Gary: “Tonight, I will take a look at a favourite song, Charlena! When I first heard the song it was by a Toronto Group called “Richie Knight and the Mid-Knights”. It was in the summer of 1963; it was very hot and I was at the Balmy Beach Canoe Club in Toronto and that’s the first time I heard it live…
In the late ’50s, friends George Semkiw (guitar) and Leo Donaghue (sax) started a band with fellow members John McCanliss (guitar) and Jim Gwilliams (drums). The band started playing some dates in the area around Toronto. The band decided it needed a bass player so Roger Woods was brought into the unit. Also joining was Barry Lloyd on piano and vocalist Rich Hubbard.
But as groups evolve, by 1961 the band lost all members except Semkiw, Lloyd and Hubbard. Unfazed they went about the business of recruiting new players and the band would eventually become Richie Knight and The Mid-Knights.
Semkiw, Lloyd and Hubbard added new players Barry Stein (drums), Mike Brough (sax), Doug Chappell (bass). At this time Barry Lloyd switched from piano to Hammond organ. The band began playing dances around Southern Ontario quickly becoming one of the circuit’s favourite groups.
By the Summer of 1962 the group was playing bars on the famed Yonge Street strip. It was at one of these venues that a promotional man at Arc Records saw the band playing. He thought one specific song the band was performing could be a hit record and brought it to the attention of Bill Gilliland. The song was called “Charlena” and the group had learned it from a record released by a Los Angeles group called The Sevilles. [More on The Sevilles later…]
Finally in early 1963, Bill Gilliland got the band into ARC’s studio (with house producer Ben Weatherby) which was actually just the label’s office and storage during the day while doubling as the studio at night.
With metal garbage pails lifted off the floor and stuffed with rags to stifle any sound the band started the recording process. There were to be no overdubs, vocals and instruments were to be laid down as one item on a mono tape recorder. The process took a few hours stopping each time there was any error or to move microphones and even one time due to a train passing behind the buildings which had no sound proofing. Four hours later Charlena and its B-side, James Brown’s “You Got The Power”, were completed.
ARC Records approached the band with the idea of not using just the name “The Mid-Knights” on the record label since most artists of the day were featuring the name of the singer. After much discussion the name “Richie Knight” was arrived at and the birth of the new name “Richie Knight and The Mid-Knights”.
Charlena was presented to radio in the Spring of 1963. A local Toronto radio station CKEY was first to air the record, but the real powerhouse station was CHUM who took a ‘wait and see’ attitude.
Eventually, due to fan demand, CHUM radio began playing the song and it quickly became a listener favourite. With “Charlena’s” infectious beat, it rose to Number 1 on the CHUM Chart (a first for a Toronto Rock ‘n’ Roll act) — a position it held for 2 weeks.
Their single went on to sell in excess of 100,000 units (platinum). Every dance wanted the band because, with a hit record, the teens flocked to wherever the band played. Richie Knight & The Mid-Knights played virtually every dance hall in Southern Ontario including The Balmy Beach Canoe Club, Crang Plaza, The Met, Mazaryk Hall, The Jubilee Pavilion in Oshawa, and The Pav in Orillia.
Video Slideshow: Charlena – Richie Knight & The Midnights
With “Charlena” on the CHUM chart, the radio station presented a Dick Clark Caravan of Stars show at Maple Leaf Gardens which included the band not only as the sole Canadian act on the bill, but as the highest charting act at the time. Others on the bill included The Dovels, Dick & DeeDee and Gene Pitney.
In late 1963/early 1964 the band recorded “The Joke” and soon afterwards organist Barry Lloyd departed the band. His replacement was Ray Reeves.
On April 25, 1965 Richie Knight & The Mid-Knights would return to Maple Leaf Gardens as opening act for The Rolling Stones.
1966 saw sax player Mike Brough pack it in to move to Oklahoma for his regular day job. Richard Bell was brought in on piano as a replacement. Then with the departure of Hubbard later that year (to study Finance and Marketing at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto) the band took a different direction with the addition of Richard Newell on vocals and mouth harp. This was the era of The Mid-Knights Blues Band. Eventually, Ronnie Hawkins cherry picked Bell to join his band The Hawks, and so, the Mid-Knights in true chameleon fashion, changed yet again.
The new result was The Mid-Knights Revue, a soul-charged R&B unit. Added to the core of Semkiw (guitar), Stein (drums), Reeves (Hammond organ) and Chappell (bass) were Bill Pinkerton (drums, yes 2 drummers, both had double bass drums!), Dave Stilwell (trumpet), Rick Cairns (trumpet), Jerry Shymansky (sax), Mark Smith (trombone) and Newell on vocals. One single, Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man”, was recorded for Warner Brothers.
Soon Ronnie Hawkins came back into the picture grabbing Newell and renaming him “King Biscuit Boy” to join former Mid-Knights bandmate Richard Bell in The Hawks. The band rebounded quickly adding vocalists Frank Querci (formerly Robert E. Lee) and Karen Titko. This version of the band created a huge wall of sound playing mainly Stax/Volt R & B standards.
In 1968 Rich Hubbard went on to manage Yorkville Records and Yorkville talent management, headquartered in Yorkville Village, which was a part of Arc Records, the Mid-Knights’ original record label.
Where are they now?
- Rich Hubbard now owns his own magazine publishing company in Toronto;
- Barry Stein runs own accounting firm;
- Barry Lloyd retired from the insurance industry and now resides in Calgary and winters in Mazatlan where he occasionally plays keyboards in a local bar called The Canucks;
- Mike Brough, after many years in men’s apparel industry, now teaches business at Seneca College in Toronto;
- Doug Chappell retired after years in the music industry (A&M Records, Island Records, Virgin Records, Mercury Records); Reeves settled in Atlanta, Georgia;
- George Semkiw is still a record producer, musician, recording and live event engineer;
- Richard Newell passed away January 5, 2003 in Hamilton;
- Richard Bell continued an illustrious career as keyboardist for the likes of Janis Joplin, The Band and Blue Rodeo among others. He died of cancer in 2007;
- Lee Donoghue now lives in Australia writes and creates short films/documentaries. His poem “Celebration” appears in the anthology ‘Childhood And Youth In Canadian Literature’; this book was used as a resource text in the final year of literature studies in Canadian high schools in the 1980’s;
- Bill Pinkerton, the second drummer for The Midnights, lives in Pembroke, Ontario where he is still playing in many bands and as part of theatre performances.
I found out that Charlena had been recorded two years earlier by a group called “The Sevilles”. There is not a lot of information about them, but this is what I could find…
The first release by the Sevilles from late 1960, early 1961. “Charlena” hit the Billboard Top 100 and peaked at number 84. A great song that was played a lot in the Los Angeles area, and has been revived and performed by many other artists. It also was featured in at least one movie. The flip, “Loving You” was a great Doo Wop ballad. A fine two sider for the group, Charlena was Co-Written by Manny Chavez and Herman “Sonny” Chaney of the Los Angeles based Jaguars. This was also pressed as a blue label promo.
Summary: The Sevilles were a great group with one major claim to fame- Charlena. They recorded some fun records, some reminiscent of novelty groups like the coasters and Olympics, but were unable to get back on the Billboard charts.
1. Charlena/ J C 116/ Late 1960 early 1961/