New York native Peter Mann worked odd production and arrangement jobs in his home state before moving to Toronto in 1965, where he first worked as a writer for the CBC, as well as a vocal coach and session player. He met producer and Yorkville Records president Al de Lory, and together they started planning out a studio project for Canada’s centennial, including a recording of Peter Gimby’s anthemic song, “Canada.”|
With the flowers and beads in full bloom, and the band’s name already in place, it was agreed from the very beginning that if they were going to make a go of anything, they needed a group with similar appeal to that of he Mamas and Papas. Mann began looking for the right people to round out the cast. First on board was Lee Harris, an aspiring vocalist whom Mann had worked with. Though she had three years of formal training, she’d never played live. Through mutual acquaintances, he met up with a piano sensation named Laurie Hood, and her boyfriend at the time Victor Garber. They both hailed from London, Ont. Hood was in Toronto attending her last year at Toronto University, having won a high school scholarship to pursue her passion at the U of T’s Faculty of Music. A veteran of the theatre, Garber had been performing since the age of eight. After moving to Toronto, he landed the odd session and theatre gig, including he Toronto Workshop and the U of T’s Hart House. In the evenings, he took his guitar to the local cofee houses for the extra buck and the experience.
Over a single night in early 1967, they gathered at Mann’s makeshift home studio and recorded a bunch of demos, which were then taken to de Lory. He brought in Hal Blaine from California, famed session drummer who’d worked with The Mamas and Papas, Fifth Dimension, Petula Clark, The Association, The Byrds, Herb Alpert, Nancy Sinatra, and Elvis, among others. They met at Toronto’s Sound Studio, where they recorded over a dozen songs, and “Canada” was released in time for the July 1 celebrations. On the flip side was “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” The band’s upbeat, carefree sound was instantly compared to the Mamas and Papas and Harpers Bizarre, and the attention “Canada” got them was enough to spur on a full-fledged LP. Hoping to capitalize on the band’s notoriety, “The Attitude,” penned by Mann, was released as a single. Also to keep the momentum building that the band was gaining, the song also showed up on the label’s own complimation – YORKVILLE EVOLUTION.
After inking a distribution deal with Capitol, the self-titled debut album followed in the spring of ’68. Featuring a number of covers and previously unrecorded songs from other writers, including Bobby Gentry’s “Papa, Won’t You Let Me Go To Town With You,” the title theme to the film “Privilege” and “Follow Me” from “Camelot,” it also contained several tracks Mann had written, including a re-release of “Attitude.” The lead-off “Skip A-Long Sam,” written by Donovan, was the next single the following spring. This was followed later in ’68 by “Privilege.”
But the carefree flowers and beads scene was giving way to the psychadelia of the day, and The Sugar Shoppe wasn’t breaking through stateside, as they’d hoped, despite appearances on Ed Sullivan’s and Johnny Carson’s TV variety shows. After Capitol released them from their contract, they signed briefly with Epic, who sanctioned some studio sessions at Sound Studios the following spring. “Save The Country,” written by Toronto songstress Laura Nyro, backed by a cover of “Easy To Be Hard” from the “Hair” soundtrack was released as a single. But it failed to crack the Top 40, and label execs terminated the deal shortly thereafter.
The band folded within a couple of months, leading each member to go on to other projects. Mann would remain one of Toronto’s most sought-after composers and studio men. Hood took an office job at Sound Studio, then eventually becoming a session singer with the likes of Klaatu, Shooter, Myles and Lenny (as did Harris), and Anne Murray.
Garber meanwhile formed a new group called The Shoppe. In 1971, they wrote and performed for “Dusting Off Mythology”, a Canadian educational TV series which introduced high school students to Greek mythology. The series’ soundtrack was later released as an album featuring, among others, “The Shoppe’s” most enduring hit, “Bury the Darkness.” In ’72 he wound up on the Canadian Rock Theatre, an oversized production that included a cast of 30 that performed mostly Broadway hits. Garber then found relative fame and fortune after returning to the stage in adaptations of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Annie,” “Sweeney Todd,” and “Godspell.” This led to several roles on TV including the shows “Alias” and “ENG,” and in theatre, most noteably in “Titanic.”
The band’s only LP appeared on the circuit as a CD in 2001, compliments of SunPK Records, which contained “Save The Country” and “Easy To Be Hard” (covered by 3 Dog Night and also featured in the “Hair” musical) as bonus tracks.