Music News Digest: May 24, 2017

Toronto’s Spadina Avenue has played a crucial role in the city’s live music scene via clubs like The El Mocambo, Grossman’s, the Silver Dollar Room, and Comfort Zone. Now Elmo owner Michael Wekerle and City Councillor Joe Cressy are pushing for the strip to be recognized with a walk of fame, entitled Rock Walk.

The CBC reports that council staff is exploring the idea, with Wekerle prepared to cover some of the costs. Some observers suggest council should be more active in ensuring the future club scene remains healthy, rather than just celebrating the past.

And from the El Mo's back-pages, Stevie Ray Vaughan performing "So Excited" on July 20, 1983

— It may not have been a commercial hit, but Change Of Heart’s 1992 album Smile is considered a landmark record in Canadian indie rock. To celebrate its 25th anniversary, reissue imprint Label Obscura will release it as a double LP on vinyl, for the first time, in July.

Cut over 4 days live off the floor with no overdubs, Smile was originally envisioned as a double record, but due to budgets constraints at Cargo Records, it was only ever released on compact disc and cassette. Re-assembled and remastered from the original master tapes by album producer Michael-Philip Wojewoda, 300 copies of the album will be available on coloured vinyl.

More good news for CoH fans is that the Ian Blurton-led band from Toronto is reuniting for a few select dates this summer, including a July 22 show at The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. 

—  A full house at Toronto’s Pilot Tavern last week helped Blair Packham celebrate the release of Unpopular Pop, his first solo album in over a decade. The singer/songwriter and radio host first made a mark locally as The Jitters frontman, one of the most popular bar bands on the Toronto circuit in the ‘80s.

After a set featuring Packham’s well-crafted solo compositions, he returned with The Jitters for a set of their ‘should have been hits’ favourites. Those spied at the show included SOCAN’s Stan Meissner and Howard Druckman, Chalk Circle’s Chris Tait, David MacMillan, and Pegi Cecconi.

—  Midnight Oil returned to Toronto for the first time in 16 years with a packed-like-sardines sell-out show at the Danforth Music Hall, and it seemed as though they’d never been away, despite taking a 15-year hiatus while frontman, harmonica player and lead cowbell tapper Peter Garrett pursued a career in Australian politics. 

The outspoken Garrett, wearing a t-shirt bearing the slogan “To sit in silence when we should protest makes cowards out of men,” was as animated as usual, and the remaining quartet of drummer Rob Hirst, guitarist and keyboardist Jim Moginie, guitarist Martin Rotsey and bass player Bones Hillman sounded as tightly disciplined as ever.

 After opening with “Redneck Wonderland” and “Feeding Frenzy," Garrett thanked everyone for sticking around and being loyal while he was off being Australia’s Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts.

While he criticized Justin Trudeau’s stance on the Alberta Tar Sands, Garrett said, “At least he’s human. Trump is a monster,” to cheers from the packed house. The “thunder from Down Under” played a touch under two hours, with the highlights kicking into gear with “Warakurna,” “Beds Are Burning,” “The Dead Heart” and “Blue Sky Mine” ratcheting up the energy of the occasion. 

Garrett also took the opportunity to announce the Oils’ return to Toronto to the Budweiser Stage on August 25 with openers Matthew Good and The Living End. The band has also added four other dates: August 23 (Montreal’s Place Des Arts); August 31 (Winnipeg’s MTS Centre); September 2 (Calgary’s BMO Centre) and September 3 (Edmonton’s Shaw Convention Centre.) You’ll wanna make at least one of those dates if you can - it’s like the band never left. They are still energetic and relentless. (Nick Krewen)

— The list of notable Canadian musicians releasing memoirs or fiction (as with Ron Sexsmith) continues to grow. In November, Doubleday will publish Beautiful Scars, an autobiographical work from Tom Wilson (Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Lee Harvey Osmond, Junkhouse). Word is it will focus on his fascinating family story (Wilson only recently discovered that he was adopted and is of Mohawk heritage) and experiences living and rockin’ out in his beloved Hamilton. This is eagerly awaited.

RIP

Frankie Paul, (born Paul Blake), Jamaican reggae star, on May 18, age 51, of complications from kidney disease. He decided to pursue a singing career after Stevie Wonder visited his school and was impressed by Paul's voice.  He first found success in the early 1980s and recorded prolifically since then. His hits included “Sara” and "Worries in the Dance."

Jimmy LaFave, an acclaimed Texan singer/songwriter, passed away in Austin on May 21, of cancer. Age 61. The East Texas native was a two-time Austin Music Award winner for the singer-songwriter and was held in high regard in Americana circles. On May 18, a sold-out show at Austin's Paramount Theatre honoured LaFave, who attended using a wheelchair. Those paying tribute there included Kevin Welch, Butch Hancock, Marcia Ball, Slaid Cleaves, and Woody Guthrie's grand-daughters, Sarah and Cathy. Guthrie was a key influence on LaFave's work.

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