The group was formed in 1962-3 from the typical mash-up of fledgling bands, eventually segueing “The Belaires” and “The Hi Fi’s” into the The “Johnny Stevens Sextet”. For several years they mostly played area dances and rock shows, including acting as opening band for Dave Clark Five and The Supremes in London arenas.
Johnny Stevens, the group’s handsome, highly personable front man who hailed from Nova Scotia, was black and possessed an outstanding voice. His sidemen were all white.
The group’s genre was largely R&B and driving home from gigs in wee hours, they doted on WLAC Nashville, where host John R broadcast true blues, long before James Brown, Bobby Blue Bland, Lightnin’ Hopkins and BB King ever became well known.
Strasser, the bass player relates how in the early sixties, when some of them were still underage, the boys would attempt to get into The Brass Rail in London, to catch “The Hawk” where Ken would steal funky licks off Robbie Robertson and Hilton learned to twirl drumsticks like Levon.
Sax player Attwood was affectionately called “Cool C”, after a hipster bebop musician parodied by ‘50’s comedian Sid Caesar. (Not to be confused with 80’s rapper)
As popularity grew, the group began to play nightly at several local and area clubs, mainly Campbell’s and The 400 Club. At this point they signed with Saul Holliff, who promoted and managed Johnny Cash for 17 years. Holliff, made arrangements to have the group record their 45 single for Columbia Records in New York City. It was at this time the group renamed themselves Johnny and the Canadians.
“A million Tears Ago” and “Say Yeah” were written by the Gough / Crockett duo to meme the 60’s British Invasion style. Local popularity surged and the group quit jobs and went on the road, performing at clubs and stage shows throughout Ontario and Quebec, frequently sharing stages with contemporary musicians like Ronnie Hawkins, David Clayton Thomas and Bobby Curtola.
By 1967 the group folded and the various members returned home to disburse to other lives and bands, including locally popular “Plum Loco”. Organist Lou Crockett remains the only member still actively playing, with a group in the Vancouver area. (2018)
It is rather gratifying, that after these many years, Johnny and the Canadians have their own notch, eternalized in music history. You are doing great work and one day both musicians and historians will appreciate your detailed preservation of Canadian music.
Johnny Stevens: lead vocalist, trumpet (passed away)
Ken Gough: lead guitar, tenor sax
Bill Hilton: drums, vocals (passed away)
Dave Attwood: tenor, baritone sax
Joe Dengler: piano, vocals (passed away)
Lou Crockett: hammond B3, vocals
Reini Strasser: bass, backup vocals