Although their name is taken from what some consider to be a delicasy (bison, cattle, or sheep testicles – depending on what campfire or expensive restaurant you’re at), Prairie Oyster was actually formed in 1975 by Toronto natives Russell deCarle on bass and vocals, guitarist Keith Glass, and Dennis Delorme on steel guitar.
They toured for over four years throughout Canada and the US, and even made a couple of appearances on radio and television, but unable to catch a break, they disbanded by the end of the decade. Glass and deCarle re-united in 1982 with a new lineup, consisting of John P Allen on guitar, fiddle, and mandolin, pianist/harpsicordist Joan Besen, and drummer John Adames. But within a couple of years, Bruce Moffet replaced Adams, and they continued playing throughout central Canada while developing a style that blended traditional country with ’50s rock and roots.
They released their debut album, OYSTER TRACKS, on 16th Avenue Records in 1984 with producers Don Bird and Danny Greenspoon. The cover of George Jones’ “Rain Rain” was a single that went nowhere. But still, they caught the attention of Stony Plain Records executives, whose first order of business was to re-release the album in ’86 – minus one song – “(Will I Do) Til The Real Thing Comes Along,” and re-recorded with producer Steve Berlin. With a bigger label came more exposure, and the singles “You Got A Way,” “Juke Joint Johnny,” and “The Other Side of Town” kept their fire burning, and the band won two consecutive Juno Awards for Best Country Group or Duo in ’86 and ’87 on its way to being certified gold (50,000 copies).
They also played throughout the southern US country belt,RCA executive Joe Galante caught wind of the band, and after seeing them perform in Nashville, signed them to a deal in 1988. Although the brass wanted them to change their name, the band insisted it remain intact, claiming they’d already established a name for themselves, so the executives eventually relented.
By 1990 their sophomore album, DIFFERENT KIND OF FIRE was in the stores, with Berlin returning as producer. The bulk of the material was written by Besen or Glass, and the first single, “Goodbye, So Long, Hello” made it onto the US country chart, and the top 5 at home. The honky tonk ballad written by Jack Rollins and Don Robertson, “I Don’t Hurt Anymore” was next up and was another Canadian top 10 hit. Along with the top 20 hits “Meet Me On The Corner” and “Something To Remember You By,” the band had its first platinum record at home (100,000 copies). It also earned them another Juno the following spring for Country Group or Duo of the Year, and took home the same doorstop at that year’s CCMAs (Canadian Country Music Association). They also won the CCMA for Single of the Year for “Goodbye, So Long, Hello.”
After the band received a nomination from the US-based Academy of Country Music for Top New Group or Duo, 1991’s EVERYBODY KNOWS became their second Canadian platinum record when its lead single, “One Precious Love” hit the airwaves. Although it stalled at outside the top 40 Stateside, it didn’t leave the Canadian charts until making the top 10, and was followed by “Did You Fall In Love With Me” and the roots-driven “Just For Old Times Sake.” By now the band was a favourite on CMT, and was a mainstay in the bars, with the two-step seemingly designed specifically for them – or maybe vice-versa. The album also included a re-worked version of “(Will I Do) Til The Real Thing Comes Along.” “Did You Fall In Love With Me” was named Song of the Year by the CCMA, and they also won the CCMA for Album of the Year.
They were on the road for the better part of the next two years, and following tour dates that took them across the pond to the UK for the first time, they returned to the studios in Nashville and Toronto for ONLY ONE MOON, produced by Steve Fishell and Tim DuBois. The band had moved over to Arista Records and released in ’94, a cavalcade of guest artists that included Jo-El Sonnier and Ray Huskey helped push the album gold. The title track went to #1 in Canada, as did “Such A Lonely One” and “Don’t Cry Little Angel,” and the Cajun stylings of “Louisette,” “Ancient History,” and the emotional “Black Eyed Susan” also made the top 10. The band meanwhile embarked on another European tour, where they were hit in Germany, England, and Denmark. The following spring, they won their fourth Juno for Country Group or Duo of the Year.
After starting the year with their sixth Juno win for Country Group or Duo of the Year, “Unbelievable Love” reached #1 prior to the release of their next album, BLUE PLATE SPECIAL, which featured new drummer Bohdan Hluszko. “One Way Track” was also a top 5 hit, but following a series of tour dates that led into ’97, controversy enveloped the band when Hluszko came out as being transgender, and then left the group.
With new drummer Charlie Cooley (actor Ryan Cooley’s father), they returned with WHAT IS THIS COUNTRY? in ’98. Led by the top 10 charters “Canadian Sunrise” and “Keep On Dreaming,” the album was certified gold and they picked up another CCMA that year for Single of the Year for “Canadian Sunrise.”
The compilation STRING OF PEARLS: A GREATEST HIST COLLECTION was released in 2000. Along with the band’s biggest hits spanning seven albums, it also featured a reworking of “Man In The Moon” from OYSTER TRACKS. But as a duet with folk star Jenny Whiteley, the single failed to chart. While the album was being released, everyone had taken a few years off to concentrate on outside projects, with deCarle, Allen, and Glass all releasing solo albums.
After signing a new deal with Open Road Recordings, they resurfaced with their first album of new material in eight years with 2006’s ONE KISS. Recorded at Glass’ Audio Valley Studio in Perth, Ontario, it was heralded by the critics for its intimacy and clean cut approach. It produced three singles, which all failed to make the top 20 – the cover of Don Gibson’s “Sweet Sweet Girl To Me,” the haunting “Too Bad For Me,” and the cover of Bob Dylan’s “I Threw It All Away.” With elements of bluegrass and roots mixed in to their traditional country recipe, the record was also noteable for including drummer John Adames (who played with the band in its early days prior to receiving its first record deal) and Jacksoul‘s Haydain Neale, who did guest vocals on “High Water.”
They embarked on a cross-Canada tour in support of the album, and in 2008 they were inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. Although the band never officially broke up, they again went on to individual projects, including deCarle and Glass both releasing solo albums. deCarle has also appeared on CBC TV’s Songwriters Circle, opened for Merle Haggard on his cross-Canada tour as a solo artist, traveled coast-to-coast with Bluebird North Songwriters Tour, and was a featured guest on Stuart McLeans Vinyl Café Christmas Tour in ’08.