The Toronto Sound From Yonge Street To Yorkville

Fall 2021 - Thursday Series- 1:30 - 3:00

Beginnings - Yonge Street to 1961

Thursday, Oct 14, 2021

Yonge Street has been the symbolic centre of Toronto and a microcosm for Canadian musical life for decades. We’ll begin with a virtual walk through Yonge’s early theatres, piano companies, sheet music shops and record stores. The 1947 change in liquor laws transformed the Yonge Street landscape, bringing taverns like the Silver Rail, the Colonial, the Brown Derby and Le Coq D’Or. We’ll discuss the advent of rock and roll as well as rhythm and blues in Toronto, the rise of rock and roll on CHUM 1050, and the arrival of Arkansas rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins in 1958.

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Rock and roll and R&B on Yonge Street, 1961-1965

Thursday, Oct 21, 2021

With a growing youth audience in the early 1960s, rock and roll bands like Little Caesar and the Consuls and Richie Knight and the Mid-Knights made serious inroads as homegrown Canadian rockers. Ronnie Hawkins’ 1961-1964 version of the Hawks were influential and went on to become The Band. Robbie Lane and the Disciples became Hawkins’ next band and would be a reliable television presence on the teen-oriented programmes that emerged after 1963. David Clayton-Thomas and the Shays brought raw blues to the Yonge Street strip and Clayton-Thomas would find success stateside with Blood, Sweat and Tears. The pioneering transgender soul singer Jackie Shane electrified Toronto nightclubs.

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Folk music in Yorkville to 1962; the after-hours clubs

Thursday, Oct 28, 2021

We’ll cover the early history of Yorkville Village and its emergence as a Bohemian hotspot in the early 1960s. The Purple Onion, the Village Corner and the Half Beat provided a home for Toronto’s growing folk music scene, including emerging artists like Ian and Sylvia and Buffy Sainte-Marie. After-hours clubs like the House of Hambourg, the First Floor Club and the Bohemian Embassy hosted jazz and folk music. Club Blue Note on Yonge was the rhythm and blues hotspot with electrifying house bands and guest singers like Shawne & Jay Jackson and Shirley Matthews, who scored a major hit with “Big Town Boy.”

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Folk music, blues, jug bands and singer-songwriters in Yorkville, 1962-1965

Thursday, Nov 04, 2021

The Riverboat would host the best of the folksingers and singer-songwriters and become the most famous coffeehouse in Canada. Gordon Lightfoot would appear there frequently and we will examine his early career. Down Yorkville Avenue, Joni Anderson played at the Penny Farthing and there she would meet her future husband Chuck Mitchell. The pioneering guitarist Lonnie Johnson arrived in Toronto in 1965 and stayed until his death in 1970.

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Rock and roll and R&B on Yonge and in Yorkville, 1965-1968

Thursday, Nov 11, 2021

Many of the Yorkville coffee houses would transform into rock and roll and R&B venues in 1965-66. A new generation of bands, many of them influenced by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other British Invasion groups, would pack these small unlicensed clubs. On weekend nights, the Village was full of young people, motorcycle gangs and police. Jack London and the Sparrows, the British Modbeats and Lords of London played Brit-influenced rock, while Jon and Lee and the Checkmates as well as Luke and the Apostles played the Purple Onion and the Devil’s Den on Avenue Road. The Mynah Birds included future stars Rick James and Neil Young. Go-go dancers were a regular accompaniment to the bands, especially in Yonge Street clubs like the Friars. The Mandala, with their spectacular presentation and high-intensity psychedelic soul style, made a big impression that still resonates today.

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Psychedelic rock in Yorkville 1966-1968; the afterlife of the Toronto Sound

Thursday, Nov 18, 2021

The music scene in Yorkville continued to evolve into the late 1960s. The expansion of rock music in the U.S. and Britain spawned an age of greater creativity and musical exploration. Newer groups like the Paupers, Kensington Market and the Tripp rode the peak of the Yorkville scene. At the same time, powerful interests were planting the seeds for the essential shutdown of Yorkville as a hippie haven. While much of the counterculture moved along Bloor Street to Rochdale College, the Canadian rock scene was about to grow up. The Guess Who from Winnipeg was a breakout success in 1969 with “These Eyes” and Canuck Rock was on its way.

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Past Lectures