Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 16/7/2016 (2179 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Turn over the cover of Buffalo Springfield’s self-titled debut album and you’ll see a group shot of the band, accompanied by short blurbs about all five of its members.
The individual write-ups list juicy tidbits such as favourite colour, quirky character trait and Zodiac sign, but the entry that caught the eye of a young John Einarson was one that mentioned everybody’s hometown.
"I was 14 at the time and was flipping through albums at the Bay’s downtown record bar," says Einarson, rock journalist and author of more than a dozen music biographies. "I remember picking up a copy (of Buffalo Springfield), reading ‘Winnipeg’ under Neil Young’s name and being so jazzed that this cool-looking guy — a person who used to live around the corner and up the road from me in Crescentwood — was on the cover of this record I was holding in my hands."
Several years ago, the Detroit Metro Times published a feature dubbed "the 100 greatest Detroit songs ever." After tripping over that piece on the Internet last month, it sparked an idea: Why not put together a similar story focusing on our burg — a city often referred to as "the rock and roll capital of Canada"?
The timing couldn’t be better: Not only does 2016 mark the 50th anniversary of Young hooking up with Steven Stills in Los Angeles to form Buffalo Springfield, a country-tinged outfit that was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, it has also been 50 years since a St. John’s High School dropout named Burton Cummings replaced Chad Allen as lead singer of the Guess Who. (Maybe you’ve heard of them?)
Of course, you can’t undertake something that momentous without a few ground rules. For instance, just because Terry Jacks grew up in River Heights before moving to Vancouver at age 15, should his gazillion-selling singleSeasons in the Sun be eligible? (You betcha!) Who lays claim to Streetheart: Winnipeg or Regina? (We do.) And should we expand our focus from Winnipeg to Manitoba as a whole, so that Lynn Lake native Tom Cochrane gets consideration? (In the end we decided to keep things inside the Perimeter Highway; after all, Minneapolis is closer to Winnipeg than Lynn Lake.)
To assist with the process, we invited Einarson, Jill Wilson, editor of the Free Press’s Thursday Uptown section and former Polaris Music Prize juror, and Jen Zoratti, Free Press columnist and ex-music journo, to our place, where we picked their brains over a bowl of pretzels and a pitcher (or three) of sangria.
OK, before we get into that whole does-so-and-so-count-as-a-Winnipeg-artist debate, would you say Winnipeg has its own sound, similar to the way Detroit is synonymous with Motown Records, or Seattle is with grunge? In other words, and with apologies to Burton Cummings, do we have our own way to rock?
I actually think the Winnipeg sound is a hodge-podge of sounds. I think we do certain things better than others — we definitely have a lot of roots and folk acts — but I don’t know that we actually have a uniform sound, aside from the fact a lot of (Winnipeg) acts tend to write about being from a place that’s land-locked, isolated and misunderstood — the same sorts of things we bring up when we talk about being from Winnipeg.
I’m continually asked that — "What’s the Winnipeg sound?" I also don’t hear a Winnipeg sound, per se. That is, I don’t hear anything that connects the Guess Who to Neil Young to Remy Shand. But at the same time, one of the things that makes Winnipeg music so unique is its eclectic nature.
Funny you should say that, because I was just looking through some old gig posters from the ‘90s, which was when I started listening to local music, and I was struck by the incredible diversity of the bands that were often on the same bill — like Honest John, which was kind of your meat-and-potatoes punk, with Zen Bungalow, who were arty alt-rock, and Grand Theft Canoe, who played XTC-influenced pop. You could not have said there was a through-line, but people went to shows like that all the time, stayed the whole night and enjoyed all the bands equally.
And that goes right back. In the late 1960s I was with the Pig Iron Blues Band — an electric blues band — and we played shows with Billy Graham’s North, a jazz band, and Chicken Flat String Band, a bluegrass band. I think Winnipeg audiences have grown to accept that as part of the Winnipeg music scene; that we have that diverse nature and quality to our music.
I’m not saying we necessarily take local acts for granted — heck, I still crank the radio up to 11 every timeInnocenceby Harlequin comes on — but do you think Winnipeggers are aware of just how revered certain bands from here are in other parts of the world?
I remember being in southern Spain in 1973 and talking to the kid who was serving me and telling him I was from Winnipeg. "Winnipeg?" he said. "Home of the Guess Who!" He went on and on, telling me what his favourite (Guess Who) songs were. I don’t think Winnipeggers have ever fully appreciated their success in other parts of the world, or BTO’s for that matter. BTO had No. 1 hits in Turkey, Argentina, Italy… they truly made Winnipeg music international.
My example would be a band that’s a little more under the radar than the Guess Who or BTO. I recall going to see Jello Biafra (former lead singer for the Dead Kennedys) speak in Kansas City about 12 years ago. My boyfriend at the time and I were hanging out with people in the crowd before the show, chatting and asking where everybody was from. When we said, "Winnipeg," they were all, "Oh, that’s where Propagandhi is from." I was like, "Why yes it is, strangers."
I wrote a story forever ago about Andy Gish, the woman who came (to Winnipeg) from Atlanta to see the Weakerthans when they did that run of nights (in 2010). It sort of blew my mind that she had even heard of that band. Another time, when we were getting out of a cab in Montreal and my husband was wearing a Weakerthans T-shirt, somebody walking by stopped and said, "Oh, you’re from Winnipeg."
As for our individual lists, besides musicians who’ve lived and worked in Winnipeg for the bulk of their careers, I think it’s fair to also include musicians born in Winnipeg who moved away at a young age, as well as transplanted Winnipeggers. Which leads me to my final question: should a legendary singer-songwriter who was born in Toronto and has lived most of his life in California count?
(Former Free Press writer) Bart Kives and I were forever at loggerheads because he always argued Neil Young is not from Winnipeg, to which I’d counter, "Don’t ask me, ask him." Because I have, and without hesitation he says Winnipeg is his hometown. This is where his career started and to him, that’s very, very important.
For me it’d be somebody like Greg MacPherson. He’s not Neil Young, obviously, but he’s an important Winnipeg voice who’s not from here originally — I believe he’s from Cape Breton. But I think he would call himself a Winnipegger, say that his musical career was founded in Winnipeg, that it took off in Winnipeg, and that Winnipeg is a big part of why he writes the songs he writes.
Same thing with Neil. I’ve sat in his living room talking to him about this very thing. It’s amazing, because he can distinctly remember what shirt he wore when he played Glenlawn Collegiate in 1963, as well as what songs made up his set. But ask him about Woodstock and you’ll get a vague answer along the lines of, "Yeah, I was there."
Free Press writers and editors list their 10 favourite Winnipeg songs
Jen Zoratti, Free Press columnist and former entertainment writer
The first piece of music writing I ever did was a too-long CD review of a split Mint Records EP that featured Novillero and some other band I can’t remember. It was for Red River College’s student paper The Projector, and it remains in a filing cabinet somewhere, a bit of ephemera from a nascent career as a music journalist.
What I do remember is how I felt when I first heard Novillero. I was knocked out by the band. I couldn’t believe that this cool mod-rock act was from my hometown. I remember the second-hand pride I felt when 2005’s Aim Right For the Holes in Their Lives — which features The Hypothesist — came out. It made me proud to be from Winnipeg at a time when all I wanted to do was leave here. They’re from where I’m from!
Novillero was my gateway into a local music scene that I would cover for the next 10-ish years, during which I would discover albums and songs that mean so much to me. Christine Fellows’ Dragonfly is a gutting, perfect song; she’s one of a handful of songwriters whose live shows make me ugly-cry. The lyrics from the Weakerthans’ My Favourite Chords became one of the readings at my wedding. Keri Latimer’s voice is like a tiny, delicate treasure you’d keep in a locket. We’re very spoiled here.
It’s (too often) said that Winnipeg’s music scene is the product of cold winters and landlocked geography. But few things thrive in isolation. Winnipeg’s music scene thrives because people choose to stay here. We have so many artists here who are worth championing, supporting and celebrating — not simply because they’re from where we’re from, but because they are making great music.
• Dragonfly, Christine Fellows
• The Hypothesist, Novillero
• My Favourite Chords, the Weakerthans
• Hummingbird, Imaginary Cities
• Out of Here, Cannon Bros
• Bad Liver and a Broken Heart, Scott Nolan
• Crowsfeet and Greyskull, Keri Latimer
• Ring My Alarm, the Lytics
• The One, Leonard Sumner
• Ukrainians, Greg MacPherson
Rob Williams, Free Press copy editor, former music writer
Radio was my introduction to local music, but it was at the Royal Albert where I really discovered what the Winnipeg scene was all about. In the 1990s, draft night on Thursdays at the Exchange District bar was the best place to be if you loved live music.
We went every week, no matter who was playing, and got to witness the whole scope of songs being written in the city that weren’t getting played on the radio (this was in the days before campus/community stations CKUW and UMFM). Seeing bands such as the Blue Meanies, Kittens, Meatrack, Bent Outta Shape, Red Fisher, Propagandhi, Ditchpig, Merry Pranksters, etc. had a lasting impact on me.
It was hard/impossible to chose just 10 songs for this list, so I picked a cross-section of music that has influenced me over the years from a few different genres, including an early Ray St. Germain single from 1958 I think more people should hear, and the band Lowlife, which released the city’s first ever punk single in 1979. This list could have been five times longer with the addition of bands/artists such as Honest John, Hot Live Guys, Stretch Marks, Unwanted, Malefaction, VaGiants, Ken Mode, Electro Quarterstaff, Ditchpig, Insaniacs, the Dunce, Comeback Kid, Andrew Neville & the Poor Choices, Romi Mayes, Fred Penner, Nathan, Imaginary Cities, the Weakerthans, American Flamewhip, the Quiffs, Shrimp, Mung, Vibrating Beds, Angry Dragons, Farrell Bros., Woodshed Havoc, Pop Crimes, Wailin’ Jennys, Novillero, Duotang, Scott Nolan, Head Hits Concrete, the Thrashers, Guy Smiley, Royal Winnipeg Porn Orchestra and Ham, to name just a few. There are a lot of talented musicians in this city making good music.
• Today’s Empires Tomorrow’s Ashes, Propagandhi
• Smokes ‘N Chicken, the Perpetrators
• We Stay High and Lonesome, D. Rangers
• Mrs. Palmer, Personality Crisis
• She’s a Square, Ray St. Germain
• Shake It, Stagmummer
• Red Dress, The Fabulous Kildonans
• Rusty Nail, Red Fisher
• I Can’t Drink and Drive With You Yelling Like That, Trousermouth
• Leaders, Lowlife
Jill Wilson, Uptown editor
I make no apologies for this list being very much of an era (namely mostly ‘90s), because that’s when I was most immersed in the local music scene as a writer for and editor of Stylus magazine.
I’m sure there are songs that are more widely familiar (although I made sure to include some "chart-toppers"!), but these are the first 10 songs that sprang to mind, the songs I would probably have put on a mix tape for an out-of-town friend. They’re not all about Winnipeg, but they all say "Winnipeg" to me — and they’re almost all written and performed by people I know personally, which, as a music fan, is a pretty rare privilege to have.
• Big Skies, Greg MacPherson
• Plea From a Cat Named Virtute, the Weakerthans
• Jackknife, Kittens
• Phob, Monarch, Grand Theft Canoe
• Bird as Prophet, Christine Fellows
• Trans Am, Nathan
• This Is Asphalt, Bulletproof Nothing
• The Ghosts That Haunt Me, Crash Test Dummies
• Rocketship, Mood Ruff
• All Uncovered, the Watchmen
John Einarson, broadcaster and author
Most people don’t know that Tumbling Tumbleweeds — a song the Smithsonian Institution declared one of the greatest cowboy songs of all time — was written by Winnipeg-born songwriter Bob Nolan (born Clarence Nobles on Lansdowne Avenue).
The song has been covered by hundreds of recording artists, from the Supremes to the Monkees’ Mike Nesmith. It’s also the opening song to the movie The Big Lebowski. St. Boniface-born Lucille Starr became Canada’s first female country singer to score a million-selling single with 1964’s The French Song. Herb Alpert produced the record and played the opening trumpet part. Buffalo Springfield’s Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing was inspired by a Kelvin High School classmate of Neil Young’s. It was the band’s debut single in 1966.
• Tumbling Tumbleweeds, the Sons of the Pioneers
• The French Song, Lucille Starr
• Shakin’ All Over, Chad Allan & the Expressions
• Roll On Down the Highway, Bachman-Turner Overdrive
• Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing, Buffalo Springfield
• Dunrobin’s Gone, Brave Belt
• Queen Jealousy, Mood Jga Jga
• Miracle, Orphan
• No Time, the Guess Who
• Merilee, Rick Pearson
Erin Lebar, Free Press producer and music writer
I’ve spent a lot of time living away from Winnipeg, so when I think about songs that are quintessential to the city, my mind tends toward the songs I go to first when I feel especially homesick. One particular memory comes to mind: I moved to New York City to do my graduate degree in 2011.
I didn’t know anyone there and had never been to the city before. About two months into an intensive program, I was feeling a little bit out of place and very homesick. I stumbled upon an online advertisement for a Manitoba Music showcase in a tiny venue in the Lower East Side of Manhattan called the Living Room. I went down to check it out. Del Barber was the first person I heard, and as he sang Home to Manitoba, all felt right in the world again.
I continued to attend the Manitoba Music showcases whenever they came to town, sometimes dragging friends along to experience the music of our city and province (friends who always left impressed, I might add). Chic Gamine, JP Hoe, bits and pieces of other bands that have since reformed into new incarnations with different names — they were all there when I needed them the most.
Not all the songs on my list derive their place from homesickness, though. Some are there because they come from bands or artists that opened the doors to the Winnipeg music scene for me as a teenager — such as Quinzy, the Waking Eyes and the Weakerthans — and bands that could very well carry the torch of excellent local music into the future.
• Home to Manitoba, Del Barber
• Always, JP Hoe
• Left and Leaving, the Weakerthans
• Closer, Chic Gamine
• Mike! Your House is on Fire, Quinzy
• All Empires Fall, the Waking Eyes
• Long Time Traveller, the Wailin’ Jennys
• Endless Summer, Mise en Scene
• Wood Wheel, Yes We Mystic
• Anyways However, Mulligrub
Jeff Slusky, Free Press production editor
I was 12 when my parents agreed to let me go to my first concert with a couple of friends. More of a training concert, really; Rainbow Stage on a bright — "and safe, Mom!" — Sunday afternoon in September 1973. For several years in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, you couldn’t turn on a pop radio station in the city and go a half-hour without catching a Guess Who song, so I was a longtime fan by then with a few 45s — I drove my older sister crazy, playing Share the Land over, and over, and... But seeing and hearing them live, surrounded by a couple of thousand others — including dozens of people without tickets who climbed trees outside the theatre — was a revelation.
Burton Cummings’ voice, the harmonies, Kurt Winter’s guitar. And they were from Winnipeg! I’ve felt that surge of electricity many times at other shows since then, but I’ve never forgotten that first experience.
No surprise, then, that I was drawn to the Guess Who DNA in BTO and Mood Jga Jga. As a bonus for our purposes here, Randy Bachman seems to be channelling his mentor, Winnipeg legend Lenny Breau, with his jazzy chops on Lookin’ Out for #1. I wasn’t sure on the residency rules governing this exercise, but given John Einarson’s assurance that Neil Young does, indeed, consider this his hometown, I’m confident that the "Redwood" reference inHeart of Gold is about the North End street, not the trees, parks or city in California. I know I was far too old for it to matter, but I felt a surge of hometown pride when I saw Crash Test Dummies on Letterman and Saturday Night Livein the early ‘90s. And the Watchmen’s Any Day Now was the perfect soundtrack for a video montage of Winnipeg that Hockey Night in Canada played a few minutes before the Jets’ emotional home-opener in 2011.
• Share the Land, the Guess Who
• Lookin’ Out for #1, Bachman-Turner Overdrive
• Heart of Gold, Neil Young
• Kill the Hangman, Mood Jga Jga
• Never Too Late, Elias, Schritt & Bell
• Benediction, the Weakerthans
• Any Day Now, the Watchmen
• Mmm Mmm Mmm, Crash Test Dummies
• Surrounded, Chantal Kreviazuk
• Take a Message, Remy Shand
David Sanderson, feature writer
The first time I saw the Six live was in August 1983, at Broadways, in the basement of the Hotel Fort Garry. It was a homecoming show of sorts for the band. A year earlier, Jeff Hatcher and David Briggs, the group’s chief songwriters, had pulled the plug on their former band the Fuse, and had moved to Toronto seeking fame, fortune and a record deal.
Now they were back on a Winnipeg stage with a self-titled debut album under their belts and a reverential crowd in front of them. Also in the audience was Sting, whose band the Police was playing Winnipeg Arena the next evening, as part of its Synchronicity world tour. The Six tore through five sweat-soaked sets that night and at 3 a.m., a burly bodyguard told the guys they had a visitor. During a 2005 interview with me, drummer Paul Hatcher said Sting shook everybody’s hand, asked if they played that long every night and commented, "You guys sure know how to rock." You bet your butt they did.
• Coming to Collect, the Six
• Can I Come Near, Graham Shaw & the Sincere Serenaders
• Stand, Dub Rifles
• I.M.4.U., Al Simmons
• Teenage Rage, Streetheart
• Sunlight, Bob Fuhr
• Blue Collar, Bachman-Turner Overdrive
• Success, the Pumps
• No Sad Refrain, Dash & the Dots
• Ice Box City, Popular Mechanix
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Is it the Guess Who’s American Woman, the first tune by a Winnipeg artist to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart? Is it BTO’s Takin’ Care of Business, reportedly the most licensed song in Sony Music’s vast publishing catalogue? Is it the Crash Test Dummies’ Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm, a Grammy-nominated ditty that had the “honour” of being parodied by Weird Al Yankovic? Or is it the Weakerthans’ One Great City, with its tongue-in-cheek (we hope!) lyric, “I hate Winnipeg?”
Here’s the good news — we’re going to leave it up to you to decide.