The Rascals Hit #1

"Dad, can I borrow the car for the night?"

Only, in this case it was more like , "Dad, can I borrow the car and drive several hundred miles with The Staccatos to do a show, then go to Toronto to see The Beatles"  I should be home in a few days".

And he said yes.


The Ottawa based Staccatos were, many years later, to be known as Five Man Electrical Band and to have a #3 North American hit with "Signs". They had a gig, in Barrie, Ont,, about… miles west of Ottawa, the origin of the journey and…. miles north of Toronto. Part of the traveling party was Nelson Davis, one of if not THE top DJ in Ottawa at the time .


Barrie, a small town known for ….. nothing, that I can remember. Well, wait. Jump ahead to 2005 to Barrie's Park Place and it's the site of Live 8 starring Neil Young. The Tragically Hip and Deep Purple.  Other Live 8 locations and performers around the world included London (Coldplay, the final appearance of the classic Pink Floyd line up), Philadelphia (The Black Eyed Peas with Rita Marley and Stephen Marley, Sarah McLachlan - with Josh Groban), Berlin (Green Day), Rome, and Paris. 

I'dbeen there as a pre-teen when driving back to Ottawa with my family from seeing cousins in Windsor, just across from Detroit. I remember sweltering heat, no air conditioning while trying to sleep in a hotel and my dad actually getting the car up to about 60 miles an hour on the highway before my mom told him to slow down.   


This gig turned out to be an interesting show in several ways. The Staccatos were the opening act in a show seemingly featuring "stars of the future" but they all had experienced a level of success in the music world. The venue was what seemed like a kind of ski chalet…the crowd was on the floor and the bands were about two stories up from there. Well, that's how I remember it.


Another interesting point were the performers themselves. 

Well, let's see. There were The Staccatos as I mentioned, and they went on first. Then this guy came after them with a voice only a God could provide…BJ Thomas, years beforeraindrops kept falling on his head, but he'd hit the charts with his exceptional but pop version of a Hank Williams tune, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry".  That got this Texan's career going and evidently got him on the road, now including Barrie. At the end of the day he was to turn to The Staccatos as he left the building saying, "See you in the big time". I guess he liked them.


Next, a band but really a singer with a back up band. I remember seeing them drive into the parking area before the gig….one very packed station wagon…the whole band and crew and instruments. In one station wagon. But I wanted to see this guy because I had enjoyed his great song " Solitary Man", a kind of folk-rock tune with just a beautiful feel. His name? Neil Diamond. And he wasn't the headliner. He barely had recorded any hits but "Solitary Man" got him going. And I have absolutely no memory of his performance.


And then the headliner. While we were in Barrie they were informed their latest release had gone #1 in the U.S. A song called "Groovin'" . I"m not sure if they had changed their name from The Young Rascals to The Rascals yet, but it didn't matter. Despite the fact their guitarist was Ottawa-born and New York raised, I, as a percussion freak from the age of five wanted to watch, not just listen to, but watch their drummer, Dino Donelli. Prior to his rock days he had played in lounge bands, mostly soft jazz and had performed in Ottawa at times. But now he was a rock drummer extraordinaire..a show drummer who not only drove the band with his solid approach to percussion but also moved in such a way you couldn't take your eyes off him.

Due to my status as…..driver, I guess…. for The Staccatos … I got a ring side seat, right off stage left and was able to observe Dino as up close as you can get without being out there with him. He had these moves, very sudden yet smooth, where he'd not only hit the drum, cymbal and back again but his head would follow on the beat. It was like he was conducting the band from behind with his head. 

Remarkable drumming and a great show by the band in general.


The next day, a bunch of us were out in the hotel parking lot after a rain storm and The Rascals' van was up to its axles in mud. It was a good thing we were on site at the time. The bunch of us kept pushing that thing until it finally got free and off went The Rascals to the next gig. But not before someone yelled from the hotel wind.."Stop!!!" Everybody stopped. " Groovin; : just went to #1 on the charts". 

Covered in mud we all cheered. I should have taken the hint there…covered in mud when they heard they were #1.

That's show biz. 


We left for Toronto in a rain storm, had a flat tire which Nelson and I changed while getting drenched and then made it to Toronto. I bought tickets the afternoon of the show to see The Beatles at Maple Leaf Gardens. 

Nice trip.

I Never Met Elvis

I never met Elvis. 

Came close a couple of times, but I missed that boat.

When I was writing for the Detroit Free Press a call came through saying Elvis was going to play in that city. The performance subsequently took place on Sept. 11, 1970.

At the time I wrote a lot at the Freep as it was and still is called, including a weekly column that appeared on Friday's in what was named the Youth Page (hey, I was in my early 20's at the time). The column was called Pop Pourri because I wrote mostly about pop music, although it was slanted towards what the youth of the day wanted to hear or talk about...some politics, a little fashion, some gossip. Due to the phone call regarding Elvis' pending appearance in town, I wrote a sentence in my column about it. 

The concert sold out. 

With one sentence. Olympia Stadium. 15,000 tickets gone. Now, we could say that's the power of Elvis. But wait, it was my column. People read it. One mention of Elvis in my column and the show is sold out.... I must have saved them a fortune in ad money they didn't have to spend. Did I get an invitation to meet the man? Hell no. I did get a call from some woman who said her husband served in the army with Elvis and would I work it out that he got to say hello to the King of Rock. I can't get to meet him myself lady. And he OWES me.

Ah well. They did give me free tickets so I got to see him perform live once in my life. And it was unbelievable. There he was. Up there on that stage. There was the man who at that time still looked sleek and silvery, cool and powerful. He walked on stage, the place went into bedlam mode. People who banned their kids from seeing him fifteen years earlier were going nuts. And he came forth and filled the stadium with song and handed out scarves to screaming women (not girls, women). It would have been nice to meet the guy, though.

As I said, I did come close a couple of times. The above close encounter doesn't count.

In about 1975 I had the deep and wonderful pleasure of working for a while with the great Roy Orbison. (For you kiddies who don't know, Roy had 22 songs hit the Top 40 and Rolling Stone Magazine listed Oribson as No. 37 in their list of The Greatest Artist of ALL TIME and No. 13 in their list of The 100 Greatest Singers of ALL Time. I say they listed him too low in both lists, but we can't do much about that).

By now I was Director of PR for Mercury Records and for a while Roy was an artist on that label. He was in a career lull and all his legendary stature wasn't doing him much good. I don't know the specifics but he wasn't selling records, and concert tickets for a Roy Orbison show weren't that hot. He would eventually recover from that and by the time he died ten years later he was experiencing hit records as a solo artist and as part of the Traveling Wilburys (whose other members were Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Tom Petty). I always loved the comment from George Harrison, the so-called quiet Beatle, when the Traveling Wilburys came together. It showed Roy's stature and level of importance. With glee, awe and some degree of disbelief the legendary Harrison said, "I'm in a band with Roy Orbison!". 

Orbison was a true gentleman. It was just such a pleasure to deal with him and although we as a record label didn't revive his career at that time, he was grateful for the attention. He was soft spoken, humble and rather matter of fact about things. One day he, his wife Barbara and I were sitting in a hotel room in Nashville (Roger Miller's "King of the Road Inn") just chatting about things and the subject of Elvis came up. Roy asked if I had met him and of course I had to admit I hadn't. And Roy just looked up and said, "If we are ever in the same town at the same time as Elvis, we'll go over and say hello". Oh My God! One legend just invited me over to meet THE legend of rock. It was a beautiful gesture and I know Roy would have lived up to it except.....Elvis died before we have had the chance to "say hello". 

The second opportunity was just that I was almost at the right place at the right time. Also in the 70's a Canadian band called Bachman Turner Overdrive was experiencing a string of hits and a level of success nobody had suspected could happen. We didn't doubt their talent, which was immense but because the leader, Randy Bachman had already had huge success as a member of the premiere Canadian band, The Guess Who. And in this music business, especially at that time, lightning just didn't strike twice. Anybody who had success in one musical configuration just so rarely saw success again. In fact when BTO, as they became known, first met with the staff of Mercury Records we told Randy that it would be a slow build. We'd have to kind of re-introduce him to the rock audience in this new set up. Ok. Fooled us. Their first record sold millions and they became huge on the concert circuit. It was a nice mistake to make.

So, BTO is in Los Angeles making a record, probably the follow up to their huge debut and I happened to be in that city on business. At the time, by the way I lived in Chicago where Mercury Records had its headquarters. I visited the band in the studio and had a nice time with them and manager Bruce Allen, then I headed out to do some work and fly back to Chicago. Not long after Bruce called saying I should have stuck around. "We got a call from Las Vegas," Bruce said. "Elvis wanted to meet us so we drove over and hung out with him one night". Rats! Foiled again.

I never did meet Elvis.

Neil Young/1969

This story appeared in the Detroit Free Press on Feb. 28, 1969. Despite flaws (like calling the group Pogo when, of course they were Poco) I've left the article as it appeared.
How did I meet Neil? I was in Ottawa, waiting for my green card to go through so I could move to Detroit. Neil was doing a solo, acoustic tour of folk clubs after the Buffalo Springfield had broken up and before he started his huge solo career. He played the small folk club Le Hibou in Ottawa, and I went over one afternoon while Neil was hanging around, doing a sound check etc. He was completely alone and when I showed up unannounced he just invited me into the dressing room where we chatted for a long time. When I moved to Detroit it was the first story I did for the Free Press where I worked for the next two years or so. An exclusive interview with Neil Young. Not a bad start. 

  We had met a couple of years before when the Buffalo Springfield had played in San Francisco. I heard them being interviewed on the radio, heard the Canadian accents and new I had to do a story on them. Somehow I hooked up with their managers (at the time the same managers as Sonny and Cher) and I went into SF, met the band and did a story on them. The Ottawa Journal printed it. Of course I found out there were three Canadians in the band including the drummer who was from Ottawa. Easy sell. What do I remember of that first interview?.....their roadie was the first male I saw use a hair dryer. :)  The things you remember. Of course I also remember seeing them play in a little club in Hayward, Ca.  I loved their music. Still do.

Detroit Free Press....                   Friday, Feb. 28, 1969
Neil Young; On His Own...In His Own Special Way.
by Mike Gormley
Free Press Youth Writer

Neil Young is into doing things his own way.
There was a time when the ex-guitarist-composer-singer for the Buffalo Springfield was quiet and unassuming.
Once when the Springfield were about to go on stage in San Francisco--this was in their early days of success--several policemen came to escort the group to the stage area. Neil told them it wasn't necessary and mentioned he felt stupid. Upon his return to the dressing room he couldn't believe it, "but I was glad those cops were there."
Now Neil knows what's going on. He doesn't mind talking about most things, including the break up of The Buffalo Springfield.
"I went to California from Toronto with no idea of joining a group. It just happened and was good. Then we had management problems and, well things just came to an end."
The Buffalo Springfield was considered one of the best bands in the business. "I can't think of another band that was better," Neil said. "There were some as good, but none better. There was a lot going on in terms of creativity, except Dewey," (Springfield drummer Dewey Martin). "He was one of the reasons the group broke up.We just couldn't hack him anymore. He was on an ego thing and thought he could sing and always wanted to. It just bugged the hell out of us. If he hadn't been a darn good drummer the group wouldn't have had him."
None of The Springfield have lost real contact with each other, except possibly Dewey. Steve's into something with Eric Clapton and Stevie Winwood; a new group called Pogo is made up of ex-Springfield members and Dewey has started a group called The New Buffalo. "That group has a limited existence. None of them write or really create. They're probably just a Las Vegas showband. That's about where Dewey's at."
Very definitely an artist, Neil has strong words about those who don't contribute to music. "The Cream were a commercial group. They said they weren't in it for success or money but that's just not true. Everything they did was aimed at the record buyer. Hendrix is the man. He's a great guitarist and a wild show man, and he creates. The Cream wrote tunes but they didn't create anything new."
A suggestion commercial groups aren't bad just because they are commercial brought agreement from Neil, and an explanation why many such groups are considered the lower class musician.
"Paul Revere and the Raiders were strictly a money making group. But, until Paul fired a couple of guys for smoking pot, they were great. They were a driving group and had things to say at the same time. 'Kicks' is a good record and it added something to the music scene. It's when commercial groups don't mean anything they are looked down upon."
Neil's main problem right now is to let the past stay in its place. "It will be a while before people forget The Buffalo springfield, I know that. But someday they'll be asking me about what's going on now."
Presently Neil has a new back up group, The Crazy Horse, and a new album. "The album is all me except for one tune written by Jack Nitzsche. I'd like to make it as a single artist because it would be different. Groups come and go so a single artist would be refreshing." The Crazy Horse isn't heard on this album. "I'm nervous about the whole thing. It's like I've never been near the upper reaches of the music business before."
"I'm working on a new album now. One side I'll be alone and the other side will feature the group."
He's very deep. In his writing, such as "Mr. Soul", "Broken Arrow", "On The Way Home", and "I Am A Child" his thoughts go beyond simple words and simple music.  In a way Neil has embarked on a new career.
Actually Neil Young is still rather quiet but not really unassuming. He has become somewhat outspoken. 
It must be all part of doing it his way.

A Day or Two with Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin. A couple of visits I'll never forget.

In and around 1967-70 there was a star of great magnitude on the music scene. She was a phenomenon and her life style as well as stage persona makes Amy Winehouse look like an amateur. She is now a legend. ( In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine put her on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time and then on its 2008 list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time), and would have been even if she hadn't died by heroin overdose at the young age of 27. Her name....Janis Joplin.

I have always loved this quote from Richard Goldstein, in Vogue magazine, who wrote at the time that Joplin was "the most staggering leading woman in rock... she slinks like tar, scowls like war... clutching the knees of a final stanza, begging it not to leave... Janis Joplin can sing the chic off any listener." Oh yeah.

I met her. I hung out with her, for a very little while. She wasn't a friend per-se, she was the subject of a story I was doing for the Detroit Free Press. But the little time I spent with her is full of memory, most of which lives up to her image of a wild and crazy woman. My intention is not to add to the legend, but to just tell you the little bit of time spent with her was a blast.
We first met in Ann Arbor , Michigan. She was there to perform with her new band which she thought, at the time, was amazing. The Kozmic Blues Band was influenced by the Stax-Volt R&B sound which was typified by the use of horns and had a more bluesy, funky, soul sound than most of the rock bands of the day. She thought it was better than Big Brother and the Holding Company, her old band that had asked her to join them in San Francisco in the mid-60's and with whom she went on to have a number one album and sell millions of records. The word that was Big Brother wasn’t that great a band and couldn’t really keep up with her immense talents. Maybe so, but either could the new band. Too slick, as I remember. But she was amazing on stage under any circumstances and their album did go gold (one million copies sold). Later on she joined up with the Full Tillt Bogie Band, made up of Canadian musicians from the Stratford area including Rick Bell who went on to be a member of The Band. They altered the spelling of the band to the Full Tilt Boogie Band and recorded her biggest recording "Pearl" including the hit song "Me and Bobby McGee".

Off stage we did spend some time together. I was in her Holiday Inn hotel room for a while. The room had quickly been made into as much of a living room/salon as Janis could make a Holiday Inn room. Quaint scarves over the lamps, her own pillows on the bed..other 1920’s looking touches here and there. The room became comfortable and was enough for her to keep things in balance for the one or two nights she was to spend there. Her new band and new album had received pretty bad reviews from Rolling Stone magazine and she was upset. “Those guys at that magazine are friends of mine, man, “I remember her saying. As if a reporter or reviewer is supposed to give a good review based on friendship. But that’s how she felt.
Later, in the dressing room at the University where she was to play, a moment occurred that I still love to talk about. It’s a great Janis story and shows her humor, her passion and her understanding of the times
In the late 60’s there was a band of groupies based in Los Angeles called the Plaster Casters. Ever hear of them? Here was their art….they would make plaster castings of rock star’s erect penises. And they didn’t mess around. They had hard images of some very big rock legends. There was a magazine, more a fanzine at the time and a story on the Plaster Casters was in there along with photos of their “art”. The fanzine was really like a cheap local paper you’d find at a super market, and the black and white photos weren’t all that vivid, but good enough. I was browsing through the story and suddenly, over my right shoulder pops Ms. Joplin herself, a bottle of B&B in hand (which she had smashed open earlier with a knife because there wasn't a cork screw around). I couldn’t see her because she was behind me, but I assume she was smiling. There was a smile in her voice, at least. “Yep, that’s Jimi” she declared and walked away. I cherish the moment.

Speaking of cherishing the moment, here’s one with ramifications that has served me well for decades.
After Ann Arbor , Janis took off to New York to rehearse and then tape the Ed Sullivan Show. It was kind of fun to watch now that I knew her a little and also knew I’d see her again in about a week. She was coming back into the Detroit area to do a show in the city itself at what was then the biggest venue in town, Cobo Hall. In my short time in Detroit I saw many incredible performers in that venue including Hendrix, Moody Blues, Sly & the Family Stone, Creedence Clearwater, The Doors and many more.

So Janis was back in town with her new band and ready to rock. The scene backstage at a Janis show was a kind of controlled mayhem. It was the days of drugs, drink, rock at it’s prime and the crews and musicians were working hard but having fun. Janis, of course, led the way in this entourage. Due to my on going story for the Detroit Free Press and the research needed, I gained access to her dressing room prior to the show. To be honest, it might have been after the show. But I was in there at some point.

Janis was known for drinking, and in fact her name at times was synonymous with Southern Comfort, but I'm told at this point she was doing heroin pretty heavily. But this night she was focusing on tequila, a drink this Canadian boy had not yet encountered. It has become a favorite, but that night I asked for some and in my naiveté thought you put it in a glass and sipped on it. Wrong, and Janis said so. “Here honey, here’s how it’s done,” she said in that warm, gravely voice. She wasn’t like mom, more like Aunt Janis or possibly the voice of a sublime and satisfied lover. She then proceeded to give me the process of Tequila drinking, which of course consists of some lime applied to the hand, (between the thumb and finger), some salt on top of that, a lick of the salt, down the Tequila in one gulp and a bit of the lime. This is the process I enjoy to this day. Thanks Janis.

As Wikipedia says, "Joplin was a pioneer in the male-dominated rock music scene of the late 1960's, influencing generations of musicians to come. Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac commented that after seeing Joplin perform, 'I knew that a little bit of my destiny had changed. I would search to find that connection that I had seen between Janis and her audience. In a blink of an eye she changed my life.' "

The 1979 film The Rose was loosely based on Joplin's life which was, I believe, Bette Midler's big screen debut. In the late 1990's, the play Love Janis was created with input from Janis' younger sister Laura. Opening in the summer of 2001 and scheduled for only a few weeks of performances, the show won acclaim and packed houses and was held over several times. Gospel According to Janis, a biographical film was originally scheduled to begin shooting in early 2007, now has a projected release date in 2010.

Joplin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, and was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

I feel privileged I had a little time with her.

The Pharaohs....then the Beatles

In late 1962 I joined a band in Ottawa. They were called The Pharaohs. Not sure who picked that name, but it wasn't me. Actually they were already together when I showed up to audition as drummer and got the job. Pretty cool considering I hadn't ever played drums with a band before. But I remember we all just clicked. We were auditioning in the piano player's basement and after we played his father yelled down,"now you have a band!".
It felt good to a sixteen year old.
I loved drums. I'd played them in some way since I had been born. To be in a band that actually played in front of people was a dream.
And they were cool guys. We were all in high school and actually our first gig was at their school (I was the lone one who went to Glebe Collegiate. They all went to Ridegmont High. No really, that was the name). We played at a sock hop or whatever it was called. It took place at 5pm in the school gym and I had to race over from my school which was not really close by and set up my drums on the floor. They didn't fit on the small stage where the rest of the guys were. It was pretty loose and at one point during a song my large crash cymbal, somewhat unsteady from the quick set up fell over. Very embarrassing, but we played on.
This was in early 1963. We didn't play together for much more than a year, but we did accomplish one very important benchmark in music. We were the first band in North America to play songs live by The Beatles. Nope, we can't absolutely prove it but check out the facts.
In 1963 The Beatles had the number one record in England. The early stages of Beatlemania were under way but nobody in the U.S. had ever heard of them...yet.
At some point, while they had the number one slot in the UK, our bass players' girlfriend's dad went there on business. He had to bring his daughter something so he went in to a store and, evidently not caring what it was, asked for a copy of the number one record at the time. He brought home The Beatles' first album, "Please Please Me", which had not come out in North America yet.
We heard it.We loved it and started playing "Twist and Shout", "I Saw Her Standing There", " A Taste of Honey" and "Please Please Me". We played them a lot. 
In the U.S., most of the songs on Please Please Me were first issued on Vee-Jay Records'  in 1963.
The Beatles recorded 'Love Me Do' in September 1962 and the single hovered in the twenties of the English charts from November to January. The Beatles' next single was 'Please Please Me'. When it hit #2 in the UK in early February, Vee Jay Records out of Chicago and the home of the then very successful Four Seasons, decided to release the single in the US, which they did on 25 February 1963.  (EMI, the British record company with ties to the U.S. Capitol label, approached Vee Jay after Capitol had used their right of first refusal to turn down a couple of artists EMI had offered. The Beatles at that time had yet to record 'Love Me Do', which was their first real British hit, and the decision to pass them up was made on the strength of several German recordings where they backed up Tony Sheridan on 'Ain't She Sweet' and 'My Bonnie'.)
The group was such an unknown that their name was misspelled "Beattles" on the record label. The single slipped into obscurity soon after its release. This 45 however, was the first true Beatles single to be released in the U.S. ....March, 1963.
The Pharaohs were already playing the music from Please Please Me. 
Ok, next fact. The first Beatles tune to enter the national Top100 US singles charts Del Shannon. July 1, 1963. Del Shannon’s version of The Beatles'  “From Me to You,” which he’d learned while touring with them in England, reaching #77. That makes Del the second artist in North America to perform a Beatles tune, although he got to record his and there is nothing stating he had played it live.
In early 1964 The Beatles came to the US and played the Ed Sullivan show. They had the world at their feet. But they were only the second band to play Beatles music live in North America.
The Pharaohs played their songs first.