In this tenth year since I started writing “Toronto’s Secret”, the secret that Toronto had an indigenous entertainment history born of Canadians gathering in the city of Toronto whose vortex of enthusiasm stretched throughout Canada and into the U.S.A., have I realized that the musicians I worked with and wrote about at first appeared nameless arriving as if by chance without introduction. Two performers who entered my world in this mysterious way were Robbie Robertson and Pete Traynor(Thumper). I first saw them on stage at the Lansdowne Assembly Hall on Landsdown Avenue just north of The Green Dolphin restaurant on Queen Street in Parkdale in late winter/ early spring of 1959 when the Consuls’ bassist left our group and Bruce, Norm or Gene said they knew of a replacement bassist performing at a hall a short walk from my home on Close Avenue. I remember standing on the dance floor and hearing a guitar progression strummed in a Bo Diddley rhythm. When the progression concluded it seemed to start-up again as the next tune was to begin. I remember shouting Bo Diddley part 2 because I don’t remember hearing anyone singing or anything instrumental that might indicate a tune’s boundaries,just that same haunting Bo Diddley “Who Do You Love” kind of progression; and I didn’t know who the guys on stage were or that the group was “Robbie and the Robots”. Only when Robbie and Pete became Suedes did I learn about what I’d witnessed that chilly night at the Assembly Hall in Parkdale. Robbie reminded me if I hadn’t noticed when I first saw him and Pete on stage that his guitar had his name emblazoned on it as part of the show; he called it his “Robbie guitar”. He also reminded me of the little ariels on the group’s amplifiers that Pete had designed in keeping with the “Robots” theme of “Robbie and the Robots”. Today those ariels that Robbie talked of seem a kind of foreshadowing of Pete’s future Traynor amps fame. And that Bo Diddley progression stayed with Robbie until the autumn of that year when he had an idea for a song that developed from a slowing down of that Bo Diddley rhythm to the chalypso-like movement that became Ronnie Hawkins’ recording of “Someone Like You”. What’s also interesting to me today is that I’ve always taken it for granted that when we Consuls visited the Lansdowne Assembly Hall looking for a replacement bassist for Len that the person we went to see was Robbie because Robbie eventually joined the Consuls for a short time with Gene still on guitar. I don’t think I ever knew what Robbie was doing in the band because even after the Consuls broke up Gene and Robbie played together in our group with Scott on acoustic piano that became the Suedes right up to the time we met Hawkins on stage at Scarborough arena. I still can’t recall precisely when Peter Traynor, Robbie’s old confidant from “Robbie and The Robots” joined the Suedes, and when Gene disappeared. Now that I realize that the Suedes’ bassist Pete/Thumper was performing with Robbie the guitarist when the Consuls went looking for a bass player I can’t help but wonder if I could have known back then whether we’d gone to that Landsdowne hall to see Robbie or Pete. It would have made better sense to have gone to recruit Pete the bassist rather than Robbie the guitarist to play bass.
The book, Toronto’s Secret, began as my online reaction to things I’d been hearing about groups I’d played with that seemed to have been products of half-baked rumour. At first I was surprised that anyone would be interested in these groups at least 20 years since their hey day. I felt that as long as people had been writing and talking about them that my direct experience needed to be told.
What is now a major point of disagreement with my drumming experience, overwhelmed by a narrative akin to fable is the year The Consuls began. This starting point is distorted by band names. The group, I was in, The Consuls, played at teenagers’ dances and began as a group at Playter Hall at Broadview and Danforth in December 1957 and performed until the spring of 1959 before adults had grown accustomed to Rock and Roll. The group got back together some time later as Little Caesar and The Consuls with that name and the date 1956 emblazoned on the bass drum head as the year it began. There is now a video with a band calling itself Little Caesar and The Consuls presenting that bass drum head with that 1956 starting date and a saxophonist who I used to see with some other group when Norm played sax and I played drums in The Consuls .
This morning I was checking my YouTube video of my DIY Italian style harpsichord to see how often it’s been viewed. A Deremigis search usually brings it up along with an increasing number of files containing De Remigis’s I didn’t know existed before the invasion of mass marketing computer search engines. But today as I mindlessly ploughed through those files “to the bitter end” I discovered an Amazon file without De Remigis/ deremigis//Deremigis. I believe I saw the name Rameau in it and guessed it might have something to do with my having purchased an edition of Rameau’s harpsichord works; my guess was right. But when I opened the file I saw that what triggered it was a three star review that I had given, not of the works but for the sparseness of ornaments in this transcription which probably made the works easier to play than those in my disintegrating tiny edition which I think I bought because I’d heard about Rameau’s importance as a theorist. Musically I had assumed Bach had been the greatest composer of both keyboard and orchestral works. But for some reason I kept trying to perform the Rameau highly ornamented pieces in my 6.5 inch/16.5 centimeter high little edition from which I learned that Rameau could do what no other old European musician could do; unlike Bach, Handel, or Mozart which is to never write anything musically awkward or disturbing, for to me all of Rameau’s works seem musical without fail. Perhap’s this musicality is a result of the harmonic beauty resulting from his theoretic understanding of harmony, or simply the climax of French art.
Today media’s bombardment of well paid pop acoustical-movie celebrities has all but obliterated consciousness of the great musical innovators:
Last Toronto municipal election day: October 27, 2018, I got a surprise telephone call from Judi Jansen asking about Scott Cushnie and Gene MacLellan; whose name has never shown up in online searches but whose presence has been central to Canada’s early Rock and Blues, who comes to mind whenever I hear Jan Haust’s historical introduction to Bravo television’s Yonge Street Rock and Roll Stories linking Toronto’s pop scene to New York State. Judi was travelling that Toronto-New York pop path before we met when no one up here knew about Elvis or Buddy Holly. She even knew that pre-Dick Clarke Rock and Roll impresario Alan Fried, and Ottawa, Ontario’s Paul Anka who I was asked if I knew whenever I was in the United States.
I hate to admit it but I don’t recall any performers who played on the stage of the Edison Hotel. I remember sitting in the audience in front of the stage of the Edison Hotel at Yonge and Gould where I used to drink beer between sets probably in the men’s room, but I can’t recall specific names or faces. John Till my old Jamies colleague, Janis Joplin’s and Hawkins’ former guitarist, describes his between sets Edison experience in terms similar to mine.
I think the stage might have been in another room, the ladies’ lounge maybe. I used to think the Edison had mostly country music; though I recall a time when they brought in some Rhythm and Blues groups, maybe The Jolly Jacks who’d played The Zanzibar. A few days ago drummer Sonny Milne mentioned that he’d played the Edison. and I recently got a call from Saskatoon from Bill whose dad played the Edison in a group called The Old Edison Boys. But all in all The Edison Hotel, its location, and its beverage room I knew like I knew the houses on my own street. Maybe my not having played there has left the stage a memory blur.
The author of Willowdale Grafitti seems to be familiar with the guys who played the Edison.
“The Consuls” recorded for Hernando in Buffalo, New York. Hernando had connections with Lori Records in New York City where he had “The Consuls” re-record at New York City’s Bell Sound what we’d recorded for him in Buffalo New York so that we could broaden our record distribution.