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With today’s tenth installment of the Hoser Blues Night monthly series at Black Swan Tavern featuring Mike McKenna with his all-star calibre Slidewinder band along with a featured A-list guest plus songwriter sets, SongTown now seems to have firmly established a clear winner of a concept.
It shouldn’t be surprising, really, that there’s an appetite for a weekend matinee dinner-hour 4-8 show featuring veteran marquee Blues/R&B talents in a local bar —such gatherings have been popular in the west GTA area since going back at least to the early 1990s when Chuck Jackson et al used to perform Sunday afternoons at the former Heads or Tails on Brown’s Line. (And in fact Jackson and his crew of mainly Downchild Blues Band players are still at it every Sunday, appearing 4:30-8 weekly for the past several years now at Roc’n Doc’s in nearby Port Credit.)
The Blue Goose Sunday sessions, too, originally anchored by the late Rod Phillips, while they take a break in the summer, also stretch back to about a decade into the previous millennium, since the first of the Boomer generation started finding grey hairs in their biker beards and started hitting the pillows around the time the “CBC National News” broadcast ended instead of when “Canada AM” was starting.
At both Heads or Tails and The Goose in those days, tables were chock full of not only jugs of beer and a scattering of mixed drinks for the ladies, but also platters of wings and ribs and other nourishment —you can still see that phenomenon in effect actually on Saturday afternoons in Etobicoke, when The Essentials perform 4-8 at Southside Johnny’s with a weekly high-profile guest artist.
But for some reason the concept has never seemed to catch on in the downtown or Toronto East areas —in part I suppose because, to my knowledge or recollection at least, it’s never really even been tried there, which I find rather baffling. But just as surprising to me is that the SongTown one which now has been tried and has indeed become an established success, takes place in a bar that doesn’t have a kitchen, offering only a very limited selection of microwavable sandwiches and such like.
The brainchild of seemingly indefatigable songwriter and impresario Pete Otis, the series rests largely on the ongoing appeal of Blues slide guitar icon McKenna, whose seminal influence on the TO music scene —and on the Blues-Rock community throughout the world— we’ve written about previously on many occasions. His enduring popularity among aficionados of the genre has been well earned and shows no sign of wearing thin despite (or maybe in part because of?) his “hoser” persona.
McKenna’s latest Slidewinder band is comprised of seasoned veterans: guitarist Tom Robertson, drummer Rob Kirpatrick and bassist Hap Roderman backing him and their guest, usually also along with Terry Blankley on keys. Opening and in-between sets are performed by local songwriters, always including Otis and Pat Little. With nine previous engagements behind them, the house band has found a groove that’s suited both to McKenna’s sizzling six-string (on material that includes selections from his revered McKenna-Mendolson Mainline band) and is more than competent to back any guest singer —even one as eclectically dynamic as today’s guest, Steven Ambrose.
I actually first encountered Ambrose way back in the early/mid 1990s at one of the Heads or Tails Sunday sessions. As I watched for the first time in utter amazement, he proceeded to totally blow my mind with his vocal gymnastics and weird, almost bizarre sense of humour —and he has continued to delight, intrigue and impress me ever since. There seems to be nothing this guy can’t sing —and some of what he comes up with, especially when he gets into skat mode, I doubt anyone else has ever sung before or ever shall again!
Ambrose, of course, was quite renowned in the 1980s as singer for The Lincolns, the R&B super-group put together by bassist Prakash John after he left Alice Cooper to return to TO in 1979. But his sonic vocal antics since have been far more noteworthy to me.
In addition to the sheer range of his talent, another thing that’s remarkable about Ambrose is his almost boyish enthusiasm for what he does. You can see him light up whenever he takes to the stage, his eyes gleaming and his smile completely natural, and it’s clear by how he always gives 200% that, like many of his fans, this playfully innovative vocalist is having a love affair with his own voice.
I’m certainly not alone in my estimation of this man as a kind of musical genius and Otis, who’s had Ambrose guest at several of his shows over the past six-plus years, also paid formal tribute to him when he was the subject of one of the first ever Honouring Our Own shows in his now legendary tribute concerts series back on May 3 of 2011, as I reported at the time.
But many people don’t know that Steven is also a songwriter who has released several albums of original material along with some albums of cover Jazz (such as 1992’s Real Tuxedo Boy on which he pits his vocal prowess and interpretations against 21 Jazz standards). His original releases include 2011’s ten-track Love Is Breaking Out, on which Michael Fonfara, Chris Hall and Jack Tassé also have a few co-writing credits, that’s available on bandcamp.com.
You could maybe score one of those or other cds from Steven at today’s show in the club at 154 Danforth Ave., for which cover charge is just $10. And while there may not be much to eat there, you can be sure you’ll enjoy a musical repast that’s as tasty and nourishing as anything you could find anywhere.
SHOW LISTINGS for Sunday, July 16, 2021
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ON AIR / ONLINE
*3-5am> The Rock-A-Round with Slim Tim @ www.rockabilly-radio.net ~ Rockabilly tracks (from UK, repeat of Fri show, also runs Wednesdays 6-8am)
5-8> “Across The Universe” with Ken Stowar on CIUT 89.5 FM
*6, 7, 10 & 11am; 5 & 7 pm> “Sunday Morning Soul” with Johnny Max @ www.sundaymorningsoul.com ~Blues
9am> “The Hoose Radio Show” Wee Dan Hoose @ http://www.bluesandrootsradio.com/ ~ artist interviews and tracks
416 – TORONTO CENTRAL
11am-2pm> Gloria Valentine & Nina Shapilsky for Jewish brunch buffet @ Free Times Café, 320 College St. ; $5 (music only)
noon-3> Hart House Ensemble @ The Rex, 194 Queen St. W. ~Jazz
1> Toque Trad French Canadian Music Session @ Tranzac Club (Southern Cross), 292 Brunswick Ave.
3-5> Alaniaris @ Tranzac Club (Southern Cross), 292 Brunswick Ave. ~Jazz
3:30-6:30> Beverly Taft Group @ The Rex, 194 Queen St. W. ~Jazz; $
*4-7> Michael Brennan @ Graffiti’s, 170 Baldwin St. TO ~East Coast Rock/Blues Roots
*4:30-8> New Orleans Connection All Stars & guests @ Grossman’s, 379 Spadina Ave. ~New Orleans Jazz
4:30-7:30> One Big Song @ The Local Gest, 424 Parliament St. ~Jazz trio
5> Monk’s Music @ Tranzac Club (Southern Cross), 292 Brunswick Ave. ~vibraphone Jazz
6-7:30> Lisa Particelli Trio featuring Peter Hill on keys celebrating her birthday, (followed by Jazz jam 8-10) @ 120 Diner, 120 Church St. ~Jazz; pwyc
*6-9> open mic with Eddy Culjak @ Fox & Fiddle Wellesley, 27 Wellesley St.
*7-1> Freefall Sundays open stage (2 songs each -signup @ 7 or pre-sign online) @ The Supermarket, 268 Augusta St.
7> open mic @ Cherry Cola’s, 200 Bathurst St.
7-9:30> Hannah Barstow Trio @ The Rex, 194 Queen St. W. ~Jazz; $
7-9:30> Heart and Soul + bass @ Jazz Bistro, 251 Victoria St. ~Jazz/Pop fusion ; $
*7-10> Brooke Blackburn @ Nawlins, 299 King St. W. TO ~Blues/Jazz/R&B
7:30> Xuan Ye @ Tranzac Club (Southern Cross), 292 Brunswick Ave.
*8> jam/open mic with backline & host band Meg and the Scene @ The Antler Room, 146 Front St. W.
*8> open mic with Carlos @ The Cavern Bar, 76 Church St.
8> Lady Electric @ Cameron House (rear), 408 Queen St. W. ~indie; $
8-10> open stage Jazz jam hosted by Lisa Particelli (celebrating her birthday) featuring Peter Hill on keys @ 120 Diner, 120 Church St. ~Jazz; pwyc
9:30> Rosemary Galloway @ The Rex, 194 Queen St. W. ~Jazz; $
*10> Horshack feat. Chris Caddell @ Orbit Room, 580 College St. ~Bluesy contemporary & classic Rock
10> FOG Big Brass Band @ Tranzac Club (Southern Cross), 292 Brunswick Ave. ~Blues/R&B
10> Vixens @ Amsterdam Bicycle Club, 54 The Esplanade
10> Conor Gains Band @ Cameron House (front), 408 Queen St. W. ~original Blues
10-2> Scully @ The Hideout, 423 College St. ~acoustic Pop covers & originals
**10> Blues jam with Bill Hedefine & guests @ Grossman’s, 379 Spadina Ave.
416 – TORONTO EAST
11am-2pm> Evan Desaulnier for Jazz brunch @ Relish, 2152 Danforth Ave. ~Jazz; 0$
2-4> Music In the Park with Victor & Penny @ Kew Gardens, 2075 Queen St. E.
*3-6> open mic with Nicola Vaughan @ Hirut, 2050 Danforth Ave.
4-8> SongTown presents Mike McKenna’s Blues Night 10 with featured guest Steven Ambrose with Slidewinder & guest keyboardist Terry Blankley; sets by Pete Otis; Pat Little @ Black Swan Tavern, 154 Danforth Ave. ~Blues/R&B; $10
4> iSpy @ Castro’s Lounge, 2116 Queen St. E.
*4:30-8:30> Rock/Blues jam with William A. Miller’s Black Bear All-Stars @ Black Bear Pub, 1125 O’Connor Drive
416 – TORONTO ETOBICOKE
5-9> The Sunday Sinners featuring Michael Theodore @ Timothy’s Pub, 344 Brown’s Line ~classic Soul; $
*10-2> jam with Rebecca Matiesen & Phoenix @ Southside Johnny’s, 3653 Lake Shore Blvd. W.
416 – TORONTO SCARBOROUGH
*7-11> open jam with host Gtar Live @ McGradie’s, 2167 Victoria Park Ave.
416 – TORONTO WEST
*noon-3> Julian Fauth & Ken Yoshioka @ Axis, 3048 Dundas St. W. ~Blues
* noon-3> The Cosmotones @ Dakota Tavern, 249 Ossington Ave. ~Bluegrass
**5-8> John Borra & Sam Ferrara w. guest @ The Communist’s Daughter, 1149 Dundas St. W. ~Country
5-8> Ivan Rosenberg & Adam Shier @ The Local, 396 Roncesvalles Ave. ~old-time Country Roots
5-8> Jeff Taylor and The SLT @ Gate 403, 403 Roncesvalles Ave. ~Jazz
6> Dan Fortin Trio @ The Emmet Ray, 924 College St. ~Jazz; pwyc
8:30> Rich Brown; Luan Phung Quintet @ Burdock, 1184 Bloor St. W. ~songwriter / ~Jazz; $10
8:30> Sue Foley @ Hugh’s Room, 2261 Dundas St. W. ~original Blues; $30
8:30> Phill Albert @ The Emmet Ray, 924 College St. ~Jazz; pwyc
9-12:30> The Ole Fashion @ Opera Bob’s, 1112 Dundas St. W. ~oldtime Country
9-1> Evan Desaulinier Trio @ Gate 403, 403 Roncesvalles Ave. ~Jazz
9> Tich Maredza @ The Local, 396 Roncesvalles Ave. ~Zimbawean Roots
*9> The Mercenaries @ Dakota Tavern, 249 Ossington Ave. ~retro Rock/Soul; $10
Noon-10> Hillside Festival with many Roots/Blues artists @ Guelph Lake Island, Guelph ~eclectic; $85
Noon> Ribfest & Craft Beer Park with various acts @ Victoria Park, 32 Dill St., Kitchener
*3-7> acoustic open mic with Scott Rhodes @ The Pick and Shovel, 30 Water St., Cambridge
*9-1> jam @ Ivy Arms Pub, 201 Main Street E., Milton
9:30> Romeo Sex Fighter @ Duke of Wellington, 33 Erb St. W. Waterloo
*10-2> open mic with Nathan Coles @ Jimmy Jazz, 52 Macdonnell St., Guelph
1-4> M.D. Dunn @ Huron Club, 94 Pine St., Collingwood
2-5> Bridget Foley Trio @ Riverside Grill (Holiday Inn), 150 George St., Peterborough ~Blues/R&B
3> Terry Finn’s 4 Front @ Black Horse Pub, 452 George St. N., Peterborough
10> Laura Merriman @ The Garnet, 231 Hunter St., W., Peterborough
*3-6> Chris Stapley & Earl Johnson @ Ridges Pub, 776 Liverpool Rd., Pickering ~acoustic Blues/Rock
*3:30-7:30> Jon McCann & JD Bass host jam @ West Shore, 893 Bayly Ave., Pickering
4> Eric Lambier @ Simcoe Blues & Jazz, 926 Simcoe St. N., Oshawa ~Blues/R&B/Pop
6-10> open jam with Juggernaut @ The Edge Lounge, 250 Bayly St. W., Ajax
*8> Gibran & Matt “Smokey” Wildfong @ Harwood Blues, 7 Harwood Ave., Ajax ~Blues
*10> Another Round @ Tartan Tavern, 555 Rossland Rd. E., Oshawa ~Pop Rock
**1-3> Joe & Frank with guest performer @ Lake Simcoe Arms, 21089 Dalton Rd., Jackson’s Point ~Jazz
*1:30-4:30> Blaine Burnie, Mark Thackway & friends @ Coach House Pub, 3 Felcher Boulevard, Stouffville ~acoustic Roots
*3-7> 4th anniversary of open stage with Kevin Ker @ The Earl Of Whitchurch, 6204 Main St., Stouffville
*3-7> Daniel Davies Band hosts jam @ C.J. Barley’s, 213 The Queensway S., Keswick
*5> open mic with Crosstown Band @ Time Out, 68 Main St., Georgetown
*5:30-9:30> open jam with host band Faces For Radio & guest @ Crown and Anchor Pub, 389 Main St. N., Brampton
*6-9:30> The Andy Earle Trio @ Big Daddy’s Newmarket, 446 Davis Drive, Newmarket ~Blues
*7-10> Lynn McDonald @ Jester’s Court, 279 Queen St., Port Perry ~Pop/Jazz
*8> acoustic open mic with Kat Vhonda @ Wild Wing Newmarket, 340 Eagle Street, Newmarket
2-6> Bay City Blues Band & guest Chris Murphy @ Bay City Music Hall, 50 Leander Drive, Hamilton ~Blues; $7
2-5> Chris Chambers @ Lou Dawgs Hamilton, 116 George St., Hamilton ~Blues
*3> Brother Tom Finochio hosts kitchen party jam @ Rebel’s Rock, 537 King St. E., Hamilton
*4> open mic with Neon Moon @ Moose Lodge, 1860 Barton St., Hamilton
4:30-7:30> Alfie Smith @ Cat ‘N’ Fiddle, 174 John St. S., Hamilton ~original Blues
*7> open mic @ The Wee Dram, 1831 Main St. W., Hamilton
*7-11> open Country jam with Robert Tyler @ Gladstone Tavern, 1385 Main St. E., Hamilton
*7:30-11:30> open jam hosted by Troy Harmer & The Persuaders @ The Brown Barrel, 1515 Upper Ottawa St., Hamilton
8> Rodney DeCroo @ This Ain’t Hollywood, 345 James St. N., Hamilton ~contemporary original; $
9-12> Adam Ostrosser & guest @ Cat ‘N’ Fiddle, 174 John St. S., Hamilton
10> Chris Chambers @ Augusta House, Hamilton, 17 Augusta St.
2-6> Michel Warren @ Carrigan Arms, 2025 Upper Middle Rd., Burlington ~Country
*3-6> Chris Partland @ Cuchulainn’s Irish Pub, 158 Queen St. S., Streetsville-Mississauga ~Pop Rock
3:30> James Anthony @ Abbey Arms, 481 North Service Rd., Oakville ~Blues
4-7> Glenn Groves @ The Purple Heather, 3600 Dundas St. W., Burlington ~Country
*4:30-8> Chuck Jackson’s All Stars @ Roc’n Doc’s, 105 Lakeshore Rd. E., Port Credit ~Blues
**5:30-8:30> The Stew @ Mulligan’s, 2458 Dundas St. W., Mississauga ~R&B/Rock
**7-11> The Nomads with guest @ Shore Grill, 71 Lakeshore Rd. E., Port Credit ~Pop Rock
7> Loose Roots Duo @ Moonshine Café, 137 Kerr St., Oakville ~Jazzy Roots; $10
*8> open mic night with house band featuring Mike Shotton, Tim & Dave Johns @ Black Swan Burlington, 4040 Palladium Way, Burlington
9-1> Derek Lathrop Duo @ Roc’n Doc’s, 105 Lakeshore Rd. E., Port Credit ~Rock/Top 40 covers
*10:30> Adam Cooke & The Adams Family @ The Dickens, 423 Elizabeth St., Burlington
Listings are organized by area in which the shows occur and within each area field shows are listed chronologically.
Listings preceded by an asterisk (*) are repeating weekly events. (Double asterisk indicates repeating event with different hosts/guest/etc.). Events preceded by question mark (?) usually take place but have not been confirmed. Admission prices followed by a slash and minus (/-) after the amount indicates door charge with availability of cheaper rates for some purchases. /+ indicates stated price is minimum.
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