April 26, 2013 - 0 Comments
George Jones simultaneously transcended the country genre, while being the absolute embodiment of it
Definitive country male vocalist George Jones passed away on Apr. 26.
Like Sam Cooke and Frank Sinatra–other contenders for the title of all-time greatest popular singer–Jones simultaneously transcended the genre he sang in, while being the absolute embodiment of it.
The 81-year-old, who was hospitalized in Nashville for a fever and irregular blood pressure on Apr. 18, had many monikers, including “The Possum” (because of his close-set eyes and pointed nose) and “No Show Jones” (because, mid-career, the singer missed a few performances.)
But perhaps the most fitting epithet is “The King of Broken Hearts.”
“With a baritone voice that was as elastic as a steel-guitar string,” writes the New York Times, “he brought suspense to every syllable, merging bluesy slides with the tight, quivering ornaments of Appalachian singing.”
By macleans.ca - Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 11:47 PM - 0 Comments
Metric and Carly Rae Jepsen win three trophies each, while Bieber takes home the Fan Choice award
Last night in Regina, Sask., the 42nd Juno Awards honoured the best in Canadian music. The ceremony was hosted by Michael Bublé. Performers included multiple Juno-award nominee Carly Rae Jepsen, along with the Saskatoon band The Sheepdogs, Montreal’s Metric, Toronto’s Serena Ryder and Billy Talent, and Vancouver’s Hannah Georgas and Marianas Trench. Absent was Justin Bieber, who is currently touring Europe. However the 19-year-old pop star managed to pick up the Juno Fan Choice award.
Here is a complete list of the winners:
By Jessica Allen - Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 7:06 AM - 0 Comments
Thanks to their legendary fans, the equally legendary Canadian band finally gets its due
The first time Maclean’s wrote about Rush was in our July 12, 1976, issue. Back then, Geddy Lee was 22 and the band’s music sent “teen-age fans into paroxysms of ecstasy.” But offstage, the three members were described as “recklessly normal.”
Not much has changed.
Rush’s fans are, well, unique. It was their ardour, after all, that persuaded the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to include Rush among its 2013 inductees. Tonight, Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters will present Rush at the Hall of Fame ceremony in Los Angeles 10:30 p.m.
In an interview earlier today in Los Angeles, the band reflected on the long-awaited honour and the company they will share in receiving it: “It’s a constellation and we’re one little spark of light up there,” said Neil Peart.
“You can’t help but think about your context and all that we’ve done together, and what it’s been like to be a band for all these years,” added Geddy Lee. “And to receive this nice pat on the back.”
By Mike Doherty - Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 12:10 PM - 0 Comments
Paul Anka enters the ranks of the great celebrity storytellers with his new book, My Way, in which he recounts how he kept his head while many around him lost theirs. From the early years of rock ‘n’ roll through the heyday of the Rat Pack through the ‘70s and ‘80s with Tom Jones and Michael Jackson to the present, Anka–one of the rare artists whose teen stardom translated to significant adult success–seems to have been everywhere and hung out with everyone. In the current issue of Maclean’s, Nicholas Köhler discusses some of the book’s more startling anecdotes – about Frank Sinatra’s wild mood swings, Sammy Davis, Jr.’s outrageous love life, and Dodi Al-Fayed’s financial crisis. Here, the Ottawa native tells Mike Doherty, on the phone from his Hollywood office, about the book, his new album, Duets, and money, integrity, and truth.
Q: You’ve been working on this memoir for years now, although at first, you had insisted it wasn’t going to be called My Way.
A: That’s right. I got forced into it [laughs]. Everything about the book was my way except the title.
Q: It seems as though in writing the book, you haven’t really held back.
A: It’s like being with a great woman that you’ve always wanted to be with in bed – would one hold back? I saw no need to sit there and calculate every word on every page, because then you’d have people going, “Come on – you were there and this happened, and how come you didn’t see it?” So it’s all the truth, and it’s all what I observed, and certainly there are no confidences broken in any way. It’s what I experienced as a kid growing up in this business, and that’s what books are for: to inform, to give people a real look at the backdrop of this crazy business. I guess the whole message is there: don’t put all of us up on these pedestals like we’re idols and perfect human beings.
Q: You’ve mentioned how when you were in Vegas around the mob, people didn’t bother you because you were a kid. Do people feel comfortable with you, in general?
By Rosemary Westwood - Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
‘Please rip off the Black Keys, Mumford & Sons, Lumineers’
Jody Colero paused, dropped the phone, and asked a composer in his Toronto studio to play with the guitar line in the track they were writing: “Can you take anything of any interest out of this please?” He was kidding, but only partly. Colero runs Silent Joe, a company that ﬁnds and writes music to make—or break—an advertisement. These clients, like many, were stuck on a sound. It’s an affliction, known as “demo love,” that plagues Colero’s industry. It is pervasive, and potentially dangerous.
“It starts with a piece of music being put on a rough cut” for an ad by the agency, said Ted Rosnick, CEO of the post-production house RMW Music. The clients might watch the edit a dozen times in an afternoon. “The music starts to embed itself in their hearts and minds,” said Duncan Bruce, creative director at the ad agency Publicis. Mood and emotion build, said Chris Tate, partner and composer at Pirate Toronto. “Suddenly,” he said, “nothing else works.” Continue…
By Tabassum Siddiqui - Friday, March 15, 2013 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
Folk trio sings the Brian Mulroney blues
In the flood of eulogies for Stompin’ Tom Connors in the past week, there was a common refrain: will we ever have another singer who chronicles our national tales? Canadian musicians do well the world over, but there’s often little that distinguishes their songs as specifically Canadian. Trent Severn, a new folk-roots trio from Stratford, Ont., aims to pick up the torch. Dressed in plaid shirts, singer-songwriters Emm Gryner, Dayna Manning and Laura C. Bates sing Joni-sweet three-part harmonies over folky fiddle and fingerpicked guitar, and the 10 songs on their self-titled debut album have titles like Bluenose on a Dime and Mulroney Times. By the time they get to their searing take on the Steven Truscott case, there’s a pretty clear sense of Trent Severn’s mandate.
The breezy take on Canadiana isn’t simply a gimmick: “It sounds premeditated, but it was so natural,” says Manning. “When you get a song like Snowy Soul in your email, you just have to send something back really great, you know?” (Snowy Soul, the first song Gryner wrote for the band, was inspired by a conversation in a bookstore where a man was talking about returning from the Arctic).
Trent Severn—named for an Ontario waterway—is new, but its players are not. Gryner, a singer and multi-instrumentalist with more than a dozen albums, has toured with David Bowie as a backing vocalist and keyboardist, and been lauded by U2’s Bono. Manning had signed to major label EMI in the ’90s, then carved out an independent solo career, opening for the likes of Radiohead. Bates, an emerging violinist, is in demand for her ease in crossing musical genres.
By Julia De Laurentiis Johnson - Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 7:00 AM - 0 Comments
A new breed of artists elevates the cover band from midlife hobby to curated show
On a recent night, a small but rowdy crowd was packed into a bar in Toronto’s Dovercourt Park neighbourhood, watching Vanessa Dunn growl out songs like Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar on Me. In a leather vest and biker hat, Dunn channelled more Axl Rose than Rihanna, a snarl on her lips, her body slithering to the beat. The fans sang along and cheered each time the band started a familiar tune—which was every tune, since Vag Halen is an all-women cover band that plays Guns N’ Roses, AC/DC and other male-centric rock.
It’s no accident Vag Halen is all women. Dunn and her wife, bass player Katie Ritchie, were in a bar one night a couple of years ago when Van Halen came on the jukebox. They started to brainstorm fantasy bands. Dunn grew up with brothers who loved ’80s rock and she loved it, too, but had always felt a bit excluded from that culture. An idea clicked. Ritchie was the front woman of the Vancouver indie band the Organ and Dunn was an actor. They floated the idea of an all-women cover band to their friends, and Vag Halen was born. “I don’t want to be a baby-voiced female with a pigeon-toed persona,” Dunn explained. “I want to be Freddie Mercury meets Hedwig meets Iron Maiden. I want our performances to have power.”
Not long ago, a cover band was more likely to be a group of middle-aged guys singing radio hits to a drunk crowd in a fake Irish pub. Now a generation of young artists is redefining what a cover band can be: professional performers presenting a curated variety show. P.E.I.’s the Love Junkies covers oldies and garage rock. The Toronto girl band Sheezer covers Weezer. A group of Toronto all-stars calling themselves the Best throw monthly parties called Loving in the Name Of, with an ever-evolving set list. “There are so many awesome songs out there, we never perform the same one twice,” said Christopher Sandes, a member. “We want to give our audience a great, fresh show and we want to challenge ourselves as musicians.” Sandes once spent seven hours perfecting a keyboard sound for ABBA’s SOS— a part that lasted 20 seconds onstage. The band’s attention to detail does not go unappreciated: they often fill 500-seat venues to capacity.
By Charlie Angus - Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 9:14 AM - 0 Comments
On the legacy of the poor boy from Skinners Pond
Just before Question Period on March 7, the NDP caucus gathered in the foyer to sing Stompin’ Tom’s Bud the Spud (above). In the essay below, MP Charlie Angus considers Connors’ role as cultural map maker:
The first time I drove across Canada was like beginning a grand adventure and Stompin’ Tom Connors provided the roadmap. In the late 1980s my band the Grievous Angels undertook our first national tour (that great rite of passage for any Canadian band). We loaded up the van with Stompin’ Tom cassettes and sang along through the long hours crossing the Canadian Shield and the prairies. We waved at the landmarks made famous in those old Boot Record classics. When we finally hit the lush coastal beauty of Vancouver we headed straight for the Burrard Inlet Bridge.
After all, our national adventure wouldn’t be complete without visiting the location of Tom’s epic song “The Bridge Came Tumbling Down.”
“19 Scarlet roses / the Chaplain spread around in the waters of Burrard Inlet…where the bridge came tumbling a’ down and 19 men were drowned / in June 1958 in old Vancouver town. ”
The Grievous Angels weren’t the only band rediscovering Tom Connors at that time. Coming out of the post-punk era many Canadian musicians were looking for something authentic and raw, something that was ours. We saw Tom Connors as a genuine roots hero. He showed us that there was a nation that was waiting to be discovered, explored and celebrated in our own songs.
It wasn’t always that way. There was a time when, despite his recording and television success, Tom was regarded as a national embarrassment by Canada’s entertainment industry. They saw him as a rube. Top 40 radio didn’t want to hear songs about places like Wawa and Sudbury. But Tom wasn’t willing to accept the premise that Canada should exist as a cultural colony of New York, Hollywood and London.
I came from one of those towns that Tom defiantly immortalized. The first piece of Canadiana I ever heard was a scratchy 45 recorded by Tom for CKGB-AM radio in Timmins in 1966. The song “Fire in the Mine” immortalized a brutal underground mine fire that had hit the McIntyre Gold Mine the year before.
Local people loved Tom and his music but they were also discomfited by his willingness to render the gritty reality of their lives in such an iconic fashion. My grandfather worked at the McIntyre Mine and one day I asked him to tell me what it was like to be in the big fire.
He brushed off this underground calamity as just another “accident.” I pressed him with the lyrics: about how the poison “gas had been created in the McIntyre hellfire – 6,000 feet below” and how “the call went across the northland for men to fight the flame / from Sudbury to Noranda and everywhere they came.”
My Grandfather liked the song but didn’t want to talk about the lyrics. For him the mine was about hard, monotonous work while music was meant to invoke far away places and more important experiences.
Many Canadians of that generation felt similarly about their reality. But Tom was determined to show working class and rural Canada that their stories were worth celebrating and documenting. There have been many trends in folk music to “elevate” the music of common people but Tom wasn’t a folklore intellectual trying to revive an old tradition. He was just one of the thousands of dirt poor drifters who ended up in towns like Elliot Lake and Tilsonburg looking for a job and the prospect of trading some songs for beer at the local hotels.
But what set him apart was the unique ability to see in the tobacco fields and coal boats the narrative of a young nation finding itself. From this experience, Connors built an extraordinary book of song that has become a cultural map of our country.
But the greater legacy is the fact that this roadmap has laid a course for subsequent generations of Canadian artists. Canada is no longer the deferential cultural colony of yesterday. All across this country there are artists, filmmakers and songwriters who are proud to tell stories about place that once were derided as the “Sticks” and “No-where Ville.” As Canadians we are defined by the distinct landscapes and identities of this vast land and todays artists reflect this broad identity. And with this newfound confidence, Canadians are ready to tell their stories to the world.
The poor boy from Skinners Pond PEI isn’t the sole reason for this remarkable cultural transformation, but he plays a big part. Thanks Tom.
Charlie Angus is the MP for Timmins-James Bay. He is the lead singer of the Grievous Angels and has received two Juno nominations over his 30-year musical career.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 12:11 PM - 0 Comments
In 1976, at the peak of his career, Connors retired from public performance. Thirteen years later, he returned.
By Michael Barclay - Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 12:05 PM - 0 Comments
Michael Barclay on the musician who was ‘more punk rock’ than most punk rockers
Stompin’ Tom Connors, who died yesterday at age 77, was a larger-than-life Canadian icon—there is no questioning that. But as with many legends, most of what we know is caricature, cartoonish, parochial and, yes, occasionally puerile. Few of us know the depth of the man known for writing some silly songs that soundtrack a map of Canada. Stompin’ Tom was—is—a DIY icon, a national poet, more punk rock than 99 per cent of musicians using that term, and the man who loved this country more than any politician ever could, more than any fellow artist ever did.
Stompin’ Tom came of age after Canada’s centennial, shortly after we finally got our own flag. It was a time when anything seemed possible—primarily because nothing was before that (as the 1951 Massey Commission took pains to point out). We were just discovering our literary voice. Our folk and rock musicians were making serious indents in the U.S.—though often not sticking around to lift up those next in line. We were just starting to make our own films. (Tom’s To It and At It scored a key sequence in the SCTV parody of 1970’s Goin’ Down the Road, where wide-eyed Maritimers walk down Toronto’s Yonge Street.)
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
His music is among classical’s best known, and best loved. Still, Verdi can’t seem to get our respect.
Giuseppe Verdi, the Italian composer who was born in 1813, will never be a forgotten man of music, since his works are in the repertory of every opera company in the world. But his bicentenary may be overshadowed by an accident of birth. He was born the same year as a man he barely knew, the German Richard Wagner, and not only are there more arguments over the racial and political implications of Wagner’s ideas, but there are more Wagner celebrations: conductor Valery Gergiev is recording Wagner’s complete Ring cycle, and London’s music world is holding a “Wagner 200” festival with no equivalent Verdi festival. “Performing Wagner is a much bigger occasion in general,” says Alexander Neef, general director of the Canadian Opera Company (COC).
Verdi also suffers in comparison to Wagner because he rarely tried to be a musical theorist, and even those who put on his operas sometimes treat him condescendingly as more of a showman than an idea man: the director of Covent Garden recently referred to Verdi as “rather like the Steven Spielberg of his day.” It could be that Verdi, who lived a long life, worked hard and made lots of money, is harder to talk about than an intellectual like Wagner. “Verdi wrote nothing for publication,” says Conrad L. Osborne, a long-time music critic for publications such as Opera News, “espoused no lofty ideology or philosophy, founded no Bayreuth, and sent no echoes down the corridors of 20th-century horror. He just wrote operas.”
Though he just wrote operas—plus a Requiem that remains one of the most popular choral pieces of all time—Verdi may claim to be the definitive opera composer, the one whose music is most likely to be known to people who have never set foot in an opera house. One of the first bestselling records was a duet from his La Forza Del Destino. In Italy, his music is a part of everyday life: Johannes Debus, musical director of the COC, says the slaves’ chorus from Verdi’s Biblical opera Nabucco “became not the national anthem of Italy, but kind of the secret national anthem. Everybody knows it.” In North America, the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore has been lampooned by everyone from the Marx Brothers to TV cartoon characters. And Verdi has the endorsement of another 2013 birthday boy, composer Benjamin Britten, who wrote of “a devotion to the music of Verdi that grows greater as I grow older,” and proclaimed that “in the case of a few composers, a very few, when I hear a work I do not like I am convinced it is my own fault. Verdi is one of these composers.”
By Rebecca Eckler - Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 7:00 PM - 0 Comments
If you can’t judge the new generation of divas, teach them
“I started because I needed to make a living,” says Zack Werner of his “Idol school,” the two-hour group singing classes he offers to young singers who come to him, mostly through word of mouth. Fans of Canadian Idol will know Werner from his days as a judge on the show; he was our version of Simon Cowell. These days, five years after CTV cancelled the singing competition, a still suave but now grey-haired Werner spends his nights in the basement of a downtown Toronto restaurant, running his school for singers who want to be stars, most of whom were babies or toddlers when Idol was on air. “I want them to learn to be artists as opposed to someone who just sings,” he says.
Werner admits it was tough when Idol ended. “My notoriety got in the way of running my music business,” he says. And the industry had changed. “People thought I was a multi-millionaire because I was on television, which was definitely not the case. It was a bit of a shock from signing autographs every day to being virtually unemployable.” But now he has a plan. “There’s no better way of not making money than teaching kids to sing,” he laughs. “I don’t want to be a singing teacher for the rest of my life. I want to find the elite of the elite, the who’s who of the best eight- to 20-year-olds. I’m only attracted to the real deal.”
And the real deal is attracted to him. One dad drives two and a half hours each way to take his daughter to Werner’s Thursday-night lessons. “I love his way with kids,” says Becky Isenberg, whose daughter, Lauren, 10, has been attending the school once a week for a year. “It’s sort of like a co-op music program,” she says. “He’ll make them get real experience, like taking them into the middle of a street and making them sing.”
By macleans.ca - Monday, February 11, 2013 at 7:24 AM - 0 Comments
Mumford & Sons doubles up, Drake, Adele and Rihanna net singles and Chris Brown loses out to Frank Ocean
Here’s the complete list of winners from the 55th Grammy Awards held on Feb. 10, 2013. (Looking for highlights? Click here for Carrie Underwood’s dress, here for J-Lo’s leg, here for Bieber’s live stream bust and here for celebrity dressing room and red carpet tweets.)
- Album of the year: Babel, Mumford & Sons
- Record of the year: Gotye, Somebody That I Used to Know
- Best new artist: fun
- Song of the year: We Are Young, fun
- Best country album: Uncaged, Zac Brown Band
- Best pop solo performance: Set Fire to the Rain, Adele
- Best pop vocal album: Stronger, Kelly Clarkson
- Best rap/sung collaboration: No Church in the Wild, Jay Z and Kanye West with Frank Ocean
By Elio Iannacci - Monday, February 4, 2013 at 10:12 AM - 0 Comments
Why Canadians are going abroad for international recognition
Becoming an expat did wonders for Al Spx’s career. When the 24-year-old Toronto native—who performs as Cold Specks—realized her self-described brand of “doom soul” would be tough to launch in Canada’s Nickelback-and-Bieber-dominated music market, she took the advice of producer Jim Anderson and headed out of the country. His instinct was spot-on. After Spx took her bluesy, gospel-tinged tracks—some of which have been compared to Mahalia Jackson’s majestic body of work—across the pond, fame followed. In 2011, after her single Holland dropped, she was invited to sing on Later . . . with Jools Holland, a popular music TV show in the U.K. After her performance, artists on the show such as Mary J. Blige, Pete Townshend and Florence Welch tracked her down backstage. They became her first fans—a following that has grown into cult-like proportions overseas.
“Those U.K. audiences kept us going and made it happen for us,” explains Spx via phone after a sold-out show in Germany. (Spx is not her actual name; she keeps that to herself.) Her debut album, I Predict A Graceful Expulsion, followed, released in her home country by Feist’s label, Arts and Crafts, and outside Canada by the adventurous Mute Records label. Her stardom subsequently spread throughout Europe, where she’s shared the bill at music festivals with the likes of Björk and Bruce Springsteen. Last summer she was shortlisted for the Polaris Prize. “I had to leave the country to get recognized internationally,” she says—and so that she would be recognized back home.
By Elio Iannacci - Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
Once more counterculture than pop culture, Calgary’s famous sisters chart a new course
For more than 10 years Tegan and Sara Quin have made music that, by their own admission, is more counterculture than pop culture. Steeped in acoustic and electric guitars and informed by punk and folk artists, the past six albums by Calgary’s famous sister act are classified by iTunes as alternative music. But after their 2009 album Sainthood, the 32-year-old identical twins decided to rethink their approach to songwriting. “We became known as kind of a Canadian cult band in some parts of the world,” Tegan says during a recent visit to Toronto, hours before hitting the stage to perform songs from the new album, Heartthrob. “It felt very limiting. The reality is indie rock just isn’t as popular anymore, especially in Europe. We used to be so opposed to sounding current. We were either a step behind or ahead.”
Save for a major international hit in 2004 called Walking With a Ghost (covered soon afterward by the White Stripes), their previous releases, which provided years of gigs and decent reviews, never had enough mass appeal to crown the Billboard charts or enough bass-line grit for major club play. The musical makeover began when the pair met the Dutch DJ Tiësto, whose beat-driven remix of Back in Your Head from their 2007 album The Con started reaching audiences they didn’t even know existed. “When he came along, he opened our minds and made us think about what kinds of opportunities we were shutting out,” Sara says. It led to another collaboration that produced an ear worm of a dance track called Feel It in My Bones—a song that ended up charting in Canada. The track pushed the duo to team up with electronic producers such as David Guetta for Every Chance We Get We Run and Morgan Page for a cut called Body Work. All three songs have received much more radio and club play than any of their rock singles since Walking With a Ghost. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, December 28, 2012 at 12:46 PM - 0 Comments
This week David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, makes his feature debut as the writer/director of Not Fade Away, a coming-of-age story of a garage band trying to make it in New Jersey during the 1960s. The movie has elements of memoir. Like the film’s lead character, Douglas (John Magaro), Chase spent some of his youth as a drummer in an obscure New Jersey rock band, and his romance with the era’s music has never left him. Chase cast Sopranos star James Gandolfini to portray the drummer’s exasperated father. Springsteen guitarist Steve Van Zandt, who played Silvio Dante in the TV series, serves as the movie’s meticulous music producer.
I talked to David Chase earlier this month in Toronto:
Q: I’ve seen a lot of attempts to dramatize the Sixties music scene, and I don’t think any film has nailed the details with more authenticity than Not Fade Away.
A: Glad to hear you say that. We worked pretty hard at it. I knew it was a dangerous proposition to do another ’60s movie. but I knew for sure I didn’t want to see any tie-dye or trips to San Francisco or naked girls in the mud. We’ve seen all that. Continue…
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
A new wave of young musicians is promoting the pipe organ—no hymns, no religious baggage
Pipe organ music is often associated with two unpleasant events: a vampire attack by Bela Lugosi—da, da, da, dahhhhhh—or an endless Sunday liturgy. Its reputation has been tarnished by pianists banging out hymns on unfamiliar instruments, like tourists driving badly in a foreign country. And the popularity of pipe organ music has also been hampered by, well, organists themselves.
“We’re the geeky outcasts playing an eccentric instrument,” notes John Terauds, an organist and classical music blogger for the website Musical Toronto. “When I tell people I’m an organist, I’m met with dead air.”
Sarah Svendsen is a 23-year-old, award-winning organist who recently formed a group called Organized Crime Duo with colleague Rachel Mahon. “We don’t have the best set of social skills,” she admits, laughing. Their goal is to change the outdated image of organists as blue-haired church marms; their strategy involves stilettos, sequins, some theatrics and lots of mascara. For their debut in October 2011 at Toronto’s Phantoms of the Organ concert at the Metropolitan United Church, they vamped it up, spoofing Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor; this year, they played the Star Wars theme. “What better to attract a 12-year-old boy than a 23-year-old girl in a sexy dress?” asks Svendsen. “And Star Wars?”
By Paul Wells - Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 11:17 PM - 0 Comments
When Maclean’s published a list of the best albums of the ’00s at the end of 2009, the most common complaint from readers was that we had left Rush out. Since the only two complete studio albums of original music the Toronto band produced in the decade in question were Vapor Trails and Snakes & Arrows, arguably not the finest products of the band’s oeuvre, I had to admire the fans’ loyalty, at least. But then loyalty is one quality Rush’s fans have always delivered, usually in excess. It was the fans’ ardour that persuaded the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to include Rush among its 2013 inductees.
There’s no accounting for taste in these matters, but I think the hall’s honour roll this year is pretty strong. If disco mattered at all, Donna Summer was its best ambassador. Randy Newman was one of the finest piano men and singer-songwriters of the ’70s. The band Heart, I admit, seems an odd fit, but Quincy Jones has earned a place among the hall’s non-performers with five decades as a leading record producer.
Tonight I’m going to write about Rush and Public Enemy, intending no disrespect to the other inductees. I’m tickled that the two bands were named in the same year, because it’s hard to imagine two less similar products of North American popular culture. If these two bands fit together in any hall, it must be a big hall. Continue…
By Paul Wells - Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 12:44 AM - 0 Comments
I did the thing today I sometimes do that baffles my editors. One of them emailed about Dave Brubeck’s death and asked whether I’d like to write about him. I’m the jazz guy, after all, to the extent we have one, and Brubeck was the rare jazz musician everyone loved. But I passed. I have never been a fan of Brubeck’s piano playing. (I’ll get back to that.) I thought that in his later years he didn’t surround himself with impressive or even consistently coherent bands. I reviewed him twice for The Gazette in Montreal, not kindly. I was intrigued to be reminded that he had the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan in his band for a bit in the 1970s. That must have been tense: Mulligan usually insisted on the refinement and closely-calibrated group dynamics I don’t associate with late-period Brubeck.
But anyone who had the early career Brubeck had has earned any kind of late career he wants. His great quartet with Paul Desmond, Joe Morello and Gene Wright was as virtuous and influential as any in jazz in the 1950s and 1960s. It rose to prominence at a time when a lot of musicians were wondering what kind of next step jazz could take after the obvious possibilities of bebop — jetting velocity, rich harmony, accents in odd places — had been explored by hundreds of musicians for more than a decade. Different musicians had different answers. Miles Davis slowed the pace of harmonic change. Art Blakey and Horace Silver heightened the music’s blues and gospel overtones. A few years later, Ornette Coleman would edge toward an emancipation from much of the music’s rule book. The pianist Lennie Tristano and his small circle dove deeper into the rule book, working obsessively with a small group of standard tunes until they could take them in any direction.
Brubeck’s direction is suggested by the title of one of his early albums, Jazz Goes to College. Continue…
By Elio Iannacci - Friday, November 23, 2012 at 12:01 PM - 0 Comments
Quebecois disco diva debuted her house-music version of the sombre classic on a gay party cruise to Haiti
When Québécois singer France Joli decided to record a dance-music version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, she was in the midst of singing it at her father’s funeral. While she belted the song a cappella, Joli felt a higher power was urging her to slap some bass on Cohen’s sombre classic and give it a full-on mirror-ball makeover. “I’m not religious, and I know this sounds crazy, but I was called on to do this,” the 49 year old says via phone from her home in Montreal. “I didn’t care about what any of the music purists had to say. I felt like my father was telling me to take [Cohen’s] music and put a beat to its beautiful melody. It was destiny that made me give this song to the dance floor.”
To fulfil that destiny, Joli—who had a bout of mainstream success as a disco diva in the late ’70s—released a six-track remix EP for Hallelujah this past January. She debuted her house-music version of Hallelujah on an all-gay party cruise to Haiti. “The first night the ship set sail, I sang Hallelujah at midnight in front of 5,000 dancing gay men. I think there were two women on the boat,” she says wistfully. “It was just like old times.”
And what times they were. Joli’s 1979 Billboard top 10 hit Come to Me was such a massive success for her that she was frequently invited to perform at Studio 54 (“Liza Minnelli used to come backstage to congratulate me”) and got to work with legendary Italian electronic music producer Giorgio Moroder, the talent behind Donna Summer’s best work and the man credited with creating era-defining soundtrack hits for films such as Flashdance and Top Gun.
After disco’s popularity dropped, Joli was still able to keep her calendar booked with nostalgic party events and French-language telethons (Céline Dion was once billed as her opening act). But her star never rose as high again, even though Joli shared management with a team that represented Michael Jackson (“He sang Come to Me in my ear on the set for the Beat It video. I dreamed I was marrying him for the next three years!”) and Madonna, who Joli says came to see her every time she played at the ’80s New York City club the Funhouse: “When I met her, I thought she was a snob, but her producer told me she was just star-struck.”
Joli’s new release mines a vein that has been lucrative for her. Her first big gig was a show on New York’s Fire Island, then the party hot spot for gay men. Donna Summer was set to headline but ended up pulling out, so Joli—who was only 15—was asked to fill in. Unlike Summer, Joli only had one song to her name, the lush, string-laden Come to Me, which was getting play at some of the cooler New York and Montreal discotheques. Less than two months after the show, the song was at the top of the Billboard dance charts.
Toronto’s Jamie Kastner, director of the upcoming documentary The Secret Disco Revolution, says the ties Joli made with the gay community in the ’70s are still crucial today. “With the advent of gay Pride events, many promoters hire divas from that time—disco singers who are gay-friendly and have an easily identifiable hit. So people like France Joli and Thelma Houston have been able to literally live off one song and one type of event.”
It’s just as true that Joli has had to live off one song. After Come to Me hit the charts, she turned out six studio albums, hoping to repeat her success. “None of my albums really represented me,” she says. Now Joli has put the finishing touches on new covers of Love to Love You Baby and This Time I Know It’s for Real for a Donna Summer tribute album slated for release in the spring. Michael Chernow, the album’s producer, says Joli’s vocals are simply better suited to the boogie. “She has a smokiness to her voice that puts her up there with dance-music legends like Linda Clifford and Gloria Gaynor,” he says. “The kind of soul she can deliver is the reason why people will never forget about the power of disco.”
By Michael Barclay - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 11:24 AM - 0 Comments
Michael Barclay catches up with the lead singer of the Hurtin’ Albertans
There’s a famous story about Willie Nelson being invited to the White House by Jimmy Carter, and sneaking off to smoke a joint on the roof while Secret Service members looked on. Sadly, the part about Carter joining Nelson for what the songwriter calls an “Austin torpedo” is only a rumour (denied by both parties), though one beloved by heavy-lidded High Times subscribers ever since.
Willie Nelson is a hero to Alberta country singer Corb Lund, though not for his marijuana advocacy nor even necessarily for his music. Lund, who has spent several stints living in Nelson’s adopted hometown of Austin, Texas—a singer/songwriter mecca and countercultural hotbed—most respects Nelson’s ability to unite “hippies, cowboys and bikers” at his shows.
Likewise, in a North American zeitgeist where politicians delight in exploiting a rural-urban culture war, Lund is the rare country musician who unites Fort McMurray oil rig workers, Toronto tree-huggers and everyone in between: classic rockers, hardcore country fans, campus radio geeks, and anyone who loves a good yarn, regardless of musical genre.
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Exclusive: A candid interview with the new king of pop
Everyone’s waiting for Justin Bieber. It’s mid-afternoon in Washington, on the eve of the presidential election, but for the hordes of young girls gathered outside a downtown arena, there’s only one leader who can bring salvation. Hours before the 18-year-old Canadian pop star will hit the stage, fans have mobbed every entrance, ready to scream at any hint of movement. They shriek as one of 11 tour buses sits idling outside a garage ramp, as if sheer lung power could shatter the tinted windows.
Inside the arena, Bieber’s bodyguard, a soft-spoken man named Kenny Hamilton, shows off a party trick: he opens a door, revealing his face to fans on the sidewalk. They go berserk. In Bieberland, even Kenny is a celebrity: he has more than a million Twitter followers, which puts him neck and neck with Paul McCartney. Bieber has 30 million—second only to Lady Gaga—and gains a new one roughly every second.
The first superstar child of social media, Justin Bieber recently became the first to score three billion hits on YouTube, where an amateur video led to his discovery at 13. However, as his Believe tour burns across North America—he plays Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and the Grey Cup in the next few weeks—being the world’s hottest teen idol is still not enough. In an exclusive interview with Maclean’s, he makes it clear he wants to be nothing less than the next Michael Jackson, the new King of Pop. “That’s where I want to be,” he says. “I don’t just want to be a teen heartthrob.” Continue…
By macleans.ca - Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 11:09 AM - 0 Comments
BDJ on asking the wrong question: ‘I thought, OMG, I’ve just violated the privacy of a teenager’
Find out why Brian D. Johnson, who’s interviewed a slew of celebrities, has never been so nervous and apprehensive as when he recently interviewed Bieber. Find out what topics were off-topic during their time together, and who won at ping-pong. (The Maclean’s exclusive story on Bieber is on newsstands now.)of Photos
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 6:01 PM - 0 Comments
There’s something perverse about sending a guy old enough to have seen the Beatles play Maple Leaf Gardens on a mission to interview Justin Bieber. I’ve interviewed my share of music legends—Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Madonna, Bryan Adams, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Tina Turner, Gordon Lightfoot, k.d. lang, Shania Twain. But for some reason I felt more apprehensive about talking to Bieber. Not because I was starstruck. Just unqualified. It didn’t matter that I’d spent longer on the road as a professional musician than he has (five years back in the day). This was another world. Even after immersing myself in Bieber’s music and reading anything I could lay my hands on, meeting him was like visiting a luminary from an another planet. Then again, I can’t remember the last time I had an extended conversation with any 18-year-old, never mind a fabulously wealthy, successful pop star prodigy with 30 million Twitter followers and 3 billion YouTube viewers.
We met in his dressing room backstage at the Verizon Center, an arena in downtown Washington D.C., on the eve of the presidential election, five hours before he hit the stage. I had half an hour. He was getting dressed in front of a mirror when his bodyguard, Kenny Hamilton, ushered me in. I averted my eyes until he was decent.
When you do a celebrity interview, you always look for a spontaneous moment to break the ice, or generate some narrative. So when I spotted the ping-pong table, I mentioned I used to be pretty good. Jumping at a chance to play, he handed me a paddle. It was one of those really heavy foam jobs. For the life of me, I couldn’t get the ball to stay on the table. He gamely tried to feed me lobs, and conceded that you could tell I once knew how to play. “This isn’t working,” I said, as I threw in the towel, worried I’d frittered away my precious time slot before we got a rally going. Continue…