Originally from St John, New Brunswick, Ken Tobias group up in a music-filled home and even performed on stage in several tap dancing productions. He wrote songs and played guitar as a means of escape while in school, but initially had aspirations of making a career out of being a draftsman. He worked in that field when he first finished high school in the early ’60s, and formed the folk group The Ramblers with his brother Tony, with himself playing guitar, gigging around town to help pay the bills.
By 1965, he’d moved to Halifax and become a regular performer on CBC TV’s afternoon program, “Music Hop.” This opened the door for him to appear a couple of years later on “Singalong Jubilee” along with Anne Murray, where he was allowed to sing his own compositions, as were fellow cast members Gene MacLellan (“Snowbird,” “Put Your Hand In The Hand”) and John Allan Cameron.
He joined The Badd Cedes as their drummer, and were eventually signed to Verve Records. After recording some demos at Halifax’s CBC studio, they moved to Toronto and changed their name to Chapter V to avoid confusion with another group called Bad Seeds. After he switched from drummer to vocalist, their only single, “Dolly’s Magic” was released in ’67 to lukewarm response. Sporadic tours throughout Ontario and the east coast followed for the next couple of years. But as the decade drew to a close, Tobias decided to go solo, and as the ’70s came, also moonlighted for awhile in the Montreal based group Crystal Staircase.
He moved to LA a couple of years later, where he wound up as a writer for Bill Medley (Righteous Brothers). Ironically, it was Medley who wrote Tobias’ first solo single shortly thereafter, “You’re Not Even Going To The Fair” b/w “This Kind of Feeling” on Bell Records, which boosted his market value with his first BMI Award for “Outstanding Airplay in Canada.” The connections with Medley led to his songs ending up in the hands of the likes of Ricky Nelson and The Everly Brothers, Anne Murray, The Beach Boys, and The King Sisters, among others. During this period he’d also wrote his first million seller – “Stay Awhile” for The Bells, peaking at #7 on Billboard’s chart and #1 in several Canadian markets. Although he initially wrote it as a country flavoured piece, the reworked version eventually sold over 2 million copies worldwide.
His success as a songwriter earned him a solo deal with MGM/Verve. He recorded his debut album, DREAM #2 at MGM’s LA studios in 1972 with producer Michael Lloyd, and the title track was followed into the Canadian top 10 by “I Just Want To Make Music” later that year. A North American tour ensued after its release, which kept him on the road for the next year. Also included were his own version of “Stay Awhile” (re-worked as a pop song), the tender “Lonely Man,” and “My Lady of Harlem.”
He spent several months travelling back and forth between LA and Montreal and formed a short-lived group called Glooscap Music with his brother. But returning to a solo career, his follow-up album, 1973’s THE MAGIC’S IN THE MUSIC, was recorded in London, England at George Martin’s Air Studios, comprised partially of material he’d written while hanging out at Neil Young‘s California ranch, and included the top 20 hit “Fly Me High” (released as a single twice – with “My My” and “Clouded Blue” as the b-sides), “Good To Be Alive In The Country” (used a few years later in the TV series “The Bionic Woman” where Lindsay Wagner sang the song in an episode), and “On The Other Side.”
He moved to Toronto and also switched to Attic Records a year later. The change produced over a dozen hit singles, beginning with the four singles from the first album for his new label, EVERY BIT OF LOVE in 1975 – the top 20 title track, “Give A Little Love,” “Run Away With Me,” and “Lady Luck.” For the record, he assembled a touring band that also appeared on the album, including co-producer John Capek and also featured Shirley Eikhard on background vocals.
His next two albums featured his brother Tony producing – ’76’s SIREN SPELL, and STREET BALLET a year later, both recorded at Manta Sound and Kensington Studios in Toronto. The singles “Lovin’ Fever,” “Dancer,” and “Siren Spell,” and “New York City” and “I Don’t Want To Be Alone” kept him in the top 40 for the better part of those two years.
Looking for new challenges, he travelled to Rome in 1978 to work on the soundtrack of the spaghetti western “Sella Argento” (“Silver Saddle”), with Lucio Fulci, one of the industry’s top directors of the genre. In an effort to help promote the movie, the song “Silver Saddle” was released as a European single and was also included in Attic’s compilation album later that year, THE KEN TOBIAS COLLECTION – SO FAR… SO GOOD. Although the album contained hits from both his Attic and MGM catalogues, it also included a new version of his “Dream #2” single from his MGM days.
He took the next few years off, appearing onstage occasionally until re-emerging in 1983 with the song “Here You Are Today.” The single was part of his ode to his native province and in honour of his home town of St John’s bi-centennial, Canada’s first city to make that claim. Later that year his work with Tourism New Brunswick, specifically a TV commercial he’d written and produced, earned him a prestigious CLIO Award from the bilingual Canadian Historical Society.
In ’84, Tobias worked on a CBC production called GALLERY. Containing new material, the album didn’t spawn any singles, but gained critical acclaim for songs like the lead-off “My Maria,” “Dancing In The Moonlight,” and “Longing For You.” That same year, he was approached by producer Keith Whiting to work on a children’s album, which Tobias considered at the time ‘an interesting experiment. Recorded in Hamilton at Grant Avenue Studios, he did what he called ‘serious research’ – including focus testing with Grade 2 students at Regal Road Public School in Toronto and consulted the teachers. FRIENDS – A KID’S ALBUM OF POP SONGS featured the song “Friends,” which was featured 20 years later in the movie “Chicks with Sticks” about a women’s hockey team. CBS released the album, complete with a teacher/parent guide created by educational consultant Tanya Priem, and with an album jacket conceived by Tobias’ brother Tony, under its new label, Kiddin’ Around Records, which CBS closed down shortly after the record’s release.
Around this time he also began getting into visual arts, where over 200 of his paintings would be displayed at various exhibits around North America and sold to private collectors since then. The next few years saw Tobias venturing into scoring soundtracks for films, including the 1987 award winning documentaries “Shahira” by Shelley Saywell, and “Toronto: Struggle For Neighbourhood” a year later.
In 1989, he worked with Ballet Jorgen on a critically-acclaimed featured segment of their new performance, entitled “Dreams of a Subtle World.” In ’88, Tobias was also one of the first Canadian songwriters to be awarded the special Crystal Award by PROCAN in celebration of over 100,000 radio plays of his song “Every Bit of Love.” SOCAN also awarded him for that same accomplishment a few years later.
He continued working on film scores as the 1990s came in, including the TV documentary “The Greenpeace Years,” which aired nationally on CBC and distributed worldwide. But a year later, he recorded six new songs that were a part of a new project he was doing with new label Pangaea Music, called THE PANGAEA RADIO SAMPLER. In 1995, SOCAN honoured him with another pair of Classics Awards for 100,000 radio plays – for his songs “Stay Awhile” and “I Just Want To Make Music.”
After moving back to New Brunswick, Tobias continued to lay low throughout the ’90s and ’00s, occasionally appearing onstage and at festivals as a solo performer and with other artists now and then, including performing at the East Coast Music Awards’ Songwriters Circle in St John in ’02, and again two years later, as well as the “Festival By The Sea” in St John. He also spent time helping other artists, including producing Toronto’s Kim Jarrett’s 2002 self-titled debut album, and collaborating with fellow New Brunswick native Jessica Rhaye a few years later.
He released his first album in over 15 years, and his second for Pangaea, in 2008. With “Wings From My Guitar,” “Call Me,” and the title track, FROM A DISTANCE was praised by the critics for its diverse stylings – from infectious pop to edgy rock with Latin rhythms and moody ballads mixed in.
The six-track EP called SECRETS was released in 2011, and was essentially a commercial release of the music from the PANGAEA MUSIC SAMPLER album in ’93, including the title track, “Don’t It Break Your Heart,” and “One More Try.”