The Esquire lives again!
Written by Richard Burnett /
Thursday, 19 June 2008 00:00

Star-studded soul revue tribute to legendary Montreal nightclub comes alive.

Skipper Dean (left) and The Avalons - photo: Courtesy Skipper Dean

When my dad immigrated to Montreal in 1950, arriving on the ocean liner Lythia at the ripe old age of 21, he discovered a wide-open city, frequented Toe Blake's tavern, checked out the floorshows at the Bellevue Casino and the entertainers at the Esquire Show Bar. "I saw Billie Holiday and James Brown there," he says.

Of the famed Esquire, at the corner of Stanley and Ste-Catherine, CBC radio host Katie Malloch once noted, "[They] used to bring in major acts every week. I remember seeing Stan Getz, Pharoah Sanders, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard - there was never a dry spell!"

During the 1950s, '60s and '70s, the Esquire also booked Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Ike and Tina Turner, Otis Redding, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Wilson Pickett, B.B. King, Chubby Checker, Joe Tex, Percy Sledge, Jackie Wilson, George Benson - the list goes on and on.

And opening for many of them was The Avalons, with veteran Montreal soul stars Skipper Dean and Jimmy Dooley.

"The Esquire was most unusual because the bar went around the stage and you'd come out [on stage] and see the waiters serving drinks at the bar below," the Nova Scotia-born Dean, now 63, remembers. "The first time I went there I saw Patti Labelle and the BlueBelles."

Dean would tour with the reunited Platters, work with The Temptations, then tour Australia with Canadian soul belter Jackie Richardson (also mother of Montreal soul singer Kim Richardson).

And beginning June 18, and running at the Esquire all summer long, Dean will sing alongside

a veritable who's who of Montreal soul music - including his old Avalons colleague Jimmy Dooley and soul singer Sylvie Desgroseilliers - in the 54-song musical tribute Esquire Show Bar - La Revue at the Corona Theatre.

Does Dean miss the Esquire?
"I miss that type of room," says Dean, who will also release his first solo album this summer. "It fit about 200 to 300 people. You could just go in and relax. Soul is all about having fun and touching people's emotions. I don't really see that anymore. The Esquire really was one of Montreal's wonderful nightclubs of the era."

Esquire Show Bar - La Revue At the Corona Theatre (2490 Notre-Dame W.), Friday and Saturday nights, June 18 to Aug. 30

© 2010. Skipper Dean. All Rights Reserved.