Group hug time! eye is pleased as punch to present the 4th annual list of the people who make this city mega (in a good way)…
The Coolest Musicians in Toronto
BY ERIN HAWKINS
Wicked, awesome, bitchin', clever-clever, far-out, not bad, radical in a tubular sort of way… call it what you want, baby. We call it cool.
Though we've grappled with the question "What is cool?" for four years now, we don't appear any closer to nailing it down, which is cool in itself. As my esteemed Coolest Musicians List mentor Cindy McGlynn pointed out last year, the je ne sais quoi of it all seems to be the closest we can get to defining the word.
I can say, however, that a composite sketch is slowly taking shape from my hours of research and I'm happy to report that cool looks nothing like the Unabomber.
Here's what I've learned from this year's winners: Cool is confident and accepts a compliment graciously. No matter how ironic the intention, Cool would never cover a Gowan song. Cool is full of contradictions, i.e., it tends to be a vegetarian that caves in occasionally for chicken doused with something zesty and advocates kindness to our furry friends except for the leathery ones. Cool may not smoke, but mysteriously always smells like a pack of unfiltered Camels. Cool always has that sensuous, just rolled-outta-bed look while the rest of us mortals stumble about with bedhead and crusty eyes that stay all day. Cool has great footwear and doctors would be treated to the bel vista of brand-new sexy underwear in the event of a cool emergency.
So to our 20 winners from this year's list, we'd like to thank you for the music and all those other mysterious things that make y'all so unique and give us lackeys something to strive for and look forward to. Without further ado, here's this year's coolest -- may your spotlight burn long and bright and your tiara never tarnish. Rrrrow!
1. Cool musicianship is a foregone conclusion for all those who made the final cut and is not rated here. Sure, one man's (or woman's) squeaky bath toy is another man's (or woman's) Stradivarius, but we say music is music and it all deserves a listen.
2. Nobody, no matter how fuckin' right on, is allowed to be crowned the coolest two years in a row.
3. Those on the list have to be at least sort of from Toronto and/or a prominent participant in the Toronto music scene.
This year's judges of cool included Erin Hawkins (Muppet: Statler & Waldorf), Cindy McGlynn, Jason Anderson (Muppet: The Swedish Chef), C.J. O'Connor (Muppet: Juliana Hatfield), Nicholas Jennings, Jonathan Patrick (Muppet: Janice the beatnik guitarist) and Tim Powis.
MUPPET BONUS QUESTION!
We think that there's two things that can tell you a lot about a musician's personality -- the one record that they reach for the most… and the name of their favorite Muppet. All you need to know, really.
1. The ballad of Dallas Good
When you assume that you're permanently and quite happily out of the unit-shifting glad-handing-phoney-baloney loop, it seems that nothing can quite prepare you for the news that you're the coolest musician in Toronto -- especially when most of your peers are also your best friends. But that's exactly what happened to Dallas Good and we take all the blame.
If coolness was graded by prolificacy and humility alone, Good (whose current three main groups are Phono-Comb, The Sadies and The Brownbelts) would top just about any list. But add to this his distinctive guitar playing, keen songwriting, a fascinating family history and the kind of name we all wish our our parents had given us and there's very little to dispute.
Because he's such a huge fan of music past, present and down the street from where he lives, it's a bit unnerving for him to be singled out. When I show him a thumbs up review of Phono-Comb's album Fresh Gasoline in a British music magazine, his main reaction is amazement at the fact his band was critiqued alongside Japanese noise outfit Guitar Wolf (which he highly recommends). He'd prefer to talk about almost anyone or anything other than himself. So we talk about the many groups he plays in instead.
"It's true," he says pulling on a cigarette at La Hacienda. "I am in a lot of bands, but it's never more than two or three at a time. Everyone does stuff with their day. I just do things I enjoy. People always think it must be chaotic, but it's pretty loose. I just have to make sure I show up and try not to screw up when I'm playing."
Having Bruce Good (of legendary Canadian country and western band The Good Brothers) for a father has obviously had a huge impact on Dallas, yet he says it's his brother Travis who influenced him the most. Besides being a full-time member of his father's band (now called The Goods) for the last 11 years, Travis (who's five years older than Dallas) also plays acoustic guitar and fiddle in The Sadies. If you've caught this swingin' and very fun country-rock band (which also features Sloan drummer Andrew Scott and upright bass player Sean Dean, who also painted the 'Cool' portrait of Dallas), you no doubt left the show with a smile on your face and a shuffle in your feet. "I was exposed to bluegrass and country through my parents, but Travis has been a music fan since he was a kid and he got into punk rock when he was really young. Growing up, I listened to '60s punk and '80s hardcore, basically."
It was also at least partially because of Travis that the raw 'n' twangy Phono-Comb (which also includes Don Pyle, Reid Diamond and Beverly Breckenridge) was spawned -- Dallas first got together with Diamond when the Goods organized a tribute to Alice Cooper's Love It To Death album.
Right now Dallas says The Sadies are temporarily on the back burner. Besides the blossoming Brownbelts, who've just started playing around town, Phono-Comb are hard at work on their second Quarterstick album. If all this (and a day job) doesn't seem mind-boggling enough, Dallas is also touring with The Goods as their bass player. Having just returned from a Caribbean cruise, the country combo will spend early March touring through Europe. For Dallas, a little schedule rearranging is more than worth it for the sake of travel and a chance to be with his family, which he says gets closer all the time.
"Phono-Comb played in January at The Rivoli and I opened up that show with my dad, my uncle, my brother and my cousin D'arcy on upright bass. We did all bluegrass songs and it was one of the most fun shows I've ever played. It was completely spontaneous. My mom even did some songs too -- she's got a great voice. As a matter of fact, she used to be a back-up singer on the Ronnie Prophet Show. We're the tightest family that I know of."
Dallas' album of choice is The Byrds' Sweethearts Of The Rodeo, and his favorite Muppet is the guy who blows things up. -- E.H.
The coolest musicians in Toronto: #2-20
2. DANKO JONES
Singer/guitarist, Danko Jones
The sexiest alter-ego in town. Appears in Rusty's video for "Empty Cell" as a nerdy boy. Known for his costume changes and prowess with a can of whipped cream. "I didn't even recognize him onstage," confesses Danko's mom. "I said, 'Is this my son?' " Says Danko has always been musically inclined. So red hot that undergarments are hurled in his direction. Album: The All-Time Greatest Hits Of Roy Orbison. Muppet: "I don't know in God's name what a Muppet is."
3. LISA LINDO
Singer, Pacande, Nazka, Lisa Lindo Trio
Reaction to cool citation: "Get out of here! That's crazy!" Producer Billy Bryans calls her "eminently positive and a consummate perfectionist." Trained as an opera singer but found the arias too stuffy once she began singing Latin American and West African music: "Opera's not as fun as playing in a band with congas." Performed in an elementary school and was asked by a youngun if she was wearing a wig. Sang the Oscar Meyer theme twice while on tour with Jane Siberry last summer. Says she ain't afraid to show a little cleavage. Album: Joni Mitchell's Blue. Muppet: Gonzo.
4. MICHIE MEE
MC, DJ, rapper, Raggadeath
Toronto's first woman of hip-hop (and death metal ragga!). Cast her 5-year-old son Shamarr in video stomping on bugs (really, they were Smarties). Hosts the Power Moves show on CKLN and is a big sister in the Each One Teach One mentor program. Into basketball. "I like bossing men around, 'cause I'm a control woman." Tight with City-TV's Traci Melchor. Totally busy and energetic, but always well coiffed: "Girl, my hair changes every week!" Album: Bob Marley's Natty Dread. Muppet: Miss Piggy.
5. DALE MORNINGSTAR
Singer, guitarist, The Dinner Is Ruined
Nice country boy from Chippewa. Collects exotic instruments and buys rotis for everyone on road trips. Runs the Gas Station, where he's become one of the city's most creative and respected producers. When the band felt they needed a name change, they added the "The." Once worked at Ripley's Believe It Or Not in Niagara Falls. Says musical cohort Dave Clark: "He's a dear friend and a person who's changed my life, but he could bathe more often." Once caught a bra Mick Jagger threw back into crowd. Album: Rolling Stones' Exile On Main Street. Muppet: Michael Caine.
6. GREAT BOB SCOTT
Percussionist, Royal Jelly Orchestra, Excalceolators
"I won something, mommy!" Collects toys and hats. A man brave and silly enough to have a Herve Villechaize tattoo. "A lot of people don't get it. In Europe they'd be like, 'Who's this, Charles Bronson?' " Has a 2-year-old son named Paddington Jitterbug Scott. "I hope he doesn't kill me for it if he turns out to be some big jock football player." Album: Old Sandy's Wee Bit Of Scotch. Muppet: Beeker.
7. SARA MONTGOMERY
Singer, guitarist, Venus Cures All et al.
Owns Whiskey Sour Records. Plays drums in The Cooperators and Orbital Action as well as guitar and bass in the Hooligalz and has her own jazz trio. Aims to become a cross between John Reis and Charlie Christian and wants to learn flamenco dancing. Wears cool dresses, rock T's, neat jewelry. Huge fan of comic book artist Chris Ware: "I got to meet him when we were in Chicago, but I found out he doesn't like rock music." Album: The Best Of Duke Ellington. Muppet: Animal ("I have him in my band right now").
8. RAVI NAIMPALLY
Tabla player, percussionist
Coolest purveyor of the hottest instrument, most prominently in the Thomas Handy Trio. Every Friday he plays congas in Klavé Y Kongo. Currently enrolled in Richard Pochinko's clowning course. "Ultimately you just learn to laugh at your own silliness as a human." Did session work with everyone from Loreena McKennitt to The Pursuit Of Happiness to Dalbello. Studied with great South Indian composer Trichy Sankaran. Practises yoga and is into herbs and concocting healthy teas. Album: Los Monequitos De Matanzas' Valcanao. Muppet: Animal.
9. TEDDY FURY
Drummer, Royal Crowns
City's best free-standing quiff alone embodies the spirit of rock 'n' roll. Got job bartending at The Horseshoe because he always wanted to work under Elvis. Fave movie: Clambake. The Royal Crowns host the now legendary Elvis Karaoke nights. Says Teddy about his muse: "Playing rockabilly is like driving 200 m.p.h. without any brakes -- very exciting and fun." Album: The Fantastic And Unbelievable Sounds Of Los Straitjackets. Muppet: Grover.
10. MICHELLE BRESLIN & LUCY S. DIAMOND
Drummers, singers, guitarists, It's Patrick!
Michelle is an artist and filmmaker, Lucy's a dancer. They both switch back and forth between drums and guitar. "We both just want to do both," says Lucy. Alumni of Trans Love Airways. Michelle and Lucy used to play together in SuperBandWaistBand -- Lucy's first performance with It's Patrick! was at the Joy Division tribute. Both participate in clothes-swapping parties with their girlfriends. Michelle's album: The Stooges' Funhouse. Lucy's: Hayden's Everything I Long For. Michelle's Muppet: Miss Piggy. Lucy's: Sax-playing Fraggle.
11. ISTVAN KANTOR
Performance artist, a.k.a. Monty Cantsin, Amen!
Hungarian emigre and founder of Neoism?!. Made "blood paintings" at the AGO and N.Y.C's Museum of Modern Art before Jubal Brown even had tummy trouble. Interested in meat grinders. Created "Accumulations," a piece scored chiefly with the slamming of file cabinets. Album: Steve Reich's "It's Gonna Rain." Muppet: "Myself."
12. SUE HUTTON
Singer/percussionist, Rhea's Obsession
The Dalai Lama's right-hand man in Canada, Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, presided over her wedding to Rhea's guitarist Jim Field. Influenced by music from Bulgaria and India. Works as a social worker with psychiatric survivors and helps them learn to live independently. Undaunted by possible hex over show cancellations due to closings at Fiction and Ultrasound. Album: Mary Margaret O'Hara's Miss America. Muppet: Kermit.
13. LUIS MARIO OCHOA
Bandleader, singer, guitarist, Cimarron
Emigrated to Canada from Cuba in 1990. Took only three short years to form ambitious 12-piece band and release a CD. Totally positive and passionate: "My main hobby besides music is music. Music, music, music, music -- I love it!" A one-man party piñata. Prized possession: a handmade guitar given to him when he was a boy. Loves dancing, swimming, beans 'n' rice, chess and his computer. Hopes to help take the pickle out of the city's proverbial butt: "Everyone goes to bed at 11 o' clock over here. Back in Cuba, that's when life starts!" Album: Paquito D'Rivera's The Caribbean Project. Muppet: Miss Piggy.
14. JENNY BEA
Centre of insanely huge record company bidding war but has decided to chill and work on more music instead. Cohort Doc Holliday says she's the most passionate musician he's ever met. Loves J.D. Salinger and The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. Once played Peter Pan on a bungee cord. Mondo Björk and Prince fan and hasn't forsaken the shoegazers. Album: The Verve's A Storm In Heaven. Muppet: Beeker.
15. STEVE BROMSTEIN
Singer, guitarist, Poppy Seed & The Love Explosion
Guru of the El Mo's Sedated Sunday. Not afraid to attempt glorious horn and string arrangements, even on a working man's budget. Sax player Bob Mover plays on his album. Enjoys the Chameleons. Handles 15 bands in one night doing Smiths covers. Rides his bike 12 months a year. A Scorpio who's naturally attracted to women. Appears perturbed by absolutely nothing. Album: Love's Forever Changes. Muppet: Fozzie Bear.
16. MARY MARGARET O'HARA
Singer, songwriter, actress
Elegant, sophisticated with a hint of mystique. Made the sadly beautiful Miss America. In 1996, appeared on the Vic Chesnutt tribute and albums by the Henrys and Hugh Marsh. Says musical co-conspirator Marsh: "She's a totally unique singer - a voice from heaven. She has such an idiosyncratic way of looking at things and hearing things." Please make another record! Album: Jimmy Cliff's The Harder They Come. Muppets: Bert the cop and Ernie the cab driver in It's A Wonderful Life.
17. STELLA PANACCI & DARREN DANISH
Singer and guitarist, Kat Rocket
Owners of Hoodwink Records. Kept Kat Rocket going through eight line-up changes and 12 players in five years. Stella changes her hair every month and it always looks great. Darren never changes his and it still looks great. Stella has the voice of an angel. She works as a lifeguard and sells popcorn at the movie theatre. His most prized possession is his Les Paul. Darren's album: Pavement's Slanted And Enchanted. Stella's: Fairport Convention's Liege And Lief. Communal Muppet: Animal.
18. DAVE HUMPHREYS
Guitarist, Mean Red Spiders
Organizer of unpretentious and effective KIMfest. "Kim stands for Kanadian Independent Music. I was thinking big so I gave Canada a capital K." Day job: Revue Cinema usher. A big teddy bear of a guy who makes chain-smoking a fine art: "I've smoked three cigarettes while talking to you." Can make his guitar sound like a U.F.O. and always wears a brown shirt with a white paint stain. Album: The Buzzcocks' Singles Going Steady. Muppet: Beeker.
19. LIZZY MAHASHE
Singer, Lizzy Mahashe & Shaza Band
Amazing singer who describes her music as a combination of hip-hop, reggae and African jive. Her music was used in the made-for-TV film The Red Flower. Hero is South African singer Miriam Makeba. Moved to Toronto 10 years ago and has grown to love life in the city, but still hasn't gotten used to the winters. Honored at the 1995 Toronto African Music Awards as the Outstanding Female Performer. Album: Toni Braxton's Secrets. Muppet: Kermit.
20. JUKKA-PEKKA SARASTE
Conductor, Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Multi-talented Finn has added a sexy air to the T.S.O., who were starting to get a little pantyhose beige. He's handled Jukka-Pekka Mania (which threatened to turn into Yanni-style hysteria) quite gracefully. But please, lay off the the Sibelius! And is that him moonlighting in the new milk ad? Probable Album: Something by Sibelius. Probable Muppet: Guy Smiley.
Kudos to all the cool musicians we've cited over the last four years. To refresh your memory (and reinforce the sense of tradition we got goin' on over here), here's the Top 3 from each year.
1996! 1. Kimi Tallman and Steve Banks of Trans Love Airways. 2. Cindy Beattie of the Heatseekers (R.I.P.) 3. Alvaro Castellanos of Project 9.
1995! 1. Cadillac Bill. 2. Ivana Scintilli of Bass Is Base. 3. Lonnie James of Possum (now The Super Friendz).
1994! 1. Clifton Joseph. 2. G.B. Jones of Fifth Column. 3. William New of Groovy Religion.