Proudly Canadian: Scott ‘Professor Piano’ Cushnie

George Scott Cushnie (Professor Piano).jpg

Submitted by Sandy Graham

The late 1970’s in Toronto had so much live music venues it was hard to know which one to go to any night of the week. Edgerton’s, Larry’s Hideaway, Hotel California, The Jarvis House, The Ports of Call, The Limelight, Alistairs all had great bands to enjoy.

This was the time Scott Cushnie and his band of great players Terry Wikins, Bucky Berger, Mitch Lewis all made up a great band called The Rockin’ Deltoids featuring Professor Piano, a name he was given a long time ago because of his incredible knowledge of music, combining jazz standards, original songs, ragtime written before the turn of the century, and the best boogie woogie you could possibly hear comes from those incredible hands on the keys. Later they would add the female vocalists who were aptly called The Honolulu Heartbreakers and the Canadian Aces were ‘born’.)

Cushnie’s musical history is vast, in 1959 he was in the Suedes, a group who often played with Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins. The Suedes had such notables in them as Pete Traynor (of the amp fame name) and another guitar great Robbie Robertson. All of music fans know that Hawkins soon hired Robbie Robertson to be in his Hawks, but one small fact that often goes unnoticed is that he hired and fired Scott Cushnie first. Two Robbie Roberton’s recorded on the ‘Mr. Dynamo’ album were really songs from the Suedes repertoire, both at least partially written by Cushnie. He was understanding about and said ‘I wasn’t around to sign the songs over to the record company but Robbie was. It’s not as if he got any money for them’. A true renaissance man.

Cushnie then spent a few years travelling throughout North America, first with Hawkins and with other names like Jerry Warren and the Tremblers and Barry Darvell of the Blazers. Scott returned to Hawkins in the mid 60’s this time as administration, running Hawkins’ newly formed recording, publishing and management company. His first productions were ‘I Got My Mojo Working’ by Ronnie Hawkins and ‘Fannie Mae’ by Robbie Lane of the Disciples fame. (with Dominic Troiano on guitar) Scott then hooked up with on of Hawk’s acts, The Vendettas, which brought a friendship with Bob Yeomans, the drummer, which led to being in and out of groups together for over thirty years. The end of the 60’s also found Cushnie playing with Hawkins again in a band that included King Biscuit Boy, guitarist John Till (later to play with Janis Joplin) and drummer Larry Atamanuik (Crowbar and Seatrain). He even had some days in the late 70’s touring with heavy metal heroes, Areosmith, the group’s producer Jack Douglas had Scott tour with the group and also play on ‘Toys in the Attic’.

As eclectic as this all was it was not what the boogie woogie man really wanted to do, and his focus was really on roots and old-time music, blues and boogie woogie and ragtime.  And thus was formed the alliance of The Deltoids and the Professor. Their mutual love of having one foot in the old and the other in the 80’s and beyond brought about the Canadian Aces when they added Eileen and Marian Tobin as the oh so aptly named ‘Honolulu Heartbreakers’, who sang everything from show tunes to forties torch singer tunes. It was a beautiful marriage of music and talent. The only CD release they did was Entitled Modern Primitive.

Then came ‘Two Pianos, No Waiting’, 18 songs in total, 6 as duets with Doug (Doctor Music) Riley, and 8 are duets with Joan Besen. (Prairie Oyster). Both busy people, "Doug and Joan did it `cause they both love boogie woogie", says Scott. This was followed by ‘Two Pianos, No Waiting, Vol.2”.

Scott Cushnie continues to play and write music, and really was the ‘Professor’ for so many up and coming talents that had the opportunity to see him perform.  Many an act watched him play and went off and discovered songs by Scott Joplin, Louis Jordan, Little Brother Montgomery, Charles Davenport, Jimm Yancey and so many other great influences that they would never had heard if they had not seen this performer give us his all. The music scene has been a better place because of Scott Cushnie and we thank you for it.

One of their favourite show closers was ‘Bumble Boogie’