A native of Durham, North Carolina, Anne Elizabeth Woods moved from San Fransisco to Toronto in the mid 70’s after fronting Sass, and then Gambler. She was introduced to Brian Allen in 1977, whose own band, Rose was on the verge of being cut from their label if they didn’t produce a ‘hit’. Woods guested on the single “Johnny Law” on their third and last album JUDGEMENT DAY … to no avail.
Over a year later Woods’ and Allens’ paths would cross again. Enter Jimmy Fox on drums whom Allen worked with in Rose, Scott The Mott Kreyer on keboards and Nick Costello on bass. Kreyer, Costello & Fox were all native New Yorkers and had also played with Woods (who’d now adopted the name “Holly”) at one time or another. They added Sheron Alton, Allen’s girlfriend and future wife and soon gained a rep as one of the most energetic live hard rock acts on the Ontario circuit.
After originally re-adopting the name Sass, a bar manager changed it to Toronto one night mere minutes before showtime. They were noticed by the same management company which handled The Raes, The Headpins and Chilliwack, inking a deal with Solid Gold Records in ’79. Recorded at Toronto’s Sounds Interchange Studios, their street-wise image translated to a hard-edged sound and made Toronto instant staples on FM stations across the country. Produced by Bill Henderson and Brian MacLeod from Chilliwack, LOOKING FOR TROUBLE was released the summer of 1980. The lead-off single “Even The Score” made the critics instantly take notice of the band as one of Canada’s most promising new talents. The now-classic title-track, “5035” and covers of the ‘Stones’ “Let’s Spend The Night Together” and the Rascals’ “You Better Run” (months before Pat Benatar had released it herself) all drove home the message Toronto was here to stay, pushing their debut platinum in near-record time.
Following a successful cross-country tour, they went to Le Studio in St Savre, Quebec, where they began working on the next record with Terry Brown, whose credits included Rush and Klaatu. The result was HEAD ON, hitting the stores a year later. From the opening riffs of the lead-off title-track and supported by the killer single “Enough Is Enough”, HEAD ON showed the versatility of a band capable of not only the straight forward rockers, but also the well-thought-out complexities of a good power ballad. Also on the record were “Silver Screen” the tale of a young girl’s dreams of movie stardom and Allen/Woods’ duet rocker “Still Talking About Love”. Another extensive tour across Canada with the likes of The Headpins and Jenson Interceptor followed, taking them into the States the next year.
Their third straight platinum record came in the form of GET IT ON CREDIT in the fall of ’82, featuring new drummer Barry Connors and Gary Lalonde (also an ex-member of Rose & later with Honeymoon Suite) on bass. Recorded at Toronto’s Eastern Sound and produced by Steve Smith, best known for his work with Robert Palmer, the lead single “Break Down The Barricade” yet again saw furious lick trading between Allen and Alton and Woods’ now trademark vocals. Harder than ever, the title-track and the smash “Your Daddy Don’t Know” were further evidence a six piece group could act like a well-oiled machine “Start Telllin’ The Truth” again showed the diverse writing talents of the group, crossing over to the keyboard-laden easy listening side of the rock realm, yet still keeping the band’s renowned ‘edge’. Interestingly, the thirteenth song which was eventually dropped was “What About Love”, co-written by Jim Vallance. It would turn into a smash hit when Heart recorded it three years later.
The band kept Smith on as producer for 1983’s GIRLS’ NIGHT OUT, featuring new bassist Mike Gingrich. Backed by the first single, “All I Need”, the title-track and “Ready To Make Up” it marked the fourth straight record to reach platinum. Also included were “Standing In” and “When Can I See You Again” (another track co-written by Vallance), and the Stan Meissner-penned “Don’t Give Me The Once Over”. They displayed a growing maturity, incorporating more keyboards into what were now smoother melodies and another sold out cross-Canada tour followed, taking them into 1984. Innovative marketing before its time also saw the record packaged in a really trippey 3D jacket. But individual outside interests saw the dissolving of the ‘true Toronto unit’ later that year.
While the surviving members regrouped, Solid Gold issued a Greatest Hits package, which included the new tracks “Andrea” and “Me Generation”. Soon after, Woods, Kreyer and Gingrich carried on with new drummer Paul Hanna, who’d replaced Connors after he joined Coney Hatch, then later Lee Aaron. They returned to the friendly confines of Eastern Sound, releasing ASSAULT AND FLATTERY before year’s end under the guise of ‘Holly Woods and Toronto’.
Produced by Mike Flicker, who’d previously worked with the likes of Heart and Al Stewart, the record fell back on a heavier guitar-oriented sound. But now free to call the shots, Woods still managed to make it her most diverse recording yet. “New Romance”, written by Anton Fig and Holly Knight (originally recorded by Widow in 1980) would turn out to be their last single. Brian MacLeod returned to also play a role on the record, co-writing “No More Cliches” and lending a production hand on a number of others, including “Cats and Dogs”, Woods’ powerful duet with The Pins‘ Darby Mills. “Bang Your Head” showed the group’s maturity, able to blend slick hooks with the hard edge that brought them to the dance and kept them for the encore.
The record also featured “Kerry Anne” – about Woods’ friend Elba Gonzalez, an aspiring ballet dancer who died from a brain hemhorrage, and the jazz-tinged “Look What’s Showing Through”, written by Eddie Schwartz. Despite the strong writing of “Desperation” and “Sometimes Change”, the good ship Toronto hit an iceberg before year’s end. The band was literally forced in to breaking up when Solid Gold Records filed for bankruptcy protection. Complicating matters was the fact the label had just received a sizeable advance from CBS, the distributor. Basically used as scape-goats, Woods and Kreyer were caught in the crossfire and watched helplessly as CBS immediately cancelled all future deals with the band and recalled 30,000 copies of ASSAULT AND FLATTERY from the stores. What was to be another cross-country tour was cancelled after only the third date.
Woods and Kreyer ended up relocating to Atlanta, Georgia. They went into Lowery Studios with producer Sonny Limbo, but again ran into major problems when Limbo passed away before they could finish the sessions, forcing the two to assume the remaining costs themselves. Although they shopped the material around, labels shyed away from it, fearing legal ramifications from Solid Gold. The emergence of the ‘classic rock’ radio format of the mid 90’s seemed tailor-made to Toronto – and rock fans in general. With revived airplay, Holly Woods & company have again become mainstays of the stage, mainly during the popular outdoor summer concerts, reclaiming the band’s title as one of Canada’s most genuine rock outfits.
In 2002, a group out of Vancouver called The New Pornographers burst onto the scene with a remake of the classic “Your Daddy Don’t Know” on the ‘Fubar’ movie soundtrack. 2003 saw Solid Gold release a new ‘best of’ package. THE COMPLETE GREATEST HITS is 10 tracks that helped shape Canadian rock in the 80’s, as well as the previously unreleased original version of “What About Love”. Keeping with the label’s kewl habit of including videos in their re-releases, “Start Tellin’ The Truth”, “Your Daddy Don’t Know” and the previously unseen “When Can I See You Again” are also included.
Along with regular tours of Canada and the US, featuring back up from Kreyer and the likes of Jenson Interceptor, Stonebolt, Saga and Headpins members over the years, she also delved into a sideline project of blues material, showcasing her blues and jazz influences over the years alongside alternate versions of some of Toronto’s classic hits.
In ’07 the unreleased material following ASSAULT AND FLATTERY saw the light of day. Reworked and released as a solo Holly Woods album, LIVE IT UP was a blast from the past, sounding more like the ’80’s in all its glory than most of the music FROM the ’80’s, featuring seven ‘new’ tracks as well as a cover of the r&b classic “Hold On I’m Coming.”