Toronto Rock and Roll Revival
The Toronto Rock and Roll Revival was a one day, twelve hour music festival held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on September 13, 1969. It featured a number of popular musical acts from the 1950s and 1960s. The festival is particularly notable as featuring an appearance by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, as the Plastic Ono Band, which resulted in the release of their Live Peace in Toronto 1969 album. The festival was also the subject of the D.A. Pennebaker film, Sweet Toronto.
History and performers
The Toronto Rock and Roll Revival was held at Varsity Stadium, at the University of Toronto, before an audience of over 20,000. The originally listed performers for the festival were 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. Prior to the addition of FLAPPING, the only local band on the bill was Whiskey Howl. The appearance of John Lennon, Yoko Ono and The Plastic Ono Band was not publicly known in advance.
As recounted by co-producer John Brower:
- 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 facility. 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 promote 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 be prompted to accept the invitation. Lennon however went Brower one better by suggesting that they wouldn't want to come unless they could play. Brower accepted that offer 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, refused to believe Brower and ticket sales remained stillborn until Detroit promoter and radio personality Russ Gibb played nightly 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 after having run wild trying to catch The Doors who were not expecting an escort from the Toronto airport to the university stadium in the city center.
- It was at this festival that audience members first lit matches and lighters to welcome a performer on stage. 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, but was first experienced here.
- 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 lead singer 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 honored to be on the same stage as the "illustrious musical geniuses" who had preceded the group that day.
Various mutually supportive performances occurred at the festival. 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."
The Doors, as the headlining act, closed the show. The band's appearance at the 1969 festival would be their last appearance in Toronto, prior to the 1971 death of Jim Morrison.
Audio and video releases
D. A. Pennebaker, who had made the 1967 documentary Dont Look Back, concerning Bob Dylan's 1965 UK tour, and the 1968 documentary Monterey Pop, concerning the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, also filmed the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival. The resulting documentary, Sweet Toronto, was released in 1971. As a result of Pennebaker's involvement, the performances of most of the artists were recorded and filmed. This has led to many authorized and unauthorized audio and video releases. Authorized video releases include the complete concert performances of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.
The following artists live music performances were issued on album and cassette:
Chicago Transit Authority - "Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Revival 1969 - Vol. I" (Accord 7140, 1981)
Chuck Berry - "Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Revival 1969 - Vol. II & Vol. III" (Accord 7171/7172, 1982)
Alice Cooper - "Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Revival 1969 - Vol. IV" (Accord 7162, 1982)
Bo Diddley - "Toronto Rock 'n' Roll Revival 1969 - Vol. V" (Accord 7182, 1982)
[ Some of above have also been issued on various titled CD/Cassette releases from many odd labels... ]
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band - "Live Peace in Toronto" (Apple 3362, 1969)
- Toronto Rock & Roll Revival Promotional Handbill; www.wolfgangsvault.com.
- Fowley was also at the time Gene Vincent's record producer. See Harvey Kubernick, Kim Fowley: John Lennon's Toronto Revival Interview with Kim Fowley, April 10, 2009; www.sonicboomers.com.
- Uncredited, Toronto '69; www.sickthingsuk.co.uk.
- See "Nucleus" section at Toronto Rock and Roll Revival Website
- Brian Ferdman, Review of Little Richard - Live at the Toronto Peace Festival 1969, March 27, 2009; www.jambands.com.