When it comes to music there is a lot we here in Canada share with our American cousins to the south. There is also much we don’t directly share but have eagerly adopted such as Blues, Jazz, R&R and of course R&B/Hip Hop. When comparing things between the two countries the multiple of ten times often comes up, as the US has approximately 331 million people and Canada has 38 million, which is closer to 8.7 but we tend to round numbers. So given the disparity in population, despite the great music from Canada the US has always and continues to have considerable influence. If you are a Country Singer and or Songwriter sooner or later, you end up in Nashville. If you really want to know about the Blues, you must travel even further south.
Perhaps we Canadians have a bit of an identity complex when it comes to music, and for than matter a few other things, as there is no denying we have adopted a lot of music/musical styles from the US. Having said that we have some unique and original music in Canada such as several forms originating from our only officially French speaking province of Quebec, First Nations and Métis peoples. And although Newfoundland has Irish, Celtic and British roots you won’t find music quite like it anywhere else.
Without dropping some more statistics we here in Canada think we pull our own weight in terms of representation of most any musical genre compared to the US. As most of my regular readers will know I am stuck in the past, but despite by anachronistic musical tastes I can read a music chart from 2021 and 2022. Enough so that I see names like Drake, Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber, and The Weeknd among the top artists in the USA/ World. Many will recognize names like Alessia Cara, Jessie Reyez and Ruth B, Daniel Caesar with producer extraordinaire Jordan Evans and speaking of producers there is a long list here as well.
In past posts I talked about the iconic names known internationally to come out of Canada like Celine Dion, Leonard Cohen, Anne Murray, Joni Mitchell, Alanis Morissette, Gordon Lightfoot, Rush, Shania Twain, Michael Bublé, Neil Young, Bryan Adams, Nickelback and going back a bit, Paul Anka. Many of these artists are still touring and making great music. Along the way I have likely missed mention of Avril Lavigne and Carly Rae Jepsen as well as dozens more, my point being Canada is not in the back seat when it comes to recognizable names.
In truth, in popular music there’s no competing with the USA. However, it seems (from what I have read) that music is becoming much more international, in large part due to the accessibility via streaming and that silly app that sounds like a clock. Now, there is an argument that streaming has stifled the emerging artist and the traditional methods of touring small venues had all but dried up even before the global crisis. Having said that local music scenes continue to find a way to survive. But back to my point, if you are asked to name the most iconic names in music, your list will include Beyoncé, Bob Dylan, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Post Malone, Madonna, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, or Kanye West, all from the USA.
When it comes to lists and birthplace, I often see names like Rihanna, who is Barbadian, Nicki Minaj (Trinidad and Tobago) and Drake, The Weeknd and Joni Mitchell, listed as American artists. While some have become US citizens many origins get lost in the big American pie. The same can be said in other parts of the entertainment industry with many actors like Jim Carrey, Stana Katic, Rachel McAdams, the two Ryan’s (Reynolds and Gosling), Kiefer Sutherland, William Shatner, all born in Canada. I don’t have room to list the great actors to come from the USA.
We do share much more however, as there are dozens of well known songs and groups that have a US and Canada mix. Many iconic songs were written by Canadian Robbie Robertson while in The Band, and we also have; Arcade Fire, The Mamas and The Papas, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Blood Sweat and Tears and anything that Neil Young has been in like Buffalo Springfield and CSNY. The LA based Rock band Steppenwolf was founded by Canadian artists Jerry Edmonton, Goldy McJohn and German-Canadian John Kay, they would add American guitarist Michael Monarch and bass player Rushton Moreve.
Here are a few songs that you may not know have a Canada/US connection and as I am wont to do, let’s go back in time a bit first.
“Red River Valley” is listed as a Traditional song and has been a hit for several Country artists over the years, although first recorded by American singers, Canadian Folklorist Edith Folke has uncovered evidence the origins can be traced to Western Canada before 1896. This predates recordings by a couple of artists I have mentioned in past posts, Carl T Sprague (as “Cowboy Love Song“) and Bascom Lamar Lunsford (as “Sherman Valley”) both recorded it in 1925. There are many different lyrics that follow the same theme and certainly the melody. More modern versions, if I can use that term, follow the name, “Red River Valley” as first recorded by Hugh Cross and Riley Puckett in 1927. Google search will give you this wonderful version from Marty Robbins, released in 1961. Including instrumentals there are 225 recordings of this song.
I have mentioned Shelton Brooks before, he is Canadian born and is of African descent. His family moved to Detroit when he was quite young. A talented musician and singer best remembered for writing the song “Some of these Days” (covered over 300 times) first recorded by Sophie Tucker in 1910, released in 1911 on cylinder and she did it again in 1927, released on 78 rpm. Serena Ryder (2006).
Bob Nolan (Clarence Roberts Noble) moved from his birthplace (April 13, 1908) of Winnipeg Manitoba to New Brunswick with his mother sometime after his parents’ divorce. After a couple more moves at age 13, he ended up in Tucson, Arizona to live with his father. Nolan would write “Tumbling Tumbleweeds“, first released in 1934 by The Sons of the Pioneers, a group he co-founded with Americans Leonard Slye (Roy Rogers) and Tim Spencer. In high school Nolan would write a poem, later it became a favorite Cowboy song titled “Cool Water” first recorded by Bob Atcher in 1940, followed by The Sons of the Pioneers in 1941. Nolans songs have been covered by Dan Blocker (Hoss on Bonanza), Patsy Montana, Pete Seeger, Tex Ritter, Johnny Cash, and a boodle of Hanks: Williams, Shizzoe,Thompson and in 1938, Hank the Yodelling Cowboy, also known as Hank Snow.
At age 17, Montreal born Alex Kramer’s first gig was playing piano at a silent movie theatre in 1920. He would later travel the US as a Vaudeville and Nightclub performer. His sideline as a Vocal Coach would lead to him marry one of his American students, Joan Whitney. The pair would write several notable songs such as “High on a Windy Hill” which was a hit for Gene Krupa (vocals by Howard Du Lany) in 1940, they also wrote “Candy” with Mack David (Baby It’s You). “Candy” has been recorded over 70 times but the original by Jo Stafford and Johnny Mercer remains the standout. Other artists that recorded their songs are Doris Day, Nat King Cole, Vic Damone, and the Andrews Sisters. They also co-wrote Jimmy Dorsey’s #1 hit song “My Sister and I” (vocals by Bob Eberly) with another well known composer, Hy Zaret who co-wrote “Unchained Melody”.
I have blogged about Buffy (Beverly) Sainte-Marie, who was born in Canada February 20, 1941, She is described as an Indigenous Canadian-American singer-songwriter and musician. Her other endeavors include social activism, educator, and visual artist. She has done much to help preserve first nations culture in Canada and the US. Oh, and she is also a composer, and has an Oscar to prove it. I was fortunate enough to see her perform at the Aeolian Hall in London, Ontario in November of last year. She is still in top form and it was an incredible experience. Here is a clip from her 2018 show.
Singer Bobby Curtola of “Fortune Teller” fame was born in Port Arthur Ontario but perhaps his most lasting legacy to Canada and the US is the jingle he wrote, composed and sang, “Things go better with Coca-Cola” in 1964.
Speaking of teen idols, again I have mentioned Paul Anka before and the fact that he wrote the theme song for The Johnny Carson show, but he also penned one of Buddy Holly’s most enduring songs “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore“. It became a hit soon after Holly died in the plane crash of 1959. Covered to great success by Linda Ronstadt in 1974 and Serena Ryder in 2006.
“Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” was the smash hit from the musical Hair. It spent six weeks at #1 in 1969. The lyrics were written by two Americans, James Rado and Gerome Ragni, and Canadian Galt MacDermot composed the music. It’s perhaps best known by the 1969 release by The 5th Dimension in 1969 in the medley format, “Aquarius” is the main song with “Let the Sunshine In” as an add on which has only been recorded once as a stand alone song. Including instrumentals there are 180 versions of the song. The Original Cast recording of Aquarius is listed as Warren Burton and Company in 1967, first released recording was credited to the guy who actually sang the song in the play, Ronald (Ronnie) Dyson and Company.
An American band known as Blood, Sweat and Tears lost their lead singer Al Kooper so thanks to Folk music star Judy Collins they hired Canadian David Clayton Thomas. Their self-titled record released late 1968 contained the hit songs’ “Spinning Wheel”, “And When I Die” and “You Made Me So Very Happy”. It topped Billboards’ album chart for 7 of it’s of 109 weeks. The album won an unprecedented five Grammy awards in 1969/70. They were the first artists to have three U.S. gold singles on the same album.
Montreal born Andy Kim moved to New York and the Brill Building to pursue a career in music. He had a hit covering the Ronettes song “Baby I Love You” in 1969. Kim, along with American songwriting legend Jeff Barry wrote “Sugar, Sugar” that same year which was a hit for Don Kirshner’s studio creation of The Archies. The song featured Kim and Toni Wine backing up Ron Dante (The Cuff Links) on lead vocals. The song would hit #1 for four weeks and was the Song of the Year for Billboard Magazine for 1969. You will also know him from a song he wrote himself, “Rock Me Gently” which was a #1 Billboard hit in 1974.
Eddie Schwartz is a Toronto songwriter who wrote “The Doctor“, a #1 hit on the Mainstream Rock chart for the Doobie Brothers. He wrote “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” for Pat Benatar and many other songs recorded by International artists. The song title was featured on the Jeopardy clue title board the other day.
Well, that’s a good bit of the older stuff, there are many more American-Canadian collaborations in bands, songwriting and producing but perhaps another day.
Eddie Schwartz’ song “Don’t Shed a Tear” (with Rob Friedman) would become a hit for British singer songwriter Paul Carrack known for his lead vocals on “How Long” (Ace), “Tempted” (Squeeze) and “In the Living Years” (Mike + the Mechanics). In 1987 my wife and I were at Paul Carracks debut for the album One Good Reason in Toronto, I think it was the El Mocambo but not sure on that point. Anyway, when Carrack started into “Don’t Shed a Tear” the guy beside me happened to be the above mentioned Eddie Schwartz and he said “I wrote that song”, oh the brushes with fame I’ve had! Schwartz has had hit songs recorded by Donna Summer, Meatloaf and many more. Also, of note that evening, at least it was for me! Carrack’s voice started to crack, and he said just one word, “Nick” and without missing a beat, his bass player, the one and only Nick Lowe started into “Half a Boy and Half a Man” and the place nearly fell apart. Clearly full of Nick Lowe nerds like myself. He was a big supporter of Carrack and they have played together for years, the two shared back-up bands on several albums and tours. Look for Paul Carrack as the keyboard player in the video clip from 1984. Still going strong in 2022 Nick Lowe is making a tour stop opening for his protégé, Elvis Costello in Toronto in August, yes I will be there!
Boodle: Old Cowboy saying for a crowd of people.