JAMAICA TO TORONTO featuring JAY DOUGLAS , the MIGHTY POPE and GLENN RICKETTS with DJs SURESHOT , SIPREANO and GOVERNOR GENERAL at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday (March 2). $20. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
When a large group of uniquely talented artists are brought together for any occasion, conflicts are inevitable. And despite what might be said to the press about "checking egos at the door," behind the scenes there are always personality clashes, very often over the most trivial things imaginable - an offhand remark, a perceived slight. We're dealing with terribly sensitive personalities here.
No doubt Jo Jo Bennett felt he had good reason for not joining in the Jamaica To Toronto (Light in the Attic) CD release party at Harbourfront Centre last July, but the trumpeter's absence didn't make the standing-room-only launch any less of a monumental celebration.
Similarly, it would've been wonderful to hear Bob & Wisdom reprise their soulful duet of Mac Davis's I Believe In Music at Lee's Palace Friday (March 2), but their mysterious pullout won't stop the show. Repeated calls made to Jimmy Wisdom to find out why the duo have decided not to appear were not returned, but musical director Jay Douglas knows all too well.
"They have issues," sighs Douglas over the phone. "Bob and Wisdom grew up like brothers in Montego Bay. It's just petty foolishness. One is looking for more attention from the other – that's how it was for years. Things chilled out while they were apart, but since they got together to perform again, the old issues have come back.
"They're both good people, so I refuse to get caught up in this or choose sides. After the concert, the reality of the situation will sink in and they'll come to their senses. I know it. But the show must go on."
Bob & Wisdom's unexpected dropout late last week left Douglas scrambling for a replacement. Since Eddie Spencer's religious beliefs won't allow him to perform secular songs like his dazzling Motown-style burner If This Is Love (I'd Rather Be Lonely) from the Jamaica To Toronto disc, Douglas was forced to go off the disc to find a contemporary from back in the day who'd fit the bill.
He couldn't have made a better choice than former Crack of Dawn singer Glenn Ricketts, who isn't yet ready to accept being known only as the father of contemporary R&B sensation Glenn Lewis.
As it turns out, it was actually Douglas who gave the Jamaica-born and Kitchener-raised Ricketts his first break in the Toronto club scene back when the then 16-year-old singer was fronting a dance group called the Fabulous Flames.
"We were all trying to get a gig at Le Coq d'Or, and at the time the club wasn't booking any local bands," says Douglas. "On Saturdays they would have these open-mic jam sessions, so my band, the Cougars, went to see if we could get onstage. Little Charles and the Sidewinders were playing, and we asked them, 'Please man, give us a chance,' and they let us on when they took a break. We started cookin' with James Brown's Cold Sweat, and the crowd was loving it.
"Then I noticed Glenn and the Flames, so I stepped up to the microphone and said, 'We've got some good friends of mine in the audience – the Fabulous Flames!' So they came up and began singing and dancing. Before their second song, the club owner said he wanted to book the Cougars and the Flames... for the same money.
"Well, the Cougars' leader, Dizzy Barker, nearly kicked me out of the band on the spot, yelling, 'Who gave you the right to bring those guys onstage with us?' But you know, I just did it out of the love in my heart."
That career-making favour isn't something Ricketts will ever forget. It was through the early support of Douglas and the Cougars that the Fabulous Flames established themselves in Toronto before leaving for Jamiaca, where they recorded three singles with producer Clancy Eccles for his Clandisc label, beginning with their rocksteady cover of Neil Diamond's Holly Holy.
It might've been a bigger hit were it not for the fact that all the DJs flipped it to play the B-side, Lord Creator's classic Kingston Town, which years later became a huge seller for UB40, who cut it for 1989's Labour Of Love II (Virgin).
Expect Ricketts to revisit Holly Holy as well as his version of the overlooked Marvin Gaye-penned Originals ballad Baby, I'm For Real, which he was recording in a local studio when he got the call from Douglas requesting his smooth crooning skills for the Jamaica To Toronto show.
The amazing coincidence is not only that it's Douglas, of all people, who is helping Ricketts onto the Toronto stage once again, but also that the song Ricketts sang when Douglas first invited him up on the stage of Le Coq d'Or some 30 years ago was – you guessed it – Baby, I'm For Real.
"It's so strange," cackles Ricketts in disbelief. "My friend Carl Henry called me up saying, 'Do you remember Jay Douglas? He wants to find you real bad.' So I got in touch with Jay and he says, 'Glenn, I want to get you into a show next week,' and I'm thinking, 'Here we go again – the man who gave me my start is starting my career again.'
T. O. Soul MIA
The Jamaica To Toronto CD uncovered some of the great forgotten artists of Toronto's 60s R&B scene, but there are more still missing. Here are a few:
Jackie Shane Flamboyantly cross-dressing soul shouter, who made Little Richard look butch, was last seen in Los Angeles... apparently.
Don Carrington The lounge pianist's lone Paragon album, Makin' It Happen, is on every digger's want list, but it's nearly as tough to spot as the man himself.
Trevor Dandy He recorded the breakbeat-stuffed Don't Cry Little Tree (Zaza Sound) LP and hasn't been seen since.
John "Dizzy" Moore The Skatalites trumpet player had a stint in the Hitchhikers but seems to have vanished without a trace.