Favourite Singers

These are singers whose voices move, soothe and inspire me. Some of the artists I’ve listed with their band’s name; this is in addition to their solo efforts. The “choice cuts” for each vocalist represent either my favourite songs by these artists, or a track highlighting their incredible style, range or crafting of the song.

And now, on to the list…

Karen Carpenter

Starting with the best… Karen Carpenter, a voice direct from the angels in heaven. When Karen died tragically in 1983, a light went out in the music world. She will never be replaced.

Choice cuts:
Superstar, Goodbye To Love, Rainy Days & Mondays


Tracey Thorn

With her husband Ben Watt, Tracey Thorn was the other half of the group Everything But The Girl. EBTG had great success in the 80s and into the 90s. There’s few people who haven’t heard their haunting, wistful Missing from 1994. Tracey has released a few albums in the 2000s, and continues to make beautiful music. For my post dedicated to Tracey Thorne, check this out.

Choice cuts:
Half-Light (Day Version), Protection, Cross My Heart, Missing


Hannah Reid (London Grammar)

Ah, Miss Hannah… my current absolute favourite vocalist. This woman’s incredible voice makes my hair stand on end and my toes curl. Fronting the group London Grammar, Hannah Reid has one of the most engaging and beautiful voices of any artist performing today. What a haunting contralto… her voice moves me in ways no other singer can.

Choice cuts:
Strong, Interlude, Metal & Dust, Big Picture, Different Breeds


Sarah Cracknell (Saint Etienne)

Singing with Saint Etienne or solo, Sarah Cracknell has a voice like golden honey dripping down a pot. There’s something magical about this woman’s voice and, coupled with Saint Etienne’s musical styling, it exudes pure London.

Choice cuts:
Hobart Paving, Goldie (solo), Like A Motorway, Teenage Winter


Justine Suissa

Justine Suissa is a British singer, currently the vocalist of trance group OceanLab (which includes the members of Above & Beyond). She’s collaborated with many of Trance’s prominent producers, such as Armin van Buuren, Markus Schulz, Robbie Rivera and Chicane. Justine has a dreamy, ethereal voice.

Choice cuts:
On A Good Day, Lonely Girl, Miracle, Burned With Desire


Iva Davies

What a beautiful voice this man has. Iva was the voice of Icehouse in the 80s, and has gone on to great solo success in the 90s and beyond. To read my post dedicated to Iva Davies, check this out.

Choice cuts:
Heroes, Heaven, No Promises (with Icehouse), Crazy (Midnight Mix)


David Byron (Uriah Heep)

What a set of pipes!

David Byron (real name David Garrick) was a British singer and songwriter, best known as the lead vocalist in Uriah Heep. His was the voice on the 10 Uriah Heep albums released between 1969 and 1976. At the time, few lead singers in Rock could scream and wail like David Byron.

He lived a life of classic rock and roll excess, indulging in lots of drugs and booze. This, inevitably, led to dismissal from Uriah Heep in 1976 for his increasingly erratic behaviour and excessive alcohol consumption. David made several unsuccessful attempts to revive his career following the split, first with a band named Rough Diamond, then with a solo album and a brief career with The Byron Band.

He died from liver damage complicated by epilepsy on February 28, 1985 at the age of 38.

Choice cuts:
The Wizard, Sweet Lorraine, Rainbow Demon, Rain


Simon & Garfunkel

Pure. Vocal. Perfection.

Choice cuts:
For Emily Wherever I May Find Her, Scarborough Fair/Canticle, The Only Living Boy In New York, April Come She Will, All I Know (Art Garfunkel)


Alison Moyet

A Goddess in my world, Alison Moyet has a bluesy, beautiful contralto. From Yazoo in the 70s till now, she’s had many decades of success singing so many styles of music, excelling in them all.

Choice cuts:
Dorothy, Take Of Me, Winter Kills (with Yazoo), Cry Me A River


Corinne Drewery (Swing Out Sister)

I don’t know much about Corinne Drewery, other than I love her voice. Through the 80s and early 90s she was the silky smooth voice of the group Swing Out Sister.

Choice cuts:
Twilight World, Breakout, After Hours


Dusty Springfield

What more could one possibly say about Dusty Springfield that hasn’t already been said?

Choice cuts:
Am I The Same Girl?, Goin’ Back, Nothing Has Been Proved, Wishin’ And Hopin’, What Have I Done To Deserve This? (with Pet Shop Boys)


Dionne Warwick

Where would the 60s (and beyond) have been without Dionne Warwick and the David/Bacharach writing team? Warwick is the master of vocal phrasing (just take a listen to Promises, Promises).

Choice cuts:
Promises, Promises, Heartbreaker, I’ll Never Fall in Love Again, Do You Know the Way to San Jose?, Walk On By


Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet)

Tony is still workin’ it all these post-Spandau years later and the pipes remain in amazing condition. What a powerhouse voice and amazing vocal range.

Choice cuts:
Through the Barricades, Gold, True, Round And Round


Mimi Page

Mimi Page is an underrated singer-songwriter, producer and composer from the U.S. In the studio she blends her ethereal vocals with piano-driven, atmospheric soundscapes, resulting in a haunting and luxuriant sound. In addition to her albums, she has self-produced and released several film and gaming soundtracks.

Choice cuts:
Porcelain, Secunda (Skyrim)


Joni Mitchell

Ah yes, the one and only Joni… enough said.

Choice cuts:
Help Me, Chinese Cafe, Circle Game, A Case Of You


And lastly, Honorable Mentions for Powerhouse Vocals go to:
Ian Gillan (with and without Deep Purple)
Patti LaBelle
and, of course, Freddie.

Cat vs. Dog — War Of The Diaries

This is an old one, but it’s so very true. Whoever wrote this understands the true essence of cats and dogs.

The Dog’s Diary

8:00 am – Dog food! My favorite thing!

9:30 am – A car ride! My favorite thing!

9:40 am – A walk in the park! My favorite thing!

10:30 am – Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!

12:00 pm – Milk bones! My favorite thing!

1:00 pm – Played in the yard! My favorite thing!

3:00 pm – Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!

5:00 pm – Dinner! My favorite thing!

7:00 pm – Got to play ball! My favorite thing!

8:00 pm – Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!

11:00 pm – Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!

The Cat’s Diary

Day 983 of My Captivity

My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength.

The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet. Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates my capabilities. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a “good little hunter” I am. Bastards!

There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of “allergies.” I must learn what this means, and how to use it to my advantage.

Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow, but at the top of the stairs.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches. The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released, and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded. The bird must be an informant. I observe him communicate with the guards regularly. I am certain that he reports my every move. My captors have arranged protective custody for him in an elevated cell, so he is safe. For now…

Goodbye, Sweet Girl

SOPHIE

March 13, 2008 – July 10, 2020

The Bustle in a House (1108)

The Bustle in a House
The Morning after Death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon Earth –

The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
Until Eternity –

Emily Dickinson

Our beloved Sophie has left us. Words cannot express how much we miss her; our home is so quiet and still now without her. I struggle to write this post – there’s so much I’d like to say about Sophie, but words are failing me. My grief is enormous.

So many people in our condo loved Sophie and everyone knew her. She was a Celebrity Place girl from day one. Born in our condo building on the Easter weekend of 2008, this is the only home she ever knew. Sophie and her sister Dixie lived their whole lives at Celebrity Place and were a fixture of our complex.

Pack walk through Riverdale Park, September 2013

I will never forget that first year, especially, of Sophie’s life. I wanted her to be a big city girl and not fear city noise and mayhem. To that end, Sophie and I became quite a team as we transversed Toronto from side to side and top to bottom. Together we travelled the buses, rode the subway, up and down store escalators, took in the lunacy of Yonge-Dundas Square, made trips to the Toronto Islands via the ferry boat, visited shopping malls and the Eaton Centre (where she visited her Uncle David, working at Birks). Where I went, Sophie went. In all our city travels together we were only tossed out of two places – Mount Pleasant Cemetery and Shopper’s Drug Mart at Yonge and College Streets! So many places, so many memories… wonderful memories.

In Philosopher’s Walk, U of T, May 2012

Vince and I have lost our best friend. It is heartbreaking for us to say goodbye but Sophie left behind 12½ years of precious memories to cherish.

Thank you, Soph, for coming into our lives; we loved you beyond measure and will never, ever forget you.

Toronto Pride: A Look Back

Virtual Pride: June 26-28, 2020… say what???!!!

As we all know, COVID-19 has squatted over Toronto Pride this summer of 2020 and taken a huge dump. When it was announced that all large events – or any event for that matter – in the City of Toronto would be cancelled this year, including my beloved Pride, I was crushed beyond measure. Toronto Pride will be celebrated this year with “Virtual Pride” which, to me anyway, defies logic. Virtual Pride?? How exactly does one do a Virtual Pride, for God’s sake? No thanks… I want the real thing.

Pride week in Toronto has always meant so much to me and, as a gay man, is an essential experience in my life. In my world, Pride is more important than Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving all rolled into one. No other event brings such happiness, energy, enthusiasm, celebration, vitality and warmth than those few days in late June every year. Even though time and tide have scaled back my activities considerably from Pride weekends past, I still celebrate the occasion and feel joy in my own way on that special weekend.

I Remember…

I believe my first “Pride Day” (as it was then called) was 1985. I have wonderful memories of those early Pride events when they were just a half-day long (always on a Sunday afternoon) and held in Cawthra Park (now the Barbara Hall Park, which has become a haven for junkies, crackheads, crime, muggings and harassment from street trash who have overtaken the place… but I digress…).

Those days, Pride was held within the boundaries of Cawthra Park, if you can imagine. In the late 80s/very early 90s the event spilled into a small section of Church Street above Wellesley, with the epicentre being the 519 Church Street Community Centre. Across from the 519 was the only stage, set up in the parking lot of The Beer Store. At about 9:00 PM that night (at the latest), the police would reopen Church Street to traffic, and cars would resume their usual pace down Church Street as if nothing had happened that day.

I remember those Pride Days as being pretty much a white, male, middle-class event, long before global inclusion and the alphabet soup that now describes our community (LGBTIQA+ or whatever the hell it currently is). From those early Pride Days, I have memories of local gay hero Harold Desmarais singing a personally-penned protest song to Art Eggleton, the then-mayor of Toronto who had refused to proclaim, or even acknowledge, Pride Day (as it was then called). Harold served as the Master of Ceremonies for Pride Day festivities from 1986 through 1989. I also have memories of Jack Layton acting as auctioneer, auctioning local goods and services from a little makeshift stage behind the 519.

As for some of the Pride Day music I remember, local alternative band The Nancy Sinatras played a set for a couple of years at Pride, where they belted out some wonderfully tacky, kitschy and downright rude songs from the stage set up for the day in the Church Street Beer Store parking lot. The Nancy Sinatras were about as “Queen Street West” as you could get in the late ’80s; they were awesome.

In those days, the AIDS Memorial behind the 519 Church Street Community Centre did not exist. I remember the temporary AIDS memorial that would go up for Pride Day each year before the permanent one became a reality. This was a terrible time in our gay history, with AIDS claiming so many men in those early days.

For this post I had desperately hoped to find some photos I had taken of those early Pride events that took place on Church Street and in Cawthra Park. I slowly perused my carefully curated photo albums (physical pictures… remember those?), but alas could not find any shots of Toronto Pride street scenes from the 1980s, at least none that were of any interest. I do, though, have extensive shots of almost every Pride Parade from 1986 to 2006.

Sooooooo, as to not totally lose the Pride spirit this year, in lieu of a physical Toronto Pride 2020, I offer some good bits from years past to put us in the mood and lift our spirits.

I now present to you Toronto Pride, warts and all. Let’s go back…


On Church Street…

Familiar Faces…

I Love A Parade…

The Music…

Simone Denny, Pride 2016
Melissa Etheridge, World Pride 2014 Opening Ceremony
Purple Disco Machine, Pride 2017
Miss Thelma Houston (Goddess, Diva, Patron Saint of Gay Boys Everywhere), Pride 2008
Boney M., Pride 2017
DJ Kitty Glitter, Drag Ball 2019
Corey Hart, Pride 2012
The Parachute Club, Pride 2008
DJ, Pride 2019

Onstage…

Ah, the memories…


This year I’ll skip “Virtual Pride” but will still proudly fly my rainbow flags from the balcony, trying my best to resurrect the spirit of Pride.

I’d like to end this post with a positive, feel-good message from our Ward 13 City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam; I couldn’t have said it better myself:

When the pandemic is behind us, we will come together again. We will fill the streets, the restaurants, the bars, the civic spaces, the dance floors. And when we do it will be the loudest, most colourful, most fabulous Pride celebration in this city’s history. I look forward to joining you on that day.

AMEN KRISTYN!!!

We will rise again!!

See you at Pride next year!

When Insults Had Class

This is an oldie which has been travelling around the Internet for a while, but is worth preserving here. These glorious insults are from an era that valued cleverness with words; an era when the leaders of society didn’t need to use profanity or the middle finger to make their point.

He had delusions of adequacy

-Walter Kerr


He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire

-Winston Churchill


He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.

-William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)


I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.

-Mark Twain


He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.

-Oscar Wilde


I feel so miserable without you; it’s almost like having you here.

-Stephen Bishop


He is a self-made man and worships his creator.

-John Bright


I’ve just learned about his illness. Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial.

-Irvin S. Cobb


He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others.

-Samuel Johnson


He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up.

-Paul Keating


In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily.

-Charles, Count Talleyrand


He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.

-Forrest Tucker


Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?

-Mark Twain


His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.

-Mae West


Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.

-Oscar Wilde


He has Van Gogh’s ear for music.

-Billy Wilder


I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But I’m afraid this wasn’t it.

-Groucho Marx

70s Canadian Rock

The other day I was doing a little food shopping at Rabba. The store had its sound system tuned to Toronto’s retro station Boom 97.3, and they were playing Spaceship Superstar by Prism. Prism!!… whoa…. the memories started flooding back. Ahh… Canadian rock in the early 70s… it was great.

If you were a teen in the 1970s growing up in Canada, AM radio’s pop and rock music was most likely your lifeblood; I know it certainly was mine. There were so very many awesome artists whose music I totally identified with, and that music was (and still is) integral to my life’s soundtrack.

Interestingly, the music from the 70s that matters to me most was from Canadian artists. CanCon (Canadian Content) played a huge role in the Canadian radio airwaves of the 70s and, for once, CRTC actually did a good thing. Thanks to CanCon, so much good Canadian music got a huge boost on our airwaves.

The Bands

I had to sit down and think about the artists and songs from this special era: who meant the most to me? who influenced me? whose music did I relate to? what songs and groups still grab my attention when I hear them at some random location (as in said food store mentioned above)?

To address these burning questions, I’ve come up with the following:

Michel Pagliaro
Best cuts: Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy (1971), Some Sing, Some Dance (1972)

Prism
Best cuts: Take Me Away (1978), See Forever Eyes (1978), You Walked Away Again (1980)

Trooper
Best cuts: Round, Round We Go (1978), The Moment That It Takes (1979), Two For The Show (1976)

April Wine
Best cuts: Oowatanite (1975), Drop Your Guns (1972), You Could Have Been A Lady (1972), Weeping Widow (1973)

Chilliwack
Best cuts: Lonesome Mary (1973)

Streetheart
Best cuts: Action (1978), One More Time (1982), Tin Soldier (1981), What Kind of Love is This? (1982)

Five Man Electrical Band
Best cuts: Coming of Age (1971), Hello Melinda, Goodbye (1970), Absolutely Right (1971), Find the One (1971), Country Girl (1971)

The Guess Who
Best cuts: Sour Suite (1971), These Eyes (1969), Laughing (1969), No Time (1969), Sona Sona (1974), Hand Me Down World (1970), American Woman (1970), Rain Dance (1971)

The Stampeders
Best cuts: Minstrel Gypsy (1973), Oh My Lady (1973), Carryin’ On (1971), Carry Me (1971)

Lighthouse
Best cuts: Pretty Lady (1973), Little Kind Words (1971), 1849 (1971)

Edward Bear
Best cuts: Last Song (1971), You Me & Mexico (1970), Close Your Eyes (1973), Masquerade (1972)

BTO
Best cuts: Takin’ Care of Business (1974), Blue Collar (1973)

Steppenwolf
Best cuts: Snowblind Friend (1970), Sparkle Eyes (1971), In Hopes of a Garden (1971), Magic Carpet Ride (1968), Born To Be Wild (1969)

And then there were one-off little gems like Mashmakhan‘s As The Years Go By (1970) and A Foot In Cold Water‘s beautiful (Make Me Do) Anything You Want (1972), later covered in 1984 by Helix, a Canadian hard rock/metal band.

Honourable Mention

There were so many other Canadian bands and artists I wasn’t in to, per se, but were prevalent on the airwaves and in our collective Canadian music conscience. Groups such as:

  • Rush
  • Max Webster
  • Triumph
  • Harlequin
  • Crowbar
  • Ken Tobias
  • Valdy
  • Ian Thomas
  • The Bells
  • The Poppy Family
  • … And a lesser known group called Painter, from Calgary, who had a hit in 1973 with West Coast Woman
The Era In Media

There is a really great CBC documentary which closely examines this wonderful period of Canadian music. It’s called This Beat Goes On: Canadian Pop Music in the 1970s, and it’s narrated by Jian Ghomeshi before his big, and very public, fall from grace.

There is also a 4-CD box set entitled Oh What A Feeling: A Vital Collection of Canadian Music which includes cuts from many artists of this musical era. I bought the CD (remember those?) when it came out back in 1996, but I don’t know if it’s still available.

Thank you, Canada, for some of the best music of my life 🙂

A Smile During the Pandemic

It had been a busy and hectic day at work last Friday. Walking home I suddenly spotted something unusual coming toward me in the distance. At first I thought I was seeing things courtesy of my fatigued state, but as it drew closer I see it was…

Pikachu to the rescue!!

Thank you, Pikachu! It was great to have a smile and laugh during our troubled COVID times.

Monday Morning Rainbow

As I stumbled bleary-eyed from my bed this morning, I was greeted by a rainbow over the city:

It’s rare we have a rainbow over the city but even rarer when it’s a double one such as this. All too soon it was gone.

The rainbow was followed by some unusual light and threatening skies:

Dark skies & bright buildings

And then it all gave way to rain…

“Last Man Dancing”

I’ve had this article on my hard drive for many years. I can’t recall exactly where or when I found the essay but I do know who the author is – it’s written by a man named Patrick Runkle. I couldn’t find too much about him on the Internet, other than he is a music producer/composer from the U.S. and is a founder of Cohaagen Music. He is also a member of the electropop group Ganymede. Patrick has written this interesting but sad and wistful article about the electronic music scene of the late 70s/early 80s in San Francisco, its effect on gay liberation and culture, and the toll AIDS has taken on many of the performers.


In the dusty back rooms of dance music stores and in cardboard boxes stored in attics all over San Francisco, there are indigenous records in worn sleeves with titles like Menergy, Cruisin’ the Streets and Die Hard Lover. These records — like their creators — had short, brilliant, tragic lives.

The names on these records are unknown to most people, even those who follow San Francisco music. To others, the names are fading memories from a dead era. But to a few people, like music lawyer and former nightclub owner Steven Ames Brown, the disco stars who made records in San Francisco during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s were friends who died too young.

Brown sits in his Franklin D. Israel-designed modern mansion on Grand View Avenue overlooking the city. “At 49, I’m an elder statesman of San Francisco dance music. It’s an eerie feeling,” he says.

He pages through Tribal Rites, a book from 1987 by David Diebold containing first-person remembrances of the gay music scene in San Francisco, and finds a picture of himself from 1981 posing with drag queen Sylvester.

“Look, I had brown hair. And I was thin,” he says, even though he’s currently in incredible shape.

Brown pages through the book some more and then closes it.

“God, all these people are dead.”

The cover of Tribal Rites is a collage of faces from the era. The men are buff, young and virile, all with full, perfectly trimmed mustaches and huge smiles. They seem to be frozen forever in the blinding afternoon sun of Castro Street.

“Every night was another party,” Brown said. “It was an incredible time to be a jet-setting homo. The music was fun; life was fun. There was someone for everyone to go home with.”

“People don’t remember why there were thousands of men marching in the gay pride parades. Nobody gave a shit about the political speeches,” Brown said. “The music was the glue that brought the community together. It was because people like Sylvester were on the floats that we marched behind them.”

Sylvester, San Francisco’s first breakout disco star, was a soul singer who enjoyed success in the early ’70s as a member of the Bay Area transvestite group the Cockettes. His outrageous performances won him a large local following and a solo contract on the Fantasy label. A series of hit disco tracks followed, including “Dance (Disco Heat)” and “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” both from 1978.

Members of the same nightclub and disco culture from which Sylvester emerged started to see the possibilities for the gay community to produce its own music without the interference of major labels.

“It became possible because of advances in recording technology in the disco era to produce tracks for a lot less money than before,” Brown said. “Also, and most important, the music didn’t need enormous distribution to be popular.”

Brown came to the city in 1974 to study law at Hastings after working as a disc jockey for a Michigan radio station and studying film at USC in Los Angeles.

“I happened to acquire some property in South of Market in one of my first cases here as a lawyer,” Brown said. “Because of my experience in the music industry, I decided to open a nightclub. And it did so well that I opened another.”

“Disco music had re-invigorated dancing and nightclubs, and the clubs went from being dirty, back-room swill holes to being fun, bright, gay places. After pressing only a few thousand records and playing them in the right clubs, you could have a major hit.”

Musicians in San Francisco’s gay nightclubs started to make music of their own. Bill Motley was a charismatic but frustrated disc jockey in the Castro who had big dreams.

“Bill was a man whose inside didn’t match his outside,” Brown said. “On the outside, he was a large, burly guy who looked like the kind of person you wouldn’t want to run into in a back alley.”

“But on the inside, he was Diana Ross.”

Motley’s experience was mostly as a lighting consultant for local nightclubs, but his musical intuition was sharp. Although he wanted desperately to be a star, he knew his talent was for production.

His idea was to record a disco version of the Ashford-Simpson soul classics “Remember Me” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” He borrowed money to do it from his friend Victor Swedosh, owner of the Moby Dick bar at 18th & Hartford in the Castro.

Taking inspiration from the Village People, which was essentially a front band for producers Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo, Motley created a fictitious band called The Boys Town Gang to realize his vision.

“Bill found some kids in the city who could sing,” Brown said. “He designed a stage show for them, and started recording with them in the studio.”

The track that resulted was a 6-minute suite, “Remember Me/Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Motley, Swedosh, and another friend from the Castro, Stan Moriss, formed Moby Dick Records in 1980 to release and distribute the Boys Town Gang recordings.

The first track went out on a 12-inch EP called Cruisin’ the Streets, which hit #5 on Billboard’s dance music chart and made enough money for the fun to continue.

“Remember Me/Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is a joyous burst of soulful disco that, while not incredibly progressive, shows an incredible ear for production. It was a great answer to all the vapid, soulless corporate disco albums that caused the national ‘disco sucks’ backlash in 1980.

Elsewhere in the Castro at the same time, Patrick Cowley, a synthesizer player and former nightclub lighting technician, was preparing his first solo release.

Cowley had studied music and synthesizers at City College before landing a spot in Sylvester’s band in the late ‘70s.

“We didn’t even know Patrick could play music when we met him,” Sylvester recalled before his death in 1988. “He was designing the lighting for some of our shows, and he played us a tape of his music. I asked him to join us.”

Patrick Cowley & Sylvester

Indeed, Cowley’s unique analog synthesizer flourishes showed up first on Sylvester’s Step II album in 1978, and he contributed two songs to Sylvester’s Stars album a year later.

But Cowley had personal problems with some members of Sylvester’s band, and decided to go solo in 1980. Cowley became friends with the owners of the Automatt studios at 11th & Harrison, and they would let him use the studio during off hours.

“Patrick was a short guy, very passive,” Brown recalls. “All he did was make music, get screwed, and do drugs.”

Cowley and business partner Marty Blecman, a former disc jockey, put together an album of electronic disco music, heavily influenced by the European synth sounds of Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis and Giorgio Moroder, which was to feature a title track called “Energy.”

“One day, while we were recording,” Blecman wrote before his death in 1991, “We got high and I added an ‘M’ in front of ‘Energy,’ and we came up with all these completely gay lyrics for it. In the end, that’s what we used.”

The song “Menergy” was born. The album Menergy, released on the Fusion label, became an international dance smash in early 1981. It went to number one on Billboard’s dance charts and set a new high-water mark for electronic music.

The title track owes a great debt to Giorgio Moroder’s production of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” Like Cowley’s best work, it makes no apologies for its sexual orientation, but maintains an eye-winking charm, without
being explicitly about sex. “The boys in the back room are lovin’ it up / Shootin’ off menergy,” the joyous female chorus sings. What exactly this menergy is that the boys are shooting off is left to the fertile imagination of the listener.

Moreover, Cowley’s electronic arrangements had a fantastic, almost sci-fi quality that tied into the drug-induced club experience of the time.

The success of Menergy allowed Blecman and Cowley to form a company of their own, Megatone Records. In the same way, sales of the Boys Town Gang’s first record ensured more recordings from the Moby Dick label.

The two companies were run from Victorian homes in the Castro, and the performing stars that the labels created enjoyed notoriety both in San Francisco and throughout the worldwide cosmopolitan gay community.

“There was a point where you could fly to any city in the world, and the gay bars and nightclubs were playing the same songs.” said Brown.

People loved “something which was homegrown. It wasn’t marketed to you by faceless corporations. It was the allure of quality music from the community.”

“They were producing a cultural commodity, if I can put those two words together,” Brown said. “They created a business that was both self-sufficient and gay, an underground economy. This was also around the time that we saw an explosion of gay lawyers serving gay clients, gay doctors serving gay patients, and so on.”

In mid-1981, Megatone Records had its first official release, Patrick Cowley’s Megatron Man LP, the title track from which was another huge hit for the company.

Meanwhile, Moby Dick put out a Boys Town Gang LP, Disc Charge, as the follow-up to Cruisin’ the Streets. That album’s disco cover of the Gaudio-Crewe standard “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” was a monstrous worldwide hit.

The parties lit up the city every weekend. Thousands of men converged on dozens of nightclubs to hear the latest tracks and see the stars perform.

But it wasn’t to last.

After Megatron Man was released in 1981, Cowley fell ill with a mysterious illness.

The disease, first called Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) or the AID Syndrome, would soon put an end to it all. Cowley was among the first victims in San Francisco.

“Patrick was the first person I saw who was really sick,” Brown said. “They wheeled him onto the balcony of the Palladium. It was too upsetting to watch.”

After fighting the disease for a year, Cowley died on Nov. 12, 1982.

“In the year leading up to his death, Patrick was either in the studio or the hospital,” Blecman told the San Francisco Chronicle upon Cowley’s death. “He left his legacy on tape.”

After Cowley’s death, but before panic over AIDS spread throughout the nation, the two Castro-based labels remained profitable.

Megatone released posthumous Cowley-produced material throughout 1983, including vocalist Paul Parker’s #1 hit “Right On Target” from his LP Too Much To Dream, and Cowley’s reunion with Sylvester, another #1 single, “Do Ya Wanna Funk?”

Moby Dick released another Boys Town Gang album, as well as a huge hit single from vocalist Frank Loverde, “Die Hard Lover,” which was a collaboration between Cowley and Motley.

But everyone knew the end was near. “By late ’83, HIV had scared everyone out of the nightclubs, especially the straight suburban kids who spent so much money,” Brown said. “People thought it might be transmitted through the air.”

“After that, they didn’t have any hits.”

Other problems plagued the fledgling companies. In-fighting among the personalities in the scene over performances, disappearing royalties, and record sales stunted their growth.

“None of these people knew how to run a record company. They created an overhead that they couldn’t possibly maintain,” Brown said. “They had to pay for marketing, pressing, packaging, administration, everything. When their sales started to slip, it was all over.”

“These guys didn’t want day jobs, and they were attracted to the allure of show business.”

“Their lives were bleak. These guys didn’t have any stage presence whatsoever, they couldn’t perform,” Brown said.

Michael Garrett, a disc jockey from the era and current owner of the CD Record Rack, a Castro district dance music store, remembers a performance from artist Frank Loverde:

“Loverde had a hit record in ’82 with ‘Die Hard Lover.’ There was a show at one of the clubs downtown where he was supposed to perform. He came out on stage and saw all the men in the audience, and he fainted. They had to carry him off, and I don’t think his career ever recovered.”

The years of the AIDS crisis destroyed the San Francisco disco community. As the artists watched their friends and colleagues die, the music changed.

“The mood was different,” Brown said. “It was about mechanical sex.”

Moby Dick dissolved soon after Bill Motley left the company in 1984. He retained the rights to the Boys Town Gang, but got sick soon after and died in 1986. Brown was in charge of selling the company’s assets.

“The only they had that was worth anything were the Boys Town Gang masters,” he said. “I still have those, and I won’t part with them.”

Megatone sputtered along under Blecman throughout the ’80s, releasing regurgitated hits, unremarkable dance music and pathetic aerobics compilations. When Blecman got sick in 1990, Brown brokered the company’s sale to a Canadian company, Unidisc.

Patrick Cowley, Marty Blecman and Sylvester share square number 2795 of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Frank Loverde, who died in 1987, is memorialized on square 1791. Bill Motley, who died in 1986, is on square 4152.

“This music was part of a transcendent force of gay liberation,” Brown says. “The community has lost the memory of how important this music was. I think these artists won’t ever, ever get their due.”