by carl wilson

Handsome Memories


A guest post from Team Zoilus stalwart Erella Ganon, about a vital figure in Toronto music history who will be honored with a honky-tonk hootenanny this weekend. You can hear some Handsome Ned music at his memorial MySpace page. - C.W.

Many years ago, starting in the early '80s, I had a regular radio show on Toronto campus-community station CKLN-FM. My dear friend, the musician Handsome Ned, was a frequent guest. We'd play all kinds of things and gossip on about alleged "borrowed" lyrics or melody lines, tracing them from one popular or obscure song to another. Since Ned always wore a cowboy hat and played country and western music at the Cameron House on Queen Street almost every day at the time, people assumed that is where his knowledge began and ended. But Ned was an army kid, who was born in Germany and travelled a lot, picking up excellent useless information en route.

One thing he and I shared was our love of a good story. Venturing into all kinds of unusual musical genres, we'd play Flipper, Violent Femmes, Bay City Rollers or Aka Pygmy singing songs about their love of honey and tell tales of the connections we'd imagine.

At the time, CKLN's "promise of performance" allowed us to have virtually every kind of music on the air - except country. It seems preposterous now. I cannot remember why it was, but the country station in Hamilton was powerful and unhappy about our audience. Eventually, because of some my carefully worded proposals, we managed to get our friend, David Barnard, the program director to look the other way and grant Ned his own radio show because he was so fond of the undeniably charismatic Ned. However, there was one caveat: He wasn't to play any country. This became a running joke between us. Ned played honkytonk, bluegrass, blues, rockabilly and everything in between: We weren't to call it country, so it was anything but.

The defining lines between one genre of music and another were far less flexible then than they are now, but Ned wooed us, seducing us and transforming us into ardent fans of whatever song struck his fancy. He was not someone to argue with (though I frequently tested that). His brother Jimmy, Ed Mowbray, Mark from Pages Bookstore and I had our birthdays in the same week, so we celebrated together. A few days ago, on my birthday, we raised a glass for Ned, as we've always done.

Ned was born on his older brother Jimmy's birthday. His parents said, "Son, for your birthday, you can choose a name for your new baby brother." Thrilled, Jimmy decided to name him after his hero, someone he thought about daily, someone who had a big impact on his life, motivating him to no end: The baby would be granted the name "Batman." Oops! Ned's parents hadn't considered that one. Telling him they knew too many other children named Batman, they decided to grant the next best thing: The boy would be christened Robin.

Robin "Ned" Masyk died Jan. 10, 1987. He was an important person on Queen Street. Kind of an unofficial ambassador, the peripatetic troubadour sparked an interest in country music that inspired many musicians that came after him. June 4, 2007, would have been Ned's 50th birthday. To celebrate his life and love of all things musical, his friends are gathering on Saturday night, June 16, at one of his favourite watering holes, the Horseshoe. Expect to see these fabulous former Ned collaborators: Mary Margaret O'Hara, Steve Koch, John Borra, Cleave Anderson, Teddy Fury, Lori Yates, Johnny Macleod, Jim Masyk, Steve Leckie (of the Viletones), Screamin' Sam, Tony Kenny (of the Razorbacks), Emily Weedon, Heather Morgan, Michael Brennon, Scott B, Joanne Mackell and others performing at the event. It also will feature the re-release of the The Name is Ned CD, as well as a preview of the upcoming Handsome Ned documentary film and a limited-edition line of Ned t-shirts.

Some of the money raised that night will pay for the design and installation of a memorial plaque on the side of the Cameron House. That's where I was on the night Ned died. Herb Tookey, one of the Cameron's owners, and I were the only people that knew Ned was dead at the time. A cop heard it on the police radio and came in to tell us unofficially. We had to keep it a secret until Ned's family was notified. As people asked us if we knew where Ned was, and whether he was going to play later that night or at a speakeasy, we kept our lips still, stealing moments to break into tears and resume composure until word was out at the end of the night. It was a series of impossibly difficult tasks.

- Erella Ganon

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, June 12 at 3:22 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)



When I drove hack in Toronto, in the eighties, I had the pleasure of picking up Ned around Bathurst and Queen and driving him to the Cameron. He asked me what the music was that I was playing, and he loved it, and so I think I might've been the first person to turn him on to "Fire of Love" by The Gun Club.

Years later, working on a crappy feature film up north, the bad news came on the radio, and my good pal Gerald Packer had a very hard time working the rest of the day, as did a few others.

Posted by Colin on June 13, 2007 10:04 PM



Ach, typo, thanks Michael.

Posted by zoilus on June 13, 2007 8:08 PM



thanks for this lovely piece. i'm glad to hear that the anthology is being re-released; it's an essential torontonian musical document, and "Put the Blame On Me" still sends shivers up my spine.
but i believe ned died in 1987, not 1997.

Posted by barclay on June 13, 2007 7:16 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson