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The Toronto Rock and Roll Revival was a one-day fest held on September 13, 1969 at Varsity Stadium, at the University of Toronto, to an audience of over 20,000. The originally listed performers for the festival were local band Whiskey Howl, Bo Diddley, Chicago, Junior Walker and the All Stars, Tony Joe White, Alice Cooper, Chuck Berry, Cat Mother and the All Night News Boys, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, Little Richard, Doug Kershaw and The Doors. Kim Fowley was listed as the Master of Ceremonies. Screaming Lord Sutch was later added to the bill, as was the Toronto area band Flapping. What sort of a name for a band is Flapping?!
What no-one going to the gig knew was that John Lennon and Yoko Ono would also perform, along with an all-star band including Eric Clapton. Yowza.
The festival was produced by John Brower and Kenny Walker, who had also produced a 2 day festival in June of 1969 at the same place. The Rock and Roll Revival was notable for its almost having been cancelled the week of the show when poor ticket sales prompted the backers George and Thor Eaton of Canadian department store fame to pull out.
Upon hearing this news, Kim Fowley, who was in Toronto early that week with Rodney Bingenheimer to do promotion for the festival, suggested that Brower call Apple Records in London and invite John and Yoko to come over and be the emcees. Fowley correctly surmised that given Lennon's love of the music of Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Gene Vincent he would accept the invitation. Lennon however went one better by suggesting that they wouldn't want to come unless they could play. Brower accepted that offer (like he was ever going to say no!) and quickly arranged plane tickets for John and Yoko, Klaus Voormann, Alan White and Eric Clapton along with Beatles road manager Mal Evans and Yoko's assistant Anthony Fawcett.
Media outlets in Toronto, including CHUM radio (great name), refused to believe Brower had secured such stellar names and ticket sales remained low until Detroit promoter and radio personality Russ Gibb nightly broadcast the tape recording of Fawcett reciting the names to Brower for the plane tickets. This caused a last minute stampede into Toronto from Detroit and once wire services reported the entourage had boarded their flight in London CHUM radio went on the air with the news and the stadium sold out during the afternoon of the event.
Also notable was the escort into Toronto for both The Doors and John and Yoko by The Vagabonds motorcycle club, whose 80 members rode 40 in front and 40 in back for John and Yoko's limousine.
It was at this festival that audience members first lit matches and lighters to welcome a performer on stage. Who'd have thought it would becomes such a default thing? Fowley came up with this as a means to ease John Lennon's stage fright. Fowley appeared on stage just before introducing the Plastic Ono Band and had everyone get their matches ready whereupon Lennon and company took the stage to a spectacular show of lights. This has since become a tradition in rock and roll. Brower and Lennon attempted to produce a world peace festival in 1970, but failed to agree on details and were overwhelmed with both political and internecine opposition.
It was at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival that the Alice Cooper chicken incident took place. A chicken was reportedly thrown on stage and thrown back into the audience by Alice; a photo of which was sent by wire around the world. Various reports ranged from Alice biting the chicken's head off before returning it to the crowd, to Alice's own claim that audience members in the front of the crowd tore the poor bird to pieces in a frenzy of rock and roll pandemonium.
An unauthorized Doors recording from the Toronto performance features Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger playing the melody and chorus from The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby in the middle of his guitar solo on Light My Fire. The Doors closed the festival and Morrison begins their song The End by telling the audience he was honoured to be on the same stage as the illustrious musical geniuses who had preceded the group that day.
The Alice Cooper Band was the backing band for Gene Vincent, while a member of Flapping, Ron Marinelli, Danny Taylor, and Hugh Leggat a member of Nucleus, were members of the backing band for Chuck Berry.
In addition, appearances at the festival served to revitalize the careers of certain performers from the 1950s. For example, according to one reviewer, in relation to Little Richard's performance:...he and his extremely tight band proceeded to tear through his classics at breakneck speed. With sweat gushing down his heavily made up face, he jumped on the piano and drove the young crowd crazy, exhorting them to get up and dance to blazing numbers like 'Rip It Up', 'Good Golly Miss Molly', and 'Jenny, Jenny'. By the time he finished racing through the closing notes of his 'Long Tall Sally' finale, he was sopping wet with his shirt torn to shreds by the crowd below. In 30 frenetic minutes Little Richard had just made his comeback.
That being said, did Little Richard really have a comeback? Did he have any hits records in the 70s? No. At least Chuck Berry had 'My Ding-a-ling'.
The Doors, as the headlining act, closed the show.
D. A. Pennebaker filmed the event and released a documentary in 1971 called Sweet Toronto. Lots of performances from the gig came out officially and unofficially on a series of albums.
Chicago Transit Authority - Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Revival 1969 - Vol. I
Chuck Berry - Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Revival 1969 - Vol. II & Vol. III
Alice Cooper - Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Revival 1969 - Vol. IV
Bo Diddley - Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Revival 1969 - Vol. V
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band - Live Peace in Toronto
The Lennon set went down in history but it is messy and under-rehearsed and Clapton not in good health, but the Alice set is punky and powerful. They were such an awesome garage band back then.
Ultimately, this was a strange event, pulling together old rock n rollers and the new long hairs to only limited success. Lennon's participation gave it a place in rock history, though.