Haletunes Music Monday C is for Canada (pt 1)

After a few false starts, some tech issues that ate two of my previous drafts, and delays caused by family and work schedules, here is the next entry in my A to Z Music challenge.  Okay, so I didn’t publish on a Monday, but at least I got it published.  I’m still trying to find my writing grove, and making decisions about how much to put down or how many additional links to add, but I’m slowly getting the hang of things.  So here goes — Classic Canadian Rock/Musicians.

Every music scene has its ground breakers, one-hit wonders, and stars that seem to last through every change thrown at them.  This edition of Haletunes focuses on some classic Canadian musicians who have stood the test of time, and who either keep making new fans or keep at least never seem to get too old to listen to.  Of course this is somewhat subjective, and certainly can’t represent all of the incredible Canadian musicians — that could be a whole new series of blog posts!  Regardless, like Don Cherry says, I’m good Canadian boy who keeps his stick on the ice.  This post is all about Canada and some of the lasting musical impact our musicians have made over the years.

In the 1968 by the Government of Canada, led by Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, created the Canadian Radio -Television and Telecommunications  Commission (CRTC) to support and highlight Canadian musicians, writers, and actors.  While that mandate has not always been as successful as hoped, the idea that Canadian broadcasters should be required to dedicate a minimum 30% of air time to music and television with a distinct Canadian connection is significant given the mammoth broadcasters of our southern neighbours.  Do I think Canadian artists would never have a chance to be heard or seen without the CRTC? Of course not, but why not support our own just a bit?  But can bureaucracy really foster a sense of cultural pride or awareness?  Certainly this mandate has not always proved successful or popular.  Consider reading Ryan Edwardson’s Canadian Content: Culture and the Quest for Nationhood (http://books.google.ca/books?id=IxVuSFLo8fAC&lpg=PP1&dq=Canadian%20content&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=true) for more information on this topic.

While this post is not an ode to the CRTC, it is a celebration of some early Canadian rock musicians.  Of course each region of this vast nation will have it’s own favourites, as will different generations, so this brief list will not come close to highlighting some of the incredible talent who have come from the great white north.  While putting this list together, I had to consider and ultimately discard artists like Bryan Adams (http://www.bryanadams.com/), Tom Cochrane (http://www.tomcochrane.com/), Loverboy (http://www.loverboyband.com/), and April Wine (http://www.aprilwine.ca/) to name just a few. This list, in no particular order or from any given region, represents some of the best Canadian music that time and time and time again is recognized as great music.

Rush (www.rush.com)
It’s hard to believe this trio has been together for 40 years.  In that time, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart have sold more than 40 MILLION albums worldwide,  been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, invested as Officers of the Order of Canada, and stayed friends through it all.  On their own, these men have written books, had solo projects, and been guest musicians on other albums.  There is even a popular documentary about them.  They even recorded a record of covers which paid homage to the songs that influenced the band. As a group, the music of Rush has moved from prog rock of the early 1970s into synth and guitar classics of the 1980s and 1990s.  Into the 2000s, their music didn’t lose a beat with complex guitar and bass, and thundering drums.

In 1981 Rush released their eighth and most successful record, Moving Pictures,  from which some of their most recognizable and certainly most commercially successful songs come.  Telling the story of teen angst and frustration, and borrowing from Mark Twain, the song “Tom Sawyer” is still a radio favourite.  Filmed in the Quebec recording facility Le Studio, this video of “Tom Sawyer” gives a hint at the complexity of Peart’s drum kit, as well as some of the energy the band brings to their recordings.

Neil Young (www.neilyoung.com)
How do you start to discus Neil Young?  While he is not everybody’s cup of tea, his musical output has spanned more than 50 years.  Where do you begin? The early years with Buffalo Springfield or CSNY? His solo work that has ranged from folk to 50’s retro pop to electric and grunge?  Or even his most recent work with an orchestra?  Or maybe you have to consider his political and social activism or philanthropic interests?  There are few musicians who have continually taken up against a cause and held their beliefs so firmly and publicly.  Neil Young has recorded with some of the biggest acts, such as Bob Dylan, The Band, and Eddie Vedder.  Additionally, his work has be covered by numerous musicians such as The Cowboy Junkies and Johnny Cash. As further indication of his influence and staying power, Young was even part of the MTV Unplugged series.

Described by CBC Radio2’s Tom Powers (@TomPowersCBC) the song “Old Man” as a such an essential Canadian song that people are/should be given the lyrics when they get their citizenship.  While this is typical if Tom’s humour, it doesn’t underestimate the social power of the song.  This video is a recording of Young’s influential set at Toronto’s Massey Hall in 1971.

The Tragically Hip (www.thehip.com)
For a certain segment of Canadian society, The Tragically Hip (The Hip for short) represents the best of Canadian music from the late 1980 through to the early 2000s.  With a devoted following some what akin to the Grateful Dead, The Hip create energetic and insightful music that people can’t seem to get enough of.  Their live shows consistently sell out, whether it be small bars from their hometown of Kingston, Ontario to major stadiums like the Air Canada Center in Toronto.  But their following isn’t restricted to Canada.  These guys are just as popular south of the border, with shows in Chicago, Boston, or New York City on their most recent tour.  In 2005, The Hip even asked the fans to select the songs which would best represent their best work for the 2005  double album “Yer Favourites”.

With song lyrics that ranged from telling stories of prison breaks (“38 Years Old”), to an homage to Bill Barilko and the Toronto Maple Leafs (“Fifty-Mission Cap”), to the beauty of Ontario’s cottage country (“Bobcaygon”), The Hip transcends social barriers.  Part hard drive electric rock and part art, The Hip are as relevant today as they were in 1988.

The Hip’s first full length album Up To Here (1989) contained the hard driving hit “New Orleans is Sinking”.  This classic has been played in bars and kitchen parties ever since.

Gordon Lightfoot (www.lightfoot.ca)
Why asked about classic Canadian rock artists, few people would suggest balladeer Gordon Lightfoot, but it’s worth recognizing that the former Elvis impersonator from Orillia, Ontario, has been making music and influencing musicians since the 1960s.  While Lightfoot’s early career was primarily folk and light country, some of his biggest hits were clearly rock songs.  The best example of this is probably the politically motivated song “Black Day in July” which was Lightfoot’s reaction to the 1967 Detroit  race riots.  Consider also that the classic “Sundown’ has been covered by Hip-Hop artist Elwood, country singer Toby Kieth, and Canadian Indie rocker Luke Doucett.

Regardless of you musical taste, it seems that Gordon Lightfoot has recorded something that fits your fancy.

The Guess Who
The Winnipeg band who may be best know for its mega-hit “American Woman”, The Guess Who were also responsible for a string of classic rock hits in the 1960s and 70s such as “These Eyes”, “No Sugar Tonight”, and “Running Back to Saskatoon”.  This guitar and piano focused band was made up of excellent musicians and songwriters.  Of course with so much talent, it was hard for the band to stay together.  Burton Cummings left the band for a successful solo career, and Randy Bachman left to form Bachman-Turner Overdrive (BTO).  Both ventures lead to further successes with hits for Cummings like “Stand Tall” and “My Own Way to Rock”, and hits like “Takin’ Care of Business” and “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” for Bachman.

Here’s The Guess Who playing live after reuniting in 1983.

Well this list wouldn’t really be complete without something from The Band.  Although this group originated in Toronto, The Band was not an entirely Canadian act as its members came from both sides of the border.  The original line up of Robbie Robertson (guitar, vocals), Levon Helms (drums, mandolin, guitar, vocals), Garth Hudson (keyboard instruments, saxophones, trumpet), Rick Danko (bass guitar, double bass, fiddle, trombone, vocals), and Richard Manuel (piano, drums, baritone saxophone, vocals) first found success as the backing band for Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan.  When they moved to the front of the stage, it only seemed appropriate that they keep the simple moniker under which they had been know — The Band.  The TV show Happy Days even paid homage to their success as Richie Cunningham’s band played under the same name when they backed guest musician Ronnie Hawkins.

The Bands’ multi-talented members brought the full weight of their instrumental talents to bear on the 10 studio albums they recorded.  In addition to their brilliant musicianship, there was the insightful lyrics.  The song “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” has often been mistaken for a traditional Civil War song given the lyrics.   The Band documented their final concert in the film The Last Waltz during which they were joined by numerous musicians which is a tribute tho the respect they had from the music industry.

Haletunes Music Monday — B is for the BLUES

Trying to keep this A to Z challenge going — maybe just getting it started — has been about as hard as my efforts to become a runner. I don’t really think I had expected to be stuck with the second letter of the alphabet;  that said, I have lots of ideas for other letters and I’ve started writing some of those posts already. But what to do with B. Should I try to come up with some pithy thematic link? Should I attempt an ironic post related to the letter? I’ve settled on keeping it simple. I’ve got lots of opportunity in the coming weeks to become more complicated. I’m still at the beginning of this journey so why not look at a musical form that directly influenced much of the music to be discussed throughout this series. It’s time for the Blues!

Hold it!  What does a guy who grew up in the suburbs of Ottawa, Canada really know about the Blues. To be honest, not much; however as a music lover, teacher, and lifelong learner, my discovery of musical forms is ongoing. And with regard to the Blues, the notion that influence is everything hods especially true.  Like many people, the Blues were present in various forms of music I listened to over the years, but it was the year I spent working with Barry Bickerton that I learned more about the blues than ever before. Barry often spoke about his love of the Blues, especially Delta Blues; he recommended music, he played it before morning classes to get kids moving in the halls, he even has his own band Barry and the Blasters.  Without a doubt, my appreciation of the blues has been made greater because of Barry.  I owe him a debt of gratitude for helping move me down this musical path  — “a whole lot of Elmore, heavy on the James!”.

While this 5 song set may seem simplistic or elementary, I hope it serves a starter for other people interested in learning about the Blues.  I’ve tried to find videos that showcase the brilliance of the musicians, as well as some of the artists who they influenced.  Also there are some challenges finding videos of some of the earliest Blues performers.  Thus, essential suggestions such as Robert Johnson and Champion Jack Dupree have not made this list, but neither have more modern acts like Stevie Ray Vaughn as there is no way I can possibly hope to create a definitive list of essential Blues artists here, but I have included a list of resources for further investigation. That said, I encourage anybody who wants to learn about the blues to seek out the music of these two musicians.

B.B. King
When people think of the blues, I suspect one of the first names that comes to mind isd B.B. King.  And why not? He’s been around since the 1950’s.  He’s played with numerous artists, including recent duets and collaborative efforts — most notably his 2000 album with Eric Clapton Riding With The King that saw him back on the charts with the title track.  But to really get a sense of B.B. King, his 1965 Live At The Regal album is a must.

Howlin Wolf
One of the true great Blues musucians, Howlin Wolf  “was a ferocious, full-bodied singer whose gruff, rasping vocals embodied the blues at its most unbridled.” (See more at: http://rockhall.com/inductees/howlin-wolf/bio/#sthash.Jy21Afh1.dpuf ).  He was part of the Chess Record label, and his musical influence was heard in top acts of hte 1970’s and beyond.  To get a good sense of his influence, check out the album  The London Howlin’Wolf Sessions.

Muddy Waters
A Delta Blues musician who emulated musicians such as Son House and Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters used his electric guitar to move his style of blues into the main stream.  Another of the great blues musicians whose influence can be linked to the Rolling stones and AC/DC, Muddy Waters is another to check out.

Bo Diddley
After B.B. King, this may be one of the first Blues muscians I had ever heard of.  A true cross-over musician whose music seems to have been accepted by all sorts of music lovers.  His aggressive style of the blues clearly influenced ealry rock and toll acts, but also hip-hop and pop musicians too.

Paul Butterfield Blues Band
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class of 2015, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band “converted the country-blues purists and turned on the Fillmore generation to the pleasures of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Willie Dixon and Elmore James.”  (See more at: https://rockhall.com/inductees/the-paul-butterfield-blues-band/bio/#sthash.wvuv7kQY.dpuf).  This racially diverse band crossed over various musical stykes to bring the Blues to music lovers throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, however their influence continues today.

Bonus #1 — The Grammy’s salute to the Blues

A star studded line-up of Blues musicians (and a very young Billy Crystal as host).

Bonus #2– Everything is a Remix “The Song Remains the Same”
Researcher, documentary maker Kirby Ferguson shows in his “Evrerything is a  Remix” series how art and other pop cultyre is reimaged and repurposed by others to create new and exciting artistic forms.  Check out episode #1 “The Song Remains the Same” to see the influence on the Blues on popular music.

Learning resources

http://www.pbs.org/theblues/classroom/defhistory.html

http://research.culturalequity.org/audio-guide.jsp (the Alan Lomax Resewearch Center)

http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/general_library/archives/blues/

https://rockhall.com/exhibits/the-roots-of-rock/

http://youtu.be/HIrx3M5aLL0 (Son House, Mike Bloomfield, and Paul Butterfield discuss and pay the Blues)

As always, I welcome your feedback and suggestions for improvement and for new music.

Until next time.

Haletunes Music Monday — A is for ALBUM

Having made the decision a few days ago to spend time writing about music, I have managed to actually write my post for A. To recap, the plan is to write a post every few weeks — probably on a Monday hence the title — about music using a letter of the alphabet as my starting point.  With this model, I should be able to cover the entire alphabet during 2015.

Music has always been part of my family; it seems that no matter where I went, some member of my family had music playing.  The enjoyment of music has been something that has defined my family my entire life.  I grew up during a time when AM radio was the king of popular music, people listened to music on radio stations that were tinny and staticy.  Unless of course you owned records, which my family did.  My grandmother listened to Bing Crosby, my grandfather listened to Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra, one uncle listened to The Band, Jimmy Buffett, and The Flying Burrito Brothers; while another listened to Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis.    The music in my own home could have been anything from James Last to Otis Redding to James Brown to Bob Marley.  Music was everywhere and it was always different.  And I loved it all!

The one constant was the album, the LP, the record.  There are few things that both sooth the mind and create a sense of anticipation as the gentle whoomp whoomp sound after the needle settles on the vinyl and moves into the first track.  Here are five albums and a track from each one that were important to in some way.

My First album — Meatloaf “Bat Out of Hell”

Up to grade 6, my access to music was through the records of my parents and a few 45’s that had belonged to my aunt when she was growing up.  But that Christmas things were about to change.  My parents thought about buying me the soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever”, the Bee Gee filled double album that was being played on every radio station.  But they didn’t.  Instead they went with the other popular LP at the time — Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell”.  The two could not have been more different, and I’m glad they chose the one they did.

Expanding Musical Horizons — Los Lobos “How Will The Wolf Survive?”

I had been exposed to a lot of different music growing up, but Los Lobos was like nothing I had ever heard.  While they may be just another band from East LA, they changed how I saw music for the rest of my life.  Sure I was already listening to things that weren’t always mainstream, but the music from this Los Lobos helped my see past the Top 40 charts, past the second British Invasion that was New Wave music.  Certainly Los Lobos was experiencing unprecedented commercial success with this album, but their lasting impact on me and others is a greater indication of their musical longevity, influence, and heritage.

Ill Begotten Gains — AC/DC “Back In Black”

My acquisition of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” album represents a low point in my moral development.  While not as dastardly as their classic “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”, this is the one album acquired through nefarious means.  In order to buy this, I stole $10 from my parents.  My father found out about it after the fact, and I did pay him back, but I never forgot the feeling of disappointment for betraying his trust.  That said, “Back in Black” is one of the best rock and roll albums of all times, with classic tracks like “Hell’s Bells”, “Have a Drink On Me”, and “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” there isn’t a misstep at all.

Cross-over Music Styles — Working Week “Working Nights”

While the late 1970’s ushered in Punk Rock and New Wave music as a reaction to Disco, these musical genres also started to give way to other musical influences.  Moving away from his former band The Jam, Paul Weller‘s endeavour The Style Council (who I love) was creating catchy 50’s/60’s style jazz numbers that were completely different than what he had created before.  By the mid-80’s there was a new musical fusion on the scene that mixed jazz and popular dance music, and introduced the smooth stylings of artists like Sade to the Top 40.  There was a lesser known but much more impressive group called Working Week, an incredible ensemble that built on three musicians by adding a six-piece horn section and a rhythm section.  While the configuration of the band couldn’t last, the music has.  I pulled this record out recently and realized that almost 30 years after I bought it, “Working Nights” hasn’t lost a thing — stunning.

And now for something completely different — Ryuichi Sakamoto

Trying to decide on my fifth album was hard work.  There are so many options — Bob Marley’s “Babylon by Bus”, any number of Joe Jackson’s efforts, little known bands like The Long Ryders or Shame — but when I looked at my collection of records I realized I had to choose something by Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto.  My first exposure to his gorgeous music was the soundtrack to “Empire of the Sun”  starring John Malkovich and a very young Christian Bale.  But it his 1983 release “Illustrated Musical Encyclopedia” album that may be most memorable for me.  Hauntingly beautiful, and exposing his range of musical experimentation, this album left me lost for words when I heard it in 1988.  Unfortunately, I was not able to find a (yet) a video of a track from this album, but here is on from another for which he provided the soundtrack, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence”.

Bonus — Johnny Appleseed

I very distinctly remember listening to an old 78 rpm record of Dennis Day performing “Johnny Appleseed” at my grandparents house while growing up.  Thankfully my grandmother gave me the record a few years ago and I still have it.  This is the first record I remember getting out and putting on a turntable all by myself.

This isn’t the version I listened too, but who can pass up something by Joe Strummer?

I hope you have enjoyed these selections.  See you in a few weeks with the letter B.

Musical A to Z — Haletunes

Without a doubt the one hobby that has been constant in my life is music.  It’s not that I play an instrument, but I love listening to music.  I have music playing all of the time, it seems.  In fact most moments of my life, from the mundane and insignificant to those big life altering events, are in some way linked to music for me.

Once upon a time I thought I wanted to be journalist, maybe a music critic.  While I quickly realized journalism was not the life for me, I have still held music close to my heart.  As a teacher I often found ways to integrate music into our study of literature.  I have music I listen to whenever I mark (much to my wife’s chagrin).  As a new father, I took great pleasure dancing our children to sleep while we listened to songs.  The purpose of my first job was so that I could buy records — yes records!  When I met my biological mother and siblings, one of the first things we talked about and bonded over was music.  None of this makes me special, but it makes me who I am.

Recently I received a note that I was celebrating my 4th year as a WordPress blogger.  Well it may have been 4 years since I first created my blog, and n that time I’ve created a variety of blogs for a variety of audiences, but I hadn’t really done much blogging.  In November of 2014, I decided that I needed to work on my blogging skills; I signed up for both Blogging101 and Photo101 BloggingU courses offered by WordPress.  One of the things we learned in the courses as to make connections with other bloggers.  One of the blogs I found and now follow is BabyGatesDown; one of my favourite segments of Louise’s blog is her section on music where her posts follow the format inspired by bloggers Jen Kehl and Jacqueline DeMuro. In this world of social media, self-promotion, and i-reporting I decided to put metaphorical pen to paper and turn my attention to music, my very own Musical A to Z.  Given the number of weeks in a year, and the number of letters in the alphabet, if all goes well I will have something to write about throughout all of 2015;  I even went created a list of topics so I would have somewhere to start.  That said, I will have to reconsider my idea for U after reading Louise’s entertaining post.  That’s okay since I have a few letters to go before I get there.