The Many Minds of Gowan

Cashbox Canada GOWAN

Main Photo Credit: Ash Newell Photography
Secondary Photo Credit: Richard Beland
Submitted by Sandy Graham

Lawrence, Larry, Gowan, Styx vocalist/band member – all the same person, all talented in so many ways. The first thing you notice when talking to Gowan is he has an incredible wit about him. Fast on his feet in not just his stage moves but the way his brain thinks. The other thing is how he knows the difference between Larry; the family man, singer/songwriter, the Glaswegian/Scarborough east end guy as opposed to GOWAN the product -  the artist who came about in the 80’s with ‘Strange Animal’ and ‘A Criminal Mind’. A man who is comfortable in his own ever-evolving skin or as his song says finally ‘Dancing On My Own Ground’.

Born in Scotland, Lawrence Gowan was one of the diaspora who came to Canada with his family in the ‘50’s. With his typical Celt humour he quips “Without my consent, as a child I was brought to the tropic of Canada and settled among the unparalleled beauty of Scarborough. My marks in high-school were of a caliber that left me no option but to pursue the occupation of rock star.”

Gowan tells of his early piano lessons, the family did not have a piano but he learned to play on the traditional, at the time, cardboard keyboard, then got to try out his studies when he went to his piano teacher and his lessons. After two years, his father finally bought a piano, and the young Lawrence was amazed to find out his own father could actually play as well. “I was in another room and heard someone playing and when I went to look it was my Dad. I was hooked on piano and played constantly. Soon thereafter at the age of 19, my skills at the piano were rewarded with an ARCT in Performance from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.”

A Young GowanA Young GowanSomehow the world of rock was more appealing to the young Scottish lad and in High School Rhinegold was formed; lasting five years and finally disbanding in 1981. But not before they had a small local success in the Canadian market, playing all over Ontario and gaining fans in Quebec and the Maritimes. “I practiced the workload and discipline of being at the Conservatory. That is where I learned about the work ethic and balance that I would practice the rest of my life.”

With some musical interludes in between the next step would be the dawning of a new age with the launch of MTV and in Canada MuchMusic. “Just as I was down to my last name, my antics were captured in a new medium known as the "Music Video" and the 80's rejoiced and took me to its bosom. There I was nurtured and awarded with Juno's and Platinums and ample parking spaces.” He began what was to become a successful solo career under the stage name GOWAN, releasing his first album under that name in 1982, which was produced by Rob Freeman and featured Kim Mitchell of Max Webster on guitar. This album contained the singles "Victory", "Give In" and "Keep Up the Fight". His 1985 album Strange Animal was his commercial breakthrough in Canada, produced by British producer David Tickle and featuring a more 'theatrical' Gowan, backed by Peter Gabriel's rhythm section players Tony Levin and Jerry Marotta. The album spawned the hit singles "A Criminal Mind", "(You're a) Strange Animal", "Guerrilla Soldier" and "Cosmetics".

The BeatlesIn 1984, Gowan travelled to England, to record in the famous Tittenhurst Park in Ascot; that was originally owned by John Lennon, where John wrote and recorded “Imagine”. “It was surreal; when we got to the door Ringo (Starr) answered and said “Hello, I hope you’re good.” It was a turning point for me as I was back the U.K. and recording in this legendary studio.”Although the studio itself was a “home studio” (probably one of the first in existence) it was an incredible place to record. I’d seen the “Imagine” video many times and recognized the grounds the moment we arrived. The house was a large sprawling English Manor on seventy acres and was the site of the last photo session ever for The Beatles. Ringo, who lived there after John left for America, would occasionally pop into the studio (which was next to the kitchen) and make some encouraging comments on the songs. He was great, off course, and the whole experience was fantastic."

“Cosmetics” was one song I particularly recall him commenting on favourably. That’s why we chose to open the album with it. I left there nearly six months later in June 1984 with a sense of confidence that the album would find a receptive audience. But the release of the record was pushed back to January of 1985 because CBS wanted to set it up with some clever promotion angles that would take some extra time to prepare. So, during that last half of 1984 I played piano and sang with Ronnie Hawkins. That was tons of fun and I even got to backup Bo Diddley for a week at the Imperial Room. However, most of that last six months of ‘84 I spent working closely with Rob Quartly planning and making a video that also featured some cool animation. That video was “A Criminal Mind” and it won the Juno for 1985. My “Strange Animal” era had arrived in all its 80’s glory."

Gowan got to perform with the Rock ‘n’ Roll icon, Ronnie Hawkins again at his 60th Birthday celebration and concert at Massey Hall in Toronto, Canada. The concert took place on January 8, 1995 and featured performances by Hawkins, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Band and Lawrence Gowan. Jeff Healy sat in on guitar for most, if not all, of the performances. Hawkins' band, The Hawks, or permutations of it, backed most, if not all, of the acts. All of the musicians performing that night were collectively dubbed "The Rock ‘N’ Roll Orchestra". The concert is among the last recorded of both Perkins and  Rick Danko of The Band (brother Terry Danko was also in the line-up) and was immortalized on the Juno Award-nominated album, “Let It Rock”.

Gowan Photo Credit Richard BelandGowan Photo Credit Richard BelandHis 1987 follow up Great Dirty World gave him another hit single with "Moonlight Desires," featuring Jon Anderson (from Yes) on backing vocals as well as the fan favourite "Dedication". “Alas, as that truly magnificent decade drew to a close I bid a tearful farewell to my mullet and set off for Larry-land 90's style, strumming an acoustic guitar and seeking gold once again.”

1990's “Lost Brotherhood” had a harder rock sound, and featured such players as Red Rider member Ken Greer, former Coney Hatch guitarist Steve Shelski and Rush's Alex Lifeson. It produced the singles "Lost Brotherhood", "All the Lovers in the World", and "Out of a Deeper Hunger". This was Gowan's first album for Anthem Records and his first US release.

In 1993 He released the more acoustic, adult contemporary...but you can call me Larry under his full name, returning to the Canadian pop charts with "When There's Time for Love", "Soul's Road" and "Dancing on My Own Ground". He subsequently released The Good Catches Up in 1995, which featured two videos for I’ll Be There In A Minute” and the title track. Also the single "Guns and God”

In 1997, Gowan released two live CDs: Sololive - No Kilt Tonight containing a rendition of Ragtime's classic "King Chanticleer Rag", and Au Québec with a cover of Harmonium's "Pour un instant" as well as his first composition in French, "Stéphanie", for his fan base in Quebec. He did a UN tour in Israel, Egypt and Bosnia at the end of ’96 and in 1997 toured extensively throughout the UK, most notably as an opening act for The Stranglers. Gowan’s Greatest Hits album was released that summer.

Added to that album in 1997, was "Healing Waters" as a tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales after her death. "Healing Waters" was officially an unreleased song from Gowan, though it was used in its original form, in the 1995 Jeff Wincott movie, When the Bullet Hits the Bone.

Quebec holds a special place in Gowan’s heart -in 1997 Gowan performed as a supporting act for Styx at Montreal's Molson Centre and Quebec City's Colisée. During the show I noticed a couple of Styx men standing side stage. I guess it was the fact that there was just me solo out there – and a crowd of Quebec fans singing along with the choruses. That crowd was loud!”

Fate would have it that Styx drummer Todd Sucherman and Gowan would meet up again in England the following year, where Gowan performed Healing Waters with the BBC Orchestra for the opening of Princess Diana’s memorial at her home at Althorp in 1998. (Also featured on that show were Duran Duran and Sir Cliff Richard)   Not long after Tommy Shaw and James Young called him and flew him to the U.S. for the life changing meeting that had the Toronto artist joining Styx. “It never felt like I was being asked to “replace” Dennis De Young. I don’t feel that anyone ever “replaces” a member of any band. They found themselves at a difficult crossroads in 1999 and were in need of someone to extend the life of the band. They thought that I could help them do that. I just brought some new blood into the band somewhat like Tommy Shaw did when he joined in 1975, after their Equinox album. I’m respectful of the history of Styx and they are respectful of my Gowan years. In fact the first song we rehearsed together was A Criminal Mind. For the past fourteen years and counting I love being in Styx.”

Gowan at Fallsview 2012Gowan at Fallsview 2012With Juno Nominations ranging from 1983 through 1991, winning in 1985 "Best Video" for "A Criminal Mind" with director Rob Quartly Animation & Direction by Greg Duffell / Lightbox Studios as well as Best Album Graphics" for Strange Animal (awarded to designers Rob MacIntyre and Dimo Safari), Gowan is still recording and is currently in the studio working on a Music conceptual piece that he is looking forward to completing in the very near future. “This is another challenge for me and has been many years in the making. I don’t want to say much about it at present other than it’s going to be fun.”

With a grueling schedule of almost half the year on the road with Styx, Lawrence Gowan gives a rigorous performance every time he hits the stage. “I always want to give the audience the best of what I’ve got. If I don’t throw myself into it to the point of physical exhaustion I feel like I have shortchanged them. Once I am up there my adrenalin and the crowd take over and I am a 15 year old again. At least in my mind I am. All the little aches and pains quickly dissolve.”

Gowan still performs solo as well. Between 2010 and 2012 he has played seven sold out shows at Fallsview in Niagara Falls and his concert ‘In Kilt Tonight’ at Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto on October 13, 2013 is sold out. “It is a solo concert that has all the proceeds going to McDermott House, the great charity my friend John McDermott started to support veteran’s causes. This time I will be ‘kilted up’ and going highland for my stage clothes. I will still be doing all the Gowan hits and all for a great cause.”

One of Canada’s treasures, Lawrence Gowan has one of those rare charismatic artists who attract people of all ages, all the while being gracious and sharing himself with his fans. Truly an indefatigable personality, both on and off stage, Gowan is the one to watch out for next time he rolls into a town near you.

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