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FLASHBACKS — THE ALBUM

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TO HEAR A MASHUP OF SONGS FROM THE CD CLICK HERE.

You won’t find newsboys in downtown Hamilton anymore. But back in the day when the city had rivaling papers such as the Hamilton Herald, Hamilton Times and Hamilton News competing with The Spectator, newsboys were a common site on James Street.
NEWSBOY
I am just a newsboy
With my stack of papers
Filled with news
That happened yesterday
I stand here every morning
Calling out first warning
All the headlines
From near and far away

Extra, extra
Read all about it
Get your paper today
And even if you don’t like what it says
you can always turn the page

 

 

 

I am just a newsboy
On this piece of pavement
Everyday goes by
Just the same
I call out from the corner
Till my bag is empty.
And walk home with a
Pocket full of change

Extra, extra
Read all about it
Get your paper today
And even if you don’t like what it says
You can always turn the page
You can always line the cage
Put it in your fireplace
Hope you have a good day

g7gv3kz3.JPGThe infamous femme fatale Evelyn Dick evaded the noose in the sensational 1946 torso murder of her husband in Hamilton. But she went to prison for killing her infant son whose body was found encased in cement in a suitcase. Dick was paroled in the late 1950s and it’s not known what became of her after that – or whether she is still alive at the age.

EVELYN DICK
Evelyn, oh Evelyn
It's been a very long time
Since you went away from here
With your cigarette and big doe eyes
Your cigarette and big doe eyes

 

–File photo from The Hamilton Spectator

Evelyn, oh Evelyn
It’s time to get it off your chest
How your husband got carved up
And your baby encased in cement
your baby encased in cement

Evelyn, Oh Evelyn Dick
You were so pretty just a little bit sick
Tell me one thing, one thing, one:
How could you Mrs. Dick?
How could you Mrs. Dick?

Evelyn, oh Evelyn
They say you liked to entertain
All the wealthy men in town
Would stop by your apartment on James
Would stop by your apartment on James

Evelyn, oh Evelyn
Eleven years you did serve
I hear you got married again
And I hope it went better than the first
And I hope it went better than the first

Evelyn, Oh Evelyn Dick
You were so pretty but a little bit sick
Tell me one thing, one thing, one:
How could you Mrs. Dick?
How could you Mrs. Dick?

j0mxhoz2.JPGThere’s a lot of discussion about electric powered Light Rapid Transit these days in Hamilton. But many decades ago the city had a vast network of trolleys powered by overhead electrical lines. Here’s a tale of a different kind of electricity between two passengers.
TROLLEY GIRL
I fell in love with you
On the James Street Trolley
But getting your attention
Was my folly

I wanted to talk with you
But I was shaking in my shoes
‘cause you were so sweet
and lovely

Trolley girl
You’re my James Street trolley girl

Every day I watched you
From the back of the train
Hoping to catch your eye,
Get you to look my way
But the same thing happened
To me each and every day
I tried to be charismatic
But the words just slipped away

Trolley girl
You’re my James Street trolley girl

So I wrote on the back of my transfer
‘Could I walk you home from your stop?’
I waited there so afraid of your answer
But you looked at me and said: ‘Why not?
Let’s go for a walk.’

I ride with you each day on the James Street trolley
And walk you to your house at MacCaulay
Spending time with you, taking in the view
Of your pretty face so enthralling

I sit right next to you
On the James street trolley route

>
MEMPERRIFUNERAL
Rocco Perri and Bessie Starkman were notorious gangsters in Hamilton who used to say they were only providing a service by selling illegal booze. But things got a little out of hand. It started with love, blossomed into a lucrative criminal empire and then ended in bloodshed.

ROCCO AND BESSIE
When Rocco and Bessie went out for a stroll
He wore a fedora, she a mink stole
Starched collars, shiny shoes
Pearls in the afternoon.
They were two gangsters in love.

Everyone knew where the money came from
Running cases of whisky and rum.
Long as things stay
They’ll be making their way
As two gangsters in love

— File photo from The Hamilton Spectator

A bootlegger king
And moonshine queen
In a kingdom that condoned their crimes
They tried to say no one ever got hurt
But gangsters sometimes lie

They must have been gunning for Rocco that night
But somehow Bessie got caught in their sights
The last words she cried
Before she died
‘Rocco, we were so in love.’

Rocco broke down
Put his head to her breast
And screamed out into the night
‘How did it come to be this way?
No one was supposed to die.’

Now some people say he went away
But most think he’s lying on the bottom of the bay
And when the wave’s high
You can hear a lonely cry
‘Bessie we were so in love.
Bessie, we were so in love.’

ioyj0wz3.JPGTo Hamiltonians, a Shorty Green is a little green fountain that used to be found on downtown sidewalks. It’s also the nickname of the captain of the Hamilton Tigers NHL hockey team who lead a strike in the 1920s that led to the team moving to New York.
SHORTY GREEN
There once was a little guy, my friends
stood about three feet tall
You’d find him at the corner of King and James
A water fountain so small
Shorty Green, Shorty Green
Be there when you need
So drink it up or fill your cup
You could always count on Shorty Green

Now another Shorty played for the Tigers
He was captain in ‘24
They say he skated like the wind.
And man Shorty could score.
Shorty Green, Shorty Green
He’d be there when you need
To shake it up, bet your butt
You could always count on Shorty Green

 

 

–File photo from The Hamilton Spectator

Playoffs came and the players complained
About their lousy pay.
Shorty led the strike but the owners got tough
And moved the Tigers away.
Shorty Green, Shorty Green
Left here with the team
No more pucks in a town of hard luck.
In the trail of Shorty Green

Gone are the little green fountains.
No big league NHL team
Just thirsty people on the street
And memories of Shorty Green
Just thirsty people on the street
Thirsty people on the street
Thirsty

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A love-struck fool tries to steal a kiss, or maybe more, in Gore Park a century ago.

SUNDAY NIGHT IN THE GORE
Gore Park summer
On a Sunday eve
My arm around your shoulder
My fingers on your sleeve
Starlight in your eyes
So very bright
Sitting by the fountain
On a pleasant Sunday night

Sunday night in the Gore
Trying to kiss the girl I adore
Holding her close
And hoping for more

 

How my heart is jumping
inside my Sunday vest
Some sinful thoughts I’m thinking
On this day of rest
Hoping for the mood
To be just right
Sitting by the fountain
On a pleasant Sunday night

I finally get the nerve
Bring my lips to her face
Both my arms around her
Such a sweet embrace
She looks at me in horror
And slaps me twice
So much for this
pleasant Sunday night

Sunday night in the Gore
Trying to kiss the girl I adore
Holding her close
And hoping for more
Holding her close
And hoping for more

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Illustration by Graeme MacKay

My great grandparents owned a tavern off James North a century ago and they had a monkey named Jacko who entertained customers. Unfortunately, the primate went crazy and then homicidal after he was banished to the Dundurn Park Zoo.

JACKO
His name was Jacko and he worked the saloon
Throw around peanuts to amuse the room
He’d yell and prance like a fool
‘Cause that’s what monkeys would do
Play the fool

 

 

 

 

— Sketch by Graeme MacKay

Now, Jacko the monkey was supposed to entertain
But his scratching and biting scared the customers away.
They said ‘that’s enough of you.”’
Took him away to the zoo
Dundurn Zoo

Poor old Jacko
Went a little bit wacko
Monkeys see, monkeys do
But Jacko was one crazy dude.

Now the zoo was happy to have a mate
For a chimp they already had in a cage
the primate display had two
with Jacko and Rosa Lou
They made two

Then one morning the keeper walked in
Saw old Jacko with homicidal grin
And Rosa Lou was no more
Found her on the floor
Dead on the floor

It was clear what happened from the evidence
The only choice, capital punishment
They brought in a taxidermist too
Put Jacko on his stool
On his stool

When they talk about Jacko they tend to be harsh
But maybe he was the world’s first punk rock star.
He didn’t know what to do
When his world became a zoo
Became a zoo.
Didn’t know what to do
When his world became a zoo
Became a zoo.

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Albert Einstein’s brain was secretly kept for research purposes after he died in 1955. Over the decades, pieces were cut off and passed around for various scientific studies including one at McMaster University.

EINSTEIN’S BRAIN
When they laid him in the ground.
They kept his brain just to fool around.
To try to find out why
He was such a brainy guy

I know it sounds a little weird
But they kept it as a souvenir
Maybe with some luck
They could start it up

Einstein, Einstein
Take a little piece of his mind
Einstein, Einstein
But don’t turn him into Frankenstein.
Frank Einstein

He was the man, of space and time
But he always looked so mesmerized
E equals MC-squared.
But how do you explain that mop of hair?

A mind’s a terrible thing to waste
Give it a chance, you’ll be amazed
But I think it goes too far
To put the best ones in a jar

So many theories he created, relatively speaking
But that don’t mean his brain’s for keeping
Just to go peaking, poking and prodding around

Einstein, Einstein
Take a little piece of his mind
Einstein, Einstein
But don’t turn him into Frankenstein..
Floating there in formaldehyde

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Photo from the Video Ghosts of Stoney Creek, shot by Barry Gray, The Hamilton Spectator

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The Battle of Stoney Creek – a major victory by the British in the War of 1812 – had its 200th commemoration in 2013. The song was made into a video at The Spectator that can be seen at thespec.com, the Battlefield House website or on YouTube.

GHOSTS OF STONEY CREEK
We marched in darkness, all through the moonless night
Surprised the invaders before the morning light
Three thousand Yankees, their camp to seek
On through the night to take back Stoney Creek

Stoney Creek, Stoney Creek
Light up the night, take up the fight in Stoney Creek

They had three times the men, but we broke on through
Took out their guns, outflanked their troops
We captured two generals. A sudden retreat
They all turned back and gave up Stoney Creek.

Now, only bones remain, from so long ago.
In a grave together, beside a busy road
But the ghosts of soldiers who cannot sleep
Forever remember that night in Stoney Creek.

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Front page from The Hamilton Spectator, Aug. 1943

A song about a mythical, time-travelling soldier with the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry. A video of the song was part of a multimedia and special section project at The Spectator. The Rileys’ 35-piece military band is featured on the recording and video that can be seen at thespec.com or YouTube. I was honoured to perform the song with the RHLI band in at a black-tie fundraising event at the James Street Armoury in November 2010. Private Riley was also used in the musical James Street.

PRIVATE RILEY
My name is Private Riley I come from Hamilton
I needed some extra schillings so I joined the battalion
They shipped me on a cattle car with a battered musket gun
We made a stand at Ridgeway against the bloody Fenians

I’m a soldier, I’m a soldier, with my pack and uniform
when they called I was ready always ready in peace and war

My name is Private Riley through Flanders and the Somme
I crawled through clouds of chlorine gas, along the Western front
We waited cold and shivering for the rising of the sun
We took the Ridge had the Germans on the run.

My name is Private Riley on the beaches of Dieppe
We waded through the water with our guns above our heads
Gerry sat and picked us off in a hail of screaming lead
We bravely charged forward as the water all turned red.

My name is Private Riley deployed in Kandahar
I watch for suicide bombers, forever I’m on guard
And sometimes I do wonder have I really come that far
From the scared kid with the musket riding in a cattle car.

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This was the closing song from the James Street musical about various sights along Hamilton’s most historically significant street.

JAMES STREET
If you want to join a parade
Go down to James
If you want to jump in the bay
Go down to James
Let your troubles slip away
Go down to James
James
James Street

If you want to climb the Mountain
Go down to James
If you want to play in the fountain
Go down to James
If you want something astounding
Go down to James
James
James Street

And we’ll all go down to James Street.
Yes we’ll all go down to James
And we’ll all go down
To the heart of downtown
To the street they call James.
To the street they call James.

If you hate suburban sprawl
Go down to James
Remember old City Hall
Go down to James
Head out on an arts crawl
Go down to James
James
James Street

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