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Born in Toronto in 1946, Bob McBride had already taken singing lessons for several years and was also adept at the guitar by the time he attended North Collegiate Institute.
He dabbled in a couple of ill-fated groups after graduating from high school, and in 1970, he joined Lighthouse, replacing original singer Pinky Dauvin. His first three studio albums with the jazz/rock fusion super group included the hits “One Fine Morning,” “Hats Off To The Stranger,” “1849,” “Sunny Days,” and “Take It Slow.” He was also part of their Juno success in ’72, when they took home the prize for Outstanding Performance of the Year – Group, and had performed with the likes of Jimi Hendrix during the famed Isle of Wight Festival in 1970.
But feeling creatively stifled in the confines of a rock orchestra, McBride signed a solo record deal with Capitol that year, releasing BUTTERFLY DAYS later that year. Produced by Dennis R Murphy and recorded at Toronto’s Thunder Sound Studio, the songs were more acoustically pop-oriented, though guest musicians included the likes of Chuck Aarons on strings and Jim Ackley on piano, as well as fellow Lighthouse members Ralph Cole and Paul Hoffert. Hoffert also co-wrote “My Beautiful Lady,” and Skip Prokop co-wrote “Back In My Time.”
Pushing the album gold (50,000 copies), three singles all scored well on the Canadian chart – “Treasure Song” (written about McBride’s daughter Elissa) b/w “Straight Ahead, “Pretty City Lady,” and the title track b/w “Far Away.” He won a Juno Award in the spring of ’73 for Outstanding Performance of the Year – Male, the same year Lighthouse won for Vocal Instrumental Group of the Year, their first of two straight years on the podium.
But tensions within the group came to a boiling point in the summer of ’73, when McBride was a no-show during a New York recording session while working on the CAN YOU FEEL IT album. Although he was supposed to sing “Pretty Lady,” it was Skip Prokop who laid down the vocal track, and McBride was gone soon after.
Returning to Thunder Sound, his sophomore solo release was in the stores that same year. With Murphy again behind the controls, SEA OF DREAMS was another critical success, but a commercial disappointment to the label. The single “Do It Right” b/w “Tears of the Sky” was followed by the title track, but neither made it to the top 40. Aarons & Ackley, along with Gene Martynec and McBride’s brother Danny were among the session players, and other noteable tracks included the Doug Rowe-penned “Turn Away,” “Daytime Rider,” and “Mighty Eagle.”
Capitol dropped him from its roster, and with the exception of some live dates around southern Ontario, he all but disappeared from the music scene for a few years. He returned after landing a new deal with London Records and went back to the studios in 1978 with a back-up band he dubbed ‘Expedition.’ The result was his self-titled album, that produced the singles, “Wild Eyes” b/w “Co Co Cabana,” the ballad “Hold On” b/w “Dancing Til Dawn,” and “Roaring Twenties Queen.” Nothing cracked the top 40, but he still set out on the road and a series of dates throughout central Canada ensued into the following spring.
He returned with HERE TO SING in the fall of ’79, with famed producer Jack Richardson (Guess Who, Alice Cooper, Bob Seger, and a million others). It generated the singles “Sail On Sailor” b/w the previously unreleased “White Sands,” “My World Is Empty Without You,” and “Love Is A Four Letter Word.” But although the music’s maturity was heralded by the critics, none of the singles took him to the top 40.
Opportunity came knocking in September of 1982, and McBride reunited with many of the Lighthouse alumni for a weekend of four concerts in front of 33,000 people at Ontario Place. Although it was a huge hit, both critically and financially, the ten member line-up went their separate ways following the shows. His personal life also began a downward spiral, where a drug addiction began consuming him.
Attempting to make a comeback after several years of inactivity, he released the one-off 45 in ’89, “Seasons” b/w “Doin’ It” to lacklustre results. But in 1992, the core of Lighthouse decided to reunite again, and McBride again found himself fronting the band as they embarked on a series of concert dates. But the drug problems resulted in poor performances and erratic behaviour, and by the end of the year he was once again gone from the band.
Several health issues prevented him from performing live all together, and by this time his heroin addiction led to him trying to rob an Ottawa drugstore twice for morphine, for which he received a 90-day sentence. Two years later, although he’d reportedly beaten his addiction, he was charged with a jewelry theft. A 1996 trial was postponed due to his ill health, and then a mistrial was declared. But in late 1996, things took a turn for the even worse, when he fended off a pair of intruders in his parents’ home. Beaten by the assailants, he sustained serious head injuries, and died from his injuries at the age of 51 on February 20, 1998 while at North York General Hospital in Toronto. His death came mere days after the two thiefs were given what most people considered light sentences.
With notes from Keiran Grant, Elissa McBride
BUTTERFLY DAYS (1972) Butterfly Days
My Beautiful Lady
Pretty City Lady
Back In My Time
SEA OF DREAMS (1973) Sea of Dreams
Do It Right
Quiet Lovin’ Feelin’
Tears From The Sky
Mother Nature’s Music
Ninety Degrees On The Moon
BOB MCBRIDE (1978) Curtain Call
Borderline Of Love
Co Co Cabana
San Fransisco Nights
Dancing Til Dawn
Sweet Sweet Lady From Georgia
Roaring Twenties Queen
HERE TO SING (1979) Mother’s Upbringing
My World Is Empty Without You
You Send Me
The Day The Flowers Left
Light Of Love
Sail On Sailor
Love Is A Four Letter Word