Origin: Oshawa, Ontario
Reign Ghost - The First Album
New Reflections by Bob Bryden
I wrote my first complete song in 1967. It was called ‘Standing Room Only, Mr. Mars’ and I composed it on the piano having taken a bitter year of bedgruding lessons on that instrument. Having started in music as a drummer for a band with Jerry Dufek in 1965 called The Outcasts, by 1968 I had decided that what I wanted to do was write songs. I switched to guitar in that year. It’s also a matter of a little pride (and wonder) with me that the very first thing I did on that instrument was write a song. I only knew one chord so I played the A-chord then strummed open and repeated the pattern. That very ‘bit’ became a part of a song called ‘Reaching’ (It’s the ‘Seeking the Ghost of Reign envelops only one sad refrain’ section). So, not only was the first song I wrote on the guitar recorded but the very first thing I ever attempted on the instrument. I’m strangely proud of that fact!
I was living in a small city in Ontario called Oshawa just east of Toronto. There were only three choices in this town. Get out, work for General Motors on the assmbly line or be creative. I had been ‘diagnosed’ as an artist around this time so for me the choice was simple. The world was spinning in cultural, political and spiritual revolution and I knew which side I was on.
The years 1967-1969 were simply incredible to live through. Don’t let anyone kid you, it was truly magic time. The world was in upheaval but also in Renaissance. I don’t want to candy coat it too much. It was also extremely trying and difficult but creatively speaking, bands and musical artists were putting out (at least) two albums a year and the most brilliant thing was that they were completely reinventing themselves often from one album to the next. My case was no different although perhaps forged in much humbler circumstances than my counterparts in San Francisco, London, L.A. or New York. Although Toronto did have it’s own Haight-Asbury in the Yorkville scene which gave birth to the careers of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot and Bruce Cockburn among others. I used to travel to that mecca nearly every week-end to listen to the unsung royalty of Canadian music history: The Paupers, The Kensington Market and The Ugly Ducklings.
Through most of 1967 my girlfriend Lynda Squires and I had been singing in an elegant, tasteful band called The Christopher Columbus Discovery of New Lands Band. Lynda and I had met in the cultural/spiritual trenches at Oshawa Catholic High School. As good as TCCDONLB was it was still ‘only’ a cover band. We did Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, West Coast Art Experimental Band, The Doors, etc. (My personal showstopper was full length version of ‘The End’ complete with lightshow and dry ice which we traditionally ended our shows with). In 1968, when that band folded due to typical inner combustion, I was invited to jam with one of our local competitors who had just lost their lead singer, another ‘cover’ band calledThe Reign Ghost. Eventually both Lynda and I came aboard this band and Reign Ghost gradually became an original band which was my ultimate goal. Soon the original bass player for Reign Ghost, Jim West (alias ‘Moostapha Mule’) also left and Lynda and I brought our old Oshawa Catholic High School cohort Joe Gallant on board to play bass. Joe also left pretty soon though as he was definitely on some other plane compared to the other original members of Reign Ghost, Jim and Bob Stright (alias Stork) and Dave Hare. (There’s a photo of the 6 of us standing on a windy bluff with Joe, Lynda and myself on one side and Jim, Stork and Dave on the other and it absolutely looks like two separate bands which in many ways it was!) When Joe left we recruited yet another friend of ours, my (by now) ancient band-mate Jerry Dufek to handle the bass chores. The line-up for the first album was now in place.
Throughout this tiime and the rest of my life as well I did what a lot of disenfranchised, searching humans with revolutionary leanings do - I hung out in record stores. The store in particular was The Disc Shop at the Oshawa Shopping Centre. One day while leaning on the bins there I met a sales rep from a record label in Toronto. Tom Reid worked for Allied Records. Allied’s main claim to fame was that they distributed the Elektra label in Canada. So technically (in Canada anyway) we could say we were labelmates with The Doors, Ars Nova, Rhinocerous, Clear Light, Earth Opera, Eclection, The Incredible String Band and a host of other bands/artists I loved. They also had a little subsidiary ‘wing’ which produced and released albums - mostly country and western. That label at that time was called Paragon).
Tom Reid took an immediate interest in the fact that I was in a band doing original material. We also came highly recommended by the record shop owner, Audrey Cook. Shortly thereafter Reign Ghost auditioned for the general manager of Allied and owner of the Paragon label, Jack Boswell. We were en route to a recording studio in Toronto quite rapidly after that meeting.
As an aside, I always like to tell the tale of our arrival at ‘the studio’ which was not housed in a very studio-like setting but rather in a house in the suburbs. At that time the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired a TV program on Saturday afternoon which may have been the first video jockey show. It was hosted by a fellow named Cousin Bill who sat behind a desk wearing a cowboy hat and spun country and western songs while he showed still photographs of barns, fields, cows, tractors and various farm implements. Young people used to joke about him because at the time he seemed the epitomy of un-hip. (Today he’d probably be among the hippest!) You can imagine our surprise when we discovered he was our recording engineer!! Our first album was being recorded in Cousin Bill Bessey’s basement!
Reign Ghost spent perhaps a total of two week-ends working on our first album in the fall of 1968. There were no re-takes, no overdubs, everything was recorded to a 4-track tape machine live off the floor usually in one take and there was little chance to re-do or correct any mistakes. Hence the record is pretty raw but it’s also pretty real. I’m proud of it for that reason. Lynda and I were both only 17 years old at the time of recording!
As for the songs, lyrically ‘Travels of Blue Paradox’ was partly inspired by seeing Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ in it’s original Cinerama format in the summer of 1968. Truly, a mind-altering experience. (I did NOT need or take drugs at this time!) In retrospect, the lyrics also seem imbued with imagery from my less-than-happy experience with the Catholic Church. ‘Standing Room Only, Mr. Mars’ an anthem of alienation, and as mentioned above was the very first song I ever wrote. I also composed ‘Travels’, ‘Curio Shop’, ‘Southern Hemisphere Blues Legacy’ on the piano while the remainder of my tunes on the lp were the very first things I attempted on guitar which I had just taken up that very year. I’m sure the poetic, unconscious outpouring of my 17 year old poetic brain in songs like ‘Long Day Journey’, ‘Southern Hemisphere Blues Legacy’, ‘Curio Shop’, ‘Eyes Knows, So Does Ear’ and ‘Carolina’ were all reflections on my relationship with Lynda at the time. She was my first girl friend.
As a band, Reign Ghost was an often very frustrated ensemble due in the main to the creative restlessness of Lynda and I. We wanted something different. On a trivia note, It’s a little know fact that for a brief time Reign Ghost were actually managed by another Canadian ‘legend’. Jack London managed the band for awhile. ‘Jack’ (or David Marsden - his real name) was none other than Jack London of Jack London and the Sparrows who later evolved into Steppenwolf. The ‘management’ situation didn’t work out. Although he did arrange to have Reign Ghost filmed by a professional crew at St. Gregory’s auditorium on Simcoe St. in Oshawa. Now that would be something – to find those cans of film. The shoot was directed by a fellow named Eric or John Till (I think.)
The album, recorded in 1968, was released in early April 1969. Reception locally was good but this was before the Canadian Content regulations were in place (which soon FORCED Canadian radio to play Canadian artists!). Crazy screwed-up ironies abounded. For example, local Oshawa radio station CKRB hosted a contest to give away copies of the album but the station couldn’t and wouldn’t ACTUALLY PLAY the record!!!
Reign Ghost played frequently and even did a little tour of North Ontario. (There’s a picture of me riding a horse at a place where the band was staying for one of those gigs). The kids around Oshawa responded well but not passionately to Reign Ghost. There seemed to be this dichotomy within the band. As previously mentioned, we seemed like two bands. There was Lynda, Jerry and I on one side and Dave, Stork and Jim on the other. Eventually this tension would provoke Lynda and I to seek greener musical pastures. A re-invention was about to take place - and quickly within that very year 1969. A ‘New Reign Ghost’ was about to be born and the dated photos reveal that this rapid transition most likely took place in June 1969, a mere two months after the first album was released.
A note on the re-mastering: I purchased the rights to both Reign Ghost albums from Jack Boswell a few years ago. We promptly took the master tapes into the studio and I ‘re-mastered’ them. This version of the first album particularly I firmly believe is the best it has ever sounded. I always felt the vinyl and all the cd reissues (including bootlegs) sounded very ‘soft’ and had no ‘kick’. This version of the album sounds like you’re in the room with the band. It’s loud, raw, with plenty of tape hiss - but it sounds like what we sounded like! I hope you like it.
-Bob Bryden, August 2013