WAYNE McGHIE & the SOUNDS OF JOY Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
A raging fire in a Scarborough record label warehouse made the debut album of Toronto's Wayne McGhie & the Sounds of Joy an instant rarity from the time of its release in 1970, but it was ultimately McGhie's soulful voice and funky-assed jams that recently raised the bidding beyond $500 for what vinyl collectors call the holy grail of Canadian funk. Certainly, the album owes some of its legendary status to the aptly named track Dirty Funk, whose monstrous wide-open drum break has been known to draw gasps of awe from veteran beat-diggers. But there's much more to McGhie's long-lost album than sample fodder, and Light in the Attic's expertly remastered and beautifully packaged CD and 180-gram vinyl LP reissue make that clear.
Taken together, the disc's 10 tracks - ranging from head-nodding covers of Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye and Take A Letter Maria to McGhie's Island-flavoured originals like Cool It and Fire (She Need Water) - offer a snapshot of Toronto's thriving 60s R&B scene, which was enormously enriched by the contributions of the city's Caribbean community.
Talented Jamaican expats like Jackie Mittoo, JoJo Bennett, Jay Douglas, Everton Paul, Lloyd Delpratt and, of course, McGhie took the inspiration of sweaty American soul and sweet Jamaican rock steady and helped create a hip-shaking hybrid sound that was uniquely Toronto.
You can hear it in the music of Frank Motley & the Bridge Crossings, the Hitchhikers, Grant Smith & the Power, the Cougars, and King Herbert & the Knights just as surely as it's there in McGhie's version of the Friends of Distinction's Going In Circles, a title made all the more poignant by McGhie's subsequent travails.
A lack of promotion, radio play and that destructive warehouse fire conspired against McGhie and what appeared to be a promising career. By the late 70s, he was already on the off-ramp to obscurity when the emerging disco craze devastated the live R&B club circuit.
For the past 20 years, McGhie has largely been a forgotten figure seen infrequently wandering the streets muttering to himself.
"Sometime in the early 80s," recalls singer Jay Douglas, who grew up with McGhie in Montego Bay, "I ran into Wayne on St. Clair. At first I wasn't even sure if it was him, because I always knew him to be a sharp dresser.
"We spoke for a short time, and it struck me as being very odd that he didn't want to talk about music. Not one word. He said he wasn't feeling well and was on some medication. I was relieved when he mentioned he was staying with his sister Merline."
It was that tip that helped Douglas track down his old friend when Light in the Attic's Matt Sullivan called looking for help finding McGhie because of his label's plans to reissue the Wayne McGhie & The Sounds Of Joy album.
"Matt said he'd been looking everywhere and talking to everyone to find Wayne without success. He'd just about given up hope of finding him alive, because some people said he must be dead. But I didn't believe that for one second. I thought, 'He's my brother - with God's guidance, I'll find him.' I knew if I could get to Merline, I'd find Wayne."
He was right. McGhie's older sister Merline has been looking after Wayne since she first spotted him walking the streets in the dead of winter without an overcoat.
"Wayne's got a chemical imbalance in his brain and he takes medication for it," explains Merline, "but once he starts feeling better he stops taking his pills and that's when the problems start. But he's doing much better now.
"He's happy that his album's coming out, but he still doesn't seem interested in playing music. When Matt brought him a guitar, he tuned it but wouldn't play it. He just leaves it standing against a wall."
As for Douglas, the whole experience has reaffirmed his faith in a higher power. Even if McGhie doesn't play another note, he's convinced the story will still have a happy ending.
"All of this has happened for a reason," he insists. "Wayne's daughter Marnie saw the NOW Magazine article you wrote about finding Wayne in February, and because of that she was able to get in touch with her father for the first time in 30 years!
"Think of the joy that has been brought to the lives of these people. This can't be an accident."