Thursday, July 27, 2017
Thursday, July 20, 2017
I love you Wayne,
*Below is a post-script essay included in the ten year anniversary Light in the Attic re-release from 2014, and below that, a heavily condensed version of my Sounds Of Joy liner notes for further context.
*Below is a post-script essay included in the ten year anniversary Light in the Attic re-release from 2014, and below that, a heavily condensed version of my Sounds Of Joy liner notes for further context.
May 21, 2014
Much has happened over the last 10 years, but the music and stature of Jamaican-Canadian singer-songwriter Wayne McGhie has only grown since Light in the Attic’s 2004 reissue of Wayne McGhie & The Sounds of Joy. Despite critical acclaim from the likes of the The New York Times, CBC, and plenty of street level props, it’s a shame that Wayne can’t fully join in on the celebration and much deserved notoriety. In early 2013, The Sounds of Joy, McGhie’s debut album and a landmark record of Black Canadian expression, was awarded with an eighth place honour in NOW Magazine’s, “The 50 Best Toronto Albums Ever” list. Appearing alongside Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Rush, and fellow Jamaican and musical collaborator, Jackie Mittoo, McGhie was definitely in good company. It was a long overdue acknowledgement of the Caribbean musician’s immense contributions to our collective cultural fabric (whether the masses are aware of it or not), but also an ironic clash with his daily struggles to survive. McGhie lives with acute schizophrenia and no longer plays or writes music. His loving sister Merline helps take care of him, a true guardian angel if there ever was, while Wayne maintains a low profile. Though he was excited to hear of a renewed interest in his vintage material, which also helped McGhie to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Wayne lives a relatively solitary life, far removed from the recording studio or steady supply of gigs that once filled his calendar. Though unable to relish in the spotlight or reestablish his music career, McGhie’s legacy has reached far beyond its initial regional audiences in Montego Bay and Toronto. Since the rediscovery of The Sounds of Joy through DJ and sound system culture, Wayne’s music has been sampled by hip-hop producers looking to craft the perfect beat and keenly championed by selectors from New York to London to Paris and Tokyo. It was also a major catalyst in LITA’s six album Jamaica-Toronto series and subsequent live showcase revue tour featuring The Mighty Pope (Earle Heedram), Everton “Pablo” Paul, and Jay Douglas. Over the years, I’ve been blessed to break bread and spend some quality moments with Wayne and his family, but apart from meeting him for the first time in preparation for the Sounds of Joy and Jamaica to Toronto reissues, one instance still burns bright in my mind, a family anniversary party in an Etobicoke apartment basement. Merline, along with some relatives and friends, had made a lovely spread and there was a local sound system pumping out reggae tunes. I sat on a chair next to Wayne as the guests trickled in and looked to the ground to watch his feet tap away to the rhythm in perfect time. Clearly, the music is still running strong within McGhie whether we get to hear it or not. Thanks for the memories Wayne, you’ve changed my life for the better. Your music will never die. I will champion your sound forever!
Kevin Howes (aka Sipreano)
Voluntary in Nature
Unceded Coast Salish Territory/Vancouver
Wayne McGhie (with microphone, bottom right)
Wilfred (Wayne) McGhie was born in Montego Bay on October 15, 1946. He picked up music at a young age after learning a basic guitar scale from his sister Merline. Music came naturally to Wayne. He bought a guitar instruction book on a trip to Kingston and proceeded to master chords. He also began formal music training at Montego Bay Boys’ School. Throughout the 1960s, local talent shows at the Palladium Theatre in downtown Montego Bay were the place for up-and-coming musicians and singers to hone their craft in front of a live audience. Wayne, as he was now known, would bring the house down with American R&B tunes such as Billy Stewart’s 1962 “Reap What You Sow.” During these talent shows, Wayne's skill was noted by Kingston-born musician Jo-Jo Bennett, a prominent trumpet player and bandleader. Wayne was soon performing with Billy Vernon and the Celestials alongside piano/organ player Dizzy Barker and singers Jimmy Wisdom and Bob Williams. He played with this band, along with popular vocalist Keith Stewart, until his departure for Canada in 1967.
In the 1960s, Toronto became a new home for many Caribbean immigrants thanks to immigration reforms. Toronto's West Indian Federation Club (WIF) and Club Jamaica were places where folks could converse, eat, listen to music, and sustain their heritage. Scouted by the club’s management back home in Jamaica, Bennett had moved to Toronto in 1967 to perform at the WIF and soon called for McGhie. Winter in Toronto was a shocking change from Montego Bay, but a steady diet of music made the shift smoother for Wayne, whose girlfriend soon joined him in Canada. They wasted no time starting a family; in 1968, their sole daughter, was born. Unfortunately, Wayne’s constant gigging and busy practice schedule put stress on the young family. By the tail end of the 1960s, Wayne had developed into a promising musician, singer, and songwriter. Wayne penned “Chips-Chicken–Banana Split”, the A-side of Jo-Jo and the Fugitives’ sole 45 on the minor Cobra label. Eventually, other avenues began to open up for the growing pool of young Caribbean musicians in Toronto, which now included Jamaican music legends Jackie Mittoo and Alton Ellis.
While the Yorkville area nurtured the burgeoning folk-rock coffeehouse scene with performances from the likes of Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, and Joni Mitchell, Yonge Street was the place for the midnight movers and groovers. Frank Motley & the Bridge Crossings, King Herbert & The Knights, the Hitchikers (with Jackie Shane), Jack Harden & the Silhouettes, the Sheiks featuring the Mighty Pope, the Majestics, the Cougars, Jon and Lee & the Checkmates, Mandala, Eddie Spencer, and Grant Smith & the Power were just some of the groups and artists that played to mixed-race crowds at clubs like the notorious Le Coq d’Or, then the number-one R&B club in Toronto.
Music was a breakfast, lunch, and dinner affair for these talented musicians. Band work, pickup gigs, and recording consumed most waking moments. Still, high-end studios were a luxury; the Canadian recording industry of the time was in its infancy and neither structured nor willing to support Black artists. Sessions for the Sounds of Joy album were self-funded and recorded during off-hours at Sound Canada studios in the winter of 1969. Wayne was 23 at the time.
Possessed with an intensifed vision, Wayne assembled a stellar cast of musical friends. Many of the Jamaican-born instrumentalists involved had already developed solid recording pedigrees back on the island. Twelve musicians are listed on the LP sleeve; others, including Jackie Mittoo, are rumoured to have sat in. Of the 10 songs recorded, six were McGhie originals, and as the material moved from funk, to soul, to reggae/R&B crossover, it is Wayne’s pure and soulful voice that sets the tone. Look no further than his emotional take of the Friends of Distinction’s 1969 hit “Going in Circles” for proof. McGhie squeezes every possible ounce of soul out of his vocal while a haunting flute floats “round and round” in the background and the chain-gang rhythm reaches and pulls in equal measure. Instrumentally, the contributions were economical, dynamic, and heartfelt. The musicians didn’t overplay. Everton Paul’s opening drum break on “Dirty Funk” is as badass as they come, and once the song kicks in you’d be forgiven for thinking the band came from New Orleans, not the Caribbean.
As Wayne finished the album, he decided to start a band of his own to capitalize on its coming release and make some money on the road. The band was dubbed the Sounds of Joy and lent its handle to the Wayne McGhie & The Sounds Of Joy LP released in the spring of 1970. Although the band had started to gig to support the album, Birchmount did nothing to promote it. Compound that with zero radio play, and the album sank without a trace. Apart from friends and family, people didn’t seem to care. Even some of the album’s players didn’t even receive a copy of the finished disc.
Months later, an accidental fire at the Quality warehouse destroyed all of the remaining copies of the record. Because of its poor sales up to that point, the album was lost in the label’s scheduling shuffle, never to be re-pressed. This extinguished any hopes of the Sounds of Joy as a recording and touring unit, and despite Wayne’s righteous aspirations for the group, the absence of label support meant it was only a matter of time until things fell apart.
Distraught, but with bills to pay, Wayne continued gigging as a singer and accompanist in Toronto and on the Ontario and Quebec club circuit (he even ventured south to the United States on occasion as well as returning to Jamaica to record “How Does it Feel” for Studio One). His next notable recording projects were with the Hitchikers featuring the Mighty Pope (“Mr. Fortune”) and Ram, a post-Hitchikers splinter group. Ram’s lone release was an infectious McGhie-penned and sung jam entitled “Love Is the Answer.” Released in 1972 on the Tuesday label, it also featured Studio One veteran Joe Isaacs on drums. Despite minor regional attention, the single never caught on and Ram, like the Sounds of Joy before them, disintegrated.
Although Wayne continued to be musically active with session work for Jackie Mittoo on the Canadian Talent Library label and an unreleased solo album from the mid-to-late 1970s, the musical climate and club scene were changing. The hard-funk feel of the late 1960s and early 1970s was morphing into the slicker and more polished sound of disco. Wayne worked predominantly in the reggae and gospel scenes during this period through recorded an unreleased album of original material.
Constant gigging throughout the 1970s took its toll on Wayne. Unable to balance career and family, his fast pace and financial uncertainty began to be a problem. Despite playing with American-born/Toronto-based jazz and pop musician Bill King, at the start of the 1980s, Wayne had all but abandoned hope of a stable music career and was experiencing mental health problems. Heavily medicated, he lost touch with friends and became a wandering vagabond—a shadow of the strong, confident, and talented man who tore up the scene only a handful of years before.
Lost and presumed dead by some, Wayne eked out an existence under the radar of even his closest friends. Merline was never too far away and was able to care for him, but Wayne was underground. Stone cold gone and missed by many, he turned his back on the music that had brought him so much happiness.
Wayne’s music had an underground resurgence in the mid-1990s through sample based hip-hop and DJ culture. The Sounds of Joy was was re-released by Seattle-based Light in the Attic Records in 2004 with assistance from Kevin Howes (aka Sipreano) and Montego Bay-born/Toronto-based vocalist Jay Douglas who helped to find Wayne.
He was prominently featured on the 2006 archival compilation Jamaica to Toronto: Soul, Funk, and Reggae 1967-1974, a project that was taken to the stage by Douglas, Everton “Pablo” Paul, Bob and Wisdom, Val Bent, Lloyd Delpratt, The Mighty Pope (Earle Heedram), Glen Ricketts, Noel Ellis, as well as other veteran players from the Jamaica-Toronto scene.
Wayne McGhie & The Sounds Of Joy was given a 10th anniversary re-release by Light in the Attic Records in 2014 and was his story was featured in the Jamaica Observer newspaper in 2015.
With the full blessing and support of Wayne and his family, Voluntary In Nature is currently in production on its first release, a special tribute to the man from Montego Bay who has affected the world (and beyond) with his unique musical voice. Watch this space...
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
*RIP to a long-time VIN Francophone favourite, Luc Cousineau. From Les Alexadrins, to Luc et Lise, to Cousineau, to a solo artist under his own name, Luc was a masterful singer-songwriter and musician, one of Quebec's finest, sadly under appreciated throughout the English speaking world. Luc passed away in March of this year, but his music will ring true eternally... PEACE
Sunday, July 9, 2017
As immature brats fresh out of high school, my pal John and I had nicknamed our server Pringle. Each and every Thursday night, our cylindrically shaped saviour would deliver two bowls of wonton noodle soup, two plates of twelve pan fried chicken potstickers, and two dishes of gai lan w/ oyster sauce from the hot and steamy kitchen at Hon's on Keefer Street in Vancouver's Chinatown for us to scarf down. Cokes were served on the side in glasses halfway filled with crushed ice, but back to the man. Pringle appeared to be in his mid-to-late-sixties w/ a full head of jet black hair parted to the side and a reserved demeanor. Even after years of patronage, our relationship remained strictly business. We were hungry and he was working. Occasionally, I’d see him out of the restaurant, walking around downtown. I always wondered about his life outside of work, his family, hobbies, and interests. My father had turned me on to Hon’s in the early 1990s at their New Westminster location and it quickly became a favourite. I'd bring friends when possible and spread the word at each and every opportunity. As the years progressed so did my ordering style, from the aforementioned soup to a serving of Szechuan pork juliennes on egg noodles. By the new millennium, I must have eaten this dish over a hundred times, the slightly spicy sweet sauce and dry noodles mixed together with a bowl of simple broth with thinly sliced green onions for flavour and texture. Chopsticks were always used even when forks were offered. The frequent trips to the Chinatown Hon’s became almost religious in nature, a final stop before heading back to Coquitlam on the 151 bus. Prior to our meal, John and I would spend time perusing the bins and racks of the many record shops that lined Seymour Street between Pender and Dunsmuir. There was Sam the Record Man, A&B Sound, Track Records, Odyssey Imports, and Collectors RPM. After spending most of what little money we had, we'd walk down Pender past the massive vacant lot where the International Village Mall (previously known as Tinseltown) now stands. The road was dark and edgy at night, a different bag than our suburban scenes. But it was the food that made us venture into Chinatown at night, an area that I’d been visiting w/ my family since the early 1980s. Hon’s was a revelation and always a fun place to hang. People of all backgrounds would eat there, enjoying good company and the restaurant’s famous Cantonese creations. When I moved back to Toronto in 2007 after not having lived there since 1991, Hon’s was one of the places that I missed the most. On return visits to the west coast, a family meal, often at the Robson street branch, was mandatory. The hot tea was always free and flowing. Fortune cookies rounded out the meal and often provided an insight or a cheap laugh. Dad liked to order the spicy squid w/ rock salt and their Shanghai noodles w/ XO sauce would be devoured within minutes of its arrival. Upon returning to live in Vancouver in 2010, Hon’s once again became a part of the restaurant rotation. By then, they had expanded to Coquitlam and I would often stop there while visiting friends or hitting up the local thrift and record stores. One day, I ordered my classic Szechuan pork juliennes on egg noodles, settled up at the cashier, and proceeded to get my first ever migraine. I had never felt such pressure and discomfort before and barely made it to my dad’s apartment only a few blocks away before curling up into the fetal position until the pain subsided. Was it something that I had eaten? A reaction to MSG? A sodium overdose? I wasn’t keen for an encore. Still, the lure of my favourite dish eventually brought me back followed by another monumental brain buster. What the heck was going on? Had they changed their ingredients? Were they cutting corners? Either thick or not wanting to take the hint, it took one more crippling Hon's headache to stop going altogether. I'm glad to report that I haven’t had a migraine since. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to walk up and down the streets of Chinatown, to catch the vibe in the midst of heavy development and a shifting dynamic. Despite being closed for the evening, I walked up to the large Hon’s window and paused for a minute to reflect on the many hours that I'd spent inside in my younger days. The restaurant was vacant and dimly lit by the adjoining mini mall. I thought of the man we called Pringle and the dozens upon dozens of meals eaten there, the jokes as well as the love shared. I took a few quick snaps on my iPhone and proceeded to walk up Main Street up to Mount Pleasant. Early last week, I caught wind that the Keefer Street Hon’s location had closed. Though I wouldn't have returned for one final nostalgic meal, it did make me sad to think of yet another casualty in the neighbourhood and the temporality of once dear friendships. Thanks for the memories... PEACE
Thursday, July 6, 2017
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
Monday, June 26, 2017
Saturday, June 24, 2017
Thursday, June 22, 2017
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Monday, June 19, 2017
Featuring live performances from...
Willie Thrasher and Linda Saddleback
Lawrence Martin with Vern Cheechoo
Brian Wright-McLeod (The Encyclopedia of Native Music)
The Ballad of Crowfoot (Willie Dunn, NFB, 1968)
August 8, 2017
Doors 7 pm / Show 8 pm
Trinity-St. Paul’s (427 Bloor Street West, Toronto)
Tickets available at the following link http://www.ticketfly.com/event/1508435
We respectfully acknowledge that this event will take place on the traditional territory of the Wendat, Haudenosaunee, Anishinabek, and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation
Presented by Gladeye, Voluntary In Nature, and Revolutions Per Minute (RPM.fm)
In second half of the 20th century, Indigenous musicians from across North America made their voices heard like never before. Inspired, informed, and contributing to the global explosion of youth culture, they combined words, poetry, art, film, and music to reflect a wide range of Native issues and experience: the balance and transition of traditional and modern life, language preservation, views on the land, family, love, spirituality, and the effects of colonialism. The disturbing events that unfolded at Wounded Knee in 1973 was one unfortunate catalyst for awareness, identity, protest, and change, but there was a new soundtrack coming from within the Indigenous communities during this era, provided by talented singer-songwriters like Buffy Sainte-Marie, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Alanis Obomsawin, Willie Dunn, and their peers. These artists didn’t mince their words. They made their voices heard loud and clear: We are Native! We are Proud! These are our truths! The time is now! Their inspiration was monumental to those both inside and outside of the various Indigenous communities of Turtle Island.
Still, without industry or mass media support to help transmit these messages, a determined artist had to work extremely hard to have their songs recorded to tape. Fewer would have their recordings pressed to vinyl and distributed. Either self-released or with the assistance of an established label, cultural organization, or national broadcaster like the CBC, a number of long playing albums and seven inch singles did hit the marketplace. They were mostly sold off of the stage at gigs, in convenience stores or at Native friendship centers, and occasionally at the odd mom and pop record shop. Whether the artists were aware at the time, their music began to travel. Over the years, they provided an essential document of this decisive era to listeners lucky enough to hear them and laid the groundwork for today’s vital Indigenous music scene. Though initially marginalized through mainstream exclusion, regional focus, geographic isolation, racism, and music industry short-sightedness, these artists are now being heard by an expanded global audience in 2017.
Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985 is a Grammy nominated 3-LP/2-CD/digital compilation of thirty-four landmark Indigenous recordings. Accompanied by an extensive liner notes book featuring biographies, archival images, and lyric transcriptions and translations, the collection was released by Seattle/Los Angeles-based Light in the Attic Records in November of 2014 after five years of production by music historian Kevin Howes (Voluntary In Nature). On Tuesday, August 8th, 2017, many of the box set’s veteran singers, songwriters, poets, musicians, and storytellers will gather from across Turtle Island for a once-in-a-lifetime concert celebration in cooperation with Gladeye, VIN, and RPM. Please help us to honour these legendary creators whose messages of love, awareness, and community have forever changed the musical landscape. Let’s continue to make it known!