When Linx had run its course in the mid 1970s, founding members and Hamilton natives guitarist Reg Denis (also ex of The Only 1’s, Royal Order, Tangerine Forest, and both versions of Pork – the five and six-piece) and bassist Patricia Warden decided to put together a new act – one that was as memorable on stage for its presence as it was good musically, and one that was a little less serious than their previous groups.
They recruited vocalist Monte Hawes and drummer George Holyoke, and naming themselves Crackers, they became one of Canada’s first truly independent groups, playing the local area. They then expanded throughout the rest of Ontario and then into Quebec, developing a style that showed influences ranging from Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix to Charlie Daniels, as well as blues and jazz. As they progressed, they began throwing in some comedic elements into their live shows, and were noticed by manager Craig Nicholson of Pizazz Productions. They became regular regular favourites at Toronto’s El Mocambo and in Montreal at the Maples Inn, complete with comedy, shocking visuals, and X-rated antics.
Recorded at Master Studios with Daniel Lanois in his mother’s basement in Ancaster, Ontario and produced by Steve Smith (aka Red Green), they released their first single, “Crackers In Concert.” It got decent airplay around the Toronto market, but it was the lukewarm lewdity of the b-side, “Gracie,” that took off, becoming a huge hit on campus stations and selling enough copies to finance a full album. Recorded at Lanois’ new Grant Avenue Studio in Hamilton their debut album, CHOICE CUTS was released in 1978 on Pizzazz Records. Denis and Hawes handled the bulk of the songwriting, and tracks like “Crazy Man,” “Heaven Was Never This Dead,” and the instrumental “Four Wheel Drive” showcased their musical dexterity, with Denis also getting nods for his fiddle work.
But controversy ensued though, thanks to the album jacket. Although several options were considered after a lengthy photo shoot, Nicholson decided to use the one with the road crew mooning the camera, which the band thought was a joke. When they complained, they were told it was too late, as it had already gone to print.
They continued playing while expanding their audience base, making some stops along the way out east (where they played alongside the likes of Dutch Mason and , out west, and into the US. They were also featured on several episodes of “Music ‘Til Midnight,” a local Hamilton TV variety program, and by this time had already been dubbed as ‘canada’s original lunatic rock show.’
Denis formed Lunatic Records and began work on their follow-up album with Lanois producing. With the exception of “Little Johnny” (recorded in Winnipeg during a b-circuit bar tour), HARD ON YOU was again done at Grant Avenue. With other tracks like “Double Trouble,” “The Tit Man,” and the keyboards-only “Visions,” they became cult favourites across the country, including at festivals and the bar circuit. A 1980 concert at Laurentian University also saw them play on stage with Francois Lemieux, where they had to learn the entire set in French – a show that also featured Oscar Peterson‘s bassist Michel Donato.
The original band was together for nearly 20 years. After Holyoke and Hawes eventually left, Denis and Warden continued touring with various other members now and again, and became cult favourites at festivals and more intimate settings, and played Daytona Beach (the largest motorcycle rally in the world) for eight straight years, while taking time off every so often to get on with life outside of music.
They returned with ROCK ATTACK in 2005. Released on the Lunatic label, it contained material from the first two albums, along with some of their most requested live songs. Those studio recordings of “Bye Bye,” “Rock Attack,” and “Livin’ In America” were produced by Ian Thomas. The same day they finished in the studio on “Livin’ In America,” James Brown released his single of the same name from the “Rocky III” soundtrack.
In 2003, Denis was elected Secretary Treasurer of the Hamilton Musicians Guild local 293, a role which he took on for three and a half years. This is where he met blues and jazz legend Jackie Washington, and was credited with helping him get back into the music business after a lengthy hiatus. The Guild recognized Denis’ efforts and awarded him a special honour in recognition of his loyalty in helping Hamilton area musicians in many ways.
The band released TONGUE IN CHEEK in 2008, recorded at Squidcake Studios in Smithville, Ontario. Sold solely at their shows, it was initially intended for the US market, but that changed when “Devil Went To Jamaica” and “Pussy Cat” went viral and became cult classics.
Denis is currently working on a music documentary, chronicling the storied career of Crackers, with an expected release date of 2014.