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Sunday, March 16, 2014

HANDSOME NED, JOHNNY ROCK, AND B.B. GABOR



                                            Poster at Hotel Isabella, early days



                 Way back when, in the distance, through
the mists of time,  we were all playing
various clubs in Toronto. Handsome Ned wasn't really rolling yet, but he'd come to all the John Rock  shows at the
Black Bull, Queen Street West.  
         John Rock and the Angels, the band was called.
 We also played at the Queen Mother Cafe, and The Cameron House.
           I used to sleep at the Spadina Hotel, where I'd meet
a girlfriend from out of town. I remember writing the song, "Johnny Please Hold Me," there.
         We used   to go and play the piano
at a small club on the second floor, before
the club even opened... There's something romantic
about playing the piano after closing time in
an empty club. 
         They called the place, "The Cabana
Room", when the club got rolling and became
popular.
        I  remember playing at Grossman's a number of
times and of course there were a lot of
good jams there, also.And we played the El Mocambo Downstairs, then The El Mocambo, Upstairs, Albert's Hall, 
and the Hotel Isabella. Danny Marks played the Isabella quite a lot back then, also...
          Downchild Blues Band used to play upstairs at the
same time John Rock and the Angels was playing downstairs...
         The Hock and I, we'd pour down five or six
shots together whenever we happened to arrive
 at the same time, by chance... we'd get
a bit snapped in that little bar
on the Hotel Isabella Main Floor.
He'd go back upstairs and I'd slip back downstairs
for the next set.
            Drummer, Ben Cleveland
joined John Rock in those days. He was living upstairs
at the Izzie  with his lady, singer Leanne Hayes.
              Ah, good times were had by all!
     
              And a lot of good music was played!

              I'm forgetting a whole lot of people
 and so many more  bands... But this is my first crack 
at an article about those days.
              Maybe Ben Cleveland will help remind me.
I think he has some posters from those days...
            
       For a while there we seemed to play the Black
Bull every week and Handsome Ned was there 
for every show. He got to be pals with Michael Hazael (John Rock piano player). He knew MIchael better than he
knew me. He was quiet in those days but his company
was always welcome...
           We were all performers and part of the same
unspoken club. And it felt good sitting there between
sets and before and after the shows, good company,
good people - a feeling of belonging. It's what it's all
about.
           We sat at the big table
off to the left side in the front, as you walked 
in the front door  off Queen...there we'd be. About eight of
us. 
            Gordie was our drummer back then. And that 
man did great work with the cymbals, a very sensitive drummer...and a good heart. Those were the days
 before  he inherited $60,000 and bought a whole 
lot of drugs and died ( not suicide - just excess, I believe).
             LSD is a safe drug and won't kill you. You can't
get physically addicted. But if you buy $60,000.00
worth of acid, chances are something's got to give.
            We were all guilty of excess back then, 
but we didn't feel guilty...Come to think of it, 
I don't feel guilty now either.
            The way I look at it - if you have a horrible
hangover, there's no point in feeling bad about
drinking - the hangover is punishment enough! No
point in judging yourself and feeling guilty
as well. One punishment is enough.
            I suppose the way the Puritan Ethic works,
we expect some kind of punishment after
having a really good time.
             Punishment is forgiveness.

             A year or two later Ned started playing 
the Cameron House regularly, on the weekend nights and Saturday afternoons. 
             I missed some of those shows.
I was in jail at the time and that tends to put a crimp
in the fun.
         I remember singing, "Big Boss Man" in the basement
of the Mimico Jail - good echo down there and lots of
applause, though the guards were getting a tad
edgy. .
                  One guy would poke his head up from behind a hedge,
or another guy from around some corner. The shout was
always: "How you doing, bluesman?"  I was touched.
                   The Canadian spirit is always grand
wherever you find it - in jail or at some hockey game!
There's nothing better than walking with a crowd of hosers,
wherever you're going, whatever the enterprise you're in.

                   We  (John Rock) started hosting the Jam at the Upper
Lip, back on Yonge Street... Paul James, as a solo act,
opened for us in those days. And he was getting pretty
damn good developing his solo act.
          He recorded a song a year or two after that
and I remember thinking it was one of the best versions
of that song I'd ever heard. I've forgotten the song's name 
but I'll adjust this article soon as the tune comes back to me.
          The Upper Lip was a madhouse  back then
and we had a ball. It was a sweet stage and we could get
loud as hell and no one complained. Canadian Author David Gilmour and his pal John Allen and Anne Mackenzie, and about twelve other people would sit at one table and shout out requests. They knew the songs the band played
as well as I did.

          Kevin Cook  played Chapman Stick for us
many times and a bassman whose name also will
return to me very soon.
           I still have tapes of some of the comments
in those days - some hilarious stuff. A real mob
of many of the well known people in the town of Toronto,
and many many totally unknown folks who were just
as important, and just as loud.
          I remember a verse from a popular song of ours
back then, 
                 "Who dy'a Think You are"
                  To look at me that way?
                   Did you take that golden car
                    To that golden place?"
           
                   Mike Hazael and I would sing that one together -
even did some harmonies... And those days were golden,
though you never seem to know it at the time,
when you're having the best days of your life.

(( Postscript:
    ____________
Also,  "My Baby Makes Lemonade" ( a calypso ditty), and "Shame Time Baby" (basic
lowdown blues)
           Some hard rock  ("Break Free")   
                   rock-reggae ("Child Behind a Fencepost/ No                                        It  Just Can't Be")
                     ballads      ("When I saw You")
                       etc etc and blues, blues, blues
                        ("No Explanation!")
            Some of these tunes still have not been recorded
properly.... and none have been posted.
              I'll fix this, I do believe... and soon as I can.
If I'm going to write about playing music, well,
I oughtta  post the music.
                

             Two Lebanese brothers owned the place back then. One brother was called Mike ( or "Mr Blitz" when he joined us on the drums).

           B.B. Gabor and I used to talk a lot and shoot the shit and go to each other's shows. I remember when he was recording his album. He used to play Grossman's on Spadina,
also was it (?) Hotel California on Jarvis Street south
of Gerrard...

          (I started, believe it or not, playing folk clubs.
I was a folk singer when I was 16... two years later
I was playing the Zanzibar, joining Bobby Dean on
stage... it was there I learned to play the blues
and a little jazz. Jazz players from all across
Canada would join Bobby and me on the stage
in the the afternoons... I actually lived above
the strip club for over a year. It's called, 
"On the job training!")

                 I remember talking to B.B. Gabor
while he was recording his album... He
had most of his best songs on it... but not "Sweet,
Sweet Pain."   I asked him why not
 He said the record company didn't want it 
on that album.

        Well, I told him I thought "Sweet, Sweet Pain"
was his best song... He didn't disagree.
I confessed I'd taped a copy of the tune
during one of his shows. I told him not to worry,
I'd never record it or touch it without his
permission. 
        He wasn't very happy with me.
         He died a year later... and I've never
recorded that song... I never got his permission
and I kept my promise.
          I guess I'd have to deal with his estate now.
But I'm not sure I still have the tape. Anyway,
B.B. deserved a lot more recognition than he got.
Maybe some day later, may I will or someone else
will record his extra special song.
          Maybe someone already has... I hope so.
Is the song recorded? Likely so... I'll check and
get back to you. 

           This is just an initial sketch. We'll fill out
the details. I will with the help of other friends -
those of us who still have memories.

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