Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Having a Great Laff in Ottawa, and a Fabulous Moonshine in Oakville

January 5, 2019

moonshine café in oakville

moonshine café in oakville

Our last two nights in Canada were spent checking out a couple of open mics I have never played in before. In fact, as far as playing in open mics in Ottawa, I had never done that at all. Both nights had their amazingly cool aspects, as ultimately, I finally found myself in a familiar environment after a week and a half of discoveries of the past, present, and maybe the future, in a country that I used to call home.

I guess I can still call it home thanks to my friends and family still living there, but just about everything else felt a little foreign to me after not visiting much of it for a decade. Yes, I had been going to Montreal yearly for the previous nearly 10 years, to cover the Formula One, but that excluded Toronto, and made Ottawa a big step away. Moreover, this visit was only my second in a Canadian winter since 1983, and that was something else again!

The Laff – or Château Lafayette – calls itself Canada’s oldest tavern, as it was founded in 1849. (It also calls itself Canada’s original Dive bar – which generally means a scummy kind of place, but now means it can also be slightly trendy.) Ornella happened to see that there was an open mic on Tuesday night, and that was our last night in Ottawa, and we were staying within walking distance of the place in the Byward Market, so there was no way possible to miss this one.

The open mic has been running for more than 12 years, and has a large cross-section of performers, a good sound system, and I am sure that if it had not been New Year’s Day, there would have been a lot more musicians and a bigger “musician” vibe. (In fact, I was told this was the case by the longtime organizer of the evening,
John Carroll.) I was just thankful that it even took place on New Year’s Day, since so much of the city was closed down. And, yes, it was around 20 below zero outside with lots of snow and ice on the roads. I was astounded there were as many musicians attending as there were, but then again, such weather is just natural for Ottawa.

And then on to Oakville and the Moonshine Café

commandments of the jam at the moonshine

commandments of the jam at the moonshine

Our final night in Canada we went to visit my old friend, Mark Parr, who had been telling me about this great open mic he has been attending for as long as the Laff open mic has existed in Ottawa. Located in his current hometown of Oakville, which is about 40 minutes’ drive from Toronto, the Moonshine Café is the region’s biggest attraction as a music bar. Toronto itself may be full of bars and music venues, but certainly in the suburban areas, and the region immediately surrounding Oakville – and, as the denizens of the Moonshine say – there is no bar that devotes itself to music the way this one does.

Music every night, basically, it has an open mic, jam sessions, band nights, stars, beginners, everything you can imagine. And the vibe you get from the decor and the piped in music when the stage is empty – mostly they play recordings of people who have played there – shows that the Moonshine really is a musicians’ paradise as far as bars go.

In fact, it is a community as well, and the artifacts and posters on the wall – of musicians (Bob Dylan), house rules, definitions of the jam, photos of past evenings – all attest to and set the vibe of a warm, cosy, home for musicians and spectators alike.

house rules at the moonshine

house rules at the moonshine

The jam this night was – as you will see and hear in my videos – pretty distinctively that of a bunch of local musicians who have played together frequently. (But I am told that they also regularly come from all around the region.) And much to my delight, they were able to fit in really easily with even my own songs that they had never heard before. My friend Mark – who plays the recorder and penny whistles – goaded me on to doing my own stuff when I started out playing a cover song everyone knew. So I tried, “It’s Easy,” and then “Borderline,” and later I jumped into doing some covers I don’t usually try – such as “Runaway Train” by Soul Asylum – again due to Mark’s pushing me onwards. I’d like to have that kind of goading at every jam like open mic, as I usually tend to fall into what I see as the three-chord-safety zone of well-known covers.
mark parr and brad spurgeon in action at puck's circus in 1976

mark parr and brad spurgeon in action at puck’s circus in 1976

By the way, the highest point for me of this jam was that it was the first time in my life that I had found myself playing music with Mark. Who could have imagined that 42 years after we shared the same circus ring – as you will be able to see in the photo of the two of us during my juggling act at Puck’s Circus in Toronto – I was now playing music with him on another kind of stage…. Thanks Mark!!!!

Today’s Long Lost Interview is a 1996 One with Frazier Mohawk / Barry Friedman, the Record Producer, Circus Impresario, Farmer and all the rest

October 31, 2018

Frazier Mohawk and Nurit Wilde

Frazier Mohawk and Nurit Wilde

PARIS – For the second day in a row I am stunned to have found in my archives an interview I never knew I had. This time it is a long and wide-ranging one with Frazier Mohawk (born Barry Friedman), who is best known as the founder of the Buffalo Springfield band, and producer of many other albums of the 60s and early 70s. He was also the director and founder of Puck’s Canadian Travelling Circus, and a friend of mine from my teenage years. I wrote about him for a special article in the Careers section of the International Herald Tribune in January 1997, and this interview – which I had forgotten I had – was done for the article. What makes it valuable to anyone interested in Frazier – and I see lots of hits for my other articles about Frazier Mohawk, like about his death in 2012 – is that it covers much of his life that has not already been covered by all the usual interviews focusing on his work as a record producer in the 60s. It focuses much on his recording studio at Puck’s Farm, and on his childhood and youth. You really get the sound of his voice here too, so if you knew Frazier Mohawk / Barry Friedman, or want to know what he sounded like, read this interview in my articles (as opposed to posts) section of this blog.

Frazier Mohawk / Barry Friedman Dies – a Remembrance

June 3, 2012

frazier mohawk self portrait

frazier mohawk self portrait

Yesterday Frazier Mohawk, born Barry Friedman, died of complications from illness related to his liver, at the age of 70, in a hospital near where he lived north of Toronto, Canada. Born in Los Angeles, Frazier had moved to Canada in the early 1970s to escape and recover from the second part of his remarkably interesting career, and to return to a path he had set out on in his first short career. Frazier went from being a teenage circus performer and television producer to producing records and putting together some of the top musicians of the 1960s and 1970s – like the Buffalo Springfield, Nico, Paul Butterfield, Jackson Browne and many others – and then back again to the circus as he set up Puck’s Canadian Travelling Circus in Canada, before founding Puck’s Farm, and creating a music studio on the farm.

I met Frazier in Toronto when I was 18 and he hired me for his circus. I dropped out of that quickly, but we remained lifelong friends, and he was an influence up to today, including with my return to music in recent years, which led to the existence of this blog and my worldwide musical adventures.

I have written a personal remembrance of Frazier, outlining his life, and drawing together the threads that joined our paths over the years. Located here on this link in the same area of this web site as the story I wrote about Frazier for the International Herald Tribune in 1997, it is a personal look at one of my closest friends, Frazier Mohawk / Barry Friedman. It can also be accessed in the menu above by clicking on “Blog Articles (As Opposed to Posts). Written very quickly today to get it up immediately, I will no doubt return and add links and clean it up a little occasionally – so keep posted, and please share your own memories of this remarkable man, if you are lucky enough to have any.

Riding My Unicycle Up (and Down) The Wicked Eau Rouge Corner at Spa

August 29, 2010

The Eau Rouge corner is the most wicked, steepest, craziest corner in Formula One auto racing. It is the corner that separates the men from the boys, to use a cliché. Or at least it was until they made a few modifications to it that made it so that pretty much all the Formula One cars go flat out up through this wall of a hill in the Ardennes Forest where the Belgian Grand Prix takes place.

So it was that because the corner no longer is entirely what it was in a Formula One car – not so long ago only fools like Jacques Villeneuve attempted it flat out, and ended up in the tire barrier off the side in a mess – I decided that I would measure myself against the drivers by attempting to take Eau Rouge on a real man’s machine: My unicycle. (It just turns out that there was a story in the New York Times today about unicycling, too, so you can get the background for unicycling on that.)

As a teenager for a brief period I worked in a circus in Canada called Puck’s Canadian Travelling Circus, and also for that circus’s predecessor company called Puck’s Rent-a-Fool. So I guess once a fool always a fool.

Eau Rouge has hung there for me as a temptation for years now but it was only yesterday that I finally got my courage up to attempt to ride my unicycle up the legendary hill.

The day before I did so, I sent off an email to a media contact at the McLaren Mercedes team to invite Lewis Hamilton, the team’s world champion driver, to join me if he cared to. For Hamilton too knows that Formula One cars are not entirely a man’s machine anymore, and he too rides a unicycle. I never heard back on that one, and I have assumed that Hamilton was too scared.

But he is certainly not afraid of unicycles. In fact, you could say he is part of a trend, and it all started off with an Irish former F1 driver named David Kennedy, who now runs a team in a lower series. Kennedy, in the 70s – when I first started unicycling – rode a unicycle. Then Mika Hakkinen, the Finnish driver who also became world champion at McLaren – like Hamilton – in 1998 and 1999 also rode a unicycle. (He went to circus school and, like me, occasionally rode his unicycle to high school.) And today there is Hamilton’s friend and competitor, Nico Rosberg, who drives as Michael Schumacher’s teammate at the Mercedes team, who also rides a unicycle. (He’d be better off here this weekend on the unicycle than in the Mercedes, where he qualified only 12th and then got a five spot grid penalty for having to change the gearbox.)

To quote from my story today from my Belgian Grand Prix Special Report about the Spa circuit, Eau Rouge “is end of a back straight where the cars run at 300 kilometers an hour, during a 23-second period at full throttle from La Source hairpin to Les Combes, at the end of the straight after Eau Rouge. Eau Rouge is the only corner in the series where the drivers have negative G-forces, here measured at up to -3.5g.”

So the challenge was there and I had to take it. I was warned by many colleagues in advance that the corner was like a wall, that it was difficult to walk up, almost impossible to ride up on a bicycle, and that I had no chance on a unicycle. What’s more, it could be dangerous for me.

Yeah, but I had to do it. I took a video of the feat, and yes, I made it!!! Not without looking like a fool and like a man on the verge of a heart attack, however. The second video, of me going DOWN Eau Rouge, was much simpler as a feat and I even managed to have the time to make a telephone call.

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