Sunday, July 29, 2012

Falling into Bad Habits is a lot of fun

Photos by Jeff Ross.

This article may not mean anything to you if you're not Canadian, but if you grew up in the country (particularly Ontario) and were a teenager 33 years ago, there's a good chance you know and love The Monks' Bad Habits.

The Monks were formed by John Ford and Richard Hudson, who'd made a name for themselves with British prog-folk band Strawbs earlier in the decade and decided to make a new wave-punk album. That didn't sit well with U.K. punks, but Strawbs had a much lower profile in Canada and past associations were no obstacle.

Bad Habits came out of nowhere and went on to sell more than 150,000 copies in Canada within a short period after its release. "Drugs in my Pocket" became a hit (even though there are a lot of other songs on the album that may be better), The Monks played before large crowds and the follow-up album -- Suspended Animation -- was only released in Canada.

That set the stage for the July 26 tribute to Bad Habits at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern, which was put together by Small Sins' Thomas D'Arcy, who recorded a cover of the album (complete with him in a nun's outfit to mimic the original's cover) along with a number of fellow fans and musicians, including Ian Blurton (C'mon, Change of Heart), Chris Murphy (Sloan), John Kastner (Doughboys), Kurt Dahle (New Pornographers) and Ryan Dahle (Age of Electric). The album can be downloaded for free from D'Arcy's website.

The evening began with a set by The Order of Good Cheer, which lived up to the name with with a set of fun power pop and garage rock that was a good fit with what was to come later.
John Ford and his double-platinum award for Bad Habits.

But before the main event, Ford performed a solo acoustic set. I'd seen a guy sitting against the wall earlier who looked like the David Spade film character "Joe Dirt" and said to myself, "There's an '80s burnout who still has enough memory left to be here." I was pretty surprised a half-hour later when I realized that "Joe Dirt" was Ford.

The audience seemed pretty uninterested in the 64-year-old's material, so he threw in an Oasis cover to get its attention, and then followed up by keeping on a roll with the 1974 Hudson Ford hit "Burn Baby Burn," "Big Hit in India" and the title track and "Don't Bother Me -- I'm a Christian" from Suspended Animation. I requested that last one and the final song of his set, Strawbs' "Part of the Union" -- which was a childhood favourite.

The Bad Habits tribute followed and eager fans surged to the front to sing along. Murphy was vacationing with his family in Prince Edward Island so D'Arcy recorded a good-natured "Fuck you, Chris Murphy" message on an iPhone before singing "Love in Stereo" himself.

Grapes of Wrath's Kevin Kane was the first guest and had just the right amount of nasal whine to do "Bad Habits" justice. Chris Colohan from Cursed  sang an aggressive version of "Drugs in my Pocket" that reminded me of what  I probably would have sounded like if I'd been invited on stage.

Ian Blurton

Blurton came out for "No Shame" and the volume and intensity were instantly cranked up -- topped off by the guitarist throwing his instrument into an amplifier to end the song.

Ford was presented with a double-platinum award for Bad Habits when he came on stage, and he sang lead on "I Ain't Gettin' Any." Sadly, it could have been my theme song when it came out and still could be all of these years later. Ford stuck around for "Out of Work Musician" before everyone briefly left the stage.
John Ford and Thomas D'Arcy

The group had performed 11 songs, but there was one remaining track that we hadn't heard. The band came out, invited women on stage to dance and launched into the politically incorrect but terribly entertaining "Nice Legs Shame About Her Face."

Facebook chatter has been overwhelmingly positive over the past few days and folks who couldn't make it to the show are asking for another gig. It's worth seeing if it happens.

And if you're still scratching your head and wondering what all the commotion is about, try and find a copy of the original Bad Habits and put it on at a party. Then you'll understand.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Revisited: Celebration means more money for Madonna

Since has removed all of the blogs I wrote for it three times a week from August 2009 to August 2011, I've decided to repost some that I feel may still have some relevance on Steve Says. Since the new Madonna tour has her back in the news again, I thought I'd go back and share my thoughts on her.
I'll be adding these Revisited columns on a semi-regular basis, so please drop by if you're interested.
Here we go:
From Aug. 28, 2009
Celebration means more money for Madonna
Madonna's "Celebration" single is also the title track of her latest greatest hits package. The collection will be available on Sept. 29 as both a two-CD, 36-song set and a double-DVD compilation with 47 music videos — including 18 that have never been seen before.

The songs were chosen using suggestions from fans responding to Madonna manager Guy Oseary's Twitter page, but with the singer making the final decisions on what was included. Like always, Madonna was in control.

But is Madonna more concerned with music or money these days?

Many of the songs on the Celebration CDs were already included on 1990's mega-selling The Immaculate Collection, and it can't be denied that the '80s were Madonna's peak creative period. "Holiday," "Lucky Star," "Like A Virgin," "Material Girl" and "Into The Groove" are classic pop hits, while "Borderline," "Crazy For You," "Papa Don't Preach," "La Isla Bonita," "Like A Prayer" and "Express Yourselves" aren't far behind.

GHV2 covered Madonna material recorded from 1992 to 2000 and included the high points from that decade, including "Erotica," "Beautiful Stranger," "Ray Of Light" and "Music." All are good, but perhaps only "Ray Of Light" qualifies as great.

But from Madonna's past three albums, notwithstanding the international commercial success of Confessions On A Dance Floor's "Hung Up," it's hard to stack up the material positively against her earlier repertoire.

Celebration will conclude Madonna's 27-year relationship with Warner Bros. Records, before the artist starts her all-encompassing deal with Live Nation that's been estimated to be worth $120 million U.S. over 10 years. It covers future music and music-related businesses, including the Madonna brand, albums, DVDs, touring, merchandising, fan club, website, music-related television and film projects, and associated sponsorship agreements.

"The paradigm in the music business has shifted and, as an artist and a businesswoman, I have to move with that shift," Madonna said in a 2007 statement when the agreement was announced.

"For the first time in my career, the way that my music can reach my fans is unlimited. I’ve never wanted to think in a limited way and, with this new partnership, the possibilities are endless."

Forbes Magazine recently named Madonna the third most powerful celebrity of 2009. She's sold more than 200 million albums worldwide, and Celebration will add handsomely to that total. The Michigan native has branched into films and books while being cited by Guinness World Records as the most successful female recording artist ever. Her Sticky & Sweet Tour, which winds down in Tel Aviv, Israel on Sept. 2, is the most lucrative ever by a solo artist.

But Madonna is 51, her best music seems well in her past, and even her strict exercise regime and more cosmetic surgery won't be able to maintain the sexiness that's been a big part of her appeal forever.

The music industry isn't as lucrative as it was even two years ago when Live Nation signed Madonna, so the company could be hard-pressed to make a healthy return on its investment while its client may be able to buy Malawi instead of merely adopting kids from there.

There's no denying Madonna's place in history, but it may be for her skills as a businesswoman as much as a music artist. She really is a Material Girl.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Revisited: This Beat Goes On helps Canadian music Rise Up

Since has removed all of the blogs I wrote for it three times a week from August 2009 to August 2011, I've decided to repost some that I feel may still have some relevance on Steve Says. I'll be adding them on a semi-regular basis, so please drop by if you're interested.

Here we go:

From Aug. 21, 2009

This Beat Goes On helps Canadian music Rise Up

"Shakin' All Over" was The Guess Who's first hit and was also the title of a CBC documentary on Canadian music in the '60s. Two new productions named after Canadian songs — This Beat Goes On and Rise Up — now do the same thing for the two decades that followed.
"This Beat Goes On, which covers the '70s, is really about the birth of the Canadian music industry and the battle for Cancon," said writer, researcher, interviewer and associate producer Nicholas Jennings at the recent Toronto launch party for the shows.  

"Radio resisted and it wasn't pretty for a few years. But by the mid-'70s, an industry had started to take root with studios, labels, managers and agents. And suddenly a whole wave of great music started sprouting up from coast to coast."

A lot of the people who made that music were at the launch party, including Nash The Slash, The Spoons' Rob Preuss and Derrick Ross, Triumph's Mike Levine, The Kings' David Diamond and Mr. Zero, Blue Rodeo's Bazil Donovan, Dan Hill, Kim Mitchell, The Parachute Club's Lorraine Segato and Billy Bryans, The Good Brothers, Bob Segarini, Martha And The Muffins, Downchild Blues Band's Donnie Walsh, Murray McLauchlan and Teenage Head's Gord Lewis. 

"The '80s production, Rise Up, tells the story of how music video revolutionized the music business once again," continued Jennings between well wishes from the friends and associates in attendance at the soiree. "Cancon laid the foundation for the music industry and fostered it, and music television really helped Canadian artists to tour nationwide through the instant exposure they got through video play."

This Beat Goes On and Rise Up each feature about 50 songs, including rare live performance clips and music videos you might have forgotten about, and Jennings interviewed 150 people for the programs. Sound bites from music industry representatives and current artists who talk about the influence of '70s and '80s performers are included along with most of the aforementioned singers and musicians and their contemporaries.

This Beat Goes On, named after The Kings' Bob Ezrin-produced two-part single "This Beat Goes On/Switchin' To Glide," opened with a focus on songs that were major international hits, including Terry Jacks' "Seasons In The Sun," Bachman Turner Overdrive's "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet," Gordon Lightfoot's "Sundown" and Nick Gilder's "Hot Child In The City." (I do killer karaoke versions of those last two, by the way.) More interesting was seeing McKenna Mendelson Mainline perform in a burlesque theatre with strippers, and David Wilcox looking like a bug-eyed Salvador Dali.

This Beat Goes On's second hour is my favourite, as much of it focuses on the punk and new wave scenes that I most identify with. The Demics' "New York City" still gives me chills, Nash The Slash performs with both a fez and a motorcycle helmet over his mummy-like bandaged face, and there are clips of The Viletones, The Diodes, Teenage Head, Pointed Sticks, Martha And The Muffins and Rough Trade.

Bruce Cockburn's reggae-based "Wondering Where The Lions Are" was his biggest hit, but it's good to see that Jamaican immigrant artists like Leroy Sibbles, Stranger Cole, Jackie Mittoo and Willie Williams also get props. On the other hand, I didn't need to hear Dan Hill's "Sometimes When We Touch" or Gino Vannelli's "I Just Wanna Stop" — and don't ever again. The second show ends with the arena rock sounds of Rush, Max Webster, April Wine and Loverboy.

That genre also opens the first hour of Rise Up with more Rush and the introduction of Triumph, but my new wave, alternative rock and reggae yearnings are also satisfied via Doug And The Slugs, The Payolas, The Spoons, The Pursuit Of Happiness, Men Without Hats, The Box, 54-40, Parachute Club (whose signature song is also the title of the show) and, surprisingly, Slow, 20th Century Rebels and Truths And Rights. Bryan Adams, Glass Tiger and Gowan end things with much more mainstream fare.

The last hour opens with the rootsy sounds of k.d. lang from her sorely missed early years, Handsome Ned, Blue Rodeo, Cowboy Junkies and the incomparable Mary Margaret O'Hara (who once told me she'd like to sing backing vocals as I shouted out an Elvis Presley song, and I plan to hold her to it someday). It's also good to see The Grapes Of Wrath, The Northern Pikes and Powder Blues Band, and early Canadian hip-hop is represented by Michie Mee and Maestro Fresh-Wes.

Three giants of Canadian music — Neil Young (with his memorable 1989 Saturday Night Live performance of "Rockin' In The Free World"), Leonard Cohen and The Tragically Hip — end Rise Up and set the stage for a show looking at the '90s.

"What comes across in these shows is that music in Canada serves as the tie that binds this country," said Jennings. "That was very exciting to discover and I hope that's reflected in what people see on the screen.

"There was a lot to shoehorn in, but I hope what people see is a fast, eclectic, fun, genre-hopping, generation-hopping rock and roll circus."

This Beat Goes On and Rise Up are available on DVD.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wound up by The Millwinders

The Millwinders
This has been a great couple of months for Toronto rockabilly releases. First, The Royal Crowns knocked me out with Volume Three, which made my recently submitted first-round Polaris Music Prize ballot. And now The Millwinders have made a major impression with Ladies and Gentlemen, The Millwinders.

All four members sing and play, and vocalist/bassist/baritone saxophone player Sarah Butler, guitarist/vocalist Johnny Gallagher and guitarist vocalist James "Cricket" Henry each write their own songs as well. Drummer Glenn Kimberley keeps a solid backbeat throughout the 12-song, half-hour album.

Butler shows off her vocal chops in the vintage-sounding opener "Sweet Talk," which also features solid harmonies in the chorus and a nice guitar fill in the bridge. Classic Patsy Cline may come to mind on Butler's "In Time She Will" and "It's Too Late."

Henry is a former member of The Royal Crowns, and the brand of rockabilly he's long been associated with shines brightly through "Forever Time" and the melodic "Ain't No Laughing Matter, while his "High Heeled Hot Rod" should be a dancefloor packer.

Gallagher's "Night Time" and "He'll Leave Tomorrow" are more in an old-school country vein, while his "Something Out of Nothin'" sounds like it could have come from Sun Studios in the late '50s.

Butler's baritone sax plays a big part on the bluesy "Can't Do Nothin'," while there are excellent guitar tones and The Millwinders do the multi-talented James Intveld proud on his "My Heart Is Achin' For You."

I can mentally picture Butler singing "Each Day" in a smoky bar, but the sad reality is that I've never seen The Millwinders perform. Based on the strength of this album, I'm sure it would be a can't miss good time.

Ladies and gentlemen, get to know The Millwinders.