Specializing in political and social satire with a funky pop groove and a cutting comedic edge, the roots of Moxy Fruvous can be traced back to the late 1980s, when Michael Ford (guitars, vocals), Murray Foster (vocals, guitars, bass), and Jian Ghomeshi (vocals, percussion and briefly spelling his name ‘Jean’) were classmates at Unionville High School in Thornhill, Ontario. When they weren’t studying, the three of them usually killed time in a number of part-time cover bands, including Sam Salvador & The Ruling Junta, and The Spidermen. Ghomeshi and Ford also wrote a couple of musicals together while in school.
Ghomeshi and Foster later formed Tall New Buildings, and were playing the Toronto circuit when they were signed to High Rise Records, and then Sommersault Records. They got some exposure from three tracks over a pair of 12″ singles, with the video for “Breaking Her Walls” getting decent airplay on MuchMusic.
But it wasn’t long after that when the band quietly disinegrated and Ghomeshi and Foster reunited with Ford and his room mate Dave Matheson. The new quartet began playing on street corners and before long were drawing unusually large crowds for their performances, calling themselves Moxy Fruvous.
“The mandate was to sing a cappella on the streets as buskers. We busked every Friday in front of the Bloor Cinema for three years while we were all in university. The band was casual and part-time, although we were drawing big crowds every Friday night. In fact, by 1991 there would be a line-up of fifty people on the street waiting for us to perform,” Foster said.
They were seen by a CBC radio executive who invited them onto one of their programs. About once a month they were invited on to the sets to sign a satircal song they’d written, including “The Gulf War Song,” “Author’s Song,” and “The Ballad of Marion Fruvous.”
Similar acts like Barenaked Ladies and Aarogant Worms were becoming all the rage, so by the summer of ’91 they decided to take their show on the road and try to make an actual living at it. They played some gigs around the GTA (including opening twice for BNL) and released an independent self-titled six-song debut cassette that fall, produced by Doug McClement.
They financed their own video for “King of Spain” that got decent airplay, and by the summer of ’92 they were opening for Bryan Adams, They Might Be Giants, and even Bob Dylan on his Canadian tour. They sold the tapes at their concerts, and by the end of the year they’d sold 50,000 copies. They won a CFNY-FM (the Toronto radio station that first gave them the time of day) CASBY Award for Best New Central Canadian Group. In addition, “King of Spain” was only the second independent #1 hit in Canadian music history.
All the attention they were getting helped earn a recording deal with Warner Music (home to both BNL and the Worms), resulting in BARGAINVILLE. A re-packaging of their indie debut, it also included studio versions of eight more songs written earlier that had become live favourites, including their first single for their new label “Stuck In The ’90s,” which became a hit in several markets across the country, and the entertaining a capella version of the original “Spiderman Theme”.
Their next album was WOOD, released in 1995 and featured the single “Down From Above,” “Organ Grinder,” and “Horseshoes.” The band embarked on another cross-Canada tour while making stops in the US, as well. In the process they’d become one of the hottest tickets on the theatre circuit, and also one of the most requested bands on campus radio stations throughout Canada and on the American eastern seaboard.
More fun, cleverly-written pop albums followed as the band made their way on to numerous stages across North America and on to the sets of several CBC and CTV variety programs, including a pair of stops at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal. THE B ALBUM produced such future live favourites as the roasting of Ontario Premier Mike Harris in “Big Fish,” “I Love My Boss,” and “The Greatest Man In America” (mocking ultra-conservativist Rush Limbaugh) and “The Kids’ Song,” the album versions for which were already recorded live.
By 1997 they’d established their comedic talents, and so to answer any questions that might have been lingering about their musicianship, they hooked up with producer Stephen Traub for YOU WILL GO TO THE MOON that year. Along with their last single, “Get In The Car,” the record was critically acclaimed for its diversity, and also included the middle eastern rhythms of “No No Raja” and “Sahara,” and a cover of The Bee Gee’s “I Gotta Get A Message To You.” On August 14 of that year, their song “You Will Go to the Moon” was used by NASA to wake the crew of the international space station.
Their humorous onstage bantor amongst themselves as well as the audience, and musical improvisation were captured with the release of LIVE NOISE a year later, a double disc set that nicely summed up their career and also included a cover of Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.”
They paid homage to their hometown in 1999 with THORNHILL, which featured the lead-off “Half As Much,” “Splatter Splatter,” and “Downsizing.” It was also their first release for their new label, Bottom Line Record Company. That same year, they appeared on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” performing “Splatter Splatter.”
The band released their final record in 2000, called THE C ALBUM, featuring “Pisco Bandito,” “Heatseaker Boy,” “Bad Jim,” and “Video Disco Bargainville.” “The last full show the band performed together was for Frucon V at Lee’s Palace in 2001, across the street from where we’d been busking for three years. Frucon was a fan convention that had become an annual event in Toronto,” Foster noted.
After the band’s initial breakup, Ghomeshi became host of CBC Radio’s “Q.” Foster got the bassplayer job for Great Big Sea, and also moonlighted for awhile in the band Great Atomic Power with Matheson, and started a jazz project in the mid ’00s called The Lesters.
Ghomeshi, Ford, and Foster re-united occasionally over the next decade for special occasions, including performing in September 2005 on “Toronto Unlocked” on CIUT, the U of T’s campus station, as part of a statement against locked out CBC Radio One staff. Five years later, the three of them got together again on CBC Radio One as part of a goodbye ceremony to “Metro Morning” host Andy Barrie. The last time all four appeared on stage together was to sing an a cappella version of the Beatles song This Boy, a song they used to perform regularly on the streets, in 2004 at the wedding of our long-time tour manager Cal Stanutz.
Ford concentrated mostly on solo work, spending a few years performing solo in schools and singing songs about the history of Canada. He’s released two albums about Canadian history, CANADA NEEDS YOU, Volumes 1 & 2, both of which were nominated for Juno Awards, and has also done a duet record with David Francey.
Another collaborative effort saw Ford, Matheson, and Foster form The Cocksure Lads, a project in the works since the early ’90s. They released one album in 2010 entitled, appropriately enough, THE GREATEST HITS OF THE COCKSURE LADS. Foster is currently writing and directing a movied based on that group called “You Gotta Stay Cocksure,” scheduled for release in 2013.