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

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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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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Nick's Picks of 2021

Here, in alphabetical order, are the artists who made some of my favourite music of 2021. These are the albums that excited me most and that I turned to again and again throughout the year. Some, like Adele, Rhiannon Giddens and Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, are international musicians I’ve been following from the start of their careers. Others, like Arooj Aftab and Mdou Moctar, are more recent global discoveries. The rest all come from closer to home and stand alongside the best I’ve heard in the past 12 months. Adele - 30  England’s Adele has a habit of naming albums after her age. She also has a tendency to belt out ballads, the kind that huge numbers of people respond to, s...

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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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