Yesterday on my way home from work, I thought this guy was gonna eat it.
When the Candidates burst onto the local rock scene in the late 90s, I was on board from the get-go. The Candidates were one of the “Record Store Bands” I wrote about in Record Store Tales Part 40. They were the product of a former band, The Mighty Fisherman, who put out an actual CD album. Members of that band formed the Candidates – great guys who made great music. I don’t use the word “great” lightly. All four songs on their debut EP (never released to the public) are as good as anything on a major label at the time. When the guys recorded this EP, they loaned it out to various friends, and so I made my own copy. (My own liner notes, too!)
I always felt the Candidates had a sound not unlike Sloan, The Who, and the Jam rolled into one. (Maybe even a hint of Kiss; check out the slow-down ending to “Cash Money”.) The point is: they rocked. It was rock and roll, nothing but. No ballads, no fluff, no solos. Great lyrics, solid riffs and rolling bass lines out the wazoo. The whole thing is over n’ out in under 12 minutes.
First up, “You’re All Heart”, the song with the most pop in its melody, and a little twang in the six-strings. The handclaps are a nice touch, as are the rolling thunder drum fills. Tambourine is thrown in for good measure on “Good to Go”, a song defined by its catchy bassline. I always liked the line, “There’s nothin’ on the walls, and woo! There’s nothing on…” The beat just kills. “So leave your boyfriend at home, and come hit the town with me.” It’s the kind of tune that, in our early 20s, was a bit of an anthem. More handclaps!
Things start to slam heavier on “Cash Money”; a banger of a riff. “Got my good-to-go boots and I’m gone.” They don’t come any more rock and roll than “Cash Money”. Although, as a younger man, I identified most with “Barely Bruised”. It seems I was constantly having bad luck with the ladies. I really liked the lines, “I’ve been beaten but I’m barely bruised, I’m lost but I cannot lose.” I liked the idea of being knocked down and getting back up for more, never giving up. The band dedicated this one to me in concert one time, and I’ll tell ya, it made my night. The song itself is a battery of broadsides, so put your dukes up.
Since this EP was never sold, and you’ll never hear it, reviewing it is rather strange and maybe pointless. Eventually, somebody somewhere will google this band, and smile when they read these words. I just had to tell you about these guys.
Have a look at my humorous liner notes. I also stole a setlist from an unknown gig!
GETTING MORE TALE #732: Where the Hell Am I?
What is the most important information to possess when you’re shopping? Is it your shopping list? Is it money?
No friends, that is not what matters most. What you need to know most of all is where the hell you actually are.
I was working at the Record Store in the late 90s. We had big red gift certificates in different denominations. They had our logo printed on them. You could use them at any of our locations. They were pretty standard gift certificates, like any other store might have. Today virtually everybody has switched to magnetic gift cards instead, which undoubtedly saves on paper.
A family came in one afternoon looking to spend. They had over a hundred dollars in gift certificates. Enough for the whole family to enjoy. Collectively they had numerous questions, but were courteous and friendly. I spent roughly an hour with them, helping them find songs and retrieving CDs for them to listen to. They narrowed down their pile of CDs to the discs they wanted most. Then we got to the checkout counter.
I made sure each case had the right CD inside, and I made sure each one was clean. I rang them up and told them the total, when the man handed me a little blue HMV gift certificate.
My heart sank.
“This isn’t us, this is for HMV,” I informed the man.
“This isn’t HMV?” He was stunned!
No! This isn’t HMV! Didn’t you notice all our massive signage? Also, all our CDs are used! When was the last time you saw a used CD at an HMV store? My mind was screaming all of these things silently as the man.
What bugged me the most wasn’t all the wasted time on these people, it was that he was actually angry! Angry at who? If it were me, I’d be super embarrassed but I sure as hell wouldn’t be angry. I would also be sure to buy something — anything — to make up for all the time the store spent on me. This guy escorted his family out, leaving all the discs with me at the counter.
I’m sure the boss man was thrilled when I told him this story, and how effective all our store signage was!
Now a story of my own, but without the temper tantrum.
As many of you know, my friend Jason and I collect Transformers. There are not really any decent toy stores in Kitchener. We have a Toys R Us and an EB Games. Up in Waterloo, there’s a good store called J&J’s, but they don’t carry Transformers. (I did, however, buy up their GI Joes.) Cambridge is the place to be for toy shopping.
I took a day off work to go toy shopping with Jay. First we hit a place called The Toy Society, which is an excellent store for vintage action figures. A little bit of every genre. It’s hard to leave without spending money. But Jay and I had a specific goal that day, which was to check out our friend Dan’s new store.
Dan owns B&K Collectables, which if you collect Pops, is now the place to go to get ’em. He also carries vintage G1 and new Masterpiece Transformers. His prices are high but when I buy a vintage figure from him, I know it’s complete and in working condition. He’s never let me down, and I have scored several rare boxed G1 figures from him over the years. He used to sell by mail, but in 2016 he opened an actual storefront, in a shared space with a computer store.
Jay and I hadn’t been there yet, and so partially planned this day to check out Dan’s store. We knew roughly where it was, on Queen Street down by Len’s Mill Store. We parked and started looking.
“This must be it,” said Jay as we entered a toy store.
We looked and took it all in. There was a guy working near the back.
“BIG DAN!” shouted Jay.
The guy turned around. He was big but he was not Dan.
“Did Dan hire someone?” I whispered to Jay.
“Sorry, is Dan around?” said Jay to the started toy store guy.
“No,” he answered simply, but probably confused.
“OK, thanks,” we said as we looked around for a bit. The store was cool but he didn’t have any Transformers. We had to be in the wrong place. Turns out, it was a store called Playin’ Around. B&K Collectables was still a few more doors down!
Once we found Dan, we had a laugh at our embarrassment. As usual, his assortment of vintage figures was impressive. I had my eyes on a complete G2 Megatron, but Jay was more excited about G1 Blitzwing.
“Holy shit you have Blitzwing!” said an excited Jay. A customer over in the computer half of the store was amused by his excitement. “I can’t believe you have a G1 Blitzwing, is he complete?”
The computer customer walked over. “OK, I have to see what a G1 Blitzwing is, if it’s this exciting.”
Jay explained to him, “He’s a triple changer! He changes into a plane AND a tank.”
“Ahh,” said the guy.
You have to have fun with shit. Here I am with Jay, two guys in their 40s buying toys in the hundreds of dollars. The computer guy thinks we’re nuts. We also walked into a store and accidentally scared a guy by yelling “BIG DAN!” It’s funny. The guy with the HMV gift certificate could have made that experience so much better for everybody if he just saw the humour in it (and bought something for all my efforts).
Don’t be angry. If you’re a dumb shit, just own it and laugh it off. Ponoby’s nerfect, nam.
I took a little bit of online flak for this picture, but I think it’s funny. This was a McDonalds in Cambridge Ontario. The combination of the track pants, the lazy half-assed wearing of the shoes, and the golden arches struck my funnybone.
It’s OK if you don’t think this is funny. I’m cool with that. But don’t be a dick about it. I wouldn’t take a picture of a homeless person, or a disabled person, but lazy people seem like fair game to me.
I mean, just look at dem shoes.
GETTING MORE TALE #526: Location, Location, Location
I worked at many Record Store locations over the years, often temporarily for training and managing. Some of them I spent a few days at, others were several weeks or months in total. Each one had its own flavour and clientele. While experiences and mileage may vary, here are some memories of some favourite locations (all in Ontario, Canada).
The store in Cambridge was our first to carry movies, initially in VHS format. It was a lot of fun working there from time to time, buying and selling used movies. There was always something I wanted for my collection, and it broke up the monotony of seeing nothing but CDs every day.
Cambridge was also interesting because we used to get a number of people coming in just to ask where the strip club was. “It used to be around here!” I don’t know why the dudes looking for the strip club kept stopping in the Record Store (as opposed to the Tim Hortons or a gas station or anywhere else), but they did indeed used to ask.
Some of the customers in Cambridge were…well, let’s just say they were not all our best and brightest. T-Rev managed that store, and I took over temporarily when he was on road trips elsewhere setting up new stores. The customers there wore me down more than anywhere else. Especially when they came in to sell, which was frequently. Cambridge bought a lot of stock. If the customer wasn’t happy with my offer, they’d ask when the “regular guy” would be back. Maddening since I was more generous than a lot of other folks.
There was one customer in Cambridge who hated selling to me, he always asked where “the regular guy” was. He asked my name and I told him it was Sanchez. When T-Rev came back, we had a laugh over the employee named “Sanchez” who was apparently low-balling this customer for his dance CDs.
The store I worked at in Hamilton was pretty quiet most of the time. There was a lunch time rush when kids from the nearby highschool would come in to listen to and occasionally buy CDs. Given Steeltown’s reputation, I was pleasantly surprised to find the kids I dealt with to be polite and friendly, more than I was used to seeing. The adults weren’t always so friendly, but no more or less than any of the other stores I worked in. Hamilton was a shitty place to drive (confusing one-way streets), but I didn’t mind working there at all.
I worked in three different stores in the Kitchener area. One of the other guys there used to refer to Kitchener as a “ham & egger” town, a phrase I never heard before. A lot of blue collar customers. It was still a step up from Cambridge, depending on which Kitchener location I was working in.
I’ve said many times that my favourite store was the original one, in a small mall in Kitchener. It was our only mall store ever. It was a special place to work. It was tiny and compact. It could get really busy on the weekends. There were a lot of regular customers, more than I remember elsewhere, probably due to the fact we were in a mall. There was a familiarity – I knew them, and they knew me. When I was eventually given a larger store elsewhere to manager, I missed the faces I would see on a regular basis at the mall.
I also missed the “unique” individuals you’d meet at the mall store. Malls have a whole ecosystem of life forms, unlike others in the outside world. There was Johnny Walker, so named because every day he would walk the circuit around the mall, talking to himself, all day. One day, something peculiar happened. He came in, stopped talking to himself, and bought a tape. He paid for his cassette and then resumed walking and talking to himself again. I only saw that happen once. There was Butts, the guy who would dig through ashtrays looking for cigarette butts. Let’s not forget Trevor the Security Guard, and the drunks at the restaurant next door. It was a blast! I didn’t care for the mallrats, but they were a minor annoyance.
I did not like working on Oakville, as was discussed in Record Store Tales Part 16: Travelling Man. Many of those customers were snooty; just too good for you. They felt entitled to park in the fire lane, because they were more important than you. Read the Oakville tale for the misery that was working there.
More than any other location, I may have resented Mississauga the most. It was a shit location. There was nothing of any value around. There was a health products store, but nowhere to buy a snack or a lunch. There was no foot traffic. Across the street was an empty field. It was a dead store from the day it opened. I invested myself deeply in my work. There are many things in life that can crush your soul. One of them is working hard at something (training employees, helping set up a store) and seeing it come up to nothing. That was Mississauga. In the used CD business, you depend on customers bringing in good stuff for you to re-sell. Mississauga provided very little good stuff.
There were more, all with tales of their own. These however were five of the most memorable, each for its own reasons. While a change of scenery is nice once in a while, there is nothing better than working in a location you love.
RECORD STORE TALES Mk II: Getting More Tale
#322: Highway to Hell
The big peave that I have today in my current work is my daily commute. It’s not far at all (I can do it in 10 minutes if there’s no traffic) but it can be hairy. To understand this, you would have to see the poor planning that went into the roads in Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge, otherwise known as the tri-cities area.
To get from work (in Cambridge) to home (in Kitchener), there are only a handful of good routes. The trick is getting across the Grand River, and there are only three nearby bridges to access. One of them is Highway 8 into town (two lanes each way but expanding), which is always in a state of construction. Another is the King St. bridge (one lane each way) and another is Fairway Road (a bit too far out of my way). Any accidents can cause jams on any of these routes, but the worst location is what I call the “sweet spot”:
The “sweet spot” is on Highway 401, between Hespeler Road and Highway 8 into Kitchener. An accident there at the right time of day (3-4 o’clock) will tie up traffic going into town on any of my routes. Prior to the opening of the Fairway Road bridge, accidents there have delayed me by almost two hours (on a normally 10-15 minute drive). Add in winter weather conditions for part of the year and you’re in for a real good time.
There are accidents on my 10-15 minute drive home nearly every day. Once a month there will be an accident in the dreaded “sweet spot” causing major delays. Last week there were two in a row! On those days, all I can do is study the traffic map, select a route and hope for the best!
When I first started this commute, all I had was a single disc CD player in my car. Each day I’d pick an album to listen to. I only had room for one or two CDs in the car at a time. Length didn’t matter; a Van Halen album would be perfectly fine for my commute on a good day. On a bad day however, you can count on running out of music and having to start over! Fortunately I have since switched to a couple 8 gig flash drives, avoiding traffic tie-up repeats.
On the bright side, a “sweet spot” traffic tie-up informed my review of Sloan’s The Double Cross (which I got to hear twice in one drive), during my drive home.
Other commuting misadventures that I witness on my way home, on a daily basis:
1. Motorcycle idiots passing between two cars. On the highway. Last seen on Friday last week.
2. People passing on the shoulder of the 401.
3. Being cut off in traffic, daily.
4. Idiots on cell phones.
5. Somebody in a Dodge Ram weaving in and out of traffic, trying to make it further along than anyone else, only to get stuck behind a transport truck.
These stories are not so unique. If you live in a major metropolitan area, you witness these same things too. As I progress into the RST Mk II’s, I intend to vent about traffic again in the future. (In fact, I’d like to buy a dash-cam. The video gold I could produce every day would provide endless blog fodder.)
Fortunately, music does soothe the savage beast. Rather, technology does. Back in Record Store Part 16: Travelling Man, I stated “when you’re stuck in traffic on the 403, in a torrential downpour, listening to Winger, it still sucks pretty much as bad as it would if you weren’t listening to Winger.” What has changed since then? Well, I’m not driving that far for one. GPS and Bluetooth have reduced the stress greatly. Having 16 gig of albums in the car is also better than five cassette tapes.
What’s your favourite album for being stuck in traffic? Take it from me: Sloan’s Double Cross works really well!
RECORD STORE TALES Part 311: Record Store Gallery IV (Shite Photies)
This is what it’s come to in this crap-fest known as Record Store Tales: Another batch of semi-embarrassing photos of a much younger and thinner LeBrain. These are from a party circa 2003 or so. I can’t remember the names of anybody in these photos except one, which is Jesse Villemaire (last photo), the owner of Thrive tattoo studios in Cambridge. I can’t remember a single other name!
Long time LeBrain readers will recall that vintage Marillion tour shirt (that I don’t fit into anymore) from Part 126: The Marillion Shirt.
HELIX – Bastard of the Blues (2014 Perris)
I’ve been a Helix fan a long time. They were one of the first bands I’ve ever liked. I’m pleased to report that their new album, Bastard of the Blues, is their strongest in years and possibly on a par with their best 80’s work. It is their first album with Chris Julke of Cambridge Ontario on guitar, replacing John Claus (who replaced the Doctor, Brent Doerner). This new lineup of the band (still featuring Kaleb Duck – guitar, Daryl Gray – bass, and Fritz Hinz – drums) is again working with Sean Kelly and Aaron Murray, producing one hell of a record. It consists of 8 brand new songs, and 3 slightly older songs that you may have missed the first time.
The title track “Bastard of the Blues” is a mean, fully loaded soul-metal rock song. Soul-metal? Sure, why not? Check out those backing vocals, and the smoking lead guitars. Soul-metal! Songwriting-wise, this is a top drawer. Production-wise, performance…there is absolutely nothing that sucks about “Bastard of the Blues”. Although this is a completely modern song, there are aspects of it that take me back to 1978’s Breaking Loose album, such as its experimental nature with different sections and so on.
It takes balls to name a song “Even Jesus (Wasn’t Loved in His Home Town)”. It’s heavier than the title track, and boasts a nasty little guitar riff to hook you. Once again, Helix raised the bar. Then they change gears: “Winning is the Best Revenge” is solid pop rock that in a just world would be on the radio. This one takes me right back to the mellower sounds on Helix’ 1993 classic It’s a Business Doing Pleasure. Vollmer’s voice is in top shape. Lyrically these two songs really seem pointed at those who may or may not have impeded Helix in the past!
“Screaming at the Moon” would be a cool song live, with it’s lyrics about fists pumping in the air. My favourite song however is the next one, “Metal at Midnight”. If it wasn’t for the modern production I’d swear this song was from 1984. What a great hard rock chorus. I’m absolutely nuts for this song. What is it about bands like Judas Priest and Helix recently, that they have managed to tap into that vintage vibe? I think part of the credit must go to co-writer Sean Kelly, who proved his metal credentials last year on his excellent Metal On Ice EP.
“Hellbound For a Heartbreak” is similar in direction to “Screaming at the Moon”, which is solid hard rock with hooky guitars. But then, I was taken by surprise: “When All the Love is Gone” is an epic 70’s-sounding ballad with a voice singing that I’m not familiar with. Turns out, it’s Daryl Gray! He absolutely nails it. This song could have been at home on Breaking Loose, alongside “You’re a Woman Now”. I tend to like albums with multiple lead singers, so I enjoyed the change of pace.
From the compilation CD Best Of 1983-2012 comes “Axe to Grind”, getting a second life here. Now here’s an interesting observation: On the Best Of CD it didn’t make a huge impression on me. Here, I’m enjoying it a lot more, particularly for the scathing lyrics. Anybody who has read Brian’s Facebook page knows he’s not shy about sharing opinions, and “Axe to Grind” reminds us of that. Then comes “Skin in the Game” from the EP of the same title. This being an older song, you can hear the presence of the Doctor! Also from that EP is “The Bitch is a Bullet”. It boasts one of those memorable Helix choruses.
Album closer “Sticks and Stones” is another favourite. It’s a fast-paced bluegrass-y metal shuffle! Hey, I don’t know how to describe it better. This is a great song, purely smoking, and showing off the musicianship of these five pros. Much like “Metal at Midnight”, I just can’t get enough of this song!
As an album, Bastard of the Blues is more cohesive and consistent than some of the recent Helix discs, including The Power of Rock and Roll and Vagabond Bones. As good as those albums were, Bastard is better. It feels like a complete album, more so than before. It holds its own against classics like Back For Another Taste, a high-water mark.
I don’t often get preachy in my reviews here, but I will say this: Go out and get Bastard of the Blues. Order it online. Do what you have to do to purchase this album. You’ll be supporting a hard working band that have really earned your dollars. If there was one pleasant surprise of 2014 so far, it is that Helix came out with such an incredibly strong album. They have raised the bar for themselves again.
RECORD STORE TALES Part 280: Record Store Gallery III – Furry Friends
I’m a sucker for furry friends. Who isn’t? Maybe you’re a cat person, maybe you’re a dog person, or something else! I mentioned a few weeks ago that Kitchener has a high population of Miniature Schnauzers, and the Ladano clan have owned quite a few of those.
This first picture is kind of a sad one. The year is 2000, and that’s me and my first puppy, Crystal aka Gozer. (That’s what happens when you let my dad name animals.) Crystal was a great little friend but very sick. She went blind in ’94 and had all kinds of health issues. This picture of us is the last photo taken of her. I remember the day we had to put her down, I had to work an afternoon shift at T-Rev’s store. T-Rev was out of town building a new store, and I was filling in for him as I occasionally did. It was not the happiest shift to work.
However life goes on and a year later we got Ani! Ani can be a bad little puppy sometimes, but she’s been my best furry friend for a long time now. Unfortunately Ani suffers from a lot of the same health issues that Crystal did. However she’s been a resilient little Schnauzer and has outlived her life expectancy by numerous years already. And seemingly happily too. Which is the main thing.
I brought Ani into the store one afternoon when I was off. She was so good, a little scared though. But she stayed quiet and didn’t try to escape, which she often does! Customers would occasionally bring their dogs into the store, and I never had a problem with it. Nobody pooped or peed on the floor when I was there.
Finally, I bought my own place and got this guy to go with it. This is Zoboomafoo, a leaping lemur from a hit Canadian kid’s TV show. It was on every morning before work and I started getting obsessed with it. One of our store managers, a girl who worked in Cambridge, spotted a Zoboomafoo puppet at the Cinema One store there. They only had one, and both of us wanted it! It was a race to see who could get it first. Needless to say, I won!