In 1962 I was invited by drummer Fred Theriault to join the Silhouettes, a house band that was playing at Toronto’s original Club Bluenote on Yonge St. (Fred knew me from when we had previously played together in the Jim Bishop band.)
The Bluenote was an “after hours” place for teens and young adults to go late on a Saturday night for R&B and Soul music.
It was situated at 372 Yonge Street a block south of the SW corner of Yonge & Gerrard Streets right in the heart of Downtown Toronto. It was on the second floor and you had to walk up a steep and narrow flight of stairs to the entrance where the club owners, Al and Jerry Steiner would greet you and take your admission fee. There was a coat check and a row of pop machines. Alcoholic beverages of any kind were strictly prohibited.
It had a night club atmosphere with dim lighting, lots of music and a floorshow. The club became popular with international artists such as Stevie Wonder, The Righteous Brothers, and The Supremes, all of whom performed impromptu late-night sets at the club after doing shows elsewhere in the city.
June 1961 snapshots feat. Kay Taylor & The Regents
The Silhouettes included:
- Doug Riley (organ),
- Howie Glen (bass),
- Fred Theriault / Peter Groschel (drums),
- Mike Holman (guitar),
- Steve Kennedy (tenor sax) and
- Russ Strathdee on tenor and alto sax.
Playing next to Steve Kennedy was a real blast. Although he had started a little later than myself to learn the sax, his skills were quite advanced. He played with a “jazzy” flair. It was Steve and Fred that started this new unit for the Bluenote after leaving a group called the Regents.
A tune I remember us doing was “Chitlins Con Carne”, a Kenny Burrell composition. One of our favourite sax players back then was Stanley Turrentine. Everyone seemed to enjoy our version of “Back At The Chicken Shack”.
Usually the 2nd set of the evening was reserved for the “Floor show”. This is when guest singers and other talented performers could be showcased with the house band backup. One of the instrumentalists was William “Smitty” Smith on B3 Hammond. He’s the first guy I ever saw and heard do a “smear” on the organ keys.
When the floor show was announced, there would be a mad scramble to grab chairs and set them on the floor facing the band stand. The floor was black and white checker board pattern and there was a mural of a city scape on the wall between the stage and the back door, which lead down a very narrow flight of stairs to the back parking lot where you go out to your car at break to have a bit of “unapproved” refreshment.
You never Knew who was going to drop in. One “star” that stands out in my mind during my tenure was Shirley Matthews. She was a very slender black girl who would get up and sing at the drop of a hat. Al Steiner bankrolled a recording session for Shirley in New York and she had a pretty big Canadian 1963 hit single with “Big Town Boy”.
A partial list of local favourites would include: Dianne Brooks, Jack Hardin, Jason King, Shirley Matthews, Cal Briggs, George Olliver.
Drummer Pete Groschel (RIP) might have had a better memory about guest artists. He once said:
“A lot of U.S. stars ended up at the club. We were featuring a floor show and many entertainers participated. Our house band was so good, we could back up just about anybody and had the pleasure playing with the Righteous Brothers, Jackie Wilson, Johnny Nash, Jimmy Reed, Conway Twitty, Stevie Wonder, along with local musicians such as Jackie Shane, Eric Mercury, Grant Smith, David Clayton Thomas, Ronnie Hawkins, Robbie Robertson and Leon Helm, etc.”
As bands evolve, so would this one. Around the time I left (to join the Regents) the very strong musical chops of Doug Riley and Steve Kennedy propelled the group forward to becoming The Silouette Review with Jack Hardin and Dianne Brooks.
The original Bluenote operated from 1959 to 1969. During that time Al Steiner had a number of different house bands… Bobby Dean & The Gems, Kay Taylor & The Regents, The Silhouettes, Jay King & The Spices, to name a few.