Easter Parade and Drumming

The older I get the more I find myself wondering why I became a drummer. Drums were my third instrument maybe even my fourth if I include rejection of the clarinet, that metal tube with the stick that made me gag like a doctor’s probe which I abandoned in high school for a trumpet, my second instrument after the piano which I practise daily: music of our high-flown European heritage; not the jazz, the bebop with its hipster zoot suits and pork pie hats and lingo that percolated throughgout the jitter bugging America I was thrown into, that infectious swinging rhythmic setting that permiates the psyches of Jack Kerouac’s characters wandering the streets and roads of 1940’s America owning nothing but the haunting stimulus of its rhythmic drive. A music that I have come to believe is nearly the age of the drum set itself, jazz the unique achievement of American culture shaped and driven by the rhythmic, sometimes chaotic pulse of drums, a music, which classical music cellist Yo Yo Ma at the Lincoln Center during this year’s birthday bash praises as a music that even today inspires composers of the classical European tradition.

This one of my many attempts to understand what possessed me to devote most of my teenage years and early youth to drumming was provoked by my finally viewing, the entire 1948 movie,Easter Parade, set in sumptuous upper class 1912 surroundings, curiously the same 1948 new year celebrated by Kerouac’ s destitute characters half way through On The Road. One of Easter Parade’s many frivolous dance scenes caught my attention, probably because I am a drummer; Fred Astaire extended his tap dance by transferring his shoe tap rhythms to his hands with a pair of sticks. His drum-like solo was intricately polished with ruff-like embellishments(tiny rolls), added I think to triplet (3 beat phrases). These varied rhythms especially with grace note ruffs are difficult to execute and take years of practise to perform as precisely as he was doing; so I asked my wife , a dancer, if she thought dancer Astaire was really the one performing these intricate drumming sounds. I had learned and practised these Astaire-displayed ruffs that decorated his melodic drum-stick rhythms whether or not I believed that drumming seriously equalled singing, piano, sax or guitar playing. For despite the prevailing anyone can play drums attitude, sometimes apparent in performances by guys in tee shirts flailing at an expanding circle of “tubs” and cymbals, something drove me to practise the 26 snare drum rudiments: varied rolls and ruffs, paradiddles, flams, radimacues; triplet eighth, sixteenth, thirty-second, and even sixty-fourth note patters, accented, dotted and slurred; and to hold the drum sticks as precisely as seemed necessary to execute those patterns.

So in retrospect I am learning that my study of drumming, not percussion, had itself taught me that there was more to drumming than arbitrarily hitting things and that my impulse to become a drummer and to learn that instrument’s technical niceties more than equalled the study of keyboard, conducting or even singing, because for me the study of drums was the study of rhythm and all its mathematical intricacies: music’s essence.

 

The Consuls

Ford Consul MkII (204E) 1956

1956 Ford Consul(*)©

 Our repertoire and sound were established by rehearsals at Bruce’s house. Norm’s swing/rock’n roll tunes became the climax of our shows, and Bruce’s vocal renditions of Huey Piano Smith’s and Fats Domino’s songs were the essence of our style and could be heard at any point from the beginning to the end of every Consuls performance.In a sense the driving off-beat of Norm’s tunes provided the rock element, and Bruce’s relaxed piano accompanied song styling added the roll. Gene sang the Buddy Holly and Everly Brothers tunes. I sang Little Richard’s Jenny Jenny, Elvis’ Laudy Miss Claudy up front while Norm took over the drumming duties.

Through 1958 we performed mainly at dances in the Long Branch/New Toronto area. We played at two Club Dancelands, one at the Met on the north side of the street over a store front in Mimico/New Toronto, and the other Club Danceland on a street north of the west end of Lakeshore.There were also engagements at the Polish Hall, and the Hunt Club on Lakeshore near Browne’s Line. Throughout this period, January 1958 until June 1959 when we disbanded, we were rivals of a West Toronto group, the Wildwoods. Bobby Dean and the Gems were also part of this rivalry which seemed almost amicable despite each band’s group solidarity. In fact when we, the Consuls, had the good fortune to be invited to Bell Sound in New York City by Dion and the Belmonts’ record company to record, it felt as though everyone was behind us even the Wildwoods. At times it seemed that our manager, Roger Kennedy, and the Wildwoods’ manager, Peter Harrington were partners offering their support and revelling in our successes.

The Big Apple

(Bell Sound)

We were all excited about this opportunity to become as, we understood, the first Canadian group to record at Bell Sound.

We arrived in New York in a rented station wagon just before sunrise after driving all night through a snow storm that started outside of St. Catherines, Ontario where we skidded off the road into a snow bank, and ended as we approached the skyline of the Big Apple. We were soon in the studio recording Bruce’s “I’m Happy” and “Runaway”. The recording studio at New York City’s Bell Sound in 1959 appeared a lot more basic than I had expected considering this was where Dion and the Belmonts, Elvis Presley and other big pop names were said to be recording, and because our Buffalo, New York recording produced by Hernando, of his radio show Hernando’s Hideaway, was considered to be inferior in sound and possible record sales to what could be produced at the Bell Sound studio. I recall how difficult it was in those days to record a proper balance of my drums. We had to cover my bass drum so that it would not dominate the other instruments. I have a feeling that the reason I can’t make out my drum beat on “I’m Happy” is that they hadn’t at that point in the session been able to figure out how to get a balanced drum sound without completely muffling the drums. The drumming in “Runaway”, however, is much more precise and musically satisfying: I can hear the rhythm and blues snare drum off-beat with the triplet cymbal feel which is reminiscent of the way I thought I had learned to play some 20 months after I had purchased my first drum set in April or May of 1957, and learned my first drum rhythms by copying Bill Doggett’s “Honky Tonk part one” off-beat by striking the cymbal and snare drum on only the 2 and 4 beats without playing the 1 and 3 cymbal rhythm, sort of a pause bang(cymbal&snare)pause bang(cymbal&snare).That evening most of us went over to the Little Garden Theatre to visit Dick Clark and his “American Bandstand” while I remained at the hotel trying to catch up on my sleep.

Some weeks later that winter, we performed in a rock and roll show with Dion and the Belmonts, the Royal Teens, Jesse Lee Turner, and other stars promoting their latest hits at the Oakville Arena in January or February of 1959 where the ice on the skating rink remained hard and slippery. But someone from an Oakville paper showed up, and did an article on the Consuls with a photo of me identified as Jesse Lee Turner of “Little Space Girl” fame on the front page singing “Jenny, Jenny, Jenny”.

Robbie Robertson becomes a Consul in the spring of 1958.

Shortly after the Oakville show we became aware of a guitarist, Robbie Robertson, whom some in our group wanted to recruit as a bassist to replace Leonard Stubbs. We went to see Robbie perform at a place called the Landsdowne Assembly Hall on Lansdowne Avenue just north of Queen Street and The Green Dolphin restaurant. Robbie’s group,” Robbie and the Robots “, with his buddy Pete Traynor on bass, Robbie’s name scrawlled across his guitar( his “Robbie guitar”), played through amplifiers adorned with little arials sounded unimpressive. “The Robots’ “unimaginative repertoire consisted mainly of Bo Diddley-like instrumentals led by Robbie.

Robbie joined the Consuls that spring. We then had two guitarists, Gene MacLellan, and Robbie Robertson who would not accept the role of bassist for which he had been recruited.

In June of 1959, disappointed that our New York recording had produced only a small quantity of 45’s under an unknown label, Delta(**), without the promotion, or broad distribution we had anticipated, the Consuls disbanded after a final performance at a dance in an Oakville auditorium. next: The Suedes
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Don_7_Pete_Traynor

(In this photo Pete Traynor/Thumper is on bass to the right of guitarist Don Doyle .)


(*)The term, consuls, was originally used to denote two leaders of Rome’s Republic elected for terms of one year, though I think I recall that our group’s labelling itself “The Consuls” was actually inspired by a British automobile, the Consul. Obviously I had nothing to do with applying that name to our band, and have always believed that Bruce Morrishead had originated it. Some time after Robbie, Gene, and I left the “The Consuls”, the new group formed around the two remaining “Consuls” became known as “Little Caesar and the Consuls” the new name inspiring a kind of imperialist air, surprising me because I rightly or wrongly had always believed the name had more mechanical/commercial or even democratic origins than evoked by reference to the autocratic, lifelong rulers of the Roman empire.
(**) “Abel” is in fact the name of the label linked above to the tunes we recorded in New York City. I recall that I might have eventually received a 45 rpm copy with a blue “Delta” label that quickly disappeared. Several years ago I was surprised to find the tunes Online (then removed) placed there by a self-declared Doo Wop fan from Spain of all places.Though the tunes may sound like Doo Wop today, I do believe that the Consuls were oblivious to the Doo Wop designation or even the pop classification of tunes like “Earth Angel” “Come and Go With Me” “The Great Pretender” etc. we now call Doo Wop. I think we saw ourselves more as an instrumental Rock and Roll/Rhythm and Blues group than a 4 or 3 part Doo Wop-like vocal ensemble.

Peter De Remigis

April 18, 2014

Since I published “Oil By Train Or Pipe”inspired by an email from the U.S. Energy Administration, some times identified by the acronym EIA, a slew of Nobel Laureates that included former president Carter was reported to have admonished Mr. Obama, the current U.S president not to exceed to Canada’s and some of his fellow Democrat’s pressure to permit the building of the Keystone pipeline that would carry Tar sands products from Canada’s western provinces into the United States. I have learned from these EIA emails that Canada which today is the U.S.’s foremost supplier of imported oil even ahead of Saudi Arabia, the land ruled by the famed royal house of Saad. From this presumed EIA presented fact one must infer that whether or not the pipeline is built should have no effect on whether or not Americans use Tar sands products which they have been consuming ever since Colorado bred Mr. R. George formerly of Sun Oil made Tar sands oil a viable source of mined energy. Threats by Canadians therefor to sell Tar sands oil to China if Mr. Obama does not give the Tar sands pipeline to America his O.K. seem, pardon my lingo, “untransparent”.

Well then what is it that concerns these Nobelists about a possible Tar sands pipeline? It can’t be the environmentally unfriendly mining process itself,condemned by a pop artist interviewed on BNN as representing Canada’s selling its integrity whether it ships the Tar sands products to the U.S. or China, because Canada currently number one supplier of foreign oil to the U.S is already sending Tar sands oil to the U.S. by railroad tank cars .

Some of these laureates suggest that not okaying the Keystone pipeline would be a symbol signalling that the era of polluting the environment and raising world temperatures for future generations by burning fossil fuels was over. Though this goal in itself does not seem unreasonable, Tar sands oil will continue journeying into the U.S. if not by pipe surely as it travels now by rail.

Steady She Goes

April 3, 2014

Yesterday, the day after the face of the FR chair kept appearing in a corner of my TV

As yields tumbled and prices surged with stocks through the day

And gale winds, valorously fought by the Fed.’s former man at the fore,

Storm clouds over sea-surge kept threatening more

“headwinds”;

Still from astern

The question of image keeps a-blowin’

Of shapers and appointers: admiral’s and potentates,

A wondering that wont blow away –

By the way; Standard and Poor surged to a record today.