Proudly Canadian: David Wiffen

David Wiffen 1970's UA Promo Shot.jpg

Submitted by Cashbox Canada
Source: Rock Pop & Folk Music Rick James
Photo: David Wiffen 1970's UA Promo Shot

Born in England in 1942, singer/songwriter David Wiffen came to Canada when he was a teenager. He began his singing career at the folk club The Village Corner on Pears Avenue in Toronto, Canada. He later hitchhiked across Canada and ended up in Calgary where he briefly managed The Depression Coffeehouse.

In 1965, he was invited to play with other artists at the Bunkhouse folk house in Vancouver, for a session that was also going to be recorded for an album. David was the only one who showed up. The recording session ended up being a solo album called ‘David Wiffen Live at the Bunkhouse’. He then played with The Pacers from Northern British Columbia and when they were offered a record deal in Montreal, Quebec, David Wiffen followed them east. The record deal, however, fell through and he then went to Ottawa, where he joined one of the first Canadian folk/rock bands, The Children, composed of Bill Hawkins, Bruce Cockburn, ‘Sneezy’ Waters, Neville Wells, Sandy Crawley and Richard Patterson. (formerly of The Esquires)

Later in 1966, the Vancouver folk trio, Three’s a Crowd, played at the Le Hibou Coffee House. During their visit, they met David Wiffen, who they them from his days as the manager of The Depression in Calgary. They asked Wiffen to join as lead male vocalist and guitarist. In addition to him, they added Catherine Smith on bass and Richard Patterson on drums. When Three’s a Crowd played at The Bitter End in New York, Wiffen was spotted by a talent scout and signed to a talent contract with Fantasy Records. His self-titled album came out in 1971, produced two hits singles, ‘Two Step’ and ‘More Often Than Not’, which has been recorded by many artists, including Ian and Sylvia as well as Jerry Jeff Walker, Eric Anderson and Bill Hughes.

In 1973, United Artists released Wiffens’ album, ‘Coast to Coast Fever’, which was nominated for a Juno, although it was not a commercial success.

While recovering from a back injury, he found an artistic outlet in painting, sculpture and poetry. Two volumes of his poetry and other writings have been published. In 1991, David created a series of paintings called Vernissage.

In January 2015, there were rediscovered songs were written between 1973 and the mid-1980s. At least two, including the soaring California Song and Rocking Chair World, were penned during a fertile period around the time Coast to Coast Fever came out, when the record company invited Wiffen to California. The plan was for a week-long visit but Wiffen stayed on to house-sit for his A&R rep and get some songwriting done. He hadn’t brought a guitar so he borrowed one from Spencer Davis.

“The album was out and I just wanted to go for the next one,” he recalls. “That was the idea, you just keep on bringing them out. Which I didn’t.”

“It was a bit of a shock,” says David Wiffen, the reclusive folksinging legend who’s made Ottawa his home since the 1960s. “As my friend (singer-songwriter) Brent Titcomb said, ‘wondrous yet terrifying.’ I never thought they’d see the light of day if I wasn’t singing them on stage.”

The lost recordings are now available on CD, appropriately titled Songs From the Lost and Found. Wiffen’s first release since 1999’s South of Somewhere, it’s full of evocative compositions, most written after the release of his seminal 1973 album, Coast to Coast Fever. Captured at his peak, Wiffen’s voice is rich, resonant and warm, and the backing musicians play with an understated hand that highlights the lyrics. Close friends describe the remarkable new album as the missing link in Wiffen’s recording career, the one that should have followed Coast.

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