ontario

#650: Frequent Buyer

GETTING MORE TALE #650: Frequent Buyer

I heard through the grapevine* recently that my old store (“the Record Store”) are discontinuing their frequent buyer cards.  These cards have a long, long history going back more than 25 years.  First we offered free tapes and CDs – buy 10, get one free.  Those were eventually phased out when we stopped carrying new tapes and CDs, but due to popular demand we added a free used CD card – buy 12, get one free.

Minimum wage just went up on the province of Ontario, to $14 an hour.  In 2019, it will go up again, to $15 an hour.  There is an election in six months, and the present provincial government is pulling out all the stops trying to appeal to young voters.  Some restaurants are battling the wage increase by cutting hours, raising prices or cutting staff breaks.  At the store any time wages went up, hours were cut and we reviewed what we were paying for incoming used CDs.  It appears that this time out, the Record Store is cutting the frequent buyer card.

Frequent buyer cards are on the way out anyway.  Remember when Subway used to have them?  Seems like a long time ago now, because it has been:  Sub Club cards were phased out back in 2005!

Our frequent buyer card was very popular.  We would redeem several of them on any typical day.  You could cash it in for any used CD, $11.99 or less, and we gave away a lot of free CDs.  Customers would collect the cards, save them up, and treat themselves to something they really wanted.  It was a great incentive to get customers to buy more than one CD at a time.  People would buy an extra CD or two to collect the stamps, especially if they were close to completing their card.  Very few were the people who turned down the card.  “I have too much crap in my wallet,” was the most common reason for declining, but most people like the feeling of getting something for free.

It’s sad to see this era pass.  My wallet is empty; I redeemed my card last visit.  I know some customers would be furious.  People love to complain.  They used to whine that we wouldn’t stamp their cards if they bought a cheapie out of the “bargain bin”.  (If they were nice about it, I’d give them a stamp for every two cheapies they bought, though it was against the rules.)  Now they’re going to be pissed that they can’t get stamps at all.  I don’t envy the staff members who have to explain this to the complainy types.  (“Do you know how long I’ve shopped here?” will be one complaint they can look forward to.)

Prepare for more minimum wage fallout in Ontario over the next year.  This is only beginning.

 

*  I won’t say who told me…even if you do the unskinny “Bop”.

** That was a clue.

 

 

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#649: Denizens of “The Mall”

GETTING MORE TALE #649: Denizens of “The Mall”

Every mall has its questionable denizens.  I’m not talking about mall rats or bargain hunters.  I mean the people that are there every single day, not doing much of anything, just…being.

Stanley Park Mall in Kitchener, where I spent most of my childhood and early work life, had plenty of characters.

One of the first I was aware of was named “Butts”.  Nobody knew his real name, but he earned the nickname Butts by fishing cigarette butts out of ashtrays.  He was there frequently, and if not he was mining the ashtrays at Fairview Mall instead.  We left him alone, but one kid from school named Kevin Kirby decided to make fun of Butts one day.  Butts responded with a flurry of F-bombs.  It all seemed rather sad to me and not at all funny.  A kid making fun of this guy, and him telling a little kid to fuck off?  Why not just leave him alone?  I’m sure Butts was made fun of regularly, but Kirby was generally a dick.  (Any time he teamed up with me on a school project I did all the work and he coasted off my grade.)

Sue came along a little later.  She was in a bad car accident and was in a walker.  She really liked the Record Store I worked in, and had a bit of a crush on the owner.  We didn’t actually know about the crush until she gave him a Valentine’s Day card.  She used to park her walker at the front counter and talk to him for hours.  We didn’t assume that meant she had a crush, because there were lots of lonely people in the mall who just liked to talk.  It was one of the drawbacks of working there.  One day before leaving she gave him a card, and the owner didn’t realise it was a valentine.  He opened it in front of us, and we all saw it.  He was super embarrassed and really tried to avoid Sue after that.  I witnessed him taking a huge dive behind the counter to avoid her when she strolled by!  And that wasn’t an isolated incident.  I learned from it – I took a few dives behind the counter myself over the years.

The last regular denizen to discuss was the saddest and I don’t know what happened to him.  He was known as Johnny Walker.  Like Butts, nobody knew his real name although his first name may actually have been John.  They called him Johnny Walker because he would walk around the mall all day, every day.  The mall was like a big rectangle, and he would complete numerous circuits through the day.  He talked to himself as he did, mumbling away as he walked.  If you overheard him, it would sound like a normal conversation but with just one person talking.

I’ve been trying to find out what happened to Johnny Walker but nobody seems to know.  People at the mall said he was rich and didn’t work or need to work.  Maybe it was an inheritance.  Maybe an insurance claim.  Nobody knew.  His clothes weren’t ratty and he was clean shaven, but there was clearly something wrong with him.  It was no act.

The general rule of thumb was “just ignore him”.  Sometimes kids would make fun of him and he’d get loud and violent.  He’d been kicked out of the mall a few times after a violent or loud spell.  Then he’d go to a different mall to walk around, before finally returning to Stanley Park again.  He was never gone too long.

As told in Record Store Tales Part 6, I only dealt with Johnny Walker once at the Record Store.  He strolled in, talking to himself.  I took a deep breath and hoped nothing would set him off.  He walked, talked, and picked out a tape.  He came up to the counter and immediately stopped talking to himself.  I sold him the tape, gave him his change, and he walked out again, sharply resuming his conversation with himself.

All I really know about Johnny Walker is that at one point, he listened to tapes.

I hated seeing highschool mallrat kids following him around and shouting at him to “shut up”.  If Johnny got loud and violent, I have a feeling the kids were the root cause most of the time.  I’m sure they thought it was hilarious to harass this obviously damaged person.  But he was still a person, a human being.  Although it was sometimes startling to see someone walking around talking to themselves, it would have been nice if parents taught their kids a little respect.  We don’t know anybody’s secret battles.  Walker minded his own business any time I was present.

If anyone knows what happened to Butts, Sue, or Johnny Walker please drop us a line or leave a comment.  I hope they are all doing better.

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Raw M.E.A.T 1 – Various Artists (1990)

Welcome to…
…Hosted by Vinyl Connection

RAW M.E.A.T 1 (1990 M.E.A.T Magazine)

Drew Masters’ legendary metal magazine M.E.A.T took a lot of pride in promoting Canadian talent.  The next logical step was putting out a CD featuring the best of the best in unsigned Canadian rock and metal.  The flagship band was Toronto’s Slash Puppet.  On this first volume, only groups from the province of Ontario signed up.   Even though the talent all came from a small region in and around Toronto (with one exception), it’s a surprisingly diverse selection of styles.

I look at Raw M.E.A.T as a first tapping of an oil reserve.  It was a gusher.  So much untapped raw talent, unheard in suburbs.

“Slow Down” by Slash Puppet was previously issued on their indi tape, but Raw M.E.A.T 1 was its first issue on CD.  The track has been described as Motorhead meets Faster Pussycat and that still fits the bill.  Lead singer Anthony J. Mifsud was the sandpaper throat to go with the rough and tumble music.  You can hear why there was such a buzz around Slash Puppet.  They had pro-level tunes and performance. All they needed was a break.

Most Raw M.E.A.T buyers knew what they were getting with Slash Puppet. The rest of the tunes were uncharted territory.

Eiffel Power, from Taranna, knocked it out with “City Action”.  Singer Lionel Lois  had ample range and lung capacity for this fun metal shuffle, very current for the time.  Think of Extreme’s first album but with more muscle.  Then there’s the instantly likeable “Feel Me Sweet” by Brampton’s own Ragadee Anne.  Yes, it’s true:  coming up with names for bands isn’t always easy, but “Feel Me Sweet” kicks.  One reason they sound so professional is due to the production by Tom Treumuth (Triumph), surely an advantage in the studio.  Glam rock with bite and youthful innocence sure sounds good.

Blackglama (Toronto) take it to the streets with the rock/rap hybrid of “Playin’ Hardball (With the Big Boys)”.  This was just a year or two ahead of its time, though director Bruce McDonald used it in his 1991 film Highway 61  (but not the soundtrack CD).  The next group, Washington Wives, bring it to immaculately composed AOR rock.  “Memoirs, Etc.” has backing vocals from Phil Naro, from just across the border in Buffalo.  Naro is best known for Talas and his work with Kiss’ Peter Criss.  “Memoirs, Etc.” is vaguely familiar, as if you’ve heard its like on the radio before (Journey? Night Ranger?), but there’s no question this track was hit-ready.  Zero fat content, this is all meat of the most melodic variety.

Short Avenue has another “name” attached, that being “Scarpelli”.  Guitarist Gene Scarpelli is the son of Gino, of Toronto’s Goddo.  Short Avenue sounds nothing like Goddo, rather more like some tough street punks ready to mix it up.  With hindsight, they sound like precursors to The Four Horsemen.  “Push Comes to Shove” is right in the same vein as the Horsemen’s “Rockin’ is Ma Business”.  From the Horsemen to the Cult:  The Cult have always been big in Canada.  First impressions are that Trouble In Mind (Toronto) were very inspired by Ian Astbury.  Regardless, their track “Sweet Addictions” is album quality.  Lead singer Beau (just “Beau”) turned up on a later instalment of the Raw M.E.A.T series, but that’s another story.

We depart Toronto momentarily for a trip to the nation’s capitol.  Ottawa’s Antix had been self-releasing vinyl since 1986, and “Kick It Up” was a new track.  With a Van Halen shuffle, their track hits the right spots, but suffers from inadequate production.   It’s unfortunate that the most experienced band has one of the poorest sounding tracks on the CD.

Russian Blue received their first major exposure via Raw M.E.A.T, and thanks to their incredible song “Once a Madman”, they gained a cult following.  They were a double threat:  a magnificent singer and a terrific guitar player.   Vocalist Jo E. Donner found himself compared to a young Robert Plant.  Richard Gauci backed that up with memorable guitar hooks.  “Once a Madman” gets the job done in just 3:15, leaving behind an unforgettable and unique rocker that begs for repeat listens.  One reason it sounds so good?  Produced by a pre-fame Harry Hess of Harem Scarem.

The next band, Zyle, sound like they were going for a traditional metal sound.  The Scorpions come to mind immediately, as does fellow Canadian rockers White Wolf.  They needed a bit more originality.  The guitar solo directly quotes Randy Rhoads, too close for comfort.  But then it’s The Remains with something a little more street punk.  A variation of the classic Peter Gunn riff, “Too Much” is actually never enough.  It’s the right mixture of middle finger and middle eight.

Hanging out just down the QEW are Hamilton and Oakville, from which come the last two groups.  Cathouse prove that you can never have enough permutations of the classic Van Halen shuffle.  “In For the Kill” nails it, with a vocalist who seems like equal parts Skid Roper and Rob Halford.  Finally, Oakville’s Johannes Linstead is best known today for his flamenco guitar albums.  He didn’t start there!  Wildside (later to become Gypsy Jayne) are about that sleaze rock.  You can hear that the guitarist is something special, though you wouldn’t predict the future from this one track.

It’s difficult to be objective, even though so many years have passed since Raw M.E.A.T 1.   Many (if not most) of these bands had potential.  Toronto in the early 90s was ready to explode as “the next Seattle”, but there was no “next Seattle”.  12 of these 13 songs are really fondly remembered, with one just needing a little more originality.

4.5/5 stars

 

#572: VIDEO – A Weekend at the Lake

GETTING MORE TALE #572: A Weekend at the Lake

A new summer, and new tech! My beloved BlackBerry Z10, bought over four years ago in early 2013, has bitten the dust.  That Blackberry was responsible for most of my Sausagefest and Mike and Aaron Go to Toronto videos, not to mention the hundreds of photos it provided for this site.  In that time, my BlackBerry required no service at all.  So to all those who told me not to buy a CrackBerry:

My new weapon is a Samsung (not the kind that explodes) and so far I’m very pleased with it.  This past weekend I had a chance to give its camera and video abilities a test run.  Needless to say the quality of both exceeds my four year old phone.  I was so happy with the quality that I decided to edit together a little video and post it for you.  I’ve done this for a few good reasons:

  1. It’s another excuse to showcase the excellent music of Stealth, featuring Kathryn Ladano and Richard Burrows.
  2. I have a chance to give my Samsung a dry run before using it to create the 2017 Sausagefest video in July!
  3. This video ties in nicely with Getting More Tale #567:  Creatures of the Night.  I wanted to give you a feeling for what it actually sounds like at the lake, and I captured a bit of a nice rain storm.  In this video you’ll get that, some nice crashing waves, and a raging river at near-flood levels.  In fact the water level at our location on Lake Huron has returned to its 1980s level.  Old-timers there always said the water levels rise and fall over decades-long cycles.

Please enjoy some of the music of Stealth, and the sounds of pure nature.  Look for a cameo by my dad, up to no good prob’ly.  Leave your comments below:  What do you think LeBrain’s dad is up to this time?

 

#564: The Smell of Home

GETTING MORE TALE #564: The Smell of Home

What does your home town smell like?

I may complain a lot, but I do actually love this town.  I was born in Kitchener.  I don’t want to live anywhere else.  It’s certainly not the greatest town in the world, but it’s mine. Kitchener isn’t known worldwide for its burning hot music scene (polka music at Oktoberfest time excluded).  That said we have produced a few local legends:

  • Helix (formed 1974) was based out of Kitchener for many years.
  • Errol Blackwood and Messenjah are our claim to fame in the reggae community.
  • Singer/songwriters Paul MacLeod, Danny Michel, Rob Szabo and Steve Strongman all hailed from here.  You also may have heard of one of the greatest bass clarinetists in the world, Kathryn Ladano.
  • Bluesman Mel Brown wasn’t born here, but he made it home.

Not a lot to boast about, but better than a kick in the pants.

Kitchener also is not known for its arts (that would be Waterloo) or its education (also Waterloo) or sciences (Waterloo again). What it does seem to have in plenty is a number of distinct smells.

Driving up Victoria street, you can smell the Weston’s bread bakery cooking up lots of delicious scents.  My dad has a song he used to like to sing when driving by:

“Weston’s bread,
Is full of lead,
If you eat too much,
You’ll surely be dead.”

That was a nice smell, but I remember a far worse smell in the Record Store days.

I spent the majority of my years in the Fairway Road area of town.  I remember taking the garbage out on many, many nights and smelling the same unexplainable smell.  It only happened during the summer. I don’t even know how to describe it properly.  I used to call it “grape flavoured urine” smell.  It was a weird mix of grape and pee, and in the evenings taking out the garbage, it was everywhere!  What the hell was it?  Nobody knew.  I haven’t smelled grape flavoured urine in a long time…but I remember it clearly any time I take out the garbage on a warm summer night.

There was an even worse smell when I was transferred to “the wrong side of the tracks”.  The garbage bin there was behind a diner.  Back there it always smelled of dirty cooking grease.

I hope your town smells better than “grape flavoured urine”, although you don’t have Messenjah or Helix….

Oh and that red poo-shaped sculpture?  Nobody has a clue what it is!

#526: Location, Location, Location

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).

 

cambridge1. Cambridge

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.

 

hamilton2. Hamilton

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.

 

kitchener3. Kitchener

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.

 

oakville4. Oakville

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.

 

mississauga

5. Mississauga

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.

 

#510: Kayys?

GETTING MORE TALE #510: Kayys?

We only get to do it once a year, so you gotta make it count!

Readers here have been treated to many tales from Sausagefest every year, the annual music countdown that occurs every July at a top secret outdoor location.  The parties are epic and the music is never disappointing.  You’ve read all about the countdown and activities many times here and even been treated to a few videos.  Sausagefest is such a blast every year that even the trip up is worth hearing about.

My two passengers this year were Uncle Meat, and Chris the Lamb Lad.  We had to pack a lot of stuff into my little Pontiac G5 including three coolers.  The Lamb Lad had packed his cooler full of freshly made pulled pork for everyone.  Perhaps even more important than the succulent and delicious pulled pork was the music selection.  Uncle Meat commandeers the stereo, but I brought four flash drives loaded to the brim with tunes.  I had spent several hours curating the music on these flash drives, much longer than we would actually spend listening to them.

Instead, we spent most of the time listening to the CDs that Uncle Meat brought.  As many music fans in Ontario now know, recording artist Paul MacLeod passed away a couple months ago.  Paul and Uncle Meat were very close friends, and Paul had set aside a couple CDs of his for me to review.  Meat gave them to me, and we listened to Paul in the car, with Meat remembering the good times.  I now own his albums Close and Play, and Tell the Band to Go Home.  Both are incredible, but we’ll save that for the eventual reviews.

Also given to me were two studio CDs by recording artist and Sausagefester Max the Axe:  self-titled, and Overload.  There was some pretty heavy metal on those two CDs.  Thanks to Uncle Meat, I now own three Max the Axe albums in total.  Needless to say, there was plenty of rocking in the car.


“Livin’ the Country” from Overload (2008)

Meat was on his best behaviour.  No backseat driving at all this year, which was an awesome change of pace.  He also didn’t piss in the middle of the road this time.  Up through Salem and into Arthur, we made our first stop at Tim Horton’s for some ice capps.  Usually I was the most prepared of us, but this year I neglected to eat a good lunch before we departed.  I was starving and ordered a steak wrap.  Unfortunately the place was really busy, as it always is, and I should have known it was going to take 20 minutes.  While I waited inside for my wrap, Meat and the Lamb Lad went outside for a smoke.

Moments later, Meat came back into the store.

“Kayys?” he said to me.

“Kiss?” I responded.  I had a flash drive with every single Kiss album.  Gotcha covered.

“Kayys?” he repeated, hand outstretched.  People looking at him now.  Lots of people waiting in line.

“I don’t know what you’re asking me,” I said uselessly.

“Kayss?” again.

I stood there like a doorknob; lots of people there looking at us trying to see what this weirdo was doing.  “Kayss?” he kept repeating.  It was clear I had no idea what he was asking, so he finally broke character.

“Keys?  Can I get your car keys?  I left my smokes in the car.”

“Why didn’t you just say that, you friggin’ goof?” I said as I dug for my keys.

“I did!” he retorted.  “Kayss?”

OK, I heard it now.  In the meantime, me and everybody else in Tim Horton’s in Arthur assumed he wanted a kiss.

We made our way up the windy country roads, listening to more Paul, more Max, but no Kiss.  Next stop was Flesherton.  There used to be a killer chip wagon there, but it has been gone for the last two years.  Instead, Lamb Lad went into a sandwich place and ordered what looked to be some pretty amazing food.  Outside, an elderly couple in the late 70’s or early 80’s seemed to be having an argument.

We waited for Lamb Lad to order, and then stepped outside again so the guys could smoke.  As we walked out, a cop car pulled up and blocked in the elderly couple!  It seems somebody had taken notice of their discussion and called the cops.  The couple looked like they had figured out whatever it was just as the cops arrived.  It was weird to see this happening in Flesherton Ontario with a couple who looked older than Moses.  We shook our heads and marvelled at how weird the day was getting before we even arrived at Sausagefest.

But the farm wasn’t far, and before we knew it, our destination was at hand.  Familiar faces were greeted, and help was offered in setting up tents.  It’s a magical place.  There are friends here that we only see once a year, but have bonded with like brothers.  It’s a remarkable experience to have.  And the music ain’t bad either.


“Giants” from Close and Play (2006)

 

 

 

#483: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

GETTING MORE TALE #483: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down,
Of the big lake they call gichi-gumi.
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead,
When the skies of November turn gloomy.
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more,
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty,
That good ship and crew was a bone to be chewed.
When the gales of November came early.

Living in Southern Ontario, we have easy access to three of the five Great Lakes. Many children spent time holidaying on Huron, Erie or Ontario. In school we learned to memorize the names of the Great Lakes with the acronym “HOMES”: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. The Ojibwe called Superior “gichi-gami” meaning “big sea”. When I was a kid we spent our summers at the cottage in Kincardine. Kincardine is located on the eastern shore of Lake Huron, or as my dad used to call it when I was a toddler, “big water”. Some things are universal.

We are surrounded by nautical activity, from the great locks at Welland canal, to the legendary shipwrecks on the Great Lakes.   Just a few kilometers south of Kincardine is Boiler Beach, so named because a few meters from the shore sits the boiler from an old steamer that exploded in 1883.  The Erie Belle was a tug boat sent to rescue another ship that had blown aground after missing Kincardine harbour and attempting to turn around.  It could not budge the freighter, and the Erie Belle’s boiler exploded when the engine overheated and seized.   The piece of history is still sitting there partly due to the cold fresh waters of Huron.  You can see it clearly even from the road.  If that kind of sight doesn’t instil in a kid an interest in nautical Great Lakes history, nothing will.  And then there are glass-bottom boats that do tours, and in clear waters to view shipwrecks.

We also weathered quite a few storms that rolled in off the lake, taking down hydro poles and trees.  All you can do is sit tight and wait it out.  We always kept several oil lamps at the cottage, ready to go, and we had to use them annually.  It was easy to see how a even a huge ship could come to harm in such a storm.

Today, thanks to Gordon Lightfoot’s musical immortalization, the wreck of the freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald is the most famous Great Lakes shipwreck of all time.

EDMUND

The huge freighter was hauling iron from Duluth, Minnesota to steel mills in Detroit, Michigan.  Its final destination of the season was the port of Cleveland. It was late in the year 1975, and the big ship had to traverse the entire length of Superior, the deepest and most northerly lake.  From there, to the locks at Sault Ste. Marie, and then south down the entire length of Huron.  The Edmund Fitzgerald was a sturdy ship, launched in 1958 as the largest on the lakes.  She broke speed records, and then broke her own records.  She was a favourite to crowds because of the charismatic “DJ Captain”, Captain Peter Pulcer.  He enjoyed piping music in the loudspeakers, and entertaining crowds on the St. Clair and Detroit rivers with tales of the big ship.  But it was Captain Ernest M. McSorley who was command that fateful night in November.

There was a storm on the radar, but the weather service predicted it would proceed harmlessly south of Lake Superior.  The Edmund Fitzgerald departed on November 9, but by 7 pm that night, the weather reports suddenly changed.  The storm was crossing the lake, and they sounded the warning for gale-force winds.  Pounded by 60 mph winds and 10 foot waves, the Edmund Fitzgerald headed north for shelter.

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck,
Saying, “Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya.”
At seven PM it grew dark, it was then,
He said, “Fellas, it’s been good to know ya.”
The captain wired in he had water comin’ in,
And the good ship and crew was in peril.
And later that night when her lights went out of sight,
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Gordon Lightfoot was fascinated by the story and wrote the famous song around the disaster. His storytelling ability made it legendary, never to be forgotten.  It went to #1 on every relevant chart in Canada, and has been covered by artists as diverse as the Dandy Warhols and the Rhoestatics.  And in honour of the 29 men who died on that ship, he has revised his old lyrics. Formerly the words went, “At seven PM a main hatchway caved in.” However this implies the hatchway was not secured properly, and investigations showed that there was no crew error in the disaster. With respect to history, Lightfoot changed the line to “At seven PM it grew dark, it was then…”

Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings,
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion.
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams,
The islands and bays are for sportsmen.
And farther below, Lake Ontario,
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her.
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know,
With the gales of November remembered.

The Edmund Fitzgerald lies at the bottom today, 15 miles from the aptly named  Deadman’s Cove, Ontario.  It is now a protected site, but there are no conclusive answers to what happened in her final moments.  The way Lightfoot worded it was appropriately vague: “And later that night when her lights went out of sight, Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”  What is more important today, rather than the cause of the wreck, is the fact that the 29 people lost at sea are now immortal.  Gordon Lightfoot ensured that.

In a rustic old hall in Detroit they prayed,
In the Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral,
The church bell chimed ’til it rang twenty-nine times,
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

REVIEW: Jaymz Bee & the Royal Jelly Orchestra – ClintEastWoodyAllenAlda (1997)

JAYMZ BEE_0001JAYMZ BEE & the ROYAL JELLY ORCHESTRA – ClintEastWoodyAllenAlda (1997 BMG)

Only one of the reasons that Jaymz Bee is totally awesome is that his name isn’t even really James B.  He’s actually a James D, from North Bay Ontario, and he is one whacky fellow.  A TV music veteran from the Look People (which also spawned Kevin Hearn, future Barenaked Lady) and the Ralph Benmegui show, the man is actually quite a musical genius.  After the TV stint, Jaymz teamed up with Jono Grant and immersed himself in lounge music.  I have to credit T-Rev for discovering this disc in the late 90’s and turning us onto it.  He was all about the lounge music at the time, and Jaymz was catchy and hilarious.

“Man Can Fly” opens the album on a distinctly campy note, but listen to those bass chops and that flute solo!  T-Rev, who was always a jazzbo, gave this CD a few fair spins in-store and you can hear why.  It’s a great, bright sound that’s perfect for work.  “The Man in the Saucy Suit” could work as background music for a Bugs Bunny mapcap adventure, and the lyrics are quite witty.

Our favourite song was usually “You Put the Babe in Baby”, a fast dexterous jazzy tongue twister.  Freakin’ incredible, and now I need to pause for a cocktail.  Thankfully, the CD jacket has recipes for three suitable drinks: the Berlin Martini, the signature Jaymz Bee Martini, and a Rob Roy!

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“Amazon Sugar Pie” is a delightfully jaunty jungle journey with zoot suits and swing.  Then on “Tony Bennettless”, Jaymz advises us that no party can swing if it is Tony Bennett-less, and he makes a convincing argument.  “Free food and free booze, no it don’t mean a thing,” if a bash is Tony Bennett-less.  “A Dog Like You” is another chaotic tongue twister, lyrically hilarious and musically top drawer.

The most surprising track is “A Groovy Movie”, the most straightforward rocking-est of the songs.  The humour and swing is intact, but this time you can get down and dance like Austin Powers back in the 60’s again.  I think the most interesting song is the slinky, snail-y quiz show sounding title track.  It’s fun to try and figure out the compound names before Jaymz gives them away in the words… “BuffySaintMarieAntoinetteFuniCelloBiafra”?  “RickJamesDeanMartinShort”?

“Music to Watch Girls By” is yet another fun 60’s swing, and “The Future Keeps Kicking My Ass” is nocturnal and slinky goodness with a Tom Waits vibe…but the closer “Nails” is manic musical insanity.  It’s another lyrical masterwork of wit.  “Nails! You bang ’em with a hammer! Nails! You cut ’em or you grow ’em…” and you’d be surprised just how many things you can do with nails according to this song, but then we diversify to snails, whales, jails, and finally back again to nails!  Best line: “Whales: One swallowed Fred and Barney Rubble!”  (You remember that episode, I know ya do.)  And stay tuned for the hidden bonus track, in French.

Brilliant with humour like a great Zappa disc.  Buy it.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Paul MacLeod – Gauge (2011)

The fifth and latest review from Mike and Aaron Go to Toronto…Again!  Aaron gave me this CD…thank you dude!

This is also a SIMULTANEOUS REVIEW!  Aaron has reviewed the same album today: take a look!

GAUGE_0002PAUL MacLEOD – Gauge (2011 Busted Flat Records)

I’ve wanted to check out some solo Paul MacLeod for a while now.  I’m a huge fan of the one and only album he released with Hibakusha, the best album Rush never made.  Gauge is not like Hibakusha.  Gauge is an acoustic record, a format that does not always appeal to me.  In this case, the attraction was immediate.  These songs are incredible.

The proceedings commence with the old-tymey fun of “Be My Girl”.  Even though it’s a MacLeod original, it sounds like it could have been written in the 1930’s.  I love that about it.  If you put scratchy record sounds over it, you might not be able to tell it’s actually from 2011. “Change Your Life” on the other hand sounds more contemporary.   It has a hymn-like quality to it.  It’s very serene.

GAUGE_0003“December” sounds almost as if it was recorded live.  I’ll point out MacLeod’s excellent picking skills here.  He lets his fingers speak.  Then, the song “Hero” sounds like something that would be excellent in an electric band format.  It boasts big verses and a catchy acoustic riff.  “The Trickster” is whimsical and lullaby-like.  MacLeod lends it a theatrical flair with his expressive voice, which seems to change from song to song.  The funny thing about that is, just as I’m really getting into all the different voices he can use, the very next track is called “Instrumental”, and that’s exactly what it is.  It’s also just lovely.  “Stop” is delicate, much like the preceding instrumental.

“Another White Band” is different yet again, upbeat this time, with an incredible chorus.  Again, I can’t help but think the song would benefit from an electric version.  Then, the final track is “It Belongs to You”, a sad sounding ballad.  But check out that guitar melody and chords.  They are transcendent, to me.  There’s something pure and classic about them.

Boy, am I glad Aaron gave me this CD.  Thanks buddy.  This is one that, I suspect, is going to grow near and dear to my heart.

4.5/5 stars

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