“El Mo” rocks on: New investor saves Toronto’s legendary music venue from closure

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A new investor is buying the most important night club in Toronto’s history, El Mocambo, so the venue will not be closing its doors for good after a benefit show tonight.

“El Mocambo to be bought by Michael Wekerle of Dragons’ Den,” said Michael Wekerle on Twitter at about 11:45 am this morning. “YES it’s true.”

Micheal Wekerle: Photo Credit BNN

Micheal Wekerle: Photo Credit BNN

Wekerle, who is a co-founder and CEO of merchant bank Difference Capital and a new panelist on CBC’s Dragons’ Den, confirmed on Twitter on Dec 6. that he was saving the music venue. A press conference was held at the El Mocambo at 5:30 pm. After the event Wekerle continued to Tweet.

“I will be making a major announcement tonight at 9pm at @ElMocamboTavern!  See you all there!, he said. “No shortage of press on the purchase of the El Macombo! The iconic landmark has been saved! Thank you to everyone for the amazing responses & comments on the purchase of the @El Mocambo Tavern! Looking forward to seeing everyone there!”

Wekerle put a deposit down this morning to buy the El Mocambo. The deposit has been accepted and the sale is scheduled to close by middle of January 2015. As a condition of the sale El Mocambo must be kept as a music venue.

Tonight, the El Mocambo is hosting Light of Day, a Parkinson’s disease benefit concert, which features John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, the Pat Travers Band, Wally Palmer of the Romantics and other classic-rock acts.It was assumed the venue was closing down for good, at least temporarily, after the show. Instead, the concert will feature Wekerle being handed the keys to the building on stage.

The iconic El Mocambo neon palm tree sign was put up for sale on eBay on Oct. 21. The sign has served as a beacon for entertainment in Toronto for more than six decades.

“Is it just me or does WEK fit nicely in the sign?” said Wekerle. “A little El WEKambo??

Wekerle, who has been described as a cross between Mick Jagger and Warren Buffett, will take the El Mocambo stage to play with his band in celebration,

The El Mocambo is probably best known for the surprise show by The Rolling Stones, who performed upstairs for two nights in March 1977. The Stones billed themselves anonymously as “the Cockroaches,” but word leaked out and massive crowds turned up. The show was recorded and released as one side on a double album called “Love You Live”.

For a time, blues performers such as Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Lightening Hopkins, John Lee Hooker and Big Walter Horton were favourite attractions.

The El Mocambo has changed owners an estimated 10 times. Most recently, it was purchased by Mr. Grosso and Marco Petrucci for $2.95-million in 2012. Financial difficulties forced them to put the property back on the market in early 2014. The El Mocambo was put up for sale in March for $3.95 million.

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Calgary blues musician comes to Ontario in November: Tim Williams wins title of best guitar player in the World

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Calgary-based musician Tim Williams is making a rare Ontario appearance in November to perform four shows, after being selected the world’s best guitar player and best solo/duo act at an international competition in Memphis, Tennessee earlier this year.

Tim Williams

“This is not your usual battle-of-the-bands horse shit where a bunch of people play for free and club owners line their pockets with beer sales…this is the premier gathering of blues talent on the planet, sponsored by The Blues Foundation,” said Williams in a blog on his website. “I was in the solo/duo category, along with 101 other competitors from Canada, the US, Spain, Croatia, Germany, Denmark, Australia and the UK.”

The 30th International Blues Challenge (IBC), which is the world’s largest gathering of blues acts, was held in January 2014 in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. The five-day event in the Beale Street Historic District showcased a record 255 acts from 40 states and 16 countries. They competed in front of a panel of judges to be the best band or solo/duo act in the world.

As Williams progressed through each round of the competition, he met with old friends from various blues societies, enjoyed the local food and listened to a lot of great music. However, by the final day things start to get tense, when his cell doesn’t receive the e-mail detailing finalist orientation.

Williams hustles to the theatre and apologizes profusely, finds out when he plays, and then waits back stage for what seems like an eternity.

“I walk out to play my 20-minute set in the beautiful old Orpheum Theatre. I can’t even let myself think about all the greats who’ve stood on that stage,” said Williams in the blog. “Three acts later, it’s over and I hear my name being called. I’ve won Best Solo/Duo and Best Guitarist (Solo/Duo). Holy Shit.”

Williams won a preliminary competition held by the Calgary Blues Music Association, in order to be eligible to represent them in the semi-finals in Memphis. The Calgary Blues Society is an affiliate of the Blues Foundation.

Since winning this competition, Williams’ life has been very hectic. He returned home to Calgary in a small flurry of media attention and was given a Lifetime Achievement/Hall of Fame award by the Calgary Blues Music Association.

Williams continues to play his regular gigs in Calgary at Mikey’s Juke Joint and the Blues Can. In addition, he has been travelling around Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Oregon, Arkansas and West Virginia to promote his latest solo release, Blue Highway (2013).

williams album

The album is a travelogue down the blue highway, which is more of a state of mind than a place. With songs from the Delta, Mexico and shades of Hawaii, the album reflects Williams’ wide range of influences and highlights his superb guitar playing.

Williams will be making a rare appearance in Ontario in Peterborough, Toronto, St. Catharines and Ottawa on Nov 1, 2, 8 and 12 respectively.

Ladies sing the Blues: Canada’s top female blues singers will showcase their talent in Toronto next month

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Some of the most accomplished women blues entertainers in Canada are showcasing their talent at the 28th annual Women’s Blues Revue at the Massey Hall in Toronto on Nov 22. The event is being hosted by the Toronto Blues Society and features a lineup of six female vocalists, including Diana Braithwaite, Divine Brown and Shakura S’Aida.

Womens Blues Revue

Born and raised in Toronto, Diana Braithwaite is recognized on the Canadian and American blues scene as an artist who has developed her own unique contemporary sound, which is based on authentic traditional blues. Braithwaite’s song “Wellington County” on her Album Scrap Metal Blues (2013) is a tribute to her family, who escaped slavery through the Underground Railroad. They established Ontario’s first African-Canadian pioneer settlement in Wellington County.

Braithwaite and Chris Whiteley have recorded five previous albums and have toured all over North America, UK and Europe winning numerous awards for their songwriting and albums together.

Toronto native Divine Brown was raised in a working class Jamaican family, where she developed a fearless determination to pursue a career as a singer-song writer of rhythm and blues, and soul music.  Her self-penned tune “Old Skool Love,” charted a path for international success driving the Gold sales of her debut album Divine Brown in 2005.

Brown played a star role in a play called “Life, Death and The Blues,” which made a run at Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto between Sept. 25 and Oct. 19, 2014. The show is going on tour across Canada starting early in 2015. She had a hit single “Sunglasses” which reached the Top 15 on the U.S. Billboard Dance Chart in 2010. She won the Juno Award for Best R&B Album in 2009 for her album “The Love Chronicles” (2008).

Shakura S’Aida was born in Brooklyn, New York, raised in Switzerland and is long-time resident of Toronto. S’Aida has been involved in the Canadian music scene for almost 25 years as a jazz, blues and classic R&B singer. After releasing her last album “Time”, she was nominated in 2013 for a Juno Award for Best Blues Album. In the same year, S’Aida was also a nominated at the Blues Music Awards for Contemporary Female Artist of the Year.

The song “The Devil Only Knows My First Name” is from the Time album. The following video was recorded at the International Bluesfest 2014 in Eutin, Germany.

S’Aida is an international entertainer, who speaks Swiss-German, French and English and has performed in the Caribbean, Russia, Moscow, Dubai, Romania, Switzerland, the US, Australia, Austria, Italy, Germany, France, Macedonia, Switzerland and Rwanda.

Say good bye to “The El Mo”: Legendary Toronto music venue has been sold and is closing in November

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The most important night club in Toronto’s history, El Mocambo, was put up for sale in March for $3.95 million and is having its last concert on November 6. The event marks the end of a legendary entertainment venue, which has hosted a long list of famous blues, rock and jazz musicians and groups.

ElMocamboTavern

The property at 464 Spadina Ave was sold conditionally to a new owner in September and it appears as though the venue is closing down for good. Another clear indication that the end is near is that the iconic El Mocambo neon palm tree sign was put up for sale on eBay on Oct. 21. The sign has served as a beacon for entertainment in Toronto for more than six decades.

The El Mocambo is probably best known for the surprise show by The Rolling Stones, who performed upstairs for two nights in March 1977.  The Stones billed themselves anonymously as “the Cockroaches,” but word leaked out and massive crowds turned up. The show was recorded and released as one side on a double album called “Love You Live”.

The album reached #3 in the UK, #5 in the US. When Margaret Trudeau, the wife of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, made an appearance, the show became a significant political event. Margaret’s sightings with Mick Jagger caused a national scandal.

Blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan recorded a concert film at the El Mocambo. Texas Flood is the debut album of American blues rock band Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, released on June 13, 1983 by Epic Records.

For a time, blues performers such as Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Lightening Hopkins, John Lee Hooker and Big Walter Horton were favourite attractions. Toronto’s Downchild Blues Band played so often at the club they were effectively the house band.

The owners initiated a music policy in 1972 that was heavy on rock music, which targeted young patrons who took advantage of a reduction in the drinking age, from 21 to 18. The age was raised to 19 in 1979. Musical acts appeared on separate stages located on the main and second floor of the building.

The palm tree is also a reminder of the El Mocambo’s early days as one of Toronto’s first cocktail bars. The venue’s history can be traced back to the Liquor License Act of 1946, which loosened the province’s alcohol regulations, allowing hard liquor to be sold by the glass for the first time since 1917. The owners envisioned a Spanish-themed club, inspired by their visits to American cocktail bars and trips to South America.

The origin of this building as an entertainment venue dates back to 1850. The building was first used as a haven for escaped slaves.

Who let the Dog out? Vancouver blues master Harpdog Brown is coming to Toronto for CD release Party

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Harp Dog Brown is Vancouver’s most prominent blues harmonica player. He is currently touring Ontario and is having a party in Toronto in early November to release his latest CD.

Harp Dog

Harpdog’s latest album titled “What It Is” was released in March and has received critical acclaim. The album includes 14 tracks, 10 originals and four classic covers, which feature Brown and The Harpdog Brown Band. This video of the song “Whisky Bottle” was recorded at the Vancouver Fanclub on June 13, 2014. If you listen closely it seems to clearly reflect the style of Little Walter’s song “My Babe” .

The band, which plays traditional Chicago blues, consists of drums player John R. Hunter, guitarist Jordan Edmonds and bass player George Fenn. The newest member is the 29-year-old Edmonds, who often plays with Brown as two-man duo.

The main influences on Harpdog’s unique style are Chicago Blues musicians who released records on the Chess Record label in the 1950’s, which include Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller). As a result, the covers on the album include Little Walter’s “Blue Lights” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “In My Younger Day.” The following song is called “No Money in the Till”.

Harpdog’s cd “Naturally” was voted #1 Canadian Blues Album of 2010 by The Blind Lemon Survey. His album “Home is Where The Harp Is” won the coveted Muddy Award for the best NW Blues Release in 1995,  from the Cascade Blues Association in Portland. He was eligible for the award because the album was recorded in the U.S. He was also nominated for a Juno for the best Blues Release of the year in Canada in the same year.

Harpdog was born in Edmonton, Alberta but he is currently based out of Vancouver. He was first inspired to start playing the harmonica at the age of 17, when he saw James Cotton play at the University of Alberta in 1979.  He got his start in Vancouver’s blues scene in 1988 playing the role of Elwood Blues in a Blues Brothers Tribute band, which gave him his debut gig at the Commodore Ballroom.

Brown received his nick name in 1989 while playing with friends in a bar called Mama Golds near Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver. While setting up between the first and second set, two well-dressed young men decided they really liked Brown and started to buy him drinks. By the third set, they started buying drinks for the band. At the end of the night, the young men started chanting “Harpdog! Harpdog!”   He named the band the Harpdog Brown & The Bloodhounds in March of 1990.

Harpdog has been touring Ontario during the month of October and had several CD release parties for his new album “What it is”. He will have the next release party in Toronto at The Monarch’s Pub on Nov. 6. For this show, Harpdog is teaming up with bassist Gary Kendall and drummer Mike Fitzpatrick.

Canadian Harmonica Wizard Keith Bennett: Tribute to the Yale Hotel Vancouver’s premier blues venue

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My passion for blues was rekindled four years ago, when my wife Susan bought me bass lessons for a Christmas present with North Vancouver musician Keith Bennett. We were at a local pub called the Raven listening to Keith and she secretly made arrangements with him for my lessons.

keith-bennett

Initially, the idea of taking up music after quitting in Junior high was very daunting. But, Keith who performs and teaches worldwide made me feel very comfortable. His first question was: What do you do? He said this is the first question musicians are asked when they show up to play. In the first lesson, he showed me the 12 bar blues.

For homework I decided which blues songs I would learn. I was always blown away with how Keith organized the lessons. First, he would listen to the CD I brought in and play the song on piano. Next, he played the song on the guitar and figured out the bass line. Once I was able to play the song on bass, he would play along on the guitar. I found the whole process extremely amazing and fun. This video features Keith playing guitar and harmonica at the Yale, which was Vancouver’s premier blues club.

When I finished six lessons, I never went back for more. The reason for this is I was playing by ear. And, Keith would tell me after each lesson, “you already know what you are doing, you can figure out the rest” So, that is what I decided to do. Since then I have started to play the harmonica and sing.

Keith was a finalist in the 2010 World Harmonica Championships in Germany and has been featured with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. But, he is also an accomplished guitarist, pianist and singer. He has played on more than 200 CDs & soundtracks for film and television. The following video demonstrates his mastery of the harmonica at the international level.

The Keith Bennett Band performed regularly at the Yale Hotel in Vancouver for many years. The hotel was one of Canada’s premier blues clubs, which had live music seven nights a week and hosted an astonishing array of world class musicians for three decades.

When rumours began to emerge in 2008 that this prominent musical attraction was going to close, Keith decided to produce an audio snapshot of his time there with a CD titled “Jumpin’ at the Yale.” The song is considered to be a solid example of the talent that Canada has to offer when it comes to Soulful Blues.

The Yale Hotel closed for renovations in November 2012 and was put up for sale. When it reopened the venue had a different format. The Yale was billed as “Vancouver’s home of rhythm and blues.” Over the years, a who’s who of local and international blues musicians played there, including John Lee Hooker, Clarence (Gatemouth) Brown, Charlie Musselwhite, Otis Rush, Lowell Fulson, Pinetop Perkins, Johnny Winter, John Hammond, James Cotton, Charles Brown, Jeff Healey, Colin James, and Jim Byrnes.

The following video documents the closing night at the Yale. It includes interviews with local musicians who played there, including Keith Bennett. It also tells the history of the hotel.

The 270-seat bar is on the main floor of an historic building that was built in 1888, when the City of Vancouver was just two years old. The Yale’s red brick façade, mansard roof and neon signs make it one of Vancouver’s most distinctive buildings. The Fan Club a few blocks down Granville street is one of the venues that now hosts Vancouver’s blues scene.

Blind Toronto blues and jazz musician inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame

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The late Jeff Healey, a blind blues guitarist and jazz musician from Toronto, was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame on Oct 18, at the 2014 unveiling ceremony held at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.

Healey-live-in-Germany-1989

Healey experienced a dramatic rise in popularity by selling more than four million albums worldwide in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with his unique style of playing the guitar flat on his lap and his soulful voice. The Jeff Healey Band signed a deal with Arista Records in 1988 and released the album “See the Light”. The album was launched by a sold-out show at the Marquee Club in London, England, and appearances on such American TV programs as Late Night with David Letterman and The Tonight Show.

See the Light went triple platinum in Canada for sales with more than 100,000 copies and in the US for sales of more than one million copies. It received a Juno nomination for Album of the Year in 1990, while the band won a Juno for Canadian Entertainer of the Year and a World Music Award for Best-Selling Canadian Artist. See the Light has since sold more than two million copies worldwide.

The band’s rapidly rising profile resulted in an appearance as the house band in the Patrick Swayze movie Road House (1989). Recognized as one the world’s best blues-rock guitarists, Healey toured and played with such artists as Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, ZZ Top, Bonnie Raitt, The Rolling Stones and The Allman Brothers Band.

The band’s follow-up album, Hell to Pay (1990), was equally successful, selling more than 200,000 copies in Canada and more than two million internationally.The album included the Top 10 Canadian singles “I Think I Love You Too Much” and “How Long Can a Man Be Strong,” as well as a cover of Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” that hit the Top 40 in Canada and charted in the UK.

Healey gained worldwide fame as a blues guitarist, but his passion was music from the classic jazz era, such as Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. He established Jeff Healey & The Jazz Wizards, and released three albums: Among Friends (2002), Adventures in Jazzland (2006) and It’s Tight Like That (2006). All these albums featured Healey on trumpet, trombone and guitar.

Healey was planning a European tour with The Jazz Wizards in April 2008. However, he had been battling cancer for three years and succumbed to the disease on March 2, after it spread from his legs to his lungs. Healey’s first blues-rock album in eight years, Mess of Blues (2008), was released shortly after his death and received a Juno nomination for Blues Album of the Year.

Born in Toronto, Healy was adopted at four months old and grew up in Etobicoke. When he was eight months old, he lost his sight to retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the eyes. His eyes had to be surgically removed, and he was given ocular prostheses. He began playing guitar at age three and was initially self-taught. He quickly developed an unusual playing style, placing the instrument flat across his lap and fretting the strings overhand, like a lap steel guitar.

Healey attended a boarding school for the blind from grades one to seven and in his youth played country music, jazz, rock and reggae. He began performing in rock bands when he was 13. By the time Healey was 19, he developed a reputation in Toronto as a blues-rock prodigy. He formed The Jeff Healey Band late in 1985 with bassist Joe Rockman and drummer Tom Stephen.

A childhood cancer survivor, Healey took every opportunity to help support Sick Kids Hospital, focusing on Daisy’s Eye Cancer Fund, which is a Childhood Retinoblastoma Research foundation. The fund has made great strides and even helped the amazing progress of his own son’s Retinoblastoma treatment.

Healey won numerous awards including an Honorary Licentiate from the Royal Conservatory of Music in recognition of his extensive knowledge of classic jazz music and an honorary Doctorate of Letters degree from McMaster University. He was inducted into the Terry Fox Hall of Fame by the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons in 2009, in recognition of his “contributions to enriching the quality of life for people with disabilities.