Re: Toronto Sound of the 60's by Russ Strathdee.
Dear Russ & Gary,
Nostalgia: “A painful yearning for something far away and long ago….”
Congratulations! You have brought me to tears….
If anyone has ever come close to building H.G. Wells’ Time Machine – it’s you! What a treat! Your wonderful work instantly flung me back through the looking glass 50 years – plus! In my Mind’s Eye, I am virtually standing on the west side of Yonge and Dundas Streets, scanning every nightclub, band and character on the Yonge St. strip that I have ever known. And Yorkville and Cumberland and Avenue Rd, too – most of whose venues I worked at one time or another. As I cut through the clouds of purple smoke – remember? – I can see little Freddy McNulty standing alongside big, Tom Emperor Jones (football player, Wrestler), on stage at Le Coq d’Or doing the Twist with Ronnie Hawkins, to the point where it looks like the bandstand’s going to collapse from their combined weight. Tom Emperor Jones is one hell of a BIG MAN!
From the Embassy Hotel on Bloor St. (where I joined Ben E. King’s band: “Stand By Me” fame), right on down Yonge to the Town Tavern at Queen St., where I was on the very night that bookmaker Maxie Bluestein – a.k.a. Maxie Baker – was beaten half to death by Johnny “Pops” Papalia and his henchmen!... “for not sharing,” or for not allowing them to “dip their beaks” was the reputed reason, if I may steal a line from The Godfather.
I worked with Joe King & the Zaniacs – whose shtick material I often “borrowed” when I formed my own road bands: – The Accents, Five of a Kind, The Lighter Side – with the Bud Matton-Ray Hayes Agency, who was first located above the Zanzibar and then later over top the Town & Country Restaurant, off Gould Street. (On the Jarvis St. side, it was the Westminster Hotel.) And, yes, I was there at the Hawk’s Nest and Le Coq d’Or the night King Curtis played your saxophone! Wow! – What an amazing player he was, I’m sure you’ll agree. (I actually took a couple of lessons with King, downstairs in the bar during their daytime rehearsals, when he wasn’t horsing around with his band guys – which he always was!)
My main hang-outs were the Zanzibar, where I often played with organist Bobby Dean (Blackburn) and Art Larman (I’ve forgotten the correct spelling of Art’s last name?), and Le Coq d’Or, where I hung out with Hawkins up on the third floor over the Hawk’s Nest, his sanctum sanctorum, and worked as his gofer until I could play “well enough” to sit in with him and “The Band,” and then later with him and Eugene Smith, before playing there with The Marquis (“Last Night”?) and then with my own Joe King-style show band, when on those rare occasions the Hawk did not hold court there. Bill Bullicon(?) owned both Le Coq d’Or and the Olympia Pool Hall, across the road at Dundas and Yonge.
Do you remember Chicago? No, not the band, but that skinny little black dude who walked up and down the strip and always – but ALWAYS – had a gorgeous gal on his arm? He also hung out with the last of the original Platters – that little guy with the very deep voice. (We never did find out what he did for “a living.”) Then there was Danny Pomanti, accordion player with the Cheerios? He always played the daily matinees at the Zanz and the Brown Derby, with Glen on cocktail drums. (Whatever cocktail drums were?).
Of course, upstairs above the Hawk’s Nest, all kinds of shenanigans were continuously going on, what with all the rounders, mobsters and musicians that always hung around: the (boxing) Bagnatos, “Pretty Boy” Felstein – always looking dapper in his tux, tails and tophat. A good fighter, he was; “Heavy, old blue eyes” Andrews…. He had a face like a St. Bernard, but was he tough! D.C.T. – David Clayton Thomas, Levon Helm (who always seemed “out of it!”), et al. Do you remember tenor sax player Leo Trottier?... He once set fire to Le Coq d’Or but he was a great player…came to a tragic end; how about drummers Kid Carson, Rick Cameron and Sonny Milne? Sonny was present, sitting behind his drums and twirling his sticks, the day I took my first brand new “Olds” sax out of its case and the onion paper it was wrapped in. I just stared at it, didn’t know which way was up, while guitarist Gary Simo looked as bewildered about it as I was. I played with Hawkins for a while after Trottier died. I also worked with Gord Fleming and his brother, Paul, and Smitty and drummer Wayne “Stoney” Stone at the Silver Dollar, backing up strippers. How about the Ron Russel Trio at the Zanz and at the Town Tavern’s Snug-A-Go-Go?
I have never met you personally – but I certainly remember you – and your wonderful playing! It was you – the late Bert Hermiston and Jerry Penfound – who inspired me to “keep trying!” And it was Garth Hudson, The Band’s (keyboards & sax) who actually taught me that run up in “Honky Tonk” that I could never quite get! Of all The Band guys, Garth was the most generous with his time and patience, trying to teach this kid some sax while the bouncer, Nick Fotes (now an agent), turned a blind eye to this snot-nosed under aged pest!
I was a late bloomer. I took my first lesson at Kalua Music, two weeks before my 20th birthday, on Nov. 22, 1963. – JFK’s assassination! – and my mother’s birthday! Boy, I’ll never forget that day….
I’ve jammed with DCT and Freddy Keeler at the El Patio; played on Cumberland at “The Inn On The Parking Lot” (Ha!) and we were the house band (The Five of a kind), along with Dee and The Yeoman, at the Night Owl on Avenue Rd; Tony Collacott came up and jammed with us – and then by himself – at the old Drake Hotel, out on Queen St. West. Remember those after-hours clubs on Yonge: – the Wiff Club, the Flamingo Club? The latter being beside the old Imperial Theatre (now Mervish Theatre) and above Cy Mann’s clothes? You’d enter through a secret glass door beside the “legit” daytime door, which led upstairs to where all the action was! Cy Mann had a small car, with a cartoon-ish cardboard cut-out naked man wearing nothing but a necktie and a smile, perched atop the roof which would always drive up and down Yonge St., day and night. One time up at the Flamingo, where DCT was playing for “short money” (this was long before he made it big), I had just put away my horn when suddenly! – I heard two loud thuds!” I quickly turned – just in time to see the owner lying flat on his back! He had tried to beat DCT out of five bucks – so the “first thud” was David whacking him up the side of the head and the “second” was his head hitting the floor!... Old DCT was a pretty tough hombre in his day. I also frequented The Colonial Tavern quite a bit, and once had a very long, existential discussion with Dizzy Gillespie, over a couple of brews (1969). I also jammed – one very hot, summer night – with B.B. King and his band. (They probably let me jam because my brother-in-law generously supplied them with the very best weed.) I’ve played with Curly Bridges (organ & vocals) and duo trumpeter Frank Motley & The Motley Crew, featuring Jackie Shane, up in Wasaga Beach.
I could go on and on, ad infinitum et ad nauseam, but at my age I may never get finished! I certainly would love to meet you; it would be an honour and a pleasure. After an absence of about 20 years from the music scene, I picked up my horn once again, about four years ago, at the behest of my drummer/vocalist, Benny Sanders, and started playing again (–and, oh, those ever so lo-o-o-o-ng tonal exercises!), while I still had some breath left in me. It’s strange where Destiny sometimes leads us…. I once had it in my mind to become a good or an even great sax player – didn’t we all? – but the “four Fs” had other plans for me. (Four Fs: “Fucked by the Fickle Finger of Fate!”) Destiny sent me out to Hollywood to become “Psychic to the Stars!” But now that I’m back, my “friends” refer to me as “the psychic sax player”; but behind my back – at least when I’m out of earshot – its “the psycho sax player!”
The band is “The FABULOUS RAVE” (Ha-ha), and It’s mostly 50s-60s old R&R-R&B with a smattering of old standards thrown in for good measure: “All Of Me,” “Girl From Ipanema,” “Harlem Nocturne,” etc., and of course Bill Doggett’s “Honky Tonk” which, contrary to popular belief, is not a Polish, Ukrainian or even a “white man’s” song.
Once again, thank you from the bottom of my heart for this Soul satisfying experience which no words can ever begin to express… except perhaps one: ineffable… And now, my heart is too full of memories and emotion to go on, I leave off….
Bless you both.
P.S. – I’ve sent out this wonderful “book” to all my old – and I do mean OLD – friends.
P.P.S. – I’m also going to send this link through the ether and out into the world via radio show Coast to Coast with George Noory, April 8th 3:00 a.m. – 5:00 a.m., which is very early Friday morning, and rebroadcasts the following day, but begins much earlier. Catch it on Zoomer radio, 640 & 610 AM.
P.P.P.S – See “Coast to Coast with George Noory” website for times.