Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Mod On The Road: The Genesis of a Mod - Back To Toronto - Part I


When DJ Nico invited me to DJ her With It night in Toronto, I don't think she had any idea what this invitation meant to me. That city is where it all started for me. My love affair with all things Mod took it's roots when my father, working for IBM, was transferred from Montreal to Toronto for a couple of years.


Picture an impressionable French speaking teenager, still trying to master a second language, being exposed for the first time to this British subculture. I don't think I would have foreseen that 30 years later, I would not only still be speaking about it but I would do it with such passion and fervor. There's no way I could have predicted that Mod culture would still be an integral part of my life.

Back in 1987, social media was non-existant and you learnt about a subculture through your friends, the occasional newspaper article and by disecting album covers. The fact that I attended the only French public high school in Toronto didn't help either. I was the only Mod in the whole school. I remember buying my first M-51 parka from a classmate that had moved on to something else. I have a vague recollection of doing the transaction in the hallway between two classes.

When I attended the dances in the school cafeteria, I was the only one wearing a suit. I'm surprised I wasn't picked on. I had great group of friends.

So here I am, 47 years old, back in my old stomping grounds. Things have changed but it still feels the same to me except maybe for the fact that I'm not being chased down Younge Street by Skinheads wanting to rip the Dr Martens off my feet. I was invited to DJ last year by my mate Gavin but it was a smaller, more intimate affair where I played mainly French Psych. It was a short in and out trip.

This time, it was more than just another DJ gig. It felt like my love affair with all things Mod had come full circle. I might sound overly emotional but things tend to be put into perspective when you hear of the death of a friend. My first night in Toronto, I learnt that Fraser Loveman, frontman for the sixties group The Modbeats, had unsuspectedly passed away. I first became friends with Fraser in 2010 when I interviewed him for this very blog. It's worth revisiting it here.

My hotel couldn't have been more centrally located. Aside from having a cool name, the Bond Place Hotel was situated just accross the street from a record shop. I think that was a very good sign. Unfortunatly, the dig didn't unearthed any gems. If you're into LPs, a quick stop might be worth your while.


My wife and I arrived a day early so we could have time to enjoy the city and maybe have time to dig for records. A Mod shopping guide to Toronto will be the focus of Part II.

Just around the corner from our hotel is The Senator, the oldest running restaurant in the city. Established in 1929, it hasn't lost its charm and it's the perfect place to start off your day.


The ingredients are fresh, organic and that is reflected in the taste of their brunch menu. The light fixtures date back from the time the restaurant opened. As an added bonus, you have a very suave jazz club right next door.


When you live in a city like Montreal, it's easy to dismiss a large expensive city like Toronto. Ever since I lived here in the late 80s, I've always defended it's cold, corporate, more conservative reputation when compared to Montreal, Canada's party capital.

In case you're wondering, I didn't photoshop the pigeon afterwards.


I still love this place and it has continued to grow in the shinning multicultural metropolis that it is today. Speaking of Metropolis, did you know that the Man of Steel's  co-creator and original artist, Joe Shuster, based Superman's  home on Toronto?

    
The "mod" lines of the Toronto Public Library
Just before my DJ duties on Saturday night, I met up with some of the finest members of the Toronto Vintage Scooter Club for some plentiful victuals at The Tennesse Tavern on Queen Street West. A menu of Eastern Europeen delights like smoked fish, pierogies, schnitzel, smoked ham, sausages, warm pretzels and everything that you can pickle under the sun was served family style.

A ten minute walk down the street was one of the coolest and authentic tiki bars I've visited in a while. The Shameful Tiki Room is the real deal. David, president and founder of the Toronto Vintage Scooter Club, was two for two in his suggestions for the best places to hang out.


I went straight for their "four barrell" Puka Puka cocktail, one of the strongest drinks on the menu. I was so impressed by the place that I asked if I could have it served in one of their signature mugs. The limited edition 2-year anniversary Frankenstein Tiki caught my eye and out of the blue, Ace Face Ian put it on his tab. Didn't I say that these guys were the best?


That was the perfect warm-up for the night's festivities. The Piston was our last stop and DJ Nico had everything set-up when we arrived. All I had to do is drop the needle on my first 45.


Although we had both agreed that we would promote the night as an epic DJ battle between the two best cities in the country (sorry Vancouver) and that I planned my selection to inflict maximum pain, my no-holds-barred, take no prisonners, unadulterated, no joke, unrestricted, head-to-head fight to the death, bloody musical slugfest ended up being more of a love fest than a violent confrontation.

I'm calling reinforcements afraid I might be losing the battle.
All week I had taunted my mighty opponent on social media, throwing her musical challenges one after the other. It looked like I might have had the upper hand until her warm welcome and undenialble charm knocked me right out. The sweaty dancers were unanimous. It was a draw.


I really have to praise all the hard work that DJ Nico has put into this night because she really made it special. By 10:30, there was a line-up outside and the dance floor was already going strong. The best part was that it kept going until the last rotation of the very last 45.

If you want more behind the scenes stories about the night, I invite you to listen to episode 18 of the Addicted to the Needle Podcast. You can listen to it on Mixcloud, PodOmatic or download it on Apple Podcast. For more photos, check out DJ Nico's Instagram @djnicotoronto .

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Top 30 Sixties Soul Tracks About Food - Part I - The Instrumentals


My obession with coming up with "suites" featuring a certain theme is relentless. That's how my crazy Mod DJ brain works. On any given night, I'll be behind the turntables and I'll spin a few tracks that all follow the same thread. For exemple, I'll play songs that all have the word "yeah" in the title. It amuses me. It challenges me and keeps me entertained. On the rare occasion, a patron will come up to me and say: "I see what you're doing there..." and he'll give me a thumbs up.

So whenever I go trough my 45 collection, themes seem to naturally emerge. On this blog, I've come up with charts about dogs, money, Batman, US cities and monkeys. The latest one I want to tackle is food. Soul music & food seem to go hand in hand. There are so many noteworthy tracks that I had to split my list in two: instrumentals and vocals. There's such a large smorgasbord of songs about food out there, it's hard to digest. Hell, a famous Soul singer even has a desert as a nickname. I'm talking about you, Sugar Pie De Santo!


The same criteria apply to this list as my previous ones. I need to own the record and it has to be on the obscure side. Of course, a few unavoidable classics will make an appearance. While reading this post, hop over to the Parka Avenue Mixcloud page and you'll be able to hear every track in order. Plus, it's the perfect soundtrack for preparing a nice romantic supper.

1) Greens Onions - Booker T. & The M.G.s - Stax


I was once asked in an interview, on a local radio morning talk show, what the quintessential Mod track was. Green Onions was my answer. It's Mod to the core. Booker T Jones' Hammond B3 melody is the standard for anything that was ever recorded using that instrument. I was fortunate enough to see the actual organ used on this track at the Stax Museum in Memphis. You can read about my visit  and see a photo of the organ here.

A case could be made that the title doesn't refer to food at all. You could be right. Over the years, many stories surfaced to explain the title. According to the guitarist Steve Cropper, the Green Badger's cat, Green Onions, was the one who inspired the track. If you ask Jones, the accounts differ. He once said in a interview: "The bass player thought it was so funky, he wanted to call it 'Funky Onions', but they thought that was too low-class, so we used 'Green Onions' instead."

Fun fact. Did you know that when Green Onions came out on Volt in 1962, it was released as a b-side? Quite remarkable for the most succesful instrumental of all-time! No cover will ever surpass or even come close to the original but there are a couple of notable renditions. One of them is Les Oignons Verts  (Green Onions in French) by Quebec group Les Nobels. This valiant effort is just different enough to make it interesting and stand on its own.

2) Cold Jam For Breakfast - Jimmy Coe - Intro


Not much is known about this 1966 release on the tiny label Intro. Jimmy Coe was a jazz saxophonist and bandleader that was involved in various projects. One thing I can confirm, this slice of Mod Jazz is as tasty as some cold jam on a golden piece of toast. The b-side, French Fried, could have been a contender but the a-side commends all the attention.

3) Hot Barbecue - Brother Jack McDuff - Prestige


Food was a recurring theme in the Mod Jazz arena. And the Hammond B3 was centre stage. This number, recorded in the Big Apple in 1966, is no exception. Just like his compatriotes Jimmy Smith, Booker T and Jimmy McGriff, Jack held his own. I rarely come accross an intrumental on Prestige I don't like.

4) Red Pepper I - Roosevelt Fountain - Prince-Adams


What do you say we roast some red peppers on that hot barbecue? Here's another example of a solid, organ driven slab of Mod Jazz. Released in late 1962, just like Green Onions, this one actually made Billboard's top 100. It peaked at the #78 spot in early 1963. The good news about this 45 is that you won't break the bank to get yourself a copy.

5) Piment Rouge - Nick Ayoub - Caprice


Speaking of red peppers, Piment Rouge (red pepper in French) also falls in the Green Onions veine of Mod Jazz. I'm always astonished at how my city was such a hip and happening place in the 60s and this chunk of cool sax driven Mod RnB came out of it. This 45 isn't easy to come by and can easily be filed under "rare".

Nick Ayoub was a Montreal saxophonist heavily involved in the local Jazz scene for decades. He started his professional career in 1943 and was active until the late 80s. He was a Jack of all trades playing the saxophone, the clarinet, the oboe, the english horn, the flute and was also composing.

6) It's Grits Time - Billy Martin - London


Here's another one from the local boys. This 7" is probably the rarest of the bunch and little is known about it. It was recorded in my hometown of Montreal probably around '65 - '66. Billy Martin was a black American musician who left Brooklyn, NY and lived in Montreal throughout the 60's. I can attest that grits is not typically part of a Montrealers' daily diet but that doesn't make this up-tempo, organ infused instrumental any less authentic.

7) Sour Biscuits - Wes Dakus - Quality



We're not ready to leave Canada just yet. Born in Mannville, Alberta, this Canuck has his roots firmly planted in the Prairies. Wesley Dakus and his band, The Rebels, were considered to be one of the best instrumental acts in Canada during the sixties.

Sour Biscuits is the b-side to Las Vegas Scene. In Canada it was released in 1964 on Quality Records but you could find it on the Swan label in the US. This slow burner is a mix between Soul and straight Surf Rock because of the prominent guitar and abscence of horns. If you like what you hear, I suggest seeking out his high intensity cover of Shotgun. Fans of crazy fuzz guitar beware!


8) Pizza Sure Is Good - Dick & Libby Halleman - Summit


I could not agree more with the title of a song! I couldn't find any information about this 1963 Arizona sax driven rocker. A stash of old stock, unused copies seems to have been recently discovered and I managed to put my hands on one. All I can tell you is that it's as good as a piece of pie from Elio's, an old school pizzaria that I've been visiting yearly since I was a kid.

9) Rooster Knees & Rice - Clarence & Calvin - Atco


Can't say that I ever tasted rooster knees before but if I go by the intermittent "yeah's" you hear all through the song, maybe I'm missing something. This 1965 b-side is another indication that you should always, as my mate DJ Mod Marty always says: "Flip it over!"

In case you're wondering, Clarence refers to the prolific and successful Soul singer Clarence Carter and Calvin is Calvin Scott, who went on to sing for Stax as a solo artist. The two met at a young age when they were both attending the Alabama School for the Blind in Talladega.
 
10) Rib Tip's (Part 1) - Andre Williams & His Orch. - Reo


I don't know if these guys were hosting a backyard BBQ party while recording this track but I wouldn't mind getting invited to that shindig. Seems like a whole lotta fun! Williams had a series of big hits but this lesser known 1967 instrumental is just as solid. You'll recognize Williams' style from the very start. In the US, the single came out on Avin records.

11) Cole Slaw - Lou Donaldson Quartet - Argo


You know what goes really well with rib tips? Coleslaw! And instead of having the Hammond B3 as the star, let the alto sax of M. Donaldson have the spotlight for a change. This smooth and creamy ( that's how I like my coleslaw by the way) piece of Mod Jazz is ponctuated by a few pauses throughout, which makes it even more unique. I remember digging this one out of a record store in Jersey City.

12) Hot Dog - Lou Donaldson - Blue Note


Whether you like your dog Chicago style with all the fixins, smothered with chili like the famous Coney Island dog in Detroit or with some spicy mustard and sauerkraut like you'll find on every corner of the Big Apple, this is the track you need to be listening to while chomping on it.

Not only does Lou Donaldson make eating sound cool but he also looks classy doing so. He's one of those musicians that has a great fashion sense and that Mods would try to emulate back in the early 60s.

13) Cornbread, Hog Maw And Chitterlin's - Bobby Hollaway - Smash


I actually had to look up hog maw and chitterlins to make sure that we were genuinely talking about food. For those neophites out there, hog maw is the exterior muscular wall of a pig's stomach and chitterlins are the intestins. They are part of the traditionnal soul food repertoire. I had soul food on several occasions in the South but for some reason, hog maw and chitterlins have always escaped me.

Couldn't find any info on Bobby Hollaway and this seems to be his only 45. The hard-hitting drums, pounding sax and frantic, on the verge of loosing control organ makes it the perfect dance floor bomb. You might be out of breath from dancing to this but that's a good thing. You need to burn all those calories from eating that plate of hog maw.

14) Chittlin' Salad - The Soul Runners - MoSoul


Didn't have enough chittlin'? How about a salad? If it hasn't been evident to this point, let me point out the obvious. Black American musicians + soul food = great Soul music. This is no exception.

It's important to point out that up until the 60s, black entertainers, in certain parts of the United States, mainly the South, were only allowed to perform in predetermined venues. The list of theatres, night clubs and concert halls were part of what was dubbed as the "Chitlin' Circuit". Many of our favorite Soul artists such as Sam Cooke, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Marvin Gaye made the rounds on the circuit.

15) Sardines And Turnip Greens - The Dynamics - J and J


This slice of 1969 slow burning greasy funky RnB is very typical of its era. What sets it apart is the preeminent harmonica. The bass is also tight and worth a mention. This record seems to have also been released on Atlantic under The Dynamic Eight.

16) Rythm & Greens - The Shadows - Atlantic


Here's a second helping of greens. We might be stretching the definition of Soul on this one. This track definitely resides more on the British Maximum RnB and Garage side. And does this one have anything to do with food? I can't say for sure. This wacky instrumental was part of a short movie of the same name where the members of The Shadows were dressed up as cavemen and played on the beaches of the British seaside.

17) Cold Cuts - Chuck Leach and The X-L's - 4 Sons

 
Little is known about Chuck Leach and this Paris, Tennessee record label. Only four titles were ever released on 4 Sons Records. If any of the other 45s are half as good as this one, it's a shame they had such a limited run. You might need to take a break and make yourself a hoagie after dancing to this one because it is fast!

18) Watermelon Man - Mongo Santamaria Band - Battle


I did say that I was going to throw a few hits in the lot. This jazz staple was first revealed to the world on Herbie Hancock's debut album Takin' Off in 1962. But it was really Mongo Santamaria's Latin Boogaloo version that catapulted it to the #10 spot on the pop charts the same year. That's the version every Mod will turn to.

It was when Hancock replaced Santamaria's pianist in a nightclub in the Bronx that the congas player was first introduced to it. An impromptu jam session started and the audience got into the groove and spontanously started dancing. The rest, as we say, is history.


Jean King recorded a saultry version with lyrics on Hanna-Barbera Records. It didn't have as much exposure as Mongo's cover but if you're a fan of the song, this one is worth seeking out.

19) Soul Sauce - Cal Tjader - Verve



Here's some more Latin Soul to spice things up. Cal Tjader, an accomplished percussionist, was best known for his prowess on the vibrophone. The great Dizzie Gillepsie is credited as one of the composers. This is the type of track you enjoy in a lounge, wearing a Hugh Hefner type smoking jacket, sipping a martini.

20) (Do the) Mashed Patatoes - Nat Kendrick and the Swans -Reo


You might be surprised to learn that Nat Kendrick and the Swans is actually James Brown and his band. James Brown, who was under contract with King, was unsuccessful in convincing Syd Nathan, the head of the label, to come out with a dance craze single. In hindsight, maybe he should have since this one became a Top Ten hit in 1960. In the US, the 45 was issued on Dade.

On the track, you can hear James Brown shouting the song's title but you can also hear a second voice. That would be Carlton "King" Coleman, the "Boo Boo song" man himself.

21) Roasted Peanuts - The Jumpings Jacks - Bertram International


When my good friend Ben and co-host of the Addicted to the Needle podcast sold me this record on air, I was certain I had heard it before. That's because it's very similar to (Do the) Mashed Potatos. The influences are undeniable. But if I had to choose between the two, I would opt for this one.

22) Monkey Hips and Rice - Hank Jacobs - Sue


This up-tempo hand clapper came out in 1964 on the Sue label and I was lucky enough to have found a very rare Canadian pressing. You must not confuse this rather obscure instrumental with the Doo Wop version by The 5 Royales. The Hank Jacobs Mod Jazz 45 is the one you want to seek out.

It's a good thing that Google exists because there's no way I could have figured out what monkey hips were. Even the search engine didn't yield a ton of info. From what I gathered, monkey hips are pork chops.

23) Memphis Soul Stew - King Curtis - Atco


This track starts with King Curtis reciting a recipe for the perfect Soul track. Instruments are being added as ingredients would be in a stew. The end result is one full-bodied funky ass instrumental. I would have this for breakfast, lunch and dinner, any day of the week.

24) Pots & Pans - Part I - King Curtis - Atco


After hours of slow cooking your Soul stew, you might want to attack those pots and pans. King Curtis deserves two spots on this list.The drums on this track are so funky that actual pots and pans might have been used. The killer bass line and sax make this the perfect soundtrack to wash dishes after a diner party.

25) Sweet Bacon - Julian Covey and the Machine - Fontana


Sweet Bacon might be the b-side to the Northern Soul classic and Mod anthem A Little Bit Hurt but it's still a killer organ driven intrumental with a robust guitar, jumping in mid-track. This, folks, is what we call a double threat. And who doesn't love bacon anyway?

26) Chocolate Candy - Sonny Cox - Bell


I think we're ready for desert now. Something sweet perhaps? This track is actually a cover of The Soulful Strings. This version has very smooth but powerful horns that replaces the violins in the original track. The heavy bass definitely pulls it in the funk realm.

27) Chocolate Cherry - The Joe Tex Band - Atco 


I forgot how much I love this record. Joe Tex really has the Midas touch because everything he touches turns to gold. This piece of late 60s Soul is so well balanced, going back and forth between the horns and the organ, that I have a hard time wraping my head around the fact that it's actually a b-side. Of all the tracks on this list, this is without a doubt, the cherry on top.

28) Cracker Jack - Mickey And His Mice - Marti


You would think that a bunch of mice would be more into cheese as opposed to the popular boxed snack but I'm not a rodant. So what do I know? I dare anyone not to clap along to this funky dance floor scorcher from Baltimore. The good news is that this record is cheap and pretty common in the States. It will set you back the price of a box of Cracker Jacks.

29) Sno-Cone (Part I) - Albert Colins - TCF Hall


This mix of Texas blues and Soul came out in 1965. The label got it right. It's in fact the "cool sound" of Albert Collins. It's as cool as a lemon flavored sno-cone on a hot summer night. I picked this one up on my latest trip to Baltimore. Speaking of sno-cones and Baltimore, the best sno-cone I ever had was served from the back of what looked like a 3-wheel Lambro or Vespa Ape at the 2016 Baltimore Scooter Rally.


30) Cool Aid - Paul Humphrey & His Cool Aid Chemists - Lizard


After all that food, you'll need a drink to wash it all down. And I can't think of a more typically American beverage than Kool Aid to help accomplish that. I don't know if Paul & His Cool Aid Chemists deliberately changed the "K" to a "C" in Cool Aid to avoid any possible courtroom entanglements but it's a catchy tune nonetheless. We won't hold it in contempt. It could be disqualified on other charges. Technically, it's not a 60s track since it was released in 1971.

This one has a punchy funky vibe with distorted guitar and some powerful organ that will hit you like the Kool Aid Man bursting through a brick wall.

Side note: Can someone explain to me why the Lizard record label has a black cat as a logo?

Any notable tracks you feel should have made the list? Let us know in the comment section below or on the Parka Avenue Facebook page. To listen to all the tracks listed here, boogaloo down to the Parka Avenue Podcast on Mixcloud.