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.

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Obituaries, Books

Don Cullen: Bohemian Embassy ‘Ambassador’ Nurtured Talents of Fellow Artists

Creative versatility came naturally to Don Cullen. Writer, actor, comedian, producer and impresario, he could apparently do it all. His talents first surfaced at high school, where Mr. Cullen’s flexible physical features and talent for vocal impersonations made him popular with his classmates. “I became the funny kid,” he once recalled, “by capitalizing on the angularity of my frame and the rubbery quality of my face.”  Mr. Cullen took those attributes onto the stage and across the airwaves, voicing more than 1,500 radio programs and appearing in nearly as many theatrical reviews and television shows. He starred in a production of Beyond the Fringe which was performed more tha...

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Ronnie Hawkins - Last of the Good Ol' Boys

He was such a good ol’ boy, a teller of such tall tales and the master of so many self-deprecating one-liners it was often easy not to take Ronnie Hawkins too seriously. “I’m a legend in my spare time,” he liked to quip. Calling himself the “Geritol Gypsy,” he claimed to have been playing rockabilly “since the Dead Sea was only sick.” But when the veteran singer-bandleader – for whom the “big time” was always “just around the corner” – died on Sunday, the entertainment world mourned the loss of a bona fide legend whose greatest legacy was his mentoring of some of Canada’s finest musical stars. Mr. Hawkins was born in Huntsville, Ark., on Jan. 10, 1935 and studied physical education at the st...

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Eurythmics - A musical marriage at the top of pop

A metamorphosis is under way. A face, seemingly made of candle wax, takes shape beneath a flickering flame. It is Annie Lennox, provocative singer of Eurythmics, the British pop duo. Then, the video for Eurythmics’ latest single, “Missionary Man,” turns more sinister, with a scene in which a dark figure — Dave Stewart, the duo’s other half—is seen cooking potions in a laboratory. The video cuts back to Lennox’s face, now helplessly harnessed to a set of mechanical devices— communicating a strong message of struggle against others’ attempts at control. For Lennox and Stewart, veterans of contractual disputes with record and management companies, that message has special resonance. The pair ha...

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Flying high with John Kay and the Sparrows

John Kay was a German-born singer who was playing folk-blues guitar and harmonica at Yorkville’s Half Beat and crashing above the Night Owl in an apartment belonging to Vicky Taylor, Joni Mitchellʼs ex-room-mate. One night in 1965, during an after-hours jam session above the Half Beat, some of the Sparrows came up, heard Kay and joined in. They loved Kayʼs bluesy edge and later suggested he drop by the Devilʼs Den and play some harmonica. The Sparrows then asked Kay to join—but not without a makeover.  According to Jerry Edmonton, Kayʼs hair, for one thing, didnʼt look right. “It was all slicked back. He looked more like James Dean, black hair, greasy and combed back. He was a bit pudgy...

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Peter Goddard - a critic for all seasons

Peter Goddard was a consummate music man: a classically trained pianist with a degree in ethnomusicology who became one of Canada’s most prolific and respected music critics. Throughout his long career, Mr. Goddard wrote about music of all kinds for a wide variety of newspapers and magazines. He was the author of some 20 books, including biographies of Frank Sinatra, Ronnie Hawkins and Glenn Gould, and penned documentary scripts for radio and television. But his interests ran far beyond just music. Mr. Goddard was also a baseball fanatic, a wine connoisseur and a voracious reader with a keen intellect, insatiable curiosity and inexhaustible drive, who worked at different times as a film and ...

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Art Bergmann - Rock and a hard place

Some of the best rock ’n’ roll—from Lou Reed to the Rolling Stones—has strutted through the grim realism of the street. Unlike many pretenders to that turf, Vancouver’s Art Bergmann has actually walked on the wild side, living with prostitutes and drug addicts in the city’s seedy east end while writing some of the grittiest, most literate material in Canadian rock. “Guns and Heroin,” one song from his latest album, What Fresh Hell Is This?, is a case in point. It arose out of an experience Bergmann had in the early 1980s, when he was a member of the Vancouver band Los Popularos. A man who invested $10,000 in one of the group’s recordings turned out to be a drug dealer looking to launder...

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Dr. Music and Brother Ray

Toronto’s Doug Riley was a gifted pianist and arranger. He began on his instrument at the age of three, graduated in music at the University of Toronto and went on to study at the Royal Conservatory of Music (interestingly, doing his postgraduate work on the music of the Iroquois).  In his teens, Riley played with the Silhouettes, a popular Toronto rhythm & blues group that became the red-hot house band at Yonge Street’s Bluenote club, backing top singers like Dianne Brooks and Jack Hardin. In 1969, before he was given the title Dr. Music and formed a formidable jazz group of the same name, Riley’s reputation had travelled beyond Toronto and earned him a call from one of his biggest...

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Fran's Restaurants - Would you like some music with your banquet burger?

For over 80 years, Fran’s restaurants have enjoyed a warm and cozy relationship with Toronto. Like the comfort food in which they specialize, the chain of family-style eateries won fans with their affordable, unpretentious offerings, from bottomless cups of coffee and belly-busting all-day breakfasts to the world’s first banquet burger, a burger served with bacon and cheese. Fran’s restaurants were the brainchild of Francis “Fran” Deck, who shuffled here from Buffalo in 1940. He opened his first restaurant the following year—a diner at 21 St. Clair Avenue West that originally had just 10 seats. His second location, at 20 College Street, opened in 1950, and quickly became popular with Eaton’s...

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Jackie Mittoo - Reggae's Keyboard King

Born on this day, March 3, in 1948, Jackie Mittoo can be rightly called the godfather of reggae music in Canada. When he emigrated to Toronto in 1969, Jackie was already a major star in Jamaica, having been a founding member of the ground-breaking Skatalites and a composer-arranger whose inspired keyboard work on countless Studio One recordings helped Jamaican music evolve from ska to rocksteady. Some say the gifted performer was the inventor of reggae itself.  After landing in Toronto, Jackie quickly began introducing audiences to a bubbling, keyboard-driven sound that came to be called reggae—earning himself widespread media attention and national airplay. Meanwhile, he recorded and t...

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New museum exhibit: Caribbean music in Toronto

Now open: a brand new exhibit at the Friar’s Music Museum, devoted to the deep, rich history of Caribbean music in Toronto. Among the Rhythms and Resistance exhibition’s many rare and wide-ranging artefacts are hundreds of photographs, posters, handbills, recordings, videos, instruments, costumes, clothing and assorted ephemera related to calypso, reggae, soul, funk and hip-hop musicians in Toronto, dating back to the first arrival of Caribbean immigrants in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Artists featured in this exhibition include Bob Marley, Lillian Allen, Jackie Mittoo, Louise Bennett, the Mighty Sparrow, JoJo Bennett, Leroy Sibbles, Michie Mee, Jay Douglas and many more. Proud to ha...

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