Good Brothers

albums w/ jackets & lyrics
Hailing from Richmond Hill, Ontario, Twin brothers Brian and Bruce Good originally fronted the popular The Kinfolk in the late ’60s with Marty Steiger and Margaret McQueen. They concocted a traditional country recipe with a distinct Canadian flavour while playing the coffeehouses and folk clubs in Toronto and the fairs throughout Ontario.

When Steiger left and McQueen married Bruce, the twins recruited singer and guitarist James Ackroyd. Shortly after changing their name to James & The Good Brothers, their first show was opening for Grand Funk Railroad at Maple Leaf Gardens, then began the arduous journey of building their profile. Soon they were noted as one of the top emerging groups in the still-young Canadian country scene. In the summer of 1970, they hitched a ride on the cross-Canada train ride concert tour dubbed ‘Festival Express,’ and although the train de-railed before its maiden trip was over, the band became good buddies with some of the other passengers, including Janis Joplin, an & Sylvia, Jefferson Airplane, The Band, and The Grateful Dead. The Dead invited the trio to California, which led to some shows around the area, and ultimately a recording deal with Columbia Records.

Still developing their country meets folk meets bluegrass sound, some sessions were recorded in LA with producer Betty Cantor, resulting in JAMES & THE GOOD BROTHERS in 1972. The bevy of studio players included a host of people on the American west coast scene at the time, including The Airplane’s Jack Casady and The Dead’s Bobby Kreutzman, Bob Weir, and Phil Lesh, and Red Shea, whose credits past and future would include Gordon Lightfoot and Sylvia Tyson. Largely an acoustic record, hints of what would become the band’s trademark vocal harmonies were already evident in songs like “Talk About the Good Times” and “Oh How She Rides.” No singles were released, but noteable tracks included covers of Harry Nillson’s “Rainmaker” and Steam’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” and Kreutzman’s “Poppa Took The Bottle From The Shelf.”

Relatively well received, the band played throughout California with the likes of Quicksilver Messenger Service, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and New Riders of the Purple Sage, including several engagements at San Francisco’s famed Fillmore West and The Troubadour in LA. But after trying to compete with the likes of New Riders, Poco, and The Eagles for a couple of years, the twins packed up their bags and returned to Toronto, but Ackroyd remained.

By ’73, the twins’ younger brother Larry came in, and they changed their name to simply The Good Brothers. After writing some material and shopping for a new deal, they inked some papers with RCA in 1976, and they released their self-titled album that summer. Recorded in Toronto and produced by Adam Mitchell and John Capek, two singles resulted – “Midnight Flight” and “Homemade Wine” early the next spring, fuelling a series of dates throughout Canada over the next year. Still showing their rock influences, their twanged-out banjo hit “Fox On The Run” instantly became one of their live staples. Many of the session players that appeared on the record including guitarist Danny McBride and John Allen on fiddle and mandolin, and would tag along as the back-up band.

1977 marked the first of eight consecutive years the band won Country Group of the Year at the Junos, but “Cowboy From Rue St Germain” b/w Brian Good’s “Get Her Back” was their first top 40 hit, when it was released as the only single from their follow-up later that year, PRETTY AIN’T GOOD ENUFF. Not only had they settled into a true country and bluegrass atmosphere musically, the jeans and t-shirts were replaced with denim jumpsuits that would have made Elvis proud. Recorded in Nashville with producer L Russell Brown (who also co-wrote most of the material), the band was still covering other artists as well, but now leaning towards the country spectrum, with Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me To Do” and Gordon Lightfoot‘s “Alberta Bound.”

DOIN’ THE WRONG THINGS RIGHT followed in late 1978, produced by Paul Hornsby and recorded in Toronto and Capricorn Studio at Macon Georgia. It marked the first time the twins did the bulk of the songwriting. The backing band was solidified with Carl Kees on fidle and mandolin, Peter Davidson on drums, and bassist Mike McMaster. But the record still featured a few friends, including Moe Koffman on flute. It produced the singles “Please Come Back To Me,” “Let Love Go,” “Just Another Cowboy,” and “Truck Drivers Girl,” which was actually the b-side twice over previously.

Add the three singles from from SOME KIND OF WOMAN (the title track, a re-done cover of “Rainmaker,” and Fire In Her Eyes”), and the band was on the airwaves practically constantly for the next year and a half, and in the tour bus connecting the dots across the country. Their infectious two-stepping numbers landed them on several variety TV programs, which also led to headlining across Canada with Powder Blues opening, as well as some additional dates in the US and into the UK.

While they were on the road they signed a new deal with Solid Gold Records, and part of the Canadian run resulted in their double live album in the fall of 1980. Recorded at Toronto’s Ontario Place Forum and CNE Grandstand, and The Coronet in Kitchener, it became their first gold record, selling 50,000 copies in Canada. It also featured a host of guest performers, including Kelly Jay from Crowbar on mouth harp and keyboards and writer of “China Cafe”), Jim Vallance and Whitey Glan (of Alice Cooper fame) on drums, and old friend Red Shea on guitars. It was somewhat unusual at that time for live albums to produce singles, but their cover of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” was followed by their own “Hot Knife Boogie,” then “Fox On The Run.” The album also included their versions of Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans” which had long been standards of their live sets, and The Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers” and and The Byrds’ “Mr Tambourine Man.”

After an American tour with Gordon Lightfoot, they took some much deserved time off while RCA released a pair of greatest hits package, one in their ‘Country Club’ collection. The band returned with a new album, PERSON TO PERSON, in the summer of 1982. Recorded primarily at Phase One Studios in Toronto, it marked the first time the brothers wrote every song, and the list of session players was minimal, but did feature Beach Boy Mike Love on bass. Another three top 40 country singles ensued over the next year – “Summertime,” “What About The Tears,” and the title track, leading to another string of tours that criss-crossed across North America.

Although the days of headlining The El Mocambo five nights a week were over and packed houses at Massey Hall were on the decline, sold-out shows throughout North America and Europe continued throughout the ’80s on the backs of more country gold, starting with the hits “Low Love Threshold” and “Guide My Way Back Home” from LIVE ‘N KICKIN’ in 1983. With Solid Gold in financial distress, the brothers mostly took a couple of years off while searching out a new label, although this period also saw them tour Czechoslovakia for the first time and become a hit in The Netherlands.

They signed with Savannah Records in ’86 and released DELIVERING THE GOODS that summer. Five singles over the next year and a half – “This Could Be Serious,” “Better Off Alone,” “High Rollin’ Heart,” “Gone So Long,” and “You Won’t Fool This Fool This Time” brought the band back to the airwaves, and the Juno Awards. They were nominated for their ninth Juno Award for Country Group or Duo in ’87, but lost, the first time they hadn’t converted a nomination into the prize.

In an effort to bounce ideas off new ears, they teamed up with new producer Mike Francis for 1989’s LIVE FAST LOVE HARD. The majority of the material was written by the brothers, along with traditional standards like “You Are My Sunshine” and a country tinge on the blues classic, “Honk On Bobo.” But with Savannah in monetary trouble, only a 12″ version of “Honk On Bobo” was released, despite critics raving over the rootsy approach to songs like “Bat Outta Hell,” the ballad “Why Baby Why,” and “Live Fast Love Hard Die Young.” They toured the continent, but now only part-time, and concentrated on outdoor festivals.

As the brothers all got on with life outside of music, the new decade marked a decline in studio time, as well as live appearances. By the time they returned with SO MANY ROADS three years later in ’92, Larry had all but retired from music, so the next generation of the family come in, with Bruce’s son Travis (later of The Sadies) taking his place. The album produced no singles, but in celebration of the 25th anniversary since their very first album, they returned with the live GONE SO LONG in ’97. Along with a collection of their hits over the previous quarter century, other noteable tracks included several covers – including The Band‘s “The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down,” “The Irish Washerwoman,” and the country standard, “I Saw The Light.”

It was another five years before they returned to the studios. Independently released on URT Records with Danny Greenspoon producing, ONE TRUE THING brought out the band’s true country roots in songs like the lead-off “Nothing Has Changed,” “Dooley,” “Big Pig Jig,” and the title track back to the masses, though the album was all but ignored by radio. Half of the material was originals written by Bruce and Brian, along with a few classics like “Old Man At The Mill” and a twanged-out version of Pagliaro‘s “What The Hell I’ve Got.” The record also marked the return of Larry to the group.

In 2004, in between stops during one of their tours, they were in Edmonton at the Canadian Country Music Awards to accept their induction into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, along with a pair of nominatinos for Country Group and Roots Artists of the Year. One leg of the tour schedule in ’05 took them to the UK for the 26th time.

And always a hit in the southern US where bluegrass was born, they returned to an old haunting ground in Alabama, the famed Rattlesnake Saloon for another live album in 2005. Featuring an entirely new live set, it included a number of originals, including “CNR Special,” as well as some standards, including “Rolling In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” and “Civil War Medley.”

The roots of country, folk, and bluegrass usually stem back to gospel music, and this was no different with The Good Brothers. In 2006 they released their first album traditional gospel music, with BLIND FAITH, which included classics and new material such as “Beautiful Life,” “Canaan’s Happy Land,” “Mighty River Jordan,” and the title track.

Still averaging around 150 live dates per year, they released the compilation RESTRICTED GOODS in 2008, a double album package. They then followed it up two years later by re-releasing their 1980 live album remastered and with a new cover.

  • With notes from James Craig, Terry White, Archie Zdenko