Maraca Media-John O'Mara

Freelance copywriter and blogger, shakin' and rockin' it

Tag: Toronto (page 1 of 2)

Three cassettes from the Maraca Collection: yes, cassettes!

I was never a fan of music cassettes.

They often got tangled in the deck mechanism and even if you could rescue and rewind the tapes, they often stretched. Many times they broke.

Cassettes sucked ass.

Their only selling point was portability. You could insert them into Walkmans, boom boxes and, the main reason I started buying cassettes, car stereos.

I had an Alpine installed in my Pontiac Phoenix.

IT’S NOT DEAD!

And now, it seems, the much-maligned cassette is like Monty Python’s parrot. It’s not dead, they claim. It was resting. Cassette tapes are back and I still don’t understand why.

https://www.ctvnews.ca/entertainment/retro-resurgence-the-unlikely-return-of-cassette-tapes-in-canadian-music-1.3290300

As mentioned in that link, the biggest challenge is finding a player. I haven’t had a working deck since the ’90s. But I do have a rack, hidden away in the guest bedroom closet. It contains nearly 100 tapes and here, chosen randomly with my eyes closed, are three from that dusty collection.

Elton John by Elton John (recorded 1970, cassette released 1985)

Sir Elton is on a lengthy farewell tour to cap off a fantastic career. His debut album had a track called 60 Years On and it’s hard to believe I’ve been listening to his tunes for over 40 years.

I was too young when this one was originally released, but in the mid-’70s you couldn’t escape the music of the former Reginald Dwight. He was all over the radio. Elton John and lyricist Bernie Taupin created hit after hit and were an incredibly prolific team.

So, after purchasing the vinyl versions of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Honky Chateau and Greatest Hits Volumes 1 and 2, I went back to the beginning.

Your Song, Take Me to the Pilot, Border Song, The King Must Die.

A strong debut that hinted at the greatness to come…in contrast with our next album…

Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf (recorded 1977, cassette released 1990)

Just in time for Halloween!

The debut album by the former Marvin Lee Aday went on to sell 14 million copies and test the vocal skills of many a karaoke couple on a hot summer night. Or any night when the drinks were flowing and the inhibitions were overcome.

Meatloaf’s soaring voice never sounded as good as it did on Bat Out of Hell. In later years it went from weird and nasally to just plain sad. Today, he tours and doesn’t sing a note!

https://www.theguardian.com/music/shortcuts/2018/jul/02/meat-loaf-wont-sing-new-tour-caleb-johnson

That says it all.

Nevertheless, Bat Out of Hell was a specular achievement, with Mr. Loaf at the height of his powers, providing the perfect vehicle for songwriter Jim Steinman’s mini rock operas.

Paradise by the Dashboard Light, Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad, You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth and, my favourite, the epic title track.

Greatest Hits by Toronto (released 1984)

I grew up in Toronto and back in the ’60s and ’70s groups often named themselves after cities, states and even continents. Boston, Chicago, Kansas, Chilliwack* and…cue the intro for that opus hated so many, Europe. It’s The Final Countdown!

That’s stuck in your head, isn’t it? Sorry.

Back to the band Toronto, formed in that city but with a lead vocalist who hailed from Durham, North Carolina. Annie Elizabeth “Holly” Woods.

I’ve always loved powerful female vocals. In 1980, when I heard Holly belting out Even the Score, I was hooked. That track is on the greatest hits album along with Your Daddy Don’t Know, Lookin’ For Trouble, Girls Night Out and Start Telling the Truth.

Toronto broke up in ’85 after their record label went bankrupt. Woods cut a solo album that wouldn’t get released until 2007.

CONNECTING DECADES LATER

I’m Facebook friends with Annie/Holly and drummer Barry Connors (who joined Toronto in ’81 and went on to play with Coney Hatch) and, thanks to their many posts, I can tell you the band still tours as Holly Woods & Toronto.

How about a Wasaga date next summer, Annie and Barry? RibFest or the motorcycle rally would fit the bill.

When cassettes became popular in the early ’80s, companies like Memorex and Maxell started selling blank tapes that you could record on. Or, if you were cheap…and I was a college student so, guilty as charged…you could break the write-protection tab and make a duplicate album or mixtape using that pre-recorded cassette.

Home taping! It was supposed to kill the music business.

Okay, time to put the cassettes back in the rack. I’ll be back with another trio soon. Maybe cassettes, back to the CDs or even vinyl. Thanks for reading.

*-Back in my college days, I saw a concert ad on one of the Buffalo TV stations. It was  Journey or maybe Foreigner, with opening act “Chilly-wack!” Oh well, the TV announcers from fire city (Buffalo news reports always seems to lead off with 4-alarm blazes in Batavia or Tonawanda) couldn’t be faulted for not knowing how to pronounce a name from B.C.

 

Rockin’ at The Knob

For anyone who hasn’t lived in Toronto, Scarborough (or as it has been slagged, for decades, Scarberia) is part of the Greater Toronto Area and has been either a suburb of T-O or a city in its own right.

Back in the early ’80s Toronto’s Best Rock, Q107, posed this question:

“What’s the definition of a cultural event in Scarborough?”

Answer…Goddo at the Knob.

Toronto’s hard rockers Goddo played the Knob Hill Hotel dozens of times. I saw them once at that suburban venue and to this day, two memories remain. As I and my friends Gord Howard and Alfie Petitti were paying the cover charge in the lobby, one patron staggered out of the showroom and vomited at our feet.

Welcome to The Knob.

The other memory? Even though it was the early ’80s, Greg Godovitz introduced Goddo’s tune ‘Under My Hat” as such…

“This is a song you all should know because we’ve been playing it for so fucking long.”

I’ll cut Greg, Gino and Doug some slack. Maybe an off night. Maybe Greg had a shitty day.

But the Knob was my rock club during my days at Centennial College, when I aspired to be a writer for Rolling Stone, sitting in Stevie Nicks’s living room and starting my profile of Stevie with colourful descriptions of the decor, the surrounding area or whatever pets Stevie may have owned at the time.

I did arrange for an interview with Canada’s Metal Queen, Lee Aaron, and got to know Karen (real name Karen Greening) and hang out with her and the band in their suite at the Knob between sets. Guitarist George Bernhardt was surprised that I wanted to chat with him as well.

“Everyone wants to talk to Lee…no one wants to talk to us.”

Ahhh, but the dear old Knobbie will always bring back memories of one band, Scarborough’s own Santers. AKA, the Rick Santers Band, who made it on to Q107’s Homegrown album in the early ’80s. A few years later, their version of Free’s “Allright Now” went to #13 on 1050 CHUM’s top 30 chart and got plenty of airplay on the Mighty Q.

Take a look at this cute couple.

Santers bass player Rick Lazaroff and the lady he’s been married to for over 20 years or so, Darlene Watters.

In 2007, I moved to Wasaga Beach and found a tourism website run by Darlene called Wasaga Dot Com. Near the bottom I saw an adverting link. Contact Rick Lazaroff. I did, and told Rick all about my Knob/Scarborough history with the band.

WELCOME TO WASAGA BEACH

We connected and became tennis buddies. As for Darlene, I had seen her band Shattered Heart play at the Harbour Inn, in Owen Sound in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

But it all began in that concert room at The Knob. Watching Laz kicking his left leg out and attacking his bass through many Santers tunes and Zep songs (though their best covers were of Mississippi Queen and White Room) and Rick/Ralph Santers/Santer and his brother Mark shaking the foundations as we pounded several Molson Canadian tall boys.

It wasn’t as legendary as The Gasworks (where I also caught Aaron, Santers and Anvil) but The Knob Hill Hotel will forever be in my rock and roll heart as the place where I rocked my weekends away at McCowan and Eglinton.

THE DARDANELLA IS NOW WHAT?

One of my greatest disappointments in moving to Wasaga Beach 11 years ago was finding out the storied rock venue, The Dardanella, had become a dance club. Fuck off! Fuck you and the SeaDoo you rode in on. No one has rocked the Dard in over a decade but if I could have one wish…on what will be the 100th birthday this summer of the grand old lady of the beach…which due to mismanagement and neglect, was only open a grand total of 7 days last summer…

Let The Dard Rock again, and whether you hail from Scarberia, Brampton, Oshawa or wherever, we can feel that bass drum in our gut and raise our glasses to the venues that shaped our lives.

Go back to 1976 and I’m sitting in the Elaine Theatre, across the road from The Knob, and watching what went on to become one of my all time favourite movies, The Bad News Bears.

In the words of Bears shortstop Tanner Boyle, “”I’ll drink to that.”

Canadian Graffiti

The ads for American Graffiti posed the question, Where were you in ’62?


I was living the first year of my life but a dozen years later my folks took me to see American Graffiti at the Birchcliff Theatre in the (then) Toronto suburb of Scarborough. Mom and Dad were not rock and roll fans and if I recall our conversations after the credits had rolled, they found it hard to believe everything had happened in a single night.


Fair enough.

My mind kept replaying the climactic hot rod race between Big John Milner and Bob Falfa (Paul LeMat and a young Harrison Ford). That was cool.

On Friday’s Rock and Roll Riot I’m kicking the show off with two songs featured in American Graffiti. Little Darlin’ by the Diamonds and Del Shannon’s Runaway. It’s my salute…and sad lament…to the final weekend of the summer. In the movie, characters portrayed by Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Charles Martin Smith and Cindy Williams spend that  final post high school night dancing, eating at Mel’s Diner and, in Curt’s case, enlisting the services of legendary DJ Wolfman Jack to track down a hot blonde (a young Suzanne Sommers) he’d passed while cruising in the ’55 Chevy driven by his buddy Steve.

Ahh, cruising.

I’ve spent many an afternoon on beachfront patios here in Wasaga Beach watching hot cars pass by. Everything from Ferraris to Lamborghinis. And classic cars from the ’50s.

Big John Milner had a super charged ’32 Deuce Coupe. What his buddy Toad called the bitching-est car in the valley.


As a teen, I cruised Kingston Road in my Dad’s Ford Maverick. Oddly enough you will likely see such cars at rally’s along with ’70s Pintos, Chevy Novas and other models that seems kind of ordinary back then. Time has made them seem almost stylish and cool. Though I’m still waiting for the day when cruise nights include K-Cars. I drove one in the ’90s and the Barenaked Ladies were right, it was a nice reliant auotmobiile. Boxy and dull, but reliable.

As a teen, I couldn’t wait to get my drivers licence. Took the school course at 15 and a half, turned 16 in May of ’78 and I was driving Dad’s Maverick a month later. 

These days, many teens and young adults don’t drive. Can’t blame them. It’s expensive to own and operate a car so if you can manage without one or you have decent public transit, why spend money on something that quickly depreciates, isn’t built to last a decade, let alone 40 or 50 years, and costs a bundle to insure?

Ahh well. Back to the summers of ’78 to ’82. Rolling down the windows…Dad would have considered A/C to be luxury not worth paying for…and blasting the radio. Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Alice Cooper and two songs that always take me back to those suburban rides down Kingston Road….

Ah Leah by Donnie Iris.


And Set the Night on Fire by Johnnie Lovesin. Im Facebook friends with Johnnie. He opened for the Ramones in Toronto in the late ’70s and according to newspaper critics, stole the show. I’m closing Saturday night’s Riot with that tune and even though I’ll be sitting on my patio, drinking red wine and smoking a Phillie’s grape cigar, Johnnie and his tale of hookers and gangsters (okay, not quite as innocent as Little Darlin’ or At the Hop) will whisk me back to ’81.

I’ve likely seen a Cheech & Chong movie, preceded by a mood-enhancing joint…thanks Alfie Petitti wherever you are…and followed by pizza and an underage beer at Mother’s Pizza. Mother’s and Frank Vetere’s served me at 18 though I always got stopped at the Zanzibar strip club downtown. Pizza and beer? Yes sir. Topless dancers (g-string law back then in Toronto the Good)? Not tonight, kid.

The street lights are flying by, traffic is light, the breeze is warm and even though I’m heading home to our modest family bungalow, in my mind I’m cruising like Big John Milner and setting the night on fire.

Quality Records, Birchmount Road

I went to school at Immaculate Heart of Mary on Birchmount Road in Scarbrough, then a suburb of Toronto but now part of the GTA.

IMG_0093
And, a short drive north, just over the bridge, was the pressing plant for Quality Records. I rode my bike over the bridge just to the east of Mack Avenue, but never imagined that decades later, what came out of that plant would end up on my radio show (not in the original 45 vinyl version but on a CD compliaton).

Birchmount was actually a subsidiary of Quality Records, though I didn’t find that out until recently.

I was born in 1962. The year many of the artists on this collection cut their tunes and Any Day Now includes early numbers by Glen Campbell and Dobie Gray, and follow-up records to hits by Danny and the Juniors and The Beau-Marks (Clap Your Hands, they hailed from Montreal).

Back in the ’70s and ’80s Quality Records meant nothing to me. What did? This hotel.

Where I caught many performances, and drank many beers, as Lee Aaron, Santers and Goddo shook the foundations. The Knob. It didn’t reek of rock like the Gasworks but I spent many a night watching Aaron and (Santers bass player and current tennis buddy) Rick Lazaroff kicking their way through originals and Zep covers.

IMG_0095

Flash forward to 2017.

I’m at BJ’s Records in downtown Barrie, where Bill brings in very cool collections. The  Rock and Roll Riot has spun many a tune from discs that came from BJ’s (and Rasputin and Amoeba Records in San Francisco and Berkeley).

And, for $9.99, the Quality Records 3-disc set is mine. It’s $13.99 on Amazon (love Amazon, and the Prime deal is a steal with free 2-day shipping and streaming of shows like Mozart in the Jungle).

As a new ball season begins…and this soon to be 55-year-old comes out of retirement after 3 years to play in the Wasaga league…I will always treasure my final year of hardball, pitching at Highview Park.

IMG_0094

Not sure who the Scarborough Stingers were, or are, but if they played at the park where I pitched my final game of hardball, real baseball, cheers.

Highview Park was a short bike ride from Quality Records.

It’s the circle of life, Johnny Maraca style.

The Ace of Spades

Somewhere around the year 2000 our radio station social committee came up with the idea of having a video competition, with the winners to be selected at the staff Christmas party in Owen Sound.
Two historic venues played a part in what our team came up with: Owen Sound’s swank hotel-turned-dive, The Coach Inn, and the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto.
image
More on that concert poster later, but both music stages involved our dearly departed Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead.
In 1981, Alfie Petitti and I bought tickets to see Motorhead at the Danforth Music Hall. The first event sold out so a second one was added the same night. Motorhead and opening act Anvil played two shows and I can’t remember if we caught the first or second performance.

If Motorhead moved in next door to you, your lawn would die

It remains the loudest concert I’ve ever attended. My ears were ringing for three days afterwards. If Mom or Dad crashed their knives and forks together at the dinner table, I felt it.
Flash forward to the video creation of yours truly, Sean Anderson and Mary-Jo Tedford (now Tedford-McGillivray).
Sean was, and still is, the drummer for a London, Ontario rockabilly band called The Black Holes. Prior to Sean’s arrival in Owen Sound, we had been afraid to venture inside the Coach. Sean took it as a challenge, and got the Holes booked at the hotel. They would get me up on stage to shake the maracas, and I became Johnny Maraca.

Arnie

We took the GM’s camcorder and shot scenes inside The Coach Inn…where Louis Armstrong once stayed, there’s likely still a clipping behind the bar…and was the second home to the puppet master.
Arnie.

He was a Coach Inn regular. You could not visit the Coach or it’s main bar, Jason’s Pub, without seeing Arnie. He left this world a number of years ago but I don’t doubt Arnie is still part of that hotel in some way. Did Arnie know he was going to be in a video? Did he give a shit? I’m guessing no.

Mafioso

Though, on a side note, I do recall the hotel owner, Nano, reading The Sun one day when the cover page featured a Toronto mob guy who had just been offed.
“I know that fucking guy,” Nano said.
Mental note. Be nice to Nano.
We shot a video of Arnie and used him as a main character in our story. I re-ran that scene several times on my VCR and laughed so hard I couldn’t fall asleep.
Was he the puppet master? To paraphrase a line from Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades,” was it all a game to him?

Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill!

Our video won the top prize, likely due to it’s Russ Meyer (Faster Pussycat, Vixen, Up!) look. Though not with the giant boobs featured in Meyers’s cinematic wonders.
So cheers to The Coach Inn. Arnie, Nano, Wendy, Jamie, and the country rock bands that played in Crossroads, the Coach’s so-called “dark side.”
A big salute to Lemmy, Lips and Alfie.
Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister got the dead man’s hand and so did Arnie. But they lived, drank and had a blast.
May we all.

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