The song is called “Sweet City Woman.” It was first released in 1971 by the Stampeders, a Calgary pop trio previously known for topping the Canadian charts with a single called “Carry Me.” I didn’t believe “Sweet City Woman” would do particularly well. It featured a decidedly non-pop-sounding banjo as the key rhythm instrument, and sounded like something better suited for a campfire singalong. A Prince George dee-jay insisted, however, that I was wrong. “This one will be big,” predicted Larry Bauder of CJCI Radio. “It will be their break-through record in the States.”
Bauder was absolutely right. “Sweet City Woman” became a number one hit on both the Canadian pop and country charts. Then it reached number seven on the Billboard Top 100 charts in the States. It stayed there for 14 weeks. The Stampeders were on their way to the city lights.
“Sweet City Woman” was covered by several musicians. They included the Dave Clark Five (who managed to mess up the familiar banjo introduction) and – if you can believe it –Lawrence Welk. The most recent cover, entitled simply “City Woman“, was released by Canadian rap artist Kyprios in 2011.
The song acquired a new lease on life again in 2012 when Calgary was named a cultural capital of Canada. “Sweet City Woman” was chosen as the official song for the year-long celebration. Every performer in town, from Dan the One Man Band to Calgary poet laureate Kris Demeanor, worked hard to master the banjo licks of the song’s introduction and the falsetto lines of the chorus.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon in late September 2012, “Sweet City Woman” again staked its claim for international recognition. More than 1,000 Calgarians gathered in Olympic Plaza to toss inhibitions to the winds and take part in a joyful outdoor “lip dub” presentation of the song. Rather than try to describe this rare, heart-warming event, I invite you to watch it here:
I make a cameo appearance during the instrumental section toward the end. You can see me in my top hat and tails, swaying along with a group of youngsters dressed in yellow capes.
In early December 2012, with the song still resonating in my head, I went to San Francisco on vacation. Johnny Z and the Camaros, the featured house trio at Lefty O’Doul’s, were taking requests. Could they do “Sweet City Woman”? Could they ever? Watch them perform it below on video. They don’t use banjo, but somehow they manage, without breaking a sweat, to capture the strum-happy spirit of the original. A nice American salute to the first Canadian performers after Anne Murray and Gordon Lightfoot to break into the U.S. pop charts. If you like their performance, and want to catch them live, you can now hear the Camaros playing at the new Gold Dust Lounge in Fisherman’s Wharf. And the Stampeders still rock!
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Copyright 2013 Brian Brennan - Writer