Teenage Head - Philip Kamin

There are an inordinate number of top-notch musicians that come out of Hamilton, Ontario. So it’s really meaningful when a band from the area earns as much respect as have local heroes Teenage Head. Teenage Head played a showcase at Canadian Music Week, but the following night, May 9th, played at This Ain’t Hollywood in Hamilton.

This show was special for many reasons. Firstly, they were playing in their hometown, so many of their friends and long time local fans were there. Like true rock stars, the band waited until after eleven to hit the stage (doors were at nine). They were busy hanging out backstage with their friends, of course! When they were finally ready to begin, they went full tilt for the entire show, with the exception of one slower tune called “Glasgow’s Cryin’,” a touching and sentimental piece that Venom wrote after his father passed away.

Billed as “Teenage Head and Friends,” the band brought about a dozen notable guest vocalists up to sing with the band (all from the Hamilton area; I’m telling you, there’s something in the water!), a testament to the impact the group has had (and continues to have) since forming in 1975. Ginger St. James, Tim Gibbons, Max Kerman (the Arkells), the Evelyn Dicks (Chris Houston, Lori Yates, Buckshot Bebee), Lou Molinaro, Dave Rave (periodic band member over the years and close personal friend to the band), Brad Germain (Dinner Belles), Melissa Marchese (Weekend Riot Club) are a few of the artists that graced the stage. Each artist brought something special and unique to their performance, as well as recalling the magic of Frankie in the way they lit up the stage.

Teenage Head

Jack Pedler's theatric narration with the help of Chris Houston
Jack Pedler’s theatric narration, aided by Chris Houston.

Watching Teenage Head play live for the first time is one of my most fond musical moments. I guess because these are a bunch of high school buddies who went against the grain by writing truly original music in a burgeoning genre at a time when most musicians were playing in cover bands.

Additionally, back in the time when record labels still had big A&R budgets and played a much different support role for artists than today, the band fostered a do-it-yourself attitude, even making their first EP covers themselves because they wanted them in the European format (North American and European printing formats were different at the time).

They were also highly skilled musicians, well ahead of virtually every other punk band from the Hamilton area — or even the whole of Canada — and boy, did they give the established Toronto bands a run for their money! Best known for their electrifying and engaging live shows, singer Frankie Venom was a natural frontman whose unpredictable, acrobatic movements were a big part of the reason the band drew capacity crowds at their shows. Venom personally inspired many other young performers. Just take a look at Hugh Dillon of the Headstones; he modeled himself off Venom, whose go-for-it attitude undoubtedly inspired Dillon as well as countless other developing musicians.

The band’s career has, unfortunately, been plagued with mishap after mishap. From what some consider to be lacklustre recordings early on (many felt the first record didn’t adequately capture their live sound), to poor management when the labels stepped in, to a devastating car accident that left guitarist and songwriter Gord Lewis with a broken back just when they were on the brink of breaking through on an international level.

The most recent blow, of course, came when Venom succumbed to throat cancer in October 2008, just days before it was announced that Teenage Head would receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Hamilton Music Awards. Yes, it’s been something of a comedy of errors, which is why the fact that these guys are still slugging it out is so gratifying. Pete MacAulay has joined in recent years as the frontman, and considering who he’s taking the space of, he does a damn fine job. Gord Lewis and bassist Steve Mahon, the two remaining original band members, are joined by Jack Pedler on the kit, and sound as polished as ever.

Pete MacAulay
Pete MacAulay
Gord Lewis
Gord Lewis

The show had an intimate feel, aided by the venue itself that felt like home in a way. I was impressed by the age range of guests. There were the obviously long-time fans, groupies, or whatever you want to call the hardcore bunch who knew every song, every lyric, every riff. There were also young teenagers accompanied by their parents who seemed just thrilled to be there.

The place was packed. It was sweaty and energized, and it was FUN. It was fitting that towards the end of the show, an inebriated woman who could barely stand climbed up on the stage and shook each band member’s hand. Then someone in the crowd OD’d and was taken away in an ambulance. All in a night in Hamilton, and all part of the riot that has surrounded this band since its inception. Never a dull moment!

The pinnacle of the evening came when Lou Molinario — venue owner, one of the guest singers and friend of the band — made a special announcement. He presented Gord Lewis, Steve Mahon and Frankie Venom’s sisters Christine and Dorothy (who were on hand to receive the honour on Venom’s behalf) with Gold albums for the Head’s 1982 release Some Kinda Fun, which officially reached gold status in Canada in April.

Steve Mahon holding up his Gold record
Steve Mahon shows off his Gold record.

The surprise announcement was a perfect way to honour the band and specifically the legacy of Frankie Venom. Chris Houston put it well when he said, “it’s Frankie’s womb, we’re just all living in it.” The best part about the Hamilton music scene other than the stellar music is the supportive community it fosters. They remember and honour their friends. On this night, we honoured Venom and the Head in the most appropriate way imaginable; with a beer in our hands, dancing and singing along to one of the best bands to ever come out of Hamilton.

I should mention that this show was also a book launch for Geoff Pevere’s Gods of the Hammer, released last month. It is the first book dedicated solely to the Teenage Head story and is a mesmerizing read.

Photos by Stephanie Beatson, except black and white featured photo by Philip Kamin.

Spencer Burton is a country-infused folk musician when performing under the moniker Grey Kingdom.  He and his backing band played a set of mellow beauties at the Dakota Tavern for CMW on Thursday night.

Burton, born in Hamilton, Ontario, was raised in Kelowna, B.C., and then became a resident in the Welland, ON music scene through his teenage years.  Years of playing and touring in the acclaimed band Attack in Black led Burton to reflect.  Reflection turned to writing, writing turned into the formation of Grey Kingdom, and that led to the birth of an album titled Eulogy of her and her and her (Dine Alone Records).

The album was an outlet for storytelling songs that resulted from experiences gleaned through years of constant touring, constant movement with Attack in Black. A release of sorts.

Obviously Burton had more to say. Three additional albums have since been released (The Grey Kingdom, The Weeping Suns and Light, I’ll Call Your Name Out “Darkness”) and he continues to write and to perform in clubs and festivals with artists like Sarah Harmer and Jason Collett.

Burton’s CMW set was a lovely collection of original songs that had a natural grace about them. Each song flowed easily into the next.

The only unfortunate part about the show was perhaps the timing; Burton was on just before popular local band Flash Lightnin’ and the crowd was revved up for heavy rock. The venue was at capacity and the chatter made it difficult to hear this quieter, slower band at times. The laid-back and somewhat somber character of the songs were perhaps ill-timed for this night, but regardless, Burton performed the songs with emotion and a certain gentleness that I found touching.

It’s worth a mention that Aaron Goldstein played the steel guitar for Burton.  Goldstein is a member of Tom Wilson’s project LeE HARVeY OsMOND, has recorded and played with the Cowboy Junkies and played live with City and Colour.  Here is Burton performing Sun Like Moon Light for Streaming Café.

Definitely not the new kid in town, but last Friday I had the chance to see this blues whiz for the first time at the stellar Pearl Company in Hamilton. When I noticed the band was playing again at Toronto’s Cameron House on Wednesday night, I grabbed the chance to see them again. Twice in one week?  Hell yes!  They’re that good.

In 2013, Paul Reddick was nominated for five Maple Blues Awards (several of which he has already taken home in previous years) for his most recent album Wishbone, including Recording of the Year. Quite an honour! Wishbone was also ranked #3 best blues albums of 2013 by Mojo Magazine. His reputation is growing both nationally and internationally, and it’s no surprise why.


Reddick’s harmonica playing echoes the legendary Hamiltonian King Biscuit Boy. I’ve never seen moves and sounds like the ones he’s got, certainly not in person. Not only that, but his voice is silky smooth, like a cup of lemon tea on a sore throat. Like a glass of Bailey’s and coffee on Christmas morning. Like the sun’s rays soaking into your skin on a hot summer day. OK, you get the point.

It’s the whole package that make his shows so damn good. An award-winning songwriter and performer, Reddick is backed up by a band of excellent musicians at the top of their game. Greg Cockerill on guitar, Kurt Nielsen on bass and Daniel Neill on drums complete the tight band, filling in some of the solos and keeping the groove going all night long.

The band is playing a residency at the Cameron House on Wednesday nights through January. If you’re in town, I strongly recommend you check them out. Here’s a video of the band performing at the Toronto Waterfront Blues Festival last summer:

The tune above doesn’t feature much of Reddick’s exceptional harmonica playing, so here’s a short clip of an older show, to whet the palate:

Photos by Stephanie Beatson

Jadea Kelly held a CD release event at The Pearl Company in Hamilton, Ontario on June 22.  The word I’d most readily use to describe the Toronto-based singer-songwriter is enchanting.  The lovely miss Kelly sings emotively and in such a way that you feel it right down in your gut; at several points during the two hour show I felt a rush of shivers through my body.

Jadea is a true talent. The range of subject matter on her recently released album Clover is quite impressive. “Mary Don’t Go” is a wonderfully touching song about her grandmother, “Saintly Stare” was written after an intense lighting storm that reminds her to be strong through tough decisions, and “Count On” was written for her sweetheart to describe her feelings when he’s away from home touring.

The songs are brought to life not only through Jadea’s songwriting skills, but through her band of talented musicians. The drums and bass ground the tunes and add to the rhythmic structure, the keyboards add to the ambiance and the solo guitar parts add tasteful fills. The heavier second set at The Pearl Company show truly allowed Tom Juhas, the solo guitarist, to showcase his masterful command of the instrument.  The guitar acts as an extension of his body and he seems to find the perfect tone to compliment each song.  He is an extremely atmospheric player and his playing really enhances Jadea’s already strong songwriting both on the album and in live performance.

The level of attentiveness from the audience was a reflection of Jadea’s mesmerizing stage presence, the tightness of the band and the magic of the venue itself. The Pearl Company is located in an old, converted warehouse. During intermission, they served tea and baked goods, and there was local art and jewelry for sale. The charming venue is a true representation of the thriving arts culture in Hamilton.

See the video for her single “Wild West Rain” here: http://youtu.be/9-5AFjfqrBw

Photo by Stephanie Beatson

The only thing that I am sure about B.A. Johnston is that he is a comedian of such awesome destructive force, he must have been sent by a demon to usher in the apocalypse (who would have thought the rapture would come from Hamilton, Ontario!). The good thing, though, is that B.A. uses his demon quite well.

If you have a chance to catch him while you can, you should, for I fear for B.A.’s health- especially after the first time I saw B.A Johnston, covered in beer, rolling over a Green Room table, knocking over abandoned bottles with his naked chest, all the while wearing a sailor’s hat. Perhaps it was a nod to all the dead cruise ship crooners who went down with the ship! The whole experience, I found traumatizing but extremely exhilarating- kind of like karaoke during an epileptic attack.

Too blurry for school: B.A. Johnson @ Casa (photo Ethan Cox)

I had a sneaking suspicion that even if I tried to stay away, the universe would scheme and bring us together again! I would find him, naked, scared, perhaps on stage crying alone, opening for my favorite band. I was drawn instantly to his performing style, one that involved a kind of wretchedness you don’t normally see in performers these days, singing while swirling a mike around, drenched in sweat while dancing to   automatic Casio beats, the kind of spectacle only B.A. Johnston can bring to a live audience. And the man knows how to use a Casio keyboard! He also plays some wicked punk acoustic, making some of the most innovative crooner rock since Pat Boone’s In a metal mood: No More Mister Nice guy!

But where were the crowds?

After the show he told me, “I don’t know why, but I just can’t seem to get the crowd out in Montreal?”

Maybe it was the time of year? It was last October and a very cold evening. A crowd of 5 people showed up – The opening band – I can’t even remember their name? didn’t even stay to watch the show. He made the audience move to the back tables because of flying spit and perspiration. It was however, an intimate evening; one involving his famous snot-rocket routine, along with the usual suspects: blood, sweat and vomit. Also there appeared to be a ritual involving human hair (it is possible I was inebriated at the time and may imagined this last act. However, the terror was very real, I was terrified that I would be cut by flying glass!).

Since his last performance in Montreal, the crowds have been turning out. Just the other night, he played to a full house at Casa Del Popolo with The Burning Hell. Unbelievably, in Montreal, an audience came out to support the crooner! During the show he has the crowd captivated, but its only a matter of time before the performance breakdown. This includes verbal and sweat laced assaults on the front row that become just plane nasty when he turns his attention to two dreadlock guys. But later he redeems himself when he plays his “famous” bathroom encore, of You Will Miss Me When the Zombies Come. This after the crowd actually chants for more!

The question lingers in my head, are people starting to “get” B.A.? The fans seem to come out and enjoy themselves. Although a few are complaining about the fountain of spit B.A. is able to produce that drenches the front (Let this be a lesson to those that go in the front row-remember the Blue Man Group, they almost killed a friend of mine!).

I think the crowd was moved by his music which deals with nostalgic longing and the inevitable transition to adulthood – it is   something very close to heart for audiences of children trapped in adult bodies. The simple guitar and minimalist sounds on his last album Stairway to Hamilton are not   “masterpieces” but they certainly are catchy ditties that mix the fun of childhood with the failures and disappointments of being an adult. He deals with important adult subject-matter, like sleeping next to a deep fryer, lacking basic job-skills or trying to outlast a very alert cock-blocking roommate at 3 am, songs we can all really relate to.

So maybe the “lazy fat chud” (as he calls himself on his website) can show us a thing about the dark side of adulthood all the while letting our inner child have a good time. Please go see B.A. Johnston before he accidentally cuts himself with a beer bottle and retires, you might actually be entertained and besides, the man needs a crowd!

Check out Fantasy life and NBA Jam on his latest album Thank you for being a friend or visit his MySpace, CBC3 page or official website.

Also check out Cassie Doubleday’s full review of B.A. Johnston and Burning Hell @ Casa here