How this music historian found old performance footage of Drake's dad in a Toronto basement

Toronto music historian Daniel Tate explains how rare video footage he procured of Drake’s dad, Dennis Graham, singing the blue became part of the rollout plan for the rapper’s new album, For All the Dogs.

The rapper posted a 32-year-old video uncovered by Daniel Tate to announce his new album, For All the Dogs

Toronto rapper Drake accepts the top artist award with his father Dennis Graham during the 2017 Billboard Music Awards.
Toronto rapper Drake accepts the top artist award with his father Dennis Graham during the 2017 Billboard Music Awards. (Getty Images)

Before he was known for being superstar rapper Drake's dad, Dennis Graham was known around Toronto for singing the blues.

In newly uncovered footage from more than 30 years ago, the Memphis singer can be seen performing during a Stormy Monday jam session hosted by musician Danny Marks at Albert's Hall, a legendary Toronto blues club that closed in the '90s.

A few days ago, Drake posted the footage on Instagram to announce the release date for his new album, For All the Dogs — but he wouldn't have the video at all if it weren't for Toronto-based music historian Daniel Tate.

Tate runs the popular Instagram account The Flyer Vault, which serves as an archive of local rave fliers and concert posters. He told host Elamin Abdelmahmoud about how he procured the rare video footage of Drake's dad, and how it became part of the rollout plan for the rapper's new record.

We've included some highlights below, edited for length and clarity. For the full discussion, listen and follow the Commotion with Elamin Abdelmahmoud podcast, on your favourite podcast player.

Elamin: I'm so happy that you're here. Let's talk about how this video ended up in your hands before you passed it on to Drake.

Daniel: Yeah, so I work on several music history projects at any given point in time. For this particular story, I was actually at Robarts [Library] at U of T doing research for an Aerosmith project, which is completely unrelated, but so I'm there … and I started going through the old NOW Magazine archives. Everybody who grew up in the '80s, '90s and 2000s remembers every Thursday, NOW Magazine would come out and that would tell you what was going on in the city. I was trying to find old photos, concert reviews, stuff like that. I was pouring through the entertainment listings, and I was just really taken aback at all these blues and R&B clubs that were happening all throughout the city — and one in particular, which was Albert's Hall. I couldn't help but notice a name that kept greeting me on these pages: Dennis Graham. I'm like, "I know Dennis Graham. That's Drake's pops!" And so that was the catalyst that took me down another rabbit hole. I started doing more research on Dennis' history and the history of the Toronto blues scene, and dominoes started falling after that.

Elamin: Okay, so we're talking about this Toronto blues scene … around venues like Albert's Hall. That's where guitarist Danny Marks hosted this weekly televised jam called Stormy Monday. I understand that, even before you went on this deep dive into trying to figure out where Dennis Graham was at, this was a scene you were intimately familiar with at the time. What is your connection to the story?

Daniel: My father was an avid blues fan, and I remember when I was a kid [he] would always be going downtown to The Silver Dollar Room, going to Grossman's Tavern, going to Albert's Hall, and just losing himself in blues music. He would come home and he would play all these CDs that he would pick up at these shows. It's crazy because when this story came out, I actually spoke to my father last week and he remembers listening to Dennis Graham on stage; he remembers Danny Marks. So it's one of those crazy stories where I'm doing research and then it kind of comes full circle back to me.

Elamin: So it's one thing for the name to keep popping up while you're in the middle of the University of Toronto's library. It's another for you to get your hands on the actual footage of Dennis performing on Stormy Monday. How did that happen, man?

Daniel: Basically, I would leave the library and my mind is just buzzing with ideas and thoughts; I'm thinking maybe there's more here. And so on a whim, I reached out to this guy named Gary Kendall, who's pretty well-known in the blues scene in Toronto. I emailed him like, "Hey, does the name Dennis Graham ring a bell to you? Do you recall he used to play around town for a few years?" And it was automatic. He's like, "Oh, yeah, of course I know Dennis! Great guy. He had a smooth, velvety voice." And I'm like, "Damn, I'm unlocking memories even out of Gary."

Then, Gary basically said, "I'm going to copy these people who also played with him." And so what started as an email thread of just me and Gary ended up with, like, 12 people on it. We're all just pollinating memories of Dennis and the scene until finally someone said, "Hey, you've got to reach out to this guy because I think he even has a tape of him."

Elamin: Wow.

Daniel: And then I was like, "Ooh, better chase down that rabbit hole."

Elamin: That's wild, because it's not like Dennis Graham's identity as Drake's dad is a secret. You would think people would have thought to have done this over the last, I don't know, however long Drake has had a career — 15 years or so?

Daniel: Yeah, but maybe for the older musicians, they don't look at it that way. They don't look at it like, "We were jamming with Drake's dad." They look at it like, "Oh, we had this guy Dennis, amongst all these other awesome musicians, and we were just rocking and rolling together." Maybe they don't even remember that Dennis' son became this huge global superstar.

Elamin: They don't necessarily make the connection.

Daniel: Right, so that's where I came in. I'm sort of the glue to bring it all together — kind of bridge the gap between the generations.

Elamin: Okay, so now you have this video in your possession and then you send a DM to Drake, who follows your account. Your account is @theflyervault. Are you telling me that Drake checks his DMS? What happened?

Daniel: Just to rewind a little bit, I took the subway out to High Park and I'm sitting in this guy's basement — and let's just say I get goosebumps when I see this video. And he's basically telling me that this tape has been sitting in his basement for 32 years gathering dust.

Elamin: Oh, wow.

Daniel: Right? So essentially, it's like if I didn't make this happen, nobody ever would have seen it — which is crazy to even think about. And so I'm watching it; he digitizes it for me, he airdrops to me. Now I've got it on my phone. And I'm basically the second viewer, right? It's him, and then it's me. And so at that point, the right thing to do is to give it to the family, right? Who's the family? Obviously, that's Drake — and I'm sure he would love to see it. And so, I DM'd him and was like, "I hope you see this. You're going to want to see this." And lo and behold, he saw it and he was flipping out.

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Elamin: I can totally imagine. You had no idea that Drake was going to do anything with the video after you sent it to him, but then a few days pass and he decides to announce his new album by posting that video. How did you find out about that?

Daniel: That was another crazy story. So it's Wednesday, I'm at Budweiser Stage watching the Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper concert with my two buddies, which is already insane. I'm watching Alice and I'm videotaping on my phone, and all of a sudden my Instagram is blowing up…. I have no idea what's going on because I'm in rock mode. There's an intermission; we go upstairs to the bar to chill and have a drink. I check my phone, and I'm like, damn. Drake posted the whole video, tagged The Flyer Vault — very nice of him to do, he didn't have to do that — to announce the release date of the record. I was just blown away. I was on cloud 10 at that point.

Elamin: Well, it sounds incredible, man. I really appreciate you being here to clarify the story, to tell us about how this video came into your possession. I love that you and Drake have an open DM policy. That sounds fantastic. Thanks so much for being on the show today, Daniel.

Daniel: Thanks a lot. Appreciate it.

You can listen to the full discussion from today's show on CBC Listen or on our podcast, Commotion with Elamin Abdelmahmoud, available wherever you get your podcasts.

Interview with Daniel Tate produced by Stuart Berman.


Amelia Eqbal is a digital associate producer, writer and photographer for Commotion with Elamin Abdelmahmoud and Q with Tom Power. Passionate about theatre, desserts, and all things pop culture, she can be found on Twitter @ameliaeqbal.