Formed in 1992 in Toronto, The Philosopher Kings were centred around friends and music school students, the Levine Brothers – Jason on bass and Jon on piano, and vocalist Gerald Eaton, soon adding James McCollum and Brian West on guitars, and drummmer Craig Hunt.
Before long they’d become regulars up and down Queen Street, when they were seen by execs at Columbia Records, who signed them to a deal. They were shipped off to the studios with producers Lenny deRose and Mike Roth, and came out with their self-titled debut album, released in early ’94. Blending pop with modern R&B influences, the album eventually was certified gold (50,000 copies) in Canada and won the band a Juno for best new group, as well as a nomination for R&B/soul recording of the year.
By now Hunt was gone, and with Bobby Watson and Terence Blanchard providing horns, the lead single, “Charms” became a #16 hit across Canada, making it to the top 10 in several markets, and also managed to make the top 40 in the US, their only time on the American chart. To help sales, the single was released on a special CD that also included three dance re-mixes for the clubs.
Critics generally thanked the music Gods when the album was came out, and praised the band for breathing fresh air into a music scene that had grown stale with cookie-cutter dance music and pop without any balls. In comparison, the record had soul and funk, with healthy doses of moody swing, particularly in tracks like “All Dressed Up For San Fransisco,” “Fingernails To Claws,” and the cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman.”
They toured for the next year, opening for Kool and The Gang, Terence Trent D’Arby, and Ben Harper, making stops into the US as they toured across Canada. They returned with the platinum-selling (100,000 units in Canada) FAMOUS, RICH, AND BEAUTIFUL in the summer of ’97. The predominant jazz influences were toned down with new producer Joe Nicolo, but “I Am The Man” became another top 10 hit across the country, followed by “Hurts To Love You,” which also crossed over into the AC chart. Their cover of Godley & Creme’s “Cry” reached #13, and before 1998 was in the books, “You Don’t Love Me” was released, but failed to make the top 40. Other noteable cuts included “Head First,” penned by McCollum, and their cover of Sam Lewis’ soul standard, “Dinah.” The record earned the band another four Juno nominations, including one for best single for “Hurts To Love You.”
Another North American tour ensued, where they headlined some of the smaller venues, but the trips were anything but uneventful. The band picked up a hitchhiker on their way to a gig in Chicago. Initially, she tried to hi-jack the bus at knife-point, but by the time she’d come to her senses, she instead ending up travelling with the band as a roadie, and even sold their merchandise for the rest of the tour. They also crossed the pond, and played to audiences throughout Great Britain and into Europe.
The band also contributed to the 1998 hunger awareness album, 30 HOUR FAMINE, and while they were enjoying some down-time, the label released the live album, ONE NIGHT STAND, in late 1999. It nicely summed up the band’s two albums, as well as a medley of “Hurts To Love You” that also sampled Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” It also included three new studio tracks – “Supersex 69,” “If I Ever Lose This Heaven” (which was nominated for a Juno), and “You Stepped on My Life.” All three were released as singles, but only “If I Ever Lose This Heaven” reached the top 20.
During several years hiatus, they went on to do other projects and get on with life outside of music. Jason Levine and McCollum formed a quasi-comedic group called Prozzak, releasing one album. Levine then set up Prozzak and Lefthook Entertainment.
Eaton menawhile began a solo career, releasing one album in 2002 under the new monikor of Jarvis Church (named after two parallel streets in Toronto). He also dabbled in production, sitting behind the controls with West for Nelly Furtado‘s debut album in 2000. Eaton and West also formed a side project in the early ’00s called Track and Field.
The core of Eaton and the Levine brothers returned with the independently-released CASTLES in 2005. More mature and with what critics generally regarded as more sophisticated music, three singles ensued over the next year, although “Castles in the Sand,” “Give Back the Love,” and “Beautiful Creature” all failed to chart. Following a series of dates over the next year, they took some more time off. This on again-off again scene continued for the next few years, but the group eventually unofficially disbanded.