The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete History by David McphersonThe Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete History by David Mcpherson

The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete History

byDavid McphersonForeword byJim Cuddy

Paperback | September 23, 2017

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A complete history of Toronto's legendary Horseshoe Tavern, "the Birthplace of Canadian Rock," to coincide with its seventieth anniversary.

Like the Queen Street strip that has been its home for seven decades, the Horseshoe Tavern continues to evolve. It remains as relevant today as it did when Jack Starr founded the country music club on the site of a former blacksmith shop. From country and rockabilly to rock 'n' roll, punk, alt/country, and back to roots music, the venerable live music venue has evolved with the times and trends - always keeping pace with the music.

Over its long history, the Horseshoe has seen a flood of talent pass through. From Willie Nelson to Loretta Lynn, Stompin' Tom Connors to The Band, and Bryan Adams to the Tragically Hip, the Horseshoe has attracted premier acts from all eras of music. In The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern, David McPherson captures the turbulent life of the bar, and of Canadian rock.
David McPherson is a regular contributor to Words + Music, Hamilton Magazine, and No Depression. Over the years his writing on music has also appeared in Paste, American Songwriter, Canadian Musician, Exclaim!, and at He lives in Waterloo, Ontario.
Title:The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete HistoryFormat:PaperbackDimensions:208 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.5 inPublished:September 23, 2017Publisher:DundurnLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1459734947

ISBN - 13:9781459734944

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Read from the Book

Since 1947, except for a few blips and lean years best forgotten,the Horseshoe Tavern has stood guard just around the corner fromQueen and Spadina. While other North American landmarks such as NewYork's CBGB and the Bottom Line now exist only as commemorativeplaques and music memories in people's minds, the Horseshoe has somehowsurvived for more than seventy years. The more the landscape changesaround 370 Queen Street West, the more the tavern remains the same. Fromthe sidewalk, the facade is nondescript; it's no architectural marvel. Inside,the dirty old lady is cramped, cozy and rough around the edges. For musiclovers, though, the building, more affectionately known as the 'Shoe, is ashrine. It's a place of firsts: One of the first places in Toronto where youcould order liquor. One of the first places you could hear live music. And,one of the first bars to have a TV set. For the long-time staff members whohave called the bar home - some for almost three decades - the timelesstavern means family. For many, bonds that became marriages - musicaland otherwise - were first formed here. Their memories, along with the listof bands that have played the 'Shoe, are what make the venue so legendary.While some may call it a dive, it's a beautiful dive. Take a journey with me now. Dive into this icon's past. Begin with a strollthrough the 'Shoe's front bar. Stop to peruse the posters, framed autographedphotographs, newspaper clippings, and scrawled set lists that line the wallsacross from the pool table, where most nights you'll find the regulars, whoshow little interest in the live music coming from the back bar as they shoota game of stripes and solids. These artifacts tell only some of the stories fromthe past twenty-five years. Unfortunately, much of the memorabilia from the first half-century of the tavern's existence were either lost or destroyedduring the early 1980s. Only a few fragments from those early days remain,such as the huge movie poster advertising the 1963 musical comedy Bye ByeBirdie, plastered to the ceiling and peeling away but, like the venue itself, stillhanging on near the stage in the back bar. Fortunately, thanks to newspaperreports and memories of those still around to recount their time spent there,there was much research to draw upon for this labour-of-love project. The Horseshoe is a beacon for music lovers, a pilgrimage destination forthose who understand its significance as part of Toronto's rich musical history.One word sums up why it has survived: passion. Almost all the ownersshared this passion - for the music and for the patrons. As original ownerJack Starr once told Toronto Star writer John Goddard, "It was family. Idon't mean we had kids there. I mean everyone seemed to know everyone."More important, from the moment Starr booked music in his home awayfrom home in the downtown core, he cared for - and showed congenialitytoward - the musicians he booked. They, too, were like family. There arestories of Starr packing picnic lunches for Loretta Lynn and her band to takeas they boarded their tour bus. Another famed story you can read about inmore detail later in this book is about how Starr's offer to give Stompin' TomConnors a raise made the late, great Canadian country outlaw cry. Over the years, thanks to the 'Shoe and its owners, hundreds ofCanadian bands have had their starts or have been helped to take thatneeded step to the next level in their careers. The list is endless: from DickNolan and other rising Canadian country stars in the 1960s to Stompin'Tom Connors in the 1970s, to Blue Rodeo in the 1980s, to Nickelback,Rheostatics, Skydiggers, the Lowest of the Low, and the Watchmen in the1990s. As most Canadian musicians attest, you'd "arrived" if you playedthe Horseshoe Tavern. Starr began this bequest to the Canadian musicindustry in the 1950s; today, current majority owner and music aficionadoJeff Cohen, along with his partner Craig Laskey, continue this tradition forthe next generation of rising Canadian stars. That same passion is what led me to write this book. For me, music isthe elixir of life. A jolt of live music is always the best medicine when I'mfeeling low. The thousands of ticket stubs I've saved over the years - andthe lack of funds in my bank account - attest to my love of attendingconcerts. I came to the Horseshoe Tavern later than most. Like all the musicians I interviewed for this project, I felt its soul, its historical significance,and its pull from the first time I walked through those doors. A spiritlives there. The musicians feel it. So do the regulars. Even first-timers catcha whiff of these ghosts. I watched my first show, the Old 97's, in this cavernous, low-ceilingedroom more than twenty years ago. Immediately I was hooked. Later, I recallseeing a young Serena Ryder summon the ghost of Etta James - who alsoonce graced that storied stage - with an a cappella version of "At Last"that left the room stunned. I once drank Jack Daniel's from the bottle withthe Drive-By Truckers in their dressing room, and did tequila shots on thecheckerboard dance floor with singer Jesse Malin following his set on a nightthe place was packed, fuelled by rumours The Boss was going to join theex-D Generation singer. People often say about the 'Shoe, "If only thesewalls could talk." Yes, the stories they would tell. Crazy shit happened insidethe dimly lit, blue-collar tavern over the years. I share a few of those talesin these pages, but what this story is really about is a place, a Toronto institutionseven decades young that has acquired a personality and mythologyall its own. It's part of the social fabric and the history of the city. While much of the Queen Street West strip surrounding the 'Shoe has changed andundergone gentrification, transformed from a desolate street surrounded byfactories to a yuppie hangout with high-end fashion stores, the Horseshoeand its raison d'être has remained relatively intact. Even though the Horseshoe Tavern has always been isolated musicallyand socially from its surroundings, this venue remains a cultural icon in theCanadian music landscape. This project combines my love of music with my love of history. Throughfirst-person interviews with musicians who have played the venue to extensivesecondary source research, I've dug deep to unearth what has led to thebar's longevity and to discover what makes the 'Shoe so legendary. I hopeI've succeeded in bottling this passion and distilling it for your enjoyment.Come with me now, dear reader, on this journey. Find out why this damehas survived when so many others, like the Beverley Tavern, the Ultrasound,the BamBoo, and the Silver Dollar Room, have come and gone. Here's to another seventy years of the Horseshoe Tavern. I hope oneday my grandkids will walk through those fabled doors at 370 Queen StreetWest as I once did to hear the latest band on the rise, share a moment in timewith fellow music lovers, and discover the ghosts and the soul of the placethat are forever etched into the tavern's walls.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Jim Cuddy

1. The Outsider
2. Nashville North
3. Tom's Stompin' Grounds
4. The Garys Shake Things Up
5. The Show Hank Williams Never Gave
6. The 'Shoe Rises Again
7. Rockabilly and a Roots Rock Revival
8. The Early Nineties
9. Secret Shows
10. Tales from the Bar
11. Ushering In a New Era

Afterword: The Next Seventy Years Are Anyone's Guess
Image Credits
About the Author

Editorial Reviews

The definitive history of the venue from its original owner, Jack Starr, through all its various incarnations, owners, and bookers and their families, up to the present day. - Penguin Eggs