Archive for the ‘The Band’ Category

Happy Canada Day Eh!

There is simply too much fine Canadian music for me to pick five artists. I thought about adding a second list of solo artists, but that is kind of cheating. Regardless, lots of bands and performers with lots of talent and who have enjoyed enormous success, most notably Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. Perhaps I will do a solo artist’s list next year. I chose the bands here because they are uniquely Canadian, meaning it is tough to go to, for example, England and say such and such band is England’s Guess Who. These folks are home grown and unique and I hope you enjoy listening to them.

NEXT WEEK: A first here, a guest blogger, my long time friend and largely closeted music impresario Gordon on “Top Five Albums in My Parents’ Record Collection”.

1. The Guess Who

Hailing from Winnipeg, the Guess Who remains for me the quintessential Canadian rock band. They merged the music of the times with home grown lyrical themes and images, creating music that was distinctly Canadian, without being parochial. This track, perhaps my favourite Guess Who song, embodies that idea. It is from “Live at the Paramount” a 1972 release that I remember riding my 10 speed to A&B Sound in Vancouver from Richmond to buy.

2. Blue Rodeo

If The Guess Who were the Canadian band of my youth, Blue Rodeo are the Canadian band of my alleged adulthood. This band for me fell into the same category as only a handful of other artists (Elvis Costello, Tom Petty and Ryan Adams all come to mind) where I was hooked from the first note I heard. Fronted by Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, they have in many ways provided a soundtrack to the last 20 years or so of my life, a beautifully imaged, alt country soundtrack. This is off “Five Days in July”, released in 1992. Note the weather references in the lyric which is a something of a wonderful writing trademark for these lads from Toronto.

3. The Tragically Hip

The Hip, despite being huge, remained largely beneath my radar. My theory is there is too much music and too little time. However, my eldest son Adam is a fan and expressed some shock a few years ago that I didn’t listen to them. So I did and they really are quite something. Emerging in 1983 (right around the same time as Blue Rodeo, but a little to the east, in Kingston) they continue to make music, and tour both domestically and internationally. This is one of their classics and showcases their abilities as storytellers, which is what it is all about when you think of it.

4. The Sadies

The Sadies are Toronto based and are best characterised as alt country, although they have punk and surf stuff going on too. Brothers Travis and Dallas Good are the sons of Bruce Good of that fine Canadian country music institution The Good Brothers. The Sadies, in a very Canadian sort of way are perhaps best recognized as collaborators, appearing frequently as Neko Case’s touring band, and with Blue Rodeo and the Tragically Hip. I saw them at Malkin Bowl a few summers ago when the entire band joined all of Blue Rodeo and Barney and Dustin Bentall mid-set for a uniquely Canadian guitar fest. Here they are playing…. a house party. Great band, that for many is under the radar, to tell your friends about.

5. The Band

As we all know, with the exception of Levon, all the members of The Band were Canadian. They got their start playing for Ronnie Hawkins (“The Hawks”) who I just heard the other day is still living in I think Peterborough, Ontario (although they split ways when Ronnie moved to Canada). The Band’s influence cannot, simply put, be overstated. Combing folk, country, blues, rock and roll they forged a unique sound that still endures. This clip is from the Scorcese directed film that chronicled their last concert, “The Last Waltz”.

I occasionally play guitar and sing at the same time in The Falcon Band (as it has come to be known) on Friday nights. It used to be a regular occurrence but then we got a real singer, allowing me to concentrate on playing.  During my tenure as a singing guitar player, I discovered that attempting singing over anything more than  strummed cowboy chords made me realise why there is both a Keith and a Mick.  Drumming and singing at the same time takes matters to a whole other level.

Despite the fact that the dexterity required to practise their craft is akin to that required to fly a helicopter, drummers take all sorts of knocks from other musicians and are the brunt of many a joke (Q: How can you tell  a drummer is at the door? A: The knocking speeds up).   I have attempted to play the drums several times (usually in the darkness of night, with no one around) but have never even flirted with the idea of singing while pounding away. So my hat is off to drummers that sing. Here are my Top Five (not counting, of course, the Falcon Band drummer  John who sings from time to time).

Speaking of hats, here is a tip to Foremost for the topic and one of the links. Guess which one?

Next week:  Special Canada Day Edition:  Top Five Canadian Bands.

1. Levon Helm

Without hesitation, Levon is at the top of my list.  He may have even invented the singing drummer.  What I like about Levon is that both his singing and playing are so distinctive that I can’t envision The Band having done what they did without both of Levon’s voice and sticks.  Here is clip from a Band rehearsal in 1969, that is well worth watching despite the annoying watermark.

2. Karen Carpenter

Karen was not only a singing  drummer, but the double rarity of a female singing drummer.  With her brother Richard, the Carpenters proved to be a highly successful soft rock act in the early 1970’s  when mega bands like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were at their creative zeniths.  It is I think easy to be dismissive of the Carpenters in general and Karen’s abilities behind the kit in particular.  But watch this compilation. You may change your mind as I did.

3. Ringo Starr

Ringo is frequently dissed by non-drummers but his skills are praised by every drummer I have met,  and by  those who know what they are talking about when it comes to music, whether drummers or not. Ringo really didn’t sing much with The Beatles (about twelve songs plus backing vocals on another four or five) but his contributions stand out.  Here is my favourite.

4. Phil Collins

Phil was a drummer first (who coincidentally says Ringo was his greatest influence) and only started singing when Peter Gabriel left the proggish rock group Genesis to pursue a solo career.  After a hugely successful solo career himself, his latter output was less stellar and he became almost Elton John like in terms of writing pop music for the screen.  Here he is at is finest.  Does everyone remember the “Miami Vice” episode where Crockett and Tubbs were driving off in the Testarossa to get the bad guys, accompanied by this song?  I know, the general plot description really doesn’t narrow it down much does it?

5. Sheila E.

Another double winner, the “E” stands for Escovedo.  Sheila is the niece of Alejandro Escovedo who  I wrote about in my “Top Five Bands You Really Should Listen to if the Last Record You Bought is Led Zeppelin II” (you can find a link on the left).  Sheila is best known for her work with Prince and Ringo Starr, although she has enjoyed considerable success as a solo artist.  Here she is in 1984’s “Glamorous Life”, produced by Prince.

Levon Helm

Posted: April 19, 2012 in Levon Helm, The Band
Tags: , ,

As you have no doubt heard elsewhere, Levon Helm has died after a long battle with cancer.  I thought about doing a Top Five list, but it struck me that to list the Top  Five of anything Levon would diminish him.  One good clip is better.

I saw Levon perform twice, once in London, England in 1974 with The Band and again two years ago with his own band in Vancouver, BC.  It occurs to me that the first occasion was roughly two years before The Band famously played their last concert styled as “The Last Waltz” and that the second occasion was two years before his death.  I am grateful to have seen the bookends of his storied, and influential career.  I will regret to my grave not having attended a “Midnight Ramble” at Levon’s barn in Woodstock but will forever live it vicariously through my friend Evie.

What a fine passage he had.