Born in Toronto, music was a household staple while Gary O’Connor was growing up. His father was Billy O’Connor, one of the country’s most popular big band leaders of the day, and hosted one of the first Canadian TV variety shows.
Although Gary’s first instrument of choice was the drums, he swapped it for the guitar when a school friend traded him a tuna sandwich for guitar lessons one day. By the time he was a teenager, he’d come and gone in a variety of groups, including the Synics, then the Spasstiks, learning his craft in garages and high school dances.
When The Spasstiks changed their name to Cat, he saw his first commercial success when they scored with four singles between 1968 and 1971, including their biggest, “We’re In This Together.” They landed the opening bill with the likes of Lighthouse, The Guess Who, Neil Diamond, and Janis Joplin around the Toronto area. They also worked with the likes of Jack Richardson (The Guess Who, among a million others) and Bob Ezrin – future producer/engineer for the likes of KISS and Alice Cooper, while touring across Canada.
When Cat’s ninth life was up, he joined Liverpool, argued as Canada’s first Beatles tribute. For O’Connor, this was an easy fit, as The Beatles were one of his earliest favourites, and the two original singles he recorded with Liverpool gave him more valuable experience in the studio, working with Ian Thomas. But despite scoring a modest hit on Toronto radio with “Dolly” and “Middle of The Night,” when Taurus Records ran into a financial brick wall, the band was left high and dry.
After its demise, he briefly formed Kid Rainbow, before hooking up again with ex-Liverpool mates in the new group Aerial in 1977. He stayed for one record before venturing off on his own in ’79, and hooked up with manager Stephen Glass, then signed an American deal with Capitol Records. He spent the next couple of years writing material while also sitting on the executive board of the Toronto Musicians’ Association.
Under the name Gary O’, his self-titled debut was released in 1981, recorded at Sound Castle Studios in LA and produced by Richard Landis. It featured a plethora of some of the best studio muscians around, including ex-J Geils Band member Peter Wolf on keyboards, guitarists David Landau and George Doering, and Craig Krampf on bass, among others. Finely crafted, the majority of the record was self-written, with the exception of a cover of The Hollies’ “Pay You Back With Interest,” which cracked the American chart and peaked at #70. That song, as well as “All The Young Heroes” and a remake of the 1968 Cat hit “I Believe In You,” all did well on Canadian radio as well, and he toured North America for the better part of the next two years in support of the album.
For his 1984 sophomore effort, he switched to RCA Records. Co-produced by manager Stephen Glass, STRANGE BEHAVIOR cranked out four singles over the next year and a half, starting with “Call of The Wild.” It was followed by “Shades of 45,” a song about the American bombing of Japan in WWII. The tune not only cracked the top 40 in Canada, but also saw a video, produced by his brother Rick and complete with real WWII veterans, make regular rotation for awhile on MuchMusic. “Get It While You Can” also became a staple on FM and college radio stations that year, and had a video accompany it when it was released in the spring of ’85. The song was followed by his fourth single from the album and last, “Watching You,” which also cracked the top 100 in Canada.
With his deal with RCA now expired, and frustrated with a lack of push from the label, he retreated to the job of writing hits for others while still performing off and on for the next while. His client list included .38 Special, Molly Hatchet, and Eddie Money, among others. Over the next decade or so he also wrote the themes for two movies – “Thunder Alley” and “Zoo Gang.”
After moving to Nashville in the ’90s to work with some of the industry’s top up and coming country artists for a few years, he moved back to Toronto. There, he continues to be a highly in demand session player, still performs regularly around the Toronto area and continues to do production work and songwriting for other artists.