How it all started

Way, way back in the last century, at the tender age of fifteen, I was sitting in the cafeteria at high school and, for some unknown reason, I started drumming on the table with two plastic knives. A guy came up to me, Chris Hayes, and asked if I was interested in joining a band with his friends, Don Thurston and David Kirk. Sounded like fun so I said “sure”.

Me 1965The next thing I knew I was the drummer for the group, The Tempests. It’s too long ago for me to remember how we came up with that name but it worked for us. We started playing at various functions at our high school and I learned the first lesson of becoming a musician – girls love guys in a band! I went from relative obscurity to being a virtual chick magnet, which would last for my entire career.

The defining moment in whether this was just a hobby or more serious came when we went to what were called the Pepsi dances at the CNE, where I got my first taste of Jon and Lee and The Checkmates. They were simply awesome and I couldn’t keep my eyes off Jeff Cutler, their amazing drummer. These guys were the very definition of soul in the sixties in Toronto. Not sure where Lee is these days, but Jon Finley is still playing and still sounding great. Michael Fontana, the keyboard player, went on to play with many huge groups, like Rhinoceros, Blackstone, The Electric Flag, Downchild Blues Band and many more. Jeff would go on to join the Crazy World of Arthur Brown band.

At one point Vic Dimitroff, a keyboard player, joined the band and we started practicing downstairs at his parent’s place. His mother was always doting over us, bringing us food and checking if we needed anything. She was very proud that Vic was in the band. One day we see her coming down the stairs followed by someone. To our considerable shock it’s Michael Fonfara! Mrs. D taught him piano and he had dropped by for a visit. To our delight he sat down at the keyboard and blew us away.

Don’t remember why we broke up that particular band. The next version was Zac Marshall on keyboard, Alan McQuillan on rhythm guitar, Nolan Yearwood on lead guitar and me on drums. We started out as the Bow Street Runners and ended up as the goofy HappyFace Band. This group lasted almost ten years and we played some amazing gigs. We only played on the week-ends, usually for very good money for sports teams and corporations like Pepsi. We must have been okay because we were always booked for the following year wherever we played. Some of those corporate gigs were really great because they fed us great food and usually gave us some drink tickets as well.

Just a few of the more memorable gigs over the years –

We were booked into the little hick town of Meaford and while we were setting up a couple of the good ole local boys showed up to check us out. One of them asked me if we were any good. I said I thought we were cause most people liked our music and we tried to play a good mix for all ages. He replied that he hoped we were because the band last week-end had sucked and they threw them and all their equipment into the lake. I hoped they liked us, and, thankfully, they did. We had a lot of very expensive equipment.

Our agent booked us to play the North American Hockey League in downtown Toronto. Sounded like a good gig because we always had a good time playing for sports teams. What we didn’t know was that this was the North American Indian Hockey League. Our very white, attractive wives and girlfriends were with us and they were soon getting hit on by very drunk Indians, so we sent them home. Our contract always called for us to quit at 1:00 o’clock, so Nolan thanked everybody for coming and said our good-nights. The next thing we know a very mean looking Indian comes up and tells us to keep playing. There didn’t appear to be any arguing with him, so we kept playing right up until about 2:00 o’clock when things started getting really rowdy. There were fights breaking out everywhere and ashtrays flying. In all our years of playing I don’t think we ever broke down our equipment faster.

In those days we used a big bread truck to move our equipment. As we turned the corner at the rear of the building we came across hundreds of natives all swarming and fighting with each other. We could see they were rocking a police car attempting to turn it over. It was a virtual riot and we were terrified. Just then the same big native who had told us to keep playing hollered out at the crowd and they parted like the Red Sea to let us drive out. We were never more thankful that they liked the band.

Our agent called us at the last minute to play a gig at David and Mary Thomson Collegiate on the Saturday night. Only when we got there did we discover it was their senior prom and they had been expecting the Downchild Blues Band, who had cancelled at the last minute. We were a lot of things but the Downchild Blues Band we weren’t. Our first set was met with all of them sitting at the tables in their tuxes and gowns and no one got up to dance.

As we huddled at our table wondering what to do, Alan said “leave it to me” and he got up on stage by himself. He said, very nicely, that he was sorry we weren’t the band they expected but that we were going to play and enjoy ourselves like we always did no matter what. He told them that they had obviously spent a lot of money to be here at their prom and that they had a choice. They could sit there and sulk or they could make the best of it and get up and dance. He then proceeded to sing his favorite song, The Western Tech Whore, colorful language and all. He soon had them all laughing and clapping as he sang and the rest of us slowly made our way onto the stage. As soon as he finished Zak started tinkling the keyboard and saying he hoped they would all get up and dance. I think we played something a little newer, don’t remember what, but no one got up to dance and we figured this was going to be a very long night. About half way through the song a brave couple got up to dance and they were soon joined by almost everyone in the room. It turned out to be one of the best gigs we ever played and all the kids came up and told us how much fun they had.

That gig was a good lesson for a later one. At the time we were The Clyde Valley Show Band and we could easily be mistaken for what that name sounds like, all om-pa-pa and all. We were booked into the German Club who expected us to show up in leather shorts and all. Again, Alan got up, gave his little speech and played his song and, before we knew it, they were all up dancing away. I think right after that gig is when we changed our name.

Our very best gig was being the house band at the old Club Bluenote at Yonge and Gerrard. The club was the place for top name entertainers who were playing in Toronto to come over after their shows and do a couple of songs. We backed people like The Ink Spots, The Platters and many more. It was quite the learning experience because these groups obviously expected us to just know their music. Even though at the same time I was working full-time at the bank, so there wasn’t a lot of sleep every week-end, it was a great time in my life.

For a few months we were also one of the house bands at the old Maple Leaf Ballroom on St. Clair Avenue in Toronto. We usually played there about every two weeks if we didn’t have anything else booked. My only memory of this place was that after a while the wives and girlfriends got sick of listening to the same songs over and over so they stopped coming. It didn’t take us long to find four very friendly girls to dance with and spend the evening with. The hot-blooded Nolan was even dumb enough to find two “regulars”.

After a few months of this cozy little set-up our wives and girlfriends suddenly decided to all come for someone’s birthday. We were all terrified at how our “regulars” were going to react. At one point while we were on stage we saw a couple of them talking to our wives. When we came off stage we didn’t know what to expect but it turned out all our other girls said was how much they enjoyed the band. Whew! Very classy of them.

Our last gig was one of the wildest ever. We played for the Metro Toronto Police Association and we assumed they would be a pretty reserved bunch. Boy, were we wrong! They were maniacs on the dance floor. Half of them were drunk out of their minds and really let loose. I guess being so proper at their jobs this was a chance for them to go nuts and they sure did. It was a great gig and a fitting way to end it all. It was great while it lasted and I have nothing but fond memories of the years I played. All I have left is the loss of my middle range hearing from all those years playing in front of the giant speakers. lol