This Week in Music History: September 22 to 28

Sep 23, 2014

By Adam Bunch

The Ugly Ducklings (left); Anne Murray (right)

THE TORONTO SOUND

It was the 1960s. Toronto was home to one of the most exciting music scenes on the planet. Every night of the week, the sounds of rock ’n’ roll, soul and folk music could be heard spilling out of the clubs in Yorkville and along the Yonge Street strip. Some of the biggest names in music called the city home over the course of that decade: early versions of The Band and Steppenwolf; solo performers such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell; and future members of The Mamas and The Papas, and The Lovin’ Spoonful – all of them future Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees.

Along with them were countless other bands, from chart-topping stars to local kids playing high school dances.

“It’s a wonder there are any kids left to listen to music in this town,” journalist Bruce Lawson wrote in the Globe and Mail, “they’re all turning to do-it-yourself rock… forming part-time groups like locusts form swarms.”

Bruce Palmer, who would eventually head to Los Angeles and become famous as the bassist for Buffalo Springfield, called Toronto “the most hard-rocking city of its time.”

The city, in fact, developed its own distinct flavour of rock ’n’ roll: what they called “The Toronto Sound.” It was a fuzzy and raucous R&B that many found hard to pin down.

“Ask them to describe it,” according to Lawson, “and they shrug their shoulders, shuffle their feet and say it’s not as relaxed as Nashville; not as up tempo as New York or Detroit; a solid natural beat, something like the Coast. But different.”

Almost everyone did agree, though, that the sound had been deeply influenced by Robbie Robertson, who made his name with his raunchy guitar work on the high school dance circuit before heading to Yonge Street and joining the band that would eventually become The Band.

It was during this week in 1966 that the Toronto Sound had its biggest showcase. For 14 straight hours, 14 of the best rock ’n’ roll bands in the city took the stage at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Ugly Ducklings. The Paupers. Luke and The Apostles. The Big Town Boys. Little Ceasar and The Consuls. Bobby Kris and The Imperials. A song from every set was broadcast to listeners on CHUM Radio, while some of the most influential record producers in the business came to see it all in person. Maybe most important of all: 16,000 screaming fans crowded the city’s biggest hockey arena – more than had come to see The Dave Clark Five. Or The Beach Boys. Or The Rolling Stones.

“NOTHIN’” BY THE UGLY NOTHING

*****

A BIG HIT FOR ANNE MURRAY

It wasn’t Anne Murray who wrote it. It was another Canadian: Gene MacLellan, a singer-songwriter from Prince Edward Island who was a familiar face on the CBC. His work would be covered by legends such as Bing Crosby, Joan Baez and even Elvis Presley. But it was Anne Murray, who would be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1993, who made the most famous version of his most famous song. It was during this week in 1970 that “Snowbird” peaked in the Top 10 of the Billboard charts.

“SNOWBIRD” BY ANNE MURRAY