Peace Be With You: The Life and Times of Mr. Jimmy Buffett

I realize that this is a post about the late, great entertainer Jimmy Buffett, but I want to start out by talking for a minute about Taylor Swift. There are millions of ordinary, everyday people who adore Taylor Swift. They love her music. They love her as an entertainer. They value her opinions. They buy her merchandise in record numbers. They go to her shows (when they can manage to afford a ticket). They adore her. Simple as that. Taylor’s most devoted fans are known as “Swifties”. If Taylor opines about registering to vote in an upcoming election, Swifties register in record numbers. If Taylor muses about a new video dropping or song coming out, her Swifties cause computer servers to crash due to the avalanche of downloads that ensue the moment the song or video becomes available. Taylor Swift seems to have it all. She has good health. She is fit and attractive. She has no shortage of eligible, hot male suitors. She is a savvy business person. She writes hit songs as easily as most people change their socks each day. She has a net worth approaching one billion dollars!!! Yet, she often comes across as “the girl next door”. Throughout her career so far, Taylor Swift has marketed herself with aplomb. She is skilled in the art of creating and curating her brand. There is no one quite like her in the entertainment world today.

Now, let me introduce you to someone who inspired Taylor Swift to manage her image and career as she has been doing. That person was Jimmy Buffett. I could easily re-write my opening paragraph and simply change all of the “Taylors” for “Jimmys” and the essence of what I wrote would still ring true. Let me walk you through the life and times of one of the entertainment world’s most interesting, financially successful and beloved singers ever so you can see for yourself.

Jimmy Buffett’s career began before he ever left high school. He was always interested in music as a young man. He picked up a guitar while a teenager and developed enough skill that he was soon able to play for friends at parties and in the school cafeteria at lunch time. He sang nonsense songs that made his friends laugh. He also sang cover tunes, too. Whenever he sang, he did so with a boyish grin and a boatload of charm. Not surprisingly, his love of music soon overtook his attention to school work. This resulted in Buffett earning marks that barely met the entrance standards of local colleges. But college life beckoned, and soon Jimmy Buffett began to fine tune his ability to play music and get girls. Life became a party whenever he was around. Needless to say, Jimmy Buffett was a popular person on campus, even if he was never the most academically inclined. After graduating with a general diploma, Buffett headed off to Nashville and became good friends with singer/songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker (of “Mr. Bojangles” fame). The two lived together and played together. It was during this time that Jimmy Buffett began to develop his love of Country music that was to remain a constant part of his life and career. Soon enough, Buffett and Walker left Nashville and headed to New Orleans. Buffett found himself making a living as a busker in the French Quarter. From there, he began playing in small bars and clubs. After a short stint in the Big Easy, Buffett drove down the Florida panhandle and set up shop in the Florida Keys. Once there, he used his easy going personality to charm his way onto the crew of a yacht owned by the heir of the Rival Cooking Company (who make crockpots and other kitchen supplies and gadgets). In time, Buffett became First Mate. It was while sailing aboard this yacht and being exposed to such a decadent lifestyle that Jimmy Buffett came up with an idea.

Like many of us as we enter the early stages of adulthood, Jimmy Buffett had been drifting through his life. He knew that he enjoyed music and that he had the ability to charm a crowd, but he was never able to see a vision forward for where any of this might take him in life. But then, as he spent his days in the sunshine among the shiniest and richest of people he had ever seen, Buffett saw his path forward with clarity. If the first lesson of writing is to write about what you know, then, Buffett decided that he could write about those who live without a care and who sail the seas and for whom every day is filled with sunshine, love and fun times with friends. It was a decision that led to the creation of a personal brand or image that Buffett carried with him from that point until his death recently from skin cancer. Buffett sought to embody that carefree, indulgent lifestyle through song and through the carefully crafted persona that he adopted on stage. He began wearing flowery shirts, which he left unbuttoned several buttons down to reveal his tanned chest. His smile was pearl white. His hair, sandy beach blonde. For his songs, Buffett drew upon his own family history. He came from a long line of mariners and was well versed in the ways of the sea. He was First Mate on that yacht not just because of his charming personality. He actually was a sailor of some renown. Thus, Buffett began writing songs about sailing and the people who sailed ships. He wrote about smugglers and pirates. He wrote about how easy it was to get caught up in the lifestyle of places where the waters were warm, the drinks were cold and the women knew how to take care of a sailor. He wrote about the feel of the sun on his skin. He even wrote about the joy of finding a cheeseburger stand on a remote tropical island. Every song he created was built upon a foundation of the ordinary becoming extraordinary. It was always as if he, as the narrator, was just a regular guy who couldn’t believe his luck. If his dreams could come true, then so could those of the regular folks buying his records. Thus, he developed his brand and created a cult-like level of followers who came to be known as “Parrotheads”. The Parrothead lifestyle that Jimmy Buffett championed manifested itself in many forms, including drawing huge tourist crowds to the Florida Keys in search of that mythical place known as “Margaritaville”. Parrotheads have come to be known to hold conferences and retreats all dedicated to the music of Jimmy Buffett and the image he conveyed and the lifestyle he espoused. I have no doubt that these same festivals will continue long after his death as well. Even if the “Mayor of Margaritaville” has left his earthly marina, the ideal of living a carefree life in the sun is one that will linger forever as fuel for Parrotheads the world over.

However, one of the other big lessons from Jimmy Buffett’s life is that a person doesn’t need a wall of framed degrees to be considered a smart person. Jimmy Buffett was as clever as they came when it turned to making money from this image-laden world that he had created through music. Jimmy Buffett could sing and could write catchy songs that connected with audiences, but he was equally as skilled in business marketing. He knew that his fans enjoyed his songs about sailing and living in the sun. He knew that they would buy his records, come to his shows and visit the places he sang about. The next level to his marketing plan was to give those same fans a means of experiencing the lifestyle for themselves regardless of their bank balance. Thus, Buffett launched two restaurant chains: one called Margaritaville and the other known as Cheeseburgers in Paradise. As the demographic age of his Parrotheads began skewing older, Jimmy Buffett developed a series of retirement lifestyle communities, too. Between his musical endeavours, the restaurant chains and the retirement communities, Jimmy Buffett died with a net worth of over a billion dollars. Like Taylor Swift, Buffett came across as being the guy next door, someone who you could see yourself sharing beers with and talking with about the sea. Yet, he was the head of a multi-pronged, highly successful business corporation and had more than enough income to buy his own yacht (which he did with the proceeds of his most famous song, “Margaritaville”).

The craft of imagemaking is not one that just anyone can pull off. Taylor Swift is as successful as she is today in part because she studied success stories, such as those of people like Jimmy Buffett. There are lots of rich people who do not have the personality to inspire others like Buffett or Swift have. Both singer/ songwriters have tapped into the dreams of ordinary people and have used those dreams to create whole worlds or safe havens for their legions of followers. In death, much has been made of Jimmy Buffett’s discography, as well as his business acumen. But, the truth of it all is that Jimmy Buffett may just actually have been someone who managed to live up to his own hype off stage. He was happily married to his college sweetheart. He was friends with all manner of other musicians and actors and writers. He enjoyed excellent health right up until he developed cancer near the end of his life. He was generous with his money, donating to many environmental and political causes (he favoured Democrats, politically) and often headlining benefit concerts for free. Even as his final days drew near, Jimmy Buffett’s chest was tanned, his smile was pearl white and his hair, sandy beach blonde. He died as he had lived: surrounded by those who loved him, on a sunny day, near the water. You have more than earned your rest, Mr. Buffett. May peace be with you now and forever more.

The link to the official website for Jimmy Buffett can be found here. ***If you click on the link, you will find a lovely letter to his fans that was written by his wife, Jane. She includes several details about his life and times that I opted not to include for the sake of brevity. Her letter is well worth a few moments of your time to read. Their love is obvious and shines through like the rays of the sun.

The link to the video for the song “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett can be found here. ***Lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the official website for the Margaritaville chain can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Peace Be With You: The Life and Times of Sinead O’ Connor

Even in death, Sinead O’ Connor still has that ability to rouse passionate debate. Regardless of how she has lived her life the past thirty years, Sinead O’ Connor will always and forever be noted for her decision to rip up the Pope’s photo at the end of her performance on Saturday Night Live in 1992. When she first did that, the reaction against her was white hot. It effectively ended her public career in North America just as it was getting started. I wrote about that incident and the fallout that came about as a result in a previous post that you can read here.

However, as it turned out, Sinead was correct to call out the Catholic Church over its practice of shielding priests who committed acts of sexual abuse on children. In the time since she so famously tore that photo up on live TV, her stance has been vindicated. Thus, when her death was first announced, the overwhelming sentiment expressed by fans was that she had been courageous in taking such a risk-laden stand. A few days after that, a new backlash began to emerge online. This time, it was a chorus of people who claimed that today’s mourners were hypocrites because they had never expressed public support for O’ Connor until after her death. In the middle of all the hue and cry, what got lost was her music. Her music was always at the heart of everything Sinead O’ Connor valued herself. To her, it was always all that ever mattered.

I have always believed that Sinead O’ Connor possessed one of the most beautiful and powerful singing voices ever. This was especially so when she burst onto the music scene with songs such as “Mandinka”, “Nothing Compares to U” and my personal favourite, “The Last Day of our Acquaintance”. But when the media frenzy overwhelmed her and she ended up wiping her hands clean of the industry as a whole, Sinead O’ Connor never stopped singing. She simply stopped playing the corporate music world’s game. In the decades that followed her withdrawal from the big stages of the world, Sinead returned to her roots. She went back home to Ireland and spent much time singing songs that drew upon her Irish heritage. She released albums filled with Irish songs that connected the history of Ireland with the lives and politics of those who live there today. She sang as a solo artist but also appeared as a guest collaborator with many famous and not so famous singers and bands. As time went on, these guest appearances became increasingly popular. When she married her voice with that of her island’s history, it helped remind all who heard her that she was a national treasure. While it may have appeared to those of us on the other side of the world that she had gone quiet and abandoned her career, that would have been incorrect. We often create traps for ourselves when we define what constitutes a successful career by commercial success standards only. Sinead O’ Connor refused to attend the Grammy Awards when “Nothing Compares to U” went viral because she opposed the commercialization of the music industry. That she spent her whole life singing quietly yet, purposefully out of the spotlight should have actually surpassed no one who knew anything about her.

Yes, she was courageous to have spoken out against such a powerful institution as the Catholic Church on national TV. But, that one act didn’t define her. It may have done so for those too lazy to look at what was really going on but it didn’t define her for herself or for those who lived near her in her Irish homeland. When viewed through a different lens, it is easy to see that Sinead O’ Connor had a wonderful career. She sang because it inspired others when they heard her voice. She sang because it was a meaningful and political act. She sang because it gave her pleasure and purpose for her to do so. Now that she has passed on, it behooves us to leave her in peace. I am grateful that I am able to continue to listen to her commercial music catalogue but just as thankful to hear her sing Irish songs that act as my introduction to the history and culture of a grand and glorious country and people. You have more than earned your rest, Sinead. May peace be with you now and forever more.

The link to the official website for Sinead O’ Connor can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Oro Se do Bheatha Bhaile” as sung by Sinead O’ Connor can be found here. ***This song is a traditional Irish song that had its origin as a wedding song that was played whenever it was time for a new bride “to enter her husband’s home” as his wife. After 1916 and The Easter Rising, the song came to be a rebel-inspired song calling all fighters to return home to fight for independence.

***As always, all original content contained in this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Peace Be With You: The Life and Times of Mr. Gary Wright

Chances are good that if you recognize the name, Gary Wright, it is because of his association with one of the songs that defined 1970s rock n’ roll, “Dream Weaver”. While Gary Wright is primarily known for this one huge hit song, it would be wrong to characterize him as a one-hit wonder. Far from it. Gary Wright lived a most interesting life and accomplished much in The Arts. He also rubbed shoulders with some of the most famous and influential performers of the day. So far from being a novelty act, Gary Wright was a respected member of the 1970s Arts and music scene and is someone well worth knowing.

Gary Wright was born in 1943 and grew up in New Jersey. He lived in a household in which many family members were performers, including his mother and his aunt. Both of those ladies sang in local groups, offered their services as session singers during recording sessions and also acted in local theatre productions. As a young boy, Gary Wright was encouraged by his mother and aunt to audition for his highschool play. Gary got the part and liked it so much that he began following in the family footsteps and started acting in local plays and musicals. At one point he got the role of “the son” in the musical, Fanny. The woman who played his mother in the musical was none other that actress Florence Henderson of Brady Bunch fame! Because he got along so well with his stage mom, Florence Henderson recommended him for some television work. Wright’s experiences on professional television production sets opened his eyes to a whole new world of possibilities for his future. Being on set, in an environment where creativity was sought after and highly respected, was a transformative moment and helped set Gary Wright on his own path as an entertainer.

Not surprisingly, Wright soon found school life to be overly restrictive and as a result he dropped out. His first move as a “free” person was to form a band. Because of his experiences in television and theatre, Wright viewed himself as a bit more of an industry insider than was perhaps warranted. But, what this mindset did was give him the confidence to approach influential people as if that was something that everybody did. So, when he came in contact with the band, Traffic at a concert of theirs, talking to anyone connected to the band who would listen to him seemed like the natural and obvious thing to do. Because of those conversations, he met a producer named Jimmy Miller. Miller happened to be the famous “Mr. Jimmy” of Rolling Stones fame. Miller invited Wright to join some recording sessions he had going which resulted in Wright becoming known in the exploding rock scene as a piano/keyboard player. From his experiences playing the keyboards, Wright formed a new band with some other session players and called themselves Spooky Tooth. Spooky Tooth managed to release several songs that cracked the Top 40 in the UK. While they never had a #1 hit song, Spooky Tooth was a respected band and regularly played on bills with heavyweight acts such as The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. Eventually, Spooky Tooth broke up and Gary Wright decided to try his hand at being a solo artist.

One of the things that had helped Wright all through the early stages of his adult life was that he was a very likable person. He made friends easily. Consequently, as the early 1970s dawned and Wright found himself out in the music marketplace as a solo artist, he had plenty of friends in the business who eagerly lent him a hand. One of the most influential of those friends was a man who was just coming into his own right at that time, George Harrison. As many of you would know, The Beatles broke up as the 1960s came to a close. This caused the four members of the band to scatter, artistically, in many different directions. For Harrison, The Beatles break up coincided with his sudden emergence as a songwriter of note on a par with his mates Paul McCartney and John Lennon. In the years immediately following the disillusionment of The Beatles, Harrison decided to use his platform for the good of mankind. He was a firm follower of Eastern mysticism at this point and believed fervently in living a life of peacefulness and charity. It was just prior to Harrison’s famous Concert for Bangladesh that he took Gary Wright under his protective wing. As part of doing so, Harrison introduced Wright to the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and gave him books of poetry based on Eastern teachings. From this exposure, Gary Wright developed an appreciation for some of the same practices that so captivated Harrison, including mediating daily, which Wright did from that point on until his death a few weeks ago. From the books of poetry he read, Wright was drawn to one particular poem that contained a line that went…”When at night my mind weaves dreams”. That poem serves as the inspiration for Gary Wright’s megahit, “Dream Weaver”.

“Dream Weaver” is not only noteworthy because of its poetic lyrics, it was also one of the first major hit songs that featured the prominent use of an electronic synthesizer. Initially, Gary Wright wrote the keyboard part for piano. When it came time to record the song, he laid down piano tracks as originally intended. But, Wright was also an associate of members of the band Pink Floyd. Because of their use of synthesizers and other more experimental instruments, Wright felt somewhat liberated to try new things as well. So, he acquired a synthesizer to replace the piano part and, just like that, “Dream Weaver” transformed from being a typical rock song into being a modern sounding, ethereal piece of music that helped solidify synthesizers as a commonly used musical tool.

“Dream Weaver” raced to the #1 spot and changed the course of Gary Wright’s life. His song ended up being one of the most recognized songs of the decade and carved out a place for him in the annals of rock music history. It was also a song that was impossible for Wright to follow up. While he did have some minor hits afterwards, “Dream Weaver” was his biggest hit and the song most synonymous with his name. In later years, interviewers would frequently ask Wright if he ever tired of playing “Dream Weaver” and he always replied that the song was a gift. To have written something that meant so much to so many people was an honour. From a more practical point of view, the royalties he earned from this one song allowed Gary Wright to live a life of comfort for himself and his family all throughout his days on this earth. In fact, he credits the song’s inclusion on the soundtrack to the hit movie Wayne’s World with being akin to winning the lottery. As time went on, Wright came to terms with the fact that “Dream Weaver” might be his musical Mount Olympus. Wright did continue to record albums as a solo artist and had a few Top 40 hits and he even reunited briefly with the members of Spooky Tooth, too. But, for the most part, Wright spent much of the later portions of his career mainly touring with Ringo Starr’s Travelling All-star band, where he was always introduced as Gary Wright, the man who wrote “Dream Weaver”. From all reports, his introduction always generated smiles and a warm round of applause. In reply, Wright always took to the spotlight with grace and appreciation. As it turned out, it was a good thing to be Gary Wright.

All in all, those who knew Gary Wright all say that he was a genuinely good and kind person and that they are happy for his success. Having charm, good conversational skills, coupled with the ability to play professionally all led Wright to the esteemed position of venerated performer that he holds today. Far from being a one-hit wonder, Gary Wright turned out to be a multi-faceted entertainer of some renown. He also possessed a kind soul and a generous heart and will be greatly missed by his family, friends and all who knew him. You have more than earned your rest, Mr. Wright. May peace be with you now and forever more.

The link to the official website for Gary Wright can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Dream Weaver” by Gary Wright can be found here. ***Lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Dream Weaver by Gary Wright as used in the movie Wayne’s World can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Peace Be With You: The Life and Times of Robbie Robertson

Robbie Robertson was born in 1943 in Toronto. His mother was of Mohawk descent and, as such, Robertson spent portions of his childhood on the Six Nations Indigenous Territory near present day Brantford. Immersed in Indigenous culture as he was as a child, Robertson was exposed to music and storytelling and came to view both as natural forms of personal and communal self-expression. Therefore it came as no surprise to anyone who knew him as a child that he was drawn to music and, in particular, to playing the guitar. Robbie Robertson spent almost the entirety of his life playing, producing, recording, singing songs about his life, his Indigenous roots and/or the history of the places in which he found himself. While Canadian by birth, music drew him southward. For reasons that we shall get to shortly, Robbie Robertson spent most of his adult life in the United States playing and creating some of the most memorable music of his generation. In the process of doing so, Robertson worked with legendary musicians and film directors and even starred in a big budget movie that he helped to write called Carny. Robertson died at age 80 from pancreatic cancer, but what a rich legacy of excellence he left behind.

Like many teenage boys with a passion for music, Robertson became involved in local bands all throughout his highschool years. It was while playing in one such band that he happened upon the opportunity to play in front of the legendary Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins. Hawkins was impressed with Robertson’s maturity and passion for music. He was equally impressed with his guitar playing skills which, while still rudimentary at this stage, stood out as possessing great potential. Hawkins hired Robertson to join his touring band, Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, as a roadie. This eventually led to Robertson becoming a backup singer, then a fill-in guitar player during rehearsals, to eventually a permanent place in his band The Hawks. As Robertson toured with The Hawks, other members of the backup band came and went, their places filled by other young men who would go on to become lifelong members of Robertson’s life…Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Levon Helm. Together, the five members of The Hawks developed a chemistry and a camaraderie amongst themselves that grew to the point where they felt ready to leave the nest, as it were, and form their own band. Initially, they called themselves Levon Helm and the Hawks. But, eventually, they simply became known as The Band.

While touring as their own band, they were seen by the manager of one of music’s hottest and most influential performers, Bob Dylan. The timing of this sighting was most fortuitous for all parties because, unbeknownst to Robertson and the rest of The Band, Dylan was tinkering with the idea of turning the Folk music world upside down by “going electric”. To do so, Dylan realized that he would need a backing band with the chops necessary to keep up with him. He saw that in The Band. An invitation to join him as his permanent backing band was proffered and accepted. Just like that, Robbie Robertson and his mates found themselves at the centre of a musical storm as Bob Dylan introduced electrically created sounds to the modern world of folk music. As Dylan and The Band toured, each concert would involve two separate parts. In the first half, Dylan would appear on stage by himself. He would only have his acoustic guitar and harmonica. He would perform his folk hits in the traditional folk style. Then there would be a short intermission. When he returned for Part #2 of the show, he would do so with The Band behind him and an electric guitar in hand. For the whole of this first world tour, Dylan and The Band were subject to much abuse and condemnation. Cries of “Traitor!” and “Judas!” filled the air. But Bob Dylan knew that the times were, quite literally, a-changing. He stuck to his vision and changed music as we knew it in the process.

Robbie Robertson was changed by the experience as well. Coming from a childhood heritage steeped in the traditions of storytelling prepared Robertson well to soak up the lessons available to him by having such consistent and intimate contact with a poet such as Dylan. Dylan’s ability to paint pictures with his words and create songs with vivid characters, settings and emotions made a dramatic impression on Robertson. Being able to apprentice at the feet of the Master, so to speak, prepared Robertson well a few years later when he wrote his own music for The Band to perform. Songs such as “The Weight”, “Up On Cripple Creek” and “The NIght They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down”, etc…, ended up becoming some of rock music’s most beloved and influential songs in their own right. Robertson respectfully credits his time with Dylan, along with his time spent on the Six Nations reserve, as helping prepare him for his star turn as a songwriter of note.

As was often the case throughout Robertson’s career, one project often led directly to another. Hawkins led to The Band which, in turn, led to meeting and touring with Bob Dylan which, in turn, led to a huge career on their own as The Band. So when creative tensions began to pull at the fabric of their lineup, The Band didn’t simply break up. Instead, they ended in style with a performance for the ages called The Last Waltz. This final concert was held in San Francisco and happened on American Thanksgiving Day. The Winterland Ballroom filled with invited guests who were served a full Thanksgiving Day turkey dinner. Once dinner was served, the tables were cleared and a concert performance was held. The Band played their hits, of course, but they also shared the stage with many special guests including the likes of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, The Staples Singers, Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan and many more. In addition to the live concert, what made The Last Waltz memorable was that it was filmed by Robertson’s friend, film director Martin Scorsese. The film was released in theatres a year or so later and became one of the very first “rockumentaries” ever created. ***You can watch The Last Waltz in its entirety for free on Tubi Tv right now by clicking here. The link takes you to the main Tube TV site. From there, use the search box to find The Last Waltz.

Robertson’s connection with Scorsese led him directly from The Band into a career in the movies as a film scorer. Through this connection, Robertson helped score a majority of Martin Scorsese’s most famous films such as Raging Bull, Casino, Gangs of New York, The King of Comedy, The Wolf of Wall Street and many more. It was while working with Scorsese in the early 1980s that Robertson was approached about his interest in film production and even in acting. This resulted in his involvement in the movie Carny, which starred Robertson alongside Jodie Foster and Gary Busey. Even though Robertson was often told that he possessed “movie star looks”, he was always most comfortable behind the scenes and enjoyed his greatest success as a film scorer over the years.

In 1987, Robertson decided to release an album of solo material. That album was created in collaboration with producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno and featured performances by Peter Gabriel and the band, U2. The album was called Showdown At Big Sky. I actually owned this album and absolutely loved it. It was filled with great songs such as the title track, “Somewhere Down The Crazy River”, “Broken Arrow” and many more. Showdown At Big Sky ended up winning Grammy and Juno Awards for Robertson for Album of the Year.

Robbie Robertson remained actively involved in music right up until the time of his death a few weeks ago. He also spent portions of his later years promoting Indigenous music and culture which, in a way, helped to bring his life full circle. Overall, Robbie Robertson lived a full, rich life. He was a witness to the birth of Rock n’ Roll and had a ringside seat as Dylan took it all one step further by “going electric”. Many of Robertson’s songs as a solo artist or as a member of The Band stand as being among the most memorable and evocative of their generation. As if that wasn’t enough, in a ranking of the best guitarists of all time, Robertson came in at #59 out of 100. It is not without reason that Robbie Robertson is a member of the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Band and as a solo artist, a member of Canada’s Music Hall of Fame, that he has a place on Canada’s Walk of Fame or that he is a Member of the Order of Canada. What a career! What a musical and personal legacy! What a life well lived. You have more than earned your rest, Mr. Robertson. May peace be with you now and forever more.

The link to the official website for Robbie Robertson can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for The Last Waltz can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Somewhere Down The Crazy River” from the album Showdown At Big Sky can be found here. ***Lyrics version can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Peace Be With You: The Life and Times of Mr. Bruce Guthro

Bruce Guthro passed away this week at age 62 from cancer. I am not sure how well known Mr. Guthro was outside of his native Cape Breton Island, but I can assure you that back home, my island is in mourning.

There are many aspects of being a Cape Bretoner that fill me with pride, but one of the best is the rich musical heritage found there. I am so very lucky to have come of age at the same time as the Cape Breton Celtic music scene did in the 1970s and beyond. As a young adult, I was surrounded on all sides by the musicianship and the storytelling of singers such as Matt Minglewood, Rita MacNeil, J.P. Cormier, The Rankin Family, The Barra MacNeils, The Inspirational Singers from Whitney Pier, The glorious Men of the Deeps and Gordie Sampson, along with the extraordinary fiddle playing of Lee Cremo, Winnie Chafe, Buddy and Natalie MacMaster and Ashley MacIsaac and the choral singing of Sister Rita Clare and the Cape Breton Chorale and so much more. The heartbeat of Cape Breton can be felt in the hand claps and foot stomps found in ceilidhs and other impromptu gatherings all over the island. Everyone’s doors were always open, the teapots were always on and a sense of community borne of music and culture and history was always seen and felt and on display. In the middle of it all was a man named Bruce Guthro.

Bruce Guthro was a singer and songwriter. He was a respected peer of everyone mentioned above. He was the winner of multiple East Coast Music Awards for his singing and his songwriting. He performed solo for the entirety of his career. But he also fronted a very successful Scottish Celtic band named Runrig. But just as importantly, Bruce Guthro wove himself into the musical fabric of the island by playing and working with anyone and everyone who wished to make music. One of the things Bruce Guthro was most noted for was a series he developed known affectionately as The Circle. Essentially, the idea behind The Circle was to invite a collection of entertainers, songwriters and musicians to meet together in a room or on a stage and sit in a circle, surrounded on all sides by an audience. In this circle, the invited guests would swap stories and play some tunes to the delight of the crowd in attendance. It was all warm and intimate and friendly and built upon a foundation of storytelling and song. As important a musical figure as Bruce Guthro was, I always regarded him as a father figure to those who performed in the kitchens, legion halls, taverns and concert halls of Cape Breton. It is in this light that I would like to share a personal story with you about how Bruce Guthro played a small role in one of the most memorable moments in my life. Here we go!

I live in Ontario, Canada. That is a long way from Cape Breton Island, which sits atop the east coast province of Nova Scotia. I have lived away, as they say, since 1982, but I go back home to Cape Breton Island every year to visit family and to bathe in the warm glow of what it feels like to be Home. This particular story takes place in 2002 (which was the year my wife and I got married). I met my wife in Ontario. We fell in love instantly and knew we were destined to be married. I assumed that we would follow tradition that states that our wedding would be where the bride’s hometown was. But, to my delight, my wife told me that she didn’t wish for that to be the case and would be happy to be married on Cape Breton Island. So, home we went. In 2001, we traveled home and made all the wedding arrangements. In 2002, we invited a small cadre of our closest friends and family and were married at a restaurant called The Miner’s Village Restaurant on the grounds of The Miner’s Museum which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. We arrived in my hometown of Glace Bay a week before our wedding day, which is when our story takes place.

When we first arrived back home, my mother informed us that there was going to be a special concert happening in town, down by the harbour. Unbeknownst to my wife and I, a local Glace Bay girl named Aselin Debison had written a song and recorded an album and was being promoted as being Canada’s next big thing by the movers and shakers within the Canadian music industry. To help launch Aselin on to a national stage, the CBC was set to film a live concert in Glace Bay. According to my mother, the concert was free and the CBC was recruiting local citizens to sit in as Aselin Debison’s audience. So, the next thing we knew, my bride-to-be, my mother and I were sitting in chairs next to the entrance to Glace Bay Harbour as we waited to be part of a live television broadcast. A concert stage had been set up in front of the wharf next to the water. Behind the stage were several fishing trawlers moored for the day. Lobster traps sat stacked photogenically hither and yon. The fish processing plant hosted a flock of seagulls who eyed us all with curiosity. All in all, Glace Bay Harbour cleaned itself up well for its moment on the national stage and we were delighted to be there to see it all happen.

Bruce Guthro and a very young Aselin Denison and some lobster traps. Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.

One of the greatest things about being from Cape Breton Island is the pride everyone feels when “one of their own” does well. In the case of young Aselin Debison, she carried herself with much charm and humility. In reply, the local community hoisted her up on their collective shoulders and were only too happy to cheer her on as she was given this opportunity. So there we sat, surrounded by hundreds of fellow Cape Bretoners who were all bursting with pride. The waves rolled in. The seagulls squawked. The sea breezes blew. Then the flood lights were struck and the CBC director announced that we were set to begin. But, as the show began, it was not Aselin Debison who strode to the stage, it was a handsome man holding a guitar. His name was Bruce Guthro. As it turned out, Bruce Guthro was friends with Aselin Debison’s parents and had been mentoring the young singer for years. So, it was only natural for him to continue in that role by appearing as her opening act. I know that my wife did not know who this man was but I sure did! Even twenty or so years ago, Bruce Guthro was a big name in the Cape Breton Celtic music scene. As he walked onto the stage, I counted myself as being extremely fortunate to be introducing my wife to Celtic music as performed by such a talented and respected performer. As with all good opening acts, Bruce Guthro ran through a selection of his hits and other popular Cape Breton songs and got the audience suitably warmed up for Aselin Debison’s appearance. When his short set was over, Aselin Debison was called to the stage. All of eleven or twelve years old she was! She walked to the centre of the stage, received a hug from Bruce Guthro and then she began to sing. All the while, Bruce Guthro remained on stage, beaming at her with pride, playing along and helping her to take her star turn on the CBC. Aselin Debison was an absolute sweetheart! She sang her hit song at the time, “Sweet Is The Melody”, and a host of other classic Cape Breton tunes such as “It’s Getting Dark Again” and “Out On The Mira”. She closed with the unofficial anthem of Cape Breton, “We Are An Island”. Everyone sang and clapped and cheered. It was a perfect evening on Cape Breton Island. *You can watch the CBC version of that concert by clicking on the link here.

Flash forward a few years. My wife and I are married and are expecting our first child (who turned out to be a girl). In choosing her name, we decided to make her first name something unique and set apart from any familial connections or history. In that way, she could create her own legacy and have her name turn out to mean whatever she wished it to be. So, we called our daughter Leah. But, for her middle name, we did want there to be some sort of tie to the past. But as we searched through the names of our mothers, aunts, grandmothers and so on, we weren’t satisfied with how any of those names sounded next to “Leah”. Then it hit me! I turned to my wife and brought up the name Aselin. As soon as we said it out loud, Leah Aselin MacInnes became her name. In the end, the tie to the past that we went for was not familial at all but, instead, it was cultural. Our daughter is named after that lovely young singer Aselin Debison, but more importantly, she is named after the music of Cape Breton. Leah was once given a onesie or a t-shirt (I can’t really remember which it was) by a dear friend of mine from back home that read, “My Roots Are In Cape Breton”. No truer words were ever spoken.

And now, with the news of the passing of Bruce Guthro, I am taken back to that evening by the harbour, under the lights and to the songs of Cape Breton that filled the air.

I doubt that Mr. Guthro was ever aware that we were in that audience that night nor what the impact of his efforts were. He only had eyes for Aselin Debison. But like so many others who listened to his music or his stories, we were made better and richer as a result. His death leaves a great void in the cultural landscape of Cape Breton, but his legacy is strong. I have no doubt at all that in the days leading up to his funeral or those immediately after or even those during his funeral, that there will be songs of Cape Breton sung, glasses raised in his honour and a sense of cultural community reinforced once again for all to see and feel. Some people leave their mark on our world by the difference they made in the lives of others, and Bruce Guthro is a prime example. I will not be down for his funeral, but I will acknowledge his passing with a good firm hug of my daughter who has Cape Breton blood in her veins. Perhaps we will play some down home music as well, including a song or two from Mr. Guthro as well as his protegée, Aselin Debison. Thank you for all that you have contributed to life on Cape Breton Island, Mr. Guthro. You have lived well and accomplished much to be proud of. You have earned your rest. Cheers to you. May Peace Be With You now and forever more.

The link to the official website for Bruce Guthro can be found here.

The link to the official website for the Scottish band Runrig can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Peace Be With You: The Life and Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto

Ryuichi Sakamoto passed away this week. He was 71 years old. He died after a valiant fight against throat cancer. There has been an outpouring of sadness from around the globe at the news that we have lost one of the world’s great keyboardists and film scorers. Ryuichi Sakamoto was never an artist who sought the spotlight. Fame and fortune were not factors that motivated him to pursue excellence in his music or in his art, yet the impactful nature of his life’s work helped change the way we view music today. Here is a brief overview of his life and his accomplishments.

Yellow Magic Orchestra: Haruomi Hosono, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi.

Ryuichi Sakamoto first came to the attention of the music world in the 1970s as a member of the important Japanese band Yellow Magic Orchestra. Yellow Magic Orchestra was a trio made up of Ryuichi Sakamoto (on keyboards), Yukihiro Takahashi (drums) and Haruomi Hosono (guitar and lead singer). Yellow Magic Orchestra is a prime example of the notion that music is a universal language. In the 1970s they were part of a global musical movement that introduced synthesizers into mainstream use. At the same time as prog rock bands such as Genesis and Yes were creating their twenty-minute epic masterpieces and Alternative bands such as Depeche Mode, The Cure and Yazoo were using synthesizers to create music that was lighter and bouncier, Yellow Magic Orchestra was doing the exact same thing in Japan. (You can listen to the song called “Rydeen” here).To say that Ryuichi Sakamoto was the Japanese Vince Clarke of his time would be an appropriate comparison to make. But to characterize Sakamoto as simply being a keyboardist in a Pop band would be wrong. He was so much more than that.

Ryuichi Sakamoto’s interest in music extended beyond the production of hit songs. It went much deeper to the actual way that individual sounds could be manipulated. Sakamoto was on the leading edge of those artists around the world who recognized the potential that digitizing music had in terms of its ability to allow composers to manipulate sounds in ways that would be more difficult if attempted while playing live. As a result, Yellow Magic Orchestra became one of the first bands in the world to employ digital technology, along with their synthesizers. If you listened to the sample track of theirs from the link above, you will have heard how familiar it sounded to music you are used to hearing from North America and Europe during the early 80s.. The fact is that digital technology had an impact on the world of music that was global in nature. One of the leading voices behind this global movement was Ryuichi Sakamoto from Japan.

David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto as seen in the movie Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.

In the 1980s, Ryuichi Sakamoto left Yellow Magic Orchestra and began releasing solo albums, as well as collaborations with musicians from all over the world. In addition to that, he decided that the poetry of the cinema spoke to him so he began creating musical scores for big budget movies. The first film that he scored was the 1983 movie Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. (You can watch the trailer here). That movie starred Tom Conti and David Bowie as British POWs in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II. Ryuichi Sakamoto also acted in the film. His musical score won the award for Best Score at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts ceremony that year. A few years later, he provided much of the musical score for the Academy Award winning movie The Last Emperor. (You can watch the trailer here). That movie swept the Academy Awards the year it was nominated. As part of the awards sweep, Ryuichi Sakamoto won the Academy Award for Best Score, making him the first composer from an Asian country to be so honoured.

Sakamoto with his Oscar for Best Score for the movie The Last Emperor.

Ryuichi Sakamoto was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. Despite the ravages of the disease and the treatments to combat it, Mr. Sakamoto continued creating and performing right up until the final months of his life. In the video link here, you can watch Ryuichi Sakamoto giving the final piano recital of his life. In the video he plays the theme to the movie Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. The music is lovely. It is all the more so when you watch him play and realize that he is in pain and only months away from death. He was a very special man, indeed. The world was made richer because of his musical contributions to it. We are the poorer for him being gone. Peace be with you, Ryuichi Sakamoto. Thank you for a life lived in pursuit of Art and beauty and sound. You have earned your rest.

In 2018, a documentary about Ryuichi Sakamoto was released. It was called Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda. You can watch the trailer here. It looks amazing.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Peace Be With You: The Life and Music of Mr. Burt Bacharach

My wife and mother-in-law were chatting on the phone last night. In the course of their conversation, they discussed the day’s weather…it had been a rainy, dreary day. Then my mother-in-law said that the dreariness of the day wasn’t helped by the news about Burt Bacharach. My wife responded by asking, “Who?” I looked up from what I had been doing. My mother-in-law paused, clearly caught off guard. In that instant a generational divide had been revealed in my home. My wife had no idea who Burt Bacharach was. In fact, she had never heard his name before it was spoken by my mother-in-law. My wife turned to my eldest daughter to see if she had heard of this name before and she hadn’t, either. My mother-in-law and I both offered up some scant details about the man such as he was someone who wrote many, many hit songs. My mother-in-law stated a few of them. All legendary tunes or so we thought. But my wife and daughter just shrugged their shoulders. Obviously, the life and death of Burt Bacharach was only news of note for us older folks. So, today’s post is being written for my wife, Keri and daughter, Leah. Burt Bacharach lived a full and impactful life and is someone worth knowing about. As for those of you who know the man and his work, feel free to read along and celebrate the life of one of the entertainment world’s most accomplished artists. Here is the story of Burt Bacharach. Enjoy.

Burt Bacharach was 94 years old when he passed away this week. Over the course of his legendary career as a singer/songwriter, Bacharach won six Grammy awards and three Academy Awards. He had been awarded the Gershwin Prize for songwriting twice. A list of the songs he wrote on his own or with his writing partner, Hal David, reads like a Hall of Fame roster of musical classics. His work included such hits as “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”, “(They Long To Be) Close To You”, “Arthur’s Theme (The Best That You Can Do)”, “(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance”, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, “Blue on Blue”, “Walk On By”, “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me”, “What The World Needs Now”, “What’s New Pussycat?”, “Casino Royale”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”, “Heartlight”, “That’s What Friends Are For” and many, many more.

Burt Bacharach and Marlene Dietrich

Bacharach began his career in music while in the US Army during the 1950s. It was while in the army that he met singer Vic Damone who, at the time, had quite the reputation as a crooner. Damone invited Bacharach to play piano for him in his band, but after a short time, Bacharach’s skill outshone his supporting role and he struck out on his own. One of the first influential people he met and began a working relationship with was legendary movie star and performer, Marlene Dietrich. With her, Bacharach served as musical director and composer. Together they toured the world during the latter half of the 1950s. During this period, Bacharach got to work with musicians from all over the world. He particularly enjoyed his time in Russia, Israel and the Scandinavian countries because of how highly music was esteemed in those countries. As their professional partnership ended, Dietrich stated that her time with Bacharach, although strictly platonic, was, in her words, “like seventh heaven”. She went on to say, “As a man, he embodied everything a woman could wish for. How many such men are there? For me, he was the only one”.

Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick

Throughout the early part of the 1960s Burt Bacharach was one of the many incredibly talented songwriters employed at The Brill Building in New York City. (You can read a post about that scene here). It was while employed at The Brill Building that Bacharach met his lifelong professional partner Hal David. Together they wrote hit songs for Country star Marty Robbins as well as for crooner Perry Como. But it was when they began working with singer Dionne Warwick that their careers as songwriters really took off. Over the course of her career Dionne Warwick sold over 22 million albums. Almost every single one of her hits was written by Bacharach and David including, “Walk On By”, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, “Alfie” and more.

Burt Bacharach and Hal David with their Oscars for “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”.

As the 1960s progressed and Bacharach’s reputation for songwriting continued to grow, he decided it was time to expand his repertoire and began releasing his own music. His initial records had a distinct Jazz influence to them and, as a result, his own music became popular with accomplished Jazz players, including such huge stars as Stan Getz, who released an entire album of Jazz standards based on Burt Bacharach’s tunes. But that was not all! The 1960s saw Burt Bacharach’s career explode in many different ways. For example, he began writing music for Broadway shows and for Hollywood movies, too. In fact, he wrote the first “James Bond” theme song in the history of that storied franchise when he wrote “Casino Royale”. That led to further soundtrack work such as “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”, which won Bacharach his first two Academy Awards for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. (One for Best Song in a Movie and the second for Best Score). A decade or so later, Bacharach would win a third Academy Award for the movie, Arthur.

In his private life, Burt Bacharach was married four times and had a total of four children. In 1999 he was selected as People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive”. In all, Burt Bacharach wrote almost 200 songs that became hits on radio, in film and/or on Broadway. He stands as one of the most prolific and successful songwriters in the history of modern music. Bacharach’s music is part of the cultural fabric of America and the world and will remain so, even in death. Burt Bacharach’s life was well lived. He has certainly earned his rest. Peace be with you, Mr. Bacharach. Thank you for dedicating your life to music and the craft of songwriting. We are all the better for your efforts.

The link to the video “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David as sung by B.J. Thomas can be found here.

The link to the official website for Burt Bacharach can be found here.

Peace Be With You: The Life, Music and Art of Mendelson Joe

In 1982 I moved from a town of 20,000 people (Glace Bay, Nova Scotia) to a city of over 2,000,000 (Toronto). As you can probably imagine, it isn’t easy to make a move of such magnitude without there being some fairly significant adjustments to make along the way. One of the biggest adjustments (and fastest) that I had to make had to do with my cultural references. I left home to attend university. Specifically, I left home to enroll in the Radio and Television Arts Programme at Toronto Metropolitan University (Ryerson, back in the day). It didn’t take long for me to realize the truth behind the oft-repeated accusation that those in Toronto feel as though it is the centre of the universe. My broadcasting course was being taught in Toronto by media professionals who had made a name for themselves in Canada’s largest city. It shouldn’t have surprised me that the course would be Toronto-centric in so many ways. But it did.

I grew up on Cape Breton Island in the 1960s and 70s. Because those were pre-internet times, we got much of our news and cultural information from national broadcasters like the CBC or CTV. Thus, I grew up knowing national celebrities such as Anne Murray, Tommy Hunter, Wayne and Shuster and so on. But, I also grew up knowing performers such as Winnie Chafe, Lee Cremo and The Men of the Deeps. Because of how information was disseminated in those days, I felt as though I knew my local celebrities every bit as much as I did my national heroes. So when I arrived in Toronto to begin my broadcasting course, I naively expected that my teachers and classmates would have the same cultural background as me. Instead, their cultural markers were completely different. Not only was their cultural background much different from me because of the wide variety of ethnicity on display, but just as importantly, it was different because everything was so Toronto-oriented. I was completely lost in terms of a shared history. It was almost as if I was a stranger in a foreign land.

Let me give you a couple of quick examples. My very first assignment in a course called History of Broadcasting was to list all of the radio stations in Toronto, describe their music format and provide a brief bit of background such as corporate ownership, how the station was doing as far as “the numbers” went and so on. To those from Toronto, this was probably an easy first assignment because they had grown up listening to these stations all of their lives. For me, it was horrendously difficult because I had never listened to any of them, so I had no idea who did “Talk” and who did “Rock”, which were AM and which were FM, and on and on it went. A second example was from a course that consisted of us listening to guest speakers who worked within the broadcasting industry in Canada. The very first guest speaker was a man named Dick Smyth. My Toronto area classmates were super excited that this man was coming. To me, I hadn’t a clue who he was. That he was a famous columnist and radio personality meant absolutely nothing to me because we never listened to Toronto radio or watched local Toronto television or read Toronto newspapers when I was growing up in Glace Bay. With my classmates’ mocking laughter ringing in my ears, I was determined to stand and fight for my place in the course. To do so, I immersed myself in as much Toronto culture as I could. Luckily for me, I got a big break the very next week as our industry insider guest speaker was a man named Moses Znaimer. He was working hard to change the way broadcasting was being presented to viewers. Because of him, I started to learn about Toronto.

Moses Znaimer

Moses Znaimer once worked for the CBC but left them in the late 1970s to start a new Toronto television station called CITY-TV. At the time, Znaimer’s ideas were deemed as being radical. He believed that democracy was a participatory process and that broadcasting was a fundamental part of healthy democracies. As such, he felt that citizens needed to be invited into the world of broadcasting so that they could see themselves represented properly and hear their stories being told. One of the first symbolic things he did was to install glass windows in the exterior of his studios so that passers-by could watch what was happening live on air such as at news time. Znaimer also created numerous shows that focussed on local issues and on the people making a difference in the city itself. After hearing him speak, I decided to start watching CITY-TV. One of the first shows I started following was called The New Music Magazine. The first episode I saw involved a segment about the emerging underground Arts scene in Toronto. The segment featured a poet/songwriter named Robert Priest and highlighted a song of his called “Congo Toronto”. The political nature of the song/video caught my attention. Because of the fact that I looked to find out more about Robert Priest, I ended up being introduced to someone special named Mendleson Joe. Initially a Toronto-area local celebrity of sorts, Mendelson Joe went on to become one of the most original and noteworthy members of Canada’s Arts scene. He was a musician, songwriter, poet and visual artist over the course of his life and there was truly no one else like him in Canada. The irony for me is that Mendelson Joe was not comfortable in the company of most people, and therefore he lived for the majority of his life in a cabin in the woods. The ironic part is that I found him when I needed someone the most at that moment in my life. I was adrift in a strange new world, but once I found Mendelson Joe and, by extension, Robert Priest, then I found King Cobb Steelie and Rough Trade and through them, I found the beginnings of my own voice. So even though we never met in person, I have always felt as though I owed Mendelson Joe a debt of gratitude for helping to ground me when I was spinning and for being every bit the outsider as I originally felt and waving that flag ever so proudly for all to see.

Mendelson Joe as part of McKenna Mendelson Mainline

Mendelson Joe began his career as a singer and songwriter. He released dozens of albums as a solo artist and as part of a band known as McKenna Mendelson Mainline. This band was a Blues-based outfit that had its initial success in England in the 1960s before returning to Toronto in the 1970s. While they had no chart-topping hits, they did manage to score gigs opening for the Jeff Beck Group and filling in for The Jimi Hendrix Experience once in Belgium. As part of the chain of connections that first brought Mendelson Joe to my attention via CITY-TV’s New Music Magazine show, when McKenna Mendelson Mainline returned to Canada after touring in England, they recorded a live Blues album in a burlesque hall. That album was mixed at studios owned by Moses Znaimer before he founded CITY-TV.

Mendelson Joe with Rick Mercer and a painting of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney as an a**

But as the years rolled by, what Mendelson Joe became most known for was speaking his mind to those in power. Like Moses Znaimer, he felt that it was a civic duty to participate in the functioning of the democratic process as part of the cost/obligation of living in Canada. He often used his music to make points about how more women should be elevated into positions of authority in our society and about how we all need to care for the earth if we are to survive as a species. He was an ardent follower of the CBC: especially the radio arm of the corporation. He often wrote letters to the editor in local newspapers, as well as to the CBC radio shows that he listened to. In the mid-1970s, he began painting. In time, Mendelson Joe became known for his portraits of famous Canadians that he respected. As well, he became known for his politically charged paintings of politicians of all affiliations, most of whom he dismissed as liars and cheats. His portraits of them reflected his views accordingly. While he was active in making “good trouble” via his music and art right up until recently, he did begin to find it harder to do so because he contracted Parkinson’s disease which, as you may know, causes you to lose control of your gross and fine motor skills, often shaking uncontrollably. The more the Parkinson’s took over his body, the less Mendelson Joe saw in continuing to live. Thus, he made the decision to end his life on his terms with a medically assisted death (or M.A.I.D., as it is legally called in Canada). With those he loved most around him, he ended his life this past week. With that final act, he departed for the next world, leaving a world of goodness in his wake.

Mendelson Joe’s death saddens me a little because the world needs more people like him, not fewer. However, his life serves us all as a reminder that living a life of silence serves no one well in the end. If we have gifts, then we should share them with others so as to brighten their world and perhaps inspire them to develop and share their own bounty with others in a cycle of upwardly flowing positivity. But, the biggest lesson I learned from encountering Mendelson Joe over forty years ago is the importance of having that hoary cliché of a growth mindset. Traveling and living in different parts of the country has broadened my mind and helped to make me a more empathetic person. For the first third of my life, I lived on an island called Cape Breton and thought I knew a lot about Canada. Then I moved to Canada’s biggest city and found out that I knew very little after all. The people I encountered or learned about in those early days in Toronto helped ease my transition into a bigger world and because of that, they helped me grow as a human being. For that I am eternally grateful.

I have tried to give a sense of who Mendelson Joe was, but there are others who have already done so with greater eloquence that I can muster. So, I am going to leave you with three videos and one special website link below. The first is a short song sung by Mendelson Joe called “The Canada Song”. It features a lot of his landscape art. The song is cute but has a good point in the end as well. The second video comes from a segment on the life of Mendelson Joe by famous Canadian comedian Rick Mercer from his former TV show, The Rick Mercer Report. (In this video you will get to see some of the political paintings Joe did of politicians that he felt were liars). The third video is simply one in which Mendelson Joe talks about one of his portraits…Bruce Cockburn, I believe, and how he views those who speak out on behalf of the environment. The final link is not a video at all but, instead, a link to his official website which is curated by his friend and partner Karen Robinson. Pinned to the front page of the website is a farewell letter written by Mendelson Joe himself. I can think of nothing more appropriate than allowing Mendelson Joe to have the final word in this post.

Thank you all for reading about this important Canadian. Peace Be With You, Mendelson Joe. Thank you for living a life filled with Art and creativity and strong personal principles.

The link to the video for the song “The Canada Song” by Mendelson Joe can be found here.

The link to the video about Mendelson Joe that aired on The Rick Mercer Report can be found here.

The link to the official website for Mendleson Joe which contains his farewell letter to the world can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Peace Be With You: The Life and Music of Charlie Thomas

Today’s post is the latest in a series that seeks to celebrate those who have passed away after dedicating their lives to making our world better through music. Please join me in celebrating the life and music of a true gentleman and a very soulful singer, Mr. Charlie Thomas.

R & B and Soul singer Charlie Thomas passed away this week from stomach cancer. He was 85 years of age. The story of Charlie Thomas is one of the more interesting stories that I have told so far since I have started writing about the most famous songs of all time. In a previous post about the Drifters’ classic song, “Up On The Roof”(which you can read here), I discovered the unusual story behind the creation and subsequent evolution of the Drifters as a singing group. In order to appreciate the major role that Charlie Thomas had in the world of R & B and Soul music in America, I strongly urge you to stop where you are and read the previous post about “Up On The Roof”.

The Five Crowns. Note: Charlie Thomas is at the bottom of the frame and the man listed as “Ben Nelson” is, in fact, the man who later gained fame as “Ben E. King”.

The short strokes of his story are that Thomas was originally a member of a singing group in NYC known as The Five Crowns, along with Ben E. King and three others. At one point in the history of the original Drifters group, there arose a legal dispute about royalties and salaries that resulted in the entire band being fired. Ben E. King, Charlie Thomas and the rest of The Five Crowns were invited to replace them. They agreed and from that moment on they were known as Ben E. King and the Drifters. The vast majority of The Drifters’ biggest hit songs such as “Up On The Roof”, “Under The Boardwalk”, etc…, were recorded by Charlie Thomas and his friends under The Drifters banner. While the Drifters’ lineup remained in transition all through the rest of their history, Charlie Thomas remained as a talented, soulful, loyal member of the group right up until just recently when ill health finally silenced his golden voice.

Charlie Thomas was enshrined in The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 as a member of The Drifters. May peace be with you, Mr. Thomas. Thank you for living such a soulful life in harmony with others.

The link to the video for the song “Under The Boardwalk” by Ben E. King and the Drifters can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the official website for Charlie Thomas turned out to be a Facebook page. If you have FB then, you can find his page by searching for “Charlie Thomas’ Drifters”.

The link to the official website for The Drifters can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Peace Be With You: The Life and Music of Tom Verlaine

I write original content each weekday for five different music series. I have been doing so for quite some time now. Having five consistent topics to discuss each week helps to keep me organized and allows me to easily switch between the five series because of the comfort and familiarity I now have with each. However, over time I have learned that what I gain from being highly organized I trade away in terms of spontaneity and flexibility. I like to tell stories about music and the people who make it, but as time has gone on there is one aspect of my coverage that I have felt restricted from addressing properly, and that topic is mortality. Many of the musicians I write about are ghosts by now, or else they are senior citizens drawing ever closer to the Light. Lately, it seems as though my heroes are dying one right after the other. While this has been happening, I have felt unable to adequately address those deaths using the format structure I presently employ. So, starting today, I am announcing the launch of a new series. This series will be called Peace Be With You and will serve as a way for me to stop whatever is on my pre-determined schedule and pay tribute to a person who has dedicated their life to the creative endeavour of making music. Peace Be With You will not be a regular column but it will appear as needed whenever someone of note from the world of music passes away. I am going to resist temptation and not go back in time to write about those who have recently passed. I will let those good people rest in whatever form of peace they managed to find. Today, for the inaugural post in this series, I will start with a performer who passed away mere days ago, Tom Verlaine. So join me now as we honour the life and career of a man worth knowing.

Artist Tom Verlaine

You may be forgiven if you are hearing the name Tom Verlaine for the first time today. While Tom Verlaine was a hugely influential creator and performer, he was no music star. He fronted a band called Television who performed in the late 1970s and early 80s. Television released only two albums and never had a single song of theirs reach the charts. There were no grand national tours for Tom Verlaine, nor were there appearances on American Bandstand or on the cover of Teen Beat Magazine. And yet, Tom Verlaine is a name that dropped easily from the lips of folks like David Bowie, Bono, Peter Buck of R.E.M. and Kurt Cobain when they spoke about role models who inspired them and informed their craft. So who was this man who cast such a large shadow on the music scene, yet for many, was invisible? Here is his story.

Tom Verlaine was born Thomas Miller in 1949 in New Jersey. As a child he studied the piano, but in his teen years he discovered Jazz and switched to the saxophone as his instrument of choice. But one of the things most noteworthy about the young Miller was his singularity of vision. Even as his love of Jazz grew all throughout his teen years, so did a feeling of being trapped by the musical limitations that defined the genre. He felt that the definition of the “Jazz style” was arbitrary, and consequently Miller sought ways to break those boundaries down. His main influences during this period were Jazz giants such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Miller’s first hint that more was possible occurred when he began listening to the Bluesy, Jazzy early records from The Rolling Stones. Incorporating Rock n’ Roll into the world of Jazz opened up new opportunities for him to explore. To this new world, Miller added his own poetry. Melding musical genres in new ways and adding that to the result of his own creative words allowed Miller to take the first initial steps toward becoming what he eventually became: an artist in his own right.

CBGBs as it appeared from the stage.

As high school was ending, Miller made the first of several important personal connections. He became friends with another student who would go on to name himself Richard Hell. Hell would go on to front a band called Voivoid and would be one of the early forces in New York City’s burgeoning Punk Rock scene in the late 1970s. Miller and Hell became friends. They found that they held similar passions for certain writers and musicians and artists. It was as high school was ending that Miller and Hell decided to follow their own muses and head off to blaze their own creative trails in New York City. Miller’s first act of independence was to change his last name to Verlaine. He did so to cut all ties with his past and to move forward in an artistic manner by donning the name of a French poet that he liked named Paul Verlaine. As Verlaine entered the underground world of the New York Arts scene, he found contemporaries in people such as Lou Reed, John Cale, Deborah Harry, various members of The Ramones and, most importantly for Verlaine, poet/musician/photographer Patti Smith. At the time of this confluence of creative personalities, New York was about to be the scene of brand new forms of musical expression that would then explode across the nation. Punk, Disco, Hip Hop and Alternative music all burst forth from the New York underground music scene of which Tom Verlaine was a charter member. Verlaine’s impact on American music was wide ranging and varied but one of the very first moments that caused him to stand out from the crowd occurred when he convinced the owner of the influential CBGBs night club to allow for rock n’ roll to be played there (Until Verlaine interceded, CBGBs was mainly a Country and Western bar). Bands such as Blondie and The Ramones got some of their big breaks because of performances put on at CBGBs, which never would have been possible if not for Tom Verlaine.

Tom Vervain and Patti Smith

But Tom Verlaine was much more than just the man who opened CBGBs up to rock. He was a musical enigma which suited him just fine. When he started creating his own music, many wanted to label him as being a punk rocker. But, while Verlaine may have had the punk rock sensibility of wanting to knock down the walls that currently existed in the world of popular music, he was no punk. He never donned the uniform of ripped clothes, shaved or spiked hair, piercings and the like. He was very tall (well over six feet), handsome, relatively clean cut and possessed hands the size of meat hooks. That he didn’t fit in with the exploding Punk scene aesthetic bothered him not in the slightest. Verlaine had his own artistic vision and never sought to tailor or alter that in any way to “fit in” with any crowd or scene. All the while he was starting his band, Television, he was also hanging out with other people such as Patti Smith. Smith is a person who has carved out a space in the cultural history of America that uniquely belongs to her. Her most commercially-popular song was the oft-covered “Because the Night”, which Bruce Springsteen and Natalie Merchant both sang to great effect. But, generally speaking, Patti Smith was a feminist in the truest meaning of the word and lived her life completely on her own terms. Consequently, she was respected and admired by a wide range of people who were also artists in their own right. For example, before starting his band, Nirvana, Kurt Cobain sought out Patti Smith as a sounding board to see if he was being as authentic and true to his own Art and poetry and music as he hoped he was. When she became his friend and mentor, Cobain felt as though his life choices were vindicated and he proceeded accordingly with a career that skyrocketed in time. While Cobain and others such as Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth were seeking out the company of Patti Smith, she was living with Tom Verlaine as peers…as equals.

Tom Verlaine’s high school friend, Richard Hell.

Verlaine and Patti Smith became a couple not long after Verlaine and Richard Hell had moved to New York City together. Together they discovered a mutual love of authors and poets and dancers and painters who often were known for being a combination of talented, obscure and fiercely independent. In each other’s company, they reinforced the closely held conviction that the expression of true Art was the purest form of Love imaginable. Thus, both Verlaine and Smith pursued their individual artistic goals knowing that they had the support of the other should such support ever be needed. Tom Verlaine channeled his vision into the music of a band called Television. As mentioned earlier, Television had no breakthrough hits. In keeping with Verlaine’s sense of creating Art for the sake of being creative and his unwillingness to conform to existing norms or to seek the approval of those for whom money trumped creativity, he cared not in the slightest that his music didn’t chart. In many ways, the music Tom Verlaine ended up producing was meant as much for the purity of making an artistic statement as it ever was for the consumption of the record-buying public. This is not to say that the music Verlaine created was without commercial merit. It was. In fact, Verlaine’s music ended up being as impactful and influential as his presence as an artist ended up being. The main thing Tom Verlaine became noted for musically was his guitar playing. For starters, Verlaine played a type of guitar called a Jazzmaster which is an electric guitar that was never meant to be played in a rock n’ roll format. Secondly, his style of playing was excellent and, at times, virtuosic. As a guitar player, Verlaine influenced a whole range of fellow guitar players that followed in his wake. His style was unique to him at the time. When you watch the video that follows at the end of this post, note how lost in the music Verlaine becomes as the guitar playing takes over from the lyrics (about the 4:00 mark). He becomes almost trance-like. I noticed several moments where the bassist and rhythm guitarist shared looks between them as they wondered where Verlaine was going with his playing and how much longer they would have to maintain the foundational beat to the song. The closest comparable guitarist I thought of while watching would be someone like Carlos Santana, although a case could be made for Jimi Hendrix as well. Having said that, Tom Verlaine had a style and a stage presence all his own, though. More than anything, it was his steadfast adherence to his own musical vision, regardless of what was going on around him, that came to be his signature style.

It is never easy to be an island amid an ever-changing and challenging sea, but Tom Verlaine was such a rocksteady presence in the world of music. There were very few like him to have ever graced the stage. His death has left a void in the world of music. This is not because of the strength of his song catalogue but because of how pure an artist he was all throughout his life. His unwillingness to ever compromise his artistic integrity in return for commercial gain makes him unique among performers. He never made millions from his music, but Tom Verlaine remained rich beyond measure just the same. May peace be with you, Tom Verlaine. Thank you for a life lived well.

The link to the video for the song “Marquee Moon” by Television can be found here. The lyrics version is here.

The link to the official website for Tom Verlaine can be found here. ***Not surprisingly, this is a fan site. Verlaine had no website of his own. 🙂

The link to the official website for Patti Smith can be found here.

The link to the official website for Television can be found here. ***Not surprisingly, this site is run by others as well. There is no Television band website. 🙂

The link to the official website for CBGBs can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023