This March, Bravo screened a highly recommended three part documentary on the early Toronto rock & roll scene in the 1950’s and 60’s: Yonge Street: Toronto Rock & Roll Stories, directed by Bruce McDonald.
From the early roots of r&b and soul, to the raunchy atmosphere of the Yonge Street bars, and the original Club Bluenote, it features some classic sounds and photos, and interviews with some of the key figures – famous and not. Among its highlights:
- Charting the growth and influence of Robbie Robertson, from a 14 or 15 year old guitar star, to the brilliant guitarist with Ronnie Hawkins. After he and the band left Hawkins, someone working for Dylans’s manager, Albert Grossman told Bob Dylan that he had to go to Toronto to see Levon & the Hawks. When they returned to Toronto backing Dylan at Massey Hall, a Toronto Star review called them a “third rate Yonge Street rock & roll band”
- Local r&b singer Eric Mercury describing the night that his father, a church minister came into the Bluenote, and physically dragged him out. “I was a star… mohair suit, mohair buttons, patent leather hair. Do you know how embarrasing that was?”
- The story of 15 year old Little Stevie Wonder showing up at the Bluenote and sitting in on drums
- What a world apart Yonge & Yorkville were.
- David Clayton Thomas touring Yonge today. “And the Zanzibar tavern is still there!” he proclaims happily. Reading its sign, he says, ” ‘Couch dancing’ ? They had that back then… they just didn’t call it that”
All three parts available online here.