Some time after leaving Harold's and Peoria that version of the Jamies disbanded. And in the winter of 1963, I was playing with Bobby Dean of the Gems in the Blue Note after hours club on Yonge Street across from "The Zanzibar". In a sense playing with Bob's group was like returning to the early Consuls roots when we knew nothing of Ronnie Hawkins or how to play rock-a-billy just that old medium, even tempoed rock and rhythm roll with a hint of the blues.
While at the Blue Note I got wind of some Toronto entertainers planning to go on the road. The group included guitarist, Peter Michaud (Pete Mitchel), bassist, U.K. born Bobby Lenthall of Bobby Dean and the Gems, vocalist, recording artist Max Falcon country comedian, Tweedy; and Hamilton Ontario pianist Grant Wilson. The Gems if you recall was one of the Consuls' competitors at West Toronto dances. Bobby played piano and sang just like Bruce did in the Consuls. Bobby Lenthall was the Gems' bassist who sang almost better than he played bass with a smooth kind of rhythm and blues stride. I always wondered how he'd learned to play and sing that way in England especially after "The Beatles" arrived in Canada about 2 years later with their more raucous clanging sound, and those soulless Tommy Steele tunes with the word "rock" in all his titles and throughout his lyrics whose name Len the Consuls' bassist used to mockingly mispronounce as Tom eye Steele to amuse the Consuls. Maybe the glorious syncopation of Purcell's harpsichord compositions or the creative bass studies of Christopher Simpson continue to reverberate in the depths of the English soul and somehow got into Lenthall's bass. Perhaps I may be indulging my fancy looking for national precedents in these global times but I just now realize that these two bass players Len the Consuls' accoustic bassist and Bob on the electric bass with the Gems were both from England.
Peter Michaud ("Michaut"15'th century France, in the days of England's Edward IV) our guitarist back then was motivated more by the country style often making his acoustic guitar sound like a table-necked steel guitar: I once heard that his father had been an old time fiddler. And I guess country was what Peter wanted to play, since he' s been working with stars of the Grand Ole Opry including Willie Nelson now since the late 1960's. Max the vocalist leader of this pop variety band also performed in a country style mixed with a bit of the Ronnie Hawkins rockabilly; I heard he used to be a waiter at Toronto's Brass Rail after he'd left New Brunswick in eastern Canada where Don Messer played old time fiddle and Stompin' Tom performed in their uniquely Canadian way. Maxie as Peter used to call him had a country-sounding-hit record at the time "I thought I Heard you Callin' My Name". Even Tweedy the clown seemed a typical country and western comic relief figure who I've always believed was Max's idea; I used to think his name was Tweety like the cartoon bird, but when I asked about his name he told me that it alluded to Scotland's Tweed River. I don't remember ever doing a show with anyone like Tweedy before or after Max's band performed in Flint. Grant Wilson the Hamilton Ontario sax and piano man, Bob Lenthall and myself kind of masked the band's country elements even though I mostly recall Max as a Ronnie-Hawkins-like rockabilly and Lenthall as a fine funky bassist singing rhythm an' blues like Chuck Jackson's "Any Day Now".
When we played that engagement back in August of 63 in Flint Michigan Martin Luther King Junior appeared on the television over the bar leading his civil rights march on Washington, an historical event that almost escaped me when I witnessed it, except for the woman across the bar who objected to my nodding in agreement with Mr. King I might never have remembered that I'd witnessed some of his now famous dream speech.
In the photo from the upper left Bobby Lenthall, Peter Michaud, Grant Wilson doubling on sax;
lower-left Peter De Remigis, Tweedy on his knees being choked by Max Falcon
The Twist era had peaked. Joey Dee and the Starliterswere on the road with "The Beatles". Their base, The Peppermint Lounge, had booked Max Falcon and our band. Max obtained an Econoline van to transport us and our equipment from Flint Michigan to New York City. For reasons I cannot recall, I refused to go and returned that late summer/early autumn of 1963 to my home on Close Avenue where Willie, Harry Owen, and I began by rehearsing Honky Tonk in my third floor bedroom in the spring of 1957.
In the spring of 1964 I was back playing with Kelly Jay. The only playing dates that I remember from back then are the Friday show at the Masonic Hall downtown at Davenport and Yonge, followed by the Saturday performance at Mazerik Hall on Cowan Avenue in West Toronto's Parkdale backing the Supremes. At the time I had no idea who they were; I don't even remember being introduced. Kelly mentioned that they had a hit record, but that when they had performed at Club Bluenote a few days earlier that Al Steiner the Bluenote owner had thrown them out because "no one could read their music". In keeping with this sense of anonymity they became part of our group by helping us move our instruments into Mazeric Hall. I can still see one of them holding up my bass drum shouting across the parking lot: Hey Pete; what should I do with this?
"The Suedes" turbulent seven month existence was a transition period, marking the end of the Consuls, the Toronto sound, and the first era of rock and roll, and the first era of the teenager.
As "The Suedes" were influenced by the Hawks so were other groups. But the Hawkins style though exciting in its galloping accelerating crescendos was also too rigid in its short staccato phrases to swing .
Then folk music and calypso elements began to replace the rockin' swingin' blues qualities common to 50' s rock' n roll,and country. And within a few years these swingin' roots were once and for all torn up and ditched in favour of the mechanical unsyncopated style of the British invaders, and their folk rock fellow travellers.
The British rhythm exemplified by Ringo Star's four accented beats to the bar striking simultaneously on the snare and cymbal seemed more like a polka rhythm than swing or rock'n' roll. Compare "The Beatles" ' "Roll Over Bethoven" to the Chuck Berry original.
For me the first indication of change in the way the bands I was in happened was when the Consuls became "The Suedes", when teenage dance halls were replaced by adult bars, and when the bar room audience came to determine what was played; and what we played began to sound more like rock-a-billy and less like early rock and blues. This next faze because it was motivated by attitudes from outside North America perhaps created an even more significant pop development that emphasized lyrics and dark moods more than the bouncy good time rhythms that got me started. And to me pop music was all about rhythm from new Orleans jazz, through be bop's some times transcendental meandering when rhythm seemed to get lost but always returned in the rhythmic progressions of chordal harmonies while big band swingers kept pop rhythms danceable, jitter bug-able for swinging and swaying. Then came rock and roll/rhythm and blues in which rhythm, beat and drums seemed to lead. And white-bucked feet kept moving to those beats keeping that old jitterbug jive alive when people were just getting used to the idea that rock and roll was different from swing so that even pelvis shifting white-bucked Elvis and "Blue Suede Shoes"Carl Perkins kept it up, like those scattering slippered feet of the shaman lady at the bottom of Fish mountain way back in eighth century China.
But British/European pop influences were intoxicating in their mysterious lyricism so that by 1964 when Kelly Jay and I attended their first performance at Maple Leaf Gardens "The Beatles" had begun to overwhelm pop music just as Elvis had been doing seven years before when Willy Page and I had attended his Gardens debut.
But by December 1972, not a single Beatles' tune is visible among the Chum top 30. Curiously, Canada's Guess Who owns number 27 of the top 30, and Toronto's Zanzibar's singing guest David Clayton Thomas' band's Blood , Sweat & Tears Greatest Hits appears in the number 5 position of the chum hit albums that December of 1972, a reminder of the talent and creative energy that once percolated on Toronto's Yonge Street.
There were of course musicians performing in Toronto who continued rollin' and swingin' in house bands in lounges beyond the spot & strobe lighted rock star craze of the late 60's and 70's, nourished by jazz standards that could be rocked or swung and stretched to the limits of band members improvisational abilities. "The Zanzibar" on Yonge Street north of Gould was the place where musicians such as Bobby Dean who began working Yonge Street clubs at Club Blue Note a second floor after hours spot across from "The Zanzibar"; his cousin, drummer Billy Blackburn, & Terry Logan kept rollin' and swingin' at the Zanzibar from noon past midnight through the mid 60's to the early 70's, backing visiting jammers such as Jimmy Smith, and Toronto' s David Clayton Thomas.
Ray Charles was the inspiration for many of these musicians who helped keep swingin' alive by drawing on the 50' s and 60's swingin' rollin' blues elements in Charles' country music stylings of hits made famous by country artists.
But the frivolous era of the rock' n rollin' teenager had dissolved into the heavy haze of acid rocking riders on the storm. Naive lyrics often of teenage unrequited love were replaced by a kind of political anger and rebelioussness. And pop music itself began breaking into opposing factions as various groups began seeming to represent various social groups in ways that political parties do.
Some time after the Supremes dates, I joined a Hamilton based band led by Bob Bouchard. I recall that Bob was on guitar and vocals, Grant Wilson was on piano, and Brian Kirkwood was on bass. Through the winter of 1965, this group performed mainly in Northern Ontario. We also played in Hamilton at a place called Duffy's Tavern, Le Coque D'or on Yonge Street in Toronto, and the Concord Tavern on Toronto's Bloor Street.
I grew tired of travelling up north and left the that version of the Dell Fires. But Kenny Kunz a drummer friend of Bob's encouraged me to rejoin the group as a front man-vocalist with Kenny himself on drums. Then we played more in southern Ontario on the Harold Kudlitz circuit. As part of the show Kenny and I would play a two part drum solo every night. Brian Kirkwood on bass would become Thingo as he and I did an imitation of Joe King's caricature of Lorne Green's "Ringo". Although this group was well rehearsed, and played some of booking agent's Harold Cudlitz's best rooms in Toronto, Hamilton, and Peterborough, I again tired of working outside of Toronto and left the group.
I eventually ended up playing the afternoon show in the Brown Derby opposite Joe King and the Zaniacs with a group led by Roger Vekeman of Quebec on guitar and vocals, Eric MacFarlane on bass, and myself on drums. Whenever we travelled into Quebec, Roger would announce Quebec is "my country". I think most of us thought Roger's expression of patriotism was perhaps misplaced, though commendable, maybe even noble. For I don't think any of us considered the possibility in 1967 and 1968 that Roger may have been expressing the sentiments of the "quiet revolution" which culminated in the clash between Quebec sovereignists and Canada's federal government in 1970. I think most of us saw only divisiveness in bands and personal relationships, not in the relationship between Canada and its provinces.
Rudi Valentine (Maugeri), lead vocalist of the Crew Cuts, discovered our little group called We Three, and began rehearsing with us in the mornings at the Derby before our afternoon shows. We learned all the original vocal parts of Sh'Boom, Earth Angel and other Crew Cuts' hits, and added vocal parts to the rest of our We Three repertoire for a tour of Asia. We rehearsed for several months. Eventually Roger's wife Valeree joined as vocalist, and on a snowy January 8, 1968 we opened at Diamond Jim's in Hamilton, back to Hamilton, Ontario my fathers birth place and where the Dell Fires had originated. Stew Brown of the The Hamilton Spectator wrote a very complementary article about us. And two weeks later we appeared at a supper club in London, Ontario. All our performances seemed unusually tight, and balanced but for some mysterious reason the group disbanded at the end of this two-week supper club engagement .
From left: Roger Vekeman, Valeree Royce, Rudi Valentine(Maugeri), Eric MacFarlane, Peter De Remigis
While rehearsing the Crew Cuts rerpertoire at the Brown Derby I had begun taking singing lessons with Portia White, a famous African Canadian (Nova Scotian) concert singer. She had become known to me when I heard that Don Franks a local Jazz singer was her vocal student. When I started taking lessons with her she resided on the North side of Yorkville Ave. on the second floor of a building near Avenue Road that became a boutique. Portia eventually moved to an apartment east of Yonge Street on St. Joseph's Street near Church Street.
I remember entering Portia's front room where she used to sit at her upright piano beaming amidst an array of flowers. While accompanying on the piano she sang with me as she taught me songs such as Cole Porter's" So In Love". She used to encourage reaching the high notes by singing with greater emotional intensity, a useful technique which I never forgot.
I remember too how I used to enjoy regularly updating Portia on the latest news from my Crew Cuts rehearsals. She always seemed interested. And I will never forget her telling me about her concert travels in South America and how some countries were in such turmoil that governments might change by the time she disembarked from her plane.
As the 1960's wore on the intense concentration of Yonge Street performers began to dissipate reaching a sort of climax as I experienced it sometime after 1965 , about when Ronnie Hawkins' U.S. originated Hawks were becoming the Canadian group, "The Band", who by 1968 had left Toronto with Bob Dylan, with Robbie on guitar, Garth Hudson on sax and organ, Richard (Beak) Manuel on piano & vocals, bassist Rick Danko, with the only American remaining from the Hawks, drummer Levon Helm. It was about then guitarist Pete Michaud/Mitchel began playing with Web Pierce and Ernest Tubb on "The Grand Old Opry". Guitarist,John Till, soon to play with Janice Joplin, joined the remnants of Ronnie's Hawks. And "The Brown Derby" Tavern where I had started my drumming-in-bars career almost 10 years before with "The Suedes" I played for the last time during supper hours with "We Three" who became "The Crew Cuts" rehearsing mornings for an Asian trip that never happened. That place, "The Derby", finally disappeared with construction of the Eatons Centre across the corner from Yonge and Dundas. Gone with "The Derby" were Joe King's Zaniacs and performers I have always imagined had maintained old showbiz traditions rejuvenated by Joe's regular performances in Los Vegas but that dissolved like Yonge Street's Elgin theatre's vaudeville about 40 years earlier.
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