Bobby Taylor, lead singer of "Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers," performs his hit song "Does Your Mama Know About Me." From YouTube.com.
Watch parts 1 and 2 of a tribute to Canadian guitar great Domenic Troiano presented by the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. From YouTube.
Early Canadian Rock 'n' Roll, 1958-63
The first Canadian-based rock 'n' roll star to show promise internationally was US expatriate Ronnie Hawkins. His 1959 US recording of "Mary Lou" and his cover version of Chuck Berry's 1955 hit "Forty Days" (which Hawkins recorded 1959 in the US) were quite successful on the early Canadian radio charts of 1959-60. Although Hawkins never really succeeded as a major star, even in Canada, he and his various bands became best-known as hard-working "talent scouts" for promising young Canadian musicians. An early version of Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks in 1963 recorded a cover version of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love?" That version of the Hawks later became The Band (see below, "US-Based Rock Music Involving Canadians, 1965-72"), including Robbie Robertson.
The Asteroids made ca 1958 the first rock 'n' roll record in Atlantic Canada ("Shhhhh Blast Off" and "Don't Dig This Algebra" on Halifax's Rodeo Records), and in 1959 Montreal's the Beau-Marks recorded the first internationally successful Canadian-made rock 'n' roll hit ("Clap Your Hands" for Quality Records, released in 1960). Bobby Curtola also recorded his earliest Canadian hit ("Hand in Hand with You" for Tartan Records, also released in 1960).
The Emergence of Rock Music, 1963-9
Various developments led to "rock" music by the mid to late 1960s. These included increased complexities of song construction and lyrics, as well as expanded interest in earlier US blues forms and in recording songs and/or albums as cohesive artistic statements. This also involved exploring more extensive chord structures, modal harmonies, increasingly sophisticated instrumental and vocal palettes, and even the occasional use of early 20th-century pop song styles. British musicians became so successful in exploring these and other areas that North America experienced a "British Invasion" by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Who, the Yardbirds, the Hollies, Gerry & the Pacemakers, and Cream. Numerous Canadian bands emerged in their wake, such as Little Caesar & the Consuls, Ritchie Knight & the Mid-Knights, and Jon & Lee & the Checkmates. A number of important rock clubs emerged in Toronto in the 1960s, such as the Le Coq D'or, the Rock Pile, and the Electric Circus.
The Paupers (of the recording Magic People) were the first Canadian rock band with a US recording contract, and the Ugly Ducklings, who had an international hit with "Nothin'," opened in 1966 for the Rolling Stones at Maple Leaf Gardens.
The Psychedelic Era, 1967-9
By 1967, recent US experimental and psychedelic rock (such as the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead) influenced various Canadian bands, including Luke & the Apostles, the Mandala (including guitarist Domenic Troiano), Robbie Lane & the Disciples (who had recorded in 1964 with Ronnie Hawkins), Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers (which included future comedic actor Tommy Chong), Motherlode, the Haunted, the influential but short-lived Kensington Market, and the seminal jazz-rock orchestra, Lighthouse. Stylistically, such groups explored expanded live performances (often through improvisation), influences from non-western culture or drug experimentation, and/or the use of recording studio and instrumental (especially guitar) effects. Important larger-scale events and venues included free concerts at Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square (usually in combination with major US groups, such as the Jefferson Airplane, but also featuring Lighthouse in 1969), a week-long series of concerts in 1967 at Toronto's O'Keefe Centre (with Luke & the Apostles opening for the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead), Vancouver's Expo 67, and 1969's Toronto Pop Festival and Rock 'n' Roll Revival Show (both held at the University of Toronto's Varsity Stadium). The latter included John Lennon in one of his earliest appearances outside the Beatles.
US-Based Rock Music Involving Canadians, 1965-72
The folk/pop-influenced rock group the Lovin' Spoonful included Zal Yanovsky, and the similar group the Mamas and the Papas included Dennis Doherty. Both musicians formerly had folk-oriented bands in Canada (including, together, the Halifax Three Plus One), and both had participated in similar US groups (such as the Mugwumps and the Journeymen). Neil Young played guitar, sang, and wrote songs with several groups in Canada 1963-6 (especially the Squires and the Mynah Birds), participated in 1966-70 with several highly successful US-based folk-rock groups (Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), and also established his solo career by 1968-70. Galt MacDermot wrote the music for the rock musical Hair (1967). Levon and the Hawks (named after Levon Helm, the group's Arkansas-born drummer, and all formerly members of Ronnie Hawkins' Hawks) 1965-6 worked with US singer-songwriter Bob Dylan during his transition to electric folk-rock. They established a highly influential roots rock style and changed their name to the Band. The counterculture rock band Steppenwolf ("Born to be Wild") formed in 1967 but had earlier been based in Toronto as the blues-rock band, the Sparrow.
The jazz-influenced rock band Blood, Sweat & Tears from 1968-72 included UK-born, Canadian-raised singer-songwriter David Clayton-Thomas, who had previously performed in Canada with the Bossmen and as David Clayton-Thomas and the Fabulous Shays. The only Canadians (all US-based) to play at the 1969 US Woodstock festival were Neil Young (with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), the majority-Canadian the Band, and David Clayton-Thomas (with Blood, Sweat & Tears).
Canadian Content and International Successes, 1969-77
In the 1970s, a more substantial Canadian recording industry emerged, as did the influential Canadian content broadcast regulations and the use of multi-purpose halls, sports arenas, and amphitheatres for popular music concerts. Thus, popular musicians increasingly found it possible to find substantial audiences within Canada and/or internationally without permanently moving to the US. The most successful Canadian band of 1969-72, and one of the most successful in the world, was the Guess Who, with various major international hits including 1970's "American Woman" (the first US #1 hit by a Canadian rock band). The group's guitarist-songwriter, Randy Bachman, then formed Bachman-Turner Overdrive, which had similar international successes, especially 1973's "Takin' Care of Business." The jazz-rock orchestra Lighthouse had some international successes (such as "One Fine Morning," 1970), and the Five Man Electrical Band (formerly the Staccatos) had a major international hit with the 1971 anti-establishment song "Signs." A version of Ronnie Hawkins' Hawks formed Crowbar, which had some Canadian successes (especially "Oh, What a Feeling," 1971).
The 1970 cross-Canada Transcontinental Pop Festival included several Canadian rock bands: Mashmakhan (which had an international psychedelic hit that year with "As Years Go By"), Ian and Sylvia Tyson's country-rock band (the Great Speckled Bird), and the Full-Tilt Boogie Band (which was the backing group for US blues-rock singer Janis Joplin). The British art rock band Procol Harum recorded its 1972 live album with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Other Canadian bands in this era included Copperpenny, Fludd, and the Quebec groups Beau Dommage and Harmonium.
Blues-Rock and Similar Fusions, late 1960s to 2000s
With the blues providing an important backdrop both to rock 'n' roll and rock music, it is not surprising that many bands and solo artists pursued blues-rock and similar types of fusions. Improvised solos (especially on the electric guitar) and expanded live performances were central to this style. From the late 1960s to the early 2000s, these included McKenna Mendelson Mainline (including future solo iconoclast Mendelson Joe), King Biscuit Boy, the Dutch Mason Blues Band, Colin Linden, Pat Travers, David Wilcox, Matt Minglewood, Offenbach, the Downchild Blues Band (also known as Downchild), the Powder Blues Band (also known as Powder Blues), the Blues Brothers (US-based, but including Canadian comedic actor Dan Aykroyd), and Long John Baldry (British-born, and a Canadian citizen as of 1980). Younger bands and artists exploring these and similar styles included the Jeff Healey Band (including Healey's solo "post-blues-rock" jazz and other work), Colin James, Big Sugar, and the rock 'n' roll revival bands Doug and the Slugs, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (largely instrumental), and the Deadly Snakes.
Hard, Progressive, Heavy Metal, and Album Rock, 1970s and 1980s
Hard rock, progressive rock, and heavy metal formed important album-oriented sub-genres of rock music in the 1970s and 1980s, and many Canadian artists adeptly explored and/or combined them. This eclectic music also sometimes involved lengthier songs (though often fully composed instead of mainly improvised), a certain number of ideological and/or science-fiction lyrics, the possibility of influences from classical music and/or jazz-rock fusion, and (in some cases) considerably expanded metrical constructions. Heavy metal often focused on aspects of power, distortion, high tenor vocals, and guitar virtuosity. Artists working in these various styles included Mahogany Rush (fronted by Frank Marino); progressive/hard rock band Rush (Canada's most internationally successful album-rock band); the progressive/synthesizer bands FM and Saga; and eclectic pop-rock groups (including "power ballads"), such as April Wine, Trooper, Max Webster (with later solo artist Kim Mitchell), Sweeney Todd, and Chilliwack (with origins as the Classics and the Collectors). They also included the hard/"arena" rock artists Prism, Triumph, Harlequin, Streetheart, Red Rider (with later solo artist Tom Cochrane), the Kings, Loverboy, and Bryan Adams in addition to the heavy metal artists Goddo, Helix and Lee Aaron, the influential "thrash metal" band Voivod, and hard rock artists such as the Headpins (including former members of Chilliwack), Toronto (featuring singer Holly Woods), Sheriff, Aldo Nova, Honeymoon Suite, Frozen Ghost (including former members of Sheriff), and Platinum Blonde.
Punk, Post-Punk, New Wave, and Hardcore, late 1970s-early 1990s
Punk rock focused on a raw, unpolished, and sometimes scatological update of the energy and attitude originally demonstrated by certain 1950s' rock 'n' roll stars. Post-punk styles, especially new wave, emerged by combining certain punk elements with a greater emphasis on pop-friendly "hooks." Hardcore groups reacted to post-punk by becoming even more extreme than punk, but this also meant that they sometimes bordered on the virtuosity and intensity of certain forms of heavy metal (especially speed metal and thrash metal). Vancouver and Victoria produced many punk rock bands, such as D.O.A. and the Young Canadians (including future solo artist Art Bergmann), as well as the slightly later alternative/industrial group Skinny Puppy and the hardcore/metal band Dayglo Abortions. Toronto, Hamilton, and London produced such punk and post-punk bands as Teenage Head, the Viletones, the Diodes, the Forgotten Rebels, and the Demics. Post-punk, new wave, and/or synthesizer-pop artists included Martha and the Muffins, Rough Trade (featuring singer Carole Pope), the Payola$ (later called Rock and Hyde), the Spoons, Rational Youth, and Images in Vogue.
Hard, "Alternative," Roots, Grunge, and Post-Grunge, late 1980s-2000s
Although many of the bands and solo artists listed above remained active into the 1990s and/or 2000s, numerous younger colleagues joined them. These included hard rock bands the Tragically Hip and the Tea Party and female rock singers Lisa Dal Bello and Sass Jordan. Also, several Canadian singers contributed to important US pop/metal and progressive/hard rock bands, such as Skid Row's Sebastian Bach and Dream Theater's James LaBrie. In addition, in the 1990s and early 2000s, the Rolling Stones often undertook their pre-tour rehearsals in Toronto. The numerous "alternative" Canadian rock bands included the Pursuit of Happiness, the Grapes of Wrath, the Northern Pikes, the Skydiggers, 54•40, the Box, the Infidels (including future solo artist Molly Johnston), Crash Vegas (featuring singer-songwriter Michelle McAdorey and, initially, former Martha and the Muffins bassist Jocelyne Lanois), the Quebec Innu band Kashtin, 13 Engines, the Barenaked Ladies, Tal Bachman, Alanis Morissette, Avril Lavigne, the Constantines, Black Mountain, the New Pornographers, Bedouin Soundclash, and the neo-punk bands Sum 41 and Simple Plan. Bass player Melissa Auf Der Maur performed from 1994 to the early 2000s in the US alternative rock bands Hole and Smashing Pumpkins, and she then participated in a number of collaborative projects (including vocals in a Black Sabbath tribute band called Hand of Doom) and in 2004 began a solo career. Eclectic and/or experimental groups included the Crash Test Dummies (including Brad Roberts and Ellen Reid), Rheostatics, I Mother Earth, the Arcade Fire, and Broken Social Scene (including Metric member Emily Haines); and "roots"-oriented bands included the Leslie Spit Treeo (featuring singer Laura Hubert) and Blue Rodeo (including Jim Cuddy).
Grunge music was highly influential in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and it focused on the independent ("indie") and underground aspects of later punk and hardcore, but fused with some of the more accessible sensibilities and song structures of earlier pop-rock music (such as the Beatles). Neil Young's music had always veered among these "indie" versus "mainstream" tendencies (perhaps more so than any other artist), and he thus became an heroic "elder statesman" for a new generation of rock stars. From the mid-1990s into the early 2000s, post-grunge artists then retained the emotive vocals and distorted guitars of grunge, but with a much more polished and/or mainstream aesthetic. Grunge and/or post-grunge bands included Sloan, Moist (including David Usher), the Matthew Good Band, Our Lady Peace, Hedley, Billy Talent, Nickelback, and Theory of a Deadman.
Famine and Other "Relief" Concerts
In 1985, some of the rock musicians listed earlier in this article participated, along with pop and pop-oriented rock musicians, as Northern Lights to record the famine relief song "Tears are not Enough." About 20 years later, various Canadian rock and pop artists performed, in July 2003, at the massive post-SARS concert Toronto Rocks; others performed in January 2005's post-tsunami relief event Canada for Asia, and still others in the Canadian wing of the July 2005 relief event Live 8. The latter was a hi-tech, multi-country, 20th anniversary variation of the 1985 African-relief "mega-event," Live Aid. The only Canadians to play at Live Aid were Bryan Adams and Neil Young; by comparison, an extensive Canadian concert (near Barrie, Ont.) was fully integrated into Live 8. These large-scale events and activities confirm the highly successful development of a home-grown Canadian popular music industry from the 1970s to the early 2000s. In parallel with developments in pop and pop-rock music, in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s Canada also produced a substantial percentage of successful female rock musicians. Some of these, such as Alanis Morissette and Avril Lavigne, have been at least as successful internationally as their best-known male colleagues.
Author Durrell Bowman
Jennings, Nicholas. Before the Gold Rush: Flashbacks to the Dawn of the Canadian Sound (Toronto 1997)
Einarson, John. Shakin' All Over: The Winnipeg Rock Scene (Winnipeg 1987)
Goddard, Peter and Kamin, Philip eds. Shakin' All Over: The Rock 'n' Roll Years in Canada (Toronto 1989)
Melhuish, Martin. Oh What a Feeling: A Vital History of Canadian Music (Kingston 1996)
Wagner, Vit. "Chords of a Canadian tipping point," Toronto Star, 29 Dec 2005
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
The website for the JUNO Awards and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Scroll down the page to check out the latest award winners and music clips. Sample the latest JUNO Awards CD. From the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
See Billboard's weekly charts of the top-selling albums in Canada across all genres.
The Canadian Blast website covers Canada's dynamic pop music industry, both for music fans and professionals. Highlights recent album releases, tour dates, and the latest news about popular Canadian bands, artists, and events.
Have Not Been the Same: The CanRock Renaissance, 1985-1995
A review of the book "Have Not Been the Same: The CanRock Renaissance, 1985-1995." From the "CAML" website.
The website for Public Records, a non-profit organization that connects aspiring musicians with funding from sponsors and broadcasters to help them record and promote their music.
Linus Entertainment on YouTube. See music videos featuring some of Canada's top performing talent. Click on the link on the right to access their full website.
True North Records
Check out the links for bios and music clips featuring major Canadian recording artists at the True North Records website.
The Canadian Musician magazine covers prominent Canadian artists, the latest gear, and the business of music. Check out their online articles and directory of Canadian musicians’ websites.
With this online collection of digitized charts from RPM, visitors can check out the rankings of their favourite tunes of yesteryear. From Library and Archives Canada.
Search for your favourite musicians and recordings at the Grammy Awards website.
Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame
The website for the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, an organization dedicated to promoting Canadian popular music songwriters. Check out the annual list of inductees and click on a name to read an inductee’s biography. Also offers video highlights of previous award ceremonies.
A CBC profile of Randy Bachman.
The Top 100 Canadian Singles
What are your favourite songs? See if they are on "The Top 100 Canadian Singles" list. From the National Post.
A profile of the Diodes, the first Canadian punk band signed to a major Canadian label.
Museum of Canadian Music
An extensive information source about Canadian music and musicians. Features performer profiles, music clips, podcasts, and more.
Listen to recordings by your favourite musicians at the website for CBC Music.
Use the search feature at the top of the allmusic.com website to find bios, music clips, and videos of your favourite Canadian rhythm and blues recording artists. Features the music of Nelly Furtado, Jason Bieber, Drake, Melanie Fiona, Tamia, and many others.
Canadian Music Publishers Association
The website for the CMPA, an association that represents and promotes the interests of Canadian music publishers. Check this site for the latest industry news and surveys, notes about copyright issues, and more.
Canadian Independent Music Association
CIMA represents the interests of the English language Canadian-owned independent sector of the sound recording industry. Covers marketing, copyright matters, licensing, royalties, and related issues. Check "About CIMA" for a history of this organization.
Western Canadian Music Awards
The website for the Western Canadian Music Alliance, which promotes the best in western Canadian music. Features the latest news about their annual awards gala. For a listing of previous winners and Hall of Fame inductees, click on the "Awards" link.
Check out the Music Canada site for the latest news about major companies and key issues in the Canadian music industry. See also music videos featuring some of Canada's leading performers.
Yahoo! Music Canada
Check out the latest music featuring Canada's top performers at Yahoo! Music Canada.
A review of a book that surveys the Canadian origin of some of the 20th century’s most famous American popular music. From the "Quill & Quire" website.
The Toronto Musicians' Association
The website for the Toronto Musicians' Association, an organization that represents professional musicians in all facets of music in the greater Toronto area. Click on "Multimedia" to access online music videos.
Pete Traynor: Musicians amp up their tribute
A feature news story about Pete Traynor, Canadian inventor and developer of the much beloved Traynor amplifiers. From toronto.com.
Chad Kroeger Introduces His Signature Gibson Les Paul — Blackwater
Nickelback's Chad Kroeger talks about the special features of his Les Paul — Blackwater guitar. From YouTube.
Canadian Music Week
Check out the latest news about Canadian Music week, Canada's international music convention and film festial.
Find your cymbal sound at the website for SABIAN, an award-winning cymbal maker located in Meductic, New Brunswick. An online treasure trove of information on all aspects of cymbal design, production, and music. Check out the virtual factory tour, the SABIAN Lifetime Achievement Awards, the "Product Videos," and the extensive video gallery of performances by popular entertainers.
MuchMusic Video Awards
Catch all the action at the MuchMusic Video Awards. From the MuchMusic website.
View the official version of the very creative music video "River's Edge" by alt-country pop group Great Lake Swimmers. From NettwerkMusic on YouTube.
Bands on the run
Festivals devoted to indie music help bands connect to their fans. This CBC News article highlights some of the groups hitting the festival cirucuit.
Polaris Music Prize
The Polaris Music Prize site features the latest in award news, online music clips, listings of local record stores and radio stations, and more.
The decline and fall of bands
An article about the evolution of alternative formats taking the place of more traditional rock band collaborations. From the National Post website.
Facebook: CBC Radio 3
Late breaking news about Canada's dynamic indie music scene from CBC Radio 3. Join the online conversation.
Search Shazam for clips and info about your favourite Canadian bands.
Canadian Musician Magazine
Join the conversation about the Canadian music scene at this Facebook page for Canadian Musician Magazine.
New book captures early days of Canada's music biz
See a CTV interview with music icon Bernie Finkelstein, founder of of True North Records, Canada's oldest and longest running indie record label.
88.1FM Indie Toronto
The website for 88.1FM Indie Toronto.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...