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About Crack of Dawn:
"We came out of something that wasn't..."
- Trevor Daley
That may have been the feeling of young West Indian musicians hanging around Yonge St. in the mid-70's, but the scene hadn't been always so in Toronto, or the rest of the country for that matter, when it came to R&B.
In fact a decade earlier, R&B groups accounted for half of the bar bands in Toronto. Back then, Canadian R&B bands were typically mixed, most often featuring black singers with white musicians and playing predominantly the American hits of the day. Montreal had the Apollo, Club 217 and the Esquire Showbar. Halifax had the Arrow Club and Club Unusual. And while other Canadian cities had their own scenes, Toronto was hitting its high water mark with the legendary Club Bluenote, Le Coq D'Or, the Colonial and others along the Yonge Street strip.
By the end of the decade, black R&B artists like Dianne Brooks, Shirley Matthews, Eric Mercury, Jackie Richardson and Shawne & Jay Jackson had crossed over to white audiences, while white singers like David Clayton-Thomas and mixed bands like Motherlode and Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers continued to carry the torch. Even blue-eyed soul bands like Mandala were making it big.
But by the the mid-70's, the font of Toronto R&B music had for the most part run dry. Yonge Street had changed – the clubs had either closed or changed over to discos. In fact, Toronto itself had quietly grown through its own metamorphosis with burgeoning West Indian immigration influencing the very soul of the city.
Two such relatively new West Indian immigrants at the time were guitarist Rupert Harvey and trombonist Trevor Daley. The two had met during a stint in the Toronto band the Cougars, which then featured the legendary Jamaican pianist/songwriter (“Pass the Dutchie”) Jack Mittoo – a new immigrant to Toronto himself.
Daley remembers the tribulations confronting black music in Toronto at the time and the legacy gap between the late 60's and mid-70's: “Back in the '74, the Cougars was just about it. Of course I had heard of Diane Brooks, Jackie Richardson and all those people – they were household names. But black Canadian artists were hard to find with the clubs having reverted back to booking American R&B acts by then.”
Daley and Harvey decided to strike out on their own, along with another Cougar member – saxophonist Alvin Jones. And here is where the distinctly Canadian cultural mix that would epitomize Crack of Dawn began to simmer. Alvin had immigrated with his family at an early age and culturally was as Canadian as anyone born in the country. The group then added Mark Smith, a bassist actually born in Canada. And trumpet player Dwight Gabriel, along with his sister Jackie Gabriel on vocals, came next. The two were from Springhill, Nova Scotia, a community with deep Afro-Canadian roots. With Carl Otway – a recent immigrant from Grenada – then coming in on drums, one might think the cultural balance would have then shifted more towards the Caribbean, and most likely to reggae with the band's strong Jamaican contingent. But there was a powerful eighth member of the group who was never to appear on stage – Jackie and Dwight's brother Grant, also from Nova Scotia. Known to his friends as Abe Black, Grant became the group's mentor, allowing them to rehearse in his basement while he provided direction and shaped the sound. With his Nova Scotian roots, Grant moved the group more in a North American direction. But with three of the original members being recent immigrants, the group naturally evolved as an essentially Canadian experience.
With rehearsals in Grant's basement regularly running until the sun came up, Alvin suggested the band be called Crack of Dawn, the time of day when they hit their mark and accomplished night's objective. As the band began to make their way through what was left of the Toronto club scene, Rupert brought his older brother Carl into the group as lead guitarist. Around that time, another major shift occurred with Jackie leaving the band and singer Glen Ricketts replacing her. Ricketts had immigrated to Canada in 1969 but had returned to his native Jamaica to pursue a successful music career before returning to Toronto.
At this point, the classic Crack of Dawn was formed, melding their wide cultural influences with principle songwriting from Ricketts and the Harvey brothers. And within a year, history was made by way of a recording contract with Columbia Records in 1975, thus distinguishing Crack of Dawn as the first black band to be signed by a major record company in Canada and so paving the way for generations of Canadian R&B and reggae musicians in the future.
Crack of Dawn's self-titled album was released in 1976 and met with instant success. With radio embracing a long succession of singles that included “It's Alright (This Feeling)”, “Keep The Faith” and “The Key”, touring became intense. Having added keyboards from label-mate Dwayne Ford in the studio, the band brought in Jacek Sobotta to round out the sound on the road. Bassist Mark Smith then left the band and was briefly replaced by Keith Jones, with Andre King (originally from Trinidad) permanently holding down the bottom thereafter.
After a year of criss-crossing the country from Vancouver to Halifax, Crack of Dawn sadly decided to call it a day, citing the old affliction of musical differences that plague so many bands. Everyone then went their separate ways, with most staying in music: Ricketts moved back to Jamaica and began a successful solo career; Rupert Harvey went on to form the successful reggae act Messenjah; the two Carl's became independent producers, with Harvey producing most of Messenjah's albums and the hit single "Hands Up" by Sway, as well as playing lead guitarist for Toots And The Maytals for more than 25 years; King continued as a musician and then taught music at York University; Jones became a successful investment adviser; Daley set up a management company to handle the careers of Messenjah and several others; and Dwight Gabriel sadly passed away after years as a successful studio musician.
In 1986, Crack of Dawn reunited for two weeks at the Bluenote. But it was interest from fans who remembered the old days, reflecting on the band's contribution to black music in Canada, that brought them back together again in 2012. And so here they are now, older and wiser after thirty-eight years since they first came together – Crack of Dawn, pioneers in the dawn of funk music in Canada and hotter than ever.
Crack of Dawn is:
Alexis Baro (trumpet)
Eddie Bullen (keyboards)
Trevor Daley (trombone)
Carl Harvey (guitar)
Rupert Harvey (rhythm guitar)
Alvin Jones (saxophone, flute)
Andre King (bass)
Carlos Morgan (vocals
Carl Otway (drums)
Glenn Ricketts (vocals)