Brush With Looniness

Last night’s show at the Black Swan was fun. While the crowd was sparse, they were friendly and enthusiastic. Thank you to all who came out and to Nemo on bass, and Greg Anzelc who did a fabulous job subbing in on drums — many positive comments from the audience! The club has asked us back for Fall, so stay tuned. Meantime, we will be at Relish on Friday, August 12 with Greg back on the kit, so you can see and hear for yourself.

This week’s topic is on playing with famous people. While I’ve already mentioned subbing in with musicians of renown some weeks back, my most memorable brush with greatness, was back in the early nineties.

Rik Emmett ad

At the time, I was working freelance for Rexx Acoustics, a Canmore-based Canadian amplifier maker founded by ex-Yorkville engineer George Krampera. His solid-state preamps and amplifiers were just beginning to gain notoriety through word of mouth and endorsement (Rik Emmett notably). My job was to travel abroad mostly and present them to potential distributors.

My Rexx collection

I did not do a particularly good job at that regrettably, but I always believed that the gear was top quality, and I now own everything they ever made, short one model, purchased over 12 years of scouring pawn shops and music stores (no freebie samples).

In the early 90s, I found myself in London for the British Music Trade Show (it had some other name but I forget what), and ended up at a musical event that featured notable British musicians; Ian Gillan of Deep Purple in particular stood out. I had been able to convince the organizers to put the Rexx amplifier and cabinet sample on stage as part of the backline gear, and stayed to mind it and bring it back to the hotel after the show.

The last performer of the evening turned out to be Screaming Lord Sutch. This may not be a household name, even amongst musicians, but he did enjoy some notoriety at the time.

David Sutch was a British performer and politician who started his career in the sixties. One of his earliest hits was Jack the Ripper. Check out the video below from 1965. I think you will see that Alice Cooper was not the first to go down the path of ghoulish rock.

Has to be heard to be believed!

Somehow Sutch parlayed that into a musical career that included an album produced by Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, and featuring performances by Page himself, Jeff Beck, John Bonham, Noel Redding and Nicky Hopkins. Despite the talent who played on it,  Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends has the dubious distinction of being recognized as one of the worst albums of all time. I had a copy at one time, and would vouch for that.

sutch_500Not content with music though, Sutch dabbled in politics and founded the Monster Raving Loony Party in 1983 (clearly inspiration for our own Rhinoceros Party). The  official position of the MRLP is “Sitting, facing forward.” Sutch ran in dozens of British elections, never successfully, but became a popular figure due to the party’s bizarre and satirical platform, and his gonzo showmanship.

So by the time I was in London in the early 90s, I knew very well who Screaming Lord Sutch was and what to expect. A guitar sat onstage unclaimed when he got on, so I picked it up.

I will never forget him turning around and looking at the band and saying in his gruff voice, “Okay, boys, this one’s in A.” The rest is a blur.

Sutch had a dark side, and suffered from depression. He died by suicide in 1999 after the loss of his mother.

My memory of him will be a lot cheerier. Yes, it might have been cooler to boast having played with someone extraordinarily talented and/or famous, but I don’t think it would have meant as much to me as I have always been attracted to the offbeat, the humorous and the intelligently bizarre.

Here is a longer video that documents his early days, including running in the British elections in the 60s, pre MRLP.

Until next week!


Connections and Reconnections

BlackSwan JuneLess than week to go before the Cats play at the Black Swan (July 30, 2016 — 9:30 PM in case you missed earlier notices). Due to last minutes changes in tour and local show commitments, both Paul Brennan AND Jace Traz are unavailable to drum for the Cats this weekend, or the next show in August.

“Well, what can a poor boy do?” to quote Mick Jagger.

Enter connections, the lifeline of all musicians. Thanks to NEMO, we have the awesome Greg Anzelc subbing in for the next two shows. Greg and NEMO have worked together with Carlos Morgan and the Flow. If you want to check them out, they have a residency at Alley Kats (coincidence?) at Yonge and Erskine, just north of Eglinton.

Greg Anzelc

Greg is a highly in-demand sideman in Toronto music scene due to his versatility and skill, and I feel lucky to have him for these gigs. You can catch some videos of him on Youtube and appreciate his versatility (soul, funk, pop, blues, and more) but the best way to judge is to see for yourself by making it down to the show this coming Saturday. I think you’ll be in for a treat!

Being off during the summer has afforded me the chance to not only go to shows and connect with musicians, but in some cases reconnect, as was the case last night at the Linsmore Tavern.

Headlining there to a small but enthusiastic crowd was the Gary Kendall Band. This top-notch band — Gary on bass and vocals, Teddy Leonard on guitar, Shakey Dagenais on keyboards and Tyler Burgess on drums, pumped out the blues like it’s supposed to be done, tight and gritty. Just google their pedigree, starting with the legendary Downchild Blues Band.

Left to right: Teddy Leonard, Tyler Burgess, Gary Kendall and Shakey Dagenais.

Gary, Teddy and I all worked at Yorkville Sound in the mid-eighties, so it was great to catch up on what happened since we left. The thing that struck a chord (ha!) was Gary telling me about when he started feeling the pressure on his day job at Yorkville following the success of the Kendall Wall Band during its residency at the Black Swan.

And so we have come full circle. It’s a small world!

But I wouldn’t want to paint it.


Side Dish


This weekend, I did a non-Félix activity and enjoyed subbing in on lead guitar with a local band called the Boogaloo at a private party near Omemee, Ontario. The site was a beautiful cottage by the lake, complete with amazing vista, a large deck on which the band could set up and friendly hosts and guests. We were extremely well fed too! The only drawback was that I did not have $300,000 handy to buy Neil Young’s childhood home.

Most of the songs were covers, but a few were originals by the singer/frontman Glenn Reid which were especially fun for me to play. I hope I did them justice. Glenn comes from a strong musical family and is keeping the legacy alive. He has enjoyed hits on the country music charts, including a #1 in Sweden (tack så mycket), and is currently working on his fourth record. Check out his website for a video of his latest. Boogaloo (with regular guitarist Ken O’ Gorman) is viewable in this one.

On bass, the man responsible for getting me this gig, was Norman Hartshorne. He and I have known each other for a few years, jamming at annual conventions related to our day jobs. Norm is a solid and skilled bassist having worked with legends Bob SegariniTerry Draper of Klaatu and many others), and a thoughtful and generous man.

Finally, on drums, was Max Styles. He and his lovely wife (and dedicated knitter) Ellen gave me a lift up to and back from the show. We had a good opportunity to chat about a common (former) employer and the state of the music business. Max can speak of it with a lot of authority having played in highly notable bands in Toronto, including Road Apple Red, Bamboo and The Kings.

All three have also collaborated with David Henman, co-founder of Canadian rock royalty April Wine. Here is a video of all four together playing one of Glenn’s songs, Workin’ Man, in Alliston, Ontario back in August 2011.

I would like to publicly thank these gentlemen for the chance to play with them, and hope we can do it again, should the need arise.




True Story

Monster 2

Image from Long & McQuade


I guy walks into a bar, then writes a song. This, in a nutshell, is what happened.

None of what follows should be perceived as critical, I hope, but it is factual.

Dancing With the Dinosaurs was written last summer after a bewildering visit to The Fox at Scarborough Junction following a promising review in Toronto Moon by man-about-town Gary 17 (more on him on some other post perhaps). At the time, although very satisfied with Stir It Up Sundays at Relish, I wanted try a few other places for shameless self-promotion.

Things got off to a less than auspicious start as the jam, promoted as 8-12, did not get under way to well past 9. At least the time passed pleasantly eavesdropping in on a loud and animated debate between patrons regarding faster-than-light travel, and soaking up the trouble-could-happen-here-any-minute vibe. In fact, a stabbing occurred there just a few months later.

Timing is everything.

Once the jam started, hosted by the flamboyant Tommy Rocker (mentioned just last month again in Toronto Moon) it became obvious from the jammers that preceded me that Classic Rock covers were de rigueur—yes, including Smoke On the Water, and many more of that ilk and era—so I knew I might be in for a rough ride doing FATC’ material. Too late to change… except my guitar tuning which, as I was informed by a taciturn bassist, had to drop a semitone to “match him”.

Between sets, the bar set out food for all, following which, the house band were back up for an extended set, whilst entertaining the audience in mock German between songs. Never fully explained.

One of the second-set jammers was a young bassist remarkable for wearing a luchador mask with a skull pattern, and playing an extended bass solo. Not as To the Limit as Strong Bad, but entertaining and different.

I finally did my 3 tunes, and the band did a nice job reading the charts. Tommy said some encouraging things too, but at least one audience member may have been disappointed that she did not recognize anything. Oh well, every song is new to someone at one point.

All in all, it was a surreal experience, and I felt compelled to document it in a song. Every fact mentioned in it is real. As far as opinions are concerned, I invoke poetic licence.

Dancing With the Dinosaurs ©  2015 Félix and the Cats/R. Pelletier

There is a bar in Scarborough (somewhere I know – on demo)
And if you go, you’ll want to know
It feels like being in a David Lynch movie
Like something weird and slightly creepy

Verse 1
So there I was, not fitting in
A has-been ‘mongst the never been
Tuned down a half-step to conform
Where hoary chestnuts are the norm
Singing my ditties of self-deprecation
Deep in Ford Nation

Turn back the clock, it’s time to rock
Turn up that amp balls to the wall
Take one step back, then take one more
Dancing with the dinosaurs

Verse 2
The band after their buffet dish
Speaking in German gibberish
Black Skeletor guesting on bass
After his set he shows his face
The biker dude, knows he’s the man
His jacket reads: Burn the Quran



What drew me there, I cannot say
Perchance to try another way
Perhaps I had too much to drink
Or I did not take the time to think


Verse 3
Beer guts, tattoos and brewery T-shirts
The aging demoiselle who likes to flirt
She argues that space aliens might
Some day exceed the speed of light
These people are stuck in my brain
But I will not be back again



Collaboration and Synergy

Image: Rob Scallon

I want to counter the trend in isolationism (Brexit, US Republican politics) by writing this week about collaboration.


Normally, this doesn’t happen too often at the composition stage. Standard MO for me is to either come up with a lyrical concept will riding to and from work, or a musical phrase/chord sequence in the man-cave studio.

However, in recent days, I have been trying to set to music some lyrics provided by a friend who I will not identify until I get the thumbs-up as to how well I did. It reminded me of two other collaborations with my friend and former The Nerve bandmate David Israelson.

The first of these was for Bowling for Dolores. I had come up with only the first four lines of the song, based on a very lame play on words referencing the old Bowling for Dollars TV show on WGRZ in Buffalo.  I was stumped for the rest. As I knew David’s competence and ability to turn text around quickly as a writer/journalist, I sent him an email and asked whether he might suggest further lines. Within 30 minutes, the rest of the lyrics showed up in my inbox. It took maybe another hour to come up with the music, and record a quick demo, which is attached in all its synthy cheesiness.

The experience was very positive, and when the next writing block occurred, David came through for me again for Isabella. For this song, the music was already fully completed, with only a chorus written. I sent David a brief of the story outline (a besotted Christopher Columbus unrequitedly pining for Isabella of Spain), and again, with a short space of time, I had a reply with an almost fully realized song. Here it is:

I keep hoping David will make it out to Relish to play his own songs, which are very good. So far, his busy life has prevented that from happening, but I keep asking.

As for the current collaboration, I expect it will be done shortly, and I can demo it for you real soon. Have a great week!