Gordon Lightfoot Book, Music and More!

The home of music journalist Nicholas Jennings, author of Lightfoot, the definitive new Gordon Lightfoot biography from Penguin Random House.

R. Dean Taylor - The Canadian who stepped out of the shadows of Motown

He was an unlikely pop star of the post-Woodstock era. Clean-shaven and pipe-smoking, with short, clipped hair and a preference for cardigans and safari jackets, he looked more advertising executive than hip musician. But Canada’s R. Dean Taylor was always determined to make it in the entertainment world. Venturing to Detroit in the early 1960s, he landed himself a job at Motown and became an anomaly – a white songwriter at a black rhythm-and-blues record label. Like many session singers and musicians, it seemed Mr. Taylor was forever destined to be just another background player, standing in the shadows of Motown. That changed when his song “Indiana Wants Me” catapulted him to stardom. Afte...

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Rosalie Trombley - 'The most powerful woman in popdom'

In the world of Top 40 radio, Rosalie Trombley was a trailblazer – one of the few women to hold a broadcast executive position in an industry that was essentially a boys-only club. Blessed with an innate sense of music, she could pick out a good song from a pile of duds and help to make it a hit, earning her the nickname “the girl with the golden ear.” Ms. Trombley made her mark as music director at Windsor, Ont.’s powerful CKLW, known as “the Big 8,” whose 50,000-watt signal could be heard widely in the United States as well as across southwestern Ontario. Her influence in choosing what music to play was equally far-reaching: when she put a song into rotation, other stations followed suit. ...

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JoJo Bennett - Reggae trailblazer

JoJo Bennett was a Jamaican orphan who found his calling when a teacher handed him a horn. Excelling on the trumpet, he grew to become a successful touring musician, songwriter and recording artist. In Canada, he added award-winning bandleader and owner of a recording studio and record label to his accomplishments. But he never forgot his roots, also starting his own music school along the way. Mr. Bennett, who died on Aug. 3 at the age of 81, may have been best known as the charismatic, dreadlocked figure in celebrated Canadian pop-reggae band the Sattalites. But after his passing, those close to him remembered a wise, modest man they affectionately called “Guru” and “Teach.” “Jo was a beau...

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Ellen McIlwaine - Goddess of Slide

Ellen McIlwaine was the epitome of an adventurous spirit: fierce and independent, the flame-haired artist took her musical gifts in surprising directions, defying expectations at every turn. As a virtuoso slide guitarist with a seismic voice, she excelled in a male-dominated field, leading her bands with a bold musical style that transcended genre and culture. “There is a deep well of the music spirit that lives in me and comes out when I play,” Ms. McIlwaine told interviewer Paul Corby in 2019, when she was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Toronto Blues Society. “I think a lot of people play with me and through me, and sing with me and through me. It’s really a mystical experienc...

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The joyous flute of Kathryn Moses

The sunny personality of Kathryn Moses always shone through in her music. Joyous and free-spirited, she expressed those qualities on flute, saxophone and vocals – she was gifted at all three –throughout a career in jazz, pop and classical music that lasted over half a century. Although she started out playing in orchestras, the American-born Ms. Moses eventually immigrated to Canada and shifted into the male-dominated world of jazz in Toronto while juggling work with chamber music, commercial jingles and numerous recording sessions. She contributed to a diverse range of albums by such artists as Bruce Cockburn, Chuck Mangione, Murray McLauchlan, Tom Paxton, Leroy Sibbles, Tom Rush, Raffi, Na...

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Ronnie ‘Bop’ Williams - Unheralded reggae pioneer helped define the genre

He was one of the early architects of Jamaican music – a guitarist, bass player, songwriter, arranger and producer whose contributions to hundreds of recordings helped to shape reggae and popularize it around the world. He played with Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Johnny Nash and Toots and the Maytals, and worked for such famous studio owners as Duke Reid, Bunny Lee and Lee (Scratch) Perry, and the Trojan, Treasure Isle and Upsetter record labels. Yet the name Ronnie (Bop) Williams is barely known outside of reggae circles. Part of the reason for the near anonymity was Mr. Williams’s own modesty. A soft-spoken man, he came from extremely humble roots in rural Jamaica, teaching himself to play on ...

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Doug Chappell - A knack for picking hits

It was the summer of 1963 and Doug Chappell was riding high. His Toronto band Richie Knight & the Mid-Knights had just hit No. 1 on the charts with Charlena, bringing the group local fame and enabling members, each barely out of their teens, to buy a car. Most purchased sensible sedans. But Mr. Chappell splurged on a brand new Pontiac Parisienne convertible – and painted it an eye-popping shade of pink. Then he cooked up a bold plan: to drive his new set of wheels to Detroit, stopping at every radio station along the way to talk up the band. Mr. Chappell’s taste for crazy promotion schemes and flashy sports cars never waned. Nor did his passion for music – especially by Canadian art...

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Denise Jones - A vital force for reggae music in Canada

Denise Jones wore many hats: actress, dancer, artist manager, concert presenter, festival producer, event planner and mother of two. A pillar, along with her husband, Allan, of the Jamaican-Canadian community, she worked tirelessly throughout her career to promote Caribbean culture – first through plays and pantomimes and then through reggae concerts and arts festivals – to increasingly larger audiences. The multifaceted businesswoman was also a strong activist, championing diversity long before “Black Lives Matter” became a popular movement. In 1989, in the wake of the police shooting death of Mississauga Black teenager Wade Lawson, Ms. Jones spoke to a task force on race relations and crit...

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Obituary: Mose Scarlett - Keeper of the Flame of Vintage Songs

Photo by Paul Wright

Mose Scarlett specialized in songs from bygone eras – jazz, blues, ragtime and swing – and always dressed the part, neatly turned out in a three-piece suit and fedora or, more informally, a waistcoat and workingman’s flat cap. Within Canadian music, he was an anachronism, a performer cheerfully out of step with the times. But that was also a big part of his charm. Blessed with a deep, resonant singing voice and a self-taught, fingerpicking guitar style often described as stride, Mr. Scarlett was similarly old-fashioned in his personal demeanour. Bruce Cockburn, who met him in 1969 when he and his then future wife, Kitty, stayed at Mr. Scarlett’s apartment in Toronto’s east end, recalls being...

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Obituary: Oddball musical genius Joe Hall

Joe Hall possessed one of the most fertile imaginations in Canadian songwriting. His concerts in the 1970s and 80s are the stuff of legend: frenetic displays of eclectic music and absurdist theatre in which he seemed to have narrowly escaped a straitjacket. Although his star dimmed in subsequent decades, the prolific artist never stopped writing songs, recording and performing. When news spread recently that he had died, fans across Canada mourned the loss of a gifted, lovable oddball whose commercial success never matched his unbridled talent. During Mr. Hall’s heyday touring widely with his band the Continental Drift, he often drew comparisons to Frank Zappa for wild performances of songs ...

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