|Photo by John Radcliff|
I was one of the early habitues of Grossman's I became great friends with Al
and he let me make and sell my Grossman's Tshirts (I made up to $300 a week off them)
One of the first articles Richard Flohill wrote was for the Toronto Star Weekend. It was about Grossman's but he interviewed me so it ended up mostly about me and my Tshirt etc.
I dont really remember when Downchild showed up, It seems like they were always there.
They were a fun band to know and hang with and Donnie would play anything you wanted for a shot of Jameson's Scotch.
I organized a small baseball league Grossman's, Pilot, Paramount, Vagabonds and anybody else that would play us. I did this for fun and to sell T-shirts. This was the 60's and I umpired in a dashiki and wearing a Fez.I usually smoked quite a bit of reefer before the game to keep me calm and slow the ball down. I remember Donnie sitting in the outfield with a dixie cup full of jamisons. "Pop Up! Donnie someone yells" he carefully plants his drink and lurches to feet slipping and sliding in his leather soled cowboy boots looking for his mitt. Somebody retrieved the ball and he sat down again. It was not unusal to have Kid Bastien's marching band take the field in between innings. I remember Donnie playing at Krash's studio for the season baseball party until his fingers were bleeding.
My friend Hodge had a corn roast every year at his place in Whitby every year.So for fun I decided to turn it into a pop festival to surprise him. He was building a large trimaran in a barn and was surrounded by a hundred acres of Libby's cornfields. I got 3 bands, Downchilds, Kid Bastien and 'The Lubor K Zinc band. I had posters and invitations printed and on the Friday afternoon of the corn roast I rented a truck and loaded up the bands and lots of beer and a piano and whatever sound equipment they needed. We had a rollicking ride to Whitby I had no shortage of drugs in those days too. It was a wonder we weren't stopped I am sure they heard us singing long before we got there. Hodge wasn't too surprised as people with campers and tents had started showing up a few days before. I think about 500 people showed up and I was told everybody had a great time but after everything was set up I dropped acid and I really dont remember much after that. It lasted pretty much until Sunday and Hodge wasn' too mad at me except for Krash taking his corvette. He was just thankful nobody burnt the barn down. And I think he got about a hundred dollars when he took the empties back.
I guess we kinda took Downchilds for granted as a good party band and then I walked in to Grossmans one afternoon and they got some black dude playing and singing with them and in few minutes realized it was none othe than Albert King (Wow) I bought him a drink in a rest break (he must of played with them for 4 or 5 hours) "Wow man" he says "These guys are good." We started to realize that maybe we should take these guys seriously.
It was around then the band started playing all over town and it seemed to be a slightly different band every time I saw them.
I got married and moved back to Uxbridge for 3 years. Split with wife came back to T.O. and then went sailing down south for 15 months.
When I came back I opened up a booze can across the street from the Horseshoe. In the early days in a moment of madness I set up drums and a sound system and let musicians play for free beer. I must of been nuts and almost went broke. I remember towards the end of this experiment Roy Buchanan coming in from a ten thousand dollar gig at the Horseshoe. He sees my set up and says "Hey me and the boy's will play for free beer." "I never met a musician that wouldn't,"I said walking away.
Anyway one hot summer night Donnie was jamming about 3 in the morning and it was great unless you were trying to sleep. the windows were open and I bet you could hear them 6 blocks away. I was putting a fan in the window when I look out on the street and see dozens of police cars a Paddy wagon and loads of policemen. Before I could react there came some big knocks at the door. I opened it a crack, a line of policemen filled the stairway led by a large Sergent. Yes I say. "We have a complaint about the noise," He hollers above the band."Just a minute." I say and close the door. I quiet the band and everybody else and close the windows. Back to the door"There you are ." I say and close the door. 3 big knocks and I open it again. The sergeant is bewildered " I have half the police force here." he complains. "So I took care of the noise right?" Anything else"? and closed the door. Donnie and I peeked out the window as the police all talked together in little groups looking up but finally shrugged and drove away. We kept very quiet and I got rid of the setup.
Donnie was a regular at the bar and there was a fad for really hot spicy food at the time and Arturo had given me a jar of really hot peppers, which were really too hot for humans. Donnie of course had to try one and we thought he may never play the harp again.
Then I went sailing in the Bahamas with Mclauchlan for a couple of months over Xmas and January. Now I had a lot of musician friends and I tried desperately to play the guitar. there were no auto tuners back then and I could even tune it. I was hopeless so for Xmas Mclauchlan bought me a huge chromatic harmonica with a slide and everything, it must have cost $500.00. "Anybody can play the harmonica," Murray told me. Except for me, I tried and tried early in the morning after everybody left. But again hopeless.
So this is sitting on the bar one night when Donnie came in. "Whats this ?" I told him. He picks it up and makes a bit of music on it. "Wow he says I always wanted to try one of these lend it to me, I'll bring it back next week." I say sure what the hell and next week he come back and says" Shit i am sorry man but I broke your harp, that slide thing just snapped off and it's no good any more.' I was busy and I just shook my head and told him to forget it. I wasn't going to play it anyway.
So a few months later I see him in a concert somewhere and he has had a special holster made for my harmonica like a pistol with his smaller harmonicas in little holsters like bullets. I was really pissed off, I couldn't get backstage. So I didn't see him for a few years I got out of the bar biz and had some ups and downs and didn't see him until one night on Algonquin Island - I had been living on the island for a while on a friend's sailboat. I just remember it was a great party and talking to Richard Flohil who was managing them. It was not a good time to bring up the harmonica and let it go. I tried may times to catch them in Florida but never did.
Many years later caught him at a cd signing at Grossman's and told him to give me a cd. "Why should I" he scowled. "For the harmonica," I cajoled. " oh yeah" He laughed and shook hands. I just got my latest signed dvd and cd from the band after I told Gary Kendall this story.
I am so pleased and kinda proud to see the band win a Juno. I have always admired Donnie for his talents and his blues integrity and persistence through triumph and tragedy. I hope I can hit him for a bunch more cds.Through Gary Kendall I got their last CD all nicely autographed by the whole Band.