Born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1950, Ian Thomas’ love for music began with piano lessons at age 6. After picking up the guitar at age 14, he began exploring different facets of music and moved to Toronto. He found himself in a folk trio in the mid 60’s with Nora Hutchinson and Oliver MacLeod, uncreatively known as Ian, Oliver and Norah … or was it Oliver, Norah and Ian? By ’69 they were joined by Nancy Ward and Bob Doidge, and luckily simplified things by changing their name to Tranquility Base, and steadily gained a loyal fan base while touring across Canada.
After landing a deal with RCA Records in 1970, they released their first single in the spring of that year. “If You’re Looking” was followed by “In The Rain” that fall and the group’s progressive folk-roots style gained them early favourable reviews – enough to record their first full length album. Part of what made this unit so unique was their ability to cross over and meld their sound with The Toronto Symphony and Hamilton Philharmonic orchestras, their rock-group in residence being Tranquility Base. Despite the critical acclaim however, their inability to get their label to release a second record caused their breakup in ’71.
After moving back to Hamilton, Ian re-defined his sound over the next year and a half, incorporating a more modern element to the rock sound he was trying to explore earlier. He toured the Ontario bar circuit with make-shift back-up bands during this time and also broadened his horizons while working in a local Theatre House.
He scored a solo deal in ’73 with GRT Records and released his self titled debut that same year. “Painted Ladies” was an instant gold hit and would become his most successful single to date, reaching #4 in Canada and cracking Billboard’s top 40 in the US. The critics had always taken notice of his talents, and along with “Come The Son”, “Another” and “One of Those Days” the album soon went gold. Thomas also was a shoe-in for a Juno for ’73’s Most Promising Male Vocalist. The same year he found himself working on a CBC radio show, again giving him a fresh look on the industry and allowing him to showcase his production and comedy talents. THE NATIONAL ROCK WORKS was a 2 hour music variety show which also allowed his brother Dave to get his start before going on to SCTV and hoser fame & fortune. … I’m Bill Needle … and that’s the way I see it!
Ian travelled to England the next year, releasing LONG LONG WAY. It pretty much followed his emerging pattern of writing tight pop tunes with slick arrangements and hooks. The title track, “Mother Earth” and “Tidal Wave” helped make it his second straight gold record. He returned to the friendly confines of Toronto’s recording studios in ’75 and released DELIGHTS the same year. Again his work in such hits as “Julie” earned favour with the critics. His third single, “The Good Life” was next – and he soon earned his second straight gold album.
CALABASH was released in ’76 and is considered by many to be his pinnacle album. Of note is the fact the US version had a different cover and was called MRS CALABASH. With the lead-off single “Liars”, it was filled with a rare passion, also evidenced by the second single “Right Before Your Eyes” and the timeless “Goodnight Mrs Calabash”. He embarked on his first on his longest tour yet, taking him all over North America and into Europe.
STILL HERE came out the next year, which produced the single “Coming Home”. He released GLIDER in ’79 and soon went gold, riding the success of the singles “Pilot” and “Time Is The Keeper”. Thomas found himself without a record deal later that year however, when GRT declared bankruptcy.
He was picked up by Anthem Records the same year who quick to capitalize on the name, releasing THE BEST OF IAN THOMAS, a catalogue of his biggest hits with his former label. His first actual record for Anthem, THE RUNNER came out the next year. Again he was rewarded with gold, as 3 singles had lengthy stays on radio’s playlists. Unique about the record was all 3 were covered by other groups as well. – Mannfred Mann re-did the title track, while Santana gained critical success as well with “Hold On”, as did Chicago with their cover of “Chains”. With the financial woes of his label no longer an issue, he hit the road with a renewed vigor, playing to sold out shows and rave reviews around the world for the next year. In between the hectic schedule, he even found time to make a guest appearance on SCTV, showing off his comedic background, and scored the theme song and co-produced The Hoser movie STRANGE BREW the same year.
His next release wouldn’t be until 1984. The eagerly-awaited RIDERS ON DARK HORSES came out and was bought up just as fast. The hit single “I’ll Do You Right”, proved the name Ian Thomas was still synonymous with solidly and well-written pop with an edge. The album’s success again took him across the globe, wherehe enjoyed a huge following in Australia, as well as Germany and England, success he still enjoys to this day. He released ADD WATER the next year, which contained the single “Harmony”. 1988 saw the release of LEVITY, which spawned the title-track for the only single. Recorded in both England and Canada, it featured a vast array of friends which included Lou Pomanti from Wrabit, and also included “Losing Control” and “Modern Man”.
In ’91 he joined a collaberation of other staples of the Ontario music scene to form The Boomers, with drummer Rick Gratton of Rough Trade and Marc Jordan fame, guitarist Bill Dillon – who’d worked with Daniel Lanois and Joni Mitchell and bassist Peter Cardinali whose credits included Rick James and Oscar Peterson. They released their first disc later the same year for new label BMG. WHAT WE DO, which featured the single “Love You Too Much”, was followed by THE ART OF LIVING in 1993, backed by “You’ve Got To Know” and the title cut.
Anthem released LOOKING BACK in ’95, a recollection of his earlier chart-toppers and in ’96 The Boomers were still making new hits with the release of their third record, 25,000 DAYS. After a six year recording hiatus, due in part to the death of Ian’s father, The Boomers released their fourth disc.
Thomas has not only penned numerous hits for himself, but has also become one of Canada’s most covered artists. America recorded “Right Before Your Eyes” and took it up the charts in 1982, Anne Murray recorded “Good Again,” Santana covered “Hold On,” Manfred Mann redid “The Runner, and Bette Midler covered “To Comfort You,” among others.
He has written two books, the Canadian Best Seller “Bequest” in 2006, and “The Lost Chord” two years later. Another new pet project sprouted in the mid ’00s – Lunch at Allen’s – one that includes Murray McLauchlan, Cindy Church and Marc Jordan. As Dougie Franklin, he was also somewhat of a fixture at The Possum Lodge on The Red Green Show, showing his under-rated comedic talents.