Anyone walking last week along Spadina Street, south of College, would’ve had the chance of seeing a bit of Toronto rock’n’roll history being literally restored. The sight was the original neon palm tree sign being turn back on at the El Mocambo.
The El Mocambo is an important part of Toronto’s rock’n’roll fabric. In the 1940’s it was a dance hall where big bands and jazz musicians of the time played. It was in 1946 that the club installed it’s palm tree shaped sign. Over the years, everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Charles Mingus to Jimi Hendrix to Stevie Ray Vaughan played the club.
But the club was entrenched in Toronto’s rock’n’roll history when the Rolling Stones played two shows there in 1977. It was the first time they played live in a small club in almost 15 years. It was also at that El Mocambo gig that the Prime Minister’s wife, Magaret Trudeau, recently separated from her husband, was spotted and subsequently seen partying it up afterwards with the Stones, causing a bit of a scandal that the media lapped up.
Various punk bands played the El Mo at one point or another, such as the Ramones, Blondie, Elvis Costello, Damned, Stiff Little Fingers, Vibrators, Rollins Band and numerous Canadian bands like SNFU, No Means No, D.O.A. and Teenage Head.
But what I remember most about the El Mo are the Elvis Mondays, the free music night that William New from Groovy Religion hosted in the 1990’s (and continues to do so now at the Drake Hotel). There were times when I’d show up after a crappy day of work, could only afford one beer and would sit myself down in front of the stage downstairs and just sit back and let the music blast my shitty day away. I would sip one or two beers all night long, talk to a few people, hear at least 2 or 3 good bands and walk home feeling absolutely great.
I remember the kitchen area downstairs behind the stage where people would smoke joints and hang out after the show. I remember the crazy mosh pit at the Food Not Bombs show with Trigger Happy. I remember the Sinisters Halloween shows and that woman who would stand on tables and dance topless for them. I remember the Candy Snatchers show when the lame ass crowd didn’t ask for an encore, pissing off promoter Dan Burke to the point that he threw a pint glass at the soundman when he turned the house music on. I remember Thor’s Leathershorts and his PunkTOwn Fest. I even remember (and kinda miss) the sticker encrusted, beer and piss stained bathroom downstairs. And those crappy little tables. And that pillar right in front of the stage.
The place lived, breathed and reeked of pure rock’n’roll.
When the El Mocambo changed ownership and was “renovated” in 2001 it’s target audience was the condo yuppies not the rock’n’rollers. The upstairs had mirrors all along the wall and was supposed to have become a dance studio. Downstairs they put in Moroccan lamps and charged you $7 for a bottle of Bud.
The new owners, Sam Grosso and Marco Petrucci, know rock’n’roll. Sam has brought us the likes of Robert Gordon, Chris Spedding and Wanda Jackson to his Cadillac Lounge and Marco owns 99 Sudbury. The fact that they’ve restored and put back up the original El Mo sign is a good indication of where things are headed. Thanks guys!!