A native of Glasgow, Scotland, Lawrence Gowan moved to Toronto while still a child, but had already taken piano lessons and showed glimpses of the showman he would become. His incredible stage presence comes by him naturally. A classically trained pianist at the Royal Conservatory of Music, he’s also formally studied with The Canadian Ballet. His stage presence was first noticed while doing solo gigs in and around the Toronto scene in the early ’70’s
. But his first real exposure came after forming the group Rhinegold with schoolhood friends drummer Daniel Bourne and Pat Bourke on guitars. Their sound fused elements of progressive rock with Gowan’s classical training and bits of the sounds of the day. The group was Gowan’s first venue for writing tales of magic, myth and folklore, such as “Black Forest Riders” and “Two Faces and A Black Dog Grin”, Though never really ‘breaking out’, fronting Rhinegold did give Gowan a chance to hone his style and stage persona.
After the group called it quits in 1980, he paid the bills working briefly as Ronnie Hawkins‘ pianist as well as forming a cover band with Terry Draper and Dee Long of Klaatu, called Funn. After shopping his demos around for a year, he cut his first solo record with CBS in ’82. The critics’ rave, it posessed early hints of Gowan’s sheer genius. Clever hooks blended with strong pop lyrics were evidenced in tracks like “Keep Up The Fight” and “Oceana”. Produced by Rob Freeman, it also contained “Give In”, “I’m Not Involved” and “Make It Alone”, and featured an all-star supporting cast, including Kim Mitchell on guitars and background vocals. Despite being loved by the critics, the market wasn’t ready yet for his pop sensibility, mixed with his showmanship and classical , epic-material influences. Though deleted by CBS, it is now available as a release at live events and through specialty services.
’83’s release of STRANGE ANIMAL quickly broke Gowan out of potential into reality. With the basic tracks taped in Ringo Starr’s French Riviera home-studio, it featured Peter Gabriel’s horn section. Touring the world for the better part of 2 years in support of the singles “Keep The Tension On”, “Guerilla Soldier”, the title track and mega-hit “Criminal Mind”, the album eventually went platinum. SA again showed his incredible apt for writing slick, progressive pop, such as “Cosmetics”, the story all men have of the elusive woman, and social commentary in “Burning Torches of Hope”. Produced by David Tickle, and heavy on sythesizers and programmed drums, the record clearly showcased his songwriting brilliance and was nothing short of a technical masterpiece. The video for “Criminal Mind” also received regular airplay on both MuchMusic and MTV, and was rewarded with numerous awards, including Junos, for the brilliant marriage of animation with live footage.
It would be nearly four years before Gowan would return. The release of GREAT DIRTY WORLD was met with nothing but good reviews, and the public quickly bought out stock, rushing it gold. Backed by the powerful “Awake The Giant” and lead-off single “Moonlight Desires”, which featured Yes’ Jon Anderson on background vocals, it quickly put to rest any fears the time away from the studio had diminished his prowess. If anything, the three and a half year hiatus strengthened his songwriting, churning out the slick “Dedication” title track, and ominous “Living In The Golden Age”. Other special appearances included Will Lee of David Letterman fame doing some bass and drummer Nigel Olsson, as well as Gowan’s brother Terry. Though still following the course laid out by its predecessors, GDW contained a harder edge, with guitar solos, dimming the spotlight on some of Gowan’s keyboards’ dominance. Oddly though, despite its success in Europe and at home, the American division of CBS opted not to release GDW, afraid that the American masses weren’t up to speed yet with the progressive musical art Gowan was already becoming known for.
LOST BROTHERHOOD hit the shelves in the spring of 1990. Again an ensemble cast supported a future gold record. With Ken Greer and John Webster of Red Rider fame, Steve Shelski of Coney Hatch, Rush‘s Alex Lifeson and co-produced by Eddie Schwartz (of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” fame), it featured a heavier sound, but still maintained its’ pop essence. Finely tooled, Schwartz brought an even more guitar-dominated sound to the studios.Even the lead single, “All The Lovers In The World”, despite being a graceful love ballad, had an unusual hard twinge to it. The release of the next single, “Out Of A Deeper Hunger” was a bit of a mystery. Though it was CBS America which leaned on Gowan to come up with a heavier-toned record, “Hunger” was another ballad. Still, all in all, LB contained some of Gowan’s most-loved cult favourites, including the title-track and “The Dragon”.
Again, mainly to appease the big shot American record-execs, Gowan went into seclusion, for the most part losing his piano and replacing it with an acoustic guitar. BUT YOU CAN CALL ME LARRY, coyly named after basically reinventing his image for the third time, hit the stores in the summer of ’92. His penchant for attracting a virtual who’s who while recording continued, with input from The Eagles’ JD Souther, an appearance by Jann Arden, Eddie Schwartz and John Sebastian, of The Lovin’ Spoonful and ‘Welcome Back Kotter” fame. “When There’s Time For Love” was the first single, your typical love song, which makes it untypical coming from him. For the most part, the record is a well-crafted, but slightly stripped down collection of pop melodies served up without the distraction of heavy keyboards. Later that same year he released THE LARRY GOWAN RADIO SPECIAL, a double live album, featuring “When There’s Time For Love”, “Last Laugh” and “Soul’s Road”.
Amid disputes, Anthem released THE LARRY GOWAN RADIO SPECIAL later that year. Featuring nothing but his latest material, it caused him to leaved the label that same year. THE GOOD CATCHES UP was put out in ’95 independantly after Anthem’s vice president Bob Roper also defected to become Gowan’s manager. Received with mixed reviews, the title-track and “Guns and God” were released as singles but failed to set the charts aflame. The next year and a half was a time of partial obscurity for the artist, self-imposed. He did however find time to appear at Ronnie Hawkins‘ 60th birthday bash in ’95, performing with his mentor on stage for the first time in 20 years, as well as wooing the crowd with some of his solo favourites.
Gowan released the first of two live albums in 1997 with AU QUEBEC. With Kenny Greer and Jeff Jones of Red Rider fame, along with Paul DeLong, it’s widely considered as one of pop music’s most under-rated live albums. Filled with the energy that accompanies a packed Montreal stadium, it features killer versions of some of Gowan’s best known hits. He followed it up with SOLO – NO KILT TONIGHT later that year. Recorded during the Toronto leg of a North American tour with Burton Cummings that summer, SOLO is just that … an intimate setting between Gowan, his piano, and thousands of his fans. Particularly amusing is his ode to Monty Python with “The Lumberjack Song”
The death of Princess Diana in ’97 inspired Gowan to write “Healing Waters”, a special single whose royalties would go to charity. The end of the year saw the release of BEST OF GOWAN. An incredible retrospective of one of Canada’s most endearing artists, it’s widely considered a ‘must have’, and also includes his cover of “These Eyes” by the Guess Who. The fourth live Gowan record came out in 1998. Though only available in the UK, HOME FIELD is definitely worth searching out for hardcore fans. The record features some tracks with a back-up band, while others are just Gowan and his piano. With “Healing Waters” as the encore, HOME FIELD sheds new light on Gowan’s stage presence. Other noteable tracks include his solo version of “Criminal Mind”, “Innocent” and “I’ll Be There In A Minute”.
Gowan was approached by Tommy Shaw in ’99 to fill in for Dennis DeYoung during Styx’s live reunion tour. An instantaneous ‘yes’ was a natural, seeing as how Styx was an early influence in Gowan’s career. Following a brief mini-tour with an impromptu band , where Gowan got a feel for alot of Styx’s material again, he hooked up with Shaw and company and was immediately given rave reviews by the critics, breathing new life into a classic group. The reception given the new version of the group, added to DeYoung’s inability to fulfill his commitments led to Gowan being hired full time as the new voice.