Born and raised in Montreal, Justin Paige toiled in a variety of local groups throughout the 1960s. He played to a packed house at Montreal’s hottest night club Hullabaloo’s with Sam & Dave and The Everly Brothers, and opened Place Bonaventure alongside Jefferson Airplane and Tiny Tim. He also toured the US with Ten Years After
But as the decade closed out he was looking for an image and sound to set himself apart from the rest. He moved to Toronto, and for the next few years he developed a glam image, complete with glittery makeup and hokey ‘Elvis meets Cleopatra’ costumes. But with a twist, he quickly gained a reputation belting out some of the top r&b hits of the day – melding David Bowie with James Brown, and earning the monikor of “Canada’s King of Rock & Rouge.”
He was eventually signed to Capitol Records, who gambled on him and whisked him off to a Montreal studio with producer Ben Kaye. Kaye ran a production and publishing company and excelled in creating make believe bands so he could beat international stars to the Canadian charts. One such was Tinker’s Moon, who had a hit with “Shang A Lang” a year before the Bay City Rollers could get their version released here.
With outside writers and studio musicians, Paige recorded the single, “Stompin’ on the Bayou” (written by Peter Grey) and the b-side “Who’s Been Messin’ With Sally?” (written by Larry Godfrey). On the airwaves in the summer of ’73, it failed to chart, but enough local interest was shown that Capitol extended the glam experiment and sent him to Toronto’s Manta Sound Studios with manager/producer Lee De Carlo for his first full album.
Over the next several months he was also still playing throughout Ontario and Quebec, and made his way south a few times. Numerous appearances on “Everything Goes” (a variety program shot in Toronto whose hosting duties rotated between Norm Crosby, and Canadians Mike Darow and Catherine McKinnon) also helped push his “fit for Vegas” act. He performed his live regulars – raucus r&b covers of Edgar Winter’s “Save The Planet” and “Give It Everything You Got” and The Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Running,” among others. In one episode an entire segment had to be edited out due to Paige’s bumping and grinding.
After a few months of production at Toronto’s Phase One Studio, his self-titled debut album was in the stores by the spring of ’74. Childhood friend Joey Miller wrote the bulk of the material, and the band was mostly a collection of studio musicians, including Gene Martynec (Kensington Market and later producer of Rough Trade, among others), Prakash John on bass, and a young Rik Emmett handling guitars.
The album was released in ’74, and got good initial reviews, and even made Billboard Magazine in a number of issues. The lead-off “Rough Trade” was about the seedier side of a city’s night life and its similarities to the suit and tie lifestyle, a subject matter theme that ran throughout the lp. “Tea Room Tramp” was an ironic tale of a husband and wife who both go trolling for men on the streets at night. Other noteable cuts included the flat out funk-rocker “Rock & Roll Band,” “Driven To Drink,” and “You Win Some You Loathe Some.” Sporadic touring continued, but no singles were released. And as label reps lost interest, the money to support it dwindled.
Despite Paige earning a nomination in 1975 for Most Promising Male Vocalist of the Year, losing out to Gino Vannelli, he was eventually dropped from the label. He carried on for awhile, but couldn’t secure another deal, and he got out of the business all together. Songwriter Joey Miller stayed in the business in various capacities, and became a member of SOCAN.