|Letters From the Coast||Sisteron||Change of Face||Doug McArthur w/ Garnet Rogers||Smoke Road||Angels of the Mission Trail||The Dust of Davy Crockett||Thunder Into Heaven|
I started recording in 1972. I was awarded a demo grant by CAPAC (precursor to SOCAN) and I took my Cedar Lake buddies into Captain Audio in Toronto. This was a four track jingle studio in what was then the Yorkville village owned by Ben McPeek. I produced ten early songs, most of which disappeared from my life very quickly.
The demo got me some interest from Warner Brothers Canada, then finding gold in Canadian songwriters. Mary Butterhill at CAPAC put me in touch with a British producer named John Stewert who had produced some hits in Britain and now had a development deal with WBC. For a while it seemed that something would happen here on a major label although I realized after many friendly meetings and one not so friendly that there would be no real result from this.
However one tune from the demo "Tears Like Rain" was picked up by Randy Bachman in performance and at one point was actually recorded by Brave Belt on the sessions that eventually were released as Bachman Turner Overdrive. Unfortunately for me my song was dropped from the final version of the album. However Randy bought my existing catalogue of songs for publishing purposes. One day in a studio in Trenton I laid down every song I had ever written for his publishing company (about 40 tunes).
I expressed an interest in learning about multi-track recording and Randy allowed me to attend the BTO sessions in the RCA studios on Mutual Street as long as I promised to shut up and to accurately fill the lunch and coffee orders from the restaurant around the corner.
Another early song "Gentle People" was produced by Randy Bachman for an album called Spriggs & Bringle (Mark Haines and Colleen Peterson).
At this time I recorded some tunes for CBC Radio "Touch the Earth" and a soundtrack for CBC TV "This Land - The Great Whale Dream" wiith David Essig and Mary Chapman.
I was also featured on a couple of live CBC recordings of concerts at Alumni Hall at the University of Western Ontario. These concerts were the genesis of the collective "Cedar Lake", including Stan and Garnet Rogers, and a very young Willie P. Bennett, as well as many other illuminaries. Much time was spent touring Ontario in a poorly painted schoolbus and setting up camps and concerts in remote areas (most famously, Aberfoyle, near Guelph).
My manager Walter Grasser was a tremendous help during this period although he became increasingly busy managing David Bradstreet in his A&M career.
Thomas Handy began to tour with me on second guitar.
My first released recording was "Letters From The Coast" in 1974. Again I used Captain Audio and I tapped the Cedar Lake crew for talent. Thomas Handy on guitar, Bill Usher for percussion, Mike Gardner on bass, Steve Hayes for piano, Lia Hayes with Gord Lowe on vocals and Mother Fletcher on sitar. Engineered by Jim Morgan.
Songs were: Dreams & Visions, Hero, Glory Road, Lord Douglas, The Painter's Song, I Do, One-Eyed Walden, Don't You Believe, The Devil's Pony, Skye Song.
"Hero" and "Don't You Believe" were recorded by Valdy for A&M records and were published by A&M's publishing arm: Almo Music.
The original album on Rutabaga Records had a black and white line drawing by Lia Hayes on the cover. The record was re-released in 1976 in a brown jacket with a lovely old picture of a three mast sailing ship.
There were more recordings for CBC produced by Paul Mills and backup included Stan Rogers, Ray Materick, Bill Hughes, Carl Keesee, etc. "Lunenburg Shift" first saw the light of day in these sessions and was later re-edited by Paul Mills as the soundtrack to an interview with David Stevens the master boat builder from Lunenburg.
I also recorded "Deep Space" and a Frank Wheeler tune "New Moon Lady" in these sessions.
Apparently some tapes exist of me as a part of a Cedar Lake appearance at the first "Blue Skies" festival in Clarendon. I have never heard them.
As well, I wrote and performed several spoken word comedy pieces for "Touch The Earth" during this period with Doug Lennox and again produced by Paul Mills.
In the spring of 1975 I went to England, Italy, Austria and France. I did some comedy recording at the CBC studios in London and played the odd gig.
I returned from nearly a year in Europe in 1976 and a bunch of new tunes came back with me.
Musicians were: Rick Taylor, electric guitars, Steve Taylor on drums, Carl Keesee on bass and clarinet, Willie P. Bennett on harmonica, Frank Wheeler, guitar and piano, Bill Hughes on violin, Denis LePage played banjo, Chorus included Garnet Rogers, Christopher Kearney and Jude Johnson. Engineers were Daniel and Bob Lanois.
One tune "The Way I Ride" featured Bill Hughes on electric guitars and Jim Neil on drums.
Songs were: Sisteron, Whip Me, The Lights of Town, Skyway, 1911, Cowboy Bob, Restless, The Way I Ride, The Lunenburg Shift, Ain't Goin' Home, Gentle People, Almost Midnight.
"Whip Me" (atypical to say the least) was a parody of the punk music I had been witnessing in clubs in England. Unfortunately very few people in Canada were at that time aware of punk (the Ramones were just hitting in NYC) so the song was misunderstood. I loved the raw energy of this music.
The record was released by Harvey Glatt's Posterity Records. Posterity Records declared bankruptcy almost immediately (not my fault). Reviews were great.
"Ain't Goin" Home" was later covered by Garnet Rogers on Snowgoose records and "Gentle People" was released by CBC records sung by Colleen Peterson.
Also in the summer of 1976 I appeared in the film of the first Festival of Friends in Hamilton, Ontario. The film shows my introduction to and the first verse of "Whip Me".
I was asked to tour with Stan Rogers in New England and in the Maritimes as an opening act. I pushed the comedy angle of my show to provide some contrast with Stan. These shows were very successful.
Also during this period I was able to play the famous Riverboat Coffee House in Toronto (twice on my own, once sharing the bill with Paul Craft). I also opened for Tom Paxton, James Cotton, Valdy, Deep Purple at various venues.
The fabulous Canadian Festival scene was expanding at this point and I spent several summers criss-crossing the country with stops at Winnipeg, Calgary, London, Hamilton, Faro (Yukon), etc.
Letters From The Coast and Sisteron were re-released on one CD in 1991.
First, I was a surprise success at a comedy festival in Orillia that featured a number of quality acts like Charlie Farqueson, The Frantics, Al Simmons, etc. The Globe & Mail gave me a rave review.
Second, Bill Garrett and Bruce Steele approached me with the idea of hosting a CBC radio show that would travel all over the country and feature me giving an opening monologue and then interacting musically with various guests. This show would have increased my visibility greatly and a comedy album would give me something to flog at the shows. We signed a 20 show contract.
CBC technicians chose that very time to go on strike for an extended period. When the strike was over my time had passed. I got paid in full but no national show.
While I was still labouring under the illusion that I had a career as a comedian, Dave Essig and I took a remote crew into Change of Pace Coffee House in London where I was comfortable and well known, and over three nights we recorded "Change of Face". This was essentially my regular act with the music taken out and a lounge band back up. It was supposed to sound tacky. Some of this record actually stands up today, some of it is pretty stale.
Dave Essig produced. By the time the record was pressed, the expected market had disappeared.
Cuts included: "Charlton Heston, Rubber Suits, Lilac Lane,
"Rubber Suits" was a wry commentary on the vibrant exploding career of Stan Rogers who was then seen as a Maritime/Celtic act (although Stan transcended this label before he died in '83 to become our greatest songwriter). The record features a high pitched giggle throughout this piece which emanated from Stan himself, sitting inches in front of me in the club. I believe this is the only extant recording of Stan laughing his head off - a sound all his friends were very familiar with.
During this time period it finally dawned on me that I was not destined to spend my life as a rock star.
I had shown a bit of organizational talent when I booked the Knight 11 in Hamilton and Change of Pace in London. I parlayed this into a job with Orchestra London as Audience Development Coordinator (whatever that meant) and then I became one of three directors of the Winnipeg Folk Festival. After that I became Associate Production Manager for Roy Thomson Hall (one year) and the duMaurier Jazz festival (three years).
I did a lot of touring with Garnet at this time and he recorded a couple of my tunes: "Break the Law", "Black-eyed Susan" on his first album. We were playing a lot together so it made sense to do a CD. Garnet is an excellent accompaniest (as he proved in Stan's band) and I think he missed that role as his solo career blossomed.
Coyly we named the CD: Doug McArthur with Garnet Rogers.
At any rate, it was great for me, playing opening act to sold out houses and a real opportunity to see the country again.
The songs were: Merlin, Break the Law, Isle Madelaine, The Siege of Toronto, Bullwhip Jack & the Silver Bell, There is a River, Bank the Fire, Thief in the Night, Ships at Sea, Black-eyed Susan, Wino Breath, Chella, The Un-named City.
I sang and played guitar and Garnet played violin, viola, electric & acoustic guitars, guitar synthesizer and bass. Dave Essig played mandolin and slide guitar.
The CD was released on Snowgoose Records, Garnet's label. I believe it was the first CD they ever released (previous titles were released in vinyl and cassette formats).
The CD was popular, likely due to Garnet's name being on it, and "Black-eyed Susan" was covered by a number of artists in the US.
"Merlin" from this CD was covered in the US by Kathy Mar, a famous "Filk" singer ("filk" being science fiction folk music). It consistantly turns up on lists of favourite classic filk.
Incidently, I finally got to play at Mariposa in 1990 (30th anniversary). This festival had always been a major influence and even though I was once tossed by security staff off of Toronto Island for trying to sleep in the bushes it was a good feeling to be on the bill.
Snowgoose re-released Letters From the Coast and Sisteron on one CD in 1991. Response was favourable for such ancient music. A short lived deal with a US agent helped to get me playing in New England again.
Garnet recorded "Ain't Goin' Home (from Sisteron) in this period and also named an instrumental after me "McArthurs Farewell to the West".
By 1993 I was evolving my performances by increasingly including Jeffra, the wonderful singer and pianist from California in the tours and it seemed a good idea to do a CD since I had quite a backlog of new songs. The recording never really jelled as a duo and essentially she backs me up on my tunes although she did a wonderful vocal on "Heaven Only Knows". Still, everytime I make a "favourites" list I include several tunes from this project.
The production was a troubled one. In retrospect I don't think the focus was clear. Garnet was slated as the producer and the recording schedule was built around his tour schedule but he abandoned the project after about a week. I had already spent a bag of money on the studio and musicians and flights from California so I continued with the project, bringing in Tom Leighton to beef up many of the cuts.
When it was finished Snowgoose did not want to release it.
So we were left with a master of some pretty good tunes with many excellent highlights. Out of cash, I printed some cassettes in order to have a result of the session. It deserved better.
Songs include: Letter To Marie, Boots & Saddles, Alfred's Chair, Pick up Charlie, A Pictograph of Crazy Horse, Heaven Only Knows, Any Highway, The Chinese Wall, Smoke Road, The Black Douglas.
Musicians were Jeffra on piano and keyboards and vocals, Tom Leighton on just about everything, Corey Thompson on drums, Paul Loeffelholtz on bass, Margaret Voorhaar on flute, Mark Haines on fiddle, Walter Maynard on banjo, Garnet Rogers on acoustic guitar on one cut.
Dave Broadbeck engineered at his dB studios in London. Brian Burnes mastered.
Mark Haines & Tom Leighton covered "Boots & Saddles" and it is their most requested song in performance. Nancy White also performs this tune and it is one of the most recognizable of my compositions.
By 1996 I had been playing lots of shows with Jeffra and we were really a duo. Angels of the Mission Trail remains the most fully realized project I have ever done and certainly is a high point of my recording career.
The idea was to write some material that showed the history of San Francisco. We did a lot of research and came up with some stories that got past the cliches.
There was a ton of positive reviews on this project and we were able to tour a lot on the US West Coast from Vista to Seattle (Woodsmoke & Redwood Tours). We also got to open for David Lindly in a jammed smoke filled theatre up in Garberville in Northern California. What a show!
More tempered reports came from a) Canadian reviewers who thought it was too "California"(duh) and commercial sounding and b) long time fans of Jeffra in the Bay area who couldn't understand what I was doing there and thought it was too rough sounding.
In fact the mix was a great artistic step to take for both of us and I love this CD.
Songs are: Jack & Charmian, Angels of the Mission Trail, Hills of Oregon, The Gold I Threw Away, Lovintide, Stumble from Vesuvio, Dust to Dust, Montaña de Oro, Big Alma, Kinsymphony.
Musicians include: Jeffra on keyboards and vocals, Todd Phillips on bass, Joe Craven on percussion, Derek Jones on bass, Joe Weed on second guitar, and Peter Grant on Steel.
Produced by Doug McArthur & Jeffra and Joe Weed at Highland Studios, Loma Prieta California.
Every April the song "Jack & Charmian" gets big airplay in San Franciso as the anniversary of the Big One in 1906 rolls around (The tune tells the story of Jack London and his wife Charmian in the earthquake and ensuing firestorm).
Also, "Jack & Charmian" from this CD was released by National Public Radio in the US on a CD called "Anthologos - Vol. 1" (a compilation of the best from "Theme and Variations", the well respected NPR show). Fellow contributors were F. Scott Fitzgerald and Guy de Maupassant. Rather heady company.
Oddly, during this period I was hired to help put together a new festival in Fernie, BC. The organizers were all from the San Francisco area and they were looking for some expertise in Canadian folk music I guess. The Gathering at Island Lake in its inaugural year was a glorious failure, set 7000 feet high up on a jewel of a cliff-enshrouded lake. What a site! What a show (John Hammond, Ferron, Ian Tyson, Martin Simpson, etc.)!
From 1999 - 2004 I was the Artistic Director at Eaglewood Folk Festival - a wonderful songwriter festival in Pefferlaw Ontario, on Lake Simcoe.
2001 found me running the Festival of Friends in Hamilton. After doing three CDs in partnership with other artists I decided to try a spare solo voice and guitar project. I had a bunch of tunes that I brought back from Texas and California and I redid "Boots & Saddles" in my solo performance version.
This is a quirky collection of tunes dealing with Texas, computers, aging, and a side trip to NYC to visit the site of the September 11 attack. I like these songs a lot.
Songs are: Witness, Boots & Saddles, Cottontop, The Dust of Davy Crockett, Silverado, Louisiana Angel, Lone Star, Comanche Moon, Who the Woz Was, Justice.
This is just me and my guitar although Lone Star has a lovely chorus by Rob Lamothe and Lisa Winn.
Rob Lamothe engineered at his house in Hamilton.
The CD was mastered by David Bradstreet.
The song "Justice" was included in the compilation titled "Tears of a Thousand Years".
Steve Wozniak, the hero of "Who the Woz Was" heard the tune and said it sounded accurate to him.
In 2004 I performed several shows with "GeezerPalooza" consisting of Nancy Simmonds, Brent Titcomb, David Woodhead, David Bradstreet. These were hilarious shows and the music was strong - too bad that no commercial releases came out of this although one show was recorded in all its glory. It is a fun recording.
Boston's Patio Records approached me this summer with the idea of releasing a retrospective CD. Further discussion revealed that four of the unreleased cuts from Smoke Road could be combined with five new cuts and a live version of Black Eyed Susan from Hugh's Room in Toronto and we could have a new up to date release!
Ian Tamblyn produced five new songs in James Stephen's Chelsea Québec studio (five minutes from my house). Local chanteuse Anouk Grégoire joined Alan Marsden on guitar and Alvaro de Manaya and Phil Bova on drums and we cooked some new turkeys and added them to the mix!
Cuts include: (Long Way From) Thunder Road, Bluebird, The Trembling Bird, Cottontop, Letter To Marie, The Silver Tongue of Acadie, Arthur's Chair, Boots & Saddles (full band version), Black eyed Susan (Live), Trembling Bird Reprise, Heaven Only Knows (Jeffra vocal).
Many thanks to the angels over the years: Peter Boshart, Eric Collins, Walter Grasser, Annie & Carl Grindstaff particularly.
I continue to write and record.