Expedition to Earth, from left: Brian Levin, Bernie Barsky, Dave Mitchell, Gail Bowen and Dan Norton
|Winnipeg band Expedition to Earth released a rarely-heard 45 on the Franklin label in 1968. The eponymous A-side features a buzzing fuzz sound on the guitar and a phased ending with the whispered line “examine your past and know your future”. The flip, “Time Time Time” is even more compelling, with an unusual descending melody that segues into a very intense section with the lyrics ”Cause time is all that I have / and all I want from life / is a girl to open wide / the doors to paradise”, and ends with a nearly minute-long crashing freakout!
Dan Norton, lead guitarist and song writer for Expedition to Earth, spoke to me at length about the band and provided the photos for this article:
My musical history started at age four taking classical piano lessons in a small town in southern Manitoba called Crystal City. This continued until age 14 then I ran out of teachers. I got my first guitar at age 14 for Christmas. The year was 1961. I immediately ordered a crystal pick-up from a catalogue and proceeded to build my own amp out of an old tube radio.
The Fanthoms, 1965
Expedition to Earth’s Bernie Barsky with Dave Mitchell on drums
Expedition to Earth, from left, Dan Norton, Brian Barsky, Gail Bowen, Brian Levin and Dave Mitchell
|Expedition to Earth
The birds and the flowers of yesterday gone by,
So if you want out take an expedition to,
Tomorrow will be brighter, and hopes will never die,
So if you want out take an expedition to,
lyrics by Dan Norton
|Time Time Time
Time, time, time is all that I have
If you want me to remember when,
‘Cause time is all that I have,
The girls of yesterday are gone,
Time, time, time is all that I have
‘Cause time is all that I have,
Time, time, time is all that I have
Gail Bowen, vocals, with Dave Mitchell on drums and Dan Norton on guitar
from left, Brian Barsky, Brian Levin, Gail Bowen and Danny Norton
The Fanthoms, February 1965
|Special thanks to Jim Witty of Jim’s Child of the 60′s podcast for suggesting this piece and his help in contacting Dan Norton.|
At the Edison, 1962, from left: Barry Stein, Richie Knight, Mike Brough, Doug Chappell, George Semkiw, Barry Lloyd
|Doug Chappell, bass player for Richie Knight and the Mid-Knights wrote to me with the story, photos and songs of the group.
Richie Knight and the Mid-Knights, 1963, from left: Mike Brough, Richie Knight, Barry Stein, George Semkiw, Doug Chappell, Barry Lloyd
Barry Lloyd’s parents house, 1962, from left: Doug Chappell, Barry Lloyd, Barry Stein, George Semkiw, in background Barry Lloyd’s sister Myrna.
Backing Bobby Curtola, 1962, from left: Chappell, Brough, Curtola, Semkiw, Knight, (hidden Barry Lloyd)
CHUM Chart of July 1, 1963 – shows Charlena at #1 for second week
Dick Clark Parade of Stars, July 19, 1963 at Maple Leaf Gardens
1963, from left, back row: Richie Knight, Barry Lloyd; front row: Doug Chappell, George Semkiw, Barry Stein, Mike Brough
Third lineup, 1964, from left: Barry Stein, George Semkiw, Richie Knight, Doug Chappell, Ray Reeves
1966, sleeve for their RCA single, “That’s Alright” / “Work Song” – note different spelling of “Richie”. Click to see back
RCA promo card, 1966.
From left: Rick Bell, George Semkiw, Barry Stein, Richie Knight, Ray Reeves and Doug Chappell
The Mid-Knights Blues Band, 1966, from left: Richard Newell, Ray Reeves, Barry Stein, George Semkiw, and Doug Chappell
1966 saw Brough (sax) packing it in to move to Oklahoma with his regular day gig resulting in the band adding Rick Bell on piano. Then with the departure of Rich, also in 1966, the band took a different direction with the addition Richard Newell on vocals and mouth harp. This was the era of The Mid-Knights Blues Band. Eventually, Ronnie Hawkins cherry picked Bell to join his band The Hawks, the Mid-Knights, in chameleon fashion, changed yet again.
The Mid-Knights Blues Band, 1966, from left: Barry Stein, Richard Newell, Doug Chappell, Ray Reeves and George Semkiw
The Mid-Knights Revue, 1966
RPM, March 30, 1968
Thanks to Ivan Amirault for this scan
|Where Are They Now
Richie Knight (Rich Hubbard) – after the band studied Finance and Marketing at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute and in 1968 went on to manage Yorkville Records and Yorkville Talent Mgt., which was a part of ARC Records, The Mid-Knights original label. Presently owns a magazine publishing company.
George Semkiw – record producer, musician, recording and live event engineer
Barry Stein – runs own accounting firm
Barry Lloyd – retired from insurance industry, resides in Calgary
Mike Brough – after many years in men’s apparel industry now teaches business at Seneca College, Toronto
Doug Chappell – retired after years in the record industry (A&M Records, Island Records, Virgin Records, Mercury Records)
Ray Reeves – settled in Atlanta, Georgia
Richard Bell – after Hawkins he went on to play in Janis Joplin’s Full Tilt Boogie Band, returned to Toronto to do session work. Deceased in 2007
Richard Newell – after Hawkins he played with Crowbar, released records as King Biscuit Boy. Deceased in 2003
Frank Querci – was in the real estate business, Deceased
Leo Donaghue – presently resides in Australia
Richie Knight and the Mid-Knights
1963 – Charlena/You’ve Got The Power (Arc 1028) 1963/64 – The Joke/My Kind Of Love (Arc 1037)
Musicians on above songs: Knight, Semkiw, Stein, Lloyd, Brough & Chappell
1964 – Homework/Come Back – Try Me (Arc 1047) 1965 – Think It Over/You Hurt Me (Arc 1076)
Musicians on above songs: Knight, Semkiw, Stein, Reeves & Chappell
1965 – Packin’ Up/I’ll Go Crazy (Arc 1078) 1965 – One Good Reason/My Kind Of Love (Arc 1110)
Musicians on above songs: Knight, Semkiw, Stein, Reeves & Chappell
1966 – That’s Alright/Work Song (RCA Victor 3392)
Musicians on above songs: Knight, Semkiw, Stein, Reeves, Chappell & Bell
as The Mid-Knights (Richard Newell, vocals)
1968 – Soul Man/Somebody Somewhere Needs You (Warner Bros. 7180)
Musicians on above songs: Newell, Semkiw, Stein, Reeves, Chappell, Pinkerton, Stilwell, Cairns, Smith & Shymansky
The Mid-Knights Blues Band
Goin’ To New York
Musicians on above songs: Bell, Newell, Semkiw, Stein, Reeves & Chappell
Mid-Knights Big Blues Band
Knock on Wood
Musicians on above songs: Newell, Semkiw, Stein, Reeves, Chappell, Pinkerton, Stilwell, Cairns, Smith & Shymansky
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
Musicians on above songs: Querci, Titko, Semkiw, Stein, Reeves, Chappell, Pinkerton, Stilwell, Cairns, Smith & Shymansky
August 19, 2006 Mid-Knight reunion BBQ, from left, back row: Richie Knight, Barry Lloyd; front row: Doug Chappell, George Semkiw, Barry Stein, Mike Brough
The Paupers, 1967
|The Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967 should have been The Paupers’ launch pad to international fame. Only four months earlier, the Canadian folk-rock band had seemed destined for the top when Bob Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman bought their contract and began hyping them as the next biggest thing since The Beatles. A month prior to the festival, the group had showcased its talent at a string of well received shows at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, and had spent two solid weeks working up a suitable set list for the forthcoming festival. As Canadian rock journalist, Nicholas Jennings notes in his excellent book, Before The Goldrush, the opportunity to “blow away the competition looked good when the band was scheduled to follow mellow popsters The Association.”
But from the minute The Paupers launched into their set, everything that could go wrong did, and in the subsequent media frenzy, the group’s performance was all but ignored. Within six months, the group once hyped to surpass The Beatles, had lost not only its most inspirational member but was facing mounting debts.
The disappointment of Monterey must have seemed a million miles away from New York’s Café Au Go Go, where, on a freezing cold evening in March 1967, The Paupers proceeded to demolish the headlining act, Jefferson Airplane, then making its East Coast debut. Performing in front of a media and record industry-packed audience that included The Beatles’ Brian Epstein and Albert Grossman, The Paupers couldn’t have picked a better time to make an impression.
While the band became the first Canadian rock band to snare a high profile American manager and a lucrative American recording contract, The Paupers never received the adulation and fame that they deserved. Along the way however, the group produced some of the finest music to emerge from Canada during the ‘60s, and live were arguably one of the most colourful, dynamic and electrifying groups on the North American stage.
The driving force throughout much of The Paupers’ career was drummer Ronn (Skip) Prokop (b. 13 December 1943, Hamilton, Ontario). An accomplished musician, Prokop had been playing music in his hometown since the age of eight when he picked up the accordion. Deserting music for two years, he took up drums at 13 after joining the Preston Scout House Drum Corps. Such was Prokop’s prowess that, according to an article in the music magazine The Canadian, he ended up becoming an instructor and worked throughout Ontario. Prokop also won the national individual rudimental championships two years in a row and composed a percussion quartet that grabbed another national award.
Boredom crept in and Prokop subsequently took up guitar. In early 1964, he formed a folk trio, The Riverside Three, but this was ditched after six months in favour of playing in a local dance band. He then formed another folk trio, but soon found himself out of work when the local hotel he was playing at discovered he was underage and passed the word around. When The Beatles and Rolling Stones-led British Invasion landed on North American shores, Prokop realised that rock was where “it” was at and moved up to Toronto to start his own band.
In an interview for Canada Music Quarterly, Prokop told journalist Joey Cee that the decision to form The Paupers was driven by his desire to put together a band that used electric 12-string guitars. The Riverside Three had toyed with the idea, but somehow had never got round to realising Prokop’s dream. Perhaps for this reason, the first person that Prokop approached to join his new project was his former cohort, singer/guitarist Bill Marion (real name: Bill Misener).
Paupers 1965, from left: Denny Gerrard, Skip Prokop, Chuck Beal, Bill Marion. Photo courtesy of Bev Davies.
|Prokop and Marion immediately got to work looking for suitable players to join their fledging group. Next to join was guitarist Chuck Beal (b. 6 April 1944, Scarborough, Ontario), who was recruited via the Toronto Musicians’ Association’s notice board. Working at Larry Sykes music in Scarborough during the day and playing the bars along Toronto’s Yonge Street strip at night, Beal was intrigued by Prokop’s concept and duly accepted the offer. Equally important, he introduced his friend, Denny Gerrard (b. 28 February 1947, Scarborough, Ontario), a self-taught guitarist, who had apparently purchased his first bass from Beal.
With Beal and Gerrard on board, and initially dubbed The Spats, the group spent two weeks rehearsing material in Beal’s basement, before venturing into Hallmark Recording Studios to lay down three Prokop originals – “Never Send You Flowers”, “Sooner Than Soon” and “Free As A Bird”. “Never Send You Flowers” duly attracted the attention of CHUM disc jockey Duff Roman, who, impressed by the song, offered to manage the band. With Roman calling the shots, “Never Send You Flowers” was released as the group’s debut single in early 1965. The single found its way to Glen Walters aka Big G Walters, a disc jockey at CKEY, and following popular demand, became the station’s top hit.
At the Maple Leaf Gardens, April 25, 1965. Photo courtesy of Bev Davies.
|According to Beal, the sudden interest took the group by surprise. In The Canadian, he remarked: “We had all sorts of bookings coming in…and we only knew three songs. We rehearsed for another four months so we could play a show.” The band’s persistence paid off and on 25 April 1965, The Paupers (as they were now called) made only their third public performance supporting The Rolling Stones at Maple Leaf Gardens.
The decision to change the name had been thrust on the band at an early stage when another outfit in the US was found operating as The Spats. Apparently, the new name emerged on the way down to a local restaurant. “We had 50 cents among us,” Prokop told The Canadian. “Bill said, ‘Why don’t we call ourselves The Paupers’?” The name seemed rather fitting. Despite the Maple Leaf Gardens show, and regular appearances at the under 21 club in the Canadian National Exhibition during the summer, the group was virtually broke.Nevertheless, The Paupers persevered and in the autumn followed up “Never Send You Flowers” with a new single, the blues-inflected “If I Told My Baby”, which like its predecessor was issued on the local Red Leaf label.
Red Leaf Records Promo, 1966, photo courtesy of Bev Davies.
|“As I recall, Red Leaf Records was formed by Duff Roman, Stan Klease (Big Town Boys’ producer), Walt Greelis (founder of RPMmagazine and what became the Juno awards) and probably some other chaps that I never met,” says Beal. “The idea was to have a nationally distributed Canadian record label that was promoted through a network of key radio stations. Canada does not have national radio stations other than the CBC and at that time, music videos were just somebody’s dream. This means that unless a bunch of radio stations across the country jump on the same record at the same time, national exposure for Canadian artists by radio was then and still is impossible. Red Leaf was a good idea but with limited financing, could not live up to the hopes of those involved.
”Not surprisingly then, “If I Told My Baby”, despite its undoubted chart potential, and a great lead vocal by Bill Marion, fell on deaf ears. The Paupers responded with the sultry “For What I Am”, which was issued on Duff Roman’s own label, Roman Records in December 1965. The song’s moody undercurrent hinted at a growing maturity in the fledging Prokop/Marion song-writing partnership, but like its predecessor it failed to chart. Perhaps for this reason, the group opted to issue a cover, “Long Tall Sally” as a follow up, but once again the Canadian record buying public stayed away.
Nevertheless, The Paupers had begun to pick up more steady work, most notably at the El Patio in Toronto’s hip Yorkville district. It was here that the group’s luck changed courtesy of Bernie Finklestein (later singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn’s longstanding manager).
Finkelstein was an interesting character who first dabbled with managing a band while at school. Over the next few years he drifted from job to job – there are rumours that he slept in hot dog stands and laundromats, and at one point got by working as a caretaker in a local theatre. Somehow he ended up at the El Patio, making expresso coffees during the evenings, and cleaning the premises during the day. It was during an afternoon shift that he first caught The Paupers, who at the time were rehearsing for their debut weeklong engagement. Finkelstein was suitably impressed. Not one for mincing his words, he boldly told the group that the best acts around were those writing original material and immediately offered his services as a manager.
Up to this point, the group had been handling most of its affairs; apart from producing the band, Roman had little input other than acting as its publisher. However, as Prokop recalled to Ritchie Yorke in his book Axes, Chops & Hot Licks, “there had been a lot of hassles and uptightness”, and when Finkelstein arrived “with a lot of flashy ideas”, the group decided to dispense with Roman’s services.
Finkelstein’s fast-talking finesse soon got results when Arc Records offered to record the band that summer. The label, it seems, may even have got as far as putting a recording on tape. According to the Toronto Telegram’s After Four section on Thursday, 14 July, The Paupers were due to perform at the North Toronto Memorial Arena the following Tuesday where fans would get the opportunity to hear the group’s latest recording – “Heart Walking Blues”.
Whether any such recording actually made it on to the market is not entirely clear. No-one in the band seems to recall anything about this particular recording and bearing in mind that The Paupers’ were about to undergo a major upheaval in their line up, it is likely that the recording was quickly ditched with very few, if any, copies being pressed.
“Sooner Than Soon” was used as a b-side to both “Never Send You Flowers” on Red Leaf and “Long Tall Sally” on Roman.
The Paupers, late 1967. Left to right: Denny Gerrard, Chuck Beal, Skip Prokop and Adam Mitchell
|Five days after the North Toronto Memorial Arena show, The Paupers played a one-off date at the El Patio shortly after which Marion, who had become increasingly unhappy about his role, handed in his notice. The group’s lead singer cited “hassles regarding his song-writing” as his reason for leaving. Prokop adds that Marion also had a real desire to sing R&B, and was unable to find an outlet for this in The Paupers.
Marion subsequently embarked on a brief solo career, recording a lone single, “Flower Girl” for the Nimbus label in 1967. He then hooked up with The Last Words for a few months before forming the music production company, Cranberry Roadhouse Productions. In 1969, he reverted to his former name, Bill Misener and became a staff producer and manager for RCA’s Sun Bar Productions, later writing for and producing the Quebec group, The Morse Code Transmission. Resuming a solo career in the early ‘70s, he recorded a string of albums for the Grit, CTL and Polydor labels, and enjoyed a sizeable national hit in January 1972 with the single “Little O’l Rock ‘N’ Roll Band”. He subsequently became a successful jingle writer and sang on TV commercials.
Marion’s departure scuttled the Arc deal, but Finkelstein simply walked across the road to the Mousehole folk club and asked singer/songwriter and guitarist Adam Mitchell (b. 24 November 1944, Glasgow, Scotland) to join. The young Scotsman, who’d moved to Toronto at the age of 12, would prove to be the catalyst in raising The Paupers’ profile. Not only did he forge a prolific song-writing partnership with Prokop, but he was also blessed with a distinctive voice.
Growing up in Bolton, Ontario, Mitchell initially played drums but at the age of 17 switched to guitar with the advent of the folk boom. He briefly played in two folk groups, including the CommonFolk, before working solo in local venues like the Riverboat and the Mousehole. Mitchell had caught the band earlier in the year and was impressed. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought they were really out of sight,” he told The Canadian. “I talked to Skip and we became close friends”. The afternoon Marion walked out, Mitchell was with the band the same day, rehearsing. (In an interesting side note, Mitchell was attending the University of Toronto during this period and majoring in French, but subsequently left before completing his arts degree.)
With Mitchell on board, The Paupers embarked on mammoth rehearsals at the Hawk’s Nest, practising for no less than 13 hours a day! Following Ronnie Hawkins’ example with The Hawks (later The Band), Prokop adopted a taskmaster role and “cracked the whip” during rehearsals while Finkelstein charged band members for infractions. The strict regime had an immediate effect as The Paupers quickly developed a tight stage act. “When we came out,” says Prokop, “the group was completely changed. We had a lot of funky, good-time material.”
Debuting at the Broom and Stone in Scarborough (most likely on 14 August), The Paupers were an instant success, and the following month landed an important slot at the highly publicised 14-hour pop show, sponsored by CHUM radio, and held at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens alongside 14 top local bands.
Over the next few months, the group became one of the biggest draws in Yorkville village, performing at notable venues like the Night Owl, the Hawk’s Nest and Boris’ Red Gas Room. By this stage, the band had developed a captivating stage show, which according to Nicholas Jennings, was “built around earth-shaking drums, a wailing guitar and Denny Gerrard’s mind-boggling bass.”
Gerrard was indeed fast becoming a local legend. Donning his trade-mark Sluggo cap, the inspirational musician would later be voted best bass player two years in a row by US critic Ralph Gleason in Playboy magazine’s annual jazz poll. Beal’s guitar playing was also enthralling, as Nicholas Jennings notes, “it was like an early version of U2’s Edge, full of repeating, tape-looped notes and weird effects.” Overnight, The Paupers had become big fish in a small pond. The more lucrative American market beckoned.
Notice in Billboard, March 25, 1967
Candid live shot of Denny Gerrard on bass and Chuck Beal on tambourine.
Photo courtesy of Mr. Segment.
Canadian Teen, courtesy of Ivan Amirault
|Fortunately, the band didn’t have long to wait for such an opportunity. Opening for The Lovin’ Spoonful at Maple Leaf Gardens on 11 December, Finkelstein ran in to Harvey Glatt, promoter and owner of Ottawa’s Le Hibou coffeehouse, who suggested that he should approach MGM Records in New York.
Armed with a four-song demo, Finkelstein flew to the Big Apple early in the new year and to his surprise, MGM agreed to sign the band to its subsidiary, Verve Forecast; a first for a Canadian band. Buoyed by the response, Finkelstein headed over to Greenwich Village and looked up Howard Soloman, the owner of the Café Au Go Go, who offered the band a gig opening for Jefferson Airplane in early March. Finkelstein accepted the booking and headed back to Toronto where The Paupers were riding high with “If I Call You By Some Name”, the group’s debut single with Mitchell. Having peaked at #6 on the CHUM chart on 16 January, the single eventually sold around 35,000 copies.
The stage was set for the group’s debut US appearance at the Café Au Go Go. As those witnessing concur, from the opening bars of “Think I Care”, The Paupers were in their element. By the time they were done, the place was theirs, and critics were not slow in showering the band with praise. Writing in the Village Voice, Richard Goldstein exclaimed: “They have a power and a discipline I’ve never seen before in a performance.”
Following the show, Albert Grossman came back stage to visit the band. As Prokop told The Canadian, “We saw this cat with long, white hair down to his shoulders and Ben Franklin glasses and we didn’t know who he was. About four days later, he approached Bernie and we had a meeting and signed contracts.”
Finkelstein, who had been made a lucrative offer to co-manage the band, subsequently sold his rights to the group for $20,000 and used the money to set up his next project, the experimental folk-rock outfit, Kensington Market. One of Grossman’s first moves as manager meanwhile was to renegotiate the group’s contract with Verve Forecast, which allegedly had been signed for no front money!
Following the success of the New York show, The Paupers released a new single, the bluesy “Simple Deed”, and while it didn’t quite sell as much as its predecessor, still managed to climb to a respectable #23 on the CHUM chart on 27 March.
The group then returned to New York to cut its debut album with producer Rick Shorter. During this time, band members also found time to moonlight on other projects, most notably on Peter, Paul and Mary single “I Dig Rock And Roll”.
With the album in the can, The Paupers flew to San Francisco in early May to play three sets of shows at the Fillmore Auditorium. Opening twice for local acidheads, The Grateful Dead and concluding with a support slot for soul sisters, Martha & The Vandellas, The Paupers’ breezy folk-rock and sunny melodies went over well with the San Francisco audiences.
That same month, Verve Forecast issued a new single, “One Rainy Day”, which apparently sold so poorly that the group pulled it out of the marketplace themselves. Despite the chart failure, the positive reception to the band’s live shows on the West Coast bode well for the up and coming Monterey festival and anticipation was running high.
“While in California we learned ahead of time that we were to play a fairly short set at the festival,” remembers Beal. “So, we decided to put together a non stop medley of several cuts from our first album, ending with Denny’s bass solo. We got it together and at the sound check everything went well. Actually, several of the promoters and musicians took the time to complement us on our arrangement and performance.”
Introduced by Byrds guitarist David Crosby, who hyped the band to the 30,000-strong crowd, The Paupers duly took to the stage on the evening of 16 June, and immediately ran into problems. According to some sources, Gerrard had dropped some acid before the show, which may account for why his bass playing seemed out of sync with the rest of the group. Technical problems also afflicted the group as Beal’s amp crackled on and off. Ralph Gleason, who had championed Gerrard in Playboy earlier in the year, later said that the band was one of the festival’s real disappointments.
Beal has his own take on events. “The tightness of the band was not only one of our strong points, but turned out to be our undoing at Monterey,” he explains. “That night when things went wrong, rather than stop playing, regroup and chat with the audience till things got fixed, we just damned the torpedoes and kept going full speed ahead. As a result, we wound up sinking our own ship. That performance at Monterey, although we didn’t realise it at the time, was the beginning of the end.”
Despite the setback, The Paupers’ live shows continued to attract positive reviews. Writing about a gig at West Hollywood’s Whisky-A-Go-Go in July, journalist Bill Kerby reported in the L.A Free Press: “It is joyfully unnerving to see a group bound together by other than mutual regard for dope, stardom, pedestrian ideas of musical mediocrity, and vague dreams of overnight billions.”
Following Monterey, the group had been sent on a $40,000 promotional tour covering 40 cities, and taking in venues like the Grande Ballroom in Detroit, the Boston Tea Party and the Café Au Go Go in New York. At the last venue in late September, it was the turn of The Paupers to be upstaged, on this occasion by visiting British dignitaries Cream.
Despite the tight touring schedule, The Paupers still found time to “live it up” on the road. Speaking to Ritchie Yorke, Prokop remembers one particularly memorable incident in Las Vegas. “Denny Gerrard made $3,500 on the poker machines, but the next day he lost it all, and his shirt as well. Really, he arrived back at the hotel one morning with no shirt on.” Apparently, the bass player had walked two miles from a casino because he’d lost all his money!
L.A. Times, July 1967
Notice in Billboard, August 19, 1967
Left to right: Skip, Adam, Chuck and Denny
|Grossman meanwhile was beginning to lose patience – the band was spending a huge amount of money on the road but had no hit records to justify the expenditure. According to the band’s drummer, Grossman seriously considered dropping The Paupers at one stage, but was persuaded to give the band a second chance. Faced with mounting debts, the group went on a money-saving spree, travelling to gigs in Prokop’s station wagon.
If the group’s declining fortunes weren’t enough to worry about, Gerrard’s behaviour was becoming increasingly more erratic as his consumption of psychedelic drugs reached crisis point.
Adam Mitchell remembers a number of amusing incidents during this period, including a rehearsal at the Night Owl club on Avenue Road in Toronto. “We had just been given the first cordless remote for guitar and we had Denny try it on his bass. In the interest of seeing how far away from the amp you could get and still have signal strength, we had Denny walk to the front of the club and then eventually outside. After he’d been outside a while, the signal faded as expected. So did Denny! We went outside and of course there was no sign of him anywhere. We abandoned the rehearsal and spread out in different directions looking for him. As I was heading south on Avenue Road, a rather perplexed fan approached me. ‘Man…I just saw Denny walking down the street playing his bass!’ Never did find him that day or several days after. Such was life with Denny.”
Another incident took place following the group’s performance at the Trauma club in Philadelphia. “Denny never made the plane,” remembers Mitchell. “Several days later I got a call at my place on Hazelton Avenue in Yorkville. ‘Adam, it’s Denny…where am I?’ After having him look out the window and read a few licence plates, we determined he was probably still in Philadelphia. How or when he eventually made it back to Toronto, I don’t remember.”
The Trauma gig also has an interesting side note, says Mitchell. “Two young kids brought a Les Paul for me to autograph, then ran beside the car practically all the way back to the hotel, where they permanently encamped in the lobby. Fast forward to 1988 – Gene Simmons, his girlfriend Shannon Tweed and I had been out for dinner in LA and had to stop off at a film distributors’ conference on the way home so that Shannon could make an appearance. As we entered the room, some guy started yelling, ‘Adam, Adam!’ I had no idea who he was until he introduced himself and told me he was one of those two young kids in Philadelphia. His name was Frank Stallone. The other kid was his brother, Sylvester Stallone.”
By early 1968, the group had lost patience with Gerrard’s behaviour and reluctantly asked him to leave. However, as Beal admitted to Nicholas Jennings, the group was a lesser force without their inspired bass player. “Denny did for the bass what Hendrix was doing for the guitar. Nobody had seen anything like this.” Mitchell agrees. “He was absolutely brilliant as a player. His bass solo, I believe was the most electrifying thing in music I’ve ever seen.”
Teenset, December 1967
click for larger image
Brad Campbell (far left) joins The Paupers.
|Gerrard’s replacement, Brad Campbell, was recruited from local band, The Last Words, who interestingly had recently appeared on the same bill as The Paupers at York University on 12 January. (The show, incidentally, also featured The Magic Circus, who also contained a number of future Paupers members). The Last Words had released three singles between late 1965 and early 1967, but only one, “I Symbolise You” issued on Columbia, had seriously troubled the charts, and no doubt Campbell was delighted to be offered the job. At the same time, The Paupers expanded the line-up by bringing in keyboard player Peter Sterbach, formerly a member of The BTB 4 (Big Town Boys 4).
Amid all this activity, the band’s debut album Magic People, which had been released back in June just prior to the Monterey festival, had slowly crept up the Billboard charts and finally peaked at a rather disappointing #178. Despite the poor placing, the album has some strong moments, most notably in its kaleidoscopic drum-driving title track. Other highlights include the infectious folk-rocker “You and Me”, the haunting “My Love Hides Your View” and the angst-ridden “Think I Care”, generally considered to be The Paupers’ definitive song. The track was lifted as a single in early 1968, but flopped.
While The Paupers failed to make any headway in the charts, they continued to live up to their reputation as a live act. On 24 February, the group returned to Toronto and played a memorable set at the Canadian National Exhibition supporting The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Soft Machine.
Nevertheless, the pressures of travelling on a tight budget were beginning to take its toll, with each man reduced to living off $2. First to crack was newcomer Peter Sterbach who dropped out sometime in early 1968. Skip Prokop, who also entertained thoughts of leaving the band during this period, apparently changed his mind when the label agreed to do a second album.
Taking time off the road, the group stopped in Nashville to record three tracks – “All About Me”, “Words I Say” and “See Yourself” but according to Beal the sessions did not go well and the recordings were shelved. Despite the failure to complete any tracks towards a new album, Beal says the Nashville trip did have its perks. “For me the highlights included meeting Tex Ritter, listening to Flatt and Scruggs record, watching one of the Jordinaires get so rapped up in a game of ping pong, he forgot that he left his car with the engine running and it ran out of gas, and above all having Floyd Cramer play on our session. It was nuts, we just called his answering service and within 15 minutes, he was there.”
Travelling to New York in early May, the group’s new producer Elliot Mazer hooked The Paupers up with keyboard player Al Kooper, who had recently been ousted from his group, Blood, Sweat & Tears. Turning his creative energies to The Paupers, Kooper’s contributions complement the group’s performances brilliantly and the resulting album, Ellis Island, recorded at Columbia Studios over several months, remains a hidden gem of late ’60s rock.
Lacking the consistency of the group’s debut outing, the record’s strength lies in its individual tracks. These range from extended hard-rock workouts like “South Down Road” and “Numbers” (featuring Brad Campbell on lead vocal), to more reflective pieces such as Prokop’s “Oh That She Might”, with a rare vocal outing from the drummer. Adam Mitchell emerges as the dominant writing force and his “Cairo Hotel”, apparently written about a hotel in Washington DC where most of the tenants were down and outs, is particularly poignant.
Another noticeable difference on the album, compared to his predecessor, is the group’s experimentation with exotic sounds – one particular track, “Ask Her Again”, features Prokop on the koto, a Japanese stringed instrument (a present given to the drummer by Peter, Paul & Mary after a Japanese tour).
Brad Campbell with The Last Words (back right)
The Paupers, late 1968. Left to right: Chuck Beal, Denny Gerrard, Adam Mitchell, Roz Parks and John Ord. Photo courtesy of Jonn Ord.
|With the album in the can, the band realised that it needed to reproduce Kooper’s keyboard parts in a live format, and duly recruited former Fraser Loveman Group member Jonn (aka John) Ord (b. 3 April 1945, London, England) during late July. As Ord recalls, “I had a little trio called The Nuclear Tricycle that was playing in a bar on Yonge Street. It was a summer job for me and I was at university. Skip heard about me and came in to see me. I went out to Brad Campbell’s house in Oakville to meet the band and they played me the album. I was able to play off the keyboard parts pretty fast and they thought it would be a good fit.”
The quintet quickly reconvened to Ord’s parents’ farm in Fenwick, in the Niagara peninsula. Rehearsing intensively for a week in a nearby farmhouse, the new Paupers line-up soon launched in to a small tour. The band’s debut show at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit on 2-4 August proved memorable, not least because the club still had bullet holes in it from the race riots earlier in the year.
During this period, some of the band members flew to New York between dates to do studio work. Ord, who was involved in the session work alongside Campbell and Prokop remembers working with Richie Havens on his album Richard P Havens, 1983, and also providing support for a female singer called Leonda. The sessions, as Ord points out, appear to have soured relations between band members and ultimately may have sown the seeds that led to the group’s collapse the following month. “I found out that the band was in a state of conflict and frustration, perhaps partially because some musicians were recording and the others were stuck on the road. In the end, the band broke up and everyone went home to Toronto.”
Things had come to ahead when Prokop announced his decision to leave the band after The Paupers’ engagement at the Electric Circus in New York, which ran from 29 August to 1 September. Although he would subsequently form his own outfit, the big band Lighthouse, Prokop nearly joined Janis Joplin’s new group, soon to become better known as The Kozmic Blues Band, but declined her offer.
|The offer had been made during the Richie Havens sessions as Ord recalls. “Janis dropped into the sessions and we had some jams with her. Our mutual manager Albert Grossman was looking for musicians for her new band from among his own musicians. Harvey Brooks from The Electric Flag came in with her at one point and he was also looking for musicians for her.”
Prokop confirms that a number of tracks, including a version of “Hey Joe”, and some Aretha Franklin covers were recorded in the studio with Joplin and have yet to see the light of day. Joplin’s insistence on retaining Sam Andrews from Big Brother & The Holding Company for her new band project however, ultimately led Prokop to back out. Following an appearance on Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield’s Live Adventures album and supporting Mama Cass at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Prokop pieced together Lighthouse.
Brad Campbell meanwhile landed on his feet. After briefly gigging with the Pozo Seco Singers, he took up the offer from Janis Joplin. He would remain with the troubled singer until her untimely death, appearing in both The Kozmic Blues Band, and its successor, the Canadian-dominated Full Tilt Boogie Band. According to Pete Frame, he would often work under the pseudonym Keith Cherry. Campbell currently lives in Milton, Ontario and plays with a reformed Last Words.
With Prokop and Campbell out of the picture but with debts of $40,000, the remaining members decided to carry on. “I recall advocating that we reform The Paupers in Toronto as the band was well known and we could probably do well with a change of members,” says Ord. The Paupers quickly recruited local drummer Roz Parks (b. 15 April 1945, Picton, Ontario) from The Creeps and Magic Circus fame and perhaps more importantly, in terms of credibility, brought original bass player Denny Gerrard back in to the fold. Though Gerrard had spent most of 1968 recovering from his drug exploits, he had recently returned to studio and live work with Toronto’s highly rated blues combo, McKenna Mendelson and was in fighting form.
The group soon returned to the local club scene, debuting at the Night Owl on 26-27 October. Journalist Ritchie Yorke writing that November in the local RPM magazine, reviewed the show and captured perfectly the new line-up’s potential. “They emerged as a tight, cohesive musical unit, devoid of pseudo-hippiness and brimming over with confidence.”
True the group may have found a new confidence, but this was soon shattered by Gerrard’s inability to keep on the straight and narrow. As Ord recalls, “we did well for a while getting quite a bit of work and playing a lot. Then Denny started to lose it again…missing rehearsals and eventually not showing up for an important concert. The other band members said they had been through this already and that nothing worked. Roz and I were very fond of Denny and tried everything to make things work, but in the end we had to fire him and found a new bass player.”
As Jonn Ord notes, Gerrard’s departure proved a catalyst for Mitchell’s own exit from the group in April 1969. “Adam became discouraged and decided to leave also, so we replaced him with James Houston who had worked with Roz in The Magic Circus.”
Adam Mitchell subsequently embarked on a brief solo career, before moving into production work for the likes of McKenna Mendelson Mainline and McKendree Spring (who covered his song “Cairo Hotel”). In 1970, he became Linda Ronstadt’s musical director, the fruits of which turned up on Silk Purse. Mitchell also emerged as a successful songwriter, and during the ‘70s and ‘80s saw his compositions covered by John Waite, Olivia Newton-John, Art Garfunkel and Kiss to name a few. A long-awaited solo album, Red Head In Trouble, finally appeared in 1979. Mitchell currently lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and Santa Monica, California and continues to produce, write and perform in the US and Canada.
The Paupers ploughed on with new members James Houston (b. 25 May 1946, Belfast, Northern Ireland) and Mel O’Brien (who had previously played with The Proverbs, The Five D and The Five Shy) but, despite some notable shows at the Night Owl during August 1969, soon ran out of steam as Beal recalls.
“James was a member of The Creeps and a friend of Roz Parks. He was a pretty good singer/songwriter… The bass player was Mel O’Brien [who] was really talented but a bit of a loose canon. We did a bunch of local dates with Mel but it was clear that the band was going nowhere real fast. We knew we needed a record deal and booked some time into the RCA studios in Toronto to do some demos of Jaime’s tunes. Mel didn’t show up for the session and that was it for him. After that none of us had the energy or the desire to start over again so, we packed it in. A sorry end to what was once a pretty good band.”
From the ashes of the group, James Houston (who now goes by the name John Peel) formed his own group, Houston, which issued a lone single “Sally Bumper” and eponymous album for Tuesday Records during 1970.
Jonn Ord, whose band backed Chuck Berry at Toronto’s Electric Circus in the summer of 1969, later acquired a music degree from York University and currently plays in Ontario’s Georgian Bay area.
Roz Parks meanwhile worked with Edward Bear and Tranquillity Base (where he was joined by Houston) among others before changing his name to Ron. A few years ago, he issued his debut solo album Golden Rocket.
While The Paupers’ potential was never fully realised, the degree of talent within the band can be gleaned from the band’s best work, and the subsequent achievements of group’s members, Brad Campbell, Adam Mitchell and Skip Prokop.
Following a successful career with Lighthouse, Prokop leant his talents to a diverse range of projects, including working with street kids, running an advertising agency and doing jingles. Like Mitchell, he also issued a solo album, All Growed Up, in 1979 and in recent years has played in a reformed Lighthouse. Living in London, Ontario, he is currently writing his autobiography.
Denny Gerrard continued to make sporadic appearances on record throughout the late ‘60s and ’70s, most notably on Jericho’s superb eponymous album for Bearsville Records in 1971, and in his work with Rick James’s pre-Motown bands, Heaven and Earth and Great White Cane. Still revered by his contemporaries, Gerrard remains a local legend. In 1997, after years of inactivity, he made a rare appearance on record, playing with Mike McKenna’s blues band Slidewinder.
Chuck Beal briefly worked as a music producer, promoter and manager for Canadian bands. Later he worked at the Canadian National Institute For The Blind, producing the talking books series and also did some writing and research for CBC radio in Toronto. He is currently a computer consultant and has his own website.
Looking back, Mitchell is philosophical about the band’s premature demise. “As incredible as the band truly was, we were victims of just plain bad luck,” he says. “Bad luck, not only that Denny did too many drugs at Monterey and Chuck had a bad guitar chord. But perhaps more importantly, bad luck that we had the wrong record producer, the wrong studio and the wrong label. We were young, the business was new and we didn’t know any better.”
Magic People and Ellis Island are now available for the first time on CD from Pacemaker Records. Each release includes bonus tracks.
April 25 1965 – Maple Leaf Gardens with Rolling Stones, Jon and Lee & The Checkmates and others
Many thanks to Skip Prokop, Adam Mitchell, Chuck Beal, Jonn Ord, Denny Gerrard, Ron Parks, James Houston, Brad Campbell, Bill Munson, Stan Endersby, Nicholas Jennings, Martin Melhuish, Joey Cee, Ritchie Yorke, Peter Goddard and Philip Kamin, Carny Corbett, Bev Davies and Mike Paxman. The Toronto Telegram’s After Four section on Thursdays has also been really handy as a resource for live dates. Thanks to Marc Skobac for additional dates, and to Ivan Amirault for scans from RPM magazine.
Copyright © Nick Warburton, 2003. Updated 2009. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any from or by any means, without prior permission from the author.
RPM, January 31, 1966
Verve-Folkways promotional photo, reproduced in
RPM Starline Photo Album, November 21, 1966
RPM, December 7, 1966
RPM, March 25, 1967
RPM, October 2, 1967
1967, l-r: Trevor Veitch, David Wiffen, Brent Titcomb, Donna Warner, Richard Patterson and Ken Koblun
|The vibrant music scene that existed in Canada during the ‘60s has rarely been given the exposure it merits. Undoubtedly, the Canadian music industry must shoulder much of the blame. Not only did it actively discourage the flowering of homegrown acts, but the fact that American-based, Canadian artists like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and The Band have proven they are the equal of their American and British contemporaries, underlines what can be achieved with industry support. For those who chose not to base themselves in the US, the prospect of international acclaim was slight, which may explain why the folk-rock outfit 3’s a Crowd have remained an obscurity outside Canada.
The original 3’s a Crowd line-up was formed in Vancouver in the summer of 1964, when folk singer, guitarist and comedian Brent Titcomb (b. 10 August 1940, Vancouver, British Columbia) joined forces with singer Donna Warner (b. 23 May 1946, Edmonton, Alberta).
Of the two, Titcomb had the more established career, having spent the best part of the early ‘60s frequenting the city’s folk clubs, where he combined traditional folk songs with a comedy routine. (On several occasions he would book himself at two clubs on the same night; after performing as a folk singer at the first, he would then drive to the next to perform as a comedian, often under the names “Uncle Roy Plain” and “Dr Mezner”.)
Titcomb’s stage act soon attracted the attention of performer Oscar Brand, and in early 1964 he was invited to perform at the world famous Calgary Stampede, which is where he befriended Donna Warner, currently singing with The Kopala Trio. Warner’s musical accomplishments were somewhat different to Titcomb’s, having spent much of her youth singing in a number of choirs in her native Edmonton. (Her grandfather incidentally, had been a choirmaster in Glasgow.) The pair nevertheless, had a lot in common (a mutual love of folk music and a “very quirky sense of humour”) and made arrangements to meet up in Vancouver once Warner had finished high school that summer.
The Calgary gathering proved to be notable in more ways than one, however. During a visit to the city’s premier folk den, the Depression, Titcomb and Warner were introduced to singer/songwriter David Wiffen (b. 11 March 1942, Sydenham, Kent, England), who would feature prominently in 3’s a Crowd’s story in later years. A love of folk music again provided a common bond but their paths ultimately diverged as Titcomb and Warner duly headed west to Vancouver.
Once there, the pair quickly became regulars at Les Stork’s Bunkhouse, a coffeehouse where Warner worked as a waitress and performed on “open mike” nights with Titcomb. On a number of occasions, guitarist Trevor Veitch (b. 19 May 1946, Vancouver, British Columbia) joined in, and his proficiency on the instrument so impressed them that the three of them decided to form a group. They also took part in after-hours get-togethers with local and visiting musicians in what were essentially “kitchen jams”.
The newly established trio quickly set about grooming their act, which mixed comic routines with the folk songs of the day. Around January of the following year, the group officially debuted at the Bunkhouse coffeehouse under the oddly titled moniker, The Bill Schwartz Quartet. Apparently the name was Titcomb’s idea – the group apologised all weekend for Bill’s absence until the very last song of the last set on the last night when Titcomb’s high school buddy “King Anderson” showed up on stage wearing an eye patch and joined in on harmonica.
Understandably the club owners were not amused, after all they had been led to believe that a quartet would be playing and had paid for one accordingly. A new name was deemed necessary, and on hearing the group’s conversation, Anderson pitched in: “Two’s company and three’s a crowd.” The band adopted the name immediately.
The first reference to the trio’s new name appears to have been in June 1965, when the group was pictured on the front of the local TV Times. The band’s sudden rise to fame was no doubt due to a series of shows at the Ark two months earlier, where it had performed with local jazz double bass player Danny Schultz. (The group’s performance caused quite a stir and was impressive enough in fact for the organisers to record some of the shows.)
The next logical step was to move lock, stock and barrel to Toronto, the epicentre of the Canadian music scene, and in a propitious move, the group sent a demo tape to Sid Dolgay, formerly a member of Canada’s premier folk group The Travellers. Dolgay had recently formed his own management company, Universal Performing Artists (UPA), and was on the lookout for new talent. Suitably impressed by the group’s tape, he invited them to Toronto to perform some engagements and shortly afterwards signed the trio.
Although they didn’t know it at the time, Toronto would become 3’s a Crowd’s home for the next three years. While there the group would become a regular fixture at the city’s renowned Riverboat club and a popular live attraction on the folk circuit.
The best part of late 1965/early 1966 was spent touring the length and breadth of the country, largely as a trio (the group could rarely afford the luxury to pay supporting musicians). Nevertheless on a few occasions, former Bad Seeds bass player Brian Ahern (later Emmylou Harris’s producer and second husband) joined the band to add a little muscle.
By the spring of 1966, however, 3’s a Crowd’s following was such that a full-time bass player was a distinct possibility. The scene was changing too, and the impact of The Byrds and Bob Dylan’s new brand of “electric folk” couldn’t be ignored.
Consequently, the group enlisted the services of bass player Kenny Koblun (b. 7 May 1946, Winnipeg, Manitoba) during early March. A former member of Neil Young’s high school band The Squires (and later Four To Go), Koblun would prove to be a transient musician in the 3’s a Crowd story. His various comings and goings were marked by personal problems, and in many ways his relationship with the band was not that dissimilar to his contemporary in Buffalo Springfield, Bruce Palmer.
The Buffalo Springfield in fact provided a useful link. Koblun’s relationship with that band would remain close, and within a month of joining 3’s a Crowd, he was tempted away by an offer to join Stephen Stills and Richie Furay in an embryonic version of that band. (Koblun and Young had befriended Stills the previous year, when Stills’s group The Company shared the bill with The Squires.)
As Koblun told rock historian John Einarson: “Stills called me and told me that I should come down to California to join his band.” Which is what Koblun did, but the arrangement proved to be brief: “I spent a week with Stills and Furay but nothing was happening. I had to make a decision. I had twenty dollars in my pocket. Either spend it on food and stay with Stills in California, or spend it on a taxi fare to LA airport and the manager from 3’s a Crowd was going to pay for my ticket back to Toronto. So that was what I did.” (Unknown to everyone concerned, Young and Palmer were on their way to LA to meet up with Stills and Furay as Koblun was on his way out.)
Back with 3’s a Crowd, Koblun lasted long enough to appear with the group for a taping of the highly-rated TV programme The Juliette Show, before dropping out after an engagement at the Raven’s Gallery in Detroit in mid-April.
In his place the group enlisted bass player Comrie Smith (b. 29 September 1945, Toronto, Ontario), who ironically also shared a Neil Young connection. Smith and Young had in fact been high school friends at Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute in Toronto from 1959-1961.
When The Squires relocated to Toronto in mid-1965, they spent a brief period playing together and made some rough demos of Young’s songs in Smith’s attic. After Young moved on, Smith took some of his songs to Arc Records but nothing came of it at the time. However, some of these songs, including “Casting Me Away From You”, “Hello Lonely Woman” and “There Goes My Babe” have finally surfaced on the first installment of Neil Young’s Archives series.
Smith’s enlistment brought stability to 3’s a Crowd and in the latter half of 1966 the band was awarded its first Juno (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy) for best folk group of the year, a distinction it would also enjoy the following year.
The Juno award undoubtedly raised the group’s profile and in September of that year 3’s a Crowd won a short-term deal with Epic Records in New York. Initially, the label promised to record four singles but in the event only one was completed at the first session with Toronto producer Ben McPeek and New Yorker Bob Morgan. Drums, bass and a horn section were added later to fill out the sound.
|The result was the catchy folk-rocker “Bound To Fly” written by black American songwriter Len Chandler, coupled with a cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Steel Rail Blues”. The single was given a Canadian release on 24 October, and (according to Billboardin January 1967) was even issued in Britain, making it the band’s sole UK outing and a rarity at that. (The single finally peaked at #34 on the Canadian RPM chart and proved to be the group’s biggest hit.)
By the time the single appeared Koblun was back in the fold, having played with American singer Carolyn Hester in the interim. His second stint, however, barely lasted out the year. On this occasion it was a desperate call from his old friend Neil Young, which led to his third departure in less than a year.
In early January, while Buffalo Springfield were performing in New York, Canadian Bruce Palmer had been arrested on marijuana charges and summarily deported. The others headed back to LA but with tour dates to honour, an immediate replacement was required. Young naturally suggested his former cohort – and it certainly helped that Koblun was familiar with Stills and Furay. It seemed a perfect arrangement and yet perhaps predictably, Koblun’s tenure with the group proved to be short-lived. While Koblun was under the impression that he was joining the band, the others merely thought he was “filling in”, until Palmer sorted out his problems and returned. After only three weeks, Koblun was asked to leave and returned somewhat despondently to Toronto.
3’s a Crowd meanwhile, re-enlisted Comrie Smith, who appears to have acted as a sort of “all-utility man” for whenever Koblun was absent. Amid all this activity, the band returned to New York to record a follow-up single with A&R man Ted Cooper. The result, the comedy single “Honey Machine” c/w “When The Sun Goes Down”, was quickly disowned by the trio, who fell out with Epic over the label’s marketing of the band. (The label saw the group as a sort of novelty/comedy act, which was not the image the trio wanted to project.) In the end, 3’s a Crowd severed their ties with Epic and the single thankfully died a quick death.
Back in Canada, 3’s a Crowd resumed gigging and at Ottawa’s Le Hibou coffeehouse (most likely for shows between 28 March-2 April) reunited with David Wiffen, who was singing in a local group called The Children.
His next move was to join a local beat group called The Pacers, who were soon offered a recording deal in Montreal. Trekking east, the group soon discovered that the promise of a deal had been a smokescreen; the company merely looking for an excuse to milk the group for all its worth. Wiffen and the others were subsequently obliged to slog it out on the local club scene, which at the time was very exhausting (8pm-3am, seven nights a week!). A lone single on RCA Victor – “I Want You Back” c/w “Windjammer”, turned up in late 1965 but it’s not clear whether Wiffen appears on it.
The others soon lost heart and returned home, while Wiffen moved to Ottawa, after hearing about the folk scene based around the Le Hibou coffeehouse. Before long he was invited to join the city’s premier folk-rock group, The Children, which at that time featured aspiring singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn (b. 25 May 1945, Ottawa, Ontario) and drummer Richard Patterson (b. 20 September 1944, Ottawa, Ontario), both of whom would feature greatly throughout his career. Wiffen and Patterson struck up a rapport and when 3’s a Crowd enquired about Wiffen’s services, he was keen to champion Patterson as a drummer.
His erstwhile colleague’s background was also distinguished. During the early ‘60s Patterson had played in Canada’s answer to Cliff Richard & The Shadows, The Esquires, who incidentally were one of Neil Young’s favourite groups. The Esquires had cut a number of singles for EMI/Capitol Records during the early to mid-‘60s. The Esquires had also produced Canada’s first professional music video and been voted Top Pop Vocal & Instrumental Group of 1964.
The addition of Wiffen and Patterson in April 1967 was to all intents, the turning point in the band’s career. Patterson’s solid drumming strengthened the group’s overall sound, while Wiffen’s attractive baritone (not dissimilar to Fred Neil’s), provided an interesting counterpoint to Warner’s voice and boosted the group’s overall appeal immeasurably. They also brought with them much of The Children’s material, which by the standards of the day was excellent.
With Wiffen and Patterson aboard, the “expanded” group made its debut on the popular afternoon show Take 30 where, according to Patterson, host Paul Soales spent most of the interview asking Wiffen and himself why they had joined an established act instead of forming a new band of their own.
The exposure generated by the show nonetheless helped 3’s a Crowd to break out of the Canadian market. An important engagement at Steve Paul’s prestigious New York club, the Scene from 15-21 May was quickly arranged, while the band also made regular visits to the Back Porch Club in Columbus, Ohio. Another important showcase from that period was the annual Mariposa Folk Festival (Canada’s answer to Newport), held at Innis Lake near Toronto on 11-13 August.
The festival, featuring the cream of Canada’s folk community, reached a watershed in its history that year; 1967 was not only the last year before the festival moved to its present location on Toronto Island, but was also the first to feature electric instruments. The inclusion of local groups 3’s a Crowd and Kensington Market reflected this growing acceptance of “electric folk”, and was an acknowledgement of the folk-rock scene emerging in Canada.
As important as Mariposa was, however, it would be eclipsed that summer by the world famous Expo Exhibition being staged in Montreal. 3’s a Crowd had been spotted performing at the Riverboat by one of the entertainment co-ordinators for the Ontario Pavilion and were subsequently allocated a slot at the Pavillion in late August and early September.
Prior to this, the group concluded a two-week engagement at the Le Hibou coffeehouse (27 July-6 August), after which Smith left to make way for a returning Ken Koblun, who no doubt was in a better frame of mind. In the intervening months since leaving Buffalo Springfield, Koblun had been playing with Elyse Wienberg’s O.D Bodkins and Company, but was eager to re-establish his position in his former group. For 3’s a Crowd, Montreal’s Expo ’67 was the premier event of the summer and the one that ultimately bagged the all-important record deal.
Click to see notes on back cover
Bruce Cockburn with The Flying Circus, November 1967
Bruce Cockburn, early 1968
3′s a Crowd at Mama Cass’s house, l-r: Richard, Ken, Trevor, Brent and David. Donna on the floor
|In a fortuitous twist of fate, a friend in LA had asked Warner’s boyfriend (at that time one of the promoters of Toronto’s first mini outdoor music festival) to accompany Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty of The Mamas and the Papas on a visit to Expo. What’s more, he also asked him to make sure they had everything they desired. Warner’s man not only kept his word, but also ensured that Elliot and Doherty were escorted to the Pavilion as 3’s a Crowd took the stage.
Though Doherty clearly enjoyed his old friend’s group, it was Elliot, who, according to Patterson “saw a possible career opportunity for herself as a producer” for 3’s a Crowd. Enthused by their performance, she contacted Jay Lasker, President of ABC Dunhill, to rave about her new find and Lasker asked for a demo tape to be forwarded to him immediately.
For the purposes of recording the demo, Harvey Glatt (who Patterson says “owned most of the publishing of the new songs the group was performing” and had managed The Esquires and The Children) hired out Bell Studios in New York in mid-September. He also commissioned his friend Rick Shorter (The Paupers’s debut album being among his credits) to produce the three songs. While in New York, the band continued to work showcase dates, before returning to play at the Canadian Pavilion Feature stage at Expo ‘67.
Then finally, after what seemed a lifetime, a call came through to Sid Dolgay that the group was expected in Los Angeles as soon as possible to sign a deal and begin recording. Abetted by David McLeod, previously the talent co-ordinator and liaison for the Ontario Pavilion, and now acting as the band’s road manager, 3’s a Crowd flew out to LA for a month’s work in mid-October.
For Patterson in particular the group’s arrival in LA brings back fond memories: “Dunhill sent a couple of limos direct to the plane’s staircase and a photographer covered the arrival for the record label. As a matter of fact part of the arrival was…a photo shoot where we had to parade up and down the staircase a couple of times, and cavort around the tarmac waving our hands to the then non-existent cheering fans.”
The group was then driven to a small but comfortable Beverly Hills hotel round the corner from Dunhill’s offices, which according to Patterson “had a wonderful in-house restaurant where we non-suntanned northerners could order a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice for a mere fifty cents.”
Sessions began soon afterwards at Studio 3, Western Recorders on Sunset Boulevard with engineer Chuck Britz assisting Elliot. However, as Patterson recalls, after a week in the studio, “Cass lost interest in the every day of it” and by end of the week, Dunhill staff producer Steve Barri (PF Sloan’s writing partner) was in charge. (When the album came out though Elliot was credited as co-producer, perhaps in recognition of the fact that she had discovered the band.)
The first week was also notable for the presence of top session drummer Hal Blaine, who was brought in, according to Patterson, to “size my talent up”. Patterson didn’t know it but in those days the majority of sessions with bands included the use of top studio drummers sitting in with the group. Patterson needn’t have worried though; Blaine was bowled over by his playing and offered the use of his equipment stored in the studio’s basement! As the sessions progressed, the band also found time to play a few local dates including a performance at the student union, UCLA on 20 October; a photo of which found its way onto the back cover of their album later in the year.
Photographs from 3’s a Crowd’s arrival at the airport plus a group visit to Western Costume Company were also slated for the album’s cover and inside collage. In the latter case the band spent a morning looking at various catalogues of photos in the company’s inventory before choosing their favourites. In the end, Veitch decided on a white set of tails once worn by Fred Astaire, while Warner picked one of Maid Marion’s dresses from a Robin Hood film. Titcomb’s choice was a First World War fighter pilot’s uniform. Koblun, on the other hand, dressed in an old policeman’s outfit, while Patterson chose a 1930s full-piece bathing outfit and Wiffen dressed as a New York Irish boxing coach! A final photo taken at Elliot’s house (with 3’s a Crowd decked out on her sofa) after a dinner party held for the band one evening was also picked out for use.
Back in Toronto, the band embarked on a frenzy of activity, the highlight of which, was a television special for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) called Our Kind Of Crowd. The show, aired from coast to coast, boosted the group’s credentials and also provided a platform for their chosen guests, comedian Richard Pryor and up and coming singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell; both relatively unknown at the time but soon destined for greater things.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said about 3’s a Crowd; although the TV show was clearly a great success and bode well for the future, the group’s career was about to grind to an unwelcomed halt.
Ironically, the recent success proved to be the group’s ultimate undoing. The pressures of touring were as Patterson concedes “taking its toll on both Donna and Kenny”, and following a stint at the Riverboat during December, Koblun quit for the fourth and final time, suffering from nervous exhaustion.
He subsequently returned to Winnipeg and enrolled on a computer course at the city’s university. In the early ‘70s he briefly ventured back into music, playing with a few local groups, before trading in his bass for a career in computers. He currently lives in San Francisco.
In his place 3’s a Crowd recruited bass player Wayne Davis (b. 28 April 1946, Toronto, Ontario) from R&B outfit Bobby Kris and The Imperials, and before that Just Us.
As Patterson reveals, however, Koblun was not the only member to succumb to the pressures on the road. Donna Warner also struggled to cope with the heavy workload and on a number of occasions was too ill to perform. During the group’s Expo stint the previous summer, Ottawa-based singer Colleen Peterson (b. 14 November 1950, Peterborough, Ontario) had ably covered for Warner and would continue to do so at intervals throughout early 1968. In this way Peterson’s role bore an uncanny resemblance to Comrie Smith’s earlier in the year.
Peterson, another of Harvey Glatt’s protégés was a respected singer on the folk circuit and in 1967 had won a Juno award for most promising new vocalist. More importantly, she was well acquainted with the band’s repertoire, having been closely associated with The Children. She was, as Patterson points out, “a natural choice”.
A rare Australian pressing!
|3’s a Crowd spent most of early 1968 showcasing the album, which had yet to be given a Canadian release. The “expanded” group’s debut single, a cover of Bruce Cockburn’s catchy “Bird Without Wings” was issued in early February (and even gained an Australian release!). Its relative success (peaking at #61 on the RPM chart) coincided with a tour of Western Canada, featuring memorable dates at the Simon Fraser University on 28 February and the Retinal Circus in Vancouver from 1-2 March.
The band then headed back to the US West Coast for a series of dates at the Ice House in Glendale from 5-17 March supported by folk singer couple Jim & Jean. Patterson remembers Neil Young showing up in his Austin Mini Cooper one afternoon, perhaps hoping to catch his old buddy Ken Koblun. Young subsequently invited the group to an informal jam at Stephen Stills’s girlfriend’s house in Topanga Canyon a few days later, and the events that followed were to become the stuff of legend.
As Patterson recalls the car (containing Jim & Jean, Titcomb, Warner and himself) was stopped by the police on route to the party and its occupants presented with a fait accompli; either reverse and go home or carry on and be arrested with the other party goes at the house. (The police had just raided the house and in the ensuing drama three members of the Buffalo Springfield and Eric Clapton had been arrested on suspected drug charges.) Patterson and company returned home, narrowly avoiding one of rock music’s most famous drug busts.
In retrospect the Topanga Canyon episode signaled the end of The Buffalo Springfield, and 3’s a Crowd’s career was about to take a similar path. Back in Canada, the group was joined by members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for a memorable performance at Massey Hall, where the group debuted the album in its entirety with full orchestration, an act never to be repeated. However, Warner’s declining health could not be ignored and following some final dates at Toronto’s Friars Tavern in early May, she left the group just as the album Christopher’s Movie Matinee hit the shops.
The record, though far from being a long lost classic, is still a wonderful collection, which holds up surprisingly well today. The highlights include the sprightly folk-rockers “Drive You Away”, (penned by Wiffen), and “Bird Without Wings”, plus the melancholic ballad “Cotton Candy Man”, the latter also emanating from Bruce Cockburn, who contributed two other songs to the collection. The album’s real gem (as far as this listener is concerned), however, is the band’s haunting version of Bill Hawkins’s (of The Children) “Gnostic Serenade”, which shows how gifted a singer Wiffen is.
At the time, the record was largely ignored, although Billboard did run a brief review earlier in the year: “The music is good, alive and invigorating. It won’t take long for this group to make a solid dent on the best seller charts.”
3′s a Crowd in early 1969. Clockwise from front: Colleen, Dennis, Richard, Bruce and David.
|And perhaps it would have had there been a group to support it, but as Patterson points out, when Warner left, Titcomb and Veitch lost interest in the band and were not prepared to put things on hold while she recuperated.
But if Titcomb and Veitch were no longer in the picture, there were still commitments to be honoured; Sid Dolgay’s two investors in the group – Harvey Glatt and Toronto film producer Sid Banks were intent on pushing the band. (There was outstanding debt to be paid off and a recently issued album to promote.)
As a result a new version of the band was formed in Ottawa during the summer comprising David Wiffen and Richard Patterson alongside some old and familiar faces.
Former Children members Bruce Cockburn and Sandy Crawley (b. 7 December 1947, Ottawa, Ontario), the son of independent filmmaker Budge Crawley, who made the rock documentary Janis, were drafted in alongside Colleen Peterson.
The new group was completed with bass player Dennis Pendrith (b. 13 September 1949, Toronto, Ontario), who had been in Cockburn’s last band Olivus, and before that had played with Simon Caine & The Catch, Luke & The Apostles and the short-lived group Livingstone’s Journey.
In the midst of all these changes, RCA Victor belatedly released a second single from the album, a cover of Dino Valenti’s “Let’s Get Together” backed by “Drive You Away”, which stalled at #70 on the RPM charts.
The new line-up quickly returned to the road, spending the best part of the summer supporting The Turtles and Gary Puckett & The Union Gap on their Canadian dates.
During this period 3’s a Crowd found time to record a recent Bruce Cockburn composition “Electrocution of The Word”, and Glatt subsequently produced a video to accompany it, which ran at Ottawa’s Teen Pavilion as part of the Canada Exhibition.
Amid all this activity, 3’s a Crowd were hired by Sid Banks to provide the youth element to a new TV series that he had been commissioned to produce called One More Time, hosted by Broadway actor/singer Gilbert Price. Twenty-six episodes were recorded for the first series during the late summer and the band were asked to perform two/three songs per show. (The majority of the music on the show was Broadway hits and guest slots by a few other pop groups, but it was one way for Banks to recoup some of his investment in the band.)
The series was a reasonable success and was renewed for another season with a second batch of taping in the winter. Banks, however, felt that the group’s songs were, according to Patterson, “too alternative for the audience” and pitched the idea of “putting a pop arrangement to some of the top Broadway tunes”. 3’s a Crowd were understandably reticent about such an undertaking but in the end came up with some rather unusual renditions of songs such as “Mack The Knife”.
Review of Electrocution of the Word, inexplicably referred to as “Explosion of the Universe” in this review, Ottawa Journal, August 30, 1968.
|After the TV series ended in early 1969, the band was offered a spring tour of the US college and university circuit. Crawley, who was more intent on pursuing an acting career opted out leaving the others to fulfil what essentially were 3’s a Crowd’s final dates.
The last engagement at Columbia in South Carolina was a low-key affair and summed up the group’s career in a nutshell. They had never been a highly touted band and yet the degree of talent within the group, when looked at retrospectively, would suggest that they deserved a lot more recognition than they did.
Since the group’s final split, the band’s members have, collectively, produced a remarkable body of work. Cockburn undoubtedly has maintained the most visible profile; with close to thirty albums, and a top thirty US hit in “Wondering Where The Lions Are” to his credit, he has produced a wealth of material that surpasses many of his (better-known) ‘60s contemporaries.
Titcomb also emerged as a solo artist (producing three albums for small Canadian labels), but is perhaps best known for his songwriting skills. Canada’s popular country singer Anne Murray recorded many of his songs, including “Sing High, Sing Low” and “I Still Wish The Very Best For You”. Besides this, Titcomb has also made a habit of cropping up in the most unlikely places. He made a cameo appearance in the popular TV series Due South, and has also done voice-overs for cartoon programmes The Care Bears and Clifford The Dog. If that weren’t enough he has produced song jingles for radio and television, appeared in a TV commercial for Canadian Tire and been featured on a commemorative postage stamp acknowledging the corporation’s 75th Anniversary! His son Liam Titcomb has also established himself as a singer/songwriter of note.
Peterson, who died of cancer in October 1996, also found success after leaving 3’s a Crowd. Her first notable recording was with the New York group Taking Care of Business, who released a lone album, Open For Business on Traffic Records in 1969. In the mid-‘70s she became a popular country singer in Nashville and recorded a string of albums for Capitol. She later returned to Canada and enjoyed a hit with a cover of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”. Shortly before she died Peterson was involved in the first LP by Sylvia Tyson’s band The Quartette.
Her predecessor Donna Warner kept a low profile but did make a guest appearance on Jay Telfer’s unreleased album Perch in mid-1969, singing backing vocals. She subsequently appeared on an album with Tommy Banks Century II productions in the early ‘70s and currently resides in Edmonton where she sings in a local choir at a local cancer care facility.
Veitch, like his erstwhile colleagues also found belated success. For a while, he became American singer/songwriter Tom Rush’s right-hand man, but when the duo parted in the mid-‘70s he headed for LA where he has lived ever since. Veitch is perhaps the most unlikely member of the group to find success as a songwriter, and yet no one could quite have foreseen the level of success that was generated from Laura Brannigan’s “Gloria” and Toni Basil’s “Mickey”, both co-penned by Veitch. He has also found a niche for himself as a session player, appearing on albums by artists as diverse as Pink Floyd, Madonna, Frank Sinatra and Luther Vandross. And then there is also his work on film soundtracks, such as Pretty Woman and Top Gun.
Donna Warner (middle) singing on Jay Telfer’s Perch album sessions, spring 1969
|Dennis Pendrith also followed the session path. One of Canada’s top session musicians, he also plays with The Bebop Cowboys, while Patterson recorded a lone single with Canada Goose, a cover of Jackie Wilson’s hit “Higher and Higher” for the New York based Tonsil Records, which reached #44 on the RPM charts. He subsequently joined forces with Tom Rush and Ian and Sylvia Tyson’s Great Speckled Bird before working for The Canadian Broadcasting Company for 16 years.
And finally there is David Wiffen, who, despite a loyal following in Canada, has remained something of an obscurity elsewhere. That is a huge injustice as his solo work is easily comparable to many of his oft-cited contemporaries. Like Nick Drake and David Ackles, Wiffen has only produced a handful of recordings, yet that has not prevented his songs from being widely covered by many highly respected artists.
Following the break up of 3’s a Crowd, Wiffen paid his way down to Oakland, California to record his second solo album after bagging a recording deal with Fantasy Records. The label – best known for Credence Clearwater Revival – arranged for Wiffen to work with former Youngbloods guitarist Jerry Corbitt, and although Wiffen was able to invite along Sandy Crawley, most of the players were unfamiliar to him. This caused some problems as the record was later finished without his involvement and the master tapes were reportedly damaged. Not only that but only promotional copies were made available in the US. The record did see a Canadian release, but copies are now extremely scarce, and the record has only been re-issued (by Italian label Comet Records’ subsidiary Akarma Records), despite containing his best known songs “Drivin’ Wheel”, “More Often Than Not” and “Mr Wiffen”.
The distribution problems in the US were certainly frustrating but at least Wiffen had the consolation that his work was being covered by the likes of Tom Rush, Roger McGuinn, Ian & Sylvia Tyson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Eric Anderson and Harry Belafonte.
Wiffen’s influence also is evident in more contemporary artists; “Drivin’ Wheel” has become an integral part of The Cowboy Junkies’ live sets. This renewed interest in his work has led to the recording of his first solo album since 1973’s highly acclaimed Coast To Coast Fever album which saw Wiffen collaborate with former 3’s a Crowd members Bruce Cockburn and Dennis Pendrith. His latest album, which is entitled South of Somewhere, includes a number of reworked versions of Wiffen’s “classic” songs plus some new material.
3’s a Crowd’s career meanwhile may finally receive the recognition that it deserves. Richard Patterson has been busy working on a compilation album mixing the band’s album and early singles with later live material, which has previously been unreleased. The CD compilation has yet to see the light of day.
Nevertheless, the respect given to group members Bruce Cockburn and David Wiffen mean that the band will always be held with affection by those who witnessed the group play in Canada during the mid-late ‘60s.
45 Bound To Fly/Steel Rail Blues (Epic 5-10073) 1966
November 14-20 1965 – 4-D, Regina, Saskatchwan
Canadian mono-only RCA Victor LP
US stereo LP on Dunhill
|The article would not have been possible without the generous help of John Einarson and particularly Richard Patterson, who interviewed the band members. Thanks also to Graham Wiffen, Donna Warner, Sandy Crawley, Brent Titcomb and Trevor Veitch for their input. Thank you to Ivan Amirault for the scans from RPM.
Copyright © Nick Warburton, 2001. Updated 2009. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any from or by any means, without prior permission from the author.
US promotional sleeve
Rare German sleeve
RPM, Sept 26, 1966
RPM, Oct 24, 1966
RPM, February 24, 1968
RPM, March 3, 1968
|The Doors and Elektra Records’ producer Paul Rothchild is reported to have once lamented that Toronto R&B outfit, Luke & The Apostles were the “greatest album I never got to make”. Indeed, the group’s lone single for Elektra, released in early 1967, a year after it was recorded, hardly does justice to a band that provided a training ground for several notable musicians who went on to McKenna Mendelson Mainline, Kensington Market and The Modern Rock Quartet (MRQ).
Luke & The Apostles found their roots in the blues band Mike’s Trio, which had been formed in 1963 by school friends, guitarist Mike McKenna (b. 15 April 1946, Toronto), formerly a member of Whitey & The Roulettes, and bass player Graham Dunsmore. Together with drummer Rich McMurray, Mike Trio’s started gigging at the Cellar club in the city’s Yorkville Village playing Jimmy Reed covers. Sometime in early 1964, McMurray introduced Luke Gibson (b. 5 October 1946, Toronto), a singer with great commanding power and presence, who was joined soon afterwards by classically trained keyboard player Peter Jermyn (b. 6 November 1946, Kingston, Ontario).
It was Jermyn who coined the name, Luke & The Apostles, in imitation of another local act, which had chosen a biblical reference, Robbie Lane & The Disciples and soon became a regular fixture on the local club scene. At first the group found work at the Cellar in Toronto’s hip Yorkville Village before moving on to the El Patio and ultimately the Purple Onion. In fact, such was the demand from local fans that, according to respected Canadian rock journalist Nicholas Jennings, the band was still playing at the Purple Onion a year on from its debut!
Before Luke & The Apostles started its run at the Purple Onion, Jim Jones was brought in to replace Graham Dunsmore on bass while Ray Bennett augmented the line up on harmonica for several months. Bennett ultimately composed “Been Burnt,” the a-side to what would become the band’s solitary ‘45 for Elektra, before moving on during the summer of 1965 (later joining The Heavenly Government).
It was shortly after Bennett’s departure that Paul Rothchild caught the group at the Purple Onion one evening in September. As Gibson recalled to Nicholas Jennings in his book, Before The Goldrush, Rothchild was so enthused he asked the band’s front man to audition the band to label boss, Jac Holzman by singing “Been Burnt” down the phone!
Boris’ Coffee House promo, courtesy Ivan Amirault
|McKenna remembers the audition vividly. “He actually called Jac and said, ‘listen to the guys’. I don’t know if it was too much smoke or whatever, but at the time they were just starting to get going and I think they were releasing that album that had all those bands on it, including [Paul] Butterfield. That was the first time we heard Butterfield and Rothchild brought it up to us and let us hear it and we were knocked out!
Inking a deal with Elektra, the band flew down to New York in early 1966 and recorded two tracks, Bennett’s “Been Burnt” backed by McKenna’s “Don’t Know Why” for a prospective single. The two recordings were readied for release that spring but then tragedy struck. Paul Rothchild was arrested for marijuana possession and the band’s single was put on hold for a year while he served a prison sentence.
Undeterred, Luke & The Apostles resumed gigging in Toronto and began to extend their fan base beyond Yorkville Village, performing at venues like the North Toronto Memorial Arena on 28 May. But uncertainty over the single’s release and the band’s long-term future began to take its toll, and in early summer Jim Jones announced that he was leaving because he wanted to give up playing. Former Simon Caine & The Catch bass player Dennis Pendrith (b. 13 September 1949, Toronto), who was still in high school at the time, had the unenviable task of filling his idol’s shoes.
With Pendrith on board, Luke & The Apostles found a new home at Boris’ coffeehouse in Yorkville Village where they made their debut on 21-22 July. The group also began to find work beyond the city’s limits, travelling east to Oshawa on 24 July to play at the Jubilee Auditorium.
Later that summer, Luke & The Apostles returned to play several shows at the North Toronto Memorial Arena, and on one occasion (23 August), shared the bill with Montreal’s The Haunted and local group, The Last Words. But the most prestigious concert date during this time was an appearance at the 14-hour long rock show held at Maple Leaf Gardens on 24 September 1966, alongside a dozen or so local bands.
The show proved to be Pendrith’s swan song. The following month, Jim Jones had a change of mind and returned to the fold, leaving the young bass player to find work elsewhere – he subsequently rejoined his former group before hooking up with Livingstone’s Journey in mid-1967. At the same time, Gibson and McKenna decided to dispense with McMurray’s services and recruited a new drummer, Pat Little. The changes, however, did not end there. Sometime in October or November, Peter Jermyn briefly left the group and was replaced by future Bedtime Story and Edward Bear keyboard player Bob Kendall before returning in December 1966.
Amid all the changes, Luke & The Apostles resumed its weekly residency at Boris’, sharing the bill at various times with The Ugly Ducklings and The Paupers among others. They also got the opportunity to perform at the newly opened Club Kingsway on 15 October, opening for singer/songwriter Neil Diamond and travelled to Montreal at the end of the year to play some dates.
By early 1967, Luke & The Apostles’ single had still not been released. Nevertheless, the opportunity to return to New York in mid-April and perform at the Café Au Go Go buoyed spirits. The previous month, McKenna’s friend, bass player Denny Gerrard was opening for Jefferson Airplane with his band The Paupers and during that band’s stay in the Big Apple, Gerrard had met Paul Butterfield who was looking for a replacement for Mike Bloomfield in his band, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Gerrard immediately suggested McKenna and passed Butterfield his Toronto number.
“Denny had met Paul Butterfield and said, ‘if you’re looking for a guitar player’ because Bloomfield had gone into hospital or something,” remembers McKenna …[Paul] called me and I actually thought it was a joke! When I realised it was Paul I was absolutely blown away that he had called me.”
With Bloomfield looking to form his new band, The Electric Flag, Butterfield asked McKenna to come down to New York and audition but the guitarist kindly declined the offer. “I couldn’t go because that’s when Luke and I were going to go back to do some recordings and I said, ‘well if I leave Luke and the guys now, the band will probably break up and we’ve got recordings to do.”
|While Elektra had not seen fit to release Luke & The Apostles’ first recordings, the label still expressed an interest in recording the band. During its time at the Café Au Go, the label booked the group into its New York studios for a day to record an album’s worth of material, including the tracks, “I Don’t Feel Like Trying” and “So Long Girl”.
During its first stand at the Café Au Go Go (where incidentally the group shared the washroom with The Mothers of Invention who were playing at the Garrick Theatre upstairs) Luke & The Apostles backed folkie Dave Van Ronk but were so well received that the club owner asked the band to return for a second week in late May-early June, opening for The Grateful Dead.
During this engagement, McKenna stuck up a friendship with Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, who hounded McKenna to sell him his recently acquired Les Paul Special.
“I think it was the one that was on the Rolling Stone cover,” recalls McKenna. “I bought it in one of the stores in New York and he paid me a handsome sum for what I had paid for it.”
One night Paul Butterfield and his lead guitarist Elvin Bishop turned up to check out the band. According to Suzi Wickett, McKenna’s first wife, both were extremely impressed with McKenna’s guitar-playing style and unique sound. When Bishop asked McKenna how he created such “a sound”, the guitarist graciously explained his secret was in his mixture of Hawaiian and banjo strings used in combination, along with controlled feedback. “It was something I learned from Robbie Robertson and The Hawks,” explains McKenna. “The big thing in Toronto was playing Telecasters but you couldn’t get light gauge strings so what Robbie did was use banjo strings.”
The following night at the Café Au Go Go was standing room only remembers Wickett and everyone who was “anyone” had turned out to see this new band from Toronto. Among those attending were Bob Dylan and Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s manager Albert Grossman and rock promoter Bill Graham who each wanted to sign Luke & The Apostles to a management contract. Bill Graham even offered the band a slot at the Fillmore West in California that summer.
But behind the scenes the band was slowly disintegrating, as Wickett explains. “The pressure was ‘on’ for Luke & The Apostles to decide which manager they were going to sign [with]. The band had been away from Toronto for three weeks; they were in a prime position for national exposure [and] the hottest people in the industry were vying for their commitment to a management contract. Unable to reconcile differences of opinion and personal ambitions, the group fragmented returning to Toronto disillusioned and hostile.”
|Luke & The Apostles, however, were not quite ready to implode and resumed their regular gig at Boris’. More importantly, Bill Graham approached Luke & The Apostles and asked the band to open for Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead on 23 July when both groups performed at Nathan Phillips Square in front of 50,000.Graham was suitably impressed by the band’s performance that he asked Luke & The Apostles to repeat their support act at the O’Keefe Centre from 31 July-5 August. During the show the band performed covers of blues favourites “Good Morning Little School Girl” and “You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover”.
The concert, however, proved to be the group’s swan song and after a final show at Boris’ Red Gas Room on 6 August, Luke Gibson accepted an offer to join the progressive folk-rock outfit, Kensington Market where he would develop his song writing skills.
Peter Jermyn was also ready to move on. After passing on an offer to join The Blues Project because he would have been liable to be drafted, he subsequently moved to Ottawa to join the band Heart, which evolved into The Modern Rock Quartet. Jim Jones meanwhile played with several bands, including The Artist Jazz Band.
Left with only the band’s name, McKenna and Little decided to go their separate ways. McKenna immediately found work with The Ugly Ducklings before forming the highly respected blues outfit, McKenna Mendelson Mainline the following summer.
Little became an early member of Edward Bear before joining forces with future Blood, Sweat & Tears’ singer David Clayton-Thomas in his group Combine (appearing on the original version of “Spinning Wheel”). In June 1968, however, he joined The Georgian People (later better known as Chimo!) before moving on to Transfusion, the house band at Toronto’s Rock Pile.
Although it was a sad end to what was a great band, the story doesn’t end there. In December 1969, Gibson, McKenna and Little met up to discuss reforming the group. “People didn’t forget,” Gibson explained to Bill Gray in an article for The Toronto Telegram on 19 February 1970. “We used to get asked constantly, all of us, about The Apostles. Everyone seemed to have good memories of the band. We were, after all, kind of unique around Toronto.
“The trouble was, it was only after we broke up that the scene here started to change. Other bands started to come around to the kind of things we had been doing. The blues and rock thing began to dominate and I guess our influence was recalled, that’s why our posthumous reputation has remained so high.”
Completing the line up with former Transfusion guitarist Danny McBride on second lead guitar and McKenna’s pal, ex-Paupers bass player Denny Gerrard (b. 28 February 1947, Scarborough) during January 1970, the group enlisted Bernie Finkelstein (today Bruce Cockburn’s long-standing manager) to represent them.
But the new line up remained unsettled and by the end of the month former Buffalo Springfield bass player Bruce Palmer (b. 9 September 1946, Toronto) came on board in time for the band’s debut shows at the Café Le Hibou in Ottawa from 10-14 February. After opening for Johnny Winter at Massey Hall on 15 February and playing several low-key dates around the city, Palmer dropped out and Jack Geisinger (b. March 1945, Czechoslovakia) from Damage, Milkwood and Influence arrived in time to play on a lone 45, issued on Bernie Finkelstein’s True North Records.
The resulting single, Gibson, McKenna and Little’s “You Make Me High”, is arguably one of the best records to come out of the Toronto scene from that period, and even managed to reach #27 on Canada’s RPM chart in October of that year. The b-side, “Not Far Off”, written by Gibson has a Led Zeppelin feel and some tasty guitar interplay between McKenna and McBride.
The band returned to Toronto’s live scene, supporting Lighthouse at a show held at Convocation Hall on 1 March. A few weeks later, the group performed at the Electric Circus (13-14 March) and then towards the end of the month appeared at the Toronto Rock Festival at Varsity Arena (26 March) on a bill featuring Funkadelic, Damage and Nucleus among others.
In the first week of April, Luke & The Apostles embarked on a brief tour of Boston with Mountain but behind the scenes, the band was slowly unravelling. Following a show at the Electric Circus in Toronto on 9 May, McKenna dropped out to rejoin his former band, now going by the name Mainline.
The band ploughed on appearing at the Peace Festival at Varsity Arena on 19-21 June on a bill that also included Rare Earth, SRC, Bush and George Olliver & The Natural Gas among others. But soon afterwards McBride also handed in his notice and later became a mainstay of Chris de Burgh’s backing band.
Transfusion, clockwise from top: Danny McBride (with Gibson ES335), Tom Sheret, Pat Little, Simon Caine and Rick Shuckster.
RPM, August 15, 1970
|In his place, Luke & The Apostles recruited Geisinger’s former Influencecohort, Walter Rossi (b. 29 May 1947, Naples, Italy), who had played with The Buddy Miles Express in the interim.
With Rossi on board Luke & The Apostles made a prestigious appearance at that summer’s Strawberry Fields Pop Festival held at Mosport Park, Ontario on the weekend of 7-8 August 1970. A short tour followed, including several appearances at the CNE Bandstand in Toronto where the band shared the bill with Lighthouse, Crowbar and Dr John among others. Then on 1 September, the group headed down to New York to perform at the popular club, Ungano’s.
In an interview with Peter Goddard for Toronto Telegram’s 17 September issue, manager Bernie Finkelstein was confident that the band had a promising future ahead. “We’ve been asked to go back to Ungano’s in New York City for the middle of October,” he said. “But we might wait to get the material for our first album ready so that we can release it around mid-October.”
Unfortunately, the promised album never appeared and soon after a show at Kipling Collegiate in Toronto on 9 October, Luke Gibson left for a solo career followed shortly afterwards by Pat Little. The remaining members recruited ex-Wizard drummer Mike Driscoll, performing as The Apostles before splitting in early 1971. Rossi subsequently recorded a brilliant, Jimi Hendrix-inspired album as Charlee in early 1972 with help from Geisinger and Driscoll before embarking on a successful solo career which continues to this day.
Gibson also embarked on a solo career and in 1971 recorded a lone album for True North Records with help from Dennis Pendrith, Jim Jones and Bruce Cockburn. Gibson continued to gig throughout the 1970s and 1980s with his bands Killaloe, The Silver Tractors and Luke Gibson Rocks before eschewing a singing career to become a film set painter. Little rejoined Chimo! for the band’s final single and then hooked up with Rick James in Heaven and Earth for two singles on RCA Victor in late 1971. He also reunited with McKenna to record an album with the band, DiamondBack.
Legend surrounding the band, however, has grown over the years and in the late ‘90s, early members Gibson, Jermyn, Jones and McKenna reformed the group with future Downchild Blues Band drummer Mike Fitzpatrick for the “Toronto Rock Revival” concert held at the Warehouse on 2 May 1999. Later that year Jermyn, Jones and McKenna became house band at Yorkville club, Blues on Bellair and were joined intermittently by Gibson.
As recently as 1 June 2002, Luke & The Apostles were playing at the club and local label Bullseye Records recorded one of the shows for a proposed live CD, comprising the old favourites and more contemporary material but so far nothing has been released. Nevertheless, the band still commands a loyal following and hopefully a full length CD release detailing the group’s colourful career will finally do justice to one of Toronto’s most overlooked and talented bands.
45 Been Burnt/Don’t Know Why (Bounty 45105) 1967
September 1965 – The Purple Onion, Toronto
To contact the author, email: Warchive@aol.com
Many thanks to Mike McKenna, Peter Jermyn, Mike Harrison, Carny Corbett, Bill Munson, Craig Webb, Suzi Wickett, John Bennett and Walter Rossi. The Toronto Telegram’s After Four section has also been invaluable for live dates and reviews. Also thanks to Ross from www.chickenonaunicycle.com for the scan of the San Francisco Scene program. Thank you to Ivan Amirault for the scans from RPM.
Copyright © Nick Warburton, 2005, updated 2009. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any from or by any means, without prior permission from the author.
RPM, August 22, 1970
|In early 1963 our Milwaukee band, the Damells, was appearing in Ishpeming, MI and we became good friends with the Blue Echoes from Sarnia, Ontario. There were two places with live music in Ishpeming, the Venice and the Roosevelt, and although both bands played the same nights, we managed to get over to hear a couple of songs on our breaks once or twice (the two clubs were very close together), and we got together a few times in the afternoons. In May the Darnells headed for Southern California and, on the referral of a former band mate, we connected with Tide Records in Los Angeles.
We eventually returned to Milwaukee and the band broke up. Denny King, guitarist and leader of the Darnells, went back out to L.A. in early 1964, and invited Vic Blunt (aka Vic Miller), guitarist and leader of the Blue Echoes, to join him as bassist. Blunt and King recorded for Tide as the Mojo Men. (This record has no connection with any other Mojo Men; it was just Tide’s way of trying to get more mileage out of that name, since Larry Bright’s “Mojo Workout” was their only national chart record). Both sides are instrumental, except for Blunt’s Jackie Gleason impression of “And away we go” to kick off the A-side. Blunt then left a tape of his Blue Echoes with Tide owner Ruth Christy (aka Ruth Stratchborneo) and returned to Sarnia. A few months later Christy sent for the group and they came to Los Angeles with Blunt on guitar and vocals, Paul Case on drums and vocals and Bruce Pollard on bass and vocals.
Blunt (b: 12/18/43; Vancouver, B.C.) credited the Ventures and Fireballs among his early influences, as well as his father, who was a CBC studio guitarist. Blunt had previously recorded with Edmonton DJ Barry Boyd for the Quality label. Drummer Case had a strong Roy Orbison flavor to his vocal style and the group’s entire LP (probably the only LP ever released on Tide) was recorded in only 10 hours of studio time, according to Blunt.
It was early 1965 and Tide booked the group into a show at the L.A. Coliseum titled KFWB’s Beatle Alley. Requirements were that the groups had to be from outside the U .S. and had to have some sort of Beatle tie-in, hence the name change to the Canadian Beadles. (Perhaps the spelling was in order to avoid any claim of name infringement). Christy and Rena Fulmer (a partner in the Tide label), acting as an agent/manager team, booked the band, and Blunt said that both of the group’s singles got airplay. I saw Blunt’s band (I don’t recall if they were still using the Canadian Beadles name) at a bowling alley lounge in the South Bay area of Los Angeles around 1966.
One of Blunt’s songs, “Questions I Can’t Answer”, was covered by Don Atello (Tide 2002), and by German singer Heinz, whose version had some success in his home country. Los Angeles country artist Tony Treece, who was a later member of the Canadian Beadles, cut another of Blunt’s tunes, “Before I Lose My Mind”. Blunt later formed a show group called Center Stage and did additional unreleased recordings. As late as 1985 he was still playing full-time and living in Sequim, WA.
List of releases:
© Gary E. Myers & MusicGem, 2009
Click for larger image
|Jim Robertson (Vocals) line up A-G
Tim Forsythe (Keyboards, Harmonica) line up A-G
Domenic Angelicchio (Drums) line up A-F
Danny Barrucco (Bass) line up A-E
Dave Hannah (Guitar) line up A
Don Duncan (Guitar) line up B, G
Jean Pierre Lauzon (Guitar) line up C
Richard Lasnier (Guitar) line up D
Gary Marcus (Guitar) line up E
Bob Burgess (Bass) line up F
Louis McKelvey (Guitar) line up F
Nick Farlowe (Drums) line up G
The original band was formed in the summer of 1966 by former Haunted members Jim Robertson and Tim Forsythe. Robertson was originally from Edinburgh, Scotland where he’d played sax in a group during 1964 before moving to Montreal. Based in Lachine, Quebec, the band made its debut at the local YMCA.
Hannah left soon after the band started playing live. However, the group went through a succession of lead guitarists, starting with Don Duncan, who left in September 1966, before McKelvey joined in December. His arrival coincided with that of Bob Burgess from The Haunted. In between Duncan leaving and McKelvey joining, Our Generation featured temporary stopgap guitarists, J P Lauzon, who went on to The Jaybees, Richard Lasnier and Gary Marcus from Oven.
The line up with Duncan, however, was responsible for the first single, a cover of the Muddy Waters blues favourite ‘I’m a Man’, backed by Forsythe’s ‘Run Down Every Street’.
Louis McKelvey, who had arrived in Montreal around October 1966 after playing with South African bands The Upsetters and The A-Cads, appeared on the band’s second single, before forming Influence in late May 1967. Prior to joining Our Generation, McKelvey had played with Les Sinners for a few weeks and was later given co-production credit for The Haunted’s third single with fellow ex-A-Cads member Hank Squires. This line up reportedly provided the soundtrack to the Canadian Film Board film, ‘It’s Not Jacques Cartier’s Fault’.
McKelvey wrote ‘Cool Summer’ while Burgess composed the b-side. Burgess left Canada in late 1967 to spend some time in the UK where he recorded, and then returned to form a new band Lilac. In the ‘70s he led Aean.
Robertson and Forsythe kept the band going for a few more months bringing back Don Duncan and new drummer, former Haunted member Farlowe. When the band split in the autumn, Forsythe joined Peter & The Pipers.
After The Jaybees, Lauzon went on to play with The Carnival Connection, Life, Mylon Le Fevre and ultimately The Wackers. Marcus joined The Haunted.
Echos of ‘Season of the Witch’
45 I’m A Man/Run Down Every Street (Barry 3461) 1966
February 17 1967 – West Hill High, Montreal
Live dates taken from the Montreal Star newspaper.
Many thanks to Bill Munson, Carny Corbett, Louis McKelvey and Bob Burgess.
Copyright © Nick Warburton, 2008, All Rights Reserved
Click for larger image
Click for larger image
Our Generation and Haunted article scans courtesy of Alex Taylor, provided by Ivan Amirault
Grant Smith & The Power, Spring 1967, shortly after their formation. Left to right: Brian Ayers, Val Stevens,
Charlie Miller, Ralph Miller, Jim Pauley, Mike Harrison, Wayne Stone and Grant Smith
|Grant Smith (Vocals) all line ups
Val Stevens (Organ) line up A-E
Jim Pauley (Guitar) line up A-B
Mike Harrison (Bass) line up A-E
Wayne “Stoney” Stone (Drums) line up A-F
Charlie Miller (Drums) line up A
Ralph Miller (Trumpet) all line ups
Brian “Otis” Ayres (Saxophone) all line ups
Steve Kennedy (Saxophone, Harmonica) line up D-F
Jon Palma (Guitar) line up C-D
Ken Marco (Guitar) line up E-F
William “Smitty” Smith (Keyboards) line up F
Sonny “Jiggs” Bernardi (Drums) line up G
Josef Chirowski (Keyboards) G
Joe Agnello (Bass) G-H
Frank De Felice (Drums) H
Val Stevens, Mike Harrison and the Miller Brothers had been playing with Eddie Spencer & The Power when a decision was made on 1 January 1967 to bring in a new singer – Ellis Grant Smith (b. London, Ontario) together with guitarist Jim Pauley from his previous band, The Express. Two weeks later, another former Express member and second drummer, Wayne Stone came in.
The first line-up remained together until mid-1967 and initially gigged as E G Smith and The Power before adopting the better known, Grant Smith & The Power. After Charlie Miller’s departure in June, the group went to the United States for the summer of 1967, now working with only one drummer. After returning to Canada, Jim Pauley quit and was replaced by Jon Palma in September.
The band’s debut 45, a soul version of The Spencer Davis Group’s ‘Keep on Running’ coupled with Smith and Stevens’ ‘Her Own Life’, came out in January 1968 and featured line up C (as did the second single on MGM). Both singles were recorded (with Steve Kennedy on the sessions) at Toronto music mogul, Art Snider’s Sound Canada studios in Toronto. Soon afterwards, Palma left and new guitarist Kenny Marco, who had played with Ayres in The Beau Keys during the mid-‘60s (and in the interim, The Upset) was recruited.
Later that year, former Dianne Brooks, Eric Mercury and The Soul Searchers member, Steve Kennedy joined. In October 1968, Harrison left to join McKenna Mendelson Mainline but was not replaced immediately. Stevens also left at this point and William Smith from The Soul Searchers came in, covering bass on Hammond organ. Line up F was responsible for recording the bulk of the group’s album in late 1968, which also included the band’s debut single.
A few months later Marco, Kennedy, Smith and Stone left to form Motherlode. Bernardi (from The Spirit Revue) and Chirowski (from various bands, including Mandala and The Power Project) came in as replacements and remained until February 1970 when they went onto join Ronnie Hawkins & Many Others. Joe Agnello from the Lords of London also came in at this time and later left to join Leigh Ashford. Former Franklin Sheppard sideman, Frank De Felice filled in for the last few months before forming Jericho in March 1970.
RPM, October 28, 1969
45 Keep On Running/Her Own Life (BOO 681) 1968
45 Thinkin’ About You/You Got What I Want (MGM 13979) 1968
LP Grant Smith & The Power (BOO 6802) 1968
RPM, March 17, 1969
Thanks to Carny Corbett, Mike Harrison, Sonny Bernardi, Craig Webb and Grant Smith for their help. The source for most of the live dates listed here was the “After Four” section, published in the Toronto Telegram. RPM images courtesy of Ivan Amirault.
© Copyright Nick Warburton, 2008, All Rights Reserved
Click for larger image of article
Click for larger image of article
RPM October 2, 1967
Late 1968, left to right: Brian Ayers, Kenny Marco, Wayne Stone, Grant Smith, Steve Kennedy, Ralph Miller and William Smith
with the Soul Agents and the Grass Company
|Bernie Prost, drummer for the British Columbia band 2 x 2, knocked me out when he sent me five unreleased songs the band cut in 1967. If a 45 had been released of Jim Davidson’s originals, “By and By” and “2 x 2 Theme” it would be a major collectible today, and justifiably famous – at least among fans of garage bands! They aren’t slouches with their cover songs, either, as they rip up the Monkees’ “Let’s Dance On” and one of the better versions of “Stepping Stone” I’ve heard. Here’s the story in Bernie’s own words:
“2 By 2″, formed in Kelowna in 1965 and disbanded in 1968. Our band formed because Jim and Barry were playing a lot of parties wanted to take their playing to the next level. So they started looking for a drummer and bass player. My sister, who was friends with them both, mentioned one day that I played the drums, I was 15 at the time and a few years younger but there weren’t too many drummers around. I had a friend, Mel, who played guitar and said he’d give the bass a shot so we had a couple of practice sessions late in the summer of 1965 and we hit it off. As it turned out Mel was an incredible bass player right from the start.
The 2 x 2:
Barry Green – lead guitar
A special thanks to Bernie Prost for sharing the music and story of his band. If anyone reading this has a photo of the group please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.