Past Present and Future for Crack of Dawn

Crack of Dawn.jpg

Submitted by Michael E. Williams

In 1974, upon arriving in Montreal from Cleveland, I immediately sought out the soul music and music with soul. I found it in Montreal clubs and discos like Rockhead's Paradise, In Concert, and The Esquire Show Bar.

In the same year, CBS Records Canada headhunted producer Bob Gallo to become head of A&R. A musician, arranger and composer himself, Bob was impressive in his ability to spot and nurture talent. He wrote for and produced such legends as Otis Redding, James Brown, Ben E. King, Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin, Big Mabel, The Rascals, The Drifters and Bo Diddley.

Bob Gallo was the right man for the job to beef up Canada’s soul music scene by signing Crack of Dawn, as the first Canadian Black Band to be signed to a major record deal.

In 1975, they released a well-received single produced by Bob Gallo, a song originally meant for Otis Redding called “The Key”. It was followed by “It’s Alright Feel that Feeling” and the album “Crack of Dawn”. The band broke up in 1977, reformed in 1981 for “Horizons” under Dwight Gabriel. Different band but great record and songs.

I stayed in contact with Glen Ricketts, the Harvey Brothers, and Trevor Daley always bugging them through the years about a Crack of Dawn Reunion. This Canada Day I got my wish. I was asked to host their reunion shows at Ontario Place and the Phoenix Club. I was honoured! The band was great, with Michael Dunston on vocals replacing Glen Ricketts.

The day before the show I spoke with Crack of Dawn, Trombonist and original member, Trevor Daley about all things past, present and future for Crack of Dawn.

Trevor Daley:
We started with Rupert, myself (Trevor Daley), Carl Otway Alvin Jones and Dwight Gabriel who brought his brother Abe in as our manager. Abe brought in his sister Jackie Gabriel as lead vocalist. Later we got Glen Ricketts from Kitchener.
We rehearsed in a basement and the agents were telling us to be a cover band but we did original material. We would play the Le Coq d'Or and held the attendance records at Ontario Place. We played the Brass Rail and got fired for playing all original material. Then when we did our record launch there they asked us to stay and we said “no you fired us!“ 

Our Manager at the time, Shane Bennett, got us some attention at Columbia Records. Bob Gallo signed us and came in as producer and watered down the original material which was cold hard funk. Most of our original songs got thrown out. He brought us a song by Chuck Jackson “It’s Alright”, a song by Crowbar called ”Oh What a Feeling” which had been a hit in 1971, and a song that was written for Otis Redding but never recorded called “The Key”. It all went well for a while. We were on tour with Tina Charles and we were blowing her away every night.

Then a Columbia Records Rep was overheard saying that, “they sound too much like Earth, Wind and Fire; we are going to have to do something about this”. When I heard this, I went back to the band and said we should jump ship for Warner’s. They had shown interest but Columbia would not release us. After the tour, Columbia asked if Glen wanted a solo deal, as the Glen Ricketts band Crack of Dawn, minus the horn section. I quit!

MW:
I remember in 1976 there was a single Crack of Dawn on the B-side and Glen Ricketts on the A side. The track was “Booby Ruby”.
TD: 
That was during the transition. We all left. Glen Ricketts and I never talked about this but his deal fell apart after he recorded half an album.

MW:
What was special about Glen Rickett’s voice?
TD:
At the time there was nobody comparable to Glen’. He played everything including violin. I have never performed with another vocalist as great as Glen Ricketts really is. Donny Hathaway was his hero. You can hear Glen Ricketts in the voice of his son Glen Lewis.

MW:
What were the obstacles of being a Funk band in Canada at that time? 
TD:
A lack of radio and media attention no matter what the accomplishments, same as now! 
We were doing sold out dates across Canada, drawing better than the headliners, yet they always wanted to us to come play for club prices.

MW:
Funny, I was at Loyola College in Montreal booking bands for Orientation week and wanted to book Crack of Dawn. The agent gave us Sweet Blindness. 
TD:
They were friends of ours playing the same venues but we were selling them out. They were not getting the same crowds we were getting. They were more of a disco thing whereas we were more of a straight funk band.

MW:
With 3 radio singles, sold out club and concert dates across Canada, at what point did you realize it had nothing to do with music?
TD:
From the beginning before we even started.
(Laughter ensues)
TD:
We knew what the obstacles were going to be. Rupert and I came out of a group called Cougars. Jay Douglas started it up as cover band so we had done that and where we wanted to go was uncharted territory.

MW:
Funk the Final frontier! 
Was Rick James around then? 
TD:
We shared a sound man. He was with the Mynah Birds in Yorkville. Lots of American bands would come in and we played with some of them and were the backing band for  Arthur Conley (“Sweet Soul Music”) who was Otis Redding’s nephew.

MW:
Eric Mercury told me how important that was to be around these elder statesmen of soul. Why?
TD:
It was eye opening musically. During the on the road experiences we’d sit and talk to them about everything from Otis Redding to Wilson Pickett. In the States they would play to predominantly Black audiences and in Black Clubs. In Canada it was mixed crowds. We were not sure if we wanted to go to the States after listening to these guys’ experiences. But from a musical standpoint you knew that is where you wanted to be!
When I was in Jamaica I never played in a “Reggae Band”!
We all grew up in the Funk. The only time you got Black music here was in the clubs with the bands coming over from Buffalo. That music was what we all wanted to do. There were no local bands playing Funk. It was not a conscious thing that we were not going to play reggae we just loved” Funk!”