The roots of The Beau-Marks started in the mid ’50s, when Ray Hutchinson and Michel Robitaille met at the Shriners Hospital in Montreal. Hutchinson had suffered from tuberculosis of the hip since he was four and had several operations growing up. Robitaille was there being treated for polio, which he’d had since age three.
They both had a love for music, and while attending The School For Crippled Children next door, they were introduced to singer and pianist Joey Frechette and drummer Gillies Tailleur in late ’57. All now having graduated, and with Hutchinson on guitar and Robitaille on bass, they started playing the coffee shops around town. Being bilingual came in handy, as few groups working the circuit were – and as The Del-Tones, they became a hot commodity around the Montreal-Ottawa area and Toronto-Hamilton corridor, playing a mix of the hot sounds of the day and their own material.
They financed some time at Stereo Sound in Montreal, and got a deal with Quality Records, releasing their first single in April, ’59 – the rockabilly-flavoured “Rockin’ Blues” b/w “Moonlight Party.” It topped the Montreal charts for three weeks and got some good exposure on the Toronto airwaves, and was released in the UK, as well. But almost immediately after they had to change their name to avoid copyright squabbles with American Dick Dale and his group. Incidentally, there was also a British rockabilly group with that name just prior to that, too. So they changed their name to The Beau-Marks, named after Boeing’s Bomarc missile – the first nuclear long range surface to air missile – which many Canadians vehemently protested when the RCAF started keeping them on hand.
The band was shipped off to RCA’s studio in Montreal. and the single, “Clap Your Hands” b/w “Daddy Said” finally saw the light of day months later. Initially it was released by Bob Shad in the US on his own Shad Records out of New York. It did well in a number of markets, and made #45 on Billboard’s pop chart. Once Quality finally released it elsewhere, it spent three weeks on top of the Canadian Hit Parade chart, as well as on top of the charts in Australia, New Zealand, and England. It sold over half a million copies worldwide, and was the first Canadian single recorded here to make Billboard – unlike stars like Paul Anka, Jack Scott, The Diamonds, , or The Four Tops, who all generally recorded in New York.
Their debut full album, FLYING HIGH WITH THE BEAU-MARKS, was released six months later (that’s a CF-86 Sabre they’re in front of, in case you’re wondering). The album ranged from a rockabilly-twinge to doo-wop to early pop, and also featured the two tracks originally released as The Del-Tones, and the other singles, “‘Cause We’re In Love” b/w “Billy Went A Walking” and “Oh Joan” b/w “Baby Face.” The band was also ground-breaking by writing the majority of their own material, penning all the songs except “Baby Face.”
By the summer of 1960 they were on American Bandstand, played Carnegie Hall, were the first Canadian band to headline a string of shows at the Peppermint Lounge in NY, were the first hosts of CFTO TV’s new after school dance party, Hi-Time, and even had to turn down an invitation to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show due to scheduling conflicts.
Capturing their live show and the crowd’s unbridled enthusiasm, their week-long stay at Le Coq D’or in Toronto resulted in THE BEAU-MARKS IN PERSON in ’61. No singles were released, but the album got good critical reviews for the band’s range – from their rendition of the jazz standard “When The Saints Go Marching In” to the Peter Gunn Theme, the ballad “Sacred,” and their covers of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say? and “I’m Moving On” from Hank Snow.
They released their third album, self-titled in 1962. Leaning more towards mainstream pop, they again wrote the bulk of the material themselves. And although “Stay With Me,” “Now She’s Gone,” “The Tender Years,” and “Little Miss Twist” were all thrown at the wall over the next year, nothing stuck. That same year, they recorded the sequel to their original hit, called “Clap Your Hands Once Again,” b/w a cover of George Gershwin’s “Summetime.” The A side, however, did nothing to rekindle the fire in a changing musical environment. Hutchinson was gone a year later to embark on a solo career, followed by Frechette and Tailleur soon after.
Robitaille meanwhile carried on with various players (Brien Hamilton, Al Baron, and Tom Reddy) for a couple of years. A string of singles were released over the next few years, but the band called it quits by ’64. He launched the short-lived Les Nouveaux Beaumarks in ’67, releasing “Frappe Tes Mains” on Alliance Records. It was a re-recording of “Clap Your Hands” b/w a French version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” Along with Robitaille were singer Michel Thomas, guitarist Mars Brault, and drummer JP Dumaresque. This version of the band played a few club dates in the Montreal area, but Robitaille called it quits shortly after.
One version or another reunited for a few shows in Montreal and Toronto, but by then Robitaille was in the vdeo production and A/V business, before retiring. Frechette put on a suit and tie and worked his way up to the head of Capitol Records’ April Blackwood Publishing. He later worked in radio in Ajax, Ontario and gigged here and there, and recorded his own version of “Clap Your Hands” in ’75 under the name Joey Conrad. Hutchinson became a staple on the lounge circuit for over two decades, moving back and forth between Montreal and Peterborough. He released a handful of singles and one album, but retired a few years after being hit by a car following his one and only appearance in Miami in 1988. Tailleur died of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 35 in 1971.
After packaging a pair of tracks with some from
Guess Who and 49th Parallel in ’69 called THE BEST OF THE GREATEST, Quality then released ONE BY ONE – ROCK AND ROLL HAS GOT A BEAT, a double album that included the rarities. That sparked a number of licensed-out compilations over the decades (even a pair with the same tracklistings but different jackets from Unidisc called THE BEST OF), as were re-releases of “Clap Your Hands.” The song got a bit of a revival in the early ’80s, when retro-rockers Rocky Sharpe and The Replays covered it. “Clap Your Hands Again” also had new life breathed into it, when the British pop duo Jet Harris & Tony Meehan covered it.