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Joni Mitchell in 1975. (Ken Regan)
Joni Mitchell in 1975. (Ken Regan)

Unearthed: Canrock's rawest footage Add to ...

A raunchy night of rockin' blues back in 1972 had, in the decades since, become the stuff of urban legend. Did it really happen the way people said? In researching his new documentaries on Canadian rock, starting tonight on CBC-TV, music writer and researcher Nicholas Jennings sought proof that it was true.

This Beat Goes On , a catch-all history of Canadian pop and rock in 1970s, and Rise Up , which follows the story into the music-video era of the 1980s, both stem from Jennings's and director Gary McGroatry's popular CBC 2006 doc Shakin' All Over , which examined the 1960s scene. Shakin' All Over presented archival clips of such banner acts as the Guess Who and Joni Mitchell, while also containing a trove of rare footage of underground bands such as Montreal's the Haunted and Vancouver's Seeds of Time.

Jennings and McGroatry continued the format into the next two decades, but the choicest clips proved no easier to track down, especially video of that one bawdy night at a burlesque hall in 1972. The Toronto blues-rock band Mainline, featuring Joe Mendelson and Mike McKenna, had just finished their famous Bump 'n' Grind Revue performance at the Victory Theatre, complete with strippers and some of the band members in drag. You could hear wolf whistles from the crowd constantly floating over the screaming blues.

So far, so true, at least according to legend. But there were tantalizing rumours that the performance was actually recorded for television.

"Turns out it was the [Ontario Educational Communications Authority] which was the forerunner of TVOntario," Jennings said. "And who but Moses Znaimer was responsible for sending a camera crew from OECA down to the Victory burlesque to film this raunchy blues band.

"We found that footage in the TVOntario vault," Jennings added, "and TVOntario didn't even know it had it. I'm so thrilled we could resurrect it, because I think that's a classical, quirky little footnote in Canadian music history."

Another stellar find was a clip of the seminal punk band from London, Ont., the Demics, featuring singer Keith Whittaker angrily hurching toward his microphone. Or for another nostalgia trip, there's a brief clip among the archival material of Vancouver's Prism (the new name for Seeds of Time) perfecting the lost art of flipping their feathery hair, the way men could only do in the 1970s, while performing Spaceship Superstar at the 1978 Canada Jam festival.

And that's what old rock clips are all about: a few seconds of hedonism and release, to be studied again and again.

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