Friday, August 28, 2015

Toronto-centric rewriting of Canada's rock history.

    You might want to get this new Backbeat book "The History Of Canadian Rock 'N' Roll" by Bob Mersereau. After all it covers such worthy groups as Toronto's Ugly Ducklings and Paupers, and Ottawa's Esquires and Staccatos. Unfortunately the framework of the 'story' being told is pretty much a latter day fabrication. Rather than Toronto playing an actual anti-Rock anti-Canadian music stance (eventually necessitating actual laws forcing Canadian radio chains headquartered in Toronto to play a percentage of home-grown recordings after a decade plus long foot dragging), it all starts you see with white doo-wop groups in Ontario covering black U.S. groups in a sometimes exaggeratedly chipper manner and 'creating' hits with borrowed song, and then Paul Anka partly based in New Jersey with his originals like Puppy Love and Put Your Head On My Shoulder. I'm sorry but as popular as these white doo-wop and crooner pop tunes may have been at the time they are not Rock & Roll to me. It's almost hilarious to see only at the tail end of Chapter 3, subtitled 'The Whole Country Joins In,' what was happening in Vancouver with Les Vogt & The Prowlers, The Stripes, The Nocturnals, or Aragon Records get mentioned at all (oh, sorry, the last three never do), and the date 1956, at least that is given, might stick out in contrast to the entire preceding chapters for any reader paying attention.

    Let me fill you in. Toronto media may have supported a few local clean cut white almost piss-takes of doo-wop (Crew Cuts, Four Lads), but it wasn't until maybe 1959 when any actual sound of Rock & Roll made it to their Canadian owned radio and tv (probably Ronnie Hawkins). The Chum chain in particular was known for throwing Canadian rock singles into trash cans in front of their producers into the early 1960s! The story of Rock & Roll in Canada belongs entirely to some key stations in Vancouver (especially via DJ Red Robinson), Winnipeg, Ottawa and Montreal and as many smaller ones in other places. Toronto groups like The Consuls never got their record played by the big Toronto stations. Even Windsor Ontario's CKLW radio/tv behemoth was a very late convert. And outside of Toronto groups? Why it just wasn't possible anything worth hearing could come from there... at least until Winnipeg's The Guess Who started charting in the U.S. in 1969.

    It took a feisty Australian, Ritchie Yorke, to write a real history of a real Rock music scene in Canada with "Axes, Chops & Hot Licks" way back in 1971! He also helped bring about the Canadian content regulations to address the very real anti-Canada and anti-Rock arrogance of the powers that be in Toronto. Imagine Canadian airwaves having to be forced to play the music of it's own audience! It was taken as an extreme outrage by the suits at the top of course, they knew a hit only could come from New York or maybe Los Angeles. People like Yorke, Walt Grealis, Duff Roman and Bernie Finkelstein fought Toronto for years with minimal resources and deserve more than footnote status in any book purporting to survey such a history. There might in fact have been no Rock 'N' Roll history to write past 1971 had the big TO maintained it's grip more viciously. Canadian rock groups of the 1950s and 1960s deserved far better treatment than they actually got from big town bullies in Toronto, and that should be the main story of at least the first three chapters of this current book. Yorkville musicians and clubs in particular had almost everyone against them in 'Toronto the good'. People who had top leave that scene under constant siege went on to make it in spite and in exile so latter day Toronto-centrists could bask in the reflected glow of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, The Band, Steppenwolf, David Clayton-Thomas, glows they mightily worked to have snuffed out back in the actual pre-revision day.

    Backbeat has published some excellent music history books in the past, unfortunately this is one of the lesser and more flawed entries in their catalog due to severe omissions and some common basic ignorance. It's Toronto that comes in at the tail-end of the story of the early years of Rock in Canada, well, except as chief nemesis of the actual and historic producers and supporters of Canadian Rock music. If we're going to give prime time to super scrubbed up doo-wop cover groups and crooners then maybe there could have been more on the Maritime folk music scene too, but for a book titled Rock 'N' Roll the lion's share should really have gone to actual Rock groups of which les Vogt & the Prowlers on stage in Vancouver were an example of in 1955!!! The Bear Family label in Germany knew this in 2003 with two CD collections of Les Vogt & The Prowlers and Real Gone Aragon (on the Canadian label established in 1946, while eastern label Quality records was content to simply license U.S. recordings). The Vancouver Record Collectors Association and Michael Willmore knew before that, issuing four great albums of historic Canadian Rock sides sans any cultural grants. Too bad those in eastern offices missed so much of the reality when it happened all over the country.

    Further in there is also way too much about Leonard Cohen and Diana Krall for something labelled Rock History.