Calgary's music scene was still very much in its infancy in the late '50s, and capitalizing on the free range of sounds to experiment with, Bruce Innes began performing professionally at age 11. While attending the University of Montana, he formed a folk group called The Big Sky Singers. Although they recorded enough material for a record, no one bit and the album never materialized. But while there, he was handpicked by blues legend Josh White, who was in poor health at the time, to tour with him.
After returning to Calgary in '67, he sang and played guitar in the local coffeee houses while experimenting with blues, folk and country. He met bassist Graham Bruce and drummer Peter Brown and formed North Country Singers. They recruited Dixie Lee Stone, a secretary by day and singer on the weekly CTV program "Calgary Safety Roundup" on weekends. They graduated from the local coffee houses and were soon doing shows around Alberta and BC, and into the US. It was on one of these trips while in Portland that they were introduced to Bliss Mackie, who soon joined the group as the second guitarist.
They continued touring the continent and were signed to Dot Records, where they released a pair of singles in 1966. The group was also named "best vocal group in the nation" by Cavalier magazine. They moved to Los Angeles and changed their name to The Original Caste, but by 1968 the band was back on Canadian soil, now making Vancouver their home base. They released a pair of singles, "I Can't Make It Anymore" and "Snakes and Ladders" that year on Dot Records to little fanfare. Innes and Stone were now married, and the band scored a deal with TA Records, with Bell Records handling distribution. They were sent to LA the following spring to begin work on their debut album. While there, they met Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, songwriters and producers who agreed to help the band.
With Potter and Lambert writing the bulk of the album, ONE TIN SOLDIER was released in '69, and the title track lead off single was an instant smash. It broke the top 40 in the US and the top 10 in Canada, topping the charts in several local markets along the way. 1970 began where 1969 left off. The second single, "Mr Monday" did even better at home, peaking at #4 on RPM's charts. Even though it failed to chart Stateside, the band had sold three million records worldwide. A third single from the record followed, "Nothing Can Touch Me," b/w a cover of The Beatles' "Come Together."
The band at this point had a string of singles released in Japan to good results, including "Mr Monday" staying on top of the charts for over six weeks. But as they prepared to embark on a tour of the Orient in the summer of 1970, Brown was gone from behind the drumkit and was replaced by Joseph Cavender. While in Japan, a previously unreleased track "Ain't That Telling You People" was released. A tour of Europe followed, and after a brief rest after returning home, they hit the road once again. Along with appearances on practically every TV variety program there was, they opened for some of the biggest names of the day, including Glen Campbell, Bob Dylan, The Kingston Trio, and BB King.
Sold out shows at Tokyo's Budokan prompted 1971's two Japan-only live albums. Cashing in on the trend seemed only natural, and Bell released a greatest hits package in Japan the next spring.
Once the touring ended the band returned home to regroup. "One Tin Soldier" found life in the movies in on the 1972 'Billy Jack' soundtrack. The song's natural 'good Samaritan' feel to it also made it a shoe-in for regular play in the Canadian Catholic School system's masses. But all was not happy within the camps. Internal issues had the song recorded by Coven for the movie, but it still meant another round of the charts and radio stations. But the internal band issues resulted in Dixie Lee releasing her self-titled solo debut the same year, produced by Perry Botkin. Still under contract with Bell, she did a short series of dates to promote the record but no singles were released, tho it did have a cover of Ian Tyson's "Four Strong Winds".
Mackie moved back to the US and was briefly replaced by Dennis Coats. But after the decision was made to move back to Calgary, Coats was soon gone, and a trimmed down version of the band featured the Inneses, new bassist Gary Carlson and new drummer Tom Doran.
They signed a new deal with Century II Records and with Bruce Innes producing, released BACK HOME the summer of '74. With more of a country flavour to it and despite the first single "Don't Stop Now" getting a fairly good response, the ill-fated label gave no support and the members quietly ventured off to do other projects. Dixie Lee returned with a second solo album called CHINOOK in '77 on PLP Records. Produced by husband Bruce, it would be their last workings together.
Bruce meanwhile carried on with his new project, Appleshine, releasing one album in '76. Following their 1980 divorce he moved to the US and went on to do other things, before resurrecting the band's name and continuing touring. He also found work doing commercial jingles and some independent film score work. Dixie Lee re-married and became a social worker in Victoria, BC.
In 1992 their debut album was remastered and released on CD. On it were four bonus tracks, including a studio and a live version of "Come Together," "Ain't That Tellin' You People," and "When Love Is Near." The band also found a new life later on, when "One Tin Soldier" was featured in an episode of both King of The Hill and The Simpsons.
Universal Japan released ONE TIN SOLDIER - BEST OF THE ORIGINAL CASTE in 1995, prompting Innes to again resurrect a touring version of the band, now called One Tin Soldier Rides Again.