By Kevin Howes
WAYNE McGHIE & THE SOUNDS OF JOY:
CANADIAN SOUND HERITAGE - JAMAICA TO TORONTO
Wayne McGhie & the Sounds of Joy's reputation precedes it. Thought by many to be the first Canadian soul LP, it's been talked about in hushed, reverential tones for years, the kind of album that leaves devotees of hard funk and JA rhythms with their jaws agape. Bandleader McGhie's missing-in-action status has only served to heighten the mystique. Shockingly little was known about the record or the circumstances of its creation, despite Sounds of Joy's strong connections with some of Jamaica's most celebrated music-makers.
Much to the chagrin of Canadian record peddlers, the vinyl has never surfaced in any great quantity. We're not talking one-copy-in-existence here, but just try finding an OG at your local. Add it to your want list under Chip Dip, Makin' It Happen, and pray. Drummer Everton Paul doesn't even own an original pressing. "I did have a copy when it was completed," he says. "Wayne came round and asked to borrow it, and I never saw it again." Thirty-four years later, the hunt continues.
GOING IN CIRCLES:
By the mid-1990s, hip-hop producers and DJs worldwide were knee-deep in the excavation of buried funky treasure. After scouring the vast vaults of America's vinyl surplus, dealers and diggers looked to other countries. Forward-thinking collectors prospected for lost gems from across the globe. Whether they knew it or not, they were following in the footsteps of Jamaican soundmen such as the late Coxsone Dodd, who came to the States in the mid-'50s to look for obscure boogie-woogie, jazz, and merengue records.
In the beat-digging world, 1995 was the year that Wayne McGhie & the Sounds of Joy broke. "A record dealer in New York by the name of John Carraro had it," says Conception Records label owner and world-class DJ Mr. Supreme. "He was the first one to bring it out to the hip-hop community," Carraro explains further. "The whole thing started through another dealer I was buying from named Don Pingree, based out of New Hampshire. One day he gave me a call and was like 'Listen, I found this album Wayne McGhie & the Sounds of Joy.' I had never heard of it. He played 'Dirty Funk' for me and I was like, 'I'll take it.'
"The first one I brought to the Roosevelt show. I put it on my display wall. It was Prince [Be, PM Dawn] who bought the first one," recalls Carraro. "A lot of the time, he wouldn't want to talk. He would be saving his voice. I put the needle down on the break beat and he just looked at me and with his hands was like 'Up, take it off. Take it off!' I took it off, handed it to him, and he hid it. The first one went for $300. I sold one to Prince, one to Pete Rock, one to Gary "G-Whiz" [Public Enemy], and a couple others here and there. Pete was like, 'Oh, you got me one. I'll be right over.'"
The hard-to-find album began to fetch upward of $600. Still, its rarity was not the only reason for its heavy price tag; the music held the key. Supreme breaks it down plain and simple. "'Dirty Funk'? The name says it all."
If only to secure more copies of this elusive gem, collectors began scouring Toronto's Caribbean community for clues of Wayne McGhie's whereabouts. Thorough hunting high and low proved fruitless. He had apparently fallen on hard times during the eighties and was all but a distant footnote on the local music scene. Clues were running out.
With insight and verve, it was Jay Douglas, a talented Montego Bay-born singer and an old friend of McGhie, who eventually tracked him down. Wayne was alive, but medicated and being looked after by his sister Merline. He hadn't touched a guitar in years and had all but lost his passion for the music that made him an icon to music lovers the world over.
Meeting Wayne in Toronto this past January, we spent an afternoon eating, enjoying his music, listening to stories, and asking plenty questions. He was surprised to hear about his current popularity and pleased that people would have greater access to his work with this year's legitimate re-release of the Sounds of Joy album. In turn, Wax Poetics is honoured to share the story of Wayne McGhie & the Sounds of Joy.
WHEN I THINK OF HOME:
Hailing from Montego Bay, Jamaica, Wilfred-aka Wayne, or Wim for short-was born in 1947. Young Wayne caught the music bug early, as Merline remembers. "He was always interested in all kinds of music. From when he was growing up he liked to sing. I taught him the guitar scale and he ran with it." Wayne soon gained notoriety on the talent show circuit that acted as a breeding ground for the island's future stars. Inspired by American artists such as Billy Stewart, as well as local acts like the Blues Busters, Wayne's career path was set in stone.
Thanks to Canadian immigration reforms in the 1960s, Toronto became a new home for many West Indian immigrants. In 1970 there were approximately 45,000 people of West Indian origin living in Canada. They had come here for any number of reasons: some to work, others to attend school, and many to start a new life.
In response to the needs of this emerging community, Jamaican-born humanist and social activist Harry Gairey co-founded the West Indian Federation Club, a place where folks could converse, eat, listen to music, and sustain their heritage. Scouted by the club's management back home in Jamaica, Kingston-born musician Jo-Jo Bennett had moved to Toronto in 1967 to perform at the WIF.
Within no time, the club asked Jo-Jo if he could put a band together. "I sent for a few guys from Montego Bay, and Wayne was one of them. News started to filter down in Jamaica of what this band was doing, so a lot of guys started to migrate to Canada. That was the first place we played on our arrival."
Studio One session musician Lloyd Delpratt played at the WIF with Jo-Jo and Wayne. "The WIF Club was jumping nicely. In the sixties everyone wore a suit to go to the dance, and the women dressed up," Delpratt recalls. The musical policy was as open as the door. Although catering to the West Indian clientele, the club's mix of jazz, island rhythms, R&B, and even bossa nova attracted both black and white patrons, a benefit of Toronto's expanding multicultural landscape. DIRTY FUNK:
With the WIF sessions in full swing, other avenues began to open up for the growing pool of young musicians, which now included Jamaican music legends Jackie Mittoo and Alton Ellis. While Toronto's Yorkville area nurtured the burgeoning folk-rock coffeehouse circuit with performances from the likes of Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, and Joni Mitchell, Yonge Street was the scene for movers and groovers. Frank Motley & the Bridge Crossings, King Herbert & Knights, the Hitchikers, Jack Harden & the Silhouettes, the Sheiks featuring Mighty Pope, the Majestics, the Cougars, Jon and Lee and the Checkmates, and Grant Smith & the Power were just some of the groups that played to mixed-race crowds at clubs like the notorious Le Coq D'or, then the number-one soul club in town.
During this time, many of the players developed long-lasting friendships as well as musical partnerships. "Jackie and Wayne were close," remembers Merline. "I worked for Jordan Winery. Each month we would get a quota of wine. A big case. Jackie and Wayne knew when I would be bringing it home, so they would come round and they wouldn't leave till it was all gone."
Music was a breakfast, lunch, and dinner affair for these talented musicians. Band work, pickup gigs, and recording consumed most waking moments. Still, high-end studios were a luxury; the Canadian record industry of the time was neither structured nor willing to support black artists. Sessions for the Sounds of Joy album were self-funded and recorded during off-hours at Art Snider's Sound Canada Recording Centre in the winter of 1969. Wayne was only 23 at the time.
Possessed with an intensifying vision, Wayne assembled a stellar cast of musical friends and Jamaican-born instrumentalists. "It was Wayne's session," recalls Lloyd Delpratt, who played organ on the album. "In those days we'd just call a guy and say, 'Look, I need your help. Will you play on this session?' No money involved. Just friends. We were hoping that Art Snider would pick it up." Everton Paul seconds the casual nature of the recording dates. "In those days when you had a chance to go to the studio, pay was the last thing on your mind."
Twelve musicians are credited on the LP sleeve; others, including Jackie Mittoo, are rumoured to have sat in. For uncredited engineer and project investor Michael Bourne, the sessions were stressful: "Guys wouldn't show up on time. It was a nightmare." Still, the performances were natural and sure. Backing tracks were laid down first, followed by vocal overdubs and mixing at Thunder Sound Studios.
THE SOUNDS OF JOY:
Of the 10 songs, six were McGhie originals, and as the material moved from funk, to soul, to reggae crossover, it was Wayne's pure voice that set the tone. Instrumentally, the contributions were economical, dynamic, and heartfelt. In other words, the musicians didn't overplay.
Doubters should look no further than the emotional take of the Friends of Distinction's 1969 hit "Going in Circles" for proof. Wayne squeezed every possible ounce of soul out of his vocal while a haunting flute floated "round and round" and the chain-gang rhythm reached and pulled in equal measure.
Everton Paul's nasty "Dirty Funk" drum break, played on a mottled silver Ludwig kit, was as heavy as they come, and once the tune kicked in you'd be forgiven for thinking the band came from New Orleans, not the Caribbean. The lingering cloud of collie-weed smoke in the studio would have dispelled that notion in a hurry, though. Was this Canada's answer to the Meters?
Executive producer and astute businessman Art Snider saw that Wayne had created something with "marketing potential". In the recording stages, Snider was involved in picking the cover songs and assisting with basic arrangements. Once the album was in the can, his connections with Quality Music ensured that the finished product would see a domestic release via their budget Birchmount subsidiary. The completed album was sold to Quality and the recording expenses were recouped with little profit.
As Wayne was finishing the album, he decided to start a band of his own to capitalize on its coming release and make some money on the road. The band was dubbed the Sounds of Joy and lent its name to the LP released in the spring of 1970. Although the band started to gig to support the album, Birchmount did nothing to promote it.
"We even worked in Nipissing," states Alton Ellis. "North of Toronto on the Indian reservation. I can't forget that place. It's the first time I saw a snowstorm on the first day of summer. Flakes were coming out of the sky as big as building blocks." Snow in June was a far cry from the band members' sunny island birthplace.
Months later, an accidental fire at the Quality warehouse destroyed all remaining copies of the record. Because of its poor sales up to that point, it was lost in the label's scheduling shuffle, never to be re-pressed. Compounded with no radio play, any hopes of the Sounds of Joy as a recording and touring unit were extinguished. Despite Wayne's righteous aspirations for the group, the absence of support meant it was only a matter of time until things fell apart…
NA NA HEY HEY KISS HIM GOODBYE:
As a young black man in a new country, Wayne McGhie was not handed a recording contract; you'd best believe he worked damn hard. Pure hustle in effect, and if you think about the lack of promotion and how few original copies turn up today, the official Light in the Attic reissue of the Sounds of Joy is the debut of an album that was never released. Let's trust the world is ready this time round.
Kevin Howes currently resides in Vancouver, British Columbia and is on the prowl for Canadian sound heritage. Get back at firstname.lastname@example.org.