By Adam Bunch
THE VERY BEGINNING OF NEIL YOUNG’S CAREER
Neil Young was just 17 years old in 1963. He was born in Toronto and grew up, in part, around that city – attending high school in Pickering, just to the east of the metropolis. But when his parents got divorced, he moved with his mother to Winnipeg, and that’s where he really got into music.
Inspired by early rock ’n’ rollers, such as Elvis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, the young Young learned to play the ukulele – then a banjo ukulele, then a baritone ukulele – before finally turning to the guitar. He formed his earliest groups when he was still just a teenager and it was with one of them, The Squires, that he played his first-ever professional gig at a country club in Winnipeg during this week in 1963.
Eventually, Young would move back to Toronto and join the folk scene in Yorkville. While he was there, he even formed a rock band with the draft-dodging Rick “Super Freak” James. They were called The Mynah Birds and they recorded a few songs for the Motown label (though Young wasn’t a part of those sessions). Still, it wasn’t until Young and The Mynah Birds’ bassist, Bruce Palmer, climbed into a hearse and drove it all the way to Los Angeles that Young’s career finally took off. Within a few days of arriving in California, they’d formed yet another new band: Buffalo Springfield. The rest, as they say, is history.
Earlier this month, Neil Young completed a cross-country tour called Honour The Treaties in support of the First Nations and in opposition to the development of the oil sands. More than 50 years after his first gig, Young is still a vital part of the Canadian music scene. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1982.
Here’s one of his earliest songs, “Sugar Mountain,” recorded as a demo during his Yorkville days in 1965.
YORKVILLE STORMS THE CHARTS
Of course, Neil Young wasn’t the only musician from Yorkville who made it big in the 1960s. During this week in 1967, the evidence was written all over the CHUM Chart. Right alongside The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Marvin Gaye and Sonny and Cher, a half-dozen artists with connections to the Yorkville scene had climbed into the Top 50.
The highest spot of the lot belonged to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Go-Go Round” at No. 7. By that point, Lightfoot had already spent a few years making a name for himself in Yorkville’s coffeehouses. “Go-Go Round” was a single off of his second full-length album, The Way I Feel, which was about to be released in July of that year. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1986.
But Lightfoot was far from alone on the chart: at No. 11 sat “If I Call You By Some Name” by The Paupers. At the time, The Paupers were one of the scene’s most promising psychedelic acts. Just a few months later, they’d be playing at the legendary Monterey Pop Festival with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding and The Who. Drugs and personal conflicts would derail their career before they made it big, but members of the band would go on to form other groups, including Lighthouse and McKenna Mendelson Mainline. “If I Call You By Some Name” is one of the group’s most mellow, folk-influenced tunes.
Yorkville might be best remembered for its folk musicians, but The Paupers were far from the only psychedelic rockers shaking the neighbourhood’s foundations during those years. The chart also included another one of Yorkville’s loudest rock groups: The Ugly Ducklings. They were one of the most popular Canadian outfits at the time, no strangers to the CHUM Chart. By this point, they’d already opened for The Rolling Stones; Mick Jagger called them his favourite Canadian band. Their fuzzy garage rock single, “Just In Case You Wonder,” was sitting at No. 33 during this week in 1967.
Mandala, on the other hand, was exploring the psychedelic possibilities of funk. The group had started off as the house band at Club Bluenote, the Yonge Street after-hours soul club where the biggest soul stars in the world would come to jam after their regular Toronto gigs – people like Stevie Wonder, Edwin Starr and The Supremes. But the members of Mandala spent some time in Yorkville, too, and their track “Opportunity” was sitting at No. 40 during this week in 1967 on a trip all the way up to No. 3. The band’s guitarist, Domenic Troiano, would also spend some time in The Guess Who. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1996.
Mandala also included, for a brief time, another familiar face to the Yorkville scene: David Clayton-Thomas, who would go on to fame as the frontman for Blood, Sweat and Tears. He, too, was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, at the same time as Troiano.
Finally, two of the graduates from Yorkville’s folk scene had gone on to fame with American bands. Zal Yanovksy and Denny Doherty had played together in a group called The Halifax Three that was based out of Yorkville for a while. They eventually moved to the United States and started a new band, The Mugwumps, with an up-and-coming folk singer by the name of Mama Cass. Doherty and Cass went on to form The Mamas and The Papas, who were sitting at No. 12 on the CHUM Chart with “Words of Love.” Doherty was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1996.
Meanwhile, Yanovksy went on to form The Lovin’ Spoonful, who were at No. 9 with “Nashville Cats.” He also joined the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1996, the very same year as Doherty, Troiano and Clayton-Thomas.
By Adam Bunch
THE PAUPERS CALL IT QUITS
They were supposed to be one of the most successful Canadian bands of all time. The Paupers built all kinds of buzz in the 1960s, having made a name for themselves in the dingy, smoke-filled rock clubs of Toronto’s Yorkville scene. Two full-length albums and nearly a dozen singles hit the airwaves, showcasing the band’s psychedelic sound. They opened for legends like Cream, The MC5 and The Lovin’ Spoonful. When Jefferson Airplane played their first-ever show in New York City, it was The Paupers’ powerful opening set that grabbed all of the headlines the next day. Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, was in the crowd. A few days later he signed them. It seemed as if The Paupers were poised to become the next big thing.
Their breakthrough was scheduled for 1967. That summer they were included in the lineup for Monterey Pop, a three-day music festival in California that rivalled Woodstock. Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding and Ravi Shankar would all be there to play in front of a crowd of thousands of fans. Filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker would turn it into a documentary seen by millions more.
But by all accounts, The Paupers delivered a lacklustre set – thanks in part to technical difficulties and some ill-timed LSD. They didn’t even make the cut for the documentary. Their momentum sputtered over the course of the following year and, finally, after a three-day stand at the Electric Circus in New York City during this week in 1968, the band decided to call it quits.
It wasn’t the end of their musical careers, though: drummer Skip Prokop would go on to form Lighthouse; their most recent bassist, Brad Campbell, joined Janis Joplin’s Kozmic Blues Band; and guitarist Adam Mitchell would go on to produce records for artists like Linda Ronstadt and write hits for KISS, Olivia Newton-John and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Paul Anka.
THE MAMAS & THE PAPAS DROP THEIR DEBUT
The Paupers weren’t the only Canadians gracing the stage at Monterey Pop during that weekend in the summer of 1967. They weren’t even the only graduates of the Yorkville scene. Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Papa Denny Doherty was there, too, singing with The Mamas & The Papas.
Doherty had been born and raised in Halifax, where he formed his first folk groups before heading west to Toronto. There he met another future Hall of Famer: Zal Yanovksy (who was living in a dryer in a Yorkville laundromat at the time). The two would soon move to New York, where they formed a new band – The Mugwumps – with an up-and-coming young folk singer by the name of Cass Elliot. She wasn’t their only new friend: they spent lots of time hanging out with John Phillips, his model wife Michelle, and the dealer with the best drugs in Greenwich Village, John Sebastian.
After dropping acid and throwing a dart at a map, four of them headed off to the Virgin Islands. Yanovsky and Sebastian stayed behind and would form The Lovin’ Spoonful while the others spent their time in the tropics doing drugs, having sex and writing songs. When the governor finally kicked the quartet off of the island and they returned north to California, they were calling themselves The Mamas & The Papas. The songs they wrote in the Virgin Islands would turn into their debut album, released during this week in 1966. Tracks such as “California Dreamin’” and “Monday, Monday” would make it one of the most popular records of the 1960s, generally regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time.