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The epitome of what many have termed over the decades, ‘a musician’s musician,’ Domenic Troiano and his family moved from Modugno, Italy to Toronto in 1949, when he was only three. Barely a teen, he was inspired by the burgeoning scene while checking out the matinee shows at The Concord Taven, legal for minors at the time because alcohol wasn’t served. Among those he admired was The Hawks’ Robbie Robertson.
Basically teaching himself how to play and without any formal training, by the age of 18 he’d joined Robbie Lane & The Disciples. They got their big break in December of ’63 when Ronnie Hawkins hired them as a second backup group. While The Disciples played upstairs in Hawkins‘ Toronto nighclub ‘The Hawk’s Nest,’ while his other group, The Hawks, played downstairs at a different club, with Hawkins himself often literally playing two shows at the same time.
Only a couple months later The Hawks flew the coop and emerged as The Band. This meant is was now Troiano and company that were doing double duty, playing with Hawkins as the new version of The Hawks, but maintaining a presence under the Robbie Lane & The Disciples monikor as well around the circuit and for recording purposes, though they did record three singles as The Hawks. The first song Troiano ever wrote, “The One For Me,” appeared as the b-side to the first single The Disciples released, “Fannie Mae” on Hawkins‘ own label, Hawk Records.
But by mid ’64, after one single as a Hawk and another two as a Disciple, Troiano broke from that scene, mainly because they were always broke themselves to join the house band at The Blue Note, a popular Toronto hangout. The Five Rogues would shorten their name to simply The Rogues releasing the indie 45 “I Can’t Hold Out No Longer” in ’65. They then changed their name to The Mandala, a few months later, appearing for the first time under their new name at Club Kingsway on Oct 9, 1966. Incidentally, this is where he met his future wife, Shawn Jackson, also appearing on the card. Less rockabilly like The Hawks and pop big bandish like The Disciples, his new group experimented with a myriad of white boy R&B and made it as far as The Whiskey A Go Go and The Hullabaloo, two major California pit stops at the time.
By ’67 they’d taken their tour, dubbed ‘The Soul Crusade’ to New York a number of times and had done major tours both sides of the 49th, including opening for The Rolling Stones and Wilson Pickett. They were signed to a deal with Chess Records’ subsidiary KR Records later that year and released the single, “Opportunity.” It hit the Top 10, but after the follow up single, “Give & Take,” and as the band tried to squeeze in an album in between shows founder George Oliver left to form George and The Soul Children before the end of the year. Mandala did release the album SOUL CRUSADE in in 1968, but played their final gig, ironically at The Hawk’s Nest in January ’69.
But Troiano wasn’t without work for long, shifting gears and moving to Arizona, where he formed Bush with Mandala mates vocalist Roy Kenner and drummer Pentti ‘Whitey’ Glan, adding Parkash John on bass. They were on the road practically the day the Mandala banner dropped, and cut their eponoymous lp in the summer of 1970 on Dunhill Records. With Troiano using ‘Don’ as his first name, the album was full of straight, simple and raw blues. The record actually almost never saw the light of day due to the R&R political BS between ABC/Dunhill and their manager Reb Foster’s label Cuordoroy Records. They continued on the hot and dusty trails, making their mark in the US as well as in Canada with labelmates Steppenwolf and Three Dog Night for the next year or so, but by the spring of ’71, packed it in. Though the band had gained a reputation for no nonsense blues based rock, and Troiano in paricular catching everyone’s ears and establishing himself as a premier pick player by this time, regardless of the genre, the band was broke. Incidentally, Three Dog Night recorded Bush’s song “I Can Hear You Calling” as the b-side to their biggest 45, “Joy To The World” a year later, also released by Bush as their only single. Glan and John meanwhile would go on to work with several other artists, including Alice Cooper.
Troiano then focused his sights on his first solo album, which actually included his Bush-mates, and engineer Keith Olsen, but before the end of ’71, he’d received a call from Cleveland-based The James Gang, who wanted him to replace the now-departed Joe Walsh. But reluctant totake on the added duty of singing lead, he suggested Mandala and Bush frontman Roy Kenner for the job. The band released STRAIGHT SHOOTER early in ’72 with the new lineup, which actually featured Kenner and Troiano handling the majority of the writing. Troiano even sang lead on the pensive ballad, “Getting Old.” But the music was a 180 from what fans had grown to expect from The James Gang, and reaction was mixed – everything from rave critical reviews to being pelted with tomatoes at a live show in Santa Monica, CA. Needless to say, the album didn’t do too well at the stores.
While still riding with the Gang, Mercury Records signed him to a solo deal and issued the record he’d already all but finished prior to moving to Cleveland that summer. Recorded at Sound City Studios in LA, the self-titled album was a music lover’s album, full of the wide ranging diversity apparently only he could deliver. Everything from the upbeat pop of “The Wear and Tear On My Mind” and “The Writing’s On The Wall” to the laid back “I Just Lost A Friend” and “Let Me Go Back.” “Repossession Blues,” the ten-minute epic nothing but showcased one of the most diverse fretwork in rock.
PASSIN’ THRU, the second James Gang album featuring Troiano and Kenner was released later that year. Again, there was no mistaking this was Troiano – not Walsh. The record was definitely more radio friendly than its predecessor, even taking on a country feel on some tracks compliments of several Nashville invitees to the recording sessions, but alas, it again failed to break commercially. While the band toured Japan early in ’73, Troiano began writing material for his next solo project.
Once back in LA, he recruited bassist Willie Weeks, William Smith on keyboards and drummer Ken Rice to work with him on the project, for which he again utilized Keith Olsen’s engineering and co-production skills. Released in the spring of ’73, TRICKY was an ambitious album, full of Troiano’s trademark musicianship that skimped on nothing, again dipping into just about every influence he had, including the side two blues medley epic “The Greaser”, a full 18 minutes in length complete with horns arrangement. The song actually sprouted from a half hour-long jam during the recording sessions. The album also contained a remake of the Disciples’ first single, “Fannie Mae.”
He left The James Gang shortly after its release and was replaced by Tommy Bolin (later of Deep Purple), but only a few months later, Burton Cummings approached him about joining The Guess Who. With Troiano, the band cleaned up their image, as well as their sound – and released FLAVOURS in the fall of ’74, having praises heaped on them for taking the music in a more focused direction than it had gone for years. The single, “Dancin’ Fool” cracked the American top 40. POWER IN THE MUSIC hit the shelves less than a year later. And although being met by favourable reviews, general interest in the band was beginning to fade, though it did contain a pair of singles, “Roseanne,” and the retrospective “When The Band Was Singin’ Shakin’ All Over.” When Cummings left the group that October, Troiano knew he was better off concentrating on his own music, as opposed to being in a group setting. That same year saw The J Geils Band resurrect the Mandala hit, “Love-Itis.”
He moved back to Toronto and before long had formed his own group, doing what he had always done best – experimenting with everything from jazz and rock to funk and blues, to soul and R&B. Later that same year he took part in the independent release from a group of students from a college radio station in York, ON. His seven previously released numbers were his contribution on the 5 lp-set called CONCERT – CANADIEN, that also featured interviews and narration clips from Troiano, as well wife Shawn Jackson and Ronnie Hawkins. Troiano’s songs were “The Writing’s on the Wall,” “Run Run Run,” “I Can Hear You Calling,” “He May Be Your Man,” “Just as Bad as You,” “The Answer” and “All Night Radio Show.”
It wasn’t longbefore he signed with Capitol, and released his third solo effort, BURNING AT THE STAKE in ’77, which featured a myriad of sounds and produced by Richard Landis and Randy Brecker at Sounds Interchange Studios. Critics praised the musicianship, and the craftsmanship of the album, which contained the duet with his wife, “The Outer Limits of My Soul.”
With bassist Keith Jones, Paul DeLong on drums and keyboardists Jack Sobatta and David Tyson backing him, he returned to Sounds Interchange in Toronto to record THE JOKE’S ON ME, hitting the stores in the summer of ’78. Produced by Terry Brown, best known for his work with Rush and Klaatu, the album featured lengthier, more indepth looks into his intense playing and the singles “Here Before My Time” and “Maybe Next Time,” as well as the title track and “War Zone.” Though critically appraised, sales dwindled.
He regrouped and released FRET FEVER in the spring of ’79. Again, the album showcased what brought him to the dance – a little bit of everything, and featured longtime friend and bandmate (a few of them as a matter of fact) Roy Kenner on lead vocals on four of the tracks. “We All Need Love” was released as a single, becoming his biggest of his solo career, reaching the Top 20 in several European countries and getting substantial airplay at home as well. His name was on the contenders list at the 1980 Juno Awards for Producer of the Year, though he lost out to Bruce Fairbairn for his work with Prism.
Leaving Capitol, he re-emerged late the next year with a new project, Black Market on the independent El Mocambo Records label. CHANGING OF THE GUARD. The cast was rounded out with Bob Wilson on drums and bassist Paul DeLong in a no-nonsense power trio that all but forgot his blues and jazz roots and delivered powerful, frill-less edgier rock, with cuts like the title track, “Turn Back,” “Hell’s Got No Fury” and the single “Dr Dee Jay’s Band.” But as usual, Troiano also relied on the help of a few friends, including Roy Kenner, Parkash John and Shawn Jackson. But despite his enthusiasm for the new band, the sales were less than stellar and only captured the attention of hardcore fans, going practically unnoticed with everyone else.
Rather disillusioned, he took a break from the regular recordings and tours and concentrated on working with others’ projects for the better part of the decade, though he did release the 1986 12″ single “Night Heat” with Roy Kenner on vocals, which also featured an instrumental and a capella versions of the song. Other projects on the go during this period included session work and sitting in the producer’s chair and lending his expertise to artists as diverse as his own styles – like Moe Koffman, Kilowatt, Joe Cocker, David Clayton-Thomas, Martha Reeves, Long John Baldry and Diana Ross, among many, many others. He also did dozens of film and television scores for such shows as Juvenile Justice, Counterstrike, Night Heat and Top Cops. It was during this time he earned three Gemini Award nominations for his work on Hot Shots, Diamonds and Secret Service from ’88 to ’93.
Around the time Troiano was planning to re-issue Bush on CD, a British group with the same name came out with their debut album. An ugly legal battle was avoided (for the time being), and the boys from across the pond had to change their name to Bush X in Canada. Meanwhile the album from the original group was remastered and hit the shelves, this time with the original cover and complete with several outtakes from their last ever show, at the Bitter End in LA nearly a quarter of a century earlier.
Despite being diagnosed with prostate cancer, Troiano stayed active in his Black Market Studios and running the indie label Black Market Records, working with a wide range of artists and on dozens of TV and film projects, often more than one at the time. The man who revolutionized the way the guitar was played in a rock environment with so many styles, and helped coin ‘the Toronto sound’ was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. In ’97, the whole ‘Bush vs Bush X’ scenario hadn’t played itself out yet, until in April, when Troiano and Gavin Rossdale, leader of the Brits held a press conference in Toronto to announce the X would be dropped from the latter of the two groups’ names. “Our band, which I was proud of, worked 25 years ago – and it’s ancient history,” Troiano stated. “These guys are out there on the road doing it now and I think this is a good ending to all of this.”
A new generation of Troiano fans was born when TRIPLE PLAY, a collection of highlights from his Capitol days (BURNIN’ AT THE STAKE to FRET FEVER)was released in ’96. His first two albums saw the light of day again three years later when they were repackaged as a two album set called THE TORONTO SOUND. In 2000, SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada) honoured Troiano for “Just As Bad As You,” a song recorded by then-wife Shawn Jackson in ’74.
He popped in on friends Bernie Labarge, Alex Lifeson of Rush and a few others in October of 2003 for a rare appearance at the Orbit Room in Toronto, the first time he’d taken to the stage in over two decades. And as his health began to rapidly deteriorate, he made a few more appearances over the next few months doing what he loved best, entertaining the fans. He succumbed to cancer on May 25, 2005 in his Toronto home, exactly one year after his last live performance at the Orbit Room.
Following his death, his family set up The Domenic Troiano Guitar Scholarship, where two $1,500 scholarships are presented annually to Canadian guitarists – one male, one female who are pursuing post-secondary guitar education. The panel of judges include his brother Frank, Bernie LaBarge, Alex Lifeson and Rik Emmett.