Back in the early 80s when we relocated from Toronto to Barre, it seemed that my sax-playing days were winding down. Toronto bands may have had second thoughts about hiring me for a gig down there, assuming I would not want to travel to far.
Then one day in 1988 while doing a bit of browsing a mini mall called the Downtown Centre, I walked passed a guy who was up on a ladder painting a sign and he said, “Is that you, Russ? What are you doing up here in Barrie?”
It was Paul Lapp, a drummer I had casually known from many years ago in Toronto. Paul was the original drummer with a very popular Toronto group called “Robbie Lane and The Disciples” when they were still literally a garage band just starting out. Robbie just lived up the street from me back in the 50s.
I came to realize that, in addition to drumming, Paul was a very busy commercial artist. He was glad to see me and casually asked me what would be a life-changing question: “Who are you playing with around here?” When I said “Nobody”, he was surprised and said he could introduce me to a few people and maybe I could get some work.
The rest is history, as they say. Paul introduced me to Ted Fry, the drummer and leader of the Figleaf Jazz Band.
It turns out that the “Figs” had all been playing together for many years before I came along. The group had its beginnings back in Toronto when a bunch of school teachers who were part time musicians decided it would be fun to get together and play some Trad Jazz. They even had a friend design a band logo which was proudly emblazoned on their shirts.
In the band at that time I was introduced were:
- piano Geoff Mulholland
- string bass and electric bass Bruce Rumble
- drums Ted Fry
- trumpet and musical director John Potts
- trombone Roger Kerslake
- tenor sax and clarinet John Gould and/or Harvey Johnson.
Ted invited me to sit in with the Figs when they were playing a gig at the Continental Inn in Barrie.
This was the first time I had ever played with a bunch of schoolteachers. They were different. I have read that teachers who are also part time musicians frequently report low confidence in their playing ability. This might explain why these guys did not seem to take their performance too seriously.
But this group would turn out to be one where I had the most fun. There was always lots of mirth and merriment during our gigs and playing with the “Figs” would turn out to be a major part of my continued musical journey.
Ted Fry was also an avid skier and one of the regular venues was the Toronto Ski Club…
A subset of the full Figleaf Jazz Band, “The Figleaf Jazz Quartet” appeared at one of Barrie’s hotspot clubs called Ruanne’s on a number of occasions for Sunday afternoon jazz. I think it was around this time the Barrie Jazz Society was started by a very avid enthusiast, Betty Boland.
We got a very nice writeup in a local Barrie Newspaper…
Thanks to the savvy and resourcefulness of “Father” Ted, this band got loads of work. I would call him a major beater of the bushes. It seemed that nearly every day he would be out and about, drumming up business. He knew a lot of people who managed clubs and he was often seen distributing promo flyers.
People might say “You guys clean up real good” when we got the chance to perform Jazz Vespers for the congregation of Geoff Mulholland’s St. Thomas church where he was the organist in Shanty Bay…
Collage of Russ photos from playing at the Orillia Legion Hall…
Collage of Russ photos of Figs at Barrie’s Kempenfest (2007)
FIGS WITH SPECIAL GUESTS
Over the years, the Figs were blessed with many guest performers jumping in to support the frivolity.
The Figleaf Jazz Band decided at the end of their annual Christmas gig for the Simcoe County Jazz Society to pack it in, thus ending a very long sensational journey through space, time and musical mayhem.
Aside from recordings of this group being cut at professional studios, Mr. Potsi helped with getting the sounds out to the masses by producing a few “home-grown’ works. Here is one that didn’t make the grade. I’m not sure why…
Several recordings (vinyl LPs, CDs) can be found as artifacts representing the Figs career. A partial list includes:
- FIG LEAF RISING (1979 LP)
- GONE TO THE ONION ROOM (1982 LP)
- STEWED FIGS (1996 CD)
- LIVE AT TWIN LAKES (1996 CD)
- FIG PUDDING (1996 CD)
- FIG MCBITS (2000 CD)
- LIVE AT THE BULL & BARREL (2003 CD)
- GOOD OLD ONES (CD)
- HIDDEN TREASURES (CD)
- GO FIGGER (2008 CD)
BAND MEMBER BIOS :
- as written by Potsi
Ted Fry or “The Silver Throat” as he is known in all the best circles (like Stonehenge), is the Figs’ mentor, guru, confessor, and surrogate father. Appearing at the Charlottetown Festival in the title role of “Anne of Green Gables” (Mr Green Gables himself), Mr.Frye is a highly accomplished contralto with basso profundo overtones and his vocals and wizardry at the microscope are legendary from Phelpston to Hillsdale. With the assistance of assorted cattle prods and livestock stimulants (the Figs are in indebted to the Huronia Society for the Suppression of Rodents for these “supplies), Ted’s on stage performance can often be described as “electrifying”.
Favourite Drink: “Revival Special” (3 parts Cointreau, 4 parts Geritol, 6 parts Labatt’s Blue, a dash of STP)
Sponsor: The Stratford Wheelchair and Brewing Company
Hit Records: “I’m Only a Cockeyed Occulist” from “The Figs on Broadway”
Roger “The Lodger” Kerslake – recognizably a native of Devon by the flecks of rancid clotted cream stuck in his voluminous beard, Roger is a leading evangalist for the venerable Figleaf philosophy “Practising Cuts into Drinking Time”. Smegley’s recent Two-for-One rental of less than desirable burial plots near the sheep dip inspired Roger to plant an allotment of “medicinal herbs” after his graduation from Camp Turnaround. Roger has been assigned a fulltime “nurse” from the Ontario Department of Animal Husbandry to advise him on which end of his trombone to stick the mouthpiece in.
Zodiac Sign: Aquarium the Fish
Occupation: Hubcap Inventory Clerk, Coney Island Wreckers, Port McNicoll
Club: Ex-Gentlewomen’s Lawn Bowling and Snorkelling Society of the Near Arctic
Hit Record: “The Church Bell Won’t Ring Tonight Cos the Vicar’s Got the Clapper” from “The Figs Play Sacred and Secular Songs That Will Live Forever”
Geoff Mulholland (piano and virginals) a high ranking officer in the Air Force (War of 1812) Geoff once used his aviational skills to musical advantage by throwing himself headlong down three flights of stairs, closely followed by an 84 key electronic piano, an exquisite Fender amplifier, a Massey Ferguson tractor and the sheet music for “Twas on a Pile of Debris That I Met Her” and “Never Heave Your Bosom in a Front Hook Bra”
Club: Southern Ontario Geranium and Badger Step Dancing Society
Regiment: Queen’s Own Light Ale Quaffers
Favourite Colour: Ambre au Molson
John Potts, known ironically as “Potsi” by disillusioned Figomaniacs, is thought to be almost as old as his trumpet, a relic of the Third Crusade. The instrument’s handcrafted wooden valves may account for Potsi’s stumbling finger technique and excruciating tone, as well as the small heaps of sawdust frequently found on the stand following fast numbers. All of the Figs recordings were made over the vociferous protests of their personal physician, a highly respected though recently disbarred veterinarian. Doctor Weasel’s fears for Potts’ chronic physical and mental incapacity were somewhat overcome after he wired the trumpet player’s pacemakers to two 12 volt car batteries and the Pottmeister suddenly began to play with unexpected abandon.
Occupation: Sardine trainer and small rodent hair stylist
Musical training: are you kidding?
Zodiac Sign: Androcles the Loin
Career Highlight: Appeared in Museum of Civilization Exhibition “Musicians, Stick Insects, Sphagnum Moss and Other Primitive Life Forms”
See also “The John Potts Story“
David “Dill Pickle” Rawlings – after 25 years of intensive study at the Saskatchewan Clinic for Disabled Rodents and a Beef Jerky Factory in Inuvik Dave is now a master of the one string banjo with an encylopedic knowledge of 4 chords. Dave’s moustache (which is home to several species of once thought to be extinct vermin) has recently been declared a nature reserve and national park by the Audobaun Society.
Zodiac Sign: Herpes the Crab
Hobbies: Underwater weasel wrestling and mouse hurling
Nose: 348cm fully extended. Site of the 2026 Winter Olympics
Hit Record: “Never Kiss a Lady When Her Mouth Is Full of Snuff” from “The Figs Play the Hank Williams Songbook”
Bruce Rumble (nom de plume “Juice” – 3rd Bass and Line Backer for the Painswick 69ers) – formerly of the Andrews Sisters and Spice Girls (until his unfortunate snowmobile accident) has recently been playing with renewed resplendence following a court mandated sojourn at an experimental clinic and herring farm in Grasshopper Narrows, Manitoba. Rumours of his struggles with bulemic anorexia are said to be have been exaggerated by the Jane Fonda and Freight Watchers.
Occupation: Shipping Clerk and bouncer at Zorro’s Funeral Parlour and Convenience Store in Fesserton
University Degrees: 3 Celcius
Hit Records: “I Come From Alabama with a Bandaid on My Knee” (from “The Figs Live in Bosnia”)
Russ Strathdee “Doctor Sax” – his licence to practice “medicine” from the disreputable University of Southern Innisfil and Mr PhotoKopy in the Kovlov Centre. Imagine a 5600lb Bull Moose in full rut, several thousand Canada geese startled from a corn paddy by a herd of meat crazed wolverines, stir in a Boeing 747 with no muffler taking off from Pearson, and you have some inkling of the ferocious power of Dr. Sax MD howling his way through a particularly terrifying solo. Russell plays all the saxophones from the dainty soprano to the gigantic baritone which contains enough scrap metal to refit the entire Canadian Navy (also used for storing broken down snowmobiles, three sides of beef, assorted lobsters and a shipment Toronto refuse)
Favorite Song: “If I Had a Nose Full of Nickels I’d Sneeze Them All Atchoo” (from “The Figs’ Greatest Hit”)
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