Even though my buddy Deena at e-Book Builders beat me to featuring Anne-Marie Klein and her awesome (but still unread over here) books, Anne-Marie gave me a doozy of a way to end Rocktober.
She’s written us a guest blog post of two of Toronto’s classic Rock and Roll landmarks.
This photo was taken by Keith Seatman and is used here with his kind permission. You can see Keith’s work at: http://testtransmissionarchive.blogspot.ca/ — at Sam the Record Man, iconic Toronto landmark, sadly no longer there.
Los Angeles had Tower Records and Toronto had Sam The Record Man: not only were these iconic record stores, but much like the long yellow banner with its bright red lettering evoked Sunset Boulevard, the twin neon records of Sam’s storefront epitomised the Yonge Street strip as the destination for music fans in the Toronto of the 1970s. The three floors had it all: rock, pop, folk, jazz, blues, reggae, punk, classical, and all sorts of smaller niche markets like children’s albums, foreign language bands, and comedy. You could get lost searching the endless rack of its multiple levels, and I often did.
The chain was started by Sam and Sidney Sniderman in 1937, and the flagship store was established on Yonge Street in 1961. While the double-discs of neon surely helped draw shoppers and make Sam’s a Toronto landmark, it was the wealth of records that kept music fans coming back. I remember my first purchase there—it was Let It Be by the Beatles, for slightly less than $4, and I know that I bought most of my 45s there too through the mid to late parts of the 1970s. I can still see the yellow and red discs of Styx’s Equinox and The Who’s Who Are You dangling on strings from the ceiling as promotional displays of the new “coloured vinyl” phase. It must have worked as a marketing ploy because I still have both copies in my collection.
The linoleum floor was often dirty and tiles curled up under your feet or cracked as you walked by, and the albums snaked up far above my 13-year-old body’s maximum reach, but I loved every corner of the place. I always stole a glance or two at the good-looking sales assistants between finger flips of the alphabetical racks: the young men always wore some kind of cool, faded concert tee-shirt and a nice fitting pair of Levi’s or Lee’s. I admit that on more than one occasion I asked questions to the ones I had a crush on in my teenager years despite already knowing the answers.
The beauty of the Yonge Street strip in the late 70s and early 80s was the proliferation of record stores within two blocks of its Dundas intersection—A&A’s, Music World, and Sunrise Records were all a few steps away from Sam’s, and jumping between them to hunt down bargains kept prices low and allowed me to rapidly expand my collection in a few short years. My favourite aventure was always heading down on Boxing Day, which coincided with my birthday and allowed me to spend gifted money from that and from Christmas and get many popular releases at door crasher prices.
The ultimate tribute I chose to give Sam’s was to let it grace the opening pages of the first book in my series, Behind Blue Eyes. It was a downtown destination for all Toronto music lovers, and so it seemed quite natural that one of my main characters would take her birthday money and spend it there. In those first few pages, she is my mirrored self, with the same Pink Floyd shirt and jeans, imitating me in every fashion except one—I never did meet my first love between those endless record racks. I did, however, just like her, walk out of Sam’s and find Eddie Money next door at A&A’s because on that day, the price was irrestible next door.
The El Mocambo is another one of those Toronto landmarks that is partly famous for its iconic sign: much like Sam the Record Man’s double neon discs, the coconut palm of the tavern make it instantly recognizable. It hosted bands like U2, Elvis Costello, Blondie, and MeatLoaf in its heyday as a live venue for major rock acts. And there is that small matter of the infamous Rolling Stones gig there in 1977 involving some escapades with the band by Margaret Trudeau, then-wife of our Prime Minister…
I must confess that I have never stepped inside the El Mocambo. I was not old enough to see all the great bands that played there in the 70s, although I have fond memories of listening to the live Q107 presentations late on Friday or Saturday nights. It was through those shows that I developed a fondness for punk bands like the TRB (Tom Robinson Band). My connection to the tavern and nightclub is much more personal and goes back to the late 50s, when The German club rented some dance floor space. There, on a blind date in 1959, my smooth-stepping father met my mother and the rest, as they say, is history. It didn’t matter to me as a teenager that Jimi Hendrix or the Stones had played there as much as the idea that I could say to my classmates: ”Oh, yeah, my parents met at the El Mo.” Instant cool.
The El Mocambo was recently purchased with the intention of returning it to its former rock and roll glory. When the club is finally reopened, it will be time, I think, for me to finally do a pilgrimage.
Hey, lady, when it does, I am SO THERE with you!
Pick up Anne-Marie’s books!