The group’s origins stem from when highschool friends guitarist Dave Tamblyn and keyboardist Greg Brown grew up in London, Ontario playing in a number of bands on the weekends, finally settling in as Leather and Lace, which featured Janice Morgan on vocals. They moved to Yorkville and became staples on the folk scene through the rest of the decade, eventually settling on a lineup that included Jeff Jones on bass and drummer Chuck Slater.
They were signed to Yorkville Records in 1970 who got them a distribution deal with Capitol. They released their debut PUT YOUR HAND IN THE HAND, the title track to an upbeat that owed much of its stylistic origin to pure hand-clapping gospel that Gene MacLellan had originally written for Anne Murray, who coincidentally also was on Capitol’s label. Although Murray recorded the song two years before Ocean, the song was buried on her album and received no attention from executives. Ocean, meanwhile, saw the song released as their first single while they still played high school dances and night clubs around Toronto. That soon changed, and the band began playing to crowds across North America, into Europe, and appeared on just about every Hit Parade type of TV show on the air. The song eventually topped Canada’s charts and reached number 2 in the US, selling well over a million copies in the process.
The album was predominantly written by outsiders, and other noteable tracks included “The One Who’s Left” – another MacLellan composition, a cover of The Band‘s “Stones I Throw,” and their rendition of the gospel standard “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.” “Deep Enough For Me” and “We’ve Got A Dream” followed up the charts, both cracking the top 40 before year’s end. Following a highly successful world tour, they returned home amid allegations of missing funds compliments of management.
Still with Yorkville, they scored a distribution deal with Kama Sutra Records in 1972. They returned to the studios in Toronto, and released their follow-up GIVE TOMORROW’S CHILDREN ANOTHER CHANCE later that year. The band tried to veer away from the easy listening gospel formula for success that made them overnight sensations only a year and a half earlier, though still just as preachy in their own way. The pop/folk results were less than was hoped for. “One More Chance” was released as the first single, but barely cracked the top 20, followed by “Make The Sun Shine” and “I Have A Following” in the summer of ’73. The record contained more original compositions than previously, as well as covers of another Band song – “It’s Just Another Whistle Stop,” CSNY’s “Helplessly Hoping,” and the Motown classic “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman.”
More management and business issues plagued the band, and one by one they left and were replaced by others through a revolving door, leaving only Brown as the original member. By 1975, the band fell victim again to less than scrupulous management and label decisions, and called it quits. The hard financial business lessons learned caused Brown to get in that side of the music industry, and became an advocate of Canadian artists’ rights, and lobbied for legislation change that protected them from greedy management demons without a lawyer present. He also kept busy by playing in a variety of groups over the years, as did the rest of the band.
The most prolific after thought to Ocean was Jeff Jones, who went on to play with Red Rider, Ronnie Hawkins, Infidels, and The Carpet Frogs, which also began doing double duty in the late ’00s as Burton Cummings‘ backup band. Slater, fallen on hard times, committed suicide in 1987.
“Put Your Hand In The Hand,” meanwhile went on to immortalize the group as a one-hit wonder (thanks in part to a lack of creativity from Canadian radio), ending up in what seemed like every other oldies collection in the stores. Unidisc acquired the rights to the music and released a greatest hits collection in 2001, confusing people because the band only had two records. Along with 12 of their 18 songs on the album, two previously unreleased tracks were included. The band’s two albums were also repackaged and re-released that same year.