The History of Music on Yonge Street murals are located on the south and north sides of a 22-storey building located at 423 Yonge St (north of Gerrard St E, between McGill St and Granby St) in the Downtown Yonge area of Toronto. Click for Part I.
This article focuses on the south-facing mural at McGill St, commemorating the musicians and the places that influenced Yonge Street’s world-class music scene from the 1960s to the 1980s. The vibrant 70 m tall murals were created by artist Adrian Hayles and presented by the Downtown Yonge BIA.
The Musicians & Venues
The south-facing mural was completed in 2017 and features 13 musicians and six Yonge Street locations (from top to bottom, then left to right):
The Band is pictured from the group’s 1969 self-titled The Band album cover. They were previously known as The Hawk’s (backing Ronnie Hawkins), then later as Levon and the Hawks. In 1965, when Bob Dylan came to see them perform at the former Friar’s Tavern, he asked the local stars to rehearse with him. The rest is music history. Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm went on to back Dylan on his first tour with an electric band. Levon and the Hawks later gained international stardom as The Band. In the mural, they are shown in front of the iconic Masonic Temple façade.
David Clayton-Thomas is depicted singing into the mic. He and his band, The Shays, were a popular high-energy group performing at the former Friar’s Tavern. David Clayton-Thomas later became the lead singer of the American jazz-rock group Blood, Sweat & Tears.
Lonnie Johnson is shown playing his guitar. The New Orlean’s-born blues and jazz musician was a favourite at the former Steele’s Tavern. A local newspaper article mentioned bartenders would leave their customers and the cash register to see Lonnie Johnson perform and that patrons would hang on his every note.
Jay Douglas, pictured singing into a mic, was a vocalist with the popular Toronto band The Cougars. They played a mix of reggae, soul and R&B at former Yonge Street venues, including Club Jamaica, the Hawk’s Nest and Le Coq d’Or Tavern.
Salome Bey, shown singing, is known as “Canada’s First Lady of the Blues.” The New Jersey-born singer-songwriter-composer played in several clubs in the Downtown Yonge area, including the former Colonial Tavern as well as selling-out Massey Hall.
Goddo is depicted in front of the neon Gasworks sign. Greg Godovitz led the heavy rock trio that formed in Scarborough. They played high-energy sets at former venues like the Piccadilly Tube, Gasworks and Nickelodeon.
RUSH is pictured next to the A&A Records sign. Formed in Toronto, the rock trio of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart performed at the Piccadilly Tube, the Colonial Tavern, Gasworks and Maple Leaf Gardens. The Canadian superstars went on to sell 40 million records worldwide.
Dizzy Gillespie is shown playing his trumpet next to the Piccadilly Tube sign. The talented American-born jazz and bebop legend played at Massey Hall and the former Friar’s Tavern.
Kim Mitchell is seen holding his guitar and wearing an OPP trucker hat. The Canadian rocker was the lead singer and guitarist of Max Webster before moving on to a solo career. Venues he performed at include Piccadilly Tube, Gasworks and Maple Leaf Gardens.
Carole Pope is depicted beside the Brown Derby Tavern sign. The anti-diva with a powerful voice Carole Pope was the lead vocalist of the alternative rock band Rough Trade. Yonge Street clubs the group performed at include the Colonial Tavern and Gasworks.
Cathy Young is pictured standing next to her guitar from her 1969 A Spoonful Of Cathy Young album cover. The Toronto-born folk and rock artist performed at The Rock Pile. In the mural, Cathy Young is shown in front of the Steele’s Tavern sign.
Jon & Lee from The Checkmates are shown performing. The soul-singing duo and their band, which formed at a local high school in 1963, were one of the hottest acts in Toronto. They played the stages of Massey Hall, the former Friar’s Tavern, and the Hawk’s Nest.
The Five Rogues are depicted performing in their striped suits. Originating in Toronto, The Five Rogues were a soul and R&B, later known as Mandala, that performed at Club 888 along with the former Club Bluenote dance hall and the Hawk’s Nest.
Notice the large vintage mic at the bottom of the mural is a map of the Downtown Yonge area.
Did You Know?
- Toronto’s Yonge Street once had more new and used record stores per block than anywhere else. They included Sam the Record Man, A&A Records, Music World, Tower Records, the Vinyl Museum, Sunrise Records, Shopper’s Record & Tape Mart, Millwheel Records, Cheapies, Records On Wheels and Record Bar.
- Radio stations CHUM and CKEY published weekly charts ranking the top songs and albums. The charts could be picked up at the record stores.
- The matching three-piece suits that Toronto bands like Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks wore in the 1950s and 60s were made by the Yonge Street tailors Cy Mann or Lou Myles. During the psychedelic era in the mid-1960s, The Five Rogues changed their name to Mandala. Then, they traded their traditional pin-stripe suits for ones with more colourful and broader stripes.
Yonge Street Music History Mural & Venue Photos
- Mural: Yonge Street Music History by artist Adrian Hayles
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Aug 18, 1965, pg 11
- The Globe and Mail Newspaper Archives: Dec 19, 1980, pg 18
- Toronto Star Newspaper Archives: Mar 22, 2018, pg E3
- Friar’s Music Museum at 279 Yonge St
- Downtown Yonge BIA: Music Murals
- Heritage Toronto: Music Murals
- Jay Douglas Music
- Salome Bey
- Carole Pope
- Rhinoceros: Jon & Lee & The Checkmates
- Photos: Denise Marie for TorontoJourney416
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & York University Libraries