Canadian Content



In 1994, I traveled north of the border on my second trip to Canada and what would be the first of many to Toronto. I fell in love with the city. And through the friend who worked in the music industry with whom I was staying, I fell in love with Canadian music. It’s been years now and it’s a very different city, but I hope it’s still as magical to those who visit.

So to mark Canada Day, here are some of the songs that made up the soundtrack of my 90s, from the albums that came home in my suitcase from that trip.

Bonne fête, Canada.

Spirit of the West 

Maybe a predictable choice; Faithlift is the bestselling album for the Vancouver-based Celtic/folk/rock band; one of their most straightforward rock efforts, it spawned their biggest hit single, “And If Venice is Sinking.”


Barenaked Ladies

It’s easy for casual listeners to peg BNL as lightweight comedians (something the cover art for the first album doesn’t discourage, although it’s not clear how the later switch to something like a Pepsi logo did much to add gravitas). But to do that is not to hear the darkness that has always lurked beneath the bubbly arrangements and cheery delivery–the numb despair of “Pinch Me,” the matter-of-factness of a deranged stalker in “Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank.” The domestic violence and stalking in “The Old Apartment” is just plain disturbing; it’s a variation on a recurring theme they explored on this track, wrapped in Kingston Trio harmonies: the thinness of the line between love and hate.



Listening to Rheostatics’ music proves to be quite a unique aural experience….To the uninitiated ear, the music may sound like a loosely organized cacophony of sound. Some assert that initial listenings are the musical equivalent of the hearing a foreign language. Before long, however, the listener has a moment of revelation, when he/she sees the brilliance and genius of the music, the cleverness and uniqueness of the arrangements. –

Well, that’s about as game an attempt as I’ve ever seen at describing them.


Tragically Hip 

Downie’s band, the Tragically Hip, is one of those enormous entities that cannot be understood outside its homeland. In Canada, we just call them the Hip, and Downie is simply Gord. And I am betraying something sacred by attempting to explain what he means to us. Gord is the country’s spirit animal in the only way a 52-year-old white man might legitimately be classified as a “spirit animal.” – Chris Koentjes, Slate Magazine, 2016

By any measure, this band should be on an RRHOF ballot.







“Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination”: Rock, Race and What We Take for Granted

Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination
Jack Hamilton
2016 – Harvard University Press



It happened fast. In 1952, Alan Freed popularized the term “rock and roll” for what had been known as “race records.” In 1955 Chuck Berry scored his first hit with “Maybellene,” about which Rolling Stone would later say, “rock and roll guitar starts here.” In 1965, Diana Ross and the Supremes were on the cover of TIME magazine for the feature “Rock and Roll: Everybody’s Turned On.” Just five years later, an obit for Jimi Hendrix referred to him as an “a black man in the alien world of rock.” In less than 20 years, rock and roll grew up, entered the mainstream and turned white.

In “Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination”, Jack Hamilton, pop critic for Slate and an assistant professor of American studies and media studies at the University of Virginia, looks at how rock music became the genre of “white men with guitars” while shedding light on some common truisms about music to which we’re usually oblivious. The book goes beyond chalking things up just to appropriation and examines the concept of musical authenticity and how the term has been co-opted and defined by whites. As any student of history and politics knows, those who successfully define the terms have the upper hand in the battle.

Continue reading ““Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination”: Rock, Race and What We Take for Granted”

The Playlist That Never Was, or Back to the Vault Pt. 2

More songs from the playlist I would have played on the Deep River Music Vault.

6. Adrian Belew and David Bowie, “Pretty Pink Rose” (Young Lions, 1990)

The followup to 1989’s “Mr. Music Head,” “Lions” continued to present a more accessible, single-friendly Belew and included covers of tracks by King Crimson (“Heartbeat”) and Traveling Wilburys (“Not Alone Anyore”). This track is one of two Bowie collaborations on the album, the other being “Gunman.”

7. Chicago, “Make Me Smile” (Chicago II, 1970)

The minimally edited version. Simply brilliant.

8. Gil Scott Heron, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, 1970)

I was 20 years old, living in Iowa and working in a chain record store in a mall. Suffice it to say my tastes and experience were limited. My boss put on “The Best of Gil Scott-Heron” and I still can’t find words to talk about it.

9. Steely Dan, “Daddy Don’t Live in that New York City No More” (Katy Lied, 1975)

Just cooler than shit.

10. The Cars, “Take What You Want” (Live at the Agora, Cleveland 1978)

The best live version of this track I’ve heard. A double vinyl release of this show was a 2017 Record Store Day release; maybe it will spread the word that in the early days, the Cars really were loose and edgy live. Check out Elliot Easton’s solo – fans will recognize a few bars that later found their way into “Dangerous Type.”

The Ament Effect, or, Ted McCarty for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

While it’s not likely anyone expected the comedy stylings of Rick Wakeman this year, RRHOF acceptance speeches are the time for inductees to, well, speak their mind. It’s their best chance to talk up those artists they’d like to see next on that stage, as the usually reticent and retiring Daryl Hall did when it was his turn, stumping for Todd Rundgren, the Stylistics, Chubby Checker and a few others. (Hall’s batting south of the Mendoza line here, which is unfortunate as his picks are solid). When Pearl Jam showed up for their honors this past April, bassist Jeff Ament went the understated route, but spoke volumes with a shirt printed with the names of 99 names for consideration (Tom Waits is already in).


Continue reading “The Ament Effect, or, Ted McCarty for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame”

The Playlist that Never Was, or Back to the Vault

After my turn hosting the Vault, I hesitated a bit and then sent in another list. A few people got in repeat turns, but unfortunately the station let its PD go, shook up the schedule and canceled the show before I got called back. Such is radio. Here’s to what could have been…

  1. Benjamin Orr, “Candy-O” (Live, Watertown WI, 7/31/97)

Hands down my favorite of his live versions; gives ‘ol Candy some…crunch. Yeah, crunch.


2. The Rolling Stones, “Hearts for Sale” (Steel Wheels)

November 21,1989. Best show I ever saw. Why doesn’t classic rock radio play anything from this album?


3. The Romantics, “I Can’t Tell You Anything” (1977 single)


4. Was (Not Was), “I Can’t Turn You Loose” (What Up Dog?)

The whole album is pure genius. Vocals by Sweet Pea Atkinson, one of the greatest R&B vocalists ever.


5. The Doobie Brothers, “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While) (Stampede)

Favorite Doobies song. Continuing the Detroit mini-theme here, it’s a cover of a Motown tune.

Rock’s National Register: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Landmarks Series, Part Two (U.S.)

Now that we’ve traveled around the Cleveland metro and taken in its five officially designated RRHOF landmarks, it’s time to hit the road and check out the rest of the list.

  1. Austin City Limits, 310 W. Willie Nelson Blvd, Austin, TX

(Designated 2009 at Studio 6A, Jesse H. Jones Communications Building B, University of Texas at Austin)

This designation for the longest-running televised music program in the world is an anomaly as the only cultural landmark as opposed to a physical location. Since a separate recognition for non-physical entities would likely be rarely awarded, and the Hall is inconsistent about the nonperformer categories anyway, it seems that this is the best solution, but it’s still kind of awkward. It does make you think that the definition of “landmark” hadn’t really been thought through, or that the program was taken over by other parties and the definition changed. Or something.

From 1974-2010, Studio 6A at UT Austin was the home of ACL. It’s still in use by KLRU-TV, who has maintained the original stage and the iconic skyline backdrop that for years made overseas viewers wonder why it never rained in Austin. If you want to have an ACL-themed party with up to 299 of your closest friends and check out the first HOF plaque presented to the show, it’s available for special event rentals. A second plaque was created in 2011 when the show moved downtown to the 2750-seat Austin City Limits Live at Moody Theater in the W Hotel complex—a straight two-mile shot down Guadalupe St. but light years removed from the show’s low-key origins.

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  1. Devil’s Crossroads, 599 N. State St. (Highway 61 at 49), Clarksdale, MS (Designation year unknown)

According to legend, this is the spot where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for becoming a master of the blues. Of course, your theology may hold that there is no Devil who would bargain for a man’s soul in Clarksdale, MS, and so recognizes Highway 1 and 8 in Rosedale, MS instead. At any rate, the crossroads aren’t all that foreboding nowadays. There’s a weathered-looking plaque there but I haven’t found any close up views of it so I’m not sure if it’s from the Hall or something else.


Rosedale’s a little more low-key about its demonic apparitions:


  1. J&M Studios, 840 N. Rampart St., New Orleans, LA (designated 2010; National Register: 1999)

Way down in New Orleans
Down on Rampart and Dumaine
Yes down in New Orleans
On Rampart and Dumaine

Gonna make it my standin’ place
Until I see the Zulu Queen

-Professor Longhair, “Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” 1949

Now a laundry, this building was once the home of John Matassa’s J&M Appliance Store and Record Shop. From 1945-1956, it also housed J&M Studios, a 15×16 space that his son Cosimo used to carve out space to make records. (Cosimo’s moved to larger digs over on Governor Nicholles St. from 1956-1966). At least three of the those records have been dubbed “the first rock and roll record”: Fats Domino’s “Fat Man,” Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” and Roy Brown’s “Good Rocking Tonight.” That’s in addition to records like “Lawdy Miss Clawdy, “Tipitina,” “I Hear You Knocking” and “Long Tall Sally.” Dave Bartholomew’s original—and bawdier—version of “My Ding a Ling” was recorded here in 1952; Chuck Berry’s version wouldn’t appear until 20 years later. Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Dr. John, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lloyd Price, Professor Longhair, Irma Thomas, and Allan Toussaint were just some of the artists who recorded sides for $15 per hour in the tiny space on the corner of Rampart and Dumaine.


  1. King Records, 1540 Brewster Ave., Cincinnati, OH (designated 2008)

King Records doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath as Sun, Chess, Stax or Motown, but its legacy is real: at one time it was one of the top ten labels in the country with literally hundreds of hits and home to James Brown and Bootsy Collins, among others. It’s also a touchstone in civil rights history; King was a color-blind operation, from its talent roster to the workforce that physically produced every aspect of the product in a renovated ice production facility on a dead end street in Cincy’s Evanston neighborhood.

The building now sits bricked up and empty, and it’s likely been a few moons since anyone drove by to look at the RRHOF plaque. The city very much wants to preserve the property; it’s currently involved in an ongoing legal battle with the owners and is taking steps towards the use of imminent domain. It’s getting down to the wire, and the building is deteriorating: something needs to happen, and soon.

At the RRHOF Landmark dedication ceremony in 2008, then-president Terry Stewart said, “There’s not a more important piece of real estate in musical history than the building over there on Brewster. If you folks don’t remember and preserve it, shame on you” (Kind of an odd thing to say as a guest). There’s no indication I can find of the Hall being involved in the effort to save this building. It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback, but you’d think it could get some money together and/or raise its voice to save this landmark, for its state and for rock and roll history.


  1. Surf Ballroom, 460 N. Shore Drive, Clear Lake, IA (designated 2009; National Register 2011)

The Surf Ballroom has the unfortunate distinction of claiming its place in history through association with tragedy: it was here that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson played their final show before climbing into that ill-fated Beechcraft.

Still an active music venue, the Surf was recognized as a landmark by the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 (in a separate ballroom category) and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot tour plays there this June; it’s hard to imagine a more perfect place to see it.


  1. Whisky A Go Go, 8901 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA (designated 2006)

Rock’s L.A. address; the launching pad for Johnny Rivers, Frank Zappa, Janis, Neil Young, the Doors, Jimi, the Four Tops, Vanilla Fudge, Blondie, Soundgarden, Fleetwood Mac, Motley Crue, The Tempations, Van Morrison and Them, X, Zeppelin, Cream, the Motels, Guns N’ Roses, Martha and the Vandellas. And more.


That’s the list; now for the “Why this and not that?” game. In Cleveland alone there’s the Agora and Cleveland Arena. As Charles Crossley suggested, there’s the Yasgur farm and Big Pink, and then Graceland, CBGC’s, the Ed Sullivan Theater, the American Bandstand studio at WFIL, Sun Records, Hitsville USA, Chess Records…. And going abroad, the Marquee Club, the Cavern Club, the BBC studios for “Top of the Pops” and “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for starters.

You get the feeling this may have been a pet project for someone at the Hall and that person or the interest isn’t there anymore. The last designation was in 2010, so it’s uncertain but likely doubtful that they plan to keep up with it. When I thanked the social media team for their response to my query about the Corner Tavern, I said it was an interesting topic and suggested they expand on the Landmarks page on their site. The page has been deleted.

Rock’s National Register: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Landmark Series, Part One-Cleveland Metro

Now that we’re in the slow part of the RRHOF year, it’s a good time to take on some of those esoteric related topics that can be so much fun. While everyone else’s eyes have been on the Barclays Center, I’ve been dithering away on Google Street View looking at a bunch of old buildings.

(And incidentally, I’m still on the Earth Station One Podcast–this week’s topic is Record Store Day

When you think of any Hall of Fame you naturally think in terms of the roster of names enshrined (or not). A lot of people probably don’t know that songs are recognized by the Rock Hall in the form of the list of “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll,” and likely even fewer know that the Hall has its own version of the National Register of Historic Places, known as the Landmark Series.

Like pretty much everything about the Hall, the Landmarks program is a fascinating but sometimes baffling and inconsistent undertaking that combines sense and vision with some odd choices and strange omissions.

Continue reading “Rock’s National Register: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Landmark Series, Part One-Cleveland Metro”