Don Norman had been playing guitar and singing in Ottawa bands since 1961, with the Continentals, the Jades and the Esquires, who cut his song “Cry Is All I Do”.
Don described his early work:
I began playing guitar in 1958 and was composing songs by late 1959. Early influences were Elvis, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. The first time I was in a professional recording studio was September 1961 and I still have the master tape. The session was for two songs that I had composed and the band was known as the Continentals.
By the year 1963 I had joined a band by the name of the Esquires, which had already released two singles in Canada for Capitol Records. I became the vocalist for this group and some months later, in the early spring of 1964, we recorded an LP for Capitol. This was followed by three more single releases including “Cry Is All I Do”. I wrote the song in 1964 and it was recorded in early 1965 and released that spring.
Don had an acrimonious break with the Esquires in the summer of ’65, leading to a lawsuit when he named his new band Don Norman and the Esquires. He gave up the Esquires name, but his departure from the band cost the original Esquires their contract with Capitol. The band he formed became Don Norman and the Other Four: Gary Comeau (who had also been in the Esquires) on lead guitar, Bill Hellman bass, Ron Greene organ and Brian Dewherst on drums. With the addition of John Matthews on sax, the Other Four were five!
At their first session at RCA’s Hallmark Studios in Toronto, they recorded two different singles. They backed Bob Harrington on “Changes” / “Country Boy” on REO 8947X, the A-side being a Heinz cut, the flip a Phil Ochs composition. It was released as “Bob Harrington with Don Norman & the Other Four”. Bob Harrington was the original lead vocalist of the Esquires who Don had replaced in the band.
The other single without Harrington was their upbeat cover of the Olympics’ hit “The Bounce”, with Don’s original “All of My Life” on the flip. It was released on the Barry label (a subsidiary of Quality) in the summer of ’66. Despite being picked up by MGM for distribution in the U.S., Quality failed to get behind the release and let it fade.
There is also a French version on the Solfege label, “Le Bounce” / “Je T’ai Cherche”. The band listed, Les Demi-Douzaines (“The Half-Dozen”) was actually Don Norman & the Other Four under a pseudonym. Ivan Amirault wrote to me: “I have a copy of it. Funny thing with mine is it doesn’t have the same Quality number as the one shown in your site. Mine has a one hundred series number which is what the label used for their Quebec French titles.”
Dissatisfied with Quality’s promotion of the band, their manager, DJ and CJOH-TV’s Saturday Date host John Pozer started the Sir John A label with Ron Greene to back Don’s songwriting and vocal talents. Gary Comeau left after “The Bounce” to join the Townsmen.
The band’s first 45 on Sir John A was the amazing “Low Man”, definitely one of the great moments in Canadian rock. Don recalls recording it at Stereo Sound in Montreal while the studio was still under construction! Don used a Gibson fuzz box on the bass to get that distinctive sound. “Low Man” was released in November of ’66, backed by a cover of “Mustang Sally”, and featured their new guitarist Art Kirkby.
The picture sleeve that accompanied the 45 was printed with the opening for the record on the bottom, so most copies were cut up and pasted onto plain white sleeves.
Next up was another Norman original, the fine “Your Place in My Heart”, featuring John Matthews on vocals, backed with “Trae Hymn 1”.
Their third and last 45 on Sir John A was just a pairing of the last two a-sides: the label scans I’m featuring here. Both songs were produced by Norman Greene.
Several factors have been mentioned as reasons for why this talented group didn’t make a bigger mark at the time: a disinclination of the band to tour, a lack of enthusiasm from Ottawa audiences, John Pozer’s departure to work for Variety Artists in Toronto, and the low distribution of Sir John A records.
In early 1967 the band went through a drastic line-up change, keeping Ron Greene on keyboards, but with Don moving to bass, and three members of the Bittersweet joining: John Winskell on lead guitar, Rick Paradis on vocals and Skip Layton on drums.
With a new pop sound, they recorded what was to be the band’s next single, “Nothing To Do, No Place To Go”. The band broke up without even recording a b-side, so it remained unreleased until the 1997 release of ‘Ottawa Rocks! The Sir John A Years’ compilation. Disillusioned and not seeing a future in music, Don retired from performing at the age of 23!
Sources include Erin Truscott’s interview with Don Norman in Misty Lane #15; the Sir John A site (link); Don’s own description of his career (link); and Glynis Ward and Alex Taylor’s history of the band.Special thanks to Ivan for his scans of record sleeves and promotional materials.