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Archive for September, 2012

I had been thinking about writing this post for awhile. But a passing this week sort of brought it into focus.

Sam (The Record Man) Sniderman passed away in Toronto at the age of 92 on Sunday September 23. While this probably doesn’t mean much to folks outside of Canada, even outside of Toronto, Sam’s store on Yonge Street was an iconic fixture in downtown. It was three floors at 347 Yonge packed with records of every description. When I first started to become interested in music, Sam’s was the place to go. If you had $2 ($1.90 + sales tax), plus bus fare, you could get an album on sale. Boxing Day sales were crazy – wall to wall people with Christmas money looking for deals. And more often than not, Sam himself, with a cigar in hand, was on the floor looking after things. He actively promoted Canadian artists and if it was a local band you were looking for, there was every chance that you could find it at Sam’s.

When I moved to western Canada, I would make a pilgrimage to Sam’s every time I went home. I bought my first CD player in 1985 and for the next few years, when it was not easy to find CDs, Sam’s had the best collection in probably all of Canada. My only encounter with Sam himself was between Christmas and New Year’s when I was looking for classical CDs. They had expanded the store by then and there was an enormous selection of classical music on CD. It was relatively early and there were very few people in the store. I was looking through the racks when Sam came up and asked if I was looking for something particular. I think I was looking for Bach concertos but the choice was so overwhelming that I had no idea what to choose. He said to follow him and he showed a series from Duetsche Grammophon. He said this was well recorded and at that price, you couldn’t go wrong. I was a little in awe of speaking with Sam himself but we chatted for a few minutes and I expressed my appreciation for his help. He just gave me a slap on the back and said, “don’t mention it, you’ll enjoy it.” and he wandered off to talk to someone else. He was in his element. I have a lot of fond memories of shopping there – music blaring on the main floor, the quietness of the second floor where the classical section was and then the best of all, the third floor where all the bargains and deletes were. Which brings me to the other part of my post.

Last night for the neon sign at Sam the Record Man’s (Wikipedia Commons)

I still have my album collection (over 500 the last time I counted) and I am sure a lot were purchased at Sam’s. This Christmas, my second son gave me a USB turntable so I could rip some of the vinyl into digital. The first album I chose was Smith, Perkins, Smith. This is a great record from 1972 featuring Wayne Perkins and the Smith brothers, Steve and Tim. It is very 70s, with a great laid back feel. Their harmonies are really good and the songs are all very listenable. But probably for most people, you have never heard of them.

Smith Perkins Smith
(note the hole in the lower right)

I probably would have never known of them if it wasn’t for one of my colleagues when I was working at campus radio at the University of Alberta in the late 70s. We were in the big campus record store and when he came across the album in the delete bin, he told me that this was good and I should pick it up. Hence the hole punched in the lower right corner.

I started thinking about why this record didn’t get more recognition. And then when I was reading Keith Richard’s autobiography, ‘Life’, I came across the fact that Wayne Perkins had been considered for a spot in the Rolling Stones when Mick Taylor left (apparently Perkins did play on a couple of Stones albums but never got the full time gig). That just blew me away. This was obviously someone with some talent. So, what happened? Timing, personalities, poor representation, substance issues – who knows. And how many other great recordings are out there in the delete bins? Maybe a microcosm of life … sometimes talent isn’t enough. I’ll bet there were many more of these gems in the third floor bins at Sam’s.

The back side of Smith Perkins Smith (1972)

Rest in peace Sam.

AND … after I finished this, I googled Smith Perkins Smith and found an article in the Guardian from earlier this year about the group – just 40 years too late. (The article has a YouTube link – go have a listen.)

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I think September is my favourite time of the year. There is a crispness to the air, the colours are bright, the days are still warm while the nights are cool but bearable. And even though the days are getting shorter, they are still long enough to enjoy some daylight after dinner. If it wasn’t for my weekly teaching commitment, I would happily take the entire month off and go out and photograph the fall landscape.

Fall Cirrus

As far as photography goes, I feel that some of my best shots are from the fall. On a good day, the light is sharp and the colours crisp. Makes landscapes and the sky come alive. Even my little buddy below agrees!

Happy Days

 

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My maternal grandmother lived to be 100. We were chatting recently about what she must have seen introduced in her lifetime. She told me she remembered seeing the first car in the small town where she grew up and the introduction of electric lights. Since I am getting more advanced in age, someone asked what I had seen new in my six decades. Upon giving it some thought, I was a little surprised at some of the big and small innovations that had I experienced. In no particular order:

Jet Airplanes – A neighbour of ours in Toronto worked for American Airlines and when I was around 7 or 8, I was invited to go with their family to see the first American Airlines Boeing 707 land at Malton (now Pearson International). In what may have been a taste of the future, the plane was late and I never did get to see it. But, I remember the huge hanger and all the free food that was set out for the dignitaries.

Push-Button Phones – You had two choices for phones when I was young – a wall or desk phone. And they were rotary dial phones. Push button phones became popular in the early 1960s. I recall going to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto and seeing the Bell exhibit where two people could “race” to see who could dial faster – the rotary or the push-button phone. Of course, the push-button phone won every time and this was touted as a big marketing feature. In an early adaptation of the portable phone, Dad installed a 10 foot long coil cord on the kitchen wall phone – so you could walk around the kitchen and talk at the same time. It was the future!

On a side note, my father and I sounded very much alike on the phone. My Dad had the habit of answering the phone, talking to my girlfriend at the time and then exclaiming “Oh, you want my son”. My Dad had an interesting sense of humour.

Colour Television – As I mentioned in an earlier post, we always had a television in the house from the time I can remember. But in 1968, I went on a 10 day canoe trip with some buddies and came home to find a colour television in the front room. We had made the big time. Of course there was no cable at that time so you were at the mercy of the weather gods to how good a signal you would get, but colour television was a big deal – no matter that the colours weren’t always the greatest or the most accurate.

Records to Cassettes to CDs – I wish I had a picture of my first record player. It was from Eaton’s Department Store and the turntable sat vertically and folded down when you wanted to play a record. My parents were really quite understanding (that may be the wrong term) in that I could ‘customize’ my stuff. I installed jacks off the speakers so I could hook up a set of headphones. Hi-fidelity it wasn’t but it was mine. My first album was a Hard Day’s Night by the Beatles, which I won in a contest on CHUM-AM (I was in the CHUM Bug Club). After working at my first few part-time jobs, I purchased a proper stereo set. It was a Telefunken and I still have the speakers – they have stood up that well.

The Telefunken had a cassette deck which was huge because the next purchase was a cassette deck for the car. Now we could have our music on the road. I recently went through the cassette tapes made during the 70s and most are unplayable due to the tape deteriorating. I had some good music on those tapes. My first CD player was a Sony that I bought in 1985 for $500. It had no remote and had a single drawer for discs. Finding CDs at that time was a real challenge and whenever I went away, I was on the hunt. Sam the Record Man in downtown Toronto was a favourite haunt. And at that time, CDs went for around $20 where an album would cost around $8. But the sound was worth it! And the CDs were indestructible (or so we thought – there were some painful lessons learned around that point).

Computers – Probably the biggest changes over my lifetime have been in computers. I first started using mainframes in university in the early 1970s. My undergraduate thesis in 1975 was a computer dispersion model of pollutants from a point source on the Lake Ontario water front. The program was painstakingly typed on punch cards and then submitted to the computer centre to run. The output was on huge reams of paper. I made a mistake on one run and was greeted by a stack of printout over three feet tall and a note saying to “see the operator”. That run alone cost over $600 in computer time but the strange thing was that the geography department wasn’t on a budget for computer time that year so really no one cared. In fact, they asked me to run the program again with the same mistake (I had left out a period on one of the cards) so they could run up the numbers for the following year when they were to go on a budget.

I got my first computer in 1979. It was essentially a rack with electronic cards placed inside. The CPU, the video, the RAM memory was all on separate cards. The output was a monochrome CRT monitor and the operating system was CP/M (Control Program for Microcomputers – a forerunner of DOS). I still remember getting very excited when I upgraded the RAM from 32K (yes K) to 64K. I went to an electronics supply store, bought the memory chips and installed them myself. Those days are long gone.

My first store-bought computer was the Commodore VIC-20. The programs were loaded by using cassette tapes. By this time I had moved to Edmonton, but every time I went back to Toronto, I would hit the computer stores to find programs that just weren’t available out west. It was an interesting culture back then – it was a very small group of people that were into computers at first and there was a do-it-yourself mentality around your equipment.

These were a few of things that I recall changing over my lifetime. So as I sit writing this on a quad core desktop with a 21 inch LCD monitor and Office 2010, I can’t but smile over what I have seen and wonder what my kids will experience during their lives.

(And the ironic part is that as I am writing this, I am listening to Jefferson Airplane from 1967 – some things just don’t get old.) 🙂

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