|The Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins Quartet|
If you grew up in Toronto and are old enough to remember the heyday of the Yonge Street Strip–or wish you were–you won’t want to miss Yonge Street: Toronto Rock & Roll Stories. The three-part documentary series premieres tonight at 10e/7p on Bravo! and continues Tuesday and Wednesday.
From director Bruce McDonald (Hard Core Logo) and producer David Brady (The Pagan Christ) comes this flashback to the ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s. Toronto the good was a rock and roll town, a hotbed for R&B and blues in long gone clubs such as The Edison, Le Coq d’Or and the Brown Derby. Cats from the States like Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins and Levon Helm were packing those clubs by the late ’50s and turning on a whole generation of Canadian rockers.
I missed that whole “Canadian Graffiti” scene by several years but have vague memories of the outside of the old Brown Derby on Yonge Street with its black and orange images of classic comedy stars in bowler hats–Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Ben Turpin and others. That place was torn down in the early ’70s to make way for The Eaton Centre.
The documentary, which unfolds as a series of conversations from Hawkins (always entertaining), Duff Roman, Jan Haust, Robbie Robertson, hit record producer Daniel Lanois (particularly moving) and others who were in on that scene shares stories that deserve just this kind of attention.
One performer who deserves his or her own movie is Jackie Shane, a transvestite who worked the strip as a she and built quite a following as a Motown-sounding R&B singer. Too bad the producers could not track her down today.
I go into more detail about the highlights from the series–including the incredible story behind John Lennon’s 1969 visit to Varsity Stadium for the Live Peace in Toronto concert–here is this feature for The Canadian Press.
|Yonge Street in the ’60s: hey, where’s the Eaton Centre?|
Besides those few clubs on Yonge between Dundas and King the other big music scene in Toronto in those days was uptown on Yorkville, where Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell drew big folk crowds to the coffeehouses. There’s an archived clip in Yonge Street of cars crawling along Yorkville Avenue in the ’60s and I swear one of those cars could have been driven by my dad. My parents would toss me into the car on a warm summer night to go downtown to “look at the hippies.” We’d head in from Etobicoke and keep the doors locked and the windows up as we gawked at long-haired Yorkville crowd. This is, I tell my children, is what people did before xBox and Nintendo.
If you miss it Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on Bravo!, Yonge Street will also air Sunday March 27 starting at 1 p.m. on /A.