The Factree came from the Niagara region of southern Ontario.
Guitarist Chris Smith spoke to me about the group and shared his incredible collection of photos and memorabilia along with a CD collecting the band’s music.
There are some great unreleased songs. The early “Who I Am” was written by bassist Rick Gauthier and drummer Mike Weaver and recorded in Chris Smith’s garage. Chris lets loose three incredible buzzing guitar passages, one after each chorus. Rick’s bass lines lock in with Mike’s drumming for a solid backing rhythm. It must have been a great sound to hear live.
Another self-recorded song was Chris’s original “Blue Shades”. The vocals boom from a distance over rolling drums and a repetitive guitar and bass vamp to give an eerie effect. Chris provides another cutting solo.
There are two versions of another Chris Smith original, “Something Called Love”, and they make for a good comparison. The demo recorded at a Timmins, Ontario radio station has a cool bizarre ending not used on the Sparton 45 version, which is tighter and has good use of echo.
Mike Weaver and Rick Gauthier wrote the other side of the Sparton 45, “Kaleidoscope” which may be the culmination of their heavy sound, from Chris’ dissonant opening riff to the psychedelic lyrics and trippy middle section. After a great sludgy solo, Rick’s bass slows to a final Hendrix-inspired lick enveloped in echo. More than any Canadian or U.S. music of the time, “Kaleidoscope” reminds me of the hard-driving rock being cut by English groups like Tomorrow and the Pretty Things.
By 1969 the band was going by an abbreviated name, the Tree, and cut one last 45 for Michael Addario’s Canland Records label, a loose, catchy version of the Electric Flag’s “See to Your Neighbor” with Mike Weaver’s drums and the rough vocals standing out. It was backed with a Creedence-style version of Suzie Q.
Chris Smith answered some of my questions about the group:
I started playing guitar at age 14 like most my age after seeing the Beatles, we figured that’s cool. There were several groups before the Factory. – the Mercy Beats (’64/’65 – there might have been a bigger band with this name, we were just kids in my garage singing Beatles songs); the Spyders (’65/’66 – British rock); the Executioners and the Silencers (’66 – both pop rock); the Moddels (’66/’67 all the cool mod songs and blues); & the 13th Floor (’67 – Doors, Vanilla Fudge etc).
Q. When you joined the Factree they were still known as the Sinners, is that correct? Or was it started as a completely new band?
The Sinners had nothing to do with Factory. Mike and Rick were playing with the Mood – they broke up. I was playing with the 13th Floor. We were looking for a singer and got ahold of Rick to jam. Rick came out but was really only interested in me as a guitar player and wanted to stay with his drummer Mike, so he asked me to jam on our own. This was around ’66 / ’67 – Hendrix, Cream, etc, three man was in, so we wanted to go in that direction.
We came up with the name The Factory. We later changed it to Factree, later our fans kinda shortened to the Tree. The joke was we decided to Fac off. We were about half original, the rest Cream, Hendrix, usual acid rock stuff of the era. We were friends with the Spartons, The Sinners, The Night Walkers, many others, also friendly rivals of everyone – that’s just the way it was.
I wrote “Something Called Love”. We were messing with our garage recordings on a bunch of stuff. The garage recordings were done using two Phillips stereo recorders, Shure PE58 mics one on bass amp, one on guitar, overhead and snare and kick mikes. Run through a Shure mixer, vocals added on during mix. The reverb is the hallway that led to my basement, no processors at that time. I ran 100 feet of cable from the garage, we sang into the PA in the garage, sent it to a speaker in the hall, mike at the other end back to the recorders in the garage. With such long cables no low impedance, no balanced feeds back then, it’s a wonder the noise isn’t too bad considering. That was my start as a engineer for sure.
Pete Borbolli was the DJ friend of the Mood who recorded them on their 45, “Who Do You Love” and “Train’s Late”. He moved to Timmins and asked us to come up. The radio station was old school had real nice full studio for big band era stuff. We recorded “Something Called Love” and some other stuff there. We played a couple of large dance concerts up there hosted by the radio station.
Pete really flogged the music and it was on the playlist and did #1 in the Top Ten. We had a loyal following there and lots of promo and hype to boot. The demo did lead to the RCA contract.
The RCA sessions were a big thing for us small town boys in a real big studio in the big city Toronto. Everything was done in a few hours, we got there around noon and the studio closed at 5:00 so out the door we went. We managed to get it down, so all was good.
The RCA Sparton 45 was promoted by the company and did get considerable airplay at the time so we were happy. The first single on Sparton was to be followed by the second two songs we recorded that day – yeah we did four. It was unfortunate the masters were damaged before the second release was pressed.
We had a falling out with the producer so we decided to [go with] Canland, a friend who had a small music store and some recording gear in a back room. The Canland recording was more home brew and didn’t get the distribution of the RCA 45. It did keep us current and we had product to promote so the live scene was very successful for us.
Q. Regarding the vocals, were you singing lead on your songs and Rick and Mike singing together on ‘Who I Am’ and ‘Kaleidoscope’? How about ‘See to Your Neighbor’, which sounds very different than any other vocal by the band?
Yes, you are right about the vocals. I mainly sing lead on my own and the same for them. “See to Your Neighbour” was sung by Mike.
Q. Can you recall your setup as far as your guitar sound on the recordings and for live shows? You get a great variety of distorted tones on your leads – were there particular combinations of pedals and amps that you preferred?
The Timmins set up was a ’64 Gibson SG and Kimberly Fuzz made in Rochester, NY plugged directly into an Ampex tube mixer then direct to recorder. The garage stuff was Telecaster/SG and Kimberly through a Bandmaster. My set up at RCA was a ’61 Telecaster and ’66 Bandmaster, Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face. The Canland Tree stuff was Ace Tone Wah, Fuzz Face and Marshall Plexi.
Live, my main Factory/Factree/Tree set up was the Ace Tone Wah, Fuzz Face gradually discontinued in lieu of straight over-driven guitar through the Marshall. For the arena rock and halls I used a Marshall and Bandmaster with Sykes cabinets and a Traynor Roto Master Leslie (“I’m a Man” kinda sound). The guitars ’61 Telecaster, ’64 Gibson SG, later ’66 Burns Nu Sonic, ’67 Rickenbacker. The fuzzes evolved from the Kimberly, Zonk [John Hornby Skewes’ Zonk Machine], Fuzz Face, to none. The Ace Tone Wah most of the way in fact I still have it but haven’t used it in years.
Q. Did the group end with Mike Weaver’s sudden death?
Mike was from the club era and wanted to go more commercial away from acid rock, high school & dance concert stuff, so by 1970 we started play more hotel circuit stuff. I wanted to carry on my concert style and didn’t like the club scene on the road – too many nights in the same spot doing stuff I didn’t like. So I left the band.
They continued for a few months when Mike had his first heart attack. He was off a few months then back at it, he became ill again and died a few months later. Either way that was end of the band. Rick finished with another drummer and guitarist but it was over quick.
Q. In one of the clippings by Kevin Scanlon he writes that there was a deal with Island Records in the works – what happened with that?
The Island thing never went much beyond the rumor. Spencer Davis was talking about trying to set something up but they were pretty much defunct after our couple of gigs. We were hopeful to go to England and pursue the mission, but our own problems and lifestyles, change in direction and factors I discussed before – well it just didn’t happen. As a recap this inability to keep moving toward larger venues ultimately led me to leave my own group.
When I moved on I allowed Mike and Rick to continue as Factree again. Since the begining I was the leader and as such was paid double and had 50% control of any vote issues as well. Just because I was unhappy with direction, I felt I would let them carry on.
Q. What was your next project?
I was playing my thing with Padlok (heavy ’70s rock, half original) – see my web site www.kingoftheattic.com for details, samples and photos.