Thursday, March 05, 2009

Ossington Part V

I enjoyed the vibrant music scene we had up here in Toronto in the 80s. I used to walk from my place on Ossington, down to Queen St. and east. On Saturdays, the late great Handsome Ned played a solo afternoon performance (if he decided there were enough drinkers to constitute an audience) and often with his band in the evenings. I thought Handsome Ned had something great going on. He was playing country music for Queen St. hipsters, Lefty Frizzel tunes, Merle Haggard tunes - I loved the way he played Silver Wings, rock-a-billy tunes, and he played those songs like he had been playing them forever. "The Queen St. Hills are alive with the sound of music." And he was right.

I'd walk past Czehoski on Queen at Euclid. When I was a kid, we all headed down there to buy our kielbassa because the Czehoski brothers, they had THE RECIPE. They made the stuff the right way, the way our elders remembered it from their village. Before Christmas and before Easter, there would be line-ups on Queen St. and our parents would buy coils of their fantastic sausage. Both brothers are long gone now. The store sat empty for years, and then was taken over by some folks who run a swanky restaurant there. They kept the old sign and took on the name. I can't eat there, though. To me, Czehoski is about the sausage. My parents knew the brothers. My mom, after all, grew up on Bellwoods Ave, and later, on Galley Ave. When I was a kid, we still had ties to that community, but that's long gone now. And there is no more Czehoski kielbassa. You can get some fine sausage in this town, but it doesn't come complete with the same dreams and memories.

I liked to walk over to the Pine Tree (long long gone now) at Palmerston Ave. to hear Joanne Mackell and Shelley Cooper-Smith or Joanne Mackell and the Yahoos. I haven't heard her play in many years now, but I see from her site that she has a CD out. I liked her straight-up approach, her fantastic voice and her excellent homegrown songs.

And then there was Zydeco. Zydeco bands were coming to Toronto. We danced to Queen Ida and her Bon Temps band two or three times, and then Terence Simien came up with his band, then the Mallet Playboys. And best of all, Fernest Arsenault and the Thunders played the Horseshoe Tavern. They had a record, vinyl, and somehow or another I had it. I was really excited to meet the band and have them sign the record. In my eyes these guys were stars. They had come all the way up from Louisiana and they played rockin accordion music you couldn't sit still for. We had a beer with a couple of the guys in the band between sets. Onstage, Mr. Arsenault's frattoir player stood centre stage, and Fernest himself stood off to the side, playing button accordion and singing. I loved that band.

The music died on January 10, 1987. Handsome Ned checked out, apparently overdosing on heroin. I don't remember who called first. I was at home, on Ossington, and news flew across the neighbourhood. I had last seen Ned perform two weeks earlier. Maybe it was a Boxing Day show, I'm not sure. Everyone in the neighbourhood knew Ned or knew about him or had been at his shows or listened to his radio show on CKLN, The Honky-tonk Hardwood Floor Show. Although I didn't know him personally, whenever I saw him walking down Queen St. with his 10-gallon cowboy had on his head, he'd nod and say hi.
It was a very sad day when he died.

No comments: