Live at Alberts Hall
Professor Piano Scott Cushnie has done most everything you can do in the music business and has emerged alive. He can be found in one late-night Toronto saloon or another, mixing Jazz standards, boogie woogie, his own original songs and ragtime written before the turn of the century. Scott was long ago dubbed "Professor Piano" in response to his encyclopaedic knowledge of music. He has one foot planted firmly in the past and one in the present. He find the quality of life in an old Jazz or Blues song from the 20's, a laugh in an old Vaudeville tune and spirit, energy and joy in a classic boogie from the 30's. When it's quiet, late at night in his apartment; not far from the building where Glenn Gould lived- the professor writes songs. They are just like the man himself, subtle, wryly amusing and constantly swinging. Their humour sneaks up on you as you listen. With his first recording since the mid-80's, he presented a series of duets entitled "Two Pianos: No Waiting", recorded at the studio on Puck's Farm, North of Toronto, featuring two of Canada's finest musicians- Joan Besen and Doug Riley. The results, along with four solo piano tracks were a lesson in Swing, a primer on how to bring the music of the past to present-day listeners and an example of the power of the piano. Professor Piano earned his title. Scott paid his dues, built on his own impressive education and is now just beginning to make records the way he want to make them. Two Pianos, No Waiting, by Scott Cushnie with Doug Riley and Joan Besen sticks pretty much to a handful of categories including boogie woogie, blues, R&B and folk-rock. In other words, the really old stuff, with an emphasis on boogie woogie. Here, the blues are pre-war classics like W.C. Handy's "St Louis Blues", Little Brother Montgomery's "Vicksburg Blues", Louis Jordan's "Early In The Morning", Charles Davenport's "Cow Cow Blues and Jimmy Yancey's "Yancey Special". Many of Scott's seven originals on Two Pianos, No Waiting (and the one from Joan Besen) also seem written for a different age. Not that this should surprise, as the man's music has tended that way for an awfully long time. In fact, a couple of Scott's own songs on the new CD first appeared more than 30 years ago: "Gemini Rag" was recorded with Boogus in 1974 and "Boogie the Night Away" was recorded the following year with blues guitarist Mike McKenna and Diamondback. 1974 may seem like a long time ago (jeez it really was a long time ago), but Scott's musical history goes back at least 15 years before that. On the back of the October 5th 1959 CHUM Chart is a small but histories photo: a young Rompin' Ronnie Hawkins guesting with Scott and his group, The Suedes, at the CHUM Hi-Fi Club on Merton Street. Among the other Suedes, all identifiable in the photo are, Pete Traynor (the amps guy) and none other than guitar great Robbie Robertson. Just about everybody knows that Ronnie Hawkins soon hired Robbie Robertson into his Hawks, but few know that he hired (and fired) Scott Cushnie first. Fewer still are aware that the two Robertson "originals" recorded by Hawkins on his early "Mr. Dynamo" album were really songs from the Suedes repertoire, both at least partly written by Scott. Perhaps surprisingly, Scott remains understanding: "I wasn't around to sign the songs over to the record company, but Robbie was. It's not as if he got any money for them". Scott's next couple of years were spent travelling up and down the eastern half of North America - first with Hawkins and then with other touring rockers with names like Jerry Warren and the Tremblers and Barry Darvell and the Blazers. Scott may have come home with no money or recognition, but he still has from those days a most amazing repertoire of stories about playing in the South to a lurid array of rednecks and racists. A sampling can be found in "Ronnie Hawkins: Last of The Good Ol' Boys". (While on the subject of stories, Scott also has some great ones from his days in the late '70s with heavy metal heroes, Aerosmith; the group's producer Jack Douglas, had Scott tour with the group and play on "Toys In The Attic" because they'd played together years earlier in a couple of other bands. Back to the mid '60s: by 1964 Scott returned to the Hawkins's fold, this time in an administrative capacity - running Ronnie's new Hawk recording, publishing and management 'empire'. His first productions were both blues (however pale): "I Got My Mojo Working", by Ronnie Hawkins and "Fannie Mae" by Robbie Lane. Both singers were backed by Lane's Disciples with Dominic Troiano on guitar. Troiano's searing Toronto-style blues work also powered Scott's first recorded vocal "Betty Jo" by Buddy Carlton and the Stratotones. However, itching to get back into playing live, Scott then hooked up with one of Hawk's acts - the Vendettas. The group's drummer, Bob Yeomans, has been in and out of groups with Scott for a full thirty years now, and plays on eight cuts on the CD. (AL Cross appears on another two). The tails end of the '60s found our man with Ronnie Hawkins yet again - in a band of Hawks that included King Biscuit Boy, guitarist John Till (later with Janis Joplin) and drummer Larry Atamanuik (later of Crowbar and Sea Train). Scott appears on much of Hawkins' first Cotillion LP (recorded at Muscle Shoals), which features some spine-chilling harmonica / slide interplay between Biscuit and Duane Allman on "Matchbox", "Down in the Alley" and "Who DO You Love". As electrifying as it was, and still is, that sort of material was no longer what Scott really wanted to do. While there were lots of rock bands through the '70s - Tundra, Diamondback, Malcolm Tomlinson - there was also a growing focus on roots and old-time music: blues and boogie with Bogus: a stint in the house band at Le Coq D'Or Tavern on Yonge Street, backing international headliners; an aborted direct-to-disc album project featuring nothing but Fats Waller songs. Most notably, at the end of the decade and all through the '80s and beyond, there was the wonderful Canadian Aces: Scott, Bassist Terry Wilkins, Guitarist Mitch Lewis, Drummer Bucky Berger and singers Eileen and Marian Tobin. Although an '80s group, the Aces always sounded - and looked for that matter - lost in the '20s and '30s. Their only album was entitled "Modern Primitive", which sounds pretty accurate to me considering the music that these relative youngsters were playing: old show tunes and pop songs, plus the occasional original that always managed to fit perfectly. In other words, something that on paper may look very much like the (new) CD. But where the Canadian Aces were creating old music with Polish and pizzazz, the performances on Two Pianos, No Waiting come across as more personal and timeless. Of the 18 songs in total, six are duets with Doug "Doctor Music" Riley - one of Toronto's very finest musicians, of any style - and eight are duets with Joan Besen of Prairie Oyster. Both busy people, "Doug and Joan did it 'cause they both love boogie woogie", Scott says. We should thank our lucky stars that they did. But most of all we should thank the remarkably versatile Scott Cushnie for delivering this gem. "Two Pianos, No Waiting" - something to be rushed right out for. - by Bill Munson. C-Bill Munson Article courtesy of The Toronto Blues Society. Scott by Scott I began to play the piano at the age of three.My mother taught me the basics and had me take piano lessons to the age of seventeen.My dad had a lot of small ensemble arrangements of pop and dance music and he started me on the alto sax at the age of seven. I soon found out that I had a good ear,and could play songs I liked on the radio without the written music.In my senior year at Appleby College, I was made leader of the cadet bugle band,and in my first year at university I joined the Musicians Union so I could play professionally.The first dance band I worked with was ' The Suedes'.This group included Robbie Robertson,Gene Maclellan,Pete Traynor and Peter Derimigis.We played Rhythm and Blues at all the local teen dance halls around Toromto.I was the first Canadian to play with 'Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks',a Rockabilly band from Arkansas.On my advice,Ronnie hired Robbie Robertson (initally as a bass player).Then I joined 'Barry Darvell and The Blazers' who had a record that was number one on the hit parade.They lived in Alexandria Virginnia,and for a couple of years we played in Baltimore,Washington and for three months in Jacksonville North Carolina (during the Cuban missle Crisis).Then I went to University of Toronto to study English and music.I started writing somgs and,with my father's encouragement,decided to make music my life. While working as a music publisher (for Ronnie Hawkins),I met a very good group from Sault Ste. Marie called the 'Vendettas' and I left my office job and went on the road with them.A lot of my time with the Vendettas was spent in the Yorkville Village in the mid-sixties,where I was approached by a group who wanted me to go work with them in New York,N.Y.This outfit included Jack Douglas (now a top record-producer) Under the name 'The Nightshift',we worked for a few months at Trudie Heller's in Greenwich Village,three months at Tony Mart's at Summer's Point Nerw Jersey,then Boston,Milwaukee and campuses of the University of Milwaukee. Back home in Oakville,I got a call from Dave McFadgen (lead guitarist with the Nighshift) who was then playing with 'The Townsmen',a popular Ottawa band.So I enrolled at Carlton University and joined the band for a year.Then I returned to 'The Hawks' and recorded with Ronnie at Mussel Shoals Alabama. In the 1970s,I began working as a singer-song-writer doing lots of radio and TV shows.I played with Eugene Smith,Danny Marks and Malcolm Tomlinson and made some records for the CBC .I worked with Mike McKenna and Peter Magraw in a group named Diamondback for a year or so.Then,through my friend Jack Douglas,(the producer) I recorded and toured with the great Boston - based group 'Aerosmith' . Then, I met a brilliant guitarist named Mitchell Lewis.Together,we founded 'Professor Piano and the Rockin'Deltoids' and 'Professor Piano and the Canadian Aces featuring the Honalulu Heartbreakers' With these two groups we toured most of our Homeland and with the Aces we played Germany and Austria. The Canadian Aces released an LP 'Modern Primitive',and two four-song EPs. The venue we played most often was 'Albert's Hall at the Brunswick House'and one Saturday night in 1983,the entire evening's performance was recorded by Comfort Sound Mobile.These live recordings will be released by Pacemaker. My next recordings were 'Two Piano's,No Waiting' (Classic instrumentals and Original songs played by two pianists and a drummer with vocals by yours truly.The best of these recordings were recorded live by Keith Mariash and are also soon to be released by Pacemaker. As I write this little bio,I have been reunited with Mike McKenna and 'Diamondback' to play rhythm 'n blues and am looking forward to having lots of fun with our best songs from the 1970s and some strong new songs!