Every Twist Reminds
Bob Macdonald came through the door, the wind blowing his hair and the fringes of his coat. He produced from its case a bass guitar that looked like it was on loan from the Quicksilver Messenger Service. He plugged in, and in the torrent of sound that followed there was no doubt he was our candidate. Irrevocably, too, we would be unlikely to be fashion favourites with the skinny tie crowd.
I came back to Toronto from the U.K., Europe and North Africa late in 1975, feeling now -or-never about playing and writing music. The landscape around Queen Street, west of University Avenue was dotted with the remains of a vanishing commercial/ industrial scene. The cheap work spaces had already made it a social hub for many of my friends from my home town of Thornhill, just north of T.O.
Like so many before and after, I was caught by the songs of Hank Williams .To play them, I started a band with long time friends Bill Priestman on guitar and Carl Finkle (later of Martha and the Muffins) on bass. John Corbett (later of the Cads and the Diodes, among others) and my brother Douglas passed through on drums before Dave Taylor arrived. Calling ourselves the Country Lads, we branched out to include 50's and 60's c and w, rockabilly, Everly Brothers and rocked up folk. Contrary to my calculations, this material precluded us from the mainstream country circuit, then in "Urban Cowboy" days. Parties in studio spaces and speakeasies became our only hope.
In one such setting, I came upon a wild kid playing his wild guitar in a loosely jazz fusion group. This was the Finnish born, Bahamian and Canadian bred, Harri Palm. We ran in to each other frequently after that at the Beverley Tavern, virtually the only venue in town for original electric music. Harri and I bonded in a shared naïve exuberance for heartfelt music that was often mocked by our more cool-blooded peers.
The Ramones hit Toronto in 1976, like Iggy and the New York Dolls in 1973, like 10 trillion A-Bombs. In their wake, Harri formed the Eels with fellow Ontario College of Art students David Clarkson and Rob Rodgers and a drummer named Bent Rasmussen. Bent had been playing in some of the first Beverley bands, Daily Planet and BBC, with Chris Pappas and the multi- talented John (Buddy) Hamilton, later of the Viletones and the Diodes respectively.
Typical of the times, the Country Lads and the Eels shared a bill with the Silver Leaf Jazz Band at the OCA auditorium. Talk turned to creating a band that might combine our energies. Logistics and lifestyles came into play. Bill, Dave, and Carl dropped out. Clarkson and Bent were conscripted by Paul Robinson and John Catto with Ian Mackay into what was to become the Diodes.
What happened in these first days was pure grass roots: the music business as it was then stayed many miles away. Songwriting mentor Steven Davey was playing drums now with his brother Scott in the Dishes who started packing the Beverley week after week. Some of us, including the Cads and future members of Martha and the Muffins got together in a loose collective renting a series of garages and industrial spaces before coming to rest in an old livery stable just north of Queen on St. Patrick St. Harri and I, now joined by my brother, began talking concepts over quart bottles of Black Label at the Bev , and in time honoured tradition, started searching for "A Bass Player". The basement of a local arts collective was turned into the Crash and Burn for eight Weekends that summer of 1977.
Songs that had been in my head while I was walking around Europe were making it into some vaguely recognizable form. Harri told me about a guy he had jammed with at the old (experimental) Music Gallery, then also on St. Patrick. And so I met his sardonic majesty, King Bob Macdonald.
We hammered it out in the rehearsal space and within a month had played our first gig at the newly converted Club David's, opening for the Cads, a show also featuring the debut of the B-Girls. (The Ugly played their first show at the same venue later that week.) Then, back to the OCA auditorium with Martha and crew, my brother's dramatic punctuation style of drumming was unique, but his promising academic career conflicted with our daily practice schedule and so a hard decision had to be made. Bent had parted ways with the Diodes by this point and was coaxed into the band. Born in Denmark, he grew up playing drums with his older brother Steve. By the time we got him, he was a seasoned pro and his gentle manner frequently detoxified the interpersonal atmosphere. The Little Man was a powerful force on the kit.
We were driven at this time no question: intense practices, non-stop writing. We played a party at our studio New Years 77-78. We re-emerged from that snowy winter to play at the Bev with two sets of original material, albeit relying heavily on extended solo sections and audience interaction.
The first few Queen St.W. bands endeavoured to carve distinct and different niches. Contrary to the media representation, standards, musically and graphically, were high. The G-Rays combined ideas of British rock from Cliff Richard onward with a love for blues , r&b, Hank- era country, electronic, psychedelic, traditional folk to Bob Dylan, philosophy, anyway of 50's jazz greats to modern Miles. Iggy, Dolls, Television, Velvet Underground, MC5, Captain Beefheart, of course. We held the Toronto groups and artists of years past in particular regard. We loved Guitar music of all kinds, especially Jimi Hendrix. Some of that mix might be better understood today than it was then.
Our commitment was to play every gig at a flat out emotionally connected and draining pitch. At a time when bringing an acoustic guitar onstage was a provocative act to some audiences, we were definitely at odds with the outside perception of "New Wave" music. In what was then a fragile tiny little scene, we became a known quantity quickly. Like others we were adopted by Gary Topp and Gary Cormier at the Horseshoe Tavern and later the Edge club.
We were able to play out of our sheltered neighbourhood, opening shows for Iggy, Talking Heads and XTC, and headlined along the 401 highway cities and towns into Detroit with Teenage Head. Positive press came in from Creem magazine, New York Rocker, and writer Greg Shaw. We made demos for WEA Records. Harri, Bent and Bob took my songs beyond my imagination. Tom Williams of Attic Records, prompted by company scenester Ralph Alfonso, turned up in the dressing room at Larry's Hideaway and offered us a recording contract on their new Basement label. We took it. Then the arguments crystallized. Harri relocated to Guelph, and the rehearsal schedule became problematic. Our all - original material repetoire made our out of town shows stressful. We were often booked as a Punk or New Wave act and failed to satisfy those expectations. Plus Booze etc.
Every Twist Reminds was recorded in April 1980 in downtown Toronto. Producer Stacy Heydon was our age, but had already established himself as a world class guitarist, touring with David Bowie and Iggy Pop. His positive personality and (bizarre) word play kept us going through some long days and he was always open to making our ideas possible. Harri's solos on "Your Life Is Dangerous" and "Trails of My Skin" are evidence of the success of their collaboration.
Unhappily, disagreements continued to grow in the studio, and our intensity seemed about to consume us. Certain business relationships soured at precisely the wrong time. The record came out. Everyone but Tom and I hated it. Things got uglier and uglier. Harri walked into the drizzling Ottawa night.
Bob, Bent and I continued on a reasonably successful western tour with the great Rob Sagar filling in on guitar. But the record stiffed. Tom left Attic. The G-Rays were over. I still love this record. Please listen to it again.