Part 1 – Good Fortune
Since hitting the road professionally at age seventeen, I’ve had the great good fortune to play and record all over the world with a lot of incredible musicians. My good fortune however, began long before that. Two of my three older brothers were (and still are) great musicians who had excellent record collections. They opened up an entire world of amazing and essential music to me at a very early age. As a little kid my ears and brain got nourished with the best of British and American Rock & Roll.
Soon I also began to really dig Motown and all the incredible stuff they were putting out. My brother Paul was making records with a really great jazz-rock band called Dillinger. They were a huge musical influence for me. A bit later on my brother Brian turned me on to things like Chick Corea, Jean-Luc Ponty and Walter & Wendy Carlos. In addition, my stepfather introduced me to Swing and Big Band. So all of that was a great education and foundation for what was to come.
The other musical good fortune in my young life was the Kee To Bala. In the 1960s my parents (Ray & Jean) owned and operated The Club Pavalon (The Pav) in Orillia, Ontario. The Pav hosted lots of 60s Toronto bands like Mandala (featuring Dominic Troiano) and The Shays (featuring David Clayton-Thomas). I remember the hall well but was too young to see the shows.
By the late 60s my parents had split. My dad and stepmom (Ray & Shirley) bought a dance hall in Muskoka, a few hours north of Toronto. The Kee To Bala was and remains a historic place. Built by Gerry Dunn on beautiful Lake Muskoka in the 1940s, Dunn’s Pavilion (it’s original name) was the jewel of the classic Muskoka halls. It hosted legends like Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Louis Armstrong to name just a few.
My dad changed the name to Kee To Bala and they ushered the hall into the Rock & Roll era. As a little kid I saw shows by Rush, Lighthouse, Max Webster and all the great bands from the thriving Toronto scene and across Canada. I also saw shows by American stars like Chubby Checker and New York Dolls. In other words, nirvana for a young boy already hooked on music. What a thrill and an inspiration to watch these cats up close. Some, like Gary Lalonde and Kim Mitchell, I would go on to play with as an adult. The Kee was sold in the mid-seventies. I’ve performed there with many acts over the years and will no doubt play there again before it finally falls into the lake.
At age sixteen, I was given an ultimatum by the Catholic boy’s high school I attended. Cut your hair (which I admit was pretty long) or get out. That was the easiest decision of my life! I told them to shove it. Not long after that I got my first pro gig, went on the road, lost my virginity the first night and never looked back.
After three years on the Ontario bar circuit, with a few different bands, I was introduced to Johnnie Dee. Johnnie had just put together a band called Honeymoon Suite. One look at him and you knew he was a rock star. A natural. And what a voice! Johnnie had gone out with a very short-lived incarnation of the band before retreating to regroup. His manager then introduced him to Derry Grehan, a great guitarist and songwriter. The two recruited veteran drummer Mike Lengyell and bassist John Finnerty and began playing the circuit. Shortly thereafter they asked me to join. I moved into the band house / headquarters already shared by Derry Grehan, Jeff Rogers (from our management and future manager of Pursuit Of Happiness and Crash Test Dummies) and a drummer friend and former band mate of Derry named Dave Betts.
Within a few months we asked Dave Betts to join the band. Derry had a bunch of great tunes and we began getting courted by labels, eventually signing with WEA. Wow!!! That was exciting. During the making of the first album we hired veteran bassist Gary Lalonde. The line-up was complete. Honeymoon Suite’s debut album took off and the rest, as they say, is history.
Stay tuned for Part 2