Sunday, March 27, 2011

Found Toronto - Yonge Street's music heyday

We caught this show today and I'm so glad we did: Yonge Street - Toronto Rock n' Roll Stories. I just loved it, and I still have 50 windows open in my browser from looking up all the interesting people who came up in this show. 

My dad has made a few references to the Toronto music scene in the 60's but only now do I understand that was happening here at that time was actually quite monumental. The clubs, the music and the people of that time period here in Toronto were key components of the development of a cultural revolution in North America and Britain. In short, they were innovators who informed the construction of R&B and rock as we know it. There was a "Canadian sound," it was influential, and it was respected. 

There are a few key things that I learned in this documentary that have further cemented my love of this city: 

1. Until now, I thought Ronnie Hawkins was a quaint, local attraction, but not in the least. He had his hands in on some really huge musical undertakings. Bob Dylan's manager sent him here to be inspired by Ronnie Hawkin's band and Dylan actually hired them to play with him at Massey Hall. Hawkins also put together  what eventually became The Band, and plus, he orchestrated Janis Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie Band. I'm sorry, Ronnie! You are The Man, and most of us seriously had  no idea. 

2. Toronto had an R&B scene? In the 60's? We sure did. John Finley, a white kid from Aurora made his way to Yonge St, sang some James Brown tunes, and suddenly, there was A Scene. I couldn't find a clip on YouTube that does him justice, but here they are doing Shotgun. How cool is that? 

3. Jackie Shane was another important part of the development of Canadian R&B. He was Canada's first openly gay and transgendered performer to record a hit song. What a voice. Check out Any Other Way. What a fantastic song. "Tell her I'm happy, tell her I'm gay, tell her I wouldn't have it any other way."

Watching this documentary has made me wonder where music would be today if none of this had happened here, but also, what would would have happened if these and other talented Canadians had the support of the American music industry? I also wonder what it would have been like to actually spend a night on Yonge St., wandering up and down the street through the clubs and hearing great music. I'll have to ask my dad. 

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