By: Juliette Jagger (@juliettejagger)
David Clayton-Thomas got his start much like many of the other great Canadian songwriters of the 1960s–– as an underage musician playing Toronto’s Yonge Street strip. He honed his chops by sitting in on jam sessions with legendary Arkansas rockabilly wildman Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins and his band The Hawks, before they were known as The Band.
“The bars on the strip used to have weekend matinees, which didn’t serve liquor, so the young, underage musicians of Toronto could come and watch or sit in with their idols, and The Hawks were really our idols,” he says.
In those early days, the bar scene on the Yonge Street strip was a germination point for some extraordinary talent. On a Saturday night it was not uncommon to catch trumpet virtuoso Dizzy Gillespie or blues greats like B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters performing at one of the local hotspots like The Colonial Tavern.
“A lot of the R&B artists and blues bands from the U.S., particularly Detroit and Chicago, loved to play up here in Toronto because there was no colour bar,” notes Clayton-Thomas. “In the ’60s, a black band in Detroit played in the black clubs, but here audiences just loved them.
“That made a real impression on us as young Canadian musicians,” he adds. “We grew up going to see some of the greatest players in the world. Those guys are really what started what is called the ‘Toronto Sound.’”
Continue reading via National Music Centre.