Tom Northcott is a Vancouver folk-rock singer with hits on the local pop charts from the mid-60s into the early 70s. He became known to a Canadian audience by his regular appearances on CBC Television’s Let’s Go music program in 1964-68. He was nominated as best male vocalist for a Juno Award in 1971. Later he co-founded Mushroom Studios in Vancouver and produced records. His hits are played regularly on Canadian oldies music stations.
Born in Vancouver in 1943, when he was in his teens Tom Northcott was gaining a reputation performing on the Vancouver coffeehouse circuit in the early ’60s. In particular, he was a regular in the Kitsilano neighborhood, the nexus of the hippie scene north of San Francisco. In 1965, Northcott took over from Ronnie Jordan as the lead singer for the Vancouver Playboys, a group that wore identical suits. The Vancouver Playboys were an exciting new band that fused the Beatles look with music resembling of The Ventures (of “Walk Don’t Run” fame). Northcott founded one of Vancouver’s first labels, Syndrome Records. Warner Record executives in Los Angeles were amazed at Northcott’s savvy and offered him distribution. While the Playboys toured the country that summer and fall, the label served home to their first single, “Cry Tomorrow”. It was the first of eleven Top 30 hits on local AM radio stations in Vancouver.
But by the end of the year Northcott left the band. With a 12-string guitar, Northcott formed The Tom Northcott Trio with drummer Chris Dixon and Rick Enns on bass. They were soon regulars on CBC TV’s Let’s Go program. Meanwhile they were selling out the top clubs in the area like The Afterthought in Kitsilano. The Tom Northcott Trio traveled to California and played gigs in San Fransisco and Los Angeles. This exposure got them further performances as and they opened for The Who, The Doors and Jefferson Airplane. In December 1965 they released “Just Don’t” to overall good reviews. It charted on both CKLG and CFUN peaking in January 1966. His next song, “Goin’ Down”, with the Tom Northcott Trio, has been reviewed at position #1138 on this Countdown.
His biggest hit song was the sunshine pop psychedelic tune, “Sunny Goodge Street” from 1967. The song, written by Donovan and first recorded on his album, Fairytale, became Tom Northcott’s signature tune. (Donovan’s signature tune, according to Wikipedia, is “Mellow Yellow” not “Sunshine Superman”.)
For a follow up to his local success Northcott drew from American folk-singer, Harry Nilsson, and his song “1941”, from his December 1967 album Pandemonium Shadow Show. Northcott quickly made his own recording. “1941” first appeared on the CKLG Boss 30 in Vancouver on January 13, 1968. Tom Northcott’s subsequent hit single in Vancouver was “Girl From The North Country”, written by Bob Dylan. He had more success in 1969 with “The Rainmaker“. In 1970, he had another Top Ten hit in Vancouver titled “Crazy Jane”.
Crazy Jane by Tom Northcott
“Crazy Jane” is a song about a woman who sings her songs to birds and flowers. She understands trust and love. She also lives in a field of flowers. She has left a life of normalcy, though others want her to turn her life around and live more conventionally. Meanwhile, other people who see her who are “sane” can tell she’s from another place. The song offers up Jane, a flower child, who is not concerned with making a living and the trappings of a life of snakes and ladders. While Jane has the nickname, “Crazy Jane”, perhaps it is the others who are in fact crazy. Having found a way to be in communion with nature, Jane smiles effortlessly and seems to have a life of ease.
Snakes and Ladders is an ancient Indian board game regarded today as a worldwide classic. It is played between two or more players on a gameboard having numbered, gridded squares. A number of “ladders” and “snakes” are pictured on the board, each connecting two specific board squares. The object of the game is to navigate one’s game piece, according to die rolls, from the start (bottom square) to the finish (top square), helped or hindered by ladders and snakes respectively. The game is a simple race contest based on sheer luck. The original game in India was used as a tool to teach about virtues and vices.
“Crazy Jane” gave a nod to “Hey Jude” by the Beatles with its uncommon extended ending with “na-na, na-na.” The song peaked at #3 in Chilliwack (BC), #6 in Vancouver (BC) and Medicine Hat (AB), and #8 in Edmonton (AB).
By 1971 Tom Northcott had scored ten consecutive Top 30 hits in Vancouver and was on a streak of six consecutive singles reaching the Top Ten. But in 1971 he had his final Top 30 hit, “Spaceship Races”, which missed the Top Ten peaking at #15. The song was written by the songwriting team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King. The week “Spaceship Races” peaked on the CKLG and CKVN charts, Carole King’s double-sided single “It’s Too Late/”I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet”, and her album, Tapestry, were number one single and album on those local charts.
Northcott changed careers in the early 1970s and got a license to become a commercial fisherman in British Columbia. At the end of the decade Northcott ran for public office under the banner of the Social Credit Party of British Columbia in the New Democratic Party stronghold of East Vancouver. He lost the campaign. Once again he switched careers and, after studying law at university, he specialized in maritime and admiralty law. Northcott is now retired and living in Kamloops, British Columbia.
-Ray McGinnis, October 23, 2018