As I continued my tour of coffee houses, folk music was everywhere. The Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary, and The Limelighters were all having hit records. Word would travel the folk circuit that this friend or that was putting together a new group or becoming nationally famous. In the last installment, I talked about The Mammas and Pappas and The Lovinn’ Spoonful. Now Jesse Colin Young was putting together The Youngbloods and Jose Feliciano was starting to make a national name for himself.
While I was still traveling to play the coffee house circuit, eventually I became an opening act at Cleveland’s La Cave. It was there that I opened for Ian and Sylvia, a couple from Canada I had seen on the Hootenanny tv show. Ian encouraged me to head to Toronto and look for work up there. He even offered to put in a good word for me, so off I went. It was there I met Neil Young, Joni Anderson, a young lady from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan who later married another folkie friend Chuck Mitchell and carried his name into stardom. And there was Amos Garrett. Amos was a guitar player with a jug band called “The Dirty Shames.” Amos went on to record with Stevie Wonder, Todd Rundgren, Bonnie Raitt, and over 100 other artists. He is probably best known for his guitar solo on the hit song, “Midnight At The Oasis.”.
Toronto was a city like no other on the folk circuit. The Yorkville district near the University was the center of the folk scene. There was The Purple Onion, The Riverboat, The Village Corner, The Mouse Hole, and The Penny Farthing to name a few. Ian had gotten me a gig at the Village Corner club and introduced me to an up and coming singer/songwriter, Gordon Lightfoot. More about Gordon later in the story.
Fred Cooper was the manager of The Purple Onion, at that point the most important folk club in Yorkville. Fred invited me to stay at his apartment above a French restaurant. Our entrance was up a flight of stairs in the back. That part of the property was fenced and home to a huge Alsatian dog, who was all bark but no bite, and scared the hell out of everybody that walked by. Great. We were counterculture guys and no one could bother us, especially bill collectors and the constables.
Mr. Finta, the owner of the restaurant had been a dancer on the Left Bank in Paris during the Nazi occupation and assumed anyone in uniform was trouble. He never acknowledged to anyone that we lived there. And if he saw I had a young lady on my arm as we headed up the backstairs, he would often stop us and hand me a bottle of extremely good wine saying “if I was with a woman as beautiful as her, this is what I would drink.” That would often occur when Fred was away so I don’t know if he ever got the famous bottle of wine when I wasn’t there but I’m sure he did.
Fred and I had some great fun in that little apartment. We would have pickin’ parties up there. Musicians hanging out and playing along with whatever songs were popular or, in the case of singer/songwriters, their own compositions. It is hard to forget Gordon playing a song he had just finished. It was “Early Morning Rain.” Yes, we were all blown away. It was just a room full of unknown musicians trading songs, ideas, and philosophy. We were all still hoping for a break.
The first meeting with Lightfoot was hard to forget. I was playing the Village Corner and Gordon insisted I had to be introduced to Canadian beer. It was a night to remember. Gordon said we needed to head down to The Hawks Nest at Le Coq Door on Young Street. It was the home club of Ronnie Hawkins and his band, Levon and the Hawks, an unknown backup group that became The Band. Later that evening we went upstairs to Ronnie’s office above the club where he had a gym and a sauna. Two guys wasted on Canadian beer in a sauna was as crazy as it sounds. The photo below is Gordon playing his regular gig at Steel’s Tavern. I used to play on the same stool when Gordon was out of town. It was the kind of place we all had to play in between our regular folk club gigs to stay alive and still make music.
There was a young lady in Toronto who always had a place for musicians to sleep. Having secured my stay one night I responded to a knock on the door. One of the guys introduced himself as Neil Young who I would later see in Toronto’s Yorkville district playing here and there. I never heard much about him on the circuit, but when I eventually got to the Troubadour in Hollywood, he had just become one of the founding members of the Buffalo Springfield. Another example of a young folkie looking for a break becoming a household name.
I was in folk heaven. It was a time when everybody in folk music was meeting everybody else. Here in the early and mid-1960s were the foundations of the Folk-Rock revolution to come later in the 60s and into the 70s.
Hair grew long, clothing got ragged, and joints were smoked. California here we come!
A footnote: Upon finishing this part of the story I got a call from Michael telling me of a documentary about Gordon Lightfoot. “If You Could Read My Mind” on Amazon Prime. Talk about precious memories! It’s a film I recommend to any Gordon Lightfoot fan and anyone who wants to know more about Toronto and Yorkville in the 1960s or the crazy days at Hollywood’s the Troubadour in the 1970s.