Formed in Vancouver in the early ’70s, Wildroot consisted of Howie Vickers (ex Collectors and Chilliwack) on vocals, guitarist Frank Allison, Charles Faulkner on bass (ex of Mother Tuckers Yellow Duck), Ian Berry on sax and keyboards, and drummer Jim McGillivery, ex of Painted Ship.
They took their name from the Woody Herman and His Orchestra song, and while playing the local circuit and becoming regulars at such places as the Landmark Hotel and Fowler’s Rest Home, they released one single in ’72 on their own Cricetus Records – a cover of Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill” b/w the Allison-penned “Hurricane Freda.”. Over the next few years while playing up and down the west coast, they landed on the soundtrack to The Supreme Kid in ’76, and wrote three tracks for it – “The Real Contender,” “Moving Target,” and “Dance With Your Dog.” They also wrote and performed a few commercial ditties, including a sixty second TV ad promoting natural gas that ran on Vancouver stations for the better part of a year.
By the end of the decade the lineup had expanded and was now an actual big band pop orchestra, putting a modern spin on swing classics and tearing it up wherever they played. Of the most unusual but most popular live tunes was their polka take on “Stairway To Heaven.” The band was McGillevary and Faulkner, along with Ted Boroweiki on piano, Doug Edwards (ex Skylark and Faulkner-mate in Mother Tuckers Yellow Duck) on guitars, and Blaine Dunaway, Jaimie Croile, Herb Besson and Tom Keenlyside on brass. They spent some time at Blue Wave Sound and released a cover of Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood” to the local radio stations in the fall of ’81, which also featured a cameo by Tom Lavin (Powder Blues).
It was an instant hit and made the top 20 on two different stations by that December, when Attic Records’ Tom Williams was in town for a convention. He was given a tape of the single, and before the end of the year, the band was signed to the label and the full, eponymous debut album was on the shelves. A Canada-only release, it was basically modern takes on swing classics, and also included a revved-up cover of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and reworkings of “Hurricane Freda,” “Real Contender,” and “Dance With Your Dog.”
Kewl, fun, and unique, along and short version of “In The Mood” in 45 was released and they spent some time at #3 on the AC chart, becoming a mobile DJ’s staple for years to come. Covering Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn” also was a hit, as well as . “Town Without Pity” “Real Contender” and “Hurricane Freda” also did reasonably well, but Attic dropped them in ’83 and they carried on on their own.
They were still a hot commodity on the live circuit, and even played Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre backed by the CBC Orchestra. In late ’84 they released their follow-up, WILDROOT TWO on Cricetus. No singles were released, and the band tried to flex its musical creativity with covers of Dorsey Burnette’s “Hey Little One,” Tony Gregory’s “Gypsy Girl,” and The Shadows’ “Don’t It Make You Feel Good,” as well as the originals “Dinosaur Song,” and “Lizzard Danse II.” By this point the band’s core was McGillevary, Edwards, Faulkner, Keenlyside, Besson, and Croile. For the album, Peter Padden and Jane Mortifee on percussion, Peter Bjerring on keyboards, and drummer Kat Hendrikse were added.
They carried on for a couple more years but eventually packed it in and went on to other projects. Dunaway moved to Kelowna and became a music teacher. Padden formed Jupiter Productions. Keenlyside hooked up with on-again off-again member over the years Miles Black to form Altered States for one album. McGillevary, Keenlyside, and Hendrikse then formed Skywalk a few years later, also good for one jazz-oriented album. Faulkner left the business all together for nearly a decade, then returned with his new project, Dog Skin Suit. He passed away in the early ’00s. Ian Berry succumbed May 2, 2008 to lung cancer.