Not to be confused with the band from the Maritimes in the mid 1960s with the same name, Vancouver’s Blue Shadows was one of the west coast’s most promising country/pop groups during the mid ’90s.
Formed by frontman/guitarist Billy Cowsill (ex-Cowsills – the band that inspired the creation of The Partridge Family, Blue Northern) when he hooked up with Elmar Spanier. Together they toured the west coast as the Billy Cowsill Band, playing for about a year what some critics termed ‘The Dead Men’s Sets’ – covers of Elvis, Orbison, and other artists no longer with us.
Deciding to record some material they’d written together, they signed a deal with Bumstead Management’s Larry Wanagas and Dave Chesney, the team that also ran Bumstead Records as well as managed KD Lang. Urging them to adopt a more accessible pop sound, they were sent to the studios in July 1992 and churned out some demos with session players Daryl Mayes on drums and Greg Leisz on steel guitar. But it wasn’t long before Cowsill and Spanier expanded the band with the full-time additions of Danny Cassavant on guitars and drummer Jay Johnson, who’d played with Spanier previously in The Bonus Boys. Soon Cassavant was gone, and Winnipeg native guitarist Jeffrey Hatcher (ex-The Big Beat, The Fuse) was in. A moderate straight forward country band, they continued touring while shopping around for a major label.
It came in the form of a deal with Sony later that year, and they spent the spring of ’93 at Bullfrog and Bluewave studios in Vancouver, resulting in ON THE FLOOR OF HEAVEN. Spanier left prior to its release, and was replaced by Barry Muir, who’d done tours of duty with Barney Bentall and The Payolas.
Reception to the album was good, and waving the ‘new country’ banner, they had videos for the singles “Comin’ On Strong” featuring west coast Cajun sensation Garry Comeau on the violin, who Cowsill had worked with in Blue Northern, (not the member of Esquires, Coyote, and Canada Goose) and “Think On It” get good rotation on the upstart CMT Canada video channel. Along with the other singles, “The Fool Is The Last To Know” and “Deliver Me” (originally recorded in ’87 by Hatcher with The Big Beat), the album was certified gold (50,000 copies in Canada), and earned them a Juno nomination for Best New Country Group.
They returned with their sophomore album LUCKY TO ME in the spring of ’95, and saw the single “Riding Only Down” peak inside the Canadian top 40 country chart. With harmonies reminiscent of The Everly Brothers, it followed in the debut’s footsteps – twangy pop mixed with hardcore honky tonk. Other noteable tracks included the title track, the lead-off “Don’t Expect A Reply,” and “Let The Cowboys Ride.” But by this time programmers of ‘new country’ had figured out what they were trying to convey, and the band’s country roots ironically weren’t necesserily it.
They toured North America for the better part of the rest of the year, including making a stop in Santa Monica, California that year for the Wild Honey – Everly Brothers Tribute concert. But by the latter part of 1996 they still hadn’t secured an international distribution deal, and the popular ‘musical differences’ (including Cowsill’s infamous substance abuse and erratic behaviour that included smashing guitars on stage for no apparent reason) was uttered when the band called it quits. Cowsill moved back to Alberta, did some session work, and eventually formed The Co-Dependents – good for a pair of albums. After suffering from poor health for months, Cowsill died in, 2006 at the age of 58.
Post Blue Shadows, Hatcher meanwhile teamed up with Wendy Bird. They formed The Sugar Beats, which morphed into The Reachers and recorded one album. But eventually Hatcher went on to become a session player around the Vancouver area, then earned a Bachelor of Music Therapy, then a Masters in Psychology at Simon Fraser University. He moved back to Winnipeg and formed a couple of short-lived projects with fellow former members of The Fuse and The Big Beat called The Hatcher/Briggs Collective.
In the early ’00s, Wendy Bird meanwhile recorded an album of her own that contained Hatcher’s songs, called NATURAL WONDER, that featured cameos from the likes of Barney Bentall, Colin James, The Odds‘ Craig Northey, Elvis Costello, and Adam Levy (Norah Jones).
Bumstead Productions re-released the debut album in 2010, but this time included an extra disc full of out-takes over the band’s tenure, including a covers of Joni Mitchell‘s “Raised On Robbery,” Pagliaro‘s “What The Hell I Got,” and Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December.”