LAST SHUFFLE for The Iconic Silver Dollar Room Toronto

The Silver Dollar Room has been a key incubator for the city of Toronto’s music scene  & has been the home to internationally acclaimed jazz, rhythm and blues superstars over the last 60 years.  SDR was one of the very few traces of Toronto’s musical heritage left since it opened it’s doors to provide the Waverly Hotel a lounge for their patrons in 1957.  The corner of College and Spadina will never be the same, soon it will be altered as the Waverly Hotel and Silver Dollar Room will disappear.  The last 18 years the Silver Dollar Room has been owned by David and Elsa Yarmus and the building itself, has been owned by Wynn Group since the mid-80’s, and Wynn Group will demolish the building.
 Ages 19-89 packed the room and were lined up down the block and up
the stairs, for one last jump jive on that iconic wooden floor.
The faces of Silver Dollar Room fans say good bye to this Iconic Club.
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I had the pleasure & extreme honor to interview 4 artists from this stellar show, regarding their feelings about saying good bye to the Silver Dollar Room legacy.
Many icons have graced this legendary stage and one of these memorable performers was non other then 35 year Canadian blues veteran & award winning vocalist Cheryl Lescom, who has had a lengthy successful career as a front woman & backup singing career with Ronnie Hawkins & Long John Baldry . She has 5 albums under her belt and has toured the globe also performing with Jeff Healey, The Downchild Blues Band, Jack DeKeyzer, Del Shannon, David Wilcox, Paul James just to name but a few.
1) Cheryl, had you seen or felt a major shift in the music industry compared to 1975 when you first hit the scene?
A)   “Absolutely.. there was live music all over the city ..  in every town ..6 nights a week and a Saturday matinee.. now you have work a lot harder if you want to play in front of a live audience.”
2) Did you ever think that the live music industry would come down to seeing world famous hot spots close like this in Toronto?
A)   ” NO .. I feel bad for the young musicians starting out .. hard to make $$ when there’s no place to play other than on the internet.”
Over the years the 250 seat Silver Dollar Room has hosted the world’s best talent.  Blues Legends Bobby Bland, Curley Bridges, Jeff Healey, even internationally acclaimed Bob Dylan and Levon Helm graced this stage along wiht Canadian icons the Bakenaked Ladies, Blues Rodeo, Downchild Blues Band and Cheryl Lescom.
3) How does the end of the magical music at the Silver Dollar Room impact you as an artist?
A)  “It’s sad .. live music is best ! I’m at the end of my career so it’s not going hurt me like the young players.  I hope things come full circle at some point and live music venues become important to our neighbourhoods again .. Politicians need to help bar owners that want to support live music with tax breaks …Government needs to make music and the people that play it as important and necessary as the trees in the city.”
4) Do you believe that the live music scene is fading away here in Toronto or has Toronto still got a chance for revivial?
“There’s always a chance but it has to be made a priority & supported by city council..it’s hard to pay the bills in a city like Toronto.”
5) How awesome it is to see women going strong in this industry.  How does it feel to be 1 of 3 women honorably performing on this international lineup of award winners?
A)  “Honored, blessed and happy to be able to share the stage and the night with great friends . I’m 64 now and evenings like this one are treasured more than ever. It’s sorta like a funeral though… not the way you want to get together.”
The very 1st time I was introduced to Mr. Downchild Donnie Walsh, was in 1989 in that very room on New Years Eve, ironically my last time seeing him live at The Silver Dollar was to be June 16th.  Still the same vivacious and enthusiastic musician I remember, with that one of a kind permanent smile.  He was one of the greats I was blessed to have interviewed next.  Donnie is a multi award winning & Juno recipient, veteran Canadian guitarist, blues harp virtuoso & the Father of Canadian Blues.
Mr. Donnie Walsh, you are a blues pioneer and co-founder of The Downchild Blues Band along side your brother Richard “Hock” Walsh some 40+ years ago, it is a total thrill & honor for me to witness your amazing Juno award winning act still going strong today.
1) Donnie had you seen or felt a major shift in the music industry even beginning back in the late 60’s?
A)   “I was just starting out at that time at a very small club in downtown Toronto (Grossman”s Tavern), so wasn’t really aware of what was going on in the industry.  Just having a good time playing blues music four nights/week.”
2) Did you ever think that the live music industry would come down to seeing world famous hot spots close like this in Toronto?
A)   “Time marches on, and with so many festivals and concert hall performances which are attended by thousands, the small intimate clubs such as The Silver Dollar seem to have become obsolete…no matter the history or the memories of seeing the GREATS performing there.” 
Over the years the 250 seat Silver Dollar Room has hosted the world’s best talent.  Blues Legends Bobby Bland, Curley Bridges, Jeff Healey, even internationally acclaimed Bob Dylan and Levon Helm graced this stage along with Canadian Icons the Barenaked Ladies and Blue Rodeo and Downchild Blues Band.
3) How does the end of the magical music at the Silver Dollar Room impact you as an artist or your career?
A) I feel privileged to have played many gigs in that room and have great memories of those times.  However, I haven’t been working the bar scene for several years, so have not been negatively affected career-wise, but will definitely miss heading down to the Dollar to catch some great act.”
4) Do you believe that the live music scene is fading away here in Toronto or has Toronto still got a chance for revival?
A) “As I haven’t lived in Toronto for some years, I am not really on top of the day to day music scene there, but apparently it’s not as hot as it once was.  There still seem to be quite a few clubs which support live music and especially the up and coming players.”
5)  Will you be performing all your greatest hits on June 16 including songs from your last 2 albums 2009’s I Need A Hat & from 2013’s Can You Hear The Music ?
A)   “As I am a guest in an evening of many guests, I will probably just do a few numbers which you and the rest of the audience will recognize. ” 
Hope to see you at the show!
Thanks Donnie.
Next musician interviewed was someone new to me, I listened to her music before hand and was truly excited & very much intrigued with Robin Banks.  She has a unique and sultry voice which is recognized world wide as a Canadian roots singer/composer & recording artist.  She is adored throughout North America, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, France & Jamaica. Robin is 1 universal singer with a soothing & comforting effect to her of swing, jazz pop, boogie-woogie, honky-tonk, blues, jump blues, soul, R&B & even Reggae sound. Robin is a magnificent one-of-a-kind find a musical treasure Her alto (contralto) tones are equivalent to Etta James and Dinah Washington with a stage presence of Tina Turner. She has recorded and performed around with the likes of Sweet Sam Myers, a long list of artists from the legendary International Blues circuits including Duke Robillard who recently produced her latest album “Modern Classic.” She brought warmth to the iconic stage as 1 of the only 3 women on this outstanding & award winning lineup of superstars. I interviewed her and this is what she shared.
1) Robin, have you seen or felt a major shift in the music industry compared to 20 years ago when you first hit the scene?
A)  “I was in my first band in 1979, so yes definitely lots of changes since then. From albums to tapes to CDs… Internet… MP3s, YouTube social media. It’s a completely different industry than it was when I started out.  But it is still predominantly a male-dominated business.”
2) Did you ever think that the live music industry would come down to seeing world famous hot spots close like this in Toronto?
A)  “I’m not from Toronto. I grew up just this side of Detroit, but I did my first Toronto CD release event at the Silver Dollar, that was in 1997, something like that. The first time I ever saw my mentor and friend, Mississippi Blues Man Sweet Sam Myers, was at the Silver Dollar… And he’s one of the main reasons I moved from Canada to Texas, to be around him and learn from him. So there’s definitely a lot of Blues history in that room. Unfortunately nothing lasts forever. That’s why I think it’s great that we’re having this party to celebrate the history of the room.”
3) How does the end of the magical music at the Silver Dollar Room impact you as an artist or your career?
A)  ” It doesn’t really affect my career in any way.”
4) Do you believe that the live music scene is fading away here in Toronto or has Toronto still got a chance for revival?
A)  “With so much talent in this town quite often it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. I think that the music industry is in a flux. I think some of the greatest musicians in Canada live in the Toronto area.  Much like other cities around the world that have great music schools, Toronto turns out a lot of great musicians. Art however is another subject. Artists are creators. Artists, and in particular recording artists, take the musical knowledge and mix it with their experiences and create art. And performance is another dimension altogether. When I teach people how to sing and lead a band, I explain to them that, learning music is like math. Its function. It’s formula and acquired skills. Performance however.  Performance is sales. To be a great performer, to be a great performance artist, one must be well skilled at all of the above.”
My final interview was with Last Shuffle’s HOST Mr. Gary Kendall.
Gary you were a musical buyer for the iconic club for 16 years from 1994-2010, making sure its status remained strong as the key blues venue in the city.
1) Had you seen or felt a major shift in the music industry beginning back then?
A)  ” I started as the talent buyer/publicist at The Silver Dollar Room in 1994.  I`d already been subsidizing my career in music by doing this type of work for 7 or 8 years previous at The Black Swan.   It was sort of a parallel career.  The Blues had a great revival in the 60`s and 70`s and there was another bump in the 80`s that carried over into the early 90`s.  The Canadian scene wasn’t as large and diverse as it is now but there was a lot going on in the  U.S.A.  A lot of the legends like Bobby Bland, A.C. Reed, Snooky Pryor, Albert Collins and many others were still recording, touring and playing clubs.  There was a market and lots of fan interest for presenting touring acts and the best that Canada had to offer.  The plan to turn The Silver Dollar Room into “Toronto`s Premier Blues Nightclub” in 1994 came at the right time.  The Toronto blues audience back then was younger and more enthusiastic about attending club shows.  It was easier to fill a room the size of the Dollar for good shows in those days.  It got harder as we entered the new millennium.  The audience got smaller and a little apathetic.  By 2010 the Dollar had become an indie rock club and the blues was being pushed into a small corner with early evening shows on mainly Saturday nights.  It was time for me to move on.”
2) Did you ever think that the live music industry would come down to seeing world famous hot spots close like this in Toronto?
A)  ” I`ve been a Toronto Blues musician since the early 70`s.  There`s been a lot of legendary clubs disappear.  Places like The Colonial Tavern, Le Coq D`or, Albert`s Hall and The Bermuda Onion have all gone.  The Silver Dollar Room had a long and varied life, it opened in 1957.  It`s time is up.  Music venues are real estate owned by businessmen.  When the venue stops making money, they move on to something new or in the case of the Dollar, it`ll be torn down and a new structure will be in it`s place.   I think it`s called Urban Renewal.  There are plans for a new live music venue in the new building so that will support future generations of musicians.  Club`s don`t create the legend, the musicians do.  Before a show starts there`s really nothing there, just four walls.  When the bands hit the stand they create something.  The actual club has nothing to do with it.  The musicians and the promoters create the legend.  My motto has always been, when a live music venue goes down, find a new place to play. “
  
Over the years the 250 seat Silver Dollar Room has hosted the world’s best talent, Blues Legends Bobby Bland, Curley Bridges, Jeff Healey, even Internationally Acclaimed  Bob Dylan and Levon Helm graced this stage along with Canadian icons the Barenaked Ladies and Blue Rodeo and Downchild Blues Band.
A)  ” I don`t think Bob Dylan ever entered The Silver Dollar Room and neither did The Bare Naked Ladies, at least not during my time.  Blue Rodeo did a couple of fundraisers there for the Free Leonard Pelltier movement.  Levon Helm played the Dollar with his daughter Aimee and his band The Barnburners.  Bobby Bland came twice and Curly Bridges recorded a live album at the Dollar.  Jeff Healey used to come and jam with Coco Montoya and filmed a video there once.  Then he opened his own club and became our competition so we didn`t see much of him after that.  Downchild  played the club numerous times back when we still played bars and filmed excerpts for two documentary’s there.”
3) How does the end of the magical music at the Silver Dollar Room impact you as an artist or your career?
A)  ” The end of The Dollar as no impact on my career.  I left there in 2010 and at that time I also gave up club booking and promoting.  I`d been multi tasking for years and wanted an easier life so I could just concentrate on creating and making music.  I don`t miss the club booking part of my life at all.  It was good for me at the time but it`s not on my radar anymore.  I`m to busy with many musical projects.  There hasn’t been what I would consider a real blues club in Toronto since the Dollar fazed out blues and became an in ” I think live music in Toronto is strong and it always has been because dedicated, good musicians live here and keep it alive.   Musician`s are a resourceful bunch, a lot of us make things happen even when the deck is stacked against us. ” die rock club.  Toronto now has a number of venues presenting blues as part of their varied music calendars.  This city is home to a lot of great blues musicians who have always made most of their income on the road.  That`s the order of the day and the way it should be.  You play where the people are who support your music.  Ontario has numerous festivals and concert series that support blues.  There are also a number of supportive Blues Societies in Canada and a coast to coast network spearheaded by The Toronto Blues Society.  We`re all doing just fine without The Silver Dollar Room.” 
4) Do you believe that the live music scene is fading away here in Toronto or has Toronto still got a chance for
revival?
A)  ” I think live music in Toronto is strong and it always has been because of dedicated, good musicians live here and keep it alive.   Musicians are a resourceful bunch, a lot of us make things
 happen even when the deck is stacked against us”
5) Gary what criteria did you use when choosing this massive lineup of award winning talents for Last Shuffle ?
A)  ” It was easy putting together the show for The Last Shuffle.  The house band, The Hogtown Allstars  are musicians that have been working together for a long time.  It`s a good solid unit that can back up a variety of performers with ease.  The guest performers are all friends, there`s a close family vibe, everyone gets along.  Most of them did some time on the Dollar stage and we added a couple who never got to play there during it`s hay day.  We picked performers we like to work with who had a connection with the Dollar and have a connection with the current 
Toronto blues community.” 
6) What can we expect at this fantastic one of a kind, emotional last performance on June 16?
A)  ” The owners of The Silver Dollar Room asked us to put on a final blues show.  They always treated us well and with a lot of respect.    This is for them as much as it`s a goodbye to what was one of Toronto`s great clubs.  Blues musicians always got paid well at the Dollar.  It`s a good thing to be able to say goodbye the right way.   I don`t think there`ll be a lot of tears but we all have some pretty good stories from our days at the Dollar.  A lot of memories will stay with all of the musicians and the blues fans who supported the place back in the day.  There`s no denying that it was a loveable joint.   Even the indie rock crowd said goodbye with a week of over the top shows.  It`s great that the owners also decided to honor their blues history with The Last Shuffle.  In most cases when a club closes, there`s no notice.  The doors get locked, gigs get cancelled, staff become unemployed, everybody gets burned.  Not so in this situation, The Silver Dollar Room is 
going out with class.”
Doors opened at 7:00 pm and pretty much by 7:30 pm it was a full house.   Show started at 8:30 pm with the Hogtown All-Stars – (Downchild Blues Band minus Donnie Walsh) featuring multi award winning
Juno recipients like Chuck Jackson on lead vocals and harmonica,
 Gary Kendall, on bass,
 Pat Carey on Saxophone.
with
 Mike Fitzpatrick on drums
Michael Fonfara on keys along with
Hamilton based Juno Award winning guitarist Darran Poole. 
Veteran Blues man and harmonica master, Raoul Bhaneja spoilt the audience with
“Goodtime Charlie” and Little Walter’s  “Everything’s Going to Be Alright”
Followed by the youngest artist of the night, 18 year old Maple Blues New Artist of the Year award winner
Spencer MacKenzie.
He really blew the audience away as they crowded the stage to catch that glimpse of the next music icon on the horizon, who has never graced that stage before June 16th.  He performed his outstanding original “Goodbye Lucille” and song “Use Me.” 
 
Multi Award winning Canadian electric blues singer, songwriter/screenwriter Diana Braithwaite and her Chris Whiteley; Braithwaite and Whiteley are mainstays on the music scene and together have won nine Maple Blues Awards and had six Juno Award nominations & are the masters of old school blues.  They mounted that historical stage to perform”Sleepy Little Village” and “Motorcycle.”  
The exilarating multi award winning Cheryl Lescom put on a fantastic show as always cranking out her “Dime Store Lover” followed by a sexy gritty grind on her smokin raspy & charismatic version of Melissa Ethridge’s “Bring Me Some Water.”
Multi Awarded Juno recipients & 40+ year music veterans, Downchild Blues Band cranked out “Something I’ve Done”,  “Albany, Albany”, “Worried About the World”, “Mailbox Money”, “Mississippi Woman Mississauga Man”, “Almost” and my favorite “Flip Flop Fly.”  
 
Last set of the night showcased Hogtown Allstars kicking it into high gear once again with
 “Sumlin Around.” 
 
Leading right into Robin Banks.
 She mesmorized us with her song “Crazy” which is the 1st release from her recent CD 
“MODERN CLASSIC” and her “Whiskey Song” from her “Honestly” CD
 While award winning Danny Marks
hypnotized us with his “Lights Out” and the song “Any Other Way.”  
 
An explosive award winning Jerome Godboo really got the audience engaged into a frenzy with his songs“The Train” and “Not Fade Away”
 
Once again, Chuck Jackson and the Hogtown Allstars performed the last song of the night with BB King’s  “Let The Good Times Roll”, followed with encore of Muddy Waters “Mojo Working”
with a verbal good bye to the Silver Dollar Room!