Crack Of Dawn
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Crack Of Dawn

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 1974 | INDIE

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | INDIE
Established on Jan, 1974
Band R&B Soul

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"Crack of Dawn's new day rising"

THU JUN 28, 2012
MUSIC
Crack of Dawn’s new day rising
As Toronto’s R&B scene goes global, this Canada Day provides a rare opportunity to see a band that helped laid the foundation nearly 40 years ago.
BY: DAVID DACKS
As befits their name, Toronto soul/funk phenomenon Crack Of Dawn has had a Janus-like history that draws from the past while looking to the future. They’re a perfect fit for Canada Day—a Janus holiday in July—at Harbourfront.
In 1975, Crack of Dawn became the first black Canadian band to sign with a major label—and, in doing so, they became the last, most successful product of the soon-to-be-extinct Yonge Street soul scene. But their own demise a few years later seeded Canadian music with multi-faceted talent.
Trevor Daley was/is the band’s trombonist but has spent most of the past several decades as a manager. For him, it’s no surprise things have come together again.
“Everyone realizes that the most important thing is the Crack of Dawn” he reflects. “It’s funny how it’s gotten this way and come full circle.”
The band evolved in part from The Cougars, a band of soulful expat Jamaicans (chronicled on the essential Jamaica to Toronto series from a few years ago). The Cougars stood apart from most of their contemporaries on the waning Toronto R&B scene who tended be comprised of white personnel fronted by black singers doing covers. With Toronto reggae icon Jackie Mittoo in the band, The Cougars mixed original material with fresh approaches to cover versions.



“They broke the mold,” Daley remembers. “They opened up the marketplace which Crack of Dawn went [down] a bit further”.
Crack of Dawn dawned in 1975. Daley and guitarist Rupert Harvey decided to further their funky tendencies and put together a project focussed on recording as much as performing. A nine-member combination of Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Grenadans, and Haligonians took a mixed bag of influences and honed them into up-to-the minute funk.
“We really don’t know why we ended up like that—why we didn’t do more Caribbean music with members from Trinidad, Jamaica and Grenada,” Daley says. “We were more influenced by the R&B sound and our singer Glen Ricketts was, too, more than reggae.” Perhaps there’s a bubbling reggae feel to the organ part in one of their signature songs “It’s Alright (This Feeling),” but mostly it’s about the Hustle.



Daley says that, once their management sought out reps from Columbia/CBS Records, the label eagerly pursued them. Considering how hard it was for The Cougars to break into Yonge Street clubs less than a decade earlier, this history-making record deal seems to have come about surprisingly easily.
Crack of Dawn only released one album for Columbia, but these were golden years. With a major label behind them, they embarked on the quintessential Canadian rite of musical passage: the cross-country tour.
“The [audiences] got it in Toronto, but I didn’t think the rest of the country would,” Daley recounts. “We went to Calgary; we didn’t really want to go. But we got there and it was widely appreciated so we were kind of surprised. Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, all across the country. We were doing a lot of colleges and universities. We were doing well.”
After a couple of jaunts across the country strained by increasingly different musical viewpoints on the tour bus, things started to unravel. Changing tastes also played a role.
“We were playing in Montréal in Place Des Arts and we were opening for Tina Charles. [Writer's note: Stop what you’re doing and listen to this.] The record company was so much into Tina Charles, they came to see her and they saw us. I overheard one of the record execs say we were too much like Earth Wind & Fire. If we were going to be on the same label [as them], we should cut it down. The horn section was the first to say, ‘Let’s get out of here.’ The rhythm section stayed for a little bit then they left, too”.
Fortunately, given how these tales often go, people landed on their feet career-wise. Ricketts became “the Al Green of Jamaica” and fathered Toronto soul star Glenn Lewis. Rupert Harvey went on to form one of Canada’s most important reggae bands, Messenjah. His brother and fellow Crack of Dawn member Carl Harvey produced Messenjah and Sway, as well as playing guitar for Toots & The Maytals for more than 25 years. Drummer Carl Otway also turned to production.
Everyone stayed in touch. Now, in spite of earlier revivals in the ’80s and ’90s, the time feels right for a reunion.
“We were in the same place at the same time,” Daley explains. “We said, ‘Why would we do this again?’ We started off like, ‘Yeah right, sure’… and then it got serious. It’s getting better and better every rehearsal. Last night, we said, ‘Wow this was awesome.’ It’s like we never quit.”
Canada Day will be your only chance to see Crack of Dawn live for quite some time, as they haven’t planned any more shows over the summer. They are recording, though. Given the strength of - The Grid


"Crack of Dawn, Canada’s R&B pioneers, shine once more"

By: Ashante Infantry Toronto Star, Published on Thu Oct 11 2012
Pioneer isn’t a label to be employed casually in music, but Canadian R&B outfit Crack of Dawn has earned the right.
The group, which reunited this summer nearly 35 years after disbanding, is acknowledged as the country’s “first black band signed to a major record company.” A performance at the Phoenix this Friday, Oct. 12 marks their third gig since reassembling at Harbourfront Centre this summer.
Their 1976 self-titled debut yielded the hits “It’s Alright (This Feeling),” “Keep the Faith” and “The Key” and brought a complement of ace musicians to the fore and “we’ve maintained a strong friendship over the years,” said rhythm guitarist Rupert Harvey who co-founded the group. He’s among the original members — guitarist Carl Harvey, drummer Carl Ottway, saxist Alvin Jones, trombonist Trevor Daley — in the current configuration, alongside singer Michael Dunston and keyboardist Eddie Bullen.
Singer Glenn Ricketts, the voice of the Crack of Dawn’s debut (and father of contemporary balladeer Glenn Lewis), attended early rehearsals but hasn’t been able to get away from obligations in Jamaica, where he now lives, for the shows.
The demise of the band was rooted in Columbia Records executives’ machinations with Ricketts, the group’s dominant songwriter, said Harvey.
“We were young guys, we were on top of the world — five-star hotels, limos — but there were a lot of us and a lot of internal politics going on,” he recalled.
“The record label was pulling Glenn to become a solo artist and wanted to change us from being a horn band to being a rhythm section and that caused a lot of friction. We decided that we weren’t going to listen to the label, so we left and he stayed with the label. But he ended up walking away before his solo album was completed.
“We played independently for awhile and then kind of fizzled out. Just before the band broke up we’d been contacted by Bob Marley’s management to open for him on a three-month tour of Europe.”
Harvey remembers the excitement of Crack of Dawn’s national treks.
“We performed on some of the most beautiful concert stages in the country and went to places where they never saw people like us before — an all black band. The first time we played in Saskatoon I remember walking back to the hotel early in the morning and a van came up beside us really slowly. This guy looked at us and said ‘Howdy, never seen one of you guys before, only on TV.’ It was friendly but strange.
“I remember pulling into Edmonton and seeing thousands of people waiting for us, and all these girls screaming. We were shocked that all those people were there for us.”
The band had been scouted on the strength of their popularity in Toronto clubs.
“The person that they sent from New York: Bob Gallo, producer for Otis Redding, did a little song called ‘(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay.’ For us kids to be working with this guy was unbelievable.”
Those were instructive experiences for several members who went on to stellar careers.
Harvey co-founded Juno-award winning reggae band Messenjah. His brother Carl, older by a year, is a noted producer and longtime lead guitarist with Toots & the Maytals. Jones and Daley shared their horn expertise with the likes of veteran reggae group Third World.
Crack of Dawn remains a rare Canadian R&B band in terms of recognition and airplay.
Fans can expect to hear album cuts, covers and new originals that may appear on a planned recording at the Phoenix show.
“Harbourfront went great,” said Harvey. “We couldn’t believe how good we sounded still. We have tons of material. We’re going into the studio after this show. Independent; no more big labels.” - Toronto Star


"Crack of Dawn - Big City Small World - CBC Player"

Click on the Review URL and listen to the CBC show "Big City Small World" interview with Crack of Dawn Founding members Rupert Harvey and Alvin Jones about their part in Canadian music history with CBC host Garvia Bailey. - CBC Canada


"Past Present and Future for Crack of Dawn"

Submitted by Michael E. Williams

In 1974, upon arriving in Montreal from Cleveland, I immediately sought out the soul music and music with soul. I found it in Montreal clubs and discos like Rockhead's Paradise, In Concert, and The Esquire Show Bar.

In the same year, CBS Records Canada headhunted producer Bob Gallo to become head of A&R. A musician, arranger and composer himself, Bob was impressive in his ability to spot and nurture talent. He wrote for and produced such legends as Otis Redding, James Brown, Ben E. King, Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin, Big Mabel, The Rascals, The Drifters and Bo Diddley.

Bob Gallo was the right man for the job to beef up Canada’s soul music scene by signing Crack of Dawn, as the first Canadian Black Band to be signed to a major record deal.

In 1975, they released a well-received single produced by Bob Gallo, a song originally meant for Otis Redding called “The Key”. It was followed by “It’s Alright Feel that Feeling” and the album “Crack of Dawn”. The band broke up in 1977, reformed in 1981 for “Horizons” under Dwight Gabriel. Different band but great record and songs.

I stayed in contact with Glen Ricketts, the Harvey Brothers, and Trevor Daley always bugging them through the years about a Crack of Dawn Reunion. This Canada Day I got my wish. I was asked to host their reunion shows at Ontario Place and the Phoenix Club. I was honoured! The band was great, with Michael Dunston on vocals replacing Glen Ricketts.

The day before the show I spoke with Crack of Dawn, Trombonist and original member, Trevor Daley about all things past, present and future for Crack of Dawn.

Trevor Daley:
We started with Rupert, myself (Trevor Daley), Carl Otway Alvin Jones and Dwight Gabriel who brought his brother Abe in as our manager. Abe brought in his sister Jackie Gabriel as lead vocalist. Later we got Glen Ricketts from Kitchener.
We rehearsed in a basement and the agents were telling us to be a cover band but we did original material. We would play the Le Coq d'Or and held the attendance records at Ontario Place. We played the Brass Rail and got fired for playing all original material. Then when we did our record launch there they asked us to stay and we said “no you fired us!“

Our Manager at the time, Shane Bennett, got us some attention at Columbia Records. Bob Gallo signed us and came in as producer and watered down the original material which was cold hard funk. Most of our original songs got thrown out. He brought us a song by Chuck Jackson “It’s Alright”, a song by Crowbar called ”Oh What a Feeling” which had been a hit in 1971, and a song that was written for Otis Redding but never recorded called “The Key”. It all went well for a while. We were on tour with Tina Charles and we were blowing her away every night.

Then a Columbia Records Rep was overheard saying that, “they sound too much like Earth, Wind and Fire; we are going to have to do something about this”. When I heard this, I went back to the band and said we should jump ship for Warner’s. They had shown interest but Columbia would not release us. After the tour, Columbia asked if Glen wanted a solo deal, as the Glen Ricketts band Crack of Dawn, minus the horn section. I quit!

MW:
I remember in 1976 there was a single Crack of Dawn on the B-side and Glen Ricketts on the A side. The track was “Booby Ruby”.
TD:
That was during the transition. We all left. Glen Ricketts and I never talked about this but his deal fell apart after he recorded half an album.

MW:
What was special about Glen Rickett’s voice?
TD:
At the time there was nobody comparable to Glen’. He played everything including violin. I have never performed with another vocalist as great as Glen Ricketts really is. Donny Hathaway was his hero. You can hear Glen Ricketts in the voice of his son Glen Lewis.

MW:
What were the obstacles of being a Funk band in Canada at that time?
TD:
A lack of radio and media attention no matter what the accomplishments, same as now!
We were doing sold out dates across Canada, drawing better than the headliners, yet they always wanted to us to come play for club prices.

MW:
Funny, I was at Loyola College in Montreal booking bands for Orientation week and wanted to book Crack of Dawn. The agent gave us Sweet Blindness.
TD:
They were friends of ours playing the same venues but we were selling them out. They were not getting the same crowds we were getting. They were more of a disco thing whereas we were more of a straight funk band.

MW:
With 3 radio singles, sold out club and concert dates across Canada, at what point did you realize it had nothing to do with music?
TD:
From the beginning before we even started.
(Laughter ensues)
TD:
We knew what the obstacles were going to be. Rupert and I came out of a group called Cougars. Jay Douglas started it up as cover band so we had done that and where we wanted to go was uncharted territory.

MW:
Funk the Fi - Cashbox Canada Magazine


"Crack of Dawn shines again"

In 1975, Toronto-based funk-R&B ensemble Crack Of Dawn landed a lucrative contract with Columbia Records, making history for being the first black Canadian group to get signed to a major label.

“Columbia was looking for groups in our genre to produce here in Canada,” explains original band member Alvin Jones, who’s now an investment adviser. “Bob Gallo, who worked with Otis Redding and James Brown and Ben E. King, brought our demo to CBS. At that time all the money was with the U.S. majors – that was essentially the Canadian music scene. Aside from a couple of small independent labels, those guys at the majors were footing the bill, so to speak. And the CanCon ruling forced their hand so they had to start working with Canadian talent.”

Crack of Dawn got back together this summer for a spate of shows. In their brief original run, the group put out just a few singles like It’s Alright, and one self-titled LP. But it was the 70s and if you’ve read Nile Rodgers obligingly divulging autobiography you’ll know: the majors were caking. There was enough money for the band to successfully tour Canada multiple times.

“We were surprised by the reception across the country ourselves. We weren’t certain but we were also very young back then,” explains Jones, laughing. “I remember we flew into Edmonton to play a show. We did some publicity for a radio station and went down to the venue – it was a big outdoor field – and when we got there we were shocked: there were maybe five to eight thousand people. We certainly didn’t expect that!” Crack of Dawn also regularly sold out Ontario Place, adds Jones. “We had quite the following back then.”

Since the group’s dismantling, the members have pursued disparate paths, with some remaining professional musicians. Glenn Ricketts went on to a fruitful solo career in Jamaica. (You might recognize his son, the R&B singer Glenn Lewis, who had a brief moment in the late 90s and early 00s). Rupert Harvey formed the Juno Award winning reggae band Messenjah, which was produced by his brother Carl, also an original Crack of Dawn member and a long-time guitarist for Toots & The Maytals.

So why come back together now?

“It felt like this was the right time for a reunion,” says Jones. - NOW Magazine


Discography

Crack Of Dawn

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Bio

In 1975, Toronto-based funk-R&B ensemble Crack Of Dawn landed a lucrative contract with Columbia Records, making history for being the first black Canadian group to get signed to a major label.
Producer “Bob Gallo, who worked with Otis Redding, James Brown and Ben E. King, discovered them at a rehearsal hall and brought their demo to CBS. 

Their success was instant with major tours across Canada, their "Northern Funk" hit the airwaves throughout Canada and the US in the middle of the R&B and Disco era of the 70's with hits such as "It's Alright", "Keep The Faith" and "Boobie Ruby". 

Influences from their Caribbean backgrounds fused with a deep love for Rock, R&B, Funk and Blues gave them a distinctive. With their popularity at the time they toured extensively , hosted a CBC television special with guests La Belle (Patti LaBelle and Nona Hendryx) and shared the stage with many top American acts at the time such as Kool and the Gang.

Eventually the band dismantled with the members pursuing different paths. The lead singer Glenn Ricketts went on to a fruitful solo career in Jamaica and Great Britain. You may recognize his son, the famed R&B singer Glenn Lewis. 

"The Harvey Brothers", both guitarists both made names for themselves in the music industry with Rupert Harvey forming the Juno Award winning reggae band Messenjah and his brother Carl becoming a multi-Juno Award award winning producer and lead guitarist of the legendary Grammy Award winning reggae band "Toots & The Maytals" for over 25 years.

Recently reunited they have been invited to perform at special events and concerts. They will be releasing a CD featuring new originals in 2016.

Band Members