Peter Traynor & Robbie Robertson

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 appeared 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 Lansdowne 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 of that Lansdowne Avenue hall 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 began. 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 MacLellan 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 Lansdowne 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.