The Consuls

photo of 1956 Ford Consul

1956 Ford Consul (1)

Our repertoire and sound were established at these rehearsals at Bruce's house. Norm's swing/rock'n roll tunes became the climax of our shows, and Bruce's vocal renditions of Huey Piano Smith's and Fats Domino's songs were the essence of our style and could be heard at any point from the beginning to the end of every In a sense the driving off-beat of Norm's tunes provided the rock element, and Bruce's relaxed piano accompanied song styling added the roll. Gene sang the Buddy Holly and Everly Brothers tunes. I sang Little Richard's Jenny Jenny, Elvis' Laudy Miss Claudy up front while Norm took over the drumming duties.

Recently Roger Far of The Gems reminded me that he too enjoyed sitting in on drums when I used to get up front and sing. I was surprised when he added: that group had a good sound. I don't know why but I'd always considered "The Consuls", my first group and my first opportunity to get on stage and learn to play drums, rather casually. Maybe I saw only my inexperience as a drummer, guessing as to how to hold drum sticks and wondering whether I was coordinating my snare, cymbal, highhat and bass drum correctly. And the way I became a drummer and a Consul contributed to this attitude. Again the only reason I ended up with a drum set was because Willy wanted me to play trumpet; Harry Owen, my neighbour up the street on Close Avenue was supposed to buy Phil Exton's drums not me. But things were unpredictable back then, experimental even, at least for me they were; one thing followed the other, and without forethought I kept jumping on whatever came up and going along for the ride. And without knowing it those rides probably nullified my living a normal teenage routine, at least not the kind of teen life I became aware of years later, the one they say teens nowadays find trying. I was never bored; there was always something to do: somewhere to get on stage and perform, sometimes disappointed but never bored. Maybe it was that kind of not-long-after-the-war-ended-freedom that obliterated limitations and inspired that just keep doing things attitude that pop music seemed to embody, an attitude that I now believe was the source of "The Consuls" ' good time rollicking spirit and sound, that contrasts with the more intense and sometimes angry pop star performances of today.

I think that the Robins' "Riot in Cell Block 9" about a forever restive prison population in 1953 that I've included among inspirations conveys those parodying pop attitudes typical of pop styles of that Consuls era; novelty tunes often presenting a serious subject satirically like "Riot in Cell Block 9" , "Transfusion" humorously warning against fast driving, "Stranded in The Jungle" contrasting life in the U.S. with an imagined primitive African setting, "Chinese Rock and Egg Roll" with Buddy Hacket's contrived Chinese accented waiter's lyrical monologue mocking the rise of the teenager and everyone's wanting to be 17. And then there was Rosemary Cluny's "Come on' a My House" and its overly accented lyrics that I was never sure were Jewish or Italian.

And that novelty song about Cell Block 9 in 1953 was performed with the same spirited R and B sound and rhythm with honking sax response that might be enjoyed in any Consuls' performance. And when "The Consuls" fresh from our New York recording session got on stage in Oakville with The Royal Teens and their novelty hit "Short Shorts", a silly satiric take off on people who dare to wear short shorts, our rather playful style was confirmed as an element of that pop era. And though I don't think we ever played the tune with its "we wear short shorts" chorus and responding sax it would have suited our repertoire's rollicking rock and roll style, resembling in tempo and attitude our "Don't You Just Know It" with its "Hah, Hah Hah Hah" chorus that we all sang in response to the song's mock West Indian lyric.

Through 1958 we performed mainly at dances in the Long Branch/New Toronto area. We played at two Club Danceland's, one at the Met on the north side of the street over a store front in Mimico/New Toronto, and the other Club Danceland on a street north of the west end of Lakeshore.There were also engagements at the Polish Hall, and the Hunt Club on Lakeshore near Browne's Line. Throughout this period, January 1958 until June 1959 when we disbanded, we were rivals of a West Toronto group, the Wildwoods. Bobby Dean and the Gems were also part of this rivalry which seemed almost amicable despite each band's group solidarity. In fact when we, "The Consuls", had the good fortune to be invited to Bell Sound in New York City by Dion and the Belmonts' record company to record, it felt as though everyone was behind us even the Wildwoods. At times it seemed that our manager, Roger Kennedy, and the Wildwoods' manager, Peter Harrington were partners offering their support and revelling in our successes.

The Big Apple (Bell Sound)

We were all excited about this opportunity to become as, we understood, the first Canadian group to record at Bell Sound. How we got to New York began with Roger Kennedy "The Consuls" ' manager getting in touch with Hernando of the Buffalo, New York based "Hernando's Hideaway". The tunes we eventually recorded were recorded first in Buffalo. Hernando seemed connected with "The Belmonts" ' record company in New York City and decided with them that our records would get a wider and more diverse distribution if we recorded at Bell Sound in New York.

We arrived in New York in a rented station wagon just before sunrise after driving all night through a snow storm that started outside of St. Catherines, Ontario where we skidded off the road into a snow bank, and ended as we approached the skyline of the Big Apple. We were soon in the studio recording Bruce's "I'm Happy" and "Runaway". The recording studio at New York City's Bell Sound in 1959 appeared a lot more basic than I had expected considering this was where Dion and the Belmonts, Elvis Presley and other big pop names were said to be recording, and because our Buffalo, New York recording produced by Hernando, of his radio show Hernando's Hideaway, was considered to be inferior in sound and possible record sales to what could be produced at the Bell Sound studio.The recording studio at New York City's Bell Sound in 1959 appeared a lot more basic than I had expected considering this was where Dion and the Belmonts, Elvis Presley and other big pop names were said to be recording, and because our Buffalo New York recording was considered to be inferior in sound and possible record sales to what could be produced at the Bell Sound studio. I recall how difficult it was in those days to record a proper balance of my drums. We had to cover my bass drum so that it would not dominate the other instruments. I have a feeling that the reason I can't make out my drum beat on "I'm Happy" is that they hadn't at that point in the session been able to figure out how to get a balanced drum sound without completely muffling the drums. The drumming in "Runaway", however, is much more precise and musically satisfying: I can hear the rhythm and blues snare drum off-beat with the triplet cymbal feel which is reminiscent of the way I thought I had learned to play some 20 months after I had purchased my first drum set in April or May of 1957, and learned my first drum rhythms by copying Bill Doggett's "Honky Tonk part one" off-beat by striking the cymbal and snare drum on only the 2 and 4 beats without playing the 1 and 3 cymbal rhythm, sort of a pause bang(cymbal&snare)pause bang(cymbal&snare).That evening most of us went over to the Little Garden Theatre to visit Dick Clark and his "American Bandstand" while I remained at the hotel trying to catch up on my sleep.

Some weeks later that winter, we performed in a rock and roll show with Dion and the Belmonts, the Royal Teens, Jesse Lee Turner, and other stars promoting their latest hits at the Oakville Arena in January or February of 1959 where the ice on the skating rink remained hard and slippery. But someone from an Oakville paper showed up, and did an article on "The Consuls" with a photo of me identified as Jesse Lee Turner of "Little Space Girl" fame on the front page singing "Jenny, Jenny, Jenny".

photo of consuls

This very old photo sure gets around; it has outlasted numerous other band photos through the years. I remember when it was taken probably in 1958/1959. It appeared in a Toronto Sun newspaper article in the 1970's when"The Consuls" had become "Little Caesar & The Consuls", and had achieved recognition for their "Hang on Sloopy" recording. It also appeared in Part 1 of the March 2011 Bravo television series Rock and Roll Stories, and about a month ago I received another copy of it from the cover of "The Consuls" ' recent CD via the group's drummer Sonny Milne's email. It also appears with the group's You Tube recording of "I'm Happy". Then "The Consuls" were Len on doghouse bass, Peter De Remigis on drums, Norm on saxophone, Bruce singer pianist clapping without an instrument, and Gene on guitar standing to the right. It was this group of individuals who recorded "I'm Happy" and "Runaway" in New York City.back to "The Consuls"

Len & Bruce

Until now I never gave any thought to Len's leaving "The Consuls"; it just happened. Back then I was only aware of enjoying the good fortune of being onstage with a group of musicians who were enjoying our popularity as much as I was. Len and Bruce our most spirited members were probably the source of "The Consuls" ' jovial character, a rare "Happy Days" sort of on stage spirit I never experienced again. Len though he never sang was Bruce's counterpart keeping spirits up with his non-stop one liners delivered in his unique cockney-like English accent. So when someone recently told me that Len had been asked to leave, I was surprised: because I'd never given his leaving any thought, and because I couldn't recall there being the kind of disention that might have led to his being asked to leave and to the discovery of Robbie Robertson. But just a few weeks ago the question of Len's exiting was brought into a more compelling focus when my wife rummaging in the basement discovered two different printings of these Consuls business cards both of which have the phone numbers of Bruce and Len as though Bruce and Len were in fact "The Consuls".

Robbie Robertson becomes a Consul in the spring of 1958.

Shortly after the Oakville show we became aware of a guitarist, Robbie Robertson, whom some in our group wanted to recruit as a bassist to replace Leonard Stubbs. We went to see Robbie perform at a place called the Landsdowne Assembly Hall on Lansdowne Avenue just north of Queen Street and The Green Dolphin restaurant. Robbie's group," Robbie and the Robots ", with his buddy Pete Traynor on bass guitar, Robbie's name scrawled across his guitar( his "Robbie guitar"),and playing through amplifiers adorned with little aerials sounded unimpressive. "The Robots' "unimaginative repertoire consisted mainly of Bo Diddley-like instrumentals led by Robbie.

image of Don Doyle,Pete Traynor (In this not so recent any more photo Pete Traynor/Thumper is on bass to the right of guitarist Don Doyle .)

Robbie joined "The Consuls" that spring. We then had two guitarists, Gene MacLellan, and Robbie Robertson who would not accept the role of bassist for which he had been recruited. Disappointed that our New York recording had produced only a small quantity of 45's under an unknown label, Delta(2), without the promotion, or broad distribution we had anticipated, "The Consuls" disbanded after a final performance at a dance in an Oakville auditorium around late April or early May just 2 years since I bought my drums and maybe 17 months since "The Consuls" ' birth.But "The Consuls" were to ride again under the new name Little Caesar and "The Consuls", a group that I saw in 2007 performing at a local legion dance with Sonny Milne on drums and Norm on sax and vocals, the only Consul remaining from "The Consuls" ' birth at Player's Hall during Christmas week of 1957.

Ever since it happened I've believed that the only reason for "The Consuls" ' disbanding was our disappointment with the results of our New York recording. But these two Consuls business cards my wife found recently in the basement with Len and Bruce as Consuls contacts have caused me to think back on those late Consuls' days and recall that Len's leaving the Consul's may have started the group's disintegration before breaking up was ever contemplated For the cards suggest that Len must have been formally considered a central member of the group, perhaps the glue that kept it together. When he left his replacement was a guitar player not a bassist; consequently we could not have been the same group. Gene's and Robbie's guitars could not have been an adequate substitute for Len's bass playing. For rock and roll/ rhythm and blues needed a bass to maintain that early rock and roll rhythm, rolling in counter point to a vocalist's lyrics. Drums alone couldn't do it; nor could drums and guitar and piano chords provide the mattress-like body that those old dog house bassists provided even if they simply slapped its fret less strings: its deep sound would reverberate through its big fat hollow body tying together rhythmic elements of the other instruments to complete a group's characteristic sound. "Inspirations"

next: "The Suedes"

Consuls to Suedes

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(1)The term, consuls, was originally used to denote two leaders of Rome's Republic elected for terms of one year, though I think I recall that our group's labelling itself "The Consuls" was actually inspired by a British automobile, the Consul. Obviously I had nothing to do with applying that name to our band, and have always believed that Bruce Morshead had originated it. Some time after Robbie, Gene, and I left the "The Consuls", the new group formed around the two remaining "Consuls" became known as "Little Caesar and the Consuls" the new name inspiring a kind of imperialist air, surprising me because I rightly or wrongly had always believed the name had more mechanical/commercial or even democratic origins than evoked by reference to the autocratic, lifelong rulers of the Roman empire.

(2) "Abel" is in fact the name of the label linked above to the tunes we recorded in New York City. I recall that I might have eventually received a 45 rpm copy with a blue "Delta" label that quickly disappeared. Several years ago I was surprised to find the tunes Online (then removed) placed there by a self-declared Doo Wop fan from Spain of all places.Though the tunes may sound like Doo Wop today, I do believe that "The Consuls" were oblivious to the Doo Wop designation or even the pop classification of tunes like "Earth Angel" "Come and Go With Me" "The Great Pretender" etc. we now call Doo Wop. I think we saw ourselves more as an instrumental Rock and Roll/Rhythm and Blues group than a 4 or 3 part Doo Wop-like vocal ensemble.

Peter De Remigis