It’s the last call at The Cadillac Lounge, the latest loss of a Toronto music venue to the city.
In the 19 years since he launched it, entrepreneur Sam Grosso has booked such high-profile acts as Canadian icons Gordon Lightfoot and Burton Cummings, Toronto’s Blue Rodeo, veteran rockers Gary U.S. Bonds, legendary rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson and Ottawa blues guitarist Sue Foley at the Queen St. West venue, noted for the chassis of its namesake automobile suspended above its entrance.
And Saturday, that tradition will come to an end with two performances — a matinee by seasoned guitarist Danny Marks and the grand finale: a rocking set by Hamilton’s Teenage Head.
“What a way to go out — with a bang!” Grosso exclaims over the phone from his Prince Edward County ranch, where he plans to ship that chassis and hang it over his barn entrance, once the bar has been emptied early next week.
It’ll be the second time the venue will be vacated in a year, following the forfeiture by buyers in 2018 of the Cadillac, which Grosso was so confident was happening that he moved everything out only to move it all back in once the purchase was nullified.
“That was probably a really silly thing to do,” he admits. “Because I owned the building, I should have just put on a ‘For Lease’ sign. But because I’m so stubborn, I put everything back together. I thought maybe I’d sell the business and really try and keep it as a music venue and just be a landlord — but that really didn’t work out. So I put the building up for sale.”
Marks chalks up the disappearance of such venues to “some larger problems — one being that those places are harder and harder to operate because of laws, regulations and taxes.” However, he adds that dwindling crowds are also a problem: “It’s part of the general devaluation of music.
“God forbid they should pay for a cover charge for a band who is local. That’s just out of the question.”
Grosso echoes Marks’ sentiments.
“Cadillac Lounge is your neighbourhood bar,” he says. “It’s your patio bar, it’s a restaurant, but I primarily opened it up for live music. I loved the live music aspect of it.
“But trying to generate enough money to pay the bands — it’s a struggle. We see younger generations come to the door and not having any desire to drop $10 to see an amazing band. It’s disheartening.
“Even when I offered a money-back guarantee, they do not want to pay, no matter what.”
Marks, 68, has some priceless memories of the Cadillac, such as the day Texas hitmaker Roy Head came to play at the Cadillac Lounge. The year was 2010 and Marks remembers the “Treat Her Right” singer as “a James Brown kind of a guy.”
“When he came in, we were in the middle of the sound check singing Ronnie Hawkins’ “Mary Lou” and then “It’s Only Make Believe” by Conway Twitty,” recalls Marks, who hosts Bluz.FM on FM Jazz 91.1 every Saturday night.
“Roy came and looked at me and said, ‘I see we’re going to have some fun with you guys,’ because he knew we were going to be right in his ballpark.”
Marks, said the initial set time was supposed to be 9 p.m., but the bar was still somewhat empty. “I asked Sam if Roy should be onstage by now, but Grosso decided to hold him back for a bit … ‘Don’t worry, the audience is coming. They’ll be here.’ ”
A few hours later, the venue was packed.
“Roy was wearing this beautiful metallic blue shirt that completely matched my blue Stratocaster … we were so beautifully co-ordinated,” Marks remembered of the evening. “At the end of it all, on the sidewalk in front of the Cadillac, Roy had kissed me on the lips — he was so happy.
“And I thought, ‘it’s kind of gross, but it’s kind of great.’ Roy felt like a big star again.”
Marks says the venue and its retro, honky-tonk flavour will be missed. “It’s very important because it’s almost been like a last bastion of a certain kind of culture.
“This was a way of life. People don’t smoke and swear and spit on the floor at bars anymore, but they’re still kind of fun places to go.
“Sometimes when you’re in there, time will stand still — like some old-school people from Parkdale will walk in and somebody will request a country song that hasn’t been played since 1961 and we’ll start it up — ‘Hello Walls.’ ”
And now the venue itself is being consigned to the past, joining others in Toronto that have closed up shop in recent years. Once the Caddy’s doors are shuttered, Grosso says he’ll focus on his young family — he has four children — and his Cadillac Lounge Productions venture promoting a show at the Muskoka Beer Festival. He also hopes to bring acts to the resurrected El Mocambo, which he once owned and booked, when it opens (he hopes) in October.
In the meantime, he’ll retain fond memories of the venue that hosted Wanda Jackson’s 70th and 80th birthday parties.
“I’ll miss all the bands on stage and my customers have become my friends. Parkdale has been amazing — I’ll miss those people for sure,” Grosso says.
As will Danny Marks.
“Sam gave a lot of us a beautiful home at the Caddy,” says Marks.
Nick Krewen is a Toronto-based freelance contributor for the Star