The Gary’s Last Pogo, and Bankruptcy
Jack Starr retired a few times in the early to mid 1970's, and for the last time in 1977. While remaining the landlord, he attempted to find the next generation of owners and bookers. It was during this time that local indie new wave and punk promoters Gary Cormier and Gary Topp (“The Garys”) came on board. They introduced a whole era of modern music to the venue, Toronto, and the country, bringing in artists like the Police, Talking Heads, Dictators, Suicide, The Cramps, MC-5, Dead Boys, and The Stranglers, and nurturing a local scene with emerging Ontario talents like the Diodes, Viletones, Demics, Forgotten Rebels, and Teenage Head.
Though the Garys paid homage to North American roots music through their alternative punk programming, the bulk of their music vision was ahead of its time. Their music programming brought with it what was at the time an unusual clientele and landlord Starr insisted on more performances by Canadian country music artists. In 1978, the Garys hosted a going-away party that ended an era. “The last punk rock concert in Toronto” featuring The Mods, Viletones, Scenics, The Ugly, Cardboard Brains, and Teenage Head. Within a few hours the concert was shut down by the police and a riot ensued on Queen St West that almost destroyed the building. The night was captured on film by Colin Brunton, who later turned his film into a documentary called “And Now Live from Toronto - The Last Pogo”.
While the Garys went on to become Toronto’s leading progressive indie promoters, the venue and the building remained unoccupied. Starr lent the venue to various prospective owners with musical visions but nothing succeeded. Eventually the building was divided into 3 retail spaces and The Horseshoe changed its name to Stagger Lee’s, a joint strip club and cover band venue. The strip club didn’t last long.
Jack Starr came out of retirement in 1982 to operate the venue as a country bar. During this time he met Kenny Sprackman (who had recently run the Hotel Isabella) when he answered Jack's ad for a driver to transport his car to his snowbird Florida residence. The pair hit it off, and Jack matched Kenny with Kingston, Ontario resident Michael (X-Ray) Macrae, who had been bugging Jack to allow him a shot at running the venue. X-Ray brought aboard his friends Dan Aykroyd, and Richard Crook, to help finance operations. The collaboration of these 4, not only saved the business but musically and historically defined what we now as call The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern.