Dianne Brooks memorial
Originally from New Jersey, Gwendolyn Dianne Brooks was part of the church choir at the age of three, and grew up performing at various talent shows. As a teen in the mid ’50s, she joined The Three Playmates, who released four singles on the Savoy label and enjoyed a minor hit “Sugah Woogah” (their last single) in 1957.
She moved to Toronto shortly thereafter, where she quickly became a fixture at The Bluenote and The Croq D’Or. She started dabbling in radio and TV work for both the CBC and CTV, and released her first single, “The Orbiteer Twist,” in 1960, which she wrote as a commercial tune for a toy. The song didn’t chart, but did feature Robbie Robertson on his first studio appearance.
After a time in The Soul Searchers, which also included Eric Mercury and future members of Motherlode, she then joined Soul Company as part of the singing cast of the running variety program, “Music Machine.” It was around this period that she first began working with Doug Riley, aka Dr Music.
Outside the studios, she toured throughout Ontario and Quebec, also making some stops in New York and New Jersey. Jerry Schoenbaum, owner of Verve/Folkway Records, signed her to a deal, and with he and bassist Harvey Brooks (no relation) producing, it led to her first single in February 1967 – “In My Heart” (written by Harvey) b/w “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself.” But like its predecessor, the follow-up “Picture Me Gone” b/w “Sometimes I Wonder” didn’t make much of a dent in the charts.
A new deal with Tangerine Records led to the ’69 single, “Walkin’ On My Mind” b/w “Need To Belong.” Riley wrote both songs, with himself and Mort Ross producing. Both sides of the 45 got good airplay throughout the bigger markets and “Walkin’ On My Mind” made the top 40 in some. The single was also released in the UK and Belgium on various indie labels, but made no impact on the charts.
Revolver Records, her UK distributor, released her debut album, SOME OTHER KIND OF SOUL in 1970. The album was a simple approach to a rhythm & blues inspiration on some pop songs, and featured guitarist Lenny Breau, who wrote several of the tracks. Although it didn’t produce any singles, it was widely acclaimed by several critics, and noteable cuts included a cover of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch,” “The Boys Are On The Case,” and “No Turning Back.”
She continued making ends meet as a studio singer Riley came calling again, convincing her to join his group when he was tasked with putting one together for Ray Stevens’ new TV show. The show’s run was short, but Riley meanwhile was putting together a deal to release Dr Music’s self-titled debut album in the spring of 1971. After leaving the group later that year, she returned to working in TV and radio jingles and on other artists’ projects, including Pure Prairie League’s 1972 album, BUSTIN’ OUT, singing on “Leave My Heart Alone.”
Pink Elephant Records out of The Netherlands re-released “Walkin’ on My Mind” in ’73, a year before she was featured on a CBC album, with Bob Ruzicka on the other side. Staff writer and producer John Capek composed four of the five tracks Brooks recorded, which also featured Kevan Staples, later of Rough Trade on guitars.
She paid the bills by touring with Bete Midler, Boz Scaggs, and Count Basie for a few years, and also appeared on vinyl from Anne Murray and Funkadelic. She returned with her sophomore album, BACK STAIRS OF MY LIFE on Reprise Records in ’76.
Produced by Brian Ahern, it was a full-blown R&B album with infectious grooves and danceable beats, complete with searing sax solos from Jon Clarke in the lead-off “99 Miles From LA” and the first single, “Kinky Love,” written by Kim Carnes’ husband, Dave Ellingson. Backed with “Brown Skin Rose” (the only song written by Brooks), it scraped the higher end of the top 40 in several markets across Canada, and also got some airplay in the US.
The album also featured several guest performers on what was mostly a covers-album, including Anne Murray) and Peter Pringle on bg vocals for both Phoebe Snow’s “Easy Street” (also featuring Amos Garrett and Waddy Wachtel on guitars) and The Eagles’ “Desperado,” and Bonnie Raitt on “Heaven Is A Zillion Light Years Away” by Stevie Wonder. It also contained a smooth rendering of Rodney Crowell’s “This Morning The Blues” and Rick Danko and Bobby Charles’ “Small Town Talk.”
She continued working the GTA, doing some shows across the northern US border while continuing to do some session work. The one-off single, “Drums” b/w “Go Away” was briefly on the airwaves in ’81 after she signed with MGM. But it did little to resurrect her career, and she all but completely disappeared from music within a couple of years. She died in a Toronto hospital on April 29, 2005 of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.