The Story Of The Associates
The Associates were an R&B group from Toronto, Ontario, active during the mid-1960’s. Though not popular in the traditional commercial sense, the group was an influential, popular, live draw throughout Ontario. Singer Roy Kenner's voice is one unmistakably linked with the Toronto Sound; built on the raspy wail that characterizes so many of Toronto's elder statesmen of R&B/Soul. Some members of The Associates had success in their futures but others would allow disillusionment to draw them away from the music business altogether. Below is the story of one of Toronto’s greatest R&B groups; Roy Kenner & The Associates.
The Associates were founded in early 1964 by singer and guitarist Tom Beavis. His first job was to find a rhythm section. Greg Scott [Carducci] was asked to play bass guitar, though he never had before; only playing standard guitar. The pair went to school together at Holy Cross Catholic School (Donlands Ave.), though Tom was a year older.
Greg took classes with Tom’s younger brother Michael, who he was briefly in a band with before the Associates; known as Jill & The Jacks. Greg and Michael played guitar, they were joined by Michael Sanella (drums) and Peter Sanella (bass), as well as Greg’s cousin Susan who sang. They dropped Susan shortly after and changed their name to The Chevelles. The band performed roughly a dozen smaller gigs around the GTA. Tom Beavis saw talent in Greg and asked him if he would join his new band; Greg accepted. Next was to find a drummer. The original choice was between D’arcy Wickham and Roy Kenner.
D’Arcy Wickham was a young multi-instrumentalist and budding songwriter at this time. Many will recognize D’Arcy for his guitar work in the 1970’s with Christopher Kearney, Ian Thomas, Raffi, Wickham & Crawford and finally, the short-lived trio he started with Tom Dunn and Ron Baumber. Though a great drummer, D’Arcy was instantly dwarfed when Roy said he could sing. This intrigued Tom and after a few songs, culminating in a raging version of Lucille, Tom and Greg looked at each other and knew they had their singer. Tom happily stepped back from the lead vocal position to accommodate the newly acquired and fiercely talented Kenner.
Roy Kenner was born in in Toronto, Canada on January 14th, 1948. His interest in music started when he began singing with St. Paul's Choir at an early age. He spent his youth entranced by the gospel and R&B music coming out of America; imitating as best he could while also learning as much as possible. His interest in music deepened after spending two years at Port Hope Summer Singing College in his early teens. This institution was not for the faint of heart, with vocal training sometimes going for upwards of ten hours a day; Roy excelled. He'd form/join a few short-lived rock groups while in his freshman and sophomore years of high school.
To get the ideal small-combo sound they were after, they still needed a drummer and a keyboardist. D’Arcy Wickham was hired as the drummer temporarily but this line-up never got out of the “rehearsal” setting.
Around this time, Tom and Greg (as well as Tom’s younger brother Michael and the previously mentioned Fenella brothers) were attending De La Salle College "Oaklands.” A boys only (at the time) high school at 131 Farnham Avenue in Toronto. Word began to get around that the guys had started a band. Two of their fellow school mates, who themselves had been playing in a band, were intrigued and sought them out.
Henry Black [Babraj] was a keyboardist/accordion player with a few years of experience; he had taken lessons and knew how to read music well. Ray Richards [Rychlewski] was a self-taught accordionist turned drummer. The pair were currently making money performing with a local Polka band [NAME UNKNOWN] (hence Henry’s distinction as an Accordion player). Henry had done various Polka gigs around this time and Ray would play with him occasionally. Ray was not very good at the accordion so he took some drum lessons. Ray wanted Henry to buy a Cordovox (Accordion that was an organ/accordion hybrid) as a way to get away from Polka, which Ray wasn’t really a fan of. Henry asked his parents and though the price disgusted them, they relented as they saw talent and passion in him.
They began playing early rock standards like “Louie Louie” in an attempt to move away from Polka and more towards the rock and pop that many other young bands around Toronto were playing.
After getting the sound just right, Ray introduced Henry to who would eventually become The Associates; Tom Beavis, Greg Carducci and Roy Kenner.
Tom and Greg (the defacto leaders at the time) felt the pair would be a great fit for the group; versatile, age-appropriate, part of the same small community, it was only a matter of asking. After a brief discussion, they were in. With the band together, the next step was to decide on a name. Roy being the ever-present, charismatic front-man, it was decided the group would be called R.K. & The Associates; soon to be expanded to Roy Kenner & The Associates.
Rehearsals began almost immediately. It was quickly decided that they needed an Organ. The group purchased a Lowrey Console Organ/electric Keyboard. This organ would soon be switched out for a used Hammond console organ, but not before playing a few church gigs in Toronto at Holy Name Perish (71 Gough Avenue). Interestingly, early on, Henry was only able to play the organ/keyboard with his right hand; a result of playing Accordion for the better part of two years. This created quite the humorous situation where his other hand essentially acted as dead weight, resting in his lap. This was remedied by Henry’s zealous ambition to master the piano with both hands, spending hours upon hours reading the Dave Brubeck transcriptions. It wasn’t long before he excelled having feverishly dedicated himself to this endeavour.
The band became musicians’ union members shortly thereafter, which helped them get more frequent, more established gigs. Henry and Greg were both too young to sign up on their own so they had to get parental permission. The first union gig they played was at the Purple Onion club in Yorkville on June 25th and 26th, 1965. This was right at the beginning of Luke & The Apostles’ first run as house band at the Purple Onion.
Their love of the R&B repertoire had produced a growing dismay with Henry’s organ sound. The Lowrey was weak for what they wanted, the Hammond console was just not enough; it was clear that the only option was a B3. This time, Greg’s mother co-signed for the organ, which they bought new, directly from the Hammond showroom ($5000 back in 1965).
As their live performances increased in frequency, the band quickly built their chops, becoming one of the best young R&B groups around; cutting their teeth on the local high school dance and afterhours club circuit. Their raw, intimate, stage show consistently won them fans, especially of the female variety. Kenner’s good looks, boundless energy and James Brown style stage antics were too much to resist. They caught the attention of Toronto based booking agent Ron Scribner early on. and with his brand of booking magic, soon expanded from Toronto/Scarborough area shows to play shows across most of southern Ontario.
Ron Scribner was a Canadian music manager, booking agent, club owner (part owner of Ronnie Hawkins’ Hawk’s Nest Club), and photographer from Willowdale, Ontario; he was born in 1942. In 1962 he established the Scribner Booking Agency which later merged with Roger Frazer's Quality Artists agency to form Ron Scribner Agency. Scribner joined with Tom Wilson (bassist of Little Caesar & The Consuls) and Fred White to establish The Bigland Agency on June 1, 1965. This was named in co-operation with Stan Klees who previously founded Bigland Records in 1964. Klees convinced the trio to use the name “Bigland” for their new agency.
Ron acted as an advisor/father figure to the group in those early days; guiding them on how they should behave on stage and in public, what to say, what to wear, etc. With Ron’s brand of marketing magic, the band soon expanded from Toronto/Scarborough area shows to play shows across most of southern Ontario. Their roots and core fan-base had them tethered to Toronto, more often than not however, which wasn’t a bad thing; with Ron backing them, they managed to get gigs at big Toronto R&B clubs such as The Gogue Inn, Hawk’s Nest, Club 888, The Broom & Stone, and the Brant Inn, among others. A selection of these gigs are particularly noteworthy; Opening for Wilson Pickett at Club 888 (alongside The Rogues [Mandala]) and Club Kingsway (October 2nd, 1966; opening with Dee & Lee and the Roulettes); opening for Ike & Tina Turner at The Hawk’s Nest (November 23rd, 1966), and opening for James Brown at Club Mimico, on the nights of his first Toronto appearance (Monday November 8th & Tuesday November 9th 1965).
Arguably the most important club in the career of The Associates was the Modern Age Lounge. The M.A.L. was a banquet hall, located at Danforth Avenue and Victoria Park owned and operated by Mike Diasio. Thanks to a mutual relative (Mike’s sister was married to Greg’s mother’s brother) Greg found out about the club and informed the group.
The M.A.L. was notable for hosting R&B and dance oriented bands, but also for the record hops of Merv Buchanan; a.k.a. Tommy Trend, who packed the floor of teenage dances with his special brand of obscure R&B and Soul 45’s cultivated from abroad. Merv, funnily enough, later helped the Associates build their record collections locally whereas before hand, they had to travel to Buffalo to get the good R&B singles they were after.
The band approached Mike Diasio and asked if they could rehearse at the club during off hours. He agreed under the condition that they help him promote the new club by performing there and telling everyone they know about it. The band was more than happy to oblige under the condition that as soon as they start drawing more than 300 patrons a night, he has to pay them. It didn’t take long for them to become a hot draw at the club, essentially the house band.
They consistently packed the Sunday afternoon dances at The Modern Age Lounge and they gradually became friendlier with Mike as time went on. Indeed as time went on, Mike became more and more of a “father away from home” so to speak; he fed them when they were hungry, he lent them money when they were broke and let them crash at the club when they needed a place to stay. Merv was another constant who fit the F.A.F.H. mold in their lives. He helped them grow their repertoire, their music collections, encouraged their growth and helped them record their lone single.
Merv had been toying with the idea of putting his own record label together for a few months. He dreamed of an operation that would mimic the template pioneered by Motown Records’ Berry Gordy; acting as label, recording studio, music publisher, pressing plant and record distributor, all under one roof.
In 1965, he formed TREND Records, with the sole purpose of making the recording business accessible to emerging Canadian talent, traditionally hampered by lack of resources and connections. At the time, only a few major international labels, like Capitol and RCA were active in Canada and their main activity was the pressing and distribution of records for foreign artists signed by their American or overseas offices. Very few Canadian artists were being signed and those that were seemed to wither, due to lack of attention; Merv sought to rectify this situation.
Working together at the Modern Age Lounge gave Merv a front row seat to the raw power and stage presence of the Associates. From the opening moments where the energy is dictated by the group’s emcee Terry Walker (who a few years later would helm his own nine-piece soul revue Terry & The Pyrates; a fellow TREND recording artist, that featured Triumph’s Mike Levine on bass), to the climactic closing of their set, The Associates proved exactly why they were so popular; they lived their music. Merv knew he had to record them.
After one particular gig at the The Modern Age Lounge in the autumn of 1965, the group recorded “Without My Sweet Baby/Baby You’re What I Need” live, off the floor at the M.A.L. with Merv “behind the board” so to speak. The band and to that end Merv, had a great relationship with the club owner Mike Diasio, so he simply left them the keys and went home. Merv prepared the set-up before the band arrived. In classic D.I.Y. fashion that he’d become known for in later years, the “set-up” was simply a stereo Reel-to-Reel tape recorder and two microphones.
“Baby You’re What I Need” is an up-tempo fuzzed-out R&B tune, reminiscent of The Mandala or Jon-Lee & The Checkmates. “Without My Sweet Baby” is in a class all its own however. This song is a deep, brooding, bluesy-soul tune, with an absolutely spell-binding combination of Henry’s swirling B3 Organ, Tom’s dreamy ascending/descending guitar lines and the impassioned wailing of Roy Kenner. This song oozes heartbreak; Roy’s gasps of sorrow are visceral and real. “Without My Sweet Baby,” along with their rendition of George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” were regarded by those who saw the band live as high points of their show, bar none! Roy’s amazing delivery and ability to milk every note had audiences hanging on his every word.
This was set to be the debut release on Merv’s new label. With that, TREND Records was born! Upon its pressing, the single was distributed to a few local radio stations, with most of the copies given to band members to hand out at shows. This single was pressed in a limited quantity of 250 copies. Interestingly enough, there was a single-sided promo released to radio stations and distributed by the band before the official TREND single release. This contained “Without My Sweet Baby” on the A-Side and the B-Side was blank. Only 100 copies of this promo were pressed.
Unfortunately, upon the official release, the single went virtually nowhere, although it did garner some airplay. It’s remembered today merely as a footnote of Toronto’s proud R&B past; only known by a select few passionate fans, collectors and historians. Many liken the 45 to a hidden gem, waiting to be discovered.
As 1965 became 1966, things were really looking up for The Associates. Though their record didn’t net them much in way of opportunity, stories of their live show were spreading throughout Ontario. This resulted in them getting gigs farther away from Toronto and saw them on the road more frequently. A plan was also in the works over at the Bigland Agency early on, putting together a Maritimes tour for some of their more popular artists. The announcement came down in the March 14th issue of RPM Magazine:
“Roy Kenner & The Associates will be part of a ‘Bigland’ package to tour the Maritimes with Lynda Layne and The Big Town Boys.”
The tour was set to begin in June and was reported on in multiple Canadian music publications after the initial announcement in RPM. Lynda Layne was an established Canadian pop star from Kitchener, Ontario. She appeared regularly on CBC’s “Music Hop” TV show, Won RPM's "Most Promising Female Vocalist Award" in 1964 and had multiple singles released between 1963 and 1965 (some charting hits). The Big Town Boys were also an established pop act in Canada at the time. They had multiple charting singles, had appeared many times on Canadian music TV, at the beginning of March 1966 released their much anticipated studio album for Capitol Records, and were showing themselves to be one of the most promising acts nation-wide. This would prove the most “star-studded” event of The Associates career up until this point; speaking volumes to their immense talent and popularity locally. It seems Bigland felt they were up to the challenge by not only including them on the bill, but also having them be Lynda Layne’s backing band throughout the tour.
The Associates had a few shows to perform before they embarked on the multi-week journey, including the high-profile opening gig for Wilson Pickett (while Jimi Hendrix was still his guitarist) on his May 25th visit to Toronto’s Club 888, alongside The Five Rogues (soon to rebranded as The Mandala). This gig cemented the band’s talent in the minds of The Rogues members; particularly that of Roy Kenner. Another notable event from this evening was in regards to Wilson Pickett’s set. Wilson’s drummer was unable to perform that night so Whitey Glan of The Rogues filled in.
The aforementioned tour began well; it wasn’t initially reported, but this was to be an arena tour, visiting some of the bigger venues across the Maritimes. Among these were the Halifax arena, Lady Bing arena in New Brunswick and many others. By all accounts, The Halifax arena shows were the most attended and garnered the best reception.
While things got off to a great start, it wasn’t to last. Nearing the end of the tour, John Henderson (keyboardist/backing vocals of The Big Town Boys) mother had passed away. He returned to Toronto early to be with family and Henry Babraj was asked to fill in for the last few dates. The Big Town Boys wore checkered-coloured shirts and Henry had to make a quick change when their act came up (careful not to rip his suit). This new arrangement meant that Henry was playing three consecutive sets, with three distinct acts, every night. He was tasked with learning The Big Town Boys repertoire in under twelve hours and excelled; performing nearly flawlessly. If there was any testament to the raw talent of Henry Babraj, it would be this; he was a consummate musician with skill well beyond his years. Eventually, Henry was contacted by the Big Town Boys who actually paid him money for replacing their keyboard player.
By the end of the tour, the money and morale had unfortunately run out for The Associates. Though most of the tour was a success, helping boost their image around the east coast (which they had previously never played), A number of incidents had taken place throughout the tour. Firstly, Ray’s drums were stolen. Next, someone stole Henry’s clothes and his suitcase, leaving him with nothing but his Big Town Boys shirt and the pants that he wore, as well as zero dollars to his name. The Associates were left to hitch-hike and find their own way home to Toronto. Roy and Henry got stranded in Montreal, Tom and Greg managed to get a truck ride back, transporting all the gear, Ray had to take the train.
Back in Toronto, the band was deeply impacted by the negative conclusion of the tour. Among other things, Henry was reminded in frustration by his parents that, he was wrong to leave school for this foolish endeavour. Additionally, there was dissatisfaction amongst the band with the Bigland Agency, particularly Ron Scribner. The group had long admired The Five Rogues and their eccentric manager Rafael Markowitz. Around this time, Mitch Markowitz (Rafael’s younger brother) fancied himself as a manager too. He admired the Associates stage show and saw potential with them. Around late-August, he approached the band and offered to be their manager.
The Associates signed on with Mitch Markowitz as their advisor and manager in early September. In all honesty, they were hoping to emulate some of The Mandala’s more potent business decisions; flashy suits, light shows, rebranding of some kind to stir up discussion, they were also hoping Mitch had some tricks of his own.
One of his first acts as manager was getting them on the star-studded line-up of the “Toronto Sound Showcase.”
This landmark gig took place at Maple Leaf Gardens on September 24th, 1966. This was a fourteen hour (running from 10:00am until midnight) rock concert conceived of and sponsored by CHUM-AM Radio (who broadcast the show as it happened) and CTV’s After Four Show. Fourteen of Toronto’s most popular groups were asked to perform in an effort to bring attention to the startling level of local talent on display within Toronto clubs, night in and night out. All proceeds went to charity and each group was given two opportunities to perform; one in the morning/early afternoon, the other in the late afternoon/evening. By many accounts, it was a well-received show with the performers bringing their “A Game.” Throughout the day a total of at least 26,000 people had attended the event. The roster consisted of: The Big Town Boys, Bobby Kris & The Imperials, Stitch In Tyme, Susan Taylor & The Peytons, Little Caesar & The Consuls, The Paupers, The Spasstiks, The Ugly Ducklings, The Five Rising Sons, The Last Words, The Tripp, Luke & The Apostles, The Secrets and of course, Roy Kenner & The Associates. Many of these groups were signed with The Yorkville Agency, and were also managed by Bill Gilliland, who was a well-known promoter in the Toronto area.
The Associates continued to gig around Toronto throughout the remainder of 1966. With a renewed vigour and vision, buoyed by their new manager, the band was posed to take over the city. Mitch Markowitz had a number of shows set up in December/January which essentially would be a high school and arena tour throughout more remote parts of Ontario. One gig in particular in New Liskeard, Ontario, sticks out in the minds of the members, particularly bassist Greg Carducci:
“It was the dead of winter, I remember Markowitz, he was driving and we were all jammed into this car. We were driving to New Liskeard and that’s a hell of a long way from Toronto. I remember we were freezing; we had to take turns sitting in the back seat because one of the back doors was dented and air was seeping into the car. You could only sit back there for so long before you had to switch to the front and warm up; we were freezing to death! So we get up to New Liskeard, we unpacked the trailer and desperately tried to warm up before playing. The show was in a theatre, like an old-timey movie theatre. There was another band on the show, can’t remember who they were, but they were some local band from New Liskeard. So our set goes well, the show goes well overall and then I remember we didn’t get paid! Those were the famous words in those days ‘Oh, yeah, we’ll settle everything back at the Bigland building.’ The disappearing cash was a result of promoter Duke/Luke Edwards. He was a black promoter who worked in Toronto and was ex-manager of Jon-Lee & The Checkmates, which is how we came to know him. I don’t know what he circumstances were, whether he didn’t make enough to pay the band or whether this was a deliberate action but all I know is, we didn’t get paid!”
This rough experience begat a relatively rocky winter, in terms of band cohesion; tensions began to rise amongst the members, culminating with the firing of Ray Rychlewski in March of 1967. He was replaced by drummer Lorne Hamilton. Lorne unfortunately wasn’t nearly the drummer that Ray had been; he was a technically gifted drummer but he lacked feeling in his playing.
To move past the discomfort surrounding the departure of Ray, the band began toying with ways to revitalize their image and boost morale. They considered changing their uniforms, stage presentation (adding professional grade ultraviolet lights) and lastly, changing their name to U.N.O. Ultimately, the band decided this was too extreme; only opting to change their live shows with the inclusion of a U.V. light show. The band carried on but unfortunately,the end was in sight. A disastrous miscalculation on the part of manager Mitch Markowitz, threatened to end everything for the group.
During the early days of June 1967, a globally recognized armed conflict broke out between Israel and an Arab coalition primarily consisting of Jordan, Syria and UAR Egypt, known as the Six-Day War. For whatever reason, Mitch Markowitz released a press statement that The Associates were going to travel to Israel to perform for the troops stationed there. But this wasn’t discussed with the band and this statement forced them to cancel any gigs they had at the time, and prevented them from searching for more.
So Mitch booked the band into a travelling carnival that was taking place out in Sudbury for a few days before moving. At that time Sudbury was nothing like it is today and this did little to boost the morale of the band. Mitch had them playing in a tent at this carnival and people were charged to get in. Unfortunately, they could hear the band clear as day from outside so nobody was paying to come inside. This presented a real problem for the band. This was the first time they couldn’t afford to eat while touring. They were at the carnival for nearly a week and didn’t even have enough money to buy food!
This was it; this was the end for the band. They had been so thoroughly demoralized by the experience that they were nearly forced to steal to survive. The band had been going downhill and downhill fast. It was decided while still at the carnival in August that The Associates were to be no more.
Behind the scenes, Domenic Troiano had been chatting with Roy Kenner and it just so happened that the Mandala was also going through a period of flux. They had just lost singer George Olliver and keyboardist Joey Chirowski to disagreements with manager Rafael Markowitz, and were looking to replace them. Domenic had long admired the musicianship and stage-presence of Roy and Henry specifically; in regards to The Associates. He offered the pair the job and they accepted.
It was a rough period for a number of Toronto’s R&B bands; The Mandala was changing their members, The Associates were breaking up, even Jon-Lee & The Checkmates broke up around this time. Mandala’s newly formed line-up of went on to success in Canada and the U.S. with their future singles and upcoming studio album Soul Crusade in 1968. On the other hand, a new project was rising from the ashes of these three bands.
Joey Chirowski originally got out of the music business altogether after quitting The Mandala, finding work for Canadian Pacific Railways briefly. In late 1967, he returned to the live scene and began looking for a new group. An unknown singer by the name of Doug Stokes was putting together a group; he had the name (Power Proejct), he had the suits picked out, he just needed musicians. He recruited Joey Chirowski on keyboard, Associates bassist Greg Carducci, Associates drummer Ray Rychlewski and Checkmates guitarist Larry Leishman to form Power Project.
After a few weeks rehearsing and developing a repertoire, Lee Jackson (former singer of Jon-Lee & The Checkmates) briefly joined before leaving for Peter Jermyn’s (ex-keyboardist of Luke & The Apostles) new group, Modern Rock Quartet in mid-1968. Him joining The Power Project was significant for influencing the group to change their name to Freedom Fair. This was a short-lived incarnation and after its demise many of the members would drift apart.
This, in rough terms, is where the story of Roy Kenner & The Associates ends. They were a fiercely talented and highly influential R&B band from the genre’s heyday in Toronto. They backed many notable acts (including James Brown, Wilson Pickett and Ike & Tina Turner), helped launch the historic TREND Records with the release of their debut single and launched the career of Roy Kenner, who went on to sing with Bush, The James Gang, Law and many other notable groups. One thing is for certain, Roy Kenner & The Associates will live on in the hearts and minds of their fans for many more years to come.
WRITTEN & RESEARCHED BY AARON LUSCH
WITH NOTES PROVIDED BY GREG CARDUCCI & HENRY BABRAJ