CURTIS GRAMBO is one of those country artists that is comfortable in his own skin, making choices and making music that he can sing not just from his lungs, but from his heart.
Grambo will be the first to tell you he learned to sing country music from the "Legends of County". Growing up in Crystal Springs, Saskatchewan, the Grambo home was no different than most prairie homes, in that music was a big part of their life. Curtis grew up listening to the likes of Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Charlie Pride and many styles of gospel music. At the age of five, Curtis began signing in church, and by the age of twelve, he had developed a substantial array of vocal talents. Curtis vividly remembers August 16th, 1977 as a day that changed his life forever. He arrived home to find his mother crying and he knew something was really wrong. When he asked her the reason she was crying, she stated, "Elvis Presley died." Curtis couldn't let this go. He thought that if his mom was such a huge fan, this guy had to be something special, and was amazed at how one man's music could have such an influence on so many people. Curtis was hooked!
In the fledgling days of the Canadian Music Industry, there were two men who saw the future, and inevitably helped shape it. Walt Grealis and Stan Klees. The names go together like peanut butter and jam, milk and cookies, RPM and CANCON. It is hard to mention one without the other.
This week marked the 80th birthday of Stan Klees. Finally a senior teenager. Klees lost his long-time friend and business partner, Walt Grealis in 2004, after a short three year battle with cancer. Close to eight years later, Stan Klees is still seen about town; frequenting Mirvish Productions and lunching with old friends.
For those of you who don’t know the story of RPM, ‘the little paper that grew’ here is a short history lesson. RPM started in 1964, and was ‘The Conscience of Canada's Music Industry’. Now, a huge industry here in Canada, it is now hard to believe, with the success of Shania Twain, Sarah McLachlan, Gordon Lightfoot, Bryan Adams, Blue Rodeo, Rush, Avril Lavigne and countless other artists, that there was a time when English-Canadian popular music was rarely heard on the radio or promoted by Canadian record companies. In the 1960’s Canadian artists were regarded with indifference, and many were forced to turn to the U.S. to make a success of their talent. One person who decided to change that was Walt Grealis.
[photo: Rebecca Hennessy and Marcus Ali blow up the Lula.]
The buzz was palpable among the loungers outside the Lula Lounge. The media dog and pony had just ended and as that crew scurried off, the slick dudes and the chickas, gays and hipsters were arriving for an evening of getting down to the new world sounds for which the club is famed. The double bill was a clever study in percussive contrasts between the organic polyrhythmic tunes of Toronto’s Drumhand and the mutant electronic, sample-heavy constructs from Guelph sextet Eccodek.
Openers Drumhand benefit from great visuals. The brass section features six feet several Marcus Ali on sax, flute and assorted wind and tiny, feisty trumpeter Rebecca Hennessy. When the pair gets to wailing side by side, a body can’t help but smile. Stage right was occupied by master percussionist Steve Mancuso and an array of things that shake, rattle, roll and rasp from a fistful of countries, making it look like the house band for National Geographic was setting up. Then there’s Larry Graves’ hand and foot work on the Gome drum, an oddly compelling visual. Dealing mostly off current album Moving Still, Drumhand unleashed a tight barrage of intricately constructed dialogues between brass and percussion featuring layers of rhythm and galvanizing sax and trumpet riffs.
Formed from the late controller.controller’s rhythm section of bassist Ronnie Morris and drummer Jeff Scheven plus vocalist Vanessa Fischer, Lioness debuted with a self-titled Ep, which spawned the hot single "You’re My Heart" and wicked Internet buzz. On it Lioness roared with diversity, range and a promising neoGoth rock sensibility. That was followed by a stream of remixes, which didn’t do much to advance the sound for but did build anticipation for the album.
Four years later, this is it and it’s as if the band’s back from poking about in clubland. Gone are the funkified backlines, hangovers from their CC past, replaced by angular, minimalist instrumentation, as the band embraces fully their spooky Goth side with arrangements like splintered crosses on which to hang Fischer’s vocals.
The album art lays it out hard and heavy, with Fischer doing that Witch Queen thing on the inner sleeve, hands placed on the exposed skulls of two obedient skeletons kneeling beside her. That said, her vocals totally back up the image, both a good and bad thing.
The Golden Killer opens with dirgelike instrumental “ Procession”, which leads not to a place of rest but to the gates of Hades as the fuzzed-out fury of “Toxic Heat” brings Fischer’s voodoo blues vocal into play, setting the tone as firmly in place as a dagger in the heart.
Hugh’s Room, packed house, Jesse Winchester, an acoustic guitar and great songs. That’s a combination for an entertaining evening that doesn’t come around often but when it does it’s magical.
I remember seeing JESSE many years ago in a smoky bar in Montreal with a full band and a loud, although appreciative, crowd singing along and clapping in time, sort of!
Hugh’s Room, which has to be THE best listening room in Toronto, great sound and sightlines, was a completely different atmosphere with this performer on stage. The run of shows was three nights, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. I was fortunate to go the show with my good friend and guitarist Bob Cohen, who toured with Winchester years ago and knows him better than most. We went on the Sunday thinking it would be less crowded and give us a better opportunity to “spread out” and watch and listen. However Sunday night was also packed, not an empty seat in the house.