Canadian Musician - November/December 2021 - Page 43

Disco was represented by the Bee Gees , the trio of Gibb brothers who became the central force of the disco movement of the mid- to late-1970s ; they played a pair of shows on February 17 and 18 , 1974 . Meanwhile , many Yorkville folk artists and performers of the sixties previously booked by local promoters “ The Bernies ” ( Bernie Finkelstein and Bernie Fiedler ) had achieved enough success to move their act to the storied stage farther south . The 1970s at Massey kicked off with a New Year ’ s Day show from The Byrds . In the first two months of the decade alone , Massey Hall hosted a seventy-fifth anniversary show from the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir , a homecoming of The Band , and appearances by Loretta Lynn and Duke Ellington . The year ended with a packed December that included performances by Miles Davis , Leonard Cohen , and James Taylor , in addition to the annual Christmas traditions — the TSO performing The Messiah and several St . Michael ’ s Choir School concerts . Country music was also still a popular draw throughout this decade . Besides Lynn , the likes of other greats of the genre appeared , such as George Jones , Crystal Gayle , Merle Haggard , Conway Twitty , and Hank Snow .
The hall continued to offer a diverse range of artists , from Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar and Greek composer Yannis Markopoulos to Canada ’ s “ First Lady of the Guitar ” Liona Boyd ; from a long list of American singer-songwriters like Laura Nyro , Melanie , Bette Midler , and Janis Ian , to Russian-born German vocalist Ivan Rebroff , French singer Alexandre “ Sacha ” Distel , American-born Greek soprano Maria Callas , American soprano Beverly Sills , and Canadian contralto Maureen Forrester . The decade also witnessed the capturing of three of the best live records ever recorded at Massey Hall — what would become classic albums by Neil Young , Rush , and Crowbar .
Debates about the hall ’ s future did not abate in the 1970s . Local politicians and Massey board members met with consultants and developers about a proposed new hall . As early as 1972 , city officials announced they would provide the site for a new hall as part of a massive development proposal called Metro Centre to be located west of Union Station and south of King Street . Talk of this so-called “ New Massey Hall ” raged on . All the while , the Grand Old Lady of Shuter Street kept its doors open and continued to showcase not only international stars , but rising domestic talent . Massey Hall always supported homegrown talent . The TSO and Mendelssohn Choir found a permanent home here in its early existence ; it ’ s the stage where musical geniuses like Glenn Gould and Oscar Peterson performed regularly . The venue has always valued its role as a place to provide opportunities for Canadian artists to shine . In the 1970s , this unofficial mandate was noticed in the programming , with dozens of Canadian musicians making their debuts on Shuter Street . The Band returned home on January 17 , 1970 . Closing out the first year of the decade was a show on December 7 by Leonard Cohen . Anne Murray was one of the first homegrown female stars to grace the hall ’ s stage .
When people hear the word “ snowbird ” today , the first image that comes to mind is of retirees migrating south to avoid the snow and cold of a Canadian winter . But if you flash back to 1970 , it was the title of one of the most popular songs on the planet . Written by Canadian Gene MacLellan , but made famous by fellow Canadian Anne Murray , the ballad reached number two on Canada ’ s pop charts and number one on both the adult contemporary and country charts . On the strength of the song ’ s success , Murray became the first solo female artist in Canadian history to receive an American Gold record . It changed her life and paved the way for her Massey Hall debut in 1971 . For two days ( April 16 and 17 ), Murray played two sold-out shows each night . Rock trio The Stampeders , who were also riding high on the success of their recent single , “ Sweet City Woman ,” opened . Despite not knowing much about the hall ’ s history — and those who had performed there before her — stage fright struck the young singer . That experience taught her a lesson she carried with her throughout her career :
“ That was my first time in a concert hall . I had played the Imperial Room at the Royal York Hotel , but had not been in an actual concert hall . That was a thrill , but I was scared to death . I remember wearing leather hot pants and a silk blouse . There was so much press going on around me . Before the show , I got together with a friend of mine ; we got drunk , and that helped me relax . Not embarrassing , slurring-my-words , falling-down drunk ; just as
loose as a goose . The show suffered no unfortunate consequences from the drinking , and I had sobered some by the second show that night , but the experience — that sense of not being in full control of my faculties — scared me so much that I never did it again .”
In the late 1960s and early 1970s , Canadian country-folk singer Stompin ’ Tom Connors made his mark in Toronto at the Horseshoe Tavern on Queen Street . In fact , he still holds the record for the most consecutive nights played at the legendary bar ( 25 ). In 1972 , the Canadian country outlaw released My Stompin ’ Grounds , which featured the hit song “ Tillsonburg .” The album went gold within seven months , selling nearly twelve thousand copies in the town of Tillsonburg alone . Tom had only ever played at “ The Shoe ” in Toronto , but he had his sights set on headlining a bigger stage — Massey Hall . Many in the music industry thought he was crazy . No way , said Tom ’ s critics , could this East Coast yodeller , who sang quirky songs , pack the country ’ s premiere venue . Filling a 500-capacity club was one thing , but Massey Hall ? Forget it , thought many ; not going to happen .
But as Tom had demonstrated throughout his career , he didn ’ t care what the industry or others said . He was dogged in his desire to achieve this goal . “ Even though it scared me to think about it , I was determined that one day I would get to play in no less a venue than the great Massey Hall ,” he writes in his memoir , Stompin ’ Tom and The Connors Tone . “ Everybody figured I was committing suicide in whatever musical career I ’ d been able to sustain up until now , because if nobody came to the show , I ’ d wind up being a laughing stock .”
Excerpt from Massey Hall by David McPherson © 2021 . All rights reserved . Published by Dundurn Press Limited .