Toronto Rock & Roll Revival -September 13, 1969

Reid Dickie

A few days after my return to Toronto for my second year of Radio and Television Arts at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now University), the Toronto Rock & Roll Revival occurred in Varsity Stadium at the University of Toronto. The open air stadium held about 20,000, the music started at noon, it was a warm sunny day and the line-up commingled an eclectic range of music. In order of appearance the revival offered Flapping, Whisky Howl, Cat Mother & the All-Night Newsboys, Chicago Transit Authority, Screaming Lord Sutch, Tony Joe White, Doug Kershaw, Alice Cooper, Junior Walker & the All-Stars, Bo Diddley, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band and the Doors.

Tickets hadn’t sold very well until the day of the festival when it was announced that John Lennon would be appearing with a pick-up band. The stadium filled up quickly and updates came every half an hour about the plane carrying Lennon and band. Chicago and Alice Cooper were just starting their careers and all I remember about Alice was something to do with live chickens. I never cared much for Chicago’s music but the rest of the line-up brought musical depth to the day.  The four old boys – Gene, Jerry Lee, Little Richard and Chuck – were full-out rocking with Little Richard stripping down to a pair of wild shorts while assaulting the piano.

One whole section of the bleachers was reserved for bikers because they served an important duty that day. Both Lennon and his band and the Doors were formally escorted into downtown Toronto from the airport by a phalanx of bikers thus earning them their own section in the stands.

Lennon’s pick-up band for the gig was top-notch with Eric Clapton on guitar, Klaus Voorman (who designed the Revolver cover) on bass, Alan White (who’d sat in for ailing Ringo during the Beatles’ Australian tour) on drums with Lennon and Ono on vocals. The resulting set became the album Live Peace in Toronto 1969, not Lennon’s best music but certainly some of his rawest.

This picture by Emil was taken at the festival. The white thing on stage next to Lennon is idiot Ono screeching in a bag, making John look as ridiculous as possible, which was her task from the beginning. D. A. Pennebaker shot a film of the event called Sweet Toronto.

When I started at Ryerson I did concert reviews for the alternative weekly newspaper The Eyeopener. I was usually joined by Emil who was taking photography at Ryerson. Emil and I had never met anyone quite like each other before and we hit it off right away. We were opposites who attracted. He’d never met a hippie country boy with a rural prairie upbringing and I’d never met a sophisticated Greek photographer who came from an enormously wealthy family and always wore crisp white shirts, black slacks, smoked Gitanes and had a cowlick curl that fell over his forehead. Though not one of his best shots, Emil’s grainy picture of John Lennon matches the music of the day.

Lennon ended the set with Give Peace a Chance which the entire audience continued to sing for about 20 minutes after the band had left the stage. It was a beautiful eerie moment filled with possibility and promise. The Doors ended the day coming on stage about 2 a.m. and offered a violent and self-destructive show with Jim Morrison, then overweight with full beard, leaping into the air and coming down on his knees making great cracking sounds. This interview from around the time shows Morrison’s state and gives a bit of background on his interest in shamanism.


Filed under 1960s, Music

7 responses to “Toronto Rock & Roll Revival -September 13, 1969

  1. I Was Asked At The Last Minute. I Was Visitin’ My Bro’ Who Was Going To U Of T & Just Lived Up The Street On Elgin Ave… Whatta’ Fluke!!!

  2. j

    i was 16 alone and standing outside on the street at the curb waiting for my friend who had my ticket.. 15 min passed and I heard a rumbling from up the street. it was a phalanx of motorcycles and they slowly drove up to where I stood. they were escorting a huge limo which stopped directly in front of me. i stood transfixed and stunned as the door opened and out steppedJim.. he looked at me waiting for me to move so that he could walk by but i was literally
    paralysed and shocked at how dishevelled and ill he looked.
    he seemed to look right thru me.. i never forgot that very special moment in my life as i was a huge fan. Was saddened at seeing such a vital and huge presence fade away as he did that day.

  3. I was there too. My man, Louis McKelvey was with Milkwood, one of the Toronto bands that played that day so I was able to be close to some of the planning and execution of the concert. The biker club escorting Lennon/Morrison was actually The Vagabonds (not Hell’s Angels). The Vagabonds MC club was helpful in providing start up money for the event to Johnny Bower.
    We (Milkwood band) were privileged to host both Alice Cooper and his band, and Gene Vincent in our west Toronto home where there was a practice studio. I served tea and Heineken to our guests. Our predominantly Italian neighbourhood was all abuzz when the limos pulled up on our quiet residential street. Cooper and his band were pale long- haired wraiths in long black coats, carrying big rectangular black guitar cases. The neighbours were drawn to their front porches and I laughed as I watched them huddled together whispering to each other. (Our house was always a strangely interesting place to them)
    Gene Vincent was rather slight and walked with a pronounced limp. But he could belt out a song. Everyone was very polite. Fun times. The concert, needless to say, was epic and unforgettable.

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