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Big bands in rock were popular in the early stages of Canadian rock’s formations, paricularly in the sophisticated major centres, and the origins of The Disciples started out when Robbie Lane recruited members of various local bands in and around the Toronto area during the early 60’s.
By the summer of 1963 the lineup was Lane, Domenic Troiano on guitar, drummer Sonny Milne, Marty Fisher on piano, bassist Gene Trach, Bert Herriston on sax and flute, and William Cudmore on harmonica, sax and keyboards. After toiling away in the club scene their big break was when Ronnie Hawkins hired them in December of ’63 as a back up plan, since he knew his Hawks were intending to leave the nest.
The Disciples played upstairs at The Hawk’s Nest, Hawkins‘ nightclub, while The Hawks played downstairs at the Le Coq D’Or, with Ronnie literally playing with both bands during the night. When The Hawks left and changed their name to The Band, The Disciples for the next few months were in a state of multiple personality. They were the new version of The Hawks when playing with Ronnie, but also kept their own identity recording purposes, even though they also recorded three singles and their b-sides with Hawkins as The Hawks on his own Hawk Records label in ’64, “Got My Mojo Workin’,” backed with “Let The Good Times Roll,” “Bluebirds Over The Mountain” and “Diddly Daddy,” and “Little Red Rooster” and “Goin’ To The River.”
Their first two singles under their own name was also on Hawk Records, “Fannie Mae” (written by Hawkins) also in ’64 and produced by Scott Cushnie. Troiano would leave the group soon after to form The Rogues, later changing their name to the 5 Rogues, then Mandala, and then would go on to form Bush, join The James Gang, then The Guess Who, then go on to a successful solo career before forming Black Market. By 1982 he’d relegated himself to session work, producing other acts and doing TV and film scores while earning a spot in Canada’s Music Hall of Fame.
With new guitarist Terry Bush, The Disciples’ follow-up single was “Ain’t Love A Funny Thing,” produced by Hawkins’ buddy and ex-Hawk Fred Carter, which became a moderate hit. But by the summer of ’65, the band parted ways with Hawkins, soon replaced by a band later to become Crowbar. Lane and company, with new drummer Kirk Shearer and Stan Szelest replacing Fisher on piano, soon became the house band for CTV’s after school music program, “It’s Happening.”
They were noticed by Capitol Records execs and signed them to a deal. They released their first single under the Capitol umbrella that same year, “Sandy,” written by Dion, followed by the Neil Sedaka-penned “What Am I Gonna Do?” and “You Gotta Have Love,” their first original song as an A-side the next year. Before the end of the year, they released a cover of Paul Anka‘s “Lonely Boy” and “You Gotta Have Love.” In ’67, after much touring in and around the Toronto area circuit, they also released the theme song for “It’s Happening” as the title track single to their first full length lp, their last recording under Capitol’s umbrella.
They landed a TV advertisement jingle deal to help promote Baby Ruth chocolate bars, thanks in part to the musical director of “It’s Happening” Doug Riley. The song was so catchy that Riley used a stripped down version of the band that featured Lane, Bush, Trach and Shearer to record it as a single, releasing “Baby Ruth” under the pseudonym of The Butterfingers in 1968 on Red Leaf Records. That same year Hallmark Records approached Lane to record another single on their label under the Butterfingers name, and their second single, “Look What’s New” was released.
The band moved a few members in and out over the next few years, and with the end of the decade approaching, practically every ‘big band’ pop group had faded from the limelight, out of touch with growing trends. And the Disciples were no exception. They split up in early ’68, while Lane continued doing “It’s Happening” until that too had run its course before the end of the year. He travelled to Nashville to record a solo album, but it got shelved.
He toiled on the circuit as a solo act and finally broke through in 1974 after signing with Celebration Records. He released the single “M’Lady,” written by Brian Allen (Rose, Toronto), who would later become an executive at Attic Records. The song was actually originally recorded by Allen and his band at the time Rose. But they never released it, so Lane’s vocals were simply overdubbed as his single. Next up were “Missing You,” backed by a full orchestra and bg vocals by Diane Brooks and Rhonda Silver, and “Stay With Me,” a moderate uptempo single, both released before year’s end.
He continued on the scene on again, off again until the early 80’s, when he got back together with Bush, Trach, Shearer, Fisher for a few charity, and then club dates. In ’96 Pacemaker Records resurrected the forgotten material Lane had recorded in ’69 while in Nashville, packaged as part of a greatest hits album called BACKTRAX – BEST OF ROBBIE LANE & THE DISCIPLES. The lineup featured Lane, Trach, Shearer, Cudmore and Bush from the early days, augmented with drummer Jeff Stevens, Joe Allen, Stuart Elliot and Wimpy Z making up the horn section, and second guitarist John Doriat.
That same year they released the appropriately titled, AIN’T DEAD YET, a live album showcasing Lane’s three decades in the business. Among the highlights was a cover of The Band‘s “The Shape I’m In,” with lead vocals from keyboardist William Davis. The album also contained three bonus tracks, their first single from 1964 “Fannie Mae,” produced by ex-Hawk Scott Cushnie, “You Gotta Have Love,” the band’s first self-written A-side, and “You Broke My Spirit,” an unreleased gem from ’65 that was co-written by Lane and its producer Fred Carter, another ex-Hawk.
They continued doing the odd show here & there, until releasing DOIN’ IT RIGHTEOUS in 2002 on Chicken Recrords. Lane currently co-hosts a weekly radio oldies program on 1050 CHUM in Toronto, while keeping the band semi-active doing club dates, mostly in Mississauga.
AIN’T DEAD YET (1996) Fannie Mae
Unchain My Heart
Lawdy Miss Clawdy
Shape I’m In
You Can Leave Your Hat On
Stand By Me
Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag
Medley:Sweet Soul Music/ Land of 1000 Dances/ Bill Black
You Gotta Have Love
You Broke My Spirit