Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Spirit and the Feeling

I carry the spirit of northern soul
Of skinhead reggae, rap, psych, ravers, and tunes that roll
You don't believe me? Look into my eyes...

I can rock a party with folk songs (or so I used to say)
The bits and sometimes bobs of those uniformed days are now in the closet, something to remember on another rainy, Vancouver day
Or even to reassemble in a twisted fashion style when occasionally off to play

Catch me on the floor

I still dance, and I move, and I shake

But really, it’s now my work that shares this tale and the tales of those who gave it their everything in the pre-digital age
Stories literally jumping out of circular grooves, record after record, and read aloud on yellowing pieces of paper

The line is drawn, but it's not visible to the eye, simply felt
I can only pray that I am not left behind when my gris-gris is weak
For to run with the pack can be rewarding

Crystal clear vision and booze soaked floors are a thing of the past for many crews and bands long since dismantled
We used to congregate in bars and clubs no longer here and pick up the pieces where we could
This energy remains in youth and while many men and women have passed by and on
Their memories still burn deep within our hearts

As we get older, old gangs fragment, new ones combine, families sprout blossoms, and life never ceases to push straight ahead, even in the face of death

I can never stop believing in all of these things

The feeling remains far too strong

Catch me in the woods or on the road

Always learning


Friday, October 23, 2015

The Musical Pope (Earle Heedram, aka The Mighty Pope)

There are people that you meet who change your life forever. Earle Heedram, aka The Mighty Pope is one of those for me. Today, is Pope's 70th birthday and I would like to share some of his musical history w/ you. Here's to many more happy years ahead my friend!!! I feel blessed to have have shared so many good times in your company. I am raising a toast from the coast!!!

The Mighty Pope (born Earle Heedram, October 23, 1945) is a Jamaican-Canadian singer, recording act, and one of the first Afro-Canadian solo artists to release a major label long playing album in Canada.

Known for his vocal strength (hence the "Mighty" prefix in his stage handle) and sharp visual presentation (custom tailored suits, shirts, capes, and footwear), he was marketed as a something of a "sex symbol" at the height of his recording career in the mid-to-late 1970s.

Early years
Pope (who received his nickname via a Vatican-shaped plot of land his father owned in their native Lucea, Jamaica) came to Canada in 1965 and after adjusting to the culture shock of his new surroundings (people, transportation, architecture, food, weather, media/advertising), wasted no time in immersing himself into the heart of Ontario's growing Jamaican musical landscape. Due to immigration reforms and the 1955-1960 West Indian Domestic Scheme, by the mid-sixties, Canada's Jamaican population was expanding significantly and there were already a handful of clubs (Club Jamaica, W.I.F. Club, Club Trinidad, etc.) catering to those immigrants who wished to celebrate their native culture through music, social events, and food. Although Pope had only seen fairly limited performing experience in his native Jamaica (performing with Byron Lee, see below, as well as other regional musicians on the local talent show scene), he quickly became the R&B commodity on Toronto's Yonge Street strip (Hawk's Nest, Le C'oq D'or) after reinvigorating The Sheiks, the house band at Club Jamaica (located where Eaton Centre now exists, managed by Mr. Fitz Riley), as lead singer.


The Sheiks

In 1964, The Sheiks (including vocalists Jackie Opel, Lynval "Eddie", Spencer, and singing MC Bobby Rousseau) were the first group of non-folk playing West Indian musicians who came to Canada, initially to promote the indigenous Jamaican sound of ska, yet never returning to the islands after seeing potential musical work opportunities in Canada (though notable Studio One vocalist Opel did venture back to Jamaica after his first taste of the Canadian winter). After Spencer's departure from the group to perform as a solo artist (where he saw early breakout success), the outfit was in dire straits. Pope's arrival on the scene in 1966 reignited the band and within the year, they were cutting their debut Canadian recording in the studio. The Sheiks (featuring The Mighty Pope) cut one R&B/soul single, released on the short-lived Toronto-based independent Raymond Records label called "Eternal Love" (b/w "Centennial Swing", 1967) (included on Seattle-based Light In The Attic Records' 2006 compilation, Jamaica To Toronto: Soul Funk & Reggae 1967-1974).

The Hitch-Hikers

Along with Sheiks guitarist/co-song writer Rupert "Valentine" Bent, Studio One drummer Joe Isaacs, Pope was soon courted by American-born Rock and Roll legend Frank Motley (an innovator in the transition of rhythm & blues into rock and roll during the 50s with his dual trumpet technique) to front his Hitch-Hikers combo (another mainstay of Toronto's R&B community) replacing the popular singer Jackie Shane. The band's Grenada-born bass player, George Phillip, was already in Motley's fold (joining his then-"Motley Crew" after departing the 1964 incarnation of The Sheiks). The Pope fronted Hitch-Hikers kept a very active performance pace with constant dates all over Ontario and Quebec (routes already traveled by the Pope-fronted Sheiks). Recording their debut LP in 1970 with Canadian label Paragon, The Hitch-Hikers featuring The Mighty Pope combined a mix of Pope and Bent-penned originals and tough R&B/funk covers by the likes of Eddie Bo and The Meters. With no industry or much promotional support, the disc sank. After a series of line-up changes with The Hitch-Hikers (seeing Motley, Bent exit and the addition of Jamaican-Canadians Wayne McGhie on guitar and Jimmy Carver on keyboards and one-time Skatalites trumpet player, Johnny "Dizzy" Moore), the band released one more single, "Mr. Fortune" on the Heart label before packing it in for good. 

Solo career

After fronting minor combos Ram and the Wild Oats, Pope eventually went solo and saw even greater commercial success. With a rigorous schedule of non-stop touring, Pope continued to gain recognition and adoration. By the mid-seventies, his dynamic stage act caught the attention of management and subsequently RCA Records Canada, who released his self-titled The Mighty Pope soul LP in 1977 (notable for being the first major label solo LP recorded in Canada by an Afro-Canadian artist, breaking down walls and barriers for future generations of Urban artists). It contained the single, "Heaven On The 7th Floor," a #14 hit single in Canada. Harry Hinde (Tundra, Charity Brown, Shania Twain) produced the disc with arrangements from Eric Robertson (The Majestics, Moe Koffman, Roger Whittaker) and most impressively, Motown and Detroit music legend David Van De Pitte (Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" to name but one). Four 7" singles from the long player were released altogether. "Heaven On The Seventh Floor" broke the Canadian Top 20, while "If You Want A Love Affair" received worship from the UK's dance-fuelled Northern Soul scene.

In 1978, Pope signed with Quality Records after sessions for a second RCA album were aborted (unreleased demos were recorded in Detroit throughout 1978 with Van De Pitte). New producer John Driscoll surrounded Pope with top-notch talent for his next recording project, amongst them, Italian-Canadian disco icon Gino Soccio, for his second solo album, "Sway." The album quickly shot up the club charts worldwide and was additionally picked up for American release by RFC Records. The first 12" single was a remake of the Bobby Rydell's 1960 hit "Sway" followed by dance floor smash "Sweet Blindness". Both songs were remixed by Jim Burgess and scored Top 40 placement on the U.S. disco charts assisted by promotional tours to Studio 54, national TV, media, and extended cross-Canadian touring.

With changing musical tides, Pope's induction to the world of disco was short-lived and by the early 80s, RFC Records had folded. Still, Pope continued to perform soul, R&B, and pop in bars and clubs across Canada until the early 90s when he decided to retire from the business and focus on family With his musical career revived by 2006's Jamaica To Toronto archival reissue project, Pope was soon performing in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver, BC to receptive audiences old and new. He is currently preparing for a nationally televised CBC performance as well as writing songs for a series of upcoming releases.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


I never really liked Nirvana. Of course, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was a catchy radio/video hit, but grunge didn't do too much for me after a late 1980s/early 1990s high school soundtrack of Public Enemy and the English Beat. Dressed in thrift store threads and band t-shirts, I found the Seattle-based rockers negative and whiny. In 1991, I broke my back jumping off of a 40-foot cliff at Whistler mountain and landed in VGH's GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre for a couple of excruciating weeks. Thankfully, my friends and family were very supportive. I even got a MASSIVE get well card from my Centennial Grade 12 classmates, though I still felt like an outsider after having moved back to B.C. from Ontario prior to the start of Grade 11. Another gift was a copy of Nirvana's Nevermind on cassette, which arrived in the mail from my old pal and ski buddy Lany Jaros. This was in the days of the Sony Walkman so I proceeded to give the tape a spin. Barely making it through to the end, I put the case on my bedside table and never touched it again. The music, for me, was so depressing during a time when I needed a positive mental attitude and a healing spirit. Unfortunately, the songs of Kurt and company weren't gonna cut it as therapy. As I recovered from my injury, music certainly played its part, and once back on track health wise, it became more and more of a passion for me. A few years and another Nirvana album later, Kurt Cobain killed himself. Even though I wasn't a fan, I acknowledged their importance in the pop culture landscape and Cobain himself as an inspiration to many people my age. I even bought a copy of the Rolling Stone magazine that came out after his passing during a regular trip to New Westminster for a meal at Hon's Wun-Tun House. Thinking back to the candlelight vigils held in his memory, his passing easily had the impact of John Lennon's assassination to the 1990s generation. But as it does, life goes on... That same year, I was lucky to get a job at HMV #852 in Coquitlam Centre, a mall notable for its angular interior design and as one of the key filming locations for Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains. During the height of the CD boom and with minimal corporate interference, a few music loving staff and I were able to create a virtual music library there for our research and enjoyment. Yes, we sold discs to the public too. In fact, we sold TONS of them, but for me, it was mostly a place where I immersed myself in the breadth of recorded music: independent new age, underground rap, dub reggae, jazz, soul, R&B, post-punk, 1970s German rock, 1960s psychedelia, not to forget the latest UK imports. But back to Nirvana. On November 1st, 1994, DGC Records released the group's MTV Unplugged in New York CD. Needless to say, in the wake of Cobain's suicide and leading up to the impending Christmas rush, it was a huge success. The performance, recorded a half a year before Cobain's death, featured stripped down versions of Nirvana hits and a selection of covers including David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold The World." Without the layers of electric guitars, throbbing bass, and pummeling drums, you could really hear the songs. I finally got it! And though I didn't buy the album, I always enjoyed hearing it played over the store's sound system, on radio or television. By then I was immersed in the post-Stone Roses sounds of Oasis, whose Definitely Maybe debut had just been released in August of that year. More recently, it gave me a chuckle to hear that Cobain's daughter Frances Bean was more of an Oasis fan than a Nirvana one. I understood. Still, the latter's Unplugged set will no doubt serve as a continued revelation for me as the years go by... It's something I look forward to returning to.

*The sweater that Kurt wore for the MTV Unplugged in New York event is currently being auctioned

Monday, October 5, 2015

That's Entertainment

A police car and a screamin' siren
Pneumatic drill and ripped-up concrete
A baby wailing, a stray dog howling
The screech of brakes and lamplights blinking

That's entertainment
That's entertainment

A smash of glass and the rumble of boots
An electric train and a ripped-up phone booth
Paint-splattered walls and the cry of a tomcat
Lights going out and a kick in the balls

I say that's entertainment
That's entertainment

Days of speed and slow-time Mondays
Pissing down with rain on a boring Wednesday
Watching the news and not eating your tea
A freezing cold flat and damp on the walls

I say that's entertainment
That's entertainment

Waking up at 6 AM on a cool warm morning
Opening the windows and breathing in petrol
An amateur band rehearse in a nearby yard
Watching the telly and thinkin' 'bout your holidays

That's entertainment
That's entertainment

Waking up from bad dreams and smoking cigarettes
Cuddling a warm girl and smelling stale perfume
A hot summer's day and sticky black tarmac
Feeding ducks in the park and wishing you were far away

That's entertainment
That's entertainment

Two lovers kissing masks the scream of midnight
Two lovers missing the tranquility of solitude
Getting a cab and traveling on buses
Reading the graffiti about slashed-seat affairs

I say that's entertainment
That's entertainment

Friday, October 2, 2015

Morning Glory

I remember buying What's the Story Morning Glory on vinyl at Odyssey Imports on Seymour Street the day it arrived in Vancouver. They were just closing up shop and we'd made it just in the nick of time... Later that evening, I took the 2-LP gatefold set to a pal's house in Kerrisdale and we listened to it from end-to-end, sitting in a big circle w/ about 9 other people. Smoke filled the air as we passed around something about the size of a ruler which burned. The album sounded so much different than Definitely Maybe. There was a maturity in Noel's songwriting (not in a bad way) and the dynamic drumming of Alan White made such a difference. Liam continued to kill it on the vocal front and Guigsy and Bonehead were rock solid as usual. It was 20 years ago today. I was 21. Exciting times. Thanks for the reminder Creation Records!!! PEACE