Recollections Of Gord Ward

Cover, Oct 14, 2011

By Sandy Graham

He didn’t have a hit record, he never made the charts, Gord Ward was not a household name. He played the ‘B’ rooms, did the bar circuit, sang some tunes and preached to whoever would listen about music, songs and artists he loved from the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. All the local ‘hitmakers’ knew his name.

Call it nepotism, call it favoritism, call it respect or whatever you want to call it, but as the Editor and co-owner of Cashbox Canada, I decided to give Gord Ward the cover this week. A cover he would never get when he was alive, and sadly won’t get to see  now.  Gord Ward died on Friday, October 7, 2011, succumbing to the cancer he fought so bravely to beat. After a few years with this terrible disease, it finally got him. He was my friend.

Over 30 years ago, I created and owned Toronto’s first nostalgia nightclub, Route 66. We made a club work with a ‘saddle shoe’ string budget, and it was a huge success within its first few days of operation. At the height of disco, we offered music that came from another era, along with staff that danced, sang and dressed the part.

We also hired live music for the 5 nights of the week that we were open; rotating a few house bands like Dick and the Donuts, The Backbeats, Professor Piano and the Rockin’ Deltoids, The Frigidaires, The Bop Cats and Gord Ward and the Recollections. (Gord Ward and the Wardenaires at that time if my old rock ‘n’ roll memory serves me right.)

The first time I met Gord, he was loading in for their first gig with us. In a terse, deep base voice he asked me the basics; where is the power, where can we store stuff, what time are the sets etc. I finally said, “Do you have a problem with me, as you seem to be pretty abrupt with me?” So the 6 foot 4 gentle giant explained “Nope, just heard you were a bitch to work for, so I wanna do it right so the band can play here often.” Thus began a friendship that spanned 3 decades. (I also explained to Gord that being 5 foot nothing and less than a hundred pounds you had to be a bitch or no one would listen to you.)

Gord and his lovely wife, Elizabeth and I stayed friends over the many years. Sharing summer holidays with our kids, going to Santa’s Village in Barrie, birthday parties, sleep overs, christenings and all those other family things people do with their friends who have kids. As the years went by, and our kids grew up, we spent less time together, but always stayed in touch with phone calls and updates. A few years ago, at Christmas time, I wished Gord well, and asked how he felt he was doing with his battle with cancer. “Let’s put it this way, Sand (he never called me Sandy always Sand, one of the few that could get away with that besides my Mum) I have told Elizabeth to keep the receipts for my gifts just in case, so she can take them back.”

The black humour of the Ward man.

Gord was the one who got me to listen to so many original versions of songs I liked. ‘Anna’, the song I thought was a Beatles hit, was really by Arthur Alexander, ‘Sh-Boom’ was really The Chords and not the homogenized version by The Crewcuts. ‘Talk to Me’, a great song by Little Willie John, that became his love anthem to his wife, ‘If I Didn’t Have A Dime’, a rare song by Gene Pitney, ‘Don’t Let Go’ by Roy Hamilton.  Gord also did the best renditions of ‘Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye’ and ‘You Are My Special Angel’ I have ever heard.

NO ONE sang like Gord.

He had his own band Gord Ward and the Recollections, and personally subbed out to play bass for many Elvis tribute bands, Legends, Ronnie and the Corvairs, too many to name a few. He played the oldies but made them refreshing; songs like ‘Rockin’ Little Angel’, ‘Over and Over’, ‘Stagger Lee’ and my personal favourite ‘Wonderful Dream’ by the Majors. As one of his friends said, ‘Gord did everything big. Big man, big voice, big heart.’

His good friend and fellow musician Ron Russell had this to say, “There was no one like him. His haunting delivery of some of the songs he made his own made me wonder why he had no recording contract. It didn't matter. The world missed out because Gord Ward delivered 100% whatever he did and he was happy to do it. He was my good friend. I'm going to miss him.”
So why not give him the cover of Cashbox Canada ? He promoted great unknowns. So maybe an unknown local Toronto guy should have the cover. Cashbox Canada believes in supporting talent that hasn’t quite made it yet. So I gave Gord the cover of a magazine he loved when he was a young man and had all the hopes of an aspiring musician and showman. 

A cover he would never qualify to be on; like so many other great entertainers that didn’t quite make the radar of success. But Gord had success in everything else; great father to his four children, (the late Abigail, Jennifer, Andrea and Elliot) great husband to his wife Elizabeth, loyal friend to us all. And that amazing voice we all loved.

The song my country artist brother, Don, has chosen to sing at his memorial says it all, ‘Go Rest High On The Mountain’ by Vince Gill.

Go rest high on that mountain
Son your work on earth is done
Go to heaven a-shoutin'
Love for the Father and the Son

Oh, how we cried the day you left us
We gathered round your grave to grieve
Wish I could see the angels' faces
When they hear your sweet voice sing

So for those who think this was a personal and not a professional choice for this cover, you are absolutely correct. Music is personal and so was my choice.

Congrats Gordo – you made it to the cover of Cashbox Magazine!

A fundraiser and celebration of Gord Ward’s life is being planned for November. Please email for details.