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Before the implementation of Canadian content regulations, homegrown music was naturally very much segregated by region without radio to expand a group’s listening audience. One of Toronto’s hottest new sounds in the mid 60’s was a ‘bleached-soul groove’. Ironically, many of the leaders of the new soul-jazz fusion were actually immigrants from various parts of Europe, bringing a wide array of foreign spices to the mix.
Mandala’s origins began in 1965 Italian-born Domenic Troiano left to form his own group The Five Rogues in Toronto. Along with vocalist George Olliver, they basically assimilated The Belltones. Previously known as Whitey and The Roulettes, they were Finnish-born Pentti ‘Whitey’ Glan on drums, bassist Don Elliot and German-born Josef Chirowski on keyboards. They quickly became a popular local draw and worked with David Clayton-Thomas, then landed the gig as the regular house band at Toronto’s Club Bluenote.
They recorded the demo ‘I Can’t Hold Out No Longer” b/w “I’ll Make It Up To You” but were unable to make anything of it. Deciding an image change was in order, they started wearing gangster-style pinstripe suits and shortened their name to The Rogues. In 1966 their ‘white funk’ sound caught the attention of execs at Chess Records. On the advice of their manager, Randy Martin (real name Rafael Markowitz – a former TV clown) they changed their name to Mandala (a circle within a circle within a circle used by Buddhist monks as an aid to contemplation).
They released the single “Opportunity” early the next year, one of several tracks recorded at Chess’ Chicago studios. They began making frequent stops in New York, then toured the majority of the continent while releasing their second single “Give & Take” b/w “From Toronto ’67” three months later. Their live show was receiving rave reviews (rumoured to be the first band to use strobe lights onstage), opening for the likes of The Rolling Stones and The Byrds. But by that September Olliver wasn’t happy with the direction they were headed so he left to form George And The Soul Children. Chirowski left soon after (later to join Crowbar). They recruited singer Roy Kenner and keyboard player Henry Babraj from another Toronto outfit – The Associates. Babraj was subsequently replaced shortly thereafter with Hugh Sullivan.
The band landed a new deal with Atlantic Records in 1968 and went into the label’s NYC studios, releasing their debut lp SOUL CRUSADE later that year. “Love-itis” was the first single backed with “Mellow Carmello Palumbo” and demonstrated their penchant of blending soul with jazz-flavoured pop, eventually reaching Canada’s Top 10. Other noteable cuts included “‘Every Single Day” co-written by Troiano and Kensington Market singer Keith McKie. “You Got Me” backed by ‘Help Me’ was released as the final single (non-lp) that December but was only given a limited push despite the positive album reviews. It failed to attract the sales the group had expected and they played their final date at the Hawk’s Nest in Toronto – Ronnie Hawkins‘ stompin’ grounds on New Year’s Day 1969.
Along with Glan and Kenner, Troiano formed Bush after Mandala’s demise in ’69 with new bassist Prakash John, releasing their only lp (self-titled) the next spring. Kenner & Troiano then joined The James Gang (following Joe Walsh’s departure) in ’71 for 2 records and Elliot joined Leigh-Ashford (later known as Moxy). Sullivan & Glan both also did session work with John Kay & Steppenwolf during the ’70’s before Sullivan died in 1978.
But other than Troiano, John & Glan enjoyed the most success post-Mandala, working with Lou Reed, Alice Cooper and Bette Midler with Bob Ezrin of KISS-production fame and Jack Richardson – producer of everyone who was ANYONE at Nimbus 9 Studios. It was Richardson who would introduce Troiano to Burton Cummings, leading to his joining The Guess Who for 2 records in the mid 70’s. He then began a very successful career in TV and movie soundtracks, as well as several solo albums and forming the side project Black Market in 1981.
Mandala itself enjoyed a bit of a revival in 1986 when WEA released MANDALA CLASSICS. A nicely-rounded out collection of excerpts from SOUL CRUSADE, it also contained the 2 singles with Chess and unreleased tracks, heralding possibly one of the Toronto area’s most innovative and ground-breaking groups of the 60’s.
SOUL CRUSADE (1968) World Of Love
One Short Year
Come On Home
Every Single Day
Mello Carmello Palumbo
Don’t Make Me Cry
Stop Crying On My Shoulder
MANDALA CLASSICS (1986) Love-itis
Give and Take
Mellow Carmello Palumbo
World of Love
Every Single Day
Don’t Make Me Cry
Can’t Hold Out
One Short Year
From Toronto ’67