Doug Bennett memorial
After moving to Vancouver from Toronto in 1974, Doug Bennett worked for the local Georgia Strait newspaper as a cartoonist/editor while sidelining in a number of bands. In 1977 he was looking for a new avenue to let his creative musical juices flow and meld his love for pop and Motown in a fun atmosphere.
He was introduced to guitarist John Burton by a mutual friend, who’d honed his style in a number of groups, most recently The Ugly Slugs, and together they formed a duo that played every restaurant, club, and cafe in Vancouver that would have them. By that fall they’d decided to round out their sound with a backing group that consisted of Dennis Henderson on bass, Drew Neville on keyboards and drummer Ted Laturnus.
The Vancouver scene at the time was bustling with new clubs opening up almost on a daily basis, looking for fresh acts to feed the hungry crowds, and from their inception, it wasn’t hard to figure out Doug & The Slugs were unique. Beginning with a Halloween party that year, they quickly made a name for themselves for their light-hearted, but well-written approach to pop music while becoming the talk of the live circuit. No one put on theme parties with a frenzied environment like them. Within a year, some lineup shuffling had occurred. Richard Baker was added on guitars, Steve Bosley was the new bassist, Simon Kendall was the new keyboards player, and John Watson was the new drummer. On the back of their dynamic stage presence augmented by Bennett’s witty presence and showmanship, the cult grew.
Like most unsigned groups they wanted to record, but the price of doing so was more than what was in their pockets. But those ‘in the know’ understood how unique and potentially ground breaking the band was, and Vancouver comedian Peter McCullough got on board and financed the band’s first studio sessions, following the formation of their own Ritdong Records. They had also caught the attention of promoter/manager Sam Feldman, who agreed to lend his expertise in the studio. The song that got the Slugs into the limelight, “Too Bad” was recorded in September of ’79, and was backed with “The Move.” Unfortunately, the original master tape was recycled following the pressing, but the song made it to 45 and as a 7″ single, gaining significant airplay on the local radio stations as well as in the dance clubs.
Feldman signed them to a deal shortly thereafter, and deciding the band needed a bigger stage, sent them to Ontario. Throughout the GTA the story was the same – they didn’t pack the clubs on the first nights, or the second ones, but it wasn’t long before people were lining up to take in the unique parties and down a few pints. Montreal was much the same, as were all points east. Feldman took them to Mississauga early the next spring, and finished COGNAC AND BOLOGNA by mid April. The album was a mix of witty satire and slick musicianship, with a re-recorded “Too Bad” leading their tight, whimsical attack. This was quickly followed by “Chinatown Calculation” and two serious, laid-back singles “To Be Laughing” and “Drifting Away”. Their refinement but comical approach earned them a gold record. Meanwhile CityTV’s The New Music program was relishing in the Slugs’ often downright hilarious videos, broadening the group’s appeal even more.
Their follow-up came in ’81 with WRAP IT. Recorded in Vancouver, it was backed by the frantic-jive of “Dangerous”, “Real Enough”, complete with masterful acapella compliments of The Nylons and “Not On The Corner”, a single about a guy with a bulge in his levi’s and no one to help him out with his dilemna. Produced by Jim Vallance (Prism, Bryan Adams fame) WRAP IT showed an added guidance in the control room lacked by producing their first record themselves. Alsonoteable from the record were the quirky jazzed-up polka-beat “Wrong Kind of Right” and the AM geared “Partly From Pressure”.
Next on the Slugs’ agenda was MUSIC FOR THE HARD OF THINKING, which hit the shelves in September of ’83. Masterful harmonies behind “Making It Work” and the slick hit “Who Knows How” solidified them as the country’s number one band for just good times, playing non-stop for the better part of the next year all across Canada as well as in the States. By the time Much Music was on the air, the band had a stellar repetoire of storylined videos which helped catapult them into the spotlight.
A greatest hits package was released in ’85 called TEN BIG ONES. A curious marketing ploy, it also contained the “It’s Alright Medley”. POPOGANDA was released the next year and contained the hits “Day By Day” and “Love Shines”, co-penned by Eddie Schwartz. Co-produced by Gene Martynec, who’d worked with such Canadian heavyweights as Queen City Kids and Rough Trade, the record showed Bennett and Kendall had the confidence to develop their own sound again, and also featured “Dancing On The Powerlines”, written by Jim Foster.
The group was put on brief hiatus while Bennett finished up ANIMATO, his first solo venture. Released in July of ’88, it in all honesty could have passed a Slugs product. Though nothing ground-breaking, it did produce “It’s Got To Be Monday” and “1-2-3”. Partly because of this, and partly because of outside commitments, the group took nearly two years again to record their next record. In the meantime, an American-only release simply called DOUG & THE SLUGS was released, which was made up of selections from ANIMATO, as well as a couple of the Slugs’ top hits.
With Juno Award-winning producer Brian MacLeod of The Headpins and Chilliwack fame, TOMCAT PROWL turned out to be one of the group’s best efforts. A maturity was showing in their work, evidenced by the synthesizers in the title-track and hard-edged pop sensibility of “Powerful Thing”. Also noteable were the ballad “Walkaway” and “Take My Breath Away”.
The Slugs released TALES FROM A TERMINAL CITY in ’90. Along with the title track, other noteable cuts were “You’re Going To Leave Me”, “Stand Up” and “Black Widow”. Unfortunately, changes in radio formats meant the album was lost in the barrage of the mediocre material on the airwaves at the time, though it still remains as one of their best records by the die-hard fans.
Bennett’s country influences formed the backbone of his sideline pet project, The Dealers. They recorded an independent self-titled album on Lotusland Music in 1991, but never released it. The Slugs came back with a greatest hits package entitled SLUGCOLOGY 101 in ’92. A crash course in good times and a carefree attitude, it’s a retrospective of the group’s six records together as well as their ’84 version of “White Christmas”, previously unavailable on lp, just in time for the Christmas rush that same year. When SLUGCOLOGY was made available for digital download years later, “White Christmas” was replaced with “Tropical Rainstorm.”
Outside interests, including Bennett’s Tomcat Records, kept Doug and the Slugs from touring full-time or recording at all for awhile. However a revised version of the band began hitting the road on a regular basis again in the mid ’90s. As always, at the forefront of the shows was his good natured ribbing of the crowds and party atmosphere. In 1999 The Norm MacDonald Show aired on ABC, using “Too Bad” as their theme song.
Canada lost arguably our best singing comic, and most original performers on October 16, 2004 when Doug Bennett passed away in a Calgary hospital. He was admitted a week earlier and slipped into a coma, where he remained on life support until falling victim to complications from a long-standing heart ailment. Fine musicianship always ran through the band, regardless of who the other Slugs have been. But it was the live presence that kept Doug & The Slugs at the cream of the Canadian music crop for nearly three decades. Their no-nonsense, ‘gotta make your feet move’ party atmosphere put them above the rest.
In late 2009, the remaining original recording lineup of Burton, Bosley, Kendall (who’d spent time touring with Colin James and as a member of Sharkskin – an offshoot of Odds), Baker and Watson decided to give it another whirl. They hired Ted Okos (formerly of Nick Danger) as the band’s new frontman – a natural fit because of his similar wit and on-stage repetoire with the fans.