Keeping The Pace...Peanuts
Ladies & Escorts: The York Hotel...Doug McArthur
There's No Place like Home...David Bradstreet
From an Old Oily Floor...Jack Beattie
White Squall...Doug McArthur
I like this piece which appeared in London & Company in January '81. I think it is generally accurate, but fails to mention Gaetan LaBelle and Jill who managed C of P and contributed a lot to the whole effort. - DM
Keeping the Pace
One writer's loving retrospective on a London institution
When London's Change of Pace celebrated its tenth anniversary recently, it cemented itself amongst the elite of the world's social establishments. Traditionally, coffee houses have served as the bastions of free expression in the field of music, yet not more than a half dozen of these truly international establishments can boast such maturity. The Change of Pace can, and still does.
It's hardly surprising that other folk establishments have come and gone when one notes how reliant they have been on strong volunteer support. Lucky if they break even financially, these clubs generally fade into oblivion with the waning enthusiasm of the founding staff...it's all a part of the price paid when catering to a discriminating minority.
Yet, it's this minority of both artists and audience which develops most of the original music we'll be hearing a few years down the road. Among the `unknown' talents introduced to audiences at The Pace, one might mention Murray McLauchlan, Bruce Cockburn, Valdy, Willie P. Bennett, Lazarus, Ray Materick, Perth County Conspiracy, The Original Sloth Band, Davis Wiffin, The Good Brothers and the New South, Dave Essig, David Bradstreet...to name a few.
There's a certain magic about the Change of Pace. Its intimate atmosphere and knowledgeable audiences provide a rare motivation for artists, and this in turn manifests in the aesthetic inspiration of the listener - an emotional symbiosis, one might say.
The Change of Pace began inauspiciously in 1970 as Smales Pace in a converted Bell Canada garage on Clarence Street between Dundas Street and Queen's Avenue. Founded by John Smale, The Pace had quickly developed a continental reputation for entertainment and exceptionally fine food _ despite the fact that neither Smale nor his `family' of volunteers had any experience in the restaurant business.
Their success during these years was quite a phenomenon. One should remember the times: although long hair still limited a man's job opportunities, clean locks had become socially acceptable for the most part. The word `Hippie' was now archaic (although some construction workers may have whistled at a `freak' passing by), and those delicately simple flowing garments of bygone days, poetically augmented a peculiar air of creativity that was flourishing in the city.
It was a field day for sociologists as more conservative members of London society (both the traditional and pretentious variety) found it either daring or fashionable to be seen mingling with the `underground' at Smales Pace _ after all, one socialite might secretly have reasoned, "they might just be on to something..." It was the cusp of an era that which saw the first tentative overlap of of historically social cliques. And nowhere were these developments more visible than at Smales.
The devotion of the volunteer staff was deep. During the formative years of Smale's direction, this group displayed a visible spirit which verily held the club together. Although many observers labelled this quality 'cliquishness', in all fairness 'family' would better have described the manner in which they cared for one another. If a member of the flock was ever in need, that family would share and provide as best it could. Ah, but for love...
...Dragons live forever
But not so little boys...
After four years of consuming devotion, John Smale had had enough - as had several staffers before him. For many coffee houses, the departure could have spelled the end. Considering the financial status of The Pace at the time, it should have BEEN the end. But The Pace persevered - thanks in part to a sizable cash grant arranged by Walter Grasser (then Entertainment Coordinator at U.W.O.), and thanks to the continued support of musicians and volunteers during perhaps the most ungratifying of times - History must make special note here of Diane Fair and Bonnie Boydell (now Cooke), the second and third respective owners of the club. Without their efforts and sacrifices, there'd simply be no Pace today.
In 1976, Smale's Pace moved to its present location upstairs at 355 Talbot St. and, as an apparent testament to evolution, the name was soon altered to read 'Change of Pace'. But the Change on the sign did little for sentiments - it's still 'Smale's' to many, or simply 'The Pace' to those who've found the easy solution to a nomenclatural dilemma.
The golden years though, had passed. Audiences no longer assembled to audition the efforts of up-and-coming talents: they seemed content now to save their ears for the tried-and-true performers they knew best.
It had even become a chore to find volunteers to staff the nights a 'new' artist took to the stage. The times were inexorably changing in a manner difficult to face for a coffeehouse so steeped in tradition.
September of 1980 witnesses a radical change -- one sought by many over the years: The Pace acquired a liquor license and commenced serving wine and beer between shows (and, of course, with meals).
On the business side, The Pace may well be emerging as at least a break even proposition. The staff now receive wages for their efforts (albeit modest ones) and donations are no longer needed, which, in comparison to the past, is quite an accomplishment. Credit for the upswing in affairs is justly due to the present owners, Carl and Ann Grindstaff, and manager Doug McArthur (who's stayed close to the club since it inception). Last year's tribute to the Pace and its roots - and a party to be remembered - but it also showed how far the club had come. There are really no coffee houses left, at least not in the sense there once was, in the halcyon days of folk. But The Pace is no longer a coffee house in the strict sense; it has evolved to its present state to survive, and to preserve an entertainment option.
And there's still the nostalgia. It runs deep. Words aren't capable of transcending the emotion, but the may lend a means to reminisce...one might recall that Willie P. Bennett used to eat and sleep at The Pace in return for chores ( oh, the stories here...)' and Murray McLauchlan learned to play piano there after hours. David Bradstreet, bill Hughes, Stan Rogers (and others to be sure) all wrote some of their songs there...such memories are strong. They were strong enough to draw people from as far away as California, Colorado and Nova Scotia for the anniversary celebrations and continues to draw patrons to London who were once a part of what it was to spend an evening at The Pace.
But The Pace, as the old guard would be reticent to concede, is no longer what memories would have it. It has become a relaxed respite for a younger crowd who enjoy the easy atmosphere of the place but are quite oblivious to the ghosts of the past. It's a great place to catch lunch or supper and has become a popular spot with patrons in their 40's and 50's, people ironically who are writing the chords of The Pace's current song -- tomorrow's history.
Some still speak of the incredible homecoming the anniversary celebration provided; the rare remembrance of the old days. Others compare the performances of the artists now with the artists then -- wondering if fellows like Willie P. Bennett and Ian Tamblyn have remained true to their roots.
But does it matter? The Pace has since recovered from the hoopla and resumed normal operations (if things could ever be said to be normal here). Standing as a veritable tribute to perseverance and sacrifice, the spirit of The Pace endures...a spirit that'll emerge in music long after the 'Johnny Appleseeds' of our time are obscured in posterity.
Not a bad legacy, folks.
Ladies & Escorts: The York Hotel
I have spent much too much of my life in bars. I love the careless talk and the instant comraderie of people who may never see each other again. Some truths only ever come out in these situations, and that has value. Against these tiny insights I have to place the terrible alcoholic costs, the ruined lives, the shattered relationships, the carnage of the drunken driver. Still, I have spent a lot of time in bars.
Probably my all time favorite was the old York Hotel in London, Ontario. It was a decent looking stone building from the outside, graced by a giant painted Mandala on the rear wall by the parking lot, but through the open doors on a warm summer's evening, the soul of the place glowed like mould in a shiny fridge.
The doors opened at 11 A.M. and the first of the heavy fuelers took their place at the beerstained tables under the huge prints of belching locomotives that reflected the proximity of the Canadian National Railway station across the street. Dust from the swamper's broom clouded the floating shafts of sunlight. Cigarette butts nestled quietly in the black shadows and corners. Many a traveller made the York his first stop after a jarring two hour rail ride from Toronto or longer from Montreal.
When I began attending the York, Ontario's archaic liquor laws were still in effect and there was a MEN ONLY room and a LADIES WITH ESCORTS room. Single men were relegated to the splendor of the locomotives and couples were given the tiny two extra rooms at the side. The ratio of women to men gradually increased as the York became known as an artist's bar until finally it was only necessary to have one woman at a table for eight likely lads to secure entrance to the couples' rooms. A single girl could thus have a very cheap evening at the York. Then that law self-imploded.
Joining the two areas was the three sided bar ruled over by two brothers who owned the place, Eddie and Moe. Eddie was slim and looked like a bookie while his brother was heavy and resembled, well, a bartender. Both were world weary but kind, classic bar owners and easy touches.
Eddie had written a song that was published in about 1942 and printed copies adorned the "Wall of Heroes" in the escort's room. Fading glossy 8x10's of local jazz musicians many years and pounds ago were gradually supplanted by folk and country shots as tastes changed through the `70's. A battered piano and a tiny corner stage were the focus of the back room. A glorious juke box ruled the middle room.
Over the years I watched fresh faced young beauties turn to hard painted tarts, good talented and decent men rot slowly into the bleary face you shy away from in the street, and some old boys never let it bother them at all, but to be there on a sunny day with the juke box cranked and the doors open and the girls parading through was to be present at the making of primal memory. I still get giddy when I hear the sax opening of "Baker Street."
One early Tuesday evening, not busy, I shared a number of draught beers with my buddy Ken and we talked the talk of young men the world over. Through the door came a guy in a gorilla suit. The gorilla jumped up on our table and kicked the empty glasses to the floor. He proceeded to do the boogaloo.
Fat Moe was in charge that night. He dropped his towel and rumbled around from behind the bar. He ran up to our table. With the gorilla dancing over his shoulder he gasped: "K-K-Ken - Doug! Is this g-g-guy with you?"
One Saturday night the place was jammed to the locomotives. The music was everywhere. The door opened and in rode a cowboy on his horse! He ducked his hat under the door top and got the whole animal into the tiny jammed room. The big table went over and the whole crowd jammed up against the back wall on top of the band. The cowboy, never seen before, doffed his hat. "Howdy" was all he said. He sawed the reins and backed the horse out the door. I rushed outside with the others, but he was gone. We looked at each other. Did that really happen? Far away we heard a high pitched whinny.
That small room was decorated with the chopped off ends of a hundred garish ties. Every Friday afternoon the office workers from Bell Telephone took over the big table and held mysterious and boisterous rituals as the draught glasses multiplied. These events always culminated the same way. One worker was chosen to sacrifice his tie to enhance the decor and was then attacked by a less than sober person bearing large gardening shears kept behind the bar for that purpose. No one else in the room could ever decipher how the sacrifice was chosen. The Bell workers were the heroes of every Friday afternoon and the main entertainment and none of them was ever seen at the York at any other time.
You were as likely to end up sitting with the mayor as you were a biker. The place was resolutely non-racial, pan-social, non-sexist (after the liquor laws changed) and non-judgmental. Eccentricity was encouraged. Even demanded.
The music policy was demented. Avant-garde jazz alternated with bluegrass and blues. The Nihilist Spasm Band performed on home made instruments that were indescribable in appearance and sound. All the members were artists of some sort from London's extensive and vigorous painting fraternity and the music was kindly described as "unstructured". The Spasms later toured all the Canadian Embassies in Europe to confound those who expected Moose and Mountie music. Rumour has it that after their first well attended concert in London, England they never actually were allowed to perform at any of the remaining venues on the Continent. Word spread fast in the diplomatic community and food and booze were laid on to distract them from their instruments and discussions on painting and sculpture leapt to the fore.
I still remember Jim and Melissa playing, Jim ever so cool on clarinet, Melissa about fifteen months pregnant on banjo or something, sitting in a summer frock, legs splayed, pumping out the deep blues.
A couple of years ago the newspapers were filled with a "20 Year Reunion" for York alumni. The place had often changed hands in the intervening years and was now a "new music" club though I never heard much there that hadn't graced the stage of the York years ago. Stories about the York and interviews with Eddie (Moe had disappeared) saturated the consciousness of the little city. Who could resist?
I arrived about ten o'clock. Bluegrass music was rolling out the door once again and familiar ruined faces were five deep at the renovated bar. The locomotives were replaced by potted ferns but the place smelled the same and the festivities were subdued.
The reason? Eddie had dropped dead the night before. He just hung around for the publicity, I guess. His picture was on the front page of every publication in town for the last week of his life. It seemed to fit somehow.
The building is still there and some evenings if I walk down York Street by the station the old hotel still seems like a refuge, warm and inviting in the night. I rarely actually go in, what I'm looking for isn't there anymore. I remember a dozen hazy returns from various tours east and the mounting anticipation as the train neared London. I would always have a number of plans but the first stop was always across the street to the York Hotel. Many times it was the last stop of the evening as well.
If you walk up to the doors today, carved into the stone forever are the old warnings: " Men Only" and "Ladies & Escorts".
There's No Place Like Home
As with any event more than a couple of decades into the dim past, there
will always be discrepancies between my recollections and the reality of the
time - I think it might be the key ingredient in the makeup of this
songwriter. Sheila Heller always warned me about the loss of memory. If
anyone remembers it differently, please let me know at:
http://www.total.net/~bradstrt OR email@example.com.
My first memory of Smales Pace was way back in the Huge Winter Storm of 1971
(or was that 1972?) The train was threatening to call it quits in Woodstock
but it persevered and finally arrived in London - it thought it could. It
plopped me onto the station platform into at least three feet of snow - me
dressed in Bermuda shorts, a Hawaiian shirt and sandals. (Oh no wait a
minute that was Jim Smale.) I recall having to wait a long time before John
Smale turned up to meet me in a really tired old VW. He said something about
having no brakes (he might have said, "no breaks") and we were forced to put
our feet through holes in the floor to stop the viscous little vehicle.
After a quick foot stompin' stop at the house in which the Smale brothers
lived (resplendent with candles and beads and mattresses on the floor, which
of course was the decor of choice in those days), we struck out for "The
It really was a hell of a storm...
I was introduced to the former Bell Telephone garage with the typical John
Smale flourish and I immediately fell in love with the place. The Pace.
There was all kinds of stuff hanging on the walls: old pictures, an old saw,
candles and beads and mattresses on the floor etc. and some very relaxed
folks hanging out drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes (ah) and solving the
world's problems with spirited conversation. Of course, the first person to
greet me was Doug McArthur. I remember asking him what time it was, to
which he cryptically answered, "So, time is important to you eh?" I supposed
it was some phobia about the fast paced lifestyle of us Torontonians when in
fact it was my introduction to Doug's twisted sense of humour of which I am
now a devoted fan.
My performance that weekend was one of my best as I recall. The room was
filled with appreciative folks that actually listened and actually
responded. It was the start of a love affair with not only the coffeehouse
but most of the people there, some of whom became life-long friends. John
Smale stays with us when he's in town (he's now a respected interior
designer - he progressed quite nicely from the stuff hanging on the walls).
We had a week long visit with Doug and Jeffra just recently during their
swing through Toronto. And Jack Beattie has been a great friend over the
years - a terrific road manager, a kindred spirit, generous cottage host and
a loyal fan. Jack is always the first one to comment on a new song or
project and the first part of his critique is always positive. Jack and I
recently traveled to Texas in my van, rekindling the memories of our days on
the road - six days on the road in fact. He's always the first to jump in
with a helping hand as he was in the early days of Smales. Then there were
the waitresses. Ah the waitresses... And the warm buns, you know, cinnamon
buns, crunchy squares etc. Sheila Heller is still trying to pawn off those
cookies with no sugar. "Hey they're healthy okay?" I recall the weekend
ending on a very high note with promises from all to repeat the event in a
few months. They say you can never go back. But I did - time and again. Stan
and I competed for the attendance record until the final closing of the
doors at Change of Pace. I think he won.
At the time I discovered Smales, I was developing a steadily growing
audience in Canada, and living in Toronto. I was playing a lot of coffee
houses and small concerts and I had just completed a three year stint on the
National College Coffee House Circuit (U.S.) booked out of the Bitter End in
NYC by Marilyn Lipsius. I was performing regularly on radio and television
and getting shots on Ian Tyson's show and numerous C.B.C. radio interviews
etc. I had played in most states from coast to coast during some rough years
for America so I was no stranger to intimate, outspoken audiences. But
Smales Pace was special. The performers were always treated to appreciative audiences and for that, we would have virtually played for nothing, but we
always were paid well. It was like coming home each time I was privileged to
play there and it was into that environment that Lazarus blew - like a warm
southern wind; Billie Hughes, Carl Keesee and Gary Dye. I had just finished
a weekend and was curious about this new group from Woodstock, NY, who had
close ties with Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul & Mary) - so I stayed in town.
That first night, without any rehearsal and on a wing and a prayer, I played
with the boys.
We talked about that night in later years as a great example for us of the
joy and value of spontaneity - and taking the leap with a warm roomful of
friends. We had it all that night and I had never experienced it with anyone
else to that degree prior to that. We knew each other's songs by instinct.
Billie, Carl and I were friends for life before we left the stage... Carl
and I played the club many times after that.
Then there was the VW van that I donated to the club. It had been given to
me by my friend Alan Magee and I felt it only right to pass it along. I
mean, a club like this needed an Arlo Guthrie vehicle with proper floors,
right? And there's a rumour that a resident folk singer lived in it for a
while - I know I did.
There have been some wonderful folks that kept that little magic place
alive. From the original Smale reign through Diane, Bonnie, Gaetin and Jill,
to Annie and Carl Grindstaff and all of the volunteers, there was always the
belief in the music and the commitment to the "listening room" concept. When
the doors finally did close, Annie and Carl opened their own house to
present some great evenings in their living room House Concert Series. That
speaks volumes to their commitment to it all.
I also heard some great music over the years as part of the audience. I
would often travel down to London to hear great performers like Biff Rose,
Tom Rush, Jerry Jeff Walker, Jesse Winchester, Murray McLaughlin, Scott
Merritt, Ian Tamblyn, Willie P., Valdy, Paul Mills, Michael Lewis, Doug etc.
etc. etc. It felt so much like home that I eventually moved to London, met
beautiful Brenda Scott and got married. I was also incredibly fortunate to
meet Walter Grasser, who steered my career with enthusiasm and lead to my
A&M Records deal and a JUNO in 1977. He was a fine manager.
Sadly, we have lost some folks along the way. Amongst them of course, one
of our national treasures, Stan Rogers. And I can still hear Colleen
Peterson's incredible voice on that stage. Our dear friend, Billie Hughes
passed away this summer - Jack and I went to the funeral in Houston. But one
of the most amazing aspects of being a songwriter is that the songs can
still live in the hearts and voices of those who carry on. And some of those
songs were written at the club and some even about the club. Billie's
beautiful ballad, "Winds of Winter" was written in London. For my part, I
wrote this song just after Smales Pace had relocated to Talbot Street and
had been re-named, Change of Pace. I had such warm feelings about this
little club that welcomed me and my songs with such open arms. I regret not
being able to fit everyone's name in the song because there were certainly
more characters in the story - but hey they just didn't rhyme okay? (Nancy
D., Nancy S., Marnie, Susie, Sheila, Jeanette, The Caspell Clan, Jim and
Bob, Renny, Uncle Billie...)
Thanks to Doug McArthur for keeping the torch lit here at this WebsPace -
what a great name!!
And my deepest gratitude to SMALES PACE / CHANGE OF PACE Coffeehouse and all
I believe we haven't seen the last of it yet...
THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
1975 David Bradstreet /Subterranean
From an old oily floor
came a handful of beautiful flowers
That bloomed every spring and gave everything
To a handful of hoboes and queens
And I was among them I wrote and sung
the songs that I found in my soul
And we all grew together
'till all of our stories were told
I recall the Great Fall of the winter
when nothing else mattered
I rode through the snow on a train that would go
to the place that my doubts & fears scattered
But as I got into town my head spun around
to the warmth that came shining through
So it's here that I've stayed
and here that I prayed that I'd find you
Cause there's no place like home
No place like home
Light up the fire I'm hangin up this wire
And I'm comin' back home
There were times that we busted our sides
with hard belly laughter
And counted the tears that washed away fears
of the future we went running after
Hey Doug and hey Willie, John, Jack and Billie
and Michael and Walter and all...
Well it's here that we're flying
and here that we'll probably fall
Cause there's no place like home
No place like home
Light up the fire I'm hangin up this wire
And I'm comin' back home.
You know there's no place like home
No place like home
Light up the fire I'm hangin up this wire
And I'm comin' back home.
From an Old Oily Floor
My first year at Western was kind of strange. Having set an endurance
record for longevity at highschool, I was several years behind my friends and I found myself having to make new friends. Being fairly outgoing, this was not too difficult and soon found myself on the staff of the fledgling Radio Western. At that time, Radio Western operated a closed circuit system piped into cafeterias and dorms. FM 96, in support of the new station, gave the Western DJ's air time from midnight to 5:00AM several nights a week. I ended up doing several Tuesday nights, scaring myself and discovering that there were lots of better DJ's out there than me.
I'm not 100% sure but I think it was Ian Davies, A.K.A. Star or "he of
the deep voice", who assigned me to interview the, to me, unknown folk singer Bruce Cockburn on his upcoming visit to Central Secondary School. I listened avidly to both Cockburn's albums and like everybody else was hooked. And so, while somewhat nervous about the impending interview, I looked forward to the concert.
Scheduled to start at 8:00PM, teachers and students started getting
somewhat antsy when Cockburn had failed to show up by 9:00. At 9:10, a phone call was received. The singer and his manager, Bernie Finklestein had broken down at Brampton and were just now passing Woodstock and would be there by 10:00. Facing custodial overtime, the teachers considered cancelling the concert. Saner heads prevailed and the concert soon got underway. We were, of course, charmed. Cockburn lived up to all advance billings and more. He played for a solid hour
and a half and the custodians, equally impressed, threw in the three
quarters of an hour extra that they had had to stay overtime.
Hustling backstage at the end of the concert, I approached The Manager
and asked for an interview identifying myself as a DJ from Radio Western. To my surprise he readily agreed (such was the power of the press) and so, clutching my cheap portable cassette player and microphone, I entered the dressing room. Cockburn proved affable but suggested that we conduct the interview elsewhere in order to let the custodians close the school. "How about the club?" he asked. I had no idea what he was talking about. I was incredibly green, naive and out
of touch with the music scene. "Sure," I said, "what's the club?"
Soon we were at Smale's Pace. Just finishing his set was David Wiffen (the first time I heard More Often Than Not). Cockburn suggested we sit on the floor of the General Store part of the club. Amongst the candles, incense and various bric-a-brac, the
interview went well and I was hooked. I knew I had to come back to this place where music combined with friendliness and a sense of belonging like none I'd found anywhere else in London.
And so it was. I kept going back, once a week to start and then two, three and four nights a week and occasionally for lunch. I paid every time. Soon I was helping out,
emptying ashtrays, washing dishes, sweeping up - whatever needed doing. And people knew me and seemed to like me. I was knocked out. Eventually, one night, John Smale asked me why I was paying. I knew then that I'd found some friends and a spiritual home.
The friends, the musicians, the growth, the joy of living. Smale's was a
listening house and I couldn't get enough. I met my first true love there. I met my best friend there. I heard the best musicians in Canada there. I grew up there. Along the way, I helped Stan Rogers build the new stage ("Get your hammer, boy!"); I developed friendships and understanding that have lasted me all my life, that have dictated who I am today.
There must have been many places like Smales in many cities across Canada. They probably had as much meaning for people as Smales had for me. I'd like to think so anyway. And the feeling lives on as my children listen to the music from Smales and grow as humans.
Stan Rogers blew through my life like a white squall. He was too big and too strong and too successful to be ignored.
Sometime in 1972 I was sitting in my agent's office and I noticed a white circular sticker attached to a file cabinet. It read "Who is Stella Gray?" I felt the heavy gears of the world notch into place, thunder crashed, wheels within wheels....well.
Stella Gray turned out to be the heroine of a novelty song called "Fat Girl Rag", a 45 r.p.m. single released on RCA records. The non politically corrected story line concerned a "ten ton Tessie" who blocks a freight train.
The cryptic phrase was inserted into various classified columns in newspapers all over the country, eventually drawing the attention of the Mounties who thought they were on the verge of breaking the code of a coast to coast dope ring. It was Stan Rogers' first record.
The very physical Stan Rogers arrived in town shortly thereafter. Stan has published a version of our first meeting and he claims to remember the conversation, date and place. He may be right, certainly the locale was the new folk club in London called Smales Pace, created out of an old Bell Telephone garage by the fabulous Smale brothers, John, Bob and strange Jim.
Stan loved the place at first sight. The coffee was good, the conversation was tasty and the waitresses gorgeous every one. We would sit for hours, walk in the park, drop down the street to the York Hotel for 45 cent beer and return to talk and smoke late into the night. It was his introduction to a cafe society which rapidly became a way of life for many of us.
Being Stan, he immediately started to rebuild the place to suit his needs. Soon he and Garnet and Big Al, his dad, were tearing the old sliding door out and bricking in a bowed bay window so Stan could better peruse the secretaries taking lunch in the courtyard. A new stronger and bigger stage was necessary to handle Stan's ideas. He had plans for a band.
We decided to undertake a trip to Nova Scotia together with Big Al and my friend Frank Wheeler. Although we were in Hamilton at the time, it was important for some reason to head west first to pick up a truck that had been left in London. At midnight Stan and I pulled out on the highway on the five hour round trip preceding the two week trip planned for seven A.M. This is just an example of our careful and thoughtful approach to life. Why not start a long drive to the coast dead tired?
The sun was coming up red and I was driving as we returned to Hamilton. Ahead was the mysterious (to me) East coast, unknown adventure and my first glimpse of the ocean! Stan decided to become introspective.
"Doug, do you have a tape deck in your head?"
I knew what he meant. Music echoes for me constantly in the recesses of my dim little mind and most of my writing and arranging gets done on drives and walks around the country. I thought it was a fine question.
"Yeah, Stan, I think I do."
He leaned his head back on the seat and crossed his arms behind his head: "O.K. Put on Abbey Road, side two."
Stan's family came from Canso Nova Scotia, right out on the pointy end of the mainland. The boys spent summers there and worked for their various uncles in boyhood jobs. When I met Stan he hadn't yet realized the value of this goldseam of experience. Stan was doing country music and had just got out of a rock band in Hamilton. He was starting to write, but, though it seems strange now because of his later success and acceptance, he was not known as a songwriter. His few attempts seemed to me to be a little sentimental and naive. His voice was a strong warm baritone though it had a more nasal tone than you now hear on records. Stan was one of a group of aspiring song writers enjoying the fruits of being big fish in the small pond of the Ontario coffee house circuit, including Gord Lowe, Frank Wheeler, Perth County Conspiracy, David Wiffen, Bruce Cockburn amongst others.
You would play the circuit from Smales in London to Bitter Grounds in Kingston to the Riverboat in Toronto to the Yellow Door in Montreal and L'Hibou in Ottawa. The folk festivals hadn't kicked in yet and hardly anyone had recorded anything so the music existed only in these warm tiny venues a hundred miles apart. You would arrive in town and head directly to the "club" where you would find all your friends and a place to crash and your favourite waitress and the latest rumours of new additions to the circuit. And the new songs. We matured rapidly in a milieu of friendly competition. Ideas and concepts migrated through each other's work with ease. Personally, I stole from the best and admitted nothing.
Stan and Gord Lowe put together the Cedar Lake group in emulation of Perth County Conspiracy, our neighbours to the North near Stratford. I stayed away from the concept of a huge unwieldy super group at first and so I was not included in the elaborate promotional package which remains the primary artifact of the group, although , since basically everyone I knew was involved, before long I was insinuating my way on stage and rapidly became one of the regulars. How many can I name today? Stan Rogers and his skinny kid brother Garnet, Gord Lowe, an old folkie even then with an amazing deep voice that vibrated like a Harley at a stop light, Frank Wheeler, my high school music friend and partner in various rock and folk groups, Jim Ogilvie who had been my bass player for a while and would become a member of one of Stan's first versions of his trio, Rick and Steve Taylor, Willie P. Bennett, songwriter extraordinaire, Sandy MacDonald, the befuddled but great hearted sound man and our personal version of Neal Cassidy: Dando Dindoff, non stop talker and roadie from Cape Breton Island. Occasional members included Brent Titcomb, Ray Materick, Paul Mills, etc., etc.
We were nominally managed by Cathy Keenlyside who had extensive experience in the Hamilton Place box office. Our chorus of angels consisted of Beth McQueen, Suzanne Normand, Liz Constantenites and her lovely long haired collie dog, and Monique Burchill. Add in assorted hangers on, friends and lovers and you have at least twenty five people careening around the country in an old school bus playing gigs where the audience was often out-numbered by the armada on stage, and where the prevailing central discussion seemed to be how to divide up the $27 we had made from the last gig. We set up huge campsites in remote areas of the province, the most permanent one being in a flea market near the town of Aberfoyle. There we built a club out of an old barn and called it "The Slaughterhouse".
Our campground was close by in the shadow of the old school bus that we had happily painted one afternoon in Stan's parent's driveway. The actual colours blur in my mind and probably did in reality as well.
I remember one night, Stan, Garnet, Dando, Ray Materick, Gord and I faced off with a bottle of Mescal that had somehow materialized. When I nodded off near dawn the fat grey worm was still afloat in an inch of sickly amber liquid. When we all awoke: it was gone ! No one would admit to scarfing up the worm (apparently the most potent part of the mescal experience) and the mystery remains intact to this day in the minds of concerned students of the era.
Personally, I think it was that bandit Materick.