bobby wiseman

MOVIE REVIEW: Five Bucks at the Door – The Story of Crocks N Rolls (2020)

FIVE BUCKS AT THE DOOR – THE STORY OF CROCKS N ROLLS (2020)

Directed by Kirsten Kosloski

When she was a kid, it was director Kirsten Kosloski’s job to spend the weekend taping albums for her thrifty dad, who was always borrowing records from friends.  With a floor full of tapes and cases, Kosloski grew to love music in that intimate way that only true music fanatics can relate to.  She felt like a bit of an outsider in Thunder Bay Ontario, but her love of music helped her bond with some local punks.  The place to be was Crocks N Rolls.  She walked up to the entrance.  Owner Frank Loffredo sat in the booth.  Five bucks at the door.  Kirsten had empty pockets.  Loffredo gestured for her to go in anyway.  A life was changed that night.  She became a music journalist.  The dream job she didn’t know existed until Crocks N Rolls opened up her world.

Five Bucks at the Doors – The Story of Crocks N Rolls is a uniquely Canadian documentary.  You quickly realize that Crocks N Rolls could only be the result of Canadian geography and personalities.  We joke about Thunder Bay being isolated (though it is said that their landfill hosts a treasure trove of 80s cassette tapes), but the truth is far deeper than simple stereotypes.  Yes, Thunder Bay is eight hours’ drive away from the big cities, but it also occupies a unique crossroads on the Canadian roadmap.  Touring bands from Ontario and further east had to go through on their way west.  Western bands also had to pass through the crucible.  The only place to play was Crocks.  Most importantly, it was the right place to play.

Sook Yin Lee (Bob’s Your Uncle) calls it a “wonderful enclave of freaks and weirdos.”  Frank Loffredo was just a music fan.  He’d drive to Toronto to see a show. He dreamed of being in the New York or London scenes and drinking up the rock and roll.  Instead he did something better and he brought that vibe to Thunder Bay for everyone to share.  Bands started coming through.  Great bands, bad bands, mediocre bands.  Even if they didn’t sell tickets, Frank would book them a second time.  It wasn’t always about the bottom line.  He would live and sleep in the bar to make it work.  It was about Canadian rock music.  It was about making life bearable for the kids of Thunder Bay who dreamed of getting out.  To Frank it was like “one long day,” but to the kids it was another home.  There were no fights.  It was a melting pot of acceptance and ideas.

Bad Brains, 13 Engines, Razor, Sacrifice, DOA, Henry Rollins…Rollins on a spoken word tour no less.  Five Bucks at the Door is loaded with stories and the best has to be about Henry Rollins and being short changed $10 by Frank Loffredo.  Hank didn’t notice, but Frank had to make it right. He asked a friend to repay the $10 that Frank accidentally owed him.  He also insisted on photographic evidence of the transaction, and that evidence is part of this smorgasbord of punk rock history.

Dave Bidini (The Rheostatics), Bob Wiseman (Blue Rodeo), and many more Canadian artists have acres of stories to tell.  A bunch of tree planters and a canoe?  From Frank’s mom’s home-made spaghetti dinners for the tired band members, to the name of the place.  It looked like an Italian restaurant and the logo looked like it had a bowl and a spoon.  “It was a dumb name,” says Frank.  But the important thing was that “the audience was as much of the show as the band.”  That’s clear by the testimonials and amazing black and white photos.  Scratched and unretouched.

Crocks closed in 1996.  It was no longer sustainable, and then as if adding insult to injury the original place burned down.  But in 2007, Loffredo gave it another go.  Naming it Crocks N Rolls flat out indicated this was to be a continuation of the original.  As before, it’s all still in the family, with a new generation now working with Frank in keeping the rock rolling in Thunder Bay.

Five Bucks at the Door is a refreshing reminder that there are some crucial things we need in life.  Connection, belonging, and music.  Frank brought all three to the teenagers of Thunder Bay that longed for it.  It’s a story that needs to be told, and you owe it to yourself to check it out.  It’s available for streaming for free until September 20, 2020.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Blue Rodeo – “Diamonds in the Rough” / Demos and Other Stuff….. (1989)

BLUE RODEO – “Diamonds in the Rough” / Demos and Other Stuff….. (1989 Atlantic promo EP)

Here’s the funny thing about “Holy Grail” records.  Most of the time, you don’t even know they exist until you find one!

Blue Rodeo is one of those bands for whom I collect “everything”.  Their box set filled a lot of gaps, but I am still missing a few things.  To the Discogs!

I was searching for one of the Blue Rodeo Live in Stratford albums.  There are two; I only have one, and it’s excellent.  While searching for that live album, I found this promo EP instead, at a good price and in great condition.  Upon reading the tracklist, it contained four Blue Rodeo tracks I didn’t have and didn’t know existed!

1989’s Diamond Mine is still considered one of the band’s greatest albums today, if not #1.  The “God and Country” demo that leads off Diamonds in the Rough is an acoustic rendering of one of its best songs.   “How Long” is a fully arranged demo, sounding live off the floor.  Since this record was cut for radio stations to play, it’s quite possible that you heard these versions at some point in early 1989.  I hadn’t, and neither is included in the box set.  Of course they don’t have the production value of the full album, but that’s part of the appeal of collecting rarities like this.

Side one closes with a live version of “Outskirts”, also not on any Blue Rodeo album.  However this version of “Outskirts” is from another “Holy Grail” promo, The Live CFNY Concert.  That record is a double and still out my reach, so this energetic live cut will have to do for now.  (I mean, I could buy it right now…but the copy in the condition I want is almost $100.)

Side two has the single edit of their big hit “Diamond Mine”.  The album cut is 8:18, full of psychedelic organ solos and Doors-like jamming.  A shorter single edit of this song is always handy, and you can’t get it on their Greatest Hits CD. It’s similar if not identical to the music video version.

As if all of the above wasn’t enough to make this promo a worthy “Holy Grail” item, there are two unreleased demos for songs that never made it onto the Diamond Mine album!  “Galveston” is a cover of the Jimmy Webb song made famous by Glen Campbell.  Blue Rodeo’s version is manically fast, with Jim Cuddy’s sweet voice maintaining what made the song special.  Finally it’s “Jig”, an acoustic instrumental with Bobby Wiseman on concertina. This is little more than an idea of a song rather than something fully written.  Regardless, these two unreleased goodies go to prove what a band of musicians Blue Rodeo is, particularly Wiseman and bassist Bazil Donovan, possibly the country’s greatest bass player on this side of Geddy Lee.

If this record only had “Galveston” as its sole rarity, it would be still be a Holy Grail item.  As it turns out, none of these tracks can be found on a Blue Rodeo CD today, so it really justifies its own purchase!

5/5 stars

 

 

#402: Meeting Blue Rodeo

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#402: Meeting Blue Rodeo

FIVEOn June 14 1991, touring to support their third album Casino, Blue Rodeo came around to headline at the COE – Central Ontario Exhibition – in Kitchener.  The opening act was Strange Days featuring Shannon Lyon, a local singer-songwriter whose earlier tunes didn’t appeal to the older ladies in the crowd.  The younger folks dug Strange Days, but there was clearly another segment of the audience who thought they were too loud and raucious.

When Blue Rodeo took the stage, it was with the near-legendary Bob Wiseman on keyboards.  Wiseman departed Blue Rodeo about a year and a half later, so we were lucky to see this unique individual live in concert.  Also present were leaders Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, bassist Bazil Donovan, and drummer  Mark French.  French would be gone soon after, too.  It was a very short-lived lineup:  one album only.

I had just graduated highschool, and we had four tickets to the show; a great way to kick off the last summer holidays before university.  My sister and I attended with my friend Bob and a buddy of his.  Blue Rodeo played a generous selection from their first three albums:  Outskirts, Diamond Mine, and Casino.  In addition Bob Wiseman was given the spotlight for a moment to pick up a guitar and sing a brand new solo song called “We Got Time”.

The big surprise of the night was when a few (probably loaded) guys in their mid-20’s decided to go stage diving at a Blue Rodeo show. The band were noticeably surprised themselves by the stage divers.  Not something you’re used to seeing at a country rock show where a percentage of the audience was over retirement age.


When Greg announced this song, both Bob and I asked, “What did he say? Is the song called ‘Piranha Poo’??”

After the big encores, the house lights went on.  We were all but ready to leave the COE, when Bob noticed Jim Cuddy and the rest of the band exiting through a side door.  “I think I just saw the guy from Blue Rodeo go through that door.  Let’s follow him!” he said.  There didn’t seem to be any reason not to, so we made our way out the door, down the hallway of that old hockey arena, and followed the band right into the dressing room!  I was a bit more nervous than my friends, but nobody tried to stop us or even talk to us.  My eyes went wide as I scanned the dressing room.  It was filled with food and drink, and fans!

We each made the rounds to ask the band to sign stuff for us.  The two we didn’t approach were Bob Wiseman and Mark French who appeared too busy so we didn’t bother them.  Bazil Donovan quietly smiled and signed our things.  Since I didn’t have much in hand, he signed a photo of my guitar that I kept in my wallet!  Greg Keelor signed my ticket stub.  While doing so, I expressed amazement at the stage diving!  “Yeah, it was fun!” said Greg, who probably hadn’t witnessed it too often in his career!  Jim Cuddy signed the other side of my ticket stub.  Bob had already chucked his ticket and had nothing to get signed, so he handed Jim Cuddy a $5 bill.  “Can you sign it, ‘To Bob, the best $5 I ever had?’ said Bob.  Jim chuckled and signed it as requested.  Unfortunately, Bob being the cheapskate that he is, spent the $5 bill later!  Somewhere out there in circulation was a $5 bill that said, “The best $5 I ever had, Jim Cuddy.”*

I already liked the band’s music, but I became a Blue Rodeo fan for life that night.  Not only are they a consistently great live act, but nice guys too.  I met Jim a few years ago at one of his solo concerts, and he still treats his fans like gold.  That’s the kind of band that has earned my undying support.

In 2012, Blue Rodeo came out with their box set, 1987-1993, containing their first five albums plus three discs of rarities.  Having re-bought the albums, I sent my originals over to Aaron! What I forgot was that I had stored my signed stuff with those CDs! Fortunately Aaron found the autographs inside, and sent them back pronto!  Thanks man.

REVIEW: Blue Rodeo – Greatest Hits vol. 1 (2001)

Happy Mothers Day to all the moms out there!

BLUE RODEO GREATEST HITS_0001BLUE RODEO – Greatest Hits vol. 1 (2001 Warner)

Blue Rodeo are not a “Greatest Hits” band. Indeed, before this album came out, Jim and Greg routinely used to say, “We’ll only do a greatest hits when we’re finished.” Well, record company pressure must have gotten to them (or they may have just outlasted their own expectations), and they released this typical hits compilation: 12 hits and 2 new songs, just like every other band’s hits compilation.

The problem with Blue Rodeo is that they are so much more than the sum of their hits. Sure, “Rose-Coloured Glasses” (track 2) is a hit single, but what about “Rebel” or “Heart Like Mine”? (This is the album version of “Rose-Coloured Glasses”, not the very rare single remix, only available on 7″ single back in 1986). There’s simply no room on a single disc hits album for the songs that define the Blue Rodeo sound. Blue Rodeo were and still are more about albums, the bigger picture.  Especially in the early days, each album was a different direction from the last.  Each of the first five (and arguably six) first Blue Rodeo studio albums stand as critically important pieces of work.

Having said that, you do get a generous slice of hits here. Fans know these songs already, so I won’t spend too much time talking about them. “Lost Together”, the full length version of “Diamond Mine”, “Bad Timing”, “Try”…these are all songs that saturated the radio in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Peppered along with them are tunes like “Trust Yourself” from Casino, a minor single that some might have forgotten. I was pleased that “Side of the Road” and “Dark Angel” were here, which represent Blue Rodeo’s less commercial side.

For those who love Jim’s ballads, some of his most notable are here.  For those who prefer Blue Rodeo’s radio country-rocking side, there is “Til I Am Myself Again”, “It Could Happen to You” and the classic “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet”.  Greatest Hits vol. 1 is a fair slice of great tunes.  Certainly there are none to skip…just that there are plenty more where these came from.

Missing in action: any songs from The Days In Between, Blue Rodeo’s most recent album at the time. I guess that’s because The Days In Between just was the first underwhelming Blue Rodeo album. The US version of Greatest Hits subbed in Jim’s hit ballad “Bulletproof” from the later Palace Of Gold, instead of “It Could Happen To You” from Tremelo. (Palace Of Gold followed Greatest Hits, but not in the US where this was released afterwards.)

The two new tracks were a revelation. Blue Rodeo had started experimenting with a horn section, and the Greatest Hits tour featured these additional musicians on their back catalogue. The two new songs also feature the horns and strings.  This led into their next album, the aforementioned Palace of Gold, which utilized these instruments throughout.  A re-recording of “After The Rain” benefits greatly from their soulful sounds (not to mention extended solos and jamming). The Bee Gees cover “To Love Somebody” (lead vocal by Greg) has ended up being one of the best covers Blue Rodeo has done to date, live or otherwise. The new sound with horns would be fully realized on Palace Of Gold, but fear not if you don’t like this sound: they soon reverted to the classic configuration of the band.

My best advice is, if you want to really check out some Blue Rodeo, pick up those early albums one by one when you find them cheap (it’s not hard to do). If “Try” is your favourite song, pick up Outskirts, and then explore the rest of the gems on that classic record. Likewise if “Lost Together” is the only song you know, pick up that album and be surprised by the deep album cuts that you would have missed otherwise. And most of all, see the band live.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Blue Rodeo – “Til I Am Myself Again” (cassette single)

BLUE RODEO – “Til I Am Myself Again” (1990 cassette single)

From my years at the record store, I’ve seen scores of copies of this single on CD.  It has four tracks, all album tracks.  The cassette single on the other hand was something special.  It had a unique bonus track called “5 Day Disaster” that (so far as I know) was exclusive to the cassette format.

In 1990, (Casino era) Blue Rodeo had gone down the road of simpler, short pop-country-rock songs, and “5 Day Disaster” is one of these.  It’s a peppy, uptempo Jim Cuddy blaster with an unforgettable chorus.  It has strong upfront keyboards by Bobby Wiseman, including a piano solo.

The A-side was of course one of Blue Rodeo’s biggest early hits.  It too is a short poppy Jim Cuddy song.  Both songs are credited to the duo of Greg Keelor/Jim Cuddy.  It should be assumed that both songs were also produced by Pete Anderson, although the credits on “5 Day Disaster” are not clear, they both sound cut from the same cloth.

Cassette single tracklist:  Side A:  “Til I Am Myself Again” / Side B:  “5 Day Disaster”

CD single (not shown in photos) tracklist:  1. “Til I Am Myself Again”   2. “What Am I Doing Here”  3. “Rebel”  4. “Diamond Mine”

4/5 stars

(NOTE:  A few months after posting this review, Blue Rodeo reissued “5 Day Disaster”, now titled “5 Day Disaster Week”, on their excellent 1987-1993 box set!  Thanks guys!)

Note that I have the US version of Casino below.  Notice the different logo from the cassette?  In the US they were still using the Diamond Mine logo!