Big Town Boys

By Russ: A young Toronto R&B singer back in 1963, Shirley Matthews, figures heavily into the beginnings of this group, as far as their name is concerned. Before Shirley’s hit single, they started out as “Kay Taylor and The Regents” and The Regents became one of the first house bands at Toronto’s Club Bluenote in it’s early days…

Kay Taylor and the Regents were the house band at the Club Bluenote from October 1960 to August 1962. (Bobby Dean and the Gems were the first house band in 1960 and the Regents took over from them).

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Kay Taylor and The Regents

Audio:

Here are some rare recordings of Kay Taylor and The Regents from those early days.

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Live at the Bluenote August 1962 – Kay Taylor & The Regents 
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Toronto singer/guitar player Tommy Goodings joined his first band in 1958 and gradually managed to work his way through to the Toronto club scene, joining Kay Taylor And The Regents and  playing at Yonge Street’s legendary Club Bluenote.

Tommy Goodings:

Most of the R&B entertainers who came to town dropped into the Bluenote in those days….Jimmy Reed, Maxine Brown, The Supremes, The Olympics, Shirley Mathews, Diane Brooks, and so many more who were R&B popular at the time, or had hit recordings they were supporting during their time in Toronto…. I can’t recall them all at this time…..Since most of them got up and did a couple of songs during the famous “floor show”…( the audience sat down for the show)…

There was of course no rehearsal with the band and we were always flying on our own…. However, we became real musicians…sink or swim time…gulp

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The Regents at Club Bluenote with Tommy Goodings (far right) on guitar

Cal Briggs at the Bluenote floor show

Cal Briggs – guest singer at the Bluenote

bluenote ad

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Personnel:

  • Kay Taylor – lead vocals
  • Tommy Goodings – guitar, vocals
  • Brian Massey – bass, vocals
  • Peter Groschel and then Fred Theriault – drums
  • Steve Kennedy – tenor sax, vocals
  • Bob Andrews -trumpet, valve trombone

When Kay Taylor went on to other horizons, so did the Regents; here is a later lineup.

Dave Lewis (drums), Brian Massey (bass), Tommy Goodings (guitar, vocals), Jimmy Arndt (sax), Bob Andrews (trumpet, valve trombone)

Following this formation of The Regents, Tommy took a year away from the Club Bluenote, traveled to Los Angeles to hone his musical skills, and developed contacts there.

During that time,  one of the regular singing guests that appeared with the Bluenote house band, was a young Miss Shirley Matthews.  Now, Al Steiner, the club owner was very impressed with Shirley’s R&B style; so much so that he offered her the chance to really promote herself by going to New York and making a record. This she did: on  the Tamarac label when she recorded her 1963 hit single, “Big Town Boy“, produced by Bob Crewe, with Charlie Calelo his arranger.

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Big Town Boy

Returning to Canada, Tommy adopted the stage name “Tommy Graham” and formed his own group, which quickly gained prominence as backing musicians for Shirley Matthews as she would sing “Big Town Boy” in Toronto. Thus, “The Big Town Boys” got their name, as they went on to back Shirley’s club appearances.

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It Was I – Big Town Boys (Oct.1965) Written by Garry Paxton. Highest position 9, 11 weeks on Toronto CHUM Chart, Canadian Talent
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August 32nd (1966) 

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Core members were
  • Tommy Graham on guitar & vocals
  • Brian Massey on bass, harmonica, vocals
  • John Henderson….guitar, Hammond organ, vocals
  • James Ardnt…tenor sax, vocals
  • Josh Collins…percussion, vocals
  • Michael Lewis…trumpet, trombone, keyboards, vocals.
Michael left in 1964 to pursue a scholarship in Munich Germany. Brian left in ’66 to stay alive and was replaced by J.B. & The Playboys’ bass player, Lou Atkins and he left shortly thereafter. John Henderson left shortly after that when his parents passed away and was replaced by Peter Sterbach on keyboards and vocals.

The band really made its mark on the Toronto Sound scene when they recorded an album of their own, plus several singles.

They ultimately abbreviating their name to BTB4 and toured across Canada several times, and for over a year they were the host band on CTV’s  ‘After Four‘ television show.

The Big Town Boys got some pretty good exposure and had some exciting experiences during their time. They were Sonny and Sher’s backup band at the Maple Leaf Gardens concert in Toronto. They did the Beach Boys tour while they were in Canada. They made sojourns to New York City where they played several clubs such as The 8th Wonder and Trudy Heller‘s in Greenwich Village, along side some soon-to-be giants in the business such as Jimi Hendrix.

By 1968 the group had run its course, so Tommy Graham bought himself an airfare ticket to travel around the world and began an odyssey of self-discovery, traveling and immersing himself in other cultures.

Graham eventually arrived in India where, for a year, he would study Sarode at the master Sarode school in Calcutta called Ali Akbar Kahn School. Included at that time were many journeys throughout India as well as forays to east and west Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In 1970 Graham once more found his way back to Toronto where he began working for producer Brian Ahearn, which led to much studio experience and playing on Anne Murray’s hit doing backing vocal work on “Snowbird“.

Capitol A & R Director Paul White, who was responsible for discovering Anne Murray and Edward Bear (among others), gave Graham the opportunity to record for the label. His debut, ‘Planet Earth‘, was released later that year with a crack studio band – Buddy Cage (steel guitar), Bill Speer (piano), Skip Beckwith (bass), and Ron Rully (drums).

In 1972, Graham’s cover of Neil Young’s “After The Gold Rush” charted on many stations in North America and Europe. His interest leaned more toward production and he would go on honing his production skills with many local artists (like Bruce Cockburn) and producing the critically acclaimed first album for Brent Titcomb.

In 1980 and he and his wife started their own computer graphics company that pioneered a new process of putting high resolution images on film. The Arial computer system preceded the introduction of PCs and MACs and was a force in the early computer graphics industry.

In 1993 Graham resumed his career in music. He traveled to the islands of Trinidad and Tobago where his first project was ‘Sounds Of Tobago‘, featuring environmental sounds of the Trinidad and Tobago rainforest with original quasi new age West Indian inspired interpretive music. He also produced his second CD for Brent Titcomb ‘Time Traveler‘ CD by Brent Titcomb. Both projects were done out of his new digital home studio.

Recently Graham has been traveling and recording in Ecuador and Colombia in South America. He is very enthusiastic with the music there and is involved recording indigenous, as well as progressive, Andean music.
– notes from Tommy Graham.

Singles

with SHIRLEY MATTHEWS (featuring THE BIG TOWN BOYS)
1963 Big Town Boy (Tamarac)
1964 Private Property (Tamarac)

with THE BIG TOWN BOYS (aka BTB4)
1965 Put You Down (Tamarac)
1965 It Was I (Tamarac)
1965 I Love Her So (Tamarac)
1966 Hey Girl Go It Alone (Tamarac)
1966 My Babe (Tamarac)
1967 Do It To ‘Em (Tamarac)
1967 Jack Rabbit (Tamarac)

1971 Things You Say (Capitol)
1971 Sahajiya (Capitol)
1972 After The Goldrush (Capitol)
1973 My Happy Song (Capitol)
1974 Sea Cruise (Capitol)

–o–

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6 responses to “Big Town Boys

  1. I always remember when I played The Bermuda Tavern, Tommy Graham would guest with us when Bill Speer was in the band. His rhythm tecnique on my Telecaster was awesome and it inspired me to move along and try to become a better player. By the way, Russ, I need you email again. I thought I changed it but can’t find it. Got a gig for you. Please call or email me (416 930 5480). Cheers…….Ron.

  2. I worked with Shirlly Mathews husband in those years (MICR Systems) and met Gary as the sales rep. for BASF. He was crazy in those days as he is today.

  3. Pingback: Another Great Toronto Group – Gary | Russ & Gary's "The Best Years of Music"

  4. James Henderson

    Does anyone have any more information for John Henderson with the Big Town Boys?
    any info would be greatly apreicated and welcomed.
    Regards,
    John Henderson’s
    Nephew, James Henderson

  5. Pingback: The Toronto Sound Of The 60’s | Russ & Gary's "The Best Years of Music"

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