Knight, Ritchie & the Mid-Knights
Origin: Toronto, Ontario
This is actually the story of three bands, Richie Knight and The Mid-Knights, Mid-Knights Blues Band and The Mid-Knights Revue. The time frame covered is from 1962 until 1969, it is an evolution that includes Rock, Blues and R&B.
In the late fifties friends George Semkiw (guitar) and Leo Donaghue (sax) started the band with fellow members John McCanliss (guitar) and Jim Gwilliams (drums). The band started playing some dates in the area around Toronto. The band decided it required a bass player and Roger Woods is brought into the unit, also joining was Barry Lloyd on piano along with vocalist Rich Hubbard, but by 1961 the band loses all but Semkiw, Lloyd and Hubbard. Unfazed they go about the business of recruiting new players that will eventually become Richie Knight and The Mid-Knights.
In 1961 Semkiw, Lloyd and Hubbard add new players Barry Stein (Drums), Mike Brough (Sax), Doug Chappell (Bass). At this time Barry Lloyd switches from piano to Hammond organ. The band began playing dances around Southern Ontario quickly becoming one of the circuit’s favourite groups.
It’s amusing that being a garage band we never rehearsed in a garage. Our first space was in Barry Lloyd’s dining room and living room. Had to be since he had a piano there and then a little later it is where he had his Hammond. It’s amazing to me today to think that we did not get any grief from the neighbours (it was a semi-detached house) or Barry’s Mom and Dad. After Barry left the band and Ray Reeves joined we moved to his basement in a small bungalow. Again no problems from parents or neighbours.
Summer of 1962 the group played the entire summer playing bars on the famed Yonge Street Strip. It was at one these joints that Richard (promotion man at Arc) saw the band playing and thought that a song the boys were playing could be a hit record and brought it to the attention of Bill Gilliland.
That song was CHARLENA!
The band had first heard “Charlena” on a record by The Sevilles (a band from Los Angeles) at a Toronto dance hall. It was was quite a rough recording but the band loved the song and at a practice learned how to play it, with a slightly different version due to the fact they were learning it from memory. It quickly became a favourite for the fans at the dances where the band played.
Finally in early 1963 Gilliland got the band into ARC’s studio (with house producer Ben Weatherby), actually it was the label’s office and storage during the day and doubled as the studio at night. With metal garbage pails lifted off the floor and stuffed with rags to stifle any sound the band started the recording process. There were to be no overdubs, vocals and instruments were to be laid down as one item on a mono tape recorder. The process took a few hours stopping each time there was any error or to move microphones and even one time due to a train passing behind the buildings which had no sound proofing. Four hours later Charlena was recorded with a “B” side of “You Got The Power” a ballad originally done by James Brown.
ARC Records approached the band with the idea of not using just the name The Mid-knights on the record label since most artists of the day were featuring the name of the singer. After much discussion the name Richie Knight was arrived at and the birth of the new name Richie Knight and The Mid-Knights.
“Charlena” was presented to radio in the Spring of 1963. A local radio station CKEY was first to play the record but the powerhouse station was CHUM who took a wait and see attitude. Eventually due to fan demand CHUM began playing the song and it quickly became a listener favourite. “Charlena” had an infectious beat that allowed it to rise to the amazing position on the chart of #1, a position it held for two weeks. This was the first time that a local Toronto rock ‘n’ roll band had attained the prized #1 position on the CHUM chart! The record went on to sell in excess of 100,000.
Every dance wanted the band because with a hit record the teens flocked to wherever the band played, it was a very exciting time. The band played such memorable places such as The Balmy Beach Canoe Club, Crang Plaza, The Met, Mazaryk Hall, The Jubilee Pavilion in Oshawa, and The Pav in Orillia. Simply put the band played virtually every dancehall in Southern Ontario. The band’s two biggest shows were at Maple Leaf Gardens, the first was in 1963 while “Charlena” was still on the CHUM chart and the station presented a Dick Clark Caravan of Stars show at the Gardens. They were not only the only Canadian act on the bill but they also had the record that was highest on the chart at the time. Other acts included The Dovels, Dick & Dee Dee and Gene Pitney.
When we played Maple Leaf Gardens on the Dick Clark Cavalcade of Stars show on July 19, 1963 we were still babies in the business. It was quite a shock to hear Dick Clark reaming someone out using a string of profanities that we couldn’t fathom the baby faced icon of the teen world knowing let alone using.
Before Charlena hit we backed up many artists that toured without their own bands here are some memories of some:
Barbara George – we backed her up at dance hall called Mazaryk Hall that held about 1000 teens. When we had a rehearsal it was obvious that Barbara did not have a large repetoire. The only song she knew other than “I Know” was Ray Charles “What’d I Say”. The performance was the two songs with “What’d I Say” going on for about 20 minutes, most of which she shook her booty with numerous guys she pulled up from the audience.
Jimmy Reed – this show was at a venue that was in the YMCA in downtown Hamilton, Ont. His stuff was very simple, straight ahead blues, the only problem was that Jimmy did not really use 12 bar blues, he would do 10, 11 and sometimes 13 bars, so we had to listen to where he was going and try to follow. This was further exacerbated by his penchant for also changing keys in mid-song for no discernable reason.
Carl Dobkins Jr. – his major hit was “My Heart Is An Open Book” and he surprised us by being the most together of all the artists we backed up. The gig was at a summer dance hall in Orillia , Ont. called the The Pavillion (a great summer venue that held an audience of about 600), it was always called “The Pav”. Carl showed up with sheet music charts for us, we only used the chord patterns and the gig was really good; he was a consummate professional.
Bobby Curtola – Worked a few times with Bobby, he was a pro and was always easy to get along with.
I am quite sure that most bands had the same experience we had when playing High Schools. It seems that the only door that the custodians would allow us to use to bring in our equipment was the door furthest away from the area we were to perform, even if there was an entrance very close to the stage area. It also seemed that as the last note of the performance was still ringing they were there telling us to pack up immediately and leave.
Late in 1963 or early ‘64 the band records “The Joke” and soon after organist Barry Lloyd departs the band and is replaced by Ray Reeves. The second show at the Gardens was to open the show by The Rolling Stones, April 25, 1965.
Seeing the action, other Toronto bands entered the recording studio and the Toronto music scene changed incredibly because they knew there was a chance to get on the radio. Little Caesar and the Consuls, Robbie Lane and The Disciples, Jon & Lee and The Checkmates, David Clayton Thomas and The Shays, The Big Town Boys, Shirley Mathews, The Sparrow, The Mynah Birds and The Mandala. The music scene in Toronto exploded!