The average concert-going Toronto rock fan has a story or two about the Horseshoe, which opened in 1947 and has hosted everyone from Etta James to the Stones to the Talking Heads to Stompin’ Tom Connors to the Pixies on its stage.
Local author David McPherson has gathered many of those stories for his forthcoming book, The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete History, set for publication by Dundurn Press on September 23.
“When it comes to live music in North America, there are few places that can match the storied building at 370 Queen West,” McPherson tells NOW. “The Horseshoe is a beacon for music lovers, a pilgrimage place for those who love and understand its significance as part of Toronto’s rich musical landscape.”
McPherson caught his first show there – the Old 97s – over 20 years ago, and taken in many more since. Two of his favourites? Seeing Serena Ryder silence a room with an a cappella version of Etta James’s At Last, and drinking Jack Daniel’s from the bottle with the Drive-By Truckers.
The book traces the bar’s history, from its first owner, Jack Starr, who introduced music in the 50s – “It was known as Nashville North with Grand Ole Opry stars packing the place weekly,” McPherson says – to its current rock- and alt-country-focused era led by Jeff Cohen and Craig Laskey.
“I’ve tried to dig deep in my research to uncover what has led to the bar’s longevity and legacy, and what makes the Shoe so legendary,” he says.
“I came to the venue later than most, but like all the musicians I interviewed, I felt its soul, its historical significance, and its pull from the first time I walked through those doors. There’s no doubt a spirit lives there. The musicians feel it. So do the regulars. Even first-timers catch a whiff of these ghosts.”
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