Rob Szabo

#704: Battle of the Bands

A kinda-sorta retelling from a different perspective of Part 258:  Uncle Meat

GETTING MORE TALE #704: Battle of the Bands

Poor George.  He really wanted to be in a band.  Rob Szabo had a band.  He was just starting out with one of the neighbour kids.  He even had two original tunes (I remember one was called “The Stroll” and I can still hum it).  George really wanted to be in Rob’s band.  He hung out at their basement rehearsals and watched them play.  Rob would teach him things.  They needed a bass player.

George secretly saved his money, and eventually bought a bass.  Rob was horrified.  He didn’t want George in his band, he wanted a musician who already knew how to play music.  He didn’t want to have to teach the bass player how to play bass.  He also felt terribly guilty, because George bought the bass specifically because Rob needed a bass player!

I can remember George playing Rob’s tape to the girl he liked.  “That’s us!” he said.  “That’s my band.”  He wasn’t on the recording at all.

Like a kid who didn’t know how to break up with his girlfriend, Rob took a while to tell George he was “out” of the band.  When he did, George was not deterred.  He just went it alone.  He taught himself how to play by playing along to records.  He studied Steve Harris and Gene Simmons who quickly became his favourite bassist.  He practiced all the time.  I know, because we could hear him from our house.  We laughed about it, because George also attempted to sing.

He eventually got pretty good at bass; good enough anyway for the bar band scene.  He would never be any good at singing, although that hardly stopped him, and you have to respect that.

In the summer time, George took his amp outside and played for anybody who happened to be around.  He loved to play, “Guess this song from the bassline!”  Not an easy game when I didn’t know many songs yet myself.  I had a few albums, but I’d only been into rock and roll for a couple years.  Every bassline sounded the same to me.

“Guess this one”!  Durm durm durm durm.  Durm durm durm durm.

“Uhh, I dunno, ‘Shout It Out Loud’?”

“No, it’s ‘Love Gun!'”

George finished highschool, but I was just beginning.  It was there I saw my first Battle of the Bands.  I sat with Bob Schipper, Rob Daniels and the gang at lunch watching the bands play.  Rob Szabo had a band called Under 550 — the total body weight of the four members.  Even in highschool, it was obvious Rob had real talent.  There were all the other bands, and then there was Under 550.  He was levels above the others.  He could play “YYZ”.  I’d never even heard of “YYZ” (though I’d seen those letters on my parents’ luggage tags).  There was only one clear winner and that was Under 550.  It was obvious to everyone.  They would be going to the regionals at the Humanities Theatre.

Rob Szabo on the left

Bob and I got our tickets.  We went with neighborhood friends Scott Peddle and Todd Meyer.  The four of us sat together and waited giddily.  Not only was Rob Szabo playing, but so was George.  He joined a band called Zephyr (no relation to the other Zephyr), and they were on the bill.  I planned my catcalls.

George always told me he wanted to play “I Love It Loud”, and introduce it by saying to the crowd:  “How do you like your music?  Well I love it loud!”  I hoped and prayed he was going to do that.

Each band got two songs.  We waited through noise bands like Stomach Acid and F.U.H.Q., who had the plug pulled early for swearing.  We waited through boring acoustic and pop crapola.  There was one group that rocked really fucking hard.  I wasn’t into thrash, and these guys were heavy.  A group of bangers came down to the front row and started banging their heads to the thrash!  You could see the long hair flailing.  I didn’t know the singer, but many years later I found out his name was Eric.  But nobody calls him Eric.  Today they just call him Uncle Meat.  The Legendary Uncle Meat.

Meat

Truth is, his band was too scary for a 14 year old me!

On came Zephyr.  “You suck George!” I yelled, with Scott joining me.  He ignored us, or couldn’t hear us.  It didn’t matter, Scott and I were laughing so hard!

Sadly, George did not play “I Love It Loud”.  Zephyr disbanded a little after, with George again going solo.

Rob stacked the deck for the regionals.  Under 550 added a lead singer, and became Over 550 for this one night.  Though they didn’t win, they ranked high.  Uncle Meat and George went home empty-handed, but with memories etched forever.

The winners of that event? The now-somewhat-but-not-really-legendary Gordie Gordo and the G Men, featuring Sausagefester Scottie G, on the not-very-well played guitar! $100 dollar first prize which went promptly towards a mic stand.

We laughed on the way home at our witty catcalls like “Don’t fall over George!”

And that, friends, is why my highschool years were better than yours.

 

 

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#422: Sausagefest 2015 – The Complete Countdown (& some quick pics)

IMG_20150704_151011

Seb and LeBrain, this year’s videographers

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#422: Sausagefest 2015 – The Complete Countdown

The annual trek to Sausagefest is centred upon the always epic Countdown.  There were many misadventures on the way to the Countdown, and after.  While I am sworn to abide by the credo “What happens at Sausagefest stays at Sausagefest,” I am also bound by my own nature as a storyteller.  Therefore, I can share with you a number of brief tidbits, hints, and insinuations.

Yes founder Chris Squire died only days before the Sausagefest countdown.  It was too late to include a tribute a Squire tribute into the countdown itself, so Tom and Uncle Meat sequenced about an hour of Squire’s best music to precede the actual countdown.  This was a promising hour, but upon hitting “play” on the laptop, it was immediately obvious that something was wrong.  We were only getting one channel.  Yes music, with its layers and wide stereo panning, turned out to be great music to test the four speakers.  Unfortunately it took almost all of the Squire-allotted time, seventeen men* and one record producer to figure out that all the muss was being caused by an RCA adapter somewhere.  We got two Squire songs, excellent as they were.

The Countdown this year was informally dubbed “The Greatest Songs of All Time”, because for the first time in years, the slate had been cleared and any and all songs were open for voting.  Because of this anything goes approach and some younger blood, we got to hear a lot of classic tunes that often are either overlooked or just not up for grabs.  I’m sure this was the first ever appearance of Boston on the countdown.  I can probably say the same for Foreigner.  These top ten hits are offset by more obscure favourites by Ian Thomas and UFO.

Now below, please analyse and enjoy the one and only OFFICIAL 2015 Sausagefest Countdown.  Every track was a winner.  I’ve highlighted songs I voted for (only two this year).

1 Battle Scar Max Webster/Rush
2 Shine on You Crazy Diamond^ Pink Floyd
3 Hallowed be Thy Name Iron Maiden
4 Working Man Rush
5 Sultans of Swing Dire Straits
6 La Villa Strangiato Rush
7 Eulogy for the Damned Orange Goblin
8 When the Levee Breaks Led Zeppelin
9 Natural Science Rush
10 A Day in the Life The Beatles/War mashup

^ The whole thing…parts I-IX.

Look at that majesty.  FOUR RUSH SONGS IN THE TOP TEN!

11 Fatso Forgetso Kyuss
12 Heaven and Hell Black Sabbath
13 Toronto Tontos Max Webster
14 Wish You Were Here Pink Floyd
15 Superstition Stevie Wonder
16 Rime of the Ancient Mariner Iron Maiden
17 Master of Puppets Metallica
18 End of my Daze Trouble
19 Papa Was a Rolling Stone The Temptations
20 The Trooper Iron Maiden
21 Ramble Tamble Creedence Clearwater Revival
22 War Pigs Black Sabbath
23 Penis Ground Groove Daddys
24 The Ocean Led Zeppelin
25 Stranglehold Ted Nugent
26 Sympathy for the Devil The Rolling Stones
27 Muffin Man Frank Zappa
28 Smokin’ Boston
29 Child in Time (Live ’72) Deep Purple
30 Aces High Iron Maiden
31 Into the Void Black Sabbath
32 25 or 6 to 4 Chicago
33 Machine Gun Jimi Hendrix/Band of Gypsies
34 Doctor Doctor UFO
35 Kashmir Led Zeppelin
36 Old Man Neil Young
37 Suite: Judy Blue Eyes CSNY
38 Illegal Smile John Prine
39 Testify Rage Against the Machine
40 Get Up Offa That Thing James Brown
41 Belzelboss Tenacious D
42 Emerald Thin Lizzy
43 Sweatleaf Black Sabbath
44 Tribute Tenacious D
45 Tres Brujas The Sword
46 I Black Sabbath
47 The Temples of Syrinx Rush
48 Space Oddity David Bowie
49 46 & 2 Tool


“Then I fuckin’ diddle-riddle-dee-doo.”

50 Monkberry Moon Delight Paul McCartney & Wings
51 39 Tenacious D
52 What is Hip? Tower of Power
53 Over the Hills and Far Away Led Zeppelin
54 The Mob Goes Wild Clutch
55 Better Living Through Chemistry Queens of the Stone Age
56 Mongoose Fu Manchu
57 Roadhouse Blues The Doors
58 Inside Looking Out Grand Funk Railroad
59 Hurt Johnny Cash
60 Don’t Stop Me Now Queen
61 Careful with that Axe Eugene Pink Floyd
62 The Chain Fleetwood Mac
63 Ophelia The Band
64 Jukebox Hero Foreigner
65 Fairies Wear Boots Black Sabbath
66 Where the Devil Don’t Stay Drive By Truckers
67 Fat Bottomed Girls Queen
68 Under Pressure Queen
69 Fools Overture Supertramp
70 The Pot Tool
71 Tempus Fugit Yes
72 Thunderstruck AC/DC
73 Green Eyed Lady Sugarloaf
74 Duke’s Travels Genesis
75 Red Hot Mama Funkadelic
76 Painted Ladies Ian Thomas
77 Down by the River Neil Young

Please note that double-shot of Queen, above!

Also note the presence of “Penis Ground” by the Groove Daddys (not to be confused with the Groove Daddies, or Groove Daddy).  This was a local trio fronted by guitarist and singer extraordinaire Rob Szabo.  I certainly didn’t expect anything that obscure making the list, considering the diversity of folks that attend.  To rank all the way up at #23?  That’s proof of the sheer quality of the music.  Indi enough for ya?

Once again, a huge thanks to Tom, Meat and everyone else for working so hard for us.  Thanks Craig Fee and Jeff Woods for your much-appreciated willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty.  And lastly thanks to Uncle Meat for being such a delightful travel-mate this year.  Enjoy some of these pictures from the weekend, official video still to follow!

The Setup:

The Live Bands:

The Fest:

The Aftermath:

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* I didn’t take a head-count, but I swear if it wasn’t seventeen guys trying to fix the thing, it was close.  It doesn’t really matter because more wouldn’t have helped!

REVIEW: Nirvana – Icon (2010)

NIRVANA – Icon (2010 budget compilation)

The Icon series of compilations is mostly shit.  One of the stinkiest of the shit is Nirvana’s installment of Icon.  Where’s “Sliver”?  There’s not one song here from Bleach.  “About A Girl” is from the Unplugged CD and “You Know You’re Right” was a “new” song added to Nirvana’s first and only official greatest hits set, Nirvana.  In fact, every song here can be found on Nirvana.

Rather than bitch bitch bitch about how shitty this CD is, and how pissed Kurt would be to have his music released in configurations that nobody in the band authorized, I’d rather just rate it and change the subject.  Enjoy the following essay.

1/5 sharts

A Brief History of Kitchener, Ontario by Michael Ladano

DOWNTOWN KITCHENERKitchener, a city of 220,000 in southern Ontario, was settled around the year 1800 on lands by the Grand River.  The Crown gifted this land to the Six Nations, who sold it.  It was settled by loyalist German Mennonites from Pennsylvania, to escape religious persecution in the United States.   The Mennonites who settled here included families such as the Schneiders, Webers, and Ebys whose names can be found on streets and buildings all over town today.  They named the settlement Sand Hills, within the Township of Waterloo.

Land was converted to farms, and the Grand River enabled an early sawmill industry.  Streets such as the present day King Street were built, as were landmarks such as the Heuther Brewery, in the early 1800’s.   The town grew with waves of German immigrants, and in 1833 Sand Hills was renamed Berlin.

LORD KITCHENERIn 1856, Berlin was connected to railways, and industry grew.  In 1912, Berlin was declared a city.  During the First World War, anti-German sentiment in 1916 caused the town to be renamed Kitchener, after Lord Kitchener, a British war hero.  His famous face adorned many British recruitment posters.  The bust of Kaiser Wilhelm was thrown into Victoria Lake.

Although some still wish to rename the city Berlin, Kitchener today boasts strong industry, easy access to excellent post-secondary education, and a huge annual Oktoberfest honoring its German heritage.  It is known for its OHL hockey team the Rangers, and for spawning many NHL athletes.  It is also known as the birthplace of William Lyon McKenzie King, Canada’s longest-serving Prime Minister and possibly the only one who regularly sought advice from a crystal ball.

Kitchener is also known for its music.  The annual Blues Festival is always popular.  Kitchener has also spawned such international musical artists as Rob Szabo, Helix and Kathryn Ladano, and world famous writers like Michael Ladano.

Come to Kitchener (only 100 km west of Toronto) in the summer to enjoy boating, hiking, biking, music festivals, and much more, including a large population of Miniature Schnauzers.  Don’t bother coming in the winter.

Part 258: Uncle Meat

Uncle Meat is former co-worker, now friend. He worked at one of the other record store locations for about a year. Back in Part 78, he told his side of the story, but I thought I should return the love.

MEAT

RECORD STORE TALES Part 258:  Uncle Meat

My first encounter with the man known as Uncle Meat (his parents still call him Eric) happened in 1987.  I didn’t meet Meat in 1987; I met Meat officially in the 1990’s when he was hired at one of our stores.  As we chatted about people we both knew, we pieced it together:  Both of us were friends with a talented local singer/songwriter named Rob Szabo.   Way back in the 80’s, Rob was in a band then called Under 550, and they won the Battle of the Bands at Grand River Collegiate Institute in ’87.  I remember they knocked out a version of Rush’s “YYZ”.  They were sent to the next round, to battle it out regionally at the Center In the Square.

They added a lead vocalist for the big competition, and temporarily changed their name to Over 550.  550 lbs was the total combined body weight of the band.  They were just under 550 lbs, until they added the singer.  Get it?  They were up against a neighbor of ours, George, who was playing bass in a band called Zephyr.  Also in the running were such luminaries as Stomach Acid, and F.U.H.Q.

It was when discussing this gig that Uncle Meat and I realized we were both in the same place at the same time — except he was on the stage and I was in the crowd!  I have a distinct memory of watching a very heavy thrash metal band.  They were just too heavy for most in attendance, but they had chops and a good singer.  That singer was Meat.  One thing I’ll never forget about his set is this:  a whole row of long-hairs ran down in front of the stage during the first song, and banged their heads through it all.  When Meat had played his two songs, they went back to their seats.  I’d never seen anything like it before, at that tender age of 15.


Spring 1991 – Uncle Meat singing “Fairies Wear Boots” with Heavy Cutting

Many years later, I worked a shift at the store with Uncle Meat, and that was our first “official” meeting.  I remember that it was a pre-Christmas shift, and I was helping out another store.  It was the two of us and Meat’s arch-nemesis, a girl who did not get along with him at all.  (The story of why was recounted in Top Five Discs That Got Us In Shit.)  It was a fun shift, busy as hell, and I remember stopping at an HMV store on my way home and picking up a Savatage CD (their then-latest, Wake Of Magellan).

Here I am, almost three decades later, remembering that night in ’87 like it was yesterday.  I could tell you details like what jacket I was wearing (a dark blue leather one).  I could tell you who I went with: Bob, Scott, and Todd Meyer.  I couldn’t tell you who won anymore, but I do know this:  It was fate.  It was fate that Meat and I should meet.  When we work together on a project, it’s peanut butter and jam.  Thanks for friendship Uncle Meat, and thanks for contributing so much to mikeladano.com.


Same night, same gig: Szabo on axe shreds some Judas Priest.
Listen to that fucking singer!

CONCERT REVIEW: When Styles Collide (April 5 2013)

I’ve known one of these artists for 40 years, the other since she was born.  Rob Szabo is a childhood friend, and Kathryn Ladano got all the musical talent in my family!

563656_10152710710545468_886971882_nWhen Styles Collide:

MIX Music Series Concert #2


Musicians:

April 5, 2013, the Button Factory, Kitchener Ontario

Sponsored by NUMUS Concerts

Mix 2 posterA lot of rock fans can get into more cutting edge music, things a bit more challenging.  Many of us have ears already opened, by progressive rock giants such as Deep Purple, Dream Theater, and Frank Zappa.  When some of the region’s best musicians from various genres gather together to improvise live with an audience, it’s gonna be interesting.  The basic concept of When Styles Collide was to bring together players from different backgrounds, and see what happens.  Although some songs are pre-written pieces, all of the performances contained music made up entirely on the spot at one point or another.  Some are completely spontaneous.

Rob Szabo is a well known singer/songwriter and producer (his production helped bluesman Steve Strongman win a Juno award in 2013 for best Blues album).  Szabo is also a hell of a guitar soloist.  On another side of the musical spectrum is bass clarinetist Kathryn Ladano.  Even though the two have known each other for over 35 years (essentially all of Kathryn’s life since they were childhood neighbors), they’d never actually played together before.  Also present was Kathryn’s frequent collaborator and bandmate from the Digital Prowess days, Jason White.  The quintet was completed by Brandon Valdivia on the traps, and Brent Rowan with some smoove saxophone.

A cool spy drama from the early 60′s would make a great backdrop for the first performance (Rowan’s “By Chance”).  Mixing exotic rhythms with hypnotic patterns, sax and drums dominate.  Szabo rocked back and forth to the music before breaking out into a jazz-tinged solo.  Then it’s Ladano’s turn to lead, with some contrasting highs and lows.  The crowd broke into spontaneous applause — something rarely seen at an experimental music geek event such as this, at least in my experience! (I’m told this is more common with jazz crowds.)  They then rolled into an Ian Paice-style drum solo, before coming back to the main riff of the song.

The second piece, “A Side of Me” is one of Rob’s songs, led by a mournful riff, before Jason White joins him.  This is a vocal number, with Rob Szabo’s expressive vocals.  It sounds like it exists somewhere in early Radiohead, before they got too carried away with themselves.

Then it’s a slow jam (“Sketch 1″ from Valdivia), perhaps from that same 1960′s spy drama.  But this is the scene where our spy’s had too much to drink and he’s wandering around some dark alley after a heavy rain.  This is followed by “Rorschach” named for the classic vigilante from The Watchmen.  It’s a more chaotic jam, perhaps reflecting the character’s on-the-edge life.  Some seriously eerie sax and bass clarinet keep you on the edge, while the percussion is a distant thunderstorm.

Rob said “Incandescent” was written during a period of heavy touring.  It’s one of Rob’s best tunes, melodic and melancholy, but with an occasional glimmer to let you know he’ll be OK.  The band seemed to be having fun jamming behind him.  Brent Rowan’s sax solo was appropriate and stunning on its own, but then Jason white took the lead with some fluttering piano awesome-sauce.

The band closed their first set with an improvisation, a rhythmic jam.  It’s really cool to see and hear the music build, like waves.  You can catch glances back and forth, the musicians communicating by eye, but most of the time they seem well ensconced in their playing.  It’s also cool to know that the music never existed before this moment, and if it wasn’t for the recording equipment, it would also be lost forever just after that moment.

The second set began rhythmically, with a catchy instrumental jam (“Sketch 2″).  There were solos from the wind instruments, and a constant background of interesting and sometimes exotic rhythms.  Rob Szabo laid down a guitar part that looked really really hard; his eyes concentrating on a music stand in front of him, his hand making giant leaps up and down the frets!  A cool drum solo was also captivating.  Kathryn explains:

“The two Sketches do have some basic material that we are following.  That’s why you hear a lot of melodies repeat. It features a small amount of notes and a basic structure that tells you how often to repeat, and when to solo. That’s how we’re able to end together, because it tells us that too. Despite the structure, the two Sketches are still very free and allow us to each do our own thing a lot of the time.”

“Good Son” is from Rob Szabo’s Sore Loser, part of a double EP.  The band didn’t obstruct the quiet song, but instead accented it.  I enjoyed Jason White’s complimentary piano lines.

The jazz-funk of “Funk” (good title) rocked, like a sweaty version of “Pickin’ Up the Pieces”, saxophone taking center stage.  Then, surprisingly, a spoken word piece.  Szabo put down the guitar and exchanged it for the microphone; the words were Nietzsche.  Jason White wrote the music, which he called “Fierce Fighter”.

Kathryn wrote “I Told You So”, a tricky little number that employs some of her favourite bass clarinet tricks.  It also seems to dance around the main rhythm to “Sunshine of Your Love”.  It’s pretty lyrical and out there, very cool and weird.  The band ended with a final Szabo song, “Police Report” that evolved into an extended jam.  Rob’s echo-y guitar solo ended the show on a particularly noisy, rock n’ roll note.

4.5/5 stars

Set 1:
1. “By Chance” by Brent Rowan
2. “A Side of Me” by Rob Szabo
3. “Sketch 1” by Brandon Valdivia
4. Improvisation by Kathryn Ladano, Brent Rowan, and Brandon Valdivia
5. “Rorschach” by Jon Maheraj (arranged by Jason White)
6. “Incandescent” by Rob Szabo
7. Group Improvisation
Set 2:
1. “Sketch 2” by Brandon Valdivia
2. “Good Son” by Rob Szabo
3. “Funk” by Brent Rowan
4. “Fierce Fighter” by Jason White
5. “I Told You So” by Kathryn Ladano
6. “Police Report” by Rob Szabo (leads into a final group improvisation)
Some photos by Martin LePage

Part 189: Hiding the Music

RECORD STORE TALES Part 189:  Hiding the Music

1985:

There was a group of kids on the street (Bob, myself, Rob Szabo, and Peter Coulliard) that were competing for a cassette copy of Kiss Alive II.  There was only one copy that we knew of in town on cassette.   Guys like Bob and Szabo would know that — they were older, had nice bikes, and probably had been checking all over town.  The only copy we knew of was at a store called Hi-Way Market.

Other kids on the street such as George and Todd had the album on vinyl, but Bob and myself didn’t really have any decent equipment for playing records at the time.  Cassette was portable, it was our primary medium in 1985.  In 1985, you didn’t listen to “albums”, you listened to “tapes”.  The cassette copy at Hi-Way Market was priced at $12.99.  This was more expensive than most, because it was considered a “double album” even though it was still just one tape.

KISS ALIVE II BACK

None of us had $12.99 plus tax right then, but Hi-Way Market had this tape we all wanted.  Hi-Way Market was a great store.  It had old creeky wooden floors.  Downstairs were groceries and clothing.  Upstairs, the greatest toy store in town.  Every Christmas they did a giant Space Lego display.  It was incredible.  But off to the side of this store, up a narrow staircase, was a little record store.  I bought my first Iron Maiden (Live After Death, on vinyl) there.  (I think the deciding factor in buying the vinyl of that album was the massive booklet, a rarity in those days.)

Since none of us had the money, Peter Coulliard hid the copy of Alive II behind something else in the store.  Something where no Kiss fan would ever look for it.  Probably behind Duran Duran or Michael Jackson.  This enabled Peter to have the edge when he finally did gather the necessary funds, thus edging Bob, Szabo and I out in the battle for Alive II.

1999:

These two kids kept coming into the store that were fascinated by my copy of Kiss’ Carnival of Souls.  These were young kids…well, about the same age as Bob, Peter and I were back when we pulled this stuff.  They did not have the $10.99 ($12.64 with tax) to purchase Carnival of Souls.  We didn’t have the only copy they could find, but we did have the cheapest one.  The mall stores were asking at least $20 for new copies.

So these kids came in day after day, week after week, moving Carnival of Souls.  They continually got more creative with their hiding places.  My job was to make sure the shelves were also straight and orderly, and when you’d find Kiss under Anne Murray, you’d put it back.  When bosses found Kiss under Anne Murray they’d give you crap.  So, much as I sympathized with the kids’ musical choice, they were grinding my gears as manager.

Finally I got fed up.  I sent the CD to Trevor’s store with an explanation of why he had to keep it and sell it there.  Then the two kids came in again.

“Hey, umm, do you have Kiss Carnival of Souls?” asked the first one.

“Nope, sold it yesterday,” I lied.

“Awwww…” said the second kid.

It had happened.  I had become “the man”!  I had lost sight of my old self.  Didn’t I pull that “hide the album” stunt myself? In fact, didn’t I do it with GI Joe figures at Hi-Way Market?  I did!

NEXT TIME ON RECORD STORE TALES…Early Birds.