December 2, 2019

40 Years of Music In Oshawa

The Oshawa Music Awards honours musicians from all over Durham Region who have a special place in their heart for the Motor City.

Who doesn’t know those lyrics from the chart topping Classic Rock anthem, ‘Born to be Wild’ by Steppenwolf. But who also knows the song was written by Mars Bonfire, born and raised in Oshawa. Bonfire aka Dennis McCrohan alongside his brother Jerry were in a psych-garage band called Jack London and the Sparrows. The Sparrows morphed into Steppenwolf and became one of the staples of rock history.
The McCrohan brothers were the sons of Owen who ran the Jubilee Pavilion down by Lake Ontario. The Jube was a much celebrated venue for bands throughout the early days of rock ‘n roll, an important stop on a band’s tour.
Oshawa itself has been an important stop on many band’s tours but was the place to play for local bands too. Musicians from all over Durham Region came to play at the many venues operating in the city over the years. Currently, apart from coffee houses, the downtown is home to the Tribute Community Centre, the Regent Theatre, the Oshawa Music Hall and The Atria; the latter has been in business for forty years!!
Al Nolan of Trigger Happy who grew up in Ajax says “Oshawa had the downtown”; In a manner of speaking Oshawa’s downtown is the Region’s Downtown.
Although there have been shows at pubs, breweries, churches and community halls all over Durham Region, no place has the depth of rock ‘n roll heritage the city of Oshawa has. From the ‘Get’ to the Star Club, the Moon Room to the Music Hall, from Dines-eez, the Different Drum, the Dungeon, Catch 22, the Velvet Elvis, Purple Onion, Genosha, The Georgian, Harry’s Hideaway, the Moustache Club, Wasted Space, Rosie O'Gradies, British Bulldog, The Corral, Red Barn, Karlin Hotel aka The Cadillac; the list is long.
Luke Hillyer of Tijuana Jesus says “Oshawa also has a steep history in people liking rock and roll. I think GM actually plays a bigger part in this then we give it credit for. Ajax and Whitby have fairly different vibes and don’t offer the venues. Growing up in Bowmanville we had little else to do but party and play music. Those of us that could, played, and the others came to watch for somewhere to hang out.”
Oshawa also had the place for under-age kids to play and hangout; from teen dances at The Get featuring the Guess Who to the legend the Dungeon became right across the country. What began as a folk club became the go-to spot for bands under-age kids to see the bands they heard on the radio.
Chad Peyton says “Oshawa in its prime would always support local. . . The Dungeon was where most bands cut their teeth… tried new songs etc. Smaller touring bands always had a pit stop there… and when that room was full, there was a buzz in there that couldn’t be beat!”
Musician Kenny Lajoie says a scene needs more that just venues and Oshawa has the secondary infrastructure as well.
“It has a lot to do with the Rehearsal Factory and places being available for bands to practice. When the Rehearsal Factory first opened it was insane how much it brought people together. Parties were happening all the time with many bands getting together and just having fun. There were gigs held in some of those rooms where we would just jam in 20 or 30 people and rip it up. Oshawa knows how to rock and it has shown. 94.9 The Rock broadcasting from Oshawa and it being the number 1 rated station in the GTA is an example of how much influence Oshawa has on rock music in the GTA too,” he says.
Jakub Hladik of Programm says it was “Because Whitby’s music scene was non-existent. Same with Ajax and Pickering. So when my friends and I discovered The Drum back in 2001 that was huge for us. We had somewhere to go that had like minded people and it wasn’t a corn field. Then came the Velvis and Catch 22 and we had a place to play shows surrounded by musicians with a common purpose.”
Musicians from the surrounding municipalities found common purpose and space in Oshawa. In the clubs and bars they were able to connect and to grow. Some professionally, some just personally. But for many musicians in Durham Region, Oshawa was the place to start, “to get their motor running”.