On the album just released Live in El MocamboThe Rolling Stones convincingly roar through a list of songs that includes It’s just rock ‘n’ roll (but I love it). Singer Mick Jagger got it wrong – it’s never been this way Just Rock and Roll Music.
On March 4 and 5, 1977, the Rolling Stones played for Toronto tight club El Mocambo. The shows were sneaky and secretive – the room was reserved for April Wine, who were a great rock ‘n’ roll band but not the greatest bands in the world. The whole thing was scandalous. Stones guitarist Keith Richards and his model girlfriend Anita Palenberg have been arrested on drug charges. And while Margaret Trudeau was on the band’s guest list, her husband, the Prime Minister, was not her guest.
The event is historic in itself, especially for fans of the Stones. This was a heavyweight band in a 300 capacity room playing not only their current repertoire but old R&B chestnuts like Route 66. Besides the momentary tabloid-fueled excitement of the Stones’ visit, there were wonderful long-term implications for Toronto and the Canadian music industry. In the 1970s, the centers of world music were in London, New York and Los Angeles. Our local recording business was still reeling. But when the world found out that Jagger was now putting up his kicks in Toronto, the game changed.
“If the Stones find something useful about Toronto, then God is saying something,” said Duff Roman, who helped organize the concerts. “The perception was that Toronto was no longer a sleepover, but now a destination on the world tour map.”
In 1977, Roman was the program director of CHUM-FM in Toronto, at the time the country’s preeminent album-rock station. The station held a contest that promised tickets for the April wine party. Instead, the winners were unexpectedly able to watch the opening of the April Wine in front of the Stones.
Roman was one of the panelists who appeared earlier this month at El Mocambo for an event promoting the release of Live in El Mocambo23-track album From the material picked up from the two surprise shows 45 years ago. (El Mo recordings of little red rooster, crackingAnd the munch boy And the Spins and turns Previously appeared on the Stones double album I love you live.)
El Mocambo has undergone a major renovation over the past few years, but the second floor stage now occupies the same space as it did in 1977. Among those assembled this past weekend with Roman was Rob Bowman (Grammy Award-winning musicologist who… cleared his way to El Mo’s show on the Stones’ first night) and David Bluestein, the club’s booking agent at the time.
They and others told stories about the concerts – most of the tales we heard, but some we did not. Among the latter is the destruction of the myth that the stones played secret performances under a false name, cockroaches.
“It wasn’t a secret pseudonym at all,” Bowman told a small crowd of Stones junkies on hand and anyone watching the online panel discussion. “No one thought they’d see The Cockroaches as the opening band for April Wine.”
The Cockroaches was simply the name used internally as a cover. She appeared on the trails behind the scenes. “We couldn’t get printers to print something that said ‘The Rolling Stones,’ because then the printers would know,” Blostein said.
In fact, the new album begins with an advertisement that does not mention cockroaches. “Please welcome to El Mocambo, Toronto and Canada, Rolling Stones!” then honky tonk women Begins: Jagger sings about a woman who blew his mind, while everyone in the room seems to be losing their minds.
By all accounts, the night’s second concert, Saturday, was the outperformer – most of the tracks are there Live in El Mocambo Taken from this presentation. “The Stones had to bring in the A game on Saturday,” Roman told The Globe and Mail before the panel session. “The secret was outside and the crowd broke out. They couldn’t believe their good fortune.”
Another legend in El Mo is that the wife of the Prime Minister shared with the stones their dressing room. In fact, the “dressing room” was the entire first floor of the place. It was full of all kinds of people. The scene was anything but debauchery.
“Every time Margaret Trudeau walked in, Mick rolled his eyes,” Roman says. “Because 20 feet behind her were two big guys in tweed jackets who seemed to have a lot of power.”
The men were the element of security associated with the First Lady of Canada. Everything that could have been in the room was brutalized by idiots. “There were no real parties going on,” Roman says.
It was not only the heavier people who cooled the temperature. After police found heroin and other drugs in Richards’ room days earlier at Harbor Castle Hilton, the guitarist was charged with intent to pass and his passport was confiscated.
Ultimately, a sweet deal resulted in the probation and sentence being suspended for the guitarist. The Toronto-loving Stones would later team up with Canadian party promoter Michael Kuhl, rehearse in Toronto before the big tours, play several underground club shows in the city and, in 2003, headline Toronto’s massive Molson Canadian Rocks concert assembled to help revive the city’s economy after a disease outbreak. SARS.
That concert drew the world’s attention to Toronto, as did El Mo Caber in 1977. “By creating the city as a home away from home, the Rolling Stones made Toronto a great place and established us as the capital of music,” Roman says. “A lot of things could have gone wrong at El Mocambo concerts, but they didn’t. That is why it stands out.”