Symphonic Slam

Websites:  http://symphonicslam.com/
Origin: Toronto, Ontario

By Ray Furlotte – Symphonic Slam Road Manager
Pre-SLAM: 1968 to 1974
Symphonic Slam is a name familiar to fans of Progressive Rock music and has earned legendary status. The band's self-titled debut on A&M Records in 1976 became a much sought-after piece of mid-70's progressive rock on the strength of Timo's use of the '360 Systems Polyphonic Guitar Synthesizer'. Despite several CD re-issues Symphonic Slam remains a mystery to most who've enjoyed Timo Laine's incredible musical vision. Here for the first time is the full story...

This is the story of how an unknown band, that had never played in Toronto before, was able to get an internationally released album (in 12 countries) by a major label, A&M Records Canada, and then 3 months later sell out Massey Hall with Symphonic Slam being the only band on the bill.

The creative driving force directing Symphonic Slam is Timo Laine...
Timo was the Record Producer, Songwriter, Singer, Lead Guitarist, and Polyphonic Guitar Synthesizer player. And was the only person involved from the very beginning, throughout it's entire history. He even created the artwork on some albums.

TIMO: “Symphonic Slam was an idea to create a huge soundscape with as few players as possible. The use of the polyphonic guitar synthesizer with six 'Oberheim' synths, along with keyboards, and drums was enough to achieve that goal”.

Timo Laine was born in Oulu, Finland in 1948. His family emigrated to California when he was six years old. Timo's father was a chemist with a strong interest in geology. He wanted to explore the Mohave Desert in California and Nevada. His father was also concerned about Finland sharing a border with the Soviet Union (now Russia), and the threat they imposed. After learning to speak English, Timo soon developed a life long interest in Music and Art. Timo soon realized he wanted to make a career of playing music, he started playing guitar at the age of nine. He would further his interest in art by studying Fine Art at Fullerton College. He honed his guitar playing skills during the Rhythm and Blues era of the early 60's, the instrumental surf-band era, the early days of Rock n Roll, as well as listening to varied Classical Guitarists, and the electronic experimentation's of the early '70s.

TIMO: “I was influenced in the very early years by guitarists Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessel, Joe Pass, Kenny Barrel, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and Dick Dale. The bands that influenced me were Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Frank Zappa & the Mothers, Moody Blues, Beatles, and The Rolling Stones. My favorite classical guitarists were Andres Segovia and Carlos Montoya”

Timo's career highlights include playing Shea Stadium (as well as) opening for The Rolling Stones and sharing bills with The Byrds, Dick Dale, Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Cheech & Chong, Rush, and Gentle Giant, to name a few.

TIMO: “I started playing guitar with the idea of making a living with it at an early age, and I did just that. I played in night clubs full time for about 10 years, while teaching guitar at Fullerton Music for 4 years. My first band was called Train, that lasted about a year or so around 1968. Train didn't last too long”

Timo was in Hollywood in 1968 and was recording for MGM Records at the time with his band Train. This is where Timo met Terry Sheppard who was on leave from Vietnam and the two struck up a friendship – one that eventually would lead Sheppard to bring Symphonic Slam to Canada.

TIMO: “Next, I formed Zebra”.

Zebra members were:
Bruce Bordon: Vocals
Timo Laine: Lead Guitar
Bob Silvert: Keyboards
Noe Cruz: Bass Guitar
Jerry Beasly: Drums

Zebra's 'Helter Skelter' was one of the final releases on the Miramar label, released in 1969. The B-side was an original by Bruce Bordon and Timo Laine titled 'Wasted'.

Zebra 45 WastedTIMO: “Zebra was together for about 5 years. Everywhere we played there would be a line around the building to get in. We were loved by the dance crowd, and the club owners kept us busy. Zebra opened for The Rolling Stones and The Byrds in the late ’60s in Fresno. We also played with Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Ballin’ Jack, Zephyr, Ike and Tina Turner and many other name acts, but I don’t remember them all. We were a full time club band, 5 nights a week, playing all over Southern California”.

TIMO: “We met Tony Cary at the Forum in Fresno, CA. He kept coming in every night and buying us drinks. Finally he said he was a Record Producer, and wanted to produce Zebra. Tony had a lot of industry contacts, and radio station friends like the Drake-Chenault radio station owners. He moved the band to the Marriott in Studio City, and started recording the act at Pat Boone’s Lion and the Lamb Studio. We were almost finished recording the album when we got a telegram that Tony had died. We were told he had overdosed. This was a huge loss for us. The album was never mixed or mastered, except for the single, it was done first. I don't know what happened to the master tapes. The band dissolved after that”.

And then came Space Rangers...

TIMO: “I had recorded the album with Zebra, but didn't have any master tapes. I joined Space Rangers with Neil Merryweather in late 1973. When I started with Space Rangers, I used the same material over. I had written most of the music for the new album, and played lead guitar. Neil wrote the words. We recorded at Capitol Records Studio and it was released by Mercury Records out of Chicago in 1974”.

Timo brought along Bob Silvert on keys from Zebra. His keyboards included a Chamberlin, which was the precursor to the Mellotron, except it was better. Neil brought in Timmy McGovern on drums.

In early 1974, when a conflict of interest in relation to actually getting paid came up. Timo left the Space Rangers along with Bob Silvert, the keyboard/Chamberlin player.

When members went their separate ways, Timo wanted to experiment with the larger than life operatic rock sound he had in his head - one that incorporated his influences, everyone from Wes Montgomery to Clapton, Beck, and Zappa to classical master Andres Segovia.

Timo's next venture was to create the origins of Symphonic Slam (not yet named)...

TIMO: “I was then asked to record a demo for Epic Records in San Francisco. I got Bob Silvert again to play keyboards & Chamberlin, I brought in Noe Cruz from my band Zebra on bass guitar, and a drummer. We started rehearsing at S.I.R. Rehearsal Studios in the spring of 1974 in L.A”.

TIMO: “I desired a fresh new sound, I was hungry to see what could be done to make the guitar do more. I had performed with my Les Paul, Fender amp and Echoplex for years. I wanted to contrast the heavy guitar sounds with more orchestral sounds. My first attempt was to try out the GuitOrgan by MCI This was a micro circuited B-3 organ stuffed inside a Gibson ES-335 hollow body guitar. The frets were cut in six sections that functioned as micro switches. This allowed me to play the guitar and organ at the same time. It was very limited, and did not offer for me, anything I wanted to live with for very long”.

ob Silvert quit so they then auditioned Dan Bates on keyboards, from Fresno, CA and he joined. Dan also played the Chamberlin.

DAN BATES: “I got in a bad car wreck when I was in high school. I got $12,350 and bought a house ($8,500) and the Chamberlin ($2,000). This provided the band with the orchestral sounds of cellos, flute, and choral voices. The band rehearsed week days at S.I.R. because Epic Records was interested in signing us. We had 2 managers. Bill Sherman and Maury Alexander. They basically created the band, The Association, and owned Valiant Records and a ton of record shops all over LA. They called the stores Record Man Records. Every day we rehearsed, we were surrounded by famous people. David Bowie, Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac, etc. We were louder than hell and made a ton of sound. Timo was really great and different on guitar. We recorded at a very famous studio on Sunset Strip and another studio in LA. At this second studio we had added another member to the band named Dennis O'Lone. Dennis O'Lone only played Chamberlin. For awhile, we had 2 Chamberlin players in the band”.

Dan commented that this band was a 'symphonic slam'. Timo said that's the new name, and Symphonic Slam was born.

Dan had been playing with his high school friend Jeff Bryon in the most popular band in Fresno called The Eastgates. Dan moved to Los Angeles, but drove back to Fresno to play gigs on weekends with Jeff in The Eastgates. While playing in Fresno, Dan & Jeff met a guitar player named Mark Blythe. They really liked his playing and personality. Both Jeff and Mark would soon be playing in the newly created Symphonic Slam.

DAN BATES: “Epic Records wanted to sign us and paid for the session. They liked the demo and paid for us to record in San Francisco at Columbia Recording Studios (Epic is a subsidiary). O'Lone and the drummer had quit so we moved to my house in Fresno. They then got Dan Bates's high school friend Jeff Bryon on drums, and rehearsed every day. Jeff's parent's were both brilliant musicians. His father had retired from teaching music and conducting the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra. His Father was a Doctor of Music and his Mother was first chair viola”.

Jeff's Mother used these talents playing in the orchestra that backed up Rod Stewart on the Californian leg of one of his tours.

DAN BATES: “The bass player (Noe Cruz) thought it was funny to tip 200% instead of 20%. So, if his drink was $5, he tipped $10. All this was put on Columbia Records bright white credit card. All bands were investigated back then. A guy named Roy Halee showed up and he was pissed that supposedly our A&R man was using money from a "slush fund" to pay for our album project. So he got fired and so did we”.

JEFF BRYON: “We recorded and stayed at a nice hotel in San Francisco, all paid by Epic. Dan and I sang on the demo. Michael did get let go from his A&R job with Epic so that was a waist of time. We went to Santa Ana, CA to record our originals with Noe on bass after that I believe”.

DAN BATES: “Halee was producing a new band in the shittier studio, next to us, they were "Journey" and were recording their first album. BTW Halee loved our tracks. Our A&R connection got fired after we recorded a couple of songs there. Noe Cruz, the bass player quit and we got Mark Blythe, who was a local guitar player. I don't think Mark ever recorded with Slam at all. We kept rehearsing every day”.

TIMO: “In the middle of that production, the producer was fired. He gave me the tapes and said good luck. So I decided it was time to go elsewhere”.

Timo was in Hollywood in 1968 and was recording for MGM Records at the time with his band Train. This is where Timo met Terry Sheppard who was on leave from Vietnam and the two struck up a friendship – one that eventually led Sheppard to invite Timo to Canada. In London Ontario, in the spring of 1975, a local radio personality (and Christian Minister), Terry Sheppard received a demo tape from his friend Timo Laine. Against all odds, and contrary to what every other band in Ontario was trying to do, Terry decided to bring the band from California to relocate to London to try and make it in the music business there.

TIMO: “When we came to Canada in 1975, my friend, Terry Sheppard – a DJ at CJBK radio in London became our manager. We were soon signed by Music Shoppe International for bookings and we worked the clubs full-time”.

This is where I came into the picture. I was preparing to go to work for Nick Panaseiko as a booking agent. Nick was a music promo man and concert promoter. I had just finished taking Recording Engineering in college. Terry had given Nick a reel 2 reel demo tape of Symphonic Slam and he played it for me. I instantly loved the band, they had a unique sound. With Timo playing Guitorgan, Dan Bates on Fender Rhodes piano, Mini-Moog, and Chamberlin, Jeff Bryon on drums, and Mark Blythe on bass guitar they had a very distinctive style. Lead vocals were shared by Timo, Dan and Jeff. I asked Nick to introduce me to Terry and I convinced him to give me a try as their roadie and soundman.

DAN BATES: “Timo talked to Terry Sheppard and told us, "I know a guy that can maybe get us a record deal in Canada".

So they packed up their equipment into Dan and Jeff's two vans and the four of them headed to Canada. Nick decided he wanted to showcase Slam at a local concert. Nick, Terry, and myself thought who would be the best act to headline. RUSH was chosen to contrast the symphonic sounds of Slam. So on June 27th, 1975 Slam opened for Rush at Centennial Hall, London, Ontario. SS was one of the very first opening acts for Rush when they started headlining.

DAN BATES: “Terry got us the gig opening for Rush in Canada. So me and Jeff went to a Rush/Kiss concert and met Geddy (Lee) and Paul Stanley. I told Geddy we will be opening up for them in a couple of weeks in Canada and he said they just finished their tour opening for Kiss and he'd see us up there”.

The concert went very well, the London Free Press gave Slam a great review, saying: “Concert a Battle in Rock Contrasts“ Terry Sheppard had given a copy of the demo tape to Rush. It would later be played at Rush's manager Ray Danniels stag party. Danniels was talking to A&M Record's national promo director Doug Chappell and played Slam's demo for him. Chappell, in turn, took it to Gerry Lacoursiere – VP and General Manager for A&M Records at the time. This would eventually result in A&M offering a 5 year – 5 album deal. Slam toured the bar circuit for the rest of 1975. They played numerous clubs from Sarnia, Ontario to Ottawa to Thunder Bay.

Slam played at a Toronto ON club called 'Yonge Station' in October 1975. The event was to showcase the band for music industry persons. DJ's, record company A&R people, music reviewers, etc., had been invited. As a result of this showcase a Toronto DJ at CHUM-FM invited the band to come in for an interview. They ended up doing a live interview and they played the songs from the San Francisco demo tape. As a result Gerry Lacoursiere at A&M Records called CHUM-FM with an invitation to come in for an interview. Gerry had been approached already by Doug Chappell, after Doug heard the demo at Ray Danniel's party.

TIMO: “The president of A&M was listening and called the DJ and said “Tell that kid Timo Laine to come and see me.” We got signed to record SS. The material was a collection of musical ideas I had been saving while playing clubs and concerts over the years. The songs for SS took years to develop, and months to rehearse and record”.

The band had toured throughout Ontario, including through Northern Ontario in the winter. It had been pretty hard on them, being Southern California boys. They had had it pretty rough, low pay, and living in the manager's basement when not playing. Timo and Terry's previous friendship had driven a wedge between them and the other 3 members. The other 3 members of the band decided that was enough and quit and returned to California. The two songwriters had been Timo and Dan. I had always considered Dan to be the 'Symphonic' and Timo, the 'Slam'. With Dan gone, so were his compositions.

DAN BATES: “One day Mark came to Jeff and I and said he wanted out, he couldn't take it any more and he was flying home. Jeff and I drove across the country at about 45 miles per hour because his valves were going out in his van. He followed me the whole way. We must have left a few days before Xmas because I remember we spent Xmas Eve in a motel in Cheyenne Wyoming. Mark flew home, and we took his equipment in our vans. I felt that we had to get out or freeze to death. Some of those gigs were very long distances. We thought A&M Records had been avoiding us at the time”.

When the original 3 members left we had to secretly put together a new band and rehearse the music under extreme secrecy without A&M finding out what happened. Timo and Terry had set up their own production company and acquired financing. Timo was then able to acquire the '360 Systems Polyphonic Guitar Synthesizer'. Timo upgraded from his Guitorgan to an experimental piece of guitar synthesizer technology. I became the 'Road Production Co-ordinator'.

TIMO: “I then contacted and met with Tom Oberheim, and asked him to hook up a guitar to synthesizers. Oberheim said that he had already worked with that idea, and that I should contact a man named Bob Easton of '360 Systems'. What '360 Systems' had done was invent a device called a pitch to voltage converter. The converter was hooked up to a hexaphonic pick-up allowing it to be sent to 6 synthesizers. Bob Easton had the prototype that was to be hooked up to six Oberheims. I fired it up and Bam!, I fell in love. It was the '360 Systems Polyphonic Guitar Synthesizer'. I made a deal with Bob immediately, and at a price of $10,000 USD, he sold it to me ($10,000 USD in 1976 = $46,225 USD in 2021 & $57,770 CDN in 2021). I had it shipped to Canada where I was in pre-production for my first Symphonic Slam album”.

“This system was a great tracking unit because it was polyphonic. There was no harmonic problems like the later developed monophonic systems that never worked or tracked well. This was a high performance moon rocket that responded perfectly to my style. Since I used the system on every song on that album, the word got out real fast about this monster guitar rig. To my good luck A&M Records released the album world wide off the starting blocks. The press and media caught on to the new sound, and my famous '360 Systems Polyphonic Guitar Synthesizer' earned me the title "Father of the Guitar Synthesizer."

“Later on, I heard Frank Zappa had bought one from Bob, but could not use it because it was running Moog synthesizers. The Moogs drifted so bad the system could not be kept in tune. So I bought Zappa`s polyphonic guitar as a back-up, but not the Moogs. Jimmy Page called us and wanted to buy my system at a hefty price, but I refused, and explained I was doing tour support with it and was planning another album later. Stevie Wonder also wanted to rent the system for one of his albums, but I was on the road”.

“Only six units were built, mine was the only one that worked properly. I was the first to record an entire album with it on a major label, with a world wide release. There were pitiful monophonic guitar synths on the drawing boards at that time, and even though players were trying to get their footing with them, they ended up being more of a bad joke than a sincere musical effort”.

“The system allows each of the guitar strings to take on the properties of a synth that can be tuned up or down in octaves, while being controlled by a series of foot-controls. The sounds the guitar synth's can create vary from a harpsichord to a trombone with a soulful Motown quack, and the total instrument can produce 18 notes simultaneously”.

We then recruited David Stone from Toronto on keyboards (& backup vocals), after seeing him play at The Hawk's Lounge/Ye Olde City Hall in London. He was playing for a Toronto band called Canon. He was chosen not just because he was an incredible keyboard player, but because he could also play the bass parts on synthesizer, thereby eliminating a bass guitarist.

In our search for a new drummer, Timo, Terry, Nick Panaseiko, and myself were at a Toronto nightclub when Nick brought Domenic Troiano (RIP) (guitarist for Mandala, Bush, The Guess Who, James Gang, etc.) and drummer extraordinaire Graham Lear over to our table. Graham was born in England but raised in my hometown London ON. I was a huge fan of his. He was incredible as Gino Vanelli's drummer. I believe Graham to be one of the best drummers EVER! When Nick introduced Timo as the leader of Symphonic Slam, Graham said that was really strange as he had recently been at the Guitar Center in Hollywood and saw all these pretty royal blue 'Anvil' road cases stacked along the walls with 'Symphonic Slam' painted on them. He said he remembered them because of the unusual name, and wondered what Symphonic Slam was. The album hadn't been released yet. When we asked him if he would be interested in the gig, he told us he had just signed up with Santana and was on his way back to L.A. to rehearse for a tour. Obviously Carlos knew how good Graham was also. He played for Santana from 1976 to 1987. He then went on to play with REO Speedwagon, Saga, David Foster and played for Paul Anka for many years.

John (JJ) Lowery was drafted to play drums after Timo saw him perform in Los Angeles. Lowery is a native of New Orleans and studied under percussionist Howard Kadson as well as having played with the Meters. John was an amazing drummer and had a great voice. Unfortunately we couldn't take advantage of his vocal ability very much. It had been discovered that John had a juvenile criminal record and wouldn't be let into Canada. There wasn't enough time to find a replacement. We had to smuggle him and his drum kit into the country. Timo and Terry picked John up at the Detroit airport and I picked up his drums in our equipment van, and we smuggled them in no trouble. Knowing he had to be replaced, he didn't get to sing lead very much as he had a very distinctive voice. They went into secret rehearsals learning the album and Timo learning his new instrument. When A&M Records found out about the changes and heard the 'new' sound they were blown away. With Timo's new guitar synthesizer Slam now had an even more distinctive sound than before. Nobody else had ever recorded a whole album using a polyphonic guitar synth. This balanced off the incredible keyboard playing by David, and John's exceptional drumming.

At that point we presented the new band to A&M and that's when Timo was signed to A&M Records in mid-March 1976.

TIMO: “A&M concluded that I was a good bet and wanted to record my material. They signed only me. They wanted me to put together a new Canadian project that would meet Canadian content laws (CanCon). They required I become a landed immigrant, and hire at least one more Canadian player. I hired keyboardist David Stone (Diamond Back, Deja Vu, Canon, etc.) and I brought in a drummer from California named John Lowery”.

“I co-produced the album with George Semkiw, and after twelve weeks of rehearsals, all of my songs were ready for the studio. The recording was a big budget deal and we used a state of the art studio called Phase One in Scarborough, Ontario. The cost was expensive for A&M Records. It was about $50,000 (over $230,000 in 2021 $'s) for studio and production expenses plus our own living expenses that they covered. And another $42,000 that I covered personally for my guitar equipment, and keyboards. Then to top it off, the cover painting by Mati Klarwein (Santana's “Abraxas”, Miles Davis' “Bitches Brew” among many) from his 1973 book “Milk 'n' Honey” was the most expensive invoice the label got in a long time. It cost them $3,000 USD for the rights”.(almost $14,000 USD/$17,500 CDN in 2021 $'s)

In February of 1976, Timo organized the current SS trio and began three months intensive rehearsals for a month long recording session at Toronto's state of the art recording studio, Phase One. The object of the sessions was to produce an album bearing the forceful and energetic note-for-note action of the band. It's traditional for a group leader to be outstanding in context of his band, and Timo was no exception. He wrote all the music and lyrics, did the arranging and co-produced it with George Semkiw.

A&M Records: “Symphonic Slam's multi-dimensional instrumentation and unpredictable music patterns wind and lead the listener to new spaces. Fuelled with forceful action. SLAM is in the first stage and shows no sign of stopping”.

After the album was recorded John Lowery was replaced by Jan Uvena from New York. Jan played all the live Canadian dates after the first LP came out (ie. Massey Hall, Maple Leaf Gardens, etc.) And as one concert reviewer said after Massey Hall "Jan Uvena wasn't the original drummer from the record, he was BETTER!"

The new band with Jan Uvena on drums then went into strict rehearsals for the next three months re-learning the album. The keyboards got so involved that drummer Jan had to play an Arp String Ensemble while drumming to cover while David's hands were too busy. It was extremely important not to record anything that couldn't be duplicated live. Without Dan Bates' songs, Slam only had the 42 minutes worth of music from the album and one new 8 minute song that would be on the second album. This made it difficult in what type of situations that the band could play under.

Ray Furlotte: "December 22, 1976; The best day of my life up to that point. I stood on the stage at Massey Hall, Toronto, and watched my favourite band and employer, thrill the sold out crowd of 2,760 fans who came on a freezing cold winter's night, 3 days before Christmas to see the only band performing at Massey Hall that night ... the Toronto - Massey Hall premiere of Symphonic Slam."

Slam didn't have enough material to headline big concerts, we did headline Massey Hall, but that was a special, one off showcase. Slam's manager, Terry Sheppard, had convinced A&M Records to underwrite the concert. There wasn't any opening act (would cost A&M more), so we showed a 30 minute promotional concert video of another A&M Records artist, “The Tubes”. We gave every concert goer an 8 page, 6” x 10”, card-stock souvenir concert program. Despite some difficulties, the band received great reviews. The volume coming off the stage from Dave and Timo's setups required us using a rather large PA system that we hadn't used previously. We had a large pyrotechnics system that we were told by Massey Hall we couldn't use due to fire regulations. Massey Hall was the premiere concert hall in Toronto but it was old and lacked modern capabilities. Our PA System and lights required more power than Massey supplied so an external generator in a truck was required.

We had an incredible amount of equipment. More than most of the established rock bands. Timo's set up was huge, the controls and foot pedals for his synthesizer were very large and complex. He had a huge wall of Cerwin Vega speakers, with an almost equally large set up for Dave's keyboards. David had 3 large custom made racks full of keyboards: the brand new 'Poly-Moog', 2 Mini-Moogs, Arp Omni, Arp String Ensemble, Univox Minikorg, Hohner Clavinet, piano, organ and Moog synth bass pedals. Jan had a pretty large drum kit. So we were rather limited to where we could play. The Massey Hall concert was only the second performance of this band. The first was a free concert at Sheraton College for 500 lucky fans 5 days before, as a dress rehearsal. The version of SS on the first album never performed live. The Producer and Engineer on the album was George Semkiw, he was also our Sound Engineer for the Massey Hall concert, and the first person to mix them after me. He would soon become known as one of Canada's best Engineers and Record Producers.

TIMO: “After the album was released we played Massey Hall in Toronto on December 22, 1976. The Massey Hall show was a full production with flash bombs, stage props, earthquake/subsonic bass, costumes, and special effects. It put us on the map as verified competition for ELP and got us signed with a new top level booking agency called 'The Agency'. We began touring for The Agency and I replaced John Lowery with a new drummer from Hollywood, Jan Uvena (Harvey Mandel, Jackie DeShannon, Sally Kellerman), for the tour. Lowery had returned to Los Angeles after the album was recorded, and was shot soon after, he recovered, but never returned to Canada again”.

Symphonic Slam headlining Massey Hall for only it's second performance generated a lot of buzz in the Toronto music industry. Some bands that had been slogging it out on the high school and bar circuits for years, couldn't believe what Slam did. Other bands were impressed by what the band's manager, Terry, had accomplished, by getting an unknown band a major international recording contract with a major label. And having the biggest radio station, CHUM-FM, play the entire album non-stop, on the day of it's world premiere (unheard of for an unknown band). And then a Toronto premiere performance at Massey Hall. There were a number of artists that wanted Terry to manage them, including an unknown duo (looking for a record contract) called 'FM' (Nash the Slash and Cameron Hawkins). Terry felt FM's sound was too similar to Slam's and that might be a conflict. He wanted to concentrate his efforts on Symphonic Slam.

The album was released in 12 countries on A&M Records September 1976
02 U.S.A.
(Timo was born in Finland)

I don't know the international sales, but it went almost gold in Canada. The album entered the 'RPM Top 100 Albums' chart at #85, 'with a bullet' (meaning highest entry for the first week on the charts) on October 2, 1976 and peaking at #56 with a total run of 22 weeks. The self-titled debut was instantly heralded by the critics for fusing elements of progressive rock and jazz with more psychedelic tones. The only single, "I Won't Cry" caught some good response from AM radio. Other tracks like the lead off "Universe," "Let It Grow," and the edgy "Modane Train" (about a troop train derailment in France in 1917 that killed 543 people), made the album a hit on FM radio in pockets throughout Canada, the US, Japan, and Europe. The album was recorded at Phase One studios in Toronto and Produced and Engineered by George Semkiw, the quality of the recording is fantastic for that era. But no matter how good, it couldn't compare to hearing the band live. It was impossible to capture the dynamics of the music on record, that could only be done live. You couldn't believe the sounds that only 3 people produced, you could feel it in your bones! (with help from Cerwin Vega & BGW power amps – same as the 'Sensurround' that was used for the 'Earthquake' and subsequent movies).

At that point in time, Slam didn't have enough material to headline big concerts, we did headline Massey Hall, but that was a one off showcase. We opened for Gentle Giant at Maple Leaf Gardens concert bowl less than 2 months after Massey Hall. Slam was added at last minute (2 weeks before concert date) as ticket sales had been slow. Less than 2,000 tickets (of 8,000 avail.) had been sold. After SS was added sales went over 4,300 by showtime. Our booking agent, Music Shoppe International, had a hard time figuring out how to book us. We had hoped that the promoters of the Gentle Giant concert, C.P.I. (Concert Productions International) (the largest promoters in Canada then), would find us an opening slot on a tour, but that didn't happen. The band changed booking agencies to 'The Agency', a new top level agency, but that didn't help. Slam played the college circuit and select larger nightclubs, headlining using various opening acts. Among them: Brutus, Johnny Lovsin, Lenny Solomon Band, Wooden Teeth, etc. Slam hoped for a slot on a major international tour opening for a big established band for big exposure. You had to be a pretty confident band to have SS as an opening act. We had a huge sound, huge stage set up, costumes, fog machines, and pyrotechnics, all the latest gear. The only band confident enough to have Slam open was Gentle Giant. A&M offered little to no additional tour money and when it came time for the follow-up album Timo made a decision.Timo's contract with A&M Records was for 5 years – 5 albums. In reality, it was for one album, with the option for 4 more at A&M's option. This was at the peak of disco, and A&M wanted Timo to add a more disco beat to his music. That wasn't going to happen.

TIMO: “A&M did not pick-up the option by mutual agreement. The label execs wanted me to record a disco album. I told them that that was like asking Segovia to record a surf album. I bailed out of the record deal and started the production of SSII. I wanted to have my own record label. I put an ad in the LA Times under venture capital, and since I was still on the Billboard charts got an investor and started 'Lady Records'”.

Former Deep Purple guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore, heard David Stone playing on the Symphonic Slam first album and lured him to Los Angeles where he auditioned for Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow. He competed against, Eddie Jobson of Roxy Music, Mark Stein of Vanilla Fudge, and Matthew Fisher of Procol Harum. Blackmore hired David. Also in the band was Ronnie James Dio on vocals, Cozy Powell on drums, and Bob Daisley on bass. After Rainbow, David joined Max Webster for the Universal Juveniles album and tours, then teamed up with his friend BB Gabor, for his self-titled debut album. David was in high demand as a session musician.

Timo returned to Los Angeles to finish writing and then recording, 'Timo Laine – SSll'. David Stone was replaced by Linda Nardini on keyboards. A bass player was added, first was Jimmy Haslip (who did side 1) and then left to form 'Yellow Jackets'. He was then replaced by Noe Cruz (from Zebra & the first version of Slam) and recorded side 2. Drummer, John Lowery, from the first Slam album returned. But halfway through the sessions he departed. Jan Uvena returned and played drums on side 1 and Lowery recorded side 2.

TIMO: “SSII was me doing a lot more vocals and more melodic tunes that I had written on the road within Canada. I had secured an investor here in Newport Beach that put up the financing for Lady Records Ltd., which was a limited partnership between myself and my investor. We hired Nick Panaseiko to get the second album out through Metro Disc. The album was recorded at the Righteous Brothers studio in California and A&M studios Hollywood. It was released on Lady Records in the spring of 1978 and titled: Timo SSll”.

TIMO: “With only 10,000 copies pressed, I tried getting distribution here. But I was about $200,000 short on my PR campaign. There was no more money. No money, no support, no distribution. I shelved the project and filed a BK”

With limited amount of records pressed and no promotion budget, the album fizzled. Timo stopped touring, and semi-retired from the music business. He would later return and continue recording and releasing albums with various personnel over the years, under the Symphonic Slam name and his own.

Jan Uvena left and then played for Bonnie Pointer, Alice Cooper, Iron Butterfly, Signal and Alcatrazz with Yngwie Malmsteen on guitar, and Graham Bonnet (of Blackmore's Rainbow) on vocals. Later Steve Vai replaced Malmsteen on guitar.

Outside of music, Timo was spending time in the sun abroad. He became an established painter specializing in nature and wildlife and also more surreal subject matters. Following in his father's scientific footsteps, Timo also took up his childhood hobby of entomology (bugs) full-time and became a respected speaker on the subject.

TIMO: “After SSll, I got very sick for a long time. My doctor told me "Whatever you have been doing all these years you better take time off or you're gonna die." So I took up oil painting, and started a large collection of international exotic Coleoptera and Lepidoptera (beatles and butterflies). I went to Costa Rica, Southern Mexico, Trinidad, Tobago, and collected bugs. I joined the Museum of Natural History, Lorquin Society, and started displaying my collection at the various museums and universities. My goal was to collect every exotic bug in the world. And I'm telling you, I came pretty close to having a collection to rival that of Museums. I also painted African wildlife, like elephants, rhinos, etc. and I incorporated bugs into my paintings. I did a lot of landscape paintings of Hawaii. And spent a lot of time collecting on all the Hawaiian islands”.

“I also got married to my Kimberly, and had two sons: Timo Jr. and Jesse”.

TIMO: "I figured it was time to get back in the swing of things, music wise. So after listening to players like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Eric Johnson, I figured I can pull that off. So I started to record instrumentals featuring the guitar, but with a good dose of synth.”

“Bernard Gueffier the President of French label, Musea Records, contacted me and asked if he could re-issue the first album. So I contacted Universal Music (who bought up A&M Records) and negotiated a mechanical license for Musea Records”.

The re-issue came out in 2001 on CD. It has been re-released multiple times resulting in it's distribution in 51 nations worldwide. No releases contained extra bonus tracks.The front cover continued using the artwork by Mati Klarwein, but the back cover was updated...

IMO: “I was pleased to see the press was starting to put things back on the map. I figured since Musea is going to put the stuff out again I better write a follow up CD. I wrote and recorded 'Her Fire'. The album was originally going to be called 'Cave Canem', which means 'Beware of Dog' in Latin. But my wife said "Why are you calling an album full of love songs Beware of Dog?" Duh!! So I named it 'Her Fire' and painted the cover with a two faced woman. Original bassist Noe Cruz returned and I asked Les Carlsen (lead vocalist of 'Bloodgood' and lead in the musical 'HAIR') to help with the vocals, since my voice was still out of shape. And I added Bob Winn on drums. That was released on CD in 2005. Guest artists include: Mike Meucci on vocals, Mark Vaughn on drums, Dennis Brown on drums, and Larry Class on keyboards”.

'Her Fire' was praised by critics, but it was limited in release. It was released on CD on Timo's label Monotrim Music, but the album had no promotional budget. This is considered to be the third album by Symphonic Slam.

Also in 2005, Timo released his first solo album called 'The Monotrim Project'. It was an all instrumental album, Timo's '360 Systems' guitar synth, which would've been almost 30 years old by now, would've been a dinosaur. It had been replaced by Roland guitar synthesizers. Monotrim Project and Her Fire were recorded using two Roland GR-33's (hooked in tandem), two BOSS FS-5U's, one Roland GFC-50 and a BOSS FV-500L volume pedal. He was now being sponsored by Godin Guitars Canada and plays a Godin LGX-SA. Monotrim Project was recorded by Timo playing his Roland guitar synths, straight lead guitar, acoustic guitar, and bass. He was backed up by long time Slam musicians Noe Cruz on bass and Bob Winn on drums.

In 2008 Timo recorded and released another solo instrumental album: Guitar Works Special Edition.

2008's instrumental solo album Guitar Works Special Edition featured Timo playing almost everything, except for Jeff Hull on bass guitar and Bob Cacciatore playing keyboards on one of the ten tracks. This is Timo in all his glory. I remember him telling me back in 1975-76 that he wished there was a way he could perform everything himself, especially live. He had been a veteran musician for over a decade and a half and played with dozens of musicians. His experience had taught him there was only one musician that he could always count on – himself. Eliminating other musicians eliminated all bullshit, egos, and trouble with musicians coming and going. This album is as close to that ideal as possible. Guitar Works Special Edition was again heralded by the critics for Timo's mastery of the guitar and guitar synthesizer. It truly shows why he is 'The Father of the Guitar Synthesizer'. No one has amassed the amount of music playing a guitar synth, the quality of his playing is unsurpassed. If Timo had never played a Guitorgan or a guitar synthesizer, he would still be known as a masterful guitar player.

TIMO: “In 2011 Musea Records was contacted by Denis Meyer, the author of the book 'Rock Anthology'. Denis had suggested to Bernard at Musea Records, that it might be a good idea to re-issue the SSII album, since Denis had proclaimed Symphonic Slam as one of the top Progressive rock bands in the world. So they contacted me, and Denis Meyer became the executive producer on the re-master and it was re-issued March 2011”.

In the Spring of 2011 Musea Records re-issued 'Timo SSII' world wide on CD. It contained 4 bonus tracks.\

SSII members were: Linda Nardini-Keyboards; Jimmy Haslip-Bass; Noe Cruz-Bass; Jan Uvena-Drums; and John Lowery-Drums.

Timo released two more singles:

In 2013 “Paul and John” featured Timo along with Steve Eddy on keyboards, and Mark Stevens on drums.

In 2014 he released “Save Your Soul” from the “Her Fire” album.

Timo semi-retired again to spend more time creating art work and traveling the world collecting insects and building a museum class collection.

Timo Laine is and will always be the Master of the Guitar Synthesizer!

In 2012 Timo released a 15 song “Best of Symphonic Slam” album with songs from the three Slam albums and Timo's two instrumental solo albums.

Blue indicates change from previous line-up...

LINE UP #1: Spring 1974
TIMO LAINE: Lead vocals, Lead guitar
BOB SILVERT: Keyboards (& Chamberlin)
NOE CRUZ: Bass guitar
Unknown Drummer


LINE UP #2: Summer 1974
TIMO LAINE: Lead & backup vocals, Lead guitar
DAN BATES: Lead & backup vocals, Fender Rhodes piano, Mini-Moog synthesizer, Chamberlin
NOE CRUZ: Bass guitar
Unknown Drummer

LINE UP #3: Summer 1974
TIMO LAINE: Lead & backup vocals, Lead guitar
DAN BATES: Lead & backup vocals, Fender Rhodes piano, Mini-Moog synthesizer, Chamberlin
DENNIS O'LONE: Chamberlin
NOE CRUZ: Bass guitar
Unknown Drummer

Unknown Drummer quit

LINE UP #4: Summer 1974
TIMO LAINE: Lead & backup vocals, Lead guitar
DAN BATES: Lead & backup vocals, Fender Rhodes piano, Mini-Moog synthesizer, Chamberlin
NOE CRUZ: Bass guitar
JEFF BRYON: Lead & backup vocals, Drums


The next line-up moved from Southern California to London, Ontario, Canada

LINE UP #5: Fall 1974 – Dec. 1975
TIMO LAINE: Lead & backup vocals, Lead guitar, Guitorgan
DAN BATES: Lead & backup vocals, Fender Rhodes piano, Mini-Moog synthesizer, Chamberlin
MARK BLYTHE: Bass guitar
JEFF BRYON: Lead & backup vocals, Drums

DAN BATES, MARK BLYTHE, and JEFF BRYON quit and returned to California

Timo then moved to Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The next line-up recorded the first "Symphonic Slam" self-titled debut album on A&M Records

LINE UP #6: Spring 1976 - Fall 1976
TIMO LAINE: Lead vocals, Lead guitar,360 Systems Polyphonic Guitar Synthesizer
DAVID STONE: Synthesizers: (Poly-Moog, 2 Mini-Moogs, Arp Omni, Arp String Ensemble, Univox Mini-Korg, Moog/Taurus Bass Pedals), Univox Organ-izer, Piano, Mellotrons, Backup vocals
JOHN (JJ) LOWERY: Drums, Backup vocals

JOHN LOWERY forced to quit

The line-up above never performed live.

The following line-up performed all the live Canadian dates

LINE UP #7: Fall 1976 – Summer 1977
TIMO LAINE: Lead vocals, Lead guitar, 360 Systems Polyphonic Guitar Synthesizer
DAVID STONE: Synthesizers: (Poly-Moog, 2 Mini-Moogs, Arp Omni, Arp String Ensemble, Univox Mini-Korg, Moog/Taurus Bass Pedals), Univox Organ-izer, Piano, Mellotrons, Backup vocals
JAN UVENA: Drums, Backup vocals

DAVID STONE quit (joined Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow)

The next line-up(s) recorded "Timo SSll", the second Symphonic Slam album

LINE UP #8: Summer 1977 – Summer 1978
TIMO LAINE: Lead vocals, Lead guitar, 360 Systems Polyphonic Guitar Synthesizer
LINDA NARDINI: Keyboards, Backup vocals
JIMMY HASLIP: was added on Bass guitar, he recorded Side One of SSll
JIMMY HASLIP quit to form “Yellow Jackets” and added:
NOE CRUZ: Bass guitar returned (formerly with Zebra, & original S. Slam), he recorded Side Two of SSll
Switched drummers from:
JAN UVENA: Drums, Backup vocals
To the return of:
JOHN (JJ) LOWERY: Drums, Lead & Backup vocals, 1/2 way through sessions JJ quit
JAN UVENA returned on drums
JOHN LOWERY recorded Side Two and JAN UVENA recorded Side One

After the 8th line-up Timo semi-retired and started other endeavours. After a lengthy hiatus he started working with different musicians depending on the project. He also retired the '360 Systems Polyphonic Guitar Synthesizer' as analog synths were replaced/updated to digital synths. He then started using two Roland GR-33 synthesizers hooked up in tandem.

With interest resurging again in Timo's music because of the re-issues of the first two LP's on CD, Timo returned.

He then recorded, and released the third Symphonic Slam album titled “Her Fire” and released on CD in 2005.

This line up featured:

TIMO LAINE: Lead & Backup vocals, Lead guitar, Roland GR-33 Polyphonic Guitar synthesizers, Acoustic guitar
NOE CRUZ: Bass guitar
BOB WINN: Drums, Backup vocals (tracks 2, 4-11)
with guests:
MARK VAUGHN: Drums (track 3)
DENNIS BROWN: Drums (track 1)
LARRY CLASS: Keyboards (tracks 2 & 4)
LES CARLSEN: Lead vocals (tracks 1,3,4,6,7)
MIKE MEUCCI: Lead vocals (track 5)

Timo stopped recording using the Symphonic Slam name using his own instead.

Also in 2005 Timo released what's considered his first solo album, it was all instrumental titled “Monotrim Project” and featured:

TIMO LAINE: Lead guitar, Roland GR-33 Guitar synthesizers, Acoustic guitar, Bass guitar
NOE CRUZ: Bass guitar

Next album was also an instrumental, titled “Guitar Works Special Edition” and released in 2008.

It featured:

TIMO LAINE: Lead guitar, Roland GR-33 Guitar synthesizers, Boss drum machine
JEFF HULL: Bass guitar
BOB CACCIATORE: Keyboards (on track 9)

In 2012 Timo released a 15 song “Best of Symphonic Slam” album with songs from the three Slam albums and Timo's two instrumental solo albums.

He released two more singles:

In 2013 “Paul and John” featured Timo along with STEVE EDDY on Keyboards, and MARK STEVENS on Drums.

In 2014 he released “Save Your Soul” from the “Her Fire” album.

Timo semi-retired again to spend more time creating art work and traveling the world collecting insects and building a museum class collection.
-Ray Furlotte, Symphonic Slam Road Manager
Photos supplied by Ray Furlotte & Timo Laine.
Go to http://symphonicslam.com for more information




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