Born and raised in Montreal and the Ottawa Valley, once he was out of high school, Ronald Bankley began performing at coffee houses and anywhere he could get a gig in the early ’70s.
He changed the spelling of his first name to the more eclectic ‘Rawn,’ and joined the Ville Emard Blues Band in ’72, a local music collective that at one time swelled to 20 members and was instrumental in many Quebecois live performances, recordings, and TV and radio broadcasts. Some of the group’s top hits were penned or co-written by Bankley, including the acoustic country/folk song “Indian Giver God,” and the earthy blues number “City Music.”
While working with Franck Devrieux’s project, he jumped at the chance to join Contraction, a progressive rock outfit that had just been signed to Capitol. After releasing their eponymous debut, Bankley eventually grew disenchanted with the direction the band was going, having only contributed minimally to the project, and jumped ship in 1974.
He joined Toubabou in 1974, which also included several VEBB alumni, and recorded their first studio album, and second overall a year later. But within a couple of years the concept of the French progressive rock opera had run its course, and everyone split off to do their own thing.
Bankley inked a solo deal with indie label Pleine Lune in ’78, and went into the studios with producer Fred Torak and a dozen studio players, many of whom Bankley had played with previously. His self-titled debut album was in the stores later that year, featuring nine self-penned English tracks, including “Casino Fever,” co-written with former Contraction and Toubabou bandmate Robert Stanley. A mix of roots and blues with an attempt at mainstream accessibility, other tracks included “Pearl,” a song he’d written in the late ’60s but had never recorded, “Ride My Slide,” and “Crossfire.”
After Pleine Lune closed its doors in ’79, Bankley continued on the Montreal area circuit, making stops in Toronto, Ottawa, and throughout central Canada for the next few years. After reverting to the original traditional spelling of his first name, Bankley began a career as a studio session player and tour guitarist for hire. He’s worked with Bruce Murdoch, David Maracle, Michelle Shocked, and JT Oglesby, among others. His late ’90s collaboration with Willie Dunn saw them play from Vancouver to Berlin.
He also became actively involved in several Native rights and other social causes, incorporating some of the music into his own compositions. He continued a solo career, performing throughout North America and recorded the criticially acclaimed album INSURGENT SUN on Bros Records in 2006. The album’s core was his blending of jazz, blues, and rock guitar riffs with uptempo spoken-word beats, and featured reunions with many of his past bandmates.
Along with a pair of albums in 2009, FALLING FORWARD and THUNDER THIEVES, he’s also had several of his poems published in compilation books throughout the years. One of those projects was 2012’s SKETCHES OF FREEDOM, a collection of poems set to music released as a book and CD.