For $9, I couldn’t resist. My record collection is kind of thin where The Yardbirds are concerned. I have a nice mono pressing of Roger The Engineer and I have the Blow Up soundtrack — which includes Stroll On featuring both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page on guitar.
So when I spotted a neat, cheapo compilation at Ottawa’s Compact Music, I snagged it. Record is mint, even though the sleeve has a few small, decades-old mildew marks. Unlike most knock-off compilations, it’s not overloaded with songs. There’s just nine tracks, among them favourites including Shapes of Things (1966), For Your Love (1965) and I’m Not Talking (1965).
I’d never seen this particular album before: Who Came First? The Yardbirds Came First. It’s Canadian — pressed in 1981, I believe, on something called Nardem Records as part of its The Nardem Tapes series.
I did some digging. Nardem stands for North American Record Distributors & E.M. — whatever E.M. stands for. Entertainment Management? Manufacturing? Merchandise? The company was started in 1981 by Records On Wheels.
Wow. Remember them? The record store chain was started in Toronto in 1973 by entrepreneur brothers Vito and Don Ierullo who loaded an old school bus with albums and sold them around the city until they opened their first storefront in the Gloucester Mews and later at 629 Yonge St. The bus, of course, is where the “On Wheels” part comes from. In 1974, the brothers sold it to another neighbourhood hustler named Tony Anselmo, who was peddling T-shirts at the time. The bus was not only the first Records On Wheels location, but also its first franchise outlet.
That summer, Anselmo drove the bus to Sudbury and started selling records there — until the northern Ontario winters forced him to hunt for a storefront, which he found on the second floor of The Mall on Elgin Street (now a TD Bank), and where it stayed until 1978. Anselmo’s store was successful and expanded, until the rise of digital downloads, streaming and big box stores drew his customers away.The last remaining Sudbury Records On Wheels location closed in 2014. Anselmo passed away this year. Another franchise in Dundas remains, but by-and-large Records On Wheels is long gone — having transitioned from record store into distribution.
By the late ’70s, ROW Entertainment came into existence — the company which would be responsible for the creation and distribution of the Yardbirds record I bought. By the late ’80s and early 1990s, ROW Entertainment had entered the home entertainment industry and eventually acquired the CD Plus chain and later Video One Canada Limited from Standard Broadcasting for $72.4 million CAD.
The next acquisition was American music and home entertainment distributor Koch Entertainment, before ROW finally rebranded as Entertainment One and eventually eOne — buying up more companies and investing in Amblin before being sold to Hasbro for $4 billion US. The music distribution part of the business — called MNRK — was sold to Blackstone a few years ago. The rest is set to become part of Lionsgate. That’s a long way from hawking records in an old bus.
But that’s not the only Canadian music legend tied to this particular Yardbirds compilation. Earlier I mentioned it being part of The Nardem Tapes series. Well, there seem to be around 20 titles in this series. The Yardbirds record is catalog No. NARDEM 013. The series is a weird mix of budget compilations like Hornets Nest by Jimi Hendrix (NARDEM 001), three more Hendrix albums, two other Yardbirds albums and a bunch of records by Ontario indie bands like London glam-punk rockers 63 Monroe and Hamilton’s The Dice. The latter’s self-titled 1983 EP was NARDEM 002. It was recorded at the storied Grant Avenue Studio by Daniel “Danny” Lanois, two years before he was invited to Peter Gabriel’s house to help him record the landmark album So.
That EP by The Dice probably sounds great, not just because of the involvement of Lanois but also because the vinyl was cut at The Lacquer Channel by Neil Carter. Neil’s initials are etched into the runouts of The Dice’s album — but also my own copy of Led Zeppelin IV, Small Change by Tom Waits, The Beatles’ blue album, Black & Blue by The Rolling Stones — I could go on and on. Top-shelf clients, top-shelf wax cutter.
My Yardbirds compilation was also cut by The Lacquer Channel, which explains why it sounds way better than any knock-off compilation I’ve ever heard. There’s another Canadian music legend involved with the preparation of this particular record — Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum.
If you’ve been a regular buyer of used records in this province — or in North America in general — you’ve probably come across the distinctive aftermarket plastic inner sleeves branded by the former Toronto (and Clearwater, Florida!) used record store. The inner sleeves feature cartoon depictions of the founder’s cat — sometimes in a cape — and slogans like “You Never Know What You’ll Find.”
I’ve personally got about a dozen of these sleeves on records in my collection, and have found them on used albums bought in Ottawa, Peterborough, Montreal, Barry’s Bay, Pembroke, Belleville, Toronto (obviously) and even from at least one European Discogs order. There’s a good story about it HERE.
Well, the Vinyl Museum is connected to my Yardbirds album not because of an inner sleeve, but because of the outer one. The band photo on the rear cover appears “courtesy of Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum, Toronto.”
But here’s the thing — The Yardbirds never played in Toronto in their heyday. The band did six gigs in Canada, all of them in 1967. There was to be a late ’66 show at Montreal’s Forum but it was cancelled. Too bad, because it would have featured the lineup with both Beck and Page. The Yardbirds played five shows in Vancouver and only one in Ontario, in Huntsville at the Hidden Valley Ski Resort. But the photo doesn’t appear to be from any of those gigs. A reverse search of it suggests it is from the 1965 National Jazz and Blues Festival in Richmond, Surrey. So, that’s Beck on guitar, not Page. They played Aug. 6 — on a bill with The Who and The Moody Blues. I guess there’s a chance Dunn was there.
OK, one final thing that makes this the most Ontario record of all time: The artwork. The sleeve art illustrates the title Who Came First? The Yardbirds Came First with a series of long-haired, instrument-toting birds representing each Yardbirds member who was also part of another famous act like Led Zeppelin, Cream, Beck Bogart & Appice, The Rolling Stones, Bluesbreakers, etc. The only credit about the illustration is the name “Rob Eastwood” in fine print along the bottom of the front cover.
I believe I found him on Facebook and messaged. He hasn’t accepted my friend request yet. I can’t wait to hear the story of how he got this illustration gig. I have a pretty good guess, though — his workplace section indicates he worked at Records On Wheels in Toronto from 1981 to 1986.
I hope he at least got a free copy.
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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.