Colleen Peterson memorial
The West Coast during the 1960s was a breeding ground for musical experimentation, often combining elements of folk, pop and psychadelia into one sound. Vocalist Brent Titcomb sidelined as a comedian was a staple on the Vancouver scene when he met up with fellow singer and comedian Donna Warner. By August 1964 they were writing together, when guitarist Trevor Veitch, who knew them from the local coffeehouses joined.
They began playing together under the name The Bill Schwartz Quartet, although there were only three members, and none were named Bill Schwartz. They changed their name to 3’s A Crowd by the following spring, and in June they appeared on the cover of the TV Times magazine. After sending out demo tapes to just about every label and management agency in the country, they caught the attention of Sid Dolgay, who’d left his group The Travellers (one of the more successful folk/pop groups in Vancouver at the time), and was now heading up his own company, Universal Performing Artists.
Dolgay brought them to Toronto, where they quickly became a fixture on the Yorkville circuit. They moved on to the Maritimes and in early ’66 added bassist Ken Koblun, ex of Neil Young & The Squires. His stay was initially short, as he moved to LA to join Buffalo Springfield, but didn’t even have time to unpack before he was back in Toronto with 3’s A Crowd, just in time for the taping of their appearance on CBC’s new TV show, “The Juliette Show.” Koblun would have to leave again that April, suffering from drug related programs. He was replaced by Comrie Smith, who’d filled in while Koblun chased his Buffalo Springfield dreams.
The group landed a deal with Epic Records, and was shipped off to New York that fall, where they recorded their debut single, “Bound To Fly,” shortly before Koblun rejoined the group. But by January ’67, he left again to try his hand with Buffalo Springfield again. Smith once again replaced him, and they added singer/writer David Wiffen and drummer Richard Patterson (ex Esquires), who were both playing with Ottawa-based The Children at the time.
They released a second single, “Honey Machine,” which did relatively well on the charts. But while the band was touring, making several TV appearances along the way, their onstage raport with the crowd ended up casting them as a comedy/musical group, which didn’t sit well with the members. After an argument with Epic execs about their direction they were pushing the band in, they severed ties with the label. They continued on the circuit during the summer of ’67 and found their way across Canada, making stops at several important gigs, including that year’s Mariposa Folk Festival in Ottawa.
By that fall they inked a new deal with ABC-Dunhill Records. And with Koblun once again in the band, they appeared at Expo ’67 in Montreal that summer as representatives of the Ontario Pavillion. There they were introduced to Cass Elliott of The Mamas & The Papas, who agreed to produce some demo sessions at New York’s Bell Studios a few weeks later.
But shortly after returning home, Warner was forced to leave the group due to health concerns. She was temporarily replaced by Colleen Peterson by the time the band was shipped of to LA to begin recording at Studio 3 with Dunhill’s resident producer Steve Barri. After a month of studio time, during which they also made several stops at some of the hottest clubs in the area, including The Ash Grove in West Hollywood and the Ice House in Glendale, they returned to Toronto in time to host their own national CBC TV special called, “Our Kind of Crowd,” which included Joni Mitchell and Richard Pryor as special guests.
They got their old job back as the house band at Toronto’s Riverboat Coffehouse, where they’d spent many evenings there before, when their first single, “Bird Without Wings,” written by Bruce Cockburn (who’d also spent some time in The Esquires with Patterson), and the b-side “Coat of Colours,” written by Murray McLauchlan, entered the charts in time for the Christmas rush.
The single was still climbing the charts when their debut album, CHRISTOPHER’S MOVIE MATINEE was finally released in February 1968. The band set out on a western swing of Canada, and then into California, where they narrowly missed getting busted while partying with Buffalo Springfield. Under the sponsorship of the National Film Board of Canada, a documentary of the same name as the album was released, with the 1960s Canadian pop culture as the backdrop.
A second single, a cover of Dino Valenti’s “Let’s Get Together ” found its way on to the charts that spring, shortly before taping of another TV special. But by that May, the threads holding the band together were unwinding. Warner dropped out permanently due to her failing health, and Peterson was unable to join again on a permanent basis, so the band in effect folded. The problem though was the investors who financed the group’s album, and much of their career to that point, wanted their money back.
The group remained disbanded until July 1968, when Dolgay convinced Wiffen and Patterson to reform the band. Patterson was now available, and guitarist Sandy Crawley (ex of The Children) and bassist Dennis Pendrith joined. Since Bruce Cockburn wrote four of the songs on the album, and his group Olivus was going nowhere, he seemed like a natural addition, too. They opened shows for Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, The Turtles, and Grand Funk Railroad that summer, when Harvey Glatt, one of the investors looking to recoup his money, took the group into the studio to record some new material. A video for the new Cockburn-penned song, “Electrocution of the Word” was produced. The other investor who was still out money, Sid Banks, had a CBC variety program called “One More Time,” and the band appeared on it later that fall.
Crawley dropped off the roster before a series of US college gigs could be finalized for the spring of ’69. The remaining members completed the two-month tour, and called it quits that April, when everyone went their seperate ways. Most prominent of the after tales was Cockburn’s, who would go on to mega stardom as a crossover pop and folk artist. Wiffen moved to California, then back to Canada, releasing a string of moderately successful solo albums along the way.
After a mildly successful solo career throughout the ’70s and ’80s, Peterson hooked up with Sylvia Tyson and others for the group Quartette, before succumbing to cancer in October ’96. Trevor Veitch meanwhile would become a highly sought after studio musician, and also played with Tom Rush, and did the soundtracks for the kids shows “Clifford The Big Red Dog” and “The Care Bears.” He also wrote the English translation to Laura Branigan’s early ’80s hit “Gloria.”
Patterson joined Canada Goose for its short run in the early ’70s, and then became a session player, occasionally hooking up with ex-Esquires members for the occasional reunion. He also became the manager for Five Man Electrical Band for awhile in the ’80s. He passed away in April 2011. Pendrith joined Simon Caine for their first album, and then joined Cockburn as well as Murray McLauchlan‘s bands.