Life was formed from the ashes of one of Montreal’s most popular groups in the mid ’60s, The Scene, when producer/songwriter Neil Sheppard (real name Neil Ship) was looking for a new group to record his songs.
The band could credit Sheppard with having already kickstarted their career, helping them land a deal with BT Puppy Records, and producing their only single, 1967’s “Scenes From Another World” b/w “You’re In A Bad Way.” British immigrant and guitarist Barry Albert, whose resume also included Bartholomew Plus Three, had also been friends with Sheppard for years. Also remaining from The Scene was drummer Marty Simon and bass player Danny Zimmerman (Humdingers). They also recruited Sheppard’s younger brother, Michael Ship, on vocals and keyboards.
Despite having very little time on stage together, Life spent several months at Montreal’s Stereo Sound Studios, culminating in their cover of The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” as a single in the spring of 1969. It did well enough to prompt a follow-up – “Hands Of The Clock” a few months later, about a nightclub Sheppard frequented. Backed with the jazz horns rocker “Ain’t I Told You Before,” it peaked at #19 at home, and although it didn’t go far in the US, it also become a moderate hit in the UK.
They brought in JP Lauzon (ex of Our Generation, The Energy, JB and The Playboys, The Jaybees and The Carnival Connection) as a second guitarist, but unhappy with the direction the music was going, Albert soon left the group shortly afterwards. Ironically, Lauzon replaced Albert in Bartholomew Plus Three less than a year earlier.
Life went on (pun intended) and their self-titled debut album was out in the fall of ’69. Predominantly written by Sheppard, who also served as producer, and with slick production for its time, the lp becane a future cult hit with the fuse guitar enthroned cover of Terry Reid’s “Lovin’ Time”, the haunting “Needing You” complete with strings arrangement, and the two-part instrumental “Lifetime.” Also involved in the making of the album was Andre Perry, later instrumental in John & Yoko’s Montreal ‘Bed In.’
The band capitalized on its success, and played its biggest concert in its short run that summer at the very first Montreal Bi-Cultural Pop Festival, headlined by Steppenwolf. Incidentally, it was the first time a local group played a major show at the Montreal Forum. “Sweet Lovin'” b/w “Desire” was on the airwaves by November, but failed to match the success of its predecessor.
Even so, that didn’t stop Polydor from releasing the album throughout North America and Europe, including Germany. There, “Sweet Lovin’s” sleeve featured Zimmerman’s wife, Lorraine Neid, who’d sang on the reocrdings and by this point had become a full member.
But the band was operating without an official full-time manager, and by this point things were coming apart at the seam, and the end came when Simon moved Stateside. Lauzon followed soon after, both joining gospel rocker Mylon Lefevre. Before long, Simon moved to the UK to work with Brian Eno, Mick Jagger, and Jimmy Page, among others. When he returned, he found himself working with Celine Dion during her early French career, and became a member of SOCAN’s board of directors, where he tracks down artists to give them their royalty cheques. Lauzon bounced around in a few groups before getting out of the business altogether. Zimmerman joined Face To Face, then Vision, then also got out of the business.
Sheppard worked in the UK for awhile, before moving to the US, where he worked with a number of artists, including Tim Hardin and The Razors Edge. His songs have also been recorded over the years by the likes of Long John Baldry, Gene Pitney, Herbie Mann, Fatback, The Montanas, The Love Symphony Orchestra, and The Everly Brothers. He also contributed to the Beatles homage album, FLABBY ROAD in the late ’90s, writing and performing “You Can’t Go Far Without A Guitar (Unless You’re Ringo Starr).” Like Simon had as well, Sheppard also both got into film and TV production work over the years.