Music through the ducts

Music through the ducts

Jesse Winchester, Stan Rogers, Colleen Peterson, Ron Hynes, Roy Forbes, Ferron, Stephen Fearing. The names are a who’s who of legendary Canadian singer/songwriters from just a decade or two ago. Some are sadly gone, others still in full voice. Exquisite lyrical and musical chops aside, these and many other performers of the era had a notable CCOC connection.

In the early ‘80s my upstairs neighbour, jazz/folkie Cathy Miller, local legend Ian Tamblyn, and Great Canadian Theatre stalwart Barbara Lysnes fomented the Acoustic Waves music series at GCTC, introducing terrific roots musicians from across Canada to Ottawa audiences, always with a local performer opening the evening. Lynn Miles, Terry Tufts, Sue Foley and all those other wonderful Ottawa singers went home at the end of the night.

But Connie Kaldor, Fred Penner, Heather Bishop, Scott Merritt? Those luminaries up top, and a dozen or two others? Not for them the anonymous, overpriced suites at the downtown hotels favoured by pampered rock stars. Nope. They stayed upstairs at 539A McLeod St., courtesy of Cathy and housemate Chopper MacKinnon, legendary CKCU Canadian Spaces radio host. A pre-show meal or next-morning breakfast was usually part of the free lodging on the performer’s sojourn in town, but more importantly, a chance to relax into a welcoming atmosphere, catch up on musician gossip (Chopper knew everyone!), and rehearse a few licks on a new tune.

I met many of these folks on the front porch, or out in the back yard (Dario Domingues taught my kids puppetry out back). Gin and tonics were sometimes called for. Nancy White had our old piano trucked over to GCTC for her show. Stephen Fearing’s Ottawa debut was at the hole-in-the-wall Rasputin’s on Bronson Ave. The legendary Willie P. Bennett helped Chopper and me empty a bottle of excellent single malt whisky late one Sunday night. And I’m pretty sure I recall my old buddy Mose Scarlett was likewise obliging, catching me up with news of his pal, and my fond acquaintance from Toronto days, Leon Redbone.

A shameless groupie, I’ll drop one more name and delightful event: when Daisy Debolt and her gang of four came through town on a wintry Sunday night. (Daisy and her former partner Allan Fraser blew my ears wide open back in about 1968 – I never heard music the same way again. Ian Tamblyn once told me playing with Daisy was the most terrifying/exhilarating musical experience he’d ever had.) After their show they all sprawled across our living room to rehash the performance, replaying the taped show at least twice, dissecting perfect licks, missed notes, change-ups for their next show. The way musicians do. Drank up all our beer and wine, the way musicians do.

Thanks to Cathy Miller and the too-soon-gone Chopper MacKinnon for supporting live music. There is nothing more vital and precious than inspiration of the soul through artistic endeavours. And hearing all that through the heating ducts downstairs? Priceless!

Guest post by Glenn Allen, tenant at 539 McLeod since 1978