Thursday, July 30, 2015

R is for Stan Rogers, The Rankins and some band called Rush.

     June 2, 1983, Air Canada Flight 797 took off from Dallas and soared into the hot Texas sky. Approximately one hour into the flight, noxious fumes begun to fill the cabin of the plane.  A fire had started in an electrical panel in a washroom, causing critical components of the plane's electrical system to shut down.  The pilots were forced to make an emergency landing in Cincinnati, Ohio.  As the crew opened the doors to deploy the emergency evacuation chutes, fresh oxygen was sucked into the cabin and a flash fire engulfed the remaining passengers and crew. A total of 23 people lost their lives that day, including Canada's greatest folk singer, Stan Rogers.

     Stan Rogers (and his brother Garnet) are to Canadian Folk Music, what Woody Guthrie was to American Folk Music.  Stan Rogers was born in Hamilton, ONtario but, spent much of his life near the Atlantic Ocean in Nova Scotia.  He wrote many songs that chronicled aspects of life in Canada or else, our history.  He sang with a comforting, rich baritone singing voice. Some of his classic hits include Northwest Passage, Barrett's Privateers, The Mary Ellen Carter, Make and Break Harbour, The Field Behind the Plow, Fogarty's Cove and Forty-five Years.  



    In this video, Rogers son, Nathan does a fine job of showing why Northwest Passage has been voted as Canada's alternate national anthem. The Rogers Family are a gift to our fair Nation. Their ability to bring our history to life in song is unparalleled.  Stan Rogers is remembered and honoured at various Folk Festivals each year such as the Canmore Folk Festival, the Simmerfolk Festival in Owen Sound and, of course, The Stan Rogers Folk Festival, held in Canso, Nova Scotia, not far from my beloved Canso Causeway and its' "Welcome to Cape Breton" sign.

    The death of those 23 souls aboard Air Canada 797 has not be completely in vain.  The good that comes from such tragedy can be measured in the lives that have since been saved by improving passenger safety with measures such as installing smoke detectors in washrooms. For more information on Flight 797 and its' impact on passenger safety, click here.
    Stan Rogers ashes were spread across the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, becoming one with the water that so shaped his life and his music.  He was 33 years old.


     We often grow our families big back home on Cape Breton island. The Rankin Family had a total of twelve siblings in all. Originally, the elder Rankin children began singing at weddings and ceilidhs in and around their home town of Mabou in Nova Scotia.  But, over time, as some moved away to pursue higher educational callings or to pursue a career, the members of the group that became known as The Rankin Family settled upon brothers, Jimmy and John Morris and sisters, Cookie, Raylene and Heather.

    These five members began to coalesce as a band, around the same time as Rita McNeil was already becoming a star on our national stage.  Rita was very generous when it came to sharing the spotlight with other Celtic acts and so it was that she gave a helping hand to The Rankin Family by inviting them to sing with her on tour or on her TV Show, Rita and Friends.  Years of performing locally had prepared the Rankin clan well so that when their moment came to be introduced to Canada, they were  ready with, what became a huge hit for them, Fare Thee Well.



     The success of Fare Thee Well paved the way for a string of hits that followed such as The North Country, Gillis Mountain, We Rise Again and the haunting Gaelic classic, An Innis Aigh or "The Happy Isle", which they recorded with Ireland's, The Chieftains.

     The Rankin Family have represented Cape Breton Island well, winning 15 East Coast Music Awards, six Juno awards and multiple Canadian Country Music awards, too.  Of the original five members, two have since passed away; John Morris in a car accident in 2000 and Raylene due to cancer in 2012.  John Morris' daughter, Mollie is now gaining fame as the lead singer for the up-and-coming band, Alvvays.  Jimmy Rankin tours as a solo act now and has released several Celtic/country-oriented albums.  Heather and Cookie perform sporadically but, just like Rita McNeil, who had her Tearoom, the Rankin Family own the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou and, if you visit on the right day, you may just find yourself privileged to hear the best in-house band anywhere in the country!


     Finally, I give you, Rush!

     For over four decades, Alex Leifson, Neil Peart and Geddy Lee have been writing and performing together. They are, without question, the most respected and successful rock band that Canada has ever produced.  With record sales estimated at 40 million, Rush find themselves ranked among the luminaries of Rock History from all over the world.

     Formed in Willowdale, Ontario, Rush's early work was heavily influenced by the complex, multi-chaptered prog rock that was being played by groups such as Yes, early Genesis and King Crimson.  Some early songs typically reached twenty minutes in length.  While the length and complexity of the arrangements helped each player to develop virtuoso-like skills, mainstream radio radio found their songs too long and, as such, Rush became more of a live, performance band rather than a chart-topping radio band.
     In the early 80s, Rush acknowledged the need to become more "radio friendly" and began producing some of the songs that most people now regard as their classic hits such as, Limelight, Tom Sawyer, Subdivisions, Closer to the Heart, Big Money, Spirit of Radio and New World Man.  Rush is, also, known for releasing Live albums, of which there are now 17 (!) versions of full albums or specific tour scenes available.
     Over the course of their entire career, Rush has earned the most consecutive Gold records sales in music history, sitting only behind The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.  They are members of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, as well as, The U.S. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
     But no matter how great their acclaim on the international stage, I adore Rush for the part they played in one of my favourite all-time Canadian television moments. Appearing on the raunchy TV Show, Trailer Park Boys, Alex Leifson and Bubbles (with the coke-bottle glasses) end the episode playing Closer to the Heart together. The episode is a classic but, it is not intended for a young audience. Viewer discretion is strongly advised. Enjoy the whole episode.


A big tip of the hat goes out to the following performers whose name begins with an "R":

Children's star, Raffi, Josh Ramsay (of Marianas Trench), Pop star, Alyssa Reid, Quebec legend, Ginette Reno, Loverboy lead singer, Mike Reno, Alternative rising stars, Rural Alberta Advantage, Mother and daughter, Gospel/Jazz/Blues queens, Jackie and Kim Richardson, Brad Roberts (of Crash Test Dummies), Ed Robertson (of The Barenaked Ladies), Composer of the French version of our nation anthem, Adolphe Basile Routhier, Celtic/Irish group, Ryan's Fancy and, finally, for today, producer extraordinaire, Bob Rock.

***Tomorrow:  Part #2 of "R":  the Young Turks Edition!!!    So, if you don't see your favourite r-rated performer in today's post.....and yes, I mean you, Johnny.......they will be there Tomorrow.  :)