Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Brazda Brothers

The Brazda Brothers, Andy and Bystrik, were a pair of European brothers who moved to Canada (Galt, Ontario, to be exact) near the beginning of the '70's. Inspired by a picturesque landscape that reminded them of home, they set to writing and recording enough material for an LP, and in 1973 they went down to RCA Studios in Toronto and knocked off twelve original numbers in an unheard-of six hours. Released in 1974 by Dominion Records, a small Canadian label, their self-titled debut album was pressed in small quantities and received little promotion. Although the brothers performed on several TV shows and released a single ("Walking Into The Sun/20th Century"), the album did not sell well and is an extremely rare collector's item these days. Another single ("Time Is Only A Setting Sun"/You Can Take Me Real High") was released on their own label in 1977, and in 2004 they resurfaced with a CD single ("He Walked Away").

All of the songs on The Brazda Brothers were written by Andy and Bystrik, with Bystrik on acoustic guitar and lead vocals and Andy on electric guitar. Both contributed backup vocals, along with Mac Babb, Fred O'Quinn and Vince Romano, and the band was rounded out by Jim Skriboleit (drums) and Vinston Dookie (congos). Mr. Dookie is also credited as playing the cordovox, which probably means the organ, and he's got a real sweet Garth Hudson thing going on. The album as a whole is a beguiling mix of folk, psychedelia, garage rock and country, with hints of the brothers' European heritage peeking through here and there. "Walking Into The Sun" is a moody acoustic number, while "Calm River" is an uptempo track with frenetic drumming and a definite European flavour. "Gemini" is a more overtly psychedelic tune with lots of aggressive fuzz guitar and loud splashes of organ throughout. "Soldier In A Battleground" is another psych tune with a sharp electric guitar solo and a more overtly political bent than most of the other songs on the album. And "Your Kingdom" is the bluesiest number on the record, a slow jam with longer instrumental passages which allow the members of the band to stretch out a bit.

Walking Into The Sun
Calm River
Soldier In A Battleground
Your Kingdom

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Gerry Hoelke And The Group

The summer is rapidly drawing to a close, and I've been kinda busy during these last few dog days of August. So I haven't had much time to post recently. This will change, of course, but in the meantime, enjoy this funky cover of the Duke Ellington standard "It Don't Mean A Thing" by Gerry Hoelke And The Group, which can be found on the Canadian Racer compilation (and, originally, a 1970 CBC Transcription album).

It Don't Mean A Thing

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ray Francis & The Whippoorwills

There's next to nothing on the internet about the country band Ray Francis & The Whippoorwills, but we do, as always, have the liner notes to draw upon:

"A recording company in the run of a year auditions many artists in order to find the top talent required for recording. As soon as Arc Records heard Ray Francis and The Whippoorwills they immediately recognized that here was one of the most professional sounding country bands in the land. This long play album is the result.

The Whippoorwills have been together as a unit for five years and for the past three years have been heard regularly on radio station C.F.C.O. in Chatham, Ontario, the group's home base. The band has toured with The Grand Ole Opry and stars such as Ray Price, Johnny Cash, Brenda Lee and many others, both in Canada and the United States.

The next goal that Ray Francis and his talented band are aiming for is their own weekly television show, and if talent and showmanship is the key to their goal, they are certain to succeed.

A&R and Audio Direction - Dan Bass, Photography - Des Dollery, Cover Artwork - Conrad Elgard"

Ray Francis takes the lead on vocals on side one of this album, which includes "A House With Everything But Love" and "All Over Again," while John Tengelis sings on side two and "Toujour Moi" and "Carribean". "House" is a cover of a Marty Robbins ballad, with some interesting percussion plinking away in the background. "All Over Again" is an up-tempo Johnny Cash number, while "Toujour Moi" is a weeper sung mostly in English despite its French title. And "Carribean" is a stompin' dance number with some gorgeous steel guitar, written by Mitchell Torok and popularized by Hank Snow.

A House With Everything But Love
All Over Again
Toujour Moi

Note: These songs have been archived at It Came From Canada.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


THP, originally named THP Orchestra ("THP" stood for "Three Hats Productions"), was one of the first, and biggest, Canadian disco acts. Toronto-based producers Ian Guenther and Willi Morrison formed THP Orchestra in the mid-'70's, and had a sizable U.S. club hit in 1977 with Two Hot For Love on the Butterfly Records label. After a second album, THP #2: Tender Is The Night, on Butterfly, the duo signed with Atlantic Records and put out one more full-length, Good To Me, before pulling the plug on THP and moving on to other production duties throughout the '80's and '90's. These days, Guenther is a music teacher at The Linden School in Toronto, while Morrison is Senior Creative Manager at Universal Music Publishing.

THP #2: Tender Is The Night features former Gordon Lightfoot drummer Barry Keane on percussion, bassist Errol Thomas, guitarists Michael Toles (who played on Shaft) and Brian Russell, keyboardist Carl Marsh, and a small army of Canadian classical and jazz horn and string players, including Moe Koffman, Guido Basso, Russ Little, Ian McDougall, Gerard Kantarjian, Albert Pratz, Stanley Solomon and Walter Babiak. The vocalists are session vets Phyllis and Helen Duncan. The album was recorded at Phase One Studios in Toronto, and was arranged, conducted and orchestrated by harmonica legend (!) Pete Pedersen. All of this adds up to "Weekend Two Step" and "Half As Nice," two juicy chunks of late-'70's disco, complete with rubbery basslines, shimmering strings, and (in the case of the 13:33 epic "Weekend Two Step") vocals run through a vocoder.

Weekend Two Step
Half As Nice

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Adam Timoon

Adam Timoon is a nightclub entertainer whose act consists of equal parts music and comedy, but he's an extremely accomplished guitarist who can sing a lick, too. These days he plays retirement homes and corporate events, but way back when he was a regular on Cross Canada Hit Parade, and for many years he headlined the Seaway Hotel in Toronto, where the Las Vegas Room was renamed "Adam's Inn". That's about all I have in terms of biographical information on Timoon, although I can add that he was married to a woman named Carol who co-wrote some of his songs.

Adam Timoon Live! was recorded in 1971 at Sound Canada Recording Centre, and produced by Timoon and Art Snider, with engineer Ernie Lyons (who also worked on a Stampeders album). The fact that it was apparently recorded in a studio makes me wonder if it was a fake live album like this one. At any rate, Timoon shows off his guitar chops on the well-known instrumentals "Flight of the Bumblebee" and "Malaguena". "Me and Bobby McGee" is, of course, a cover of the Kris Kristofferson tune popularized by Janis Joplin, which really builds up a full head of steam towards the end when the crowd joins in on the chorus. And "The Cars" is a comedy number with a laid-back rockabilly groove and lyrics modified to match a couple of audience members.

Flight of the Bumblebee
The Cars
Me and Bobby McGee

Note: These songs have been archived at It Came From Canada.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Bernie Senensky

Pianist Bernie Senensky was born in Winnipeg in 1944 and began his musical studies at age nine before turning to jazz as a teenager under the direction of fellow pianist Bob Erlendson. In 1968 he moved to Toronto and quickly gained a reputation as one of the city's best jazz pianists, playing local clubs and accompanying visiting heavyweights like Art Farmer, Elvin Jones, Buddy DeFranco, Zoot Sims, Art Pepper, Salome Bey and Phil Woods. He also often played with fellow Canucks Moe Koffman and Peter Appleyard, and was the only Canadian guest on the CTV program "Oscar Peterson Presents". Still active as a musician to this day, Senensky released five solo albums between 1976 and 1991 and played on records by several other artists.

New Life, which I found a few nights ago at the local Value Village, was recorded in 1975 at Toronto's Manta Sound and released the following year. It was Senensky's first solo album, and all eight tracks were original compositions. Dedicated to his newborn son Doron, it was engineered by David Greene and produced by Gene Perla, with accompaniment by bassist Michel Donato and drummer Marty Morell. "Lolita's Theme," which was named after a parrot who whistled along to anything Bernie played, was covered by a number of musicians, making it one of Senensky's best-known tunes. "B.B." is a hard-charging number dedicated to Brian Barley, a saxophonist friend of Senensky's who died in 1971. "New Life Blues" and "Beloved Gift" were both written for Senensky's son; "Blues" is an up-tempo number, while "Beloved Gift" (which makes an appearance on the Ready Or Not 2 compilation) is a funky tune with a great, heavy bass riff rolling in at the 3:50 mark.

Lolito's Theme
New Life Blues
Beloved Gift

Note: These songs have been archived at It Came From Canada.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Martha and the Muffins

Martha and the Muffins differ from most of the artists I've featured on FBOBT in that they had an actual, bona-fide international hit, the 1980 single "Echo Beach". The Muffins started out, as many punk and post-punk bands did, at art school; in 1977 Ontario College of Art students David Millar and Mark Gane (both guitarists) gathered together bassist Carl Finkle, drummer Tim Gane (Mark's brother), and singer/keyboardist Martha Johnson to form the band's initial lineup, which made its debut at a Halloween party later that year. The following year they recruited saxophonist Andy Haas, and Millar left the band to act as its sound engineer during live shows; he was replaced by Martha Ladly, who became the group's second vocalist and keyboardist. A single and demo tape recorded in 1978 landed them a contract with Virgin Records, and in 1979 they travelled to England to record their first album, Metro Music, which yielded the aforementioned hit "Echo Beach". However, two follow-up albums failed to repeat this success, and the group, which by then had lost Ladly and Finkle, was dropped by Virgin. Mark Gane and Martha Johnson continued to record as Martha and the Muffins (and, for a while, M + M, because Gane wanted to change the band's name) throughout the '80's, and had another hit single in 1984, "Black Stations/White Stations," a protest number about radio stations that refused to play a song about interracial romance that, fittingly enough, was banned by many stations in the U.S. By the early '90's, Gane and Johnson had pretty much shut the band down, although they continued to release new tracks here and there and occasionaly performed live, most recently at a series of reunion gigs in 2005.

This Is The Ice Age, which was produced by a then-unknown Daniel Lanois (whose sister Jocelyne was the band's guitarist at the time), was the album which got the Muffins dropped by Virgin, and it's not hard to see why; it's a fairly experimental album with no obvious hit singles, and much of it now sounds ahead of its time rather than dated. The marvelously-titled "Jets Seem Slower In London's Skies" is an austere, melancholic instrumental that brings to mind "post-rock" bands like Tortoise. "One Day In Paris" is a delicate ballad (and love letter to the City of Light) with a slow-build opening that sounds quite a bit like the start of U2's "Where The Streets Have No Name" (which was, of course, co-produced by Lanois). And "Three Hundred Years/Chemistry" opens with another abstract instrumental passage (this one reminicent of Boards Of Canada) before moving into a synth-pop number that sounds like equal parts Le Tigre and The Go! Team.

Jets Seem Slower In London's Skies
One Day In Paris
Three Hundred Years/Chemistry

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Westview Stage Band

It looks like the Westview Stage Band hailed from Westview Centennial Secondary School in North York, Ontario (the northern half of Toronto these days). The album's liner notes don't mention a location, but that's the only hit I get for a Westview Secondary School, and the first song on the album is a medley of "A Place To Stand, A Place To Grow" and the Ontario Place theme.

The individual band members are too numerous to list here, but the directors were P. Miner and L. Donskov, and the "Special Assistants" were Rick Anson (vocals), Ken Bower (percussion), Jim Philip (fluegel horn and trumpet), and Gary Wadsworth (composer-arranger and tenor sax). "Day By Day" is a spirited tune (with a vocal solo by Beth Ramsay) written by Stephen Schwartz for the musical Godspell. "Frere Jacques" is a re-working of the traditional number, with an arrangement by Gino Silvi that starts off normally enough before branching off into jazzy scatting. And "Dreams," a very-'70's number with feel-good lyrics and both up- and down-tempo sections, is an original composition by the aforementioned Rick Anson.

Day By Day
Frere Jacques

Note: These songs have been archived at It Came From Canada.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Country Music Tribute Album Week - Dick Nolan

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Dick Nolan was born in Corner Brook, Newfoundland in 1939, and by the time he was a teenager he'd already sung on local radio and appeared on the CBC. At the age of 19 he moved to Toronto, where he performed throughout the '60's with the Blue Valley Boys, who often backed up visiting U.S. country stars, and cut 11 albums on Arc Records. Towards the end of the decade, Nolan moved back to Corner Brook and continued to record throughout the '70's, '80's and '90's, scoring his biggest hit in 1972 with "Aunt Martha's Sheep." He also became the first Newfoundlander to be nominated for a Juno Award, perform at the Grand Ole Opry and receive gold and platinum records (it's estimated that his more than 40 albums, the last of which was released in 1999, have collectively sold over one million copies). He was also given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Music Industry Association of Newfoundland and Labrador shortly before his death in 2005.

Country Music Tribute Album Week here on FBOBT started with some Johnny Cash covers, and now it ends with some Johnny Cash covers. I chose some of Cash's less well-known songs for this post, of which "The One On The Right," an amusing number about the members of a folk group whose incompatible political beliefs lead to fisticuffs and the band's breakup, is particularly good. Nolan's voice is fairly similar to Cash's, although not nearly as deep as The Man In Black's rumbling baritone, and the playing and arrangements are quite similar to Cash's '50's and '60's recordings.

Honky Tonk Girl
Time Changes Everything
The One On The Right
All Over Again

Note: These songs have been archived at It Came From Canada.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Country Music Tribute Album Week - Floyd Lloyd

Today we have an example of a Canadian musician, singer and guitarist Floyd Lloyd, playing tribute to another Canuck, country legend Wilf Carter. Lloyd was born in Northbrook, Ontario, a small farming community about an hour's drive north of Kingston, and both idolized Carter and got his start as a musician at a very young age. He must have, in fact, been a huge Wilf Carter fan, because he recorded at least four albums of Carter's songs; Wilf Carter Song Book, Floyd Lloyd Sings Wilf Carter, Floyd Lloyd Sings More Wilf Carter, and The Calgary Stampede.

Wilf Carter Song Book is an album of old-style country music that, as a very early Arc release, was probably recorded during the late '50's. Lloyd's singing, a high lonesome warble, is accompanied only by acoustic strumming and an uncredited steel guitarist.

My Blue Skies
The Life and Death of John Dillinger
Why Did We Ever Part

Note: These songs have been archived at It Came From Canada.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Country Music Tribute Album Week - Freddy McKenna

Freddy McKenna was a blind singer, producer and arranger best known for his frequent appearances on CBC's Singalong Jubilee, where he would play the fiddle, mandolin and guitar on his lap, as Jeff Healey would years later. A self-taught musician, McKenna also guested on Don Messer's Jubilee, recorded with George Beck and the Maritime Playboys and Stompin' Tom Connors (and produced Stompin' Tom's signature tune "The Hockey Song"), and was inducted into the New Brunswick Country Music Hall Of Fame before he died during a gig in Cambridge, New Brunswick.

A Hank Williams Songbook was released in 1966 and produced by Ben Weatherby, with Roy Penny (scroll down to On Stage At The Drake) on lead guitar, Mickey McGivern on rhythm guitar, Rickey Lamoureux on piano, Bob Lucier on steel guitar, Bill Gibbs on bass and Bunty Petrie on drums. McKenna mostly steers clear of copying Williams' vocal mannerisms, singing these four numbers in a register somewhat deeper than Hank's nasal yodel.

I Saw The Light
Just A Picture From Life's Other Side
Dear Brother

Note: These songs have been archived at It Came From Canada.