IF I HAD A MILLION DONUTS
Canada has long been a North American power broker for acts from overseas.
In the ‘60s, the Beatles broke in North America via Canada as did the Dave Clark Five, the Hollies, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Yardbirds, the Spencer Davis Group, and The Who.
Breakthroughs continued with Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Chris DeBurgh, Nazareth, Roxy Music, Kate Bush, Split Enz, Crowded House, AC/DC, Midnight Oil, Iron Maiden, Simple Minds, Pet Shop Boys, Katrina and the Waves, Wham!, and U2.
In more recent times, Canadians embraced Lady Gaga, Black Eyed Peas, Snow Patrol, No Doubt, Bush, Blur, Roxette, The Killers, Tokio Hotel, Live, and Keane before the Yanks knew the score.
It was former Capitol Records of Canada executive Paul White who first positioned Canada as a global trendsetter.
From 1957 to 1978, White worked at different jobs at Capitol, including as marketing manager, and as head of the A&R department (where he signed Anne Murray).
As part of his A&R duties, White reviewed releases from EMI Records in the U.K. for possible release in Canada. In Jan., 1963, he received a stack of singles, including the Beatles’ “Love Me Do” which had been released on Parlophone Records in the U.K. on Oct. 5, 1962.
Bolstered by White’s support, Capitol Canada released “Love Me Do” on Feb. 4, 1963.
It was the first true Beatles single released in North America.
Two more Beatles singles, “Please Please Me” and “From Me To You” followed, but sales were also tepid.
The next single “She Loves You”—actually rejected by Capitol U.S. – became a huge seller in Canada.
Capitol Canada had resisted releasing the Beatles’ first album, “Please Please Me.” However, with the success of “She Loves You,” a reworked version of their second album, “With The Beatles,” was issued in Canada as “Beatlemania! With The Beatles” on Nov. 25, 1963,
It was the first Beatles album released in North America.
Sandy Gardiner, an editor and entertainment writer for the Ottawa Journal, was responsible for the name of the album, and provided a colourful quote on the jacket: "A new disease is sweeping through Britain... and doctors are powerless to stop it...it's Beatlemania! This Liverpool group play to packed houses wherever they go..."
Gardiner, a native of Glasgow, had visited Britain in early 1963, and had written an article spotted by Paul White which suggested that the Beatles were poised to take the world by storm. He called the phenomenon, “Beatlemania.”
Canada’s coupling with Beatlemania was further strengthened when John Lennon and Yoko Ono conducted their Bed-In in room 1742 of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, between May 26th and June 2, 1969. On June 1, Montreal producer André Perry recorded “Give Peace a Chance,” John Lennon’s first solo single. In gratitude for his work, Perry’s address was included on the record’s label.
A few months later, on Sept. 13th, Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band headlined the 13-hour “Rock and Roll Revival” festival at Varsity Stadium in Toronto, resulting in the international hit album, “Live Peace in Toronto 1969”.
Two years later, the international music spotlight shone once more on Canada as Procul Harum recorded its performance at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton, resulting in the British band's best-selling album ever, “Procul Harum Live In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra,” and the hit single, “Conquistador.”
In 1977, the Rolling Stones decided to record two performances at the El Mocambo in Toronto. It was the band’s first club date in 14 years, resulting in the album, “Love You Live.”
With Margaret Trudeau at the shows, and later gallivanting around the hallways of the Stones’ hotel, the international press quickly took notice. As well, two young RCMP plainclothes constables had earlier charged Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards with possession of drugs with intent to traffic.
Richards faced a minimum 7-year prison term, read media accounts around the world, if found guilty.
Richards didn't appear in a Toronto court until October 1978. He then pleaded guilty to possession, and the judge sentenced him to give two free concerts to benefit the Canadian National Institute For The Blind, and to enroll in a drug rehab program in the U.S.
American guitarist Jimi Hendrix had been arrested at Toronto's Pearson International Airport in 1969 after heroin and hashish were found in his luggage. During his trial, Hendrix told the judge he had outgrown drugs. He argued that the drugs were slipped into his bag by a fan without his knowledge. The jury found him not guilty.
Being in Canada, Hendrix was practically on home turf.
Jimi’s father Al Hendrix was born in Vancouver in 1919. His parents, Nora Moore, and Ross Hendrix were vaudeville performers who had moved there in 1912 after their troupe had disbanded in Seattle. All four of their children were born in Vancouver. In 1922, Jimi’s grandparents became Canadian citizens.
Following Ross’ death, Al moved to Seattle where he married Lucille Jeter in 1942, and Jimi was born later that year.
Jimi’s grandmother remained in Vancouver where she was a well-known figure in the city’s Afro-Canadian community. Jimi’s parents divorced when he was 9; and his mother died in 1958. Jimi often stayed with his grandmother in her home on East Georgia St. He attended Grade 1 at Sir William Dawson Annex in Vancouver's West End.
After a one year stint in the U.S. Army in 1961, Jimi regularly visited Vancouver, playing in local clubs with Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers.
Hendrix wasn’t the only future American superstar to reside in Canada.
After failing to report for active naval duty, and fearing arrest, future “Super Freak” funkster Rick James fled from Buffalo to Toronto in the summer of 1964. There he fronted the rock band, the Mynah Birds with Canadian Hall of Famer Neil Young on guitar.
Signed to Motown Records in Detroit, the Mynah Birds began to record an album, but it was shelved after James’ AWOL status was uncovered. After a year in a naval prison, James returned to Motown to launch a solo career which was significantly sidelined by drugs, and he died in 2004.
Those inside the music industry are acquainted or linked to someone fighting their demons amidst a drug and alcohol-fueled world. Certainly, Canada has seen its share of bad boy rock and roll antics that often made headlines around the world.
The Who celebrated a sell-out performance at the Montreal Forum in 1973 with post show renovations to their luxury suite at the Bonaventure Hotel that resulted in them, and 14 members of their entourage being jailed. Peter Townshend and Keith Moon were arrested at gunpoint after using a solid marble coffee table to install a connecting door between their rooms. "I believe I booked a suite," Moon quipped at the police station.
It was fans who went on a rampage after a sold-out concert at Olympic Stadium in Montreal by Guns N' Roses and Metallica was cut short in 1992. As concert-goers left the stadium, people smashed stadium windows, looted a souvenir boutique, burned a sports car, and set dozens of small fires. About 300 club-wielding police officers chased rioters through the streets, firing tear gas to regain control. Twelve people were arrested.
In the summer of 1970, a wild locomotive ride from Toronto to Calgary, documented by a film crew, caught rock legends Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, The Band, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, and along with the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Ian & Sylvia partying day and night, and making music in stops in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary. It wasn’t until 2003 that the film documentary "Festival Express,” capturing the longest rock and roll party in history, was released.
L.A.-based film-maker Emmett Malloy followed the White Stripes around on their 2007 Canadian summer tour as part of the band’s 10th anniversary celebrations, resulting in the DVD “Under Great White Northern Lights,” released as part of an elaborate box set along with a CD/double LP of 16 live tracks, a hardcover book of photographs, and a silk-screened print.
For his part, Jack White said he has so many memories that he took away from the Canadian road trip.
“The air in Whitehorse, the accents of people in Newfoundland---I just love that accent,” White said in an interview.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world.
- Following a rock and roll revue at the Ottawa Coliseum in the mid-50s, featuring Fats Domino, the Platters, and Clyde McPhatter, Chuck Berry was inspired to write “Sweet Little Sixteen” after watching a young fan seek autographs.
- It was Bobby Taylor of Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers—not Diana Ross who has been credited--that discovered the Jackson 5. He saw them perform at the Regal Theater in Chicago and told Motown Records about them.
Bob Seger came to Toronto in 1976 to record with the Guess Who's producer, Jack Richardson. Before Seger left, he had composed and recorded “Night Moves,” his signature career song.
In 1979, ABBA began and ended its only North American tour in Canada. The Swedish band began the 17 sold-out date tour at the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton on Sept. 13th, and ended it at Maple Leaf Gardens on Oct. 19th, before a capacity crowd.
Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain acknowledged Canada’s influence on both “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” and “Come As You Are.” The latter’s opening recalls the Poppy Family’s 1971 hit “Where Evil Grows.” The first record Cobain ever bought was Terry Jacks’ 1974 version of “Seasons In The Sun.” Nirvana recorded the song, but it didn't appear until the release of the “With The Lights Out” anthology in 2004.
On June 5, 1982, the Jam performed at Kerrisdale Arena in Vancouver. It was the Brit mod rocker’s last North American appearance. It broke up following the tour, disbanding after a farewell tour of the UK.
Legendary BBC2 DJ/historian Bob Harris has described him as "the glue that holds the Canadian music industry together."
Senior editor of CelebrityAccess since 2008, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007, and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times.
He is co-author of the 2011 book,” Music From Far And Wide” chronicling the growth of Canada’s pop music scene.