Born in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Bill Amesbury grew up in Toronto after moving there as a teen. While learning to play guitar, he soaked in the various sounds eminating from the radio in the mid ’60s, and joined several groups after finishing high school, the most noteable of which was Five Shy.
They released a pair of 45s in 1968 on Columbia Records, but neither “Freeloader” b/w “The Windmill” or “Saints and Angels” b/w “Try to Be Happy” made an impact, and the band was dissolved within a year later. Post break-up, the band’s members went on to a number of other groups, including Brutus, Paupers, and Downchild Blues Band. Ambesbury meanwhile set out to establish himself as a solo singer/songwriter.
He landed a deal with Yorkville Records in ’72, and with a cast of session players that included ex-Five Shy alumni Mel O’Brien on bass, he headed off to Phase One Studios in Toronto, releasing his debut album, JUS’ A TASTE OF THE KID in the spring of ’74.
First out of the singles gate was the Caribbean flavoured “That Close To Me.” Although it failed to make set the airwaves on fire, the follow-up, “Virginia (Touch Me Like You Do),” made it to #6 on the Canadian charts, and stayed in the top 10 for nearly two months and also did well on the UK charts. The attention he was getting caught the interest of Neil Bogart, who was setting up Casablanca Records (KISS, Angel, Donna Summer). Amesbury became the first artist to release a single for the upstart lable, but the Americans didn’t take to the song, and it only made it to #59 Stateside.
Two more singles followed by the end of ’74 – the title track and “Rock My Roll.” Although none matched the success of “Virginia,” they all did relatively well charts-wise, each hovering around or breaking the top 40 in Canada and in the UK, but failed to make a dent on the American charts. Like “Virginia,” “Rock My Roll” also became a mainstay on various compilation albums in later years.
But by the time he’d written enough material for a follow-up, he’d switched labels, and now on Capitol, he returned to Phase One and released CAN YOU FEEL IT in the summer of 1976. He again assembled a cast of session players that included Doug Riley (Dr Music), Shawne Jackson, and returning drummer Wally Cameron. The title track followed “I Remember,” and each made brief appearances in the Canadian top 40. “Frogman Bradley” became a novelty hit that made the compilation album rounds in later year. But the next single, “Every Girl In The World, Tonight” faired not as well on this side of the pond, although “Saturday Night” and “I Remember” both did well in the UK.
But frustrated with the recording side of the music business, by then he’d instead turned his attention to producing. Along with producing Kristine’s debut album which featured the moderate hit single “Devil Woman,” he took “No Charge” by JJ Barry to the #1 spot in England in ’77. He continued working behind the scenes for the next few years doing session work and writing for other artists. During this period, several of his songs were covered by other artists, including Long John Baldry and Mitch Ryder both recording versions of “A Thrill’s A Thrill.”
He became an activist for gay rights, and literally re-invented himself in the early ’80s. After having a sex change, she began going by the name of Barbra, and wrote the song “Nothin’ But A Fool” for Natalie Cole (which she also performed on SCTV), and was also recorded by PC Quest in ’92.
Maintaining her philanthropic work, she and her partner Joan Chalmers (the heiress to Maclean-Hunter) organized an art exhibit in Toronto in ’94 called Survivors – In Search of a Voice. Based on surviving breast cancer, two dozen other female artists (all breast cancer survivors) also contributed to the exhibit.
In recognition for receiving 100,000 spins on Canadian radio, “Virigina (Touch Me Like You Do)” received SOCAN’s ‘Classics’ award in 1999. Three years later, the duo Collins Pickell released a song about Bill’s gender realignment entitled “Do You Mind If We Talk About Bill,” which made it to #31 on the Canadian charts. In ’07, her political documentary film “The G8 Is Coming…The G8 Is Coming” received glowing reviews during several film festivals, including at Rome and Atlanta, among many others.