The earliest roots of Klaatu began in the late 60’s when Terry Draper, Dee Long and John Woloschuk all played in different local Toronto groups, when they met at a high school battle of the bands contest. From there Long joined a local group called Bloodstone, while Draper and Woloschuk released an independant single under the name Whitemail. After the demise of that band, the two then formed Mudcow in the summer of 1971, along with Long and Jamie Bridgman. But when things fell apart a little over a year later, they all pretty much went their seperate ways. While Long was in and out of bands the next few months, Woloschuk was gaining invaluable experience working at Toronto Sound recording studios. It was there that he met Terry Brown, a producer on his way up, whose later credits would include, among others, Rush and Max Webster.
Woloschuk got together with Long, with the initial intention of making Klaatu a non-touring group. The guys recorded “Hanus Of Uranus” in January of ’73, a rocking epic penned by Long with Brown and Doug Riley producing. By March a second track was put on tape, “Sub Rosa Subway”. With the two tracks, Brown managed to get a 7″ single released through GRT Records. That same year saw Woloschuk pen the infamous “Dr Marvello”. Brown had that released as an EP as well, backed with Long’s “For You Girl”, a track that never appeared on vinyl anywhere else. At this point, it was realized that if the group was going to go any further, they’d have to replace the philosophy of using session drummers with a regular percussionist. They remembered Draper, and in late ’74, he was brought in for the recording of “California Jam”. They managed to get the single released on Frank Davies’ Daffodil Records here, with distribution stateside on Island Records. Though the song was received with relative indifference, there was an evident hint at something special. However a minor backlash ensued in Canada when some criticized the band for not sounding ‘Canadian’ enough, eh?
The band landed a deal with Capitol Records an American deal in the summer of ’75, shortly after Daffodil went through insolvency – on the eve of “True Life Hero” being released as a single, a feat all its own considering their unwillingness to tour or be photographed. The album was titled 3:47 EST., but simply penned KLAATU in the US. The debut contained what would turn out to be their signature song, “Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft”, as well as re-releases of “California Jam”, “Dr Marvello”, “Sub Rosa Subway” and “Hanus of Uranus”, now dubbed “Anus of Uranus”. Untypical of what was being heard on the radio at the time, sales were less than phenomenal. Refusing to approach the business of putting out music any other way than their own, the group then headed to England to work on their next album.
They returned home in March of 1977 and were ready to start pressing the new sci-fi oriented album when news of a Beatles’ reunion caught their attention. As it turned out, Klaatu’s refusal to promote their music or even be accredited on the first record encited certain media in the US to believe 3:47 EST to actually be a new Beatles’ album under a guise of clever marketing. Their second lp, HOPE was deliberately held back and wasn’t released until AFTER the Beatles rumour had been squashed. The album came out in September of 1977. A strong following had developed on both sides of the border, as well as in England and Australia who wanted to know more about the anonymous band. Klaatu remained the topic of discussion when The Carpenters’ released their version of “Calling Occupants”, which was on the charts at the same time as HOPE. But despite well-crafted epics like “Around The Universe In 80 Days”, title track and “So Said The Lighthouse Keeper”, sales floundered, even though the band was consistently being met with favourable reviews from the critics. They also managed to find time to work with Tom Cochrane on his very first project – before forming Red Rider.
By the time they were ready to begin recording their next album, a shift in musical trends was evident. While Klaatu were sticking to their convictions of playing what they wanted, disco was in full swing (ugh!), as was punk. Furthermore, plagued with problems concerning the letting-go of producer Brown, the band’s woes multiplied that year when they had a falling out with Captiol concerning their philosophy, or lack there-of, towards marketing and promotion. SIR ARMY SUIT was released in late ’78 with Long serving as producer/engineer on the majority of the tracks. Despite their deliberated approach to have a more commercially pop sound and 3 singles being released, the album failed to dent the world’s charts and didn’t even chart at all here in Canada. Even so, Klaatu still made history with the album when they were the first Canadian act to have an animated video produced, for “A Routine Day”.
By this time Capitol had become increasingly annoyed at one of their acts trying to tell them ‘how this would be done’ or ‘how that should sound’. So they flew the band to LA for the recording of their next album. The latter part of ’79 saw the band in a role-reversal. Capitol stalwart Christopher Bond was deciding what songs would appear on vinyl. As well as production duties, he would also end up using session musicians on many of the tracks and would even play guitar on some overdubs himself. Interestingly, those session musicians were members of Toto. ENDANGERED SPECIES was released in early 1980, and was pulled from the shelves just as quickly due to internal squabbling within the Capitol ranks. Shortly thereafter, Klaatu was released from their contract.
While the group looked for a new contract, Long and Draper occupied themselves by forming a top 40 cover act called Funn, touring the Ontario circuit. The band also included Gerald O’Brien of Surrender, Bloodstone’s vocalist Fred Coutts and future Grammy Award winning producer John Jones. Lawrence Gowan was also a member, albeit briefly.
The group entered Long’s Toronto recording studio in late 1980 after negotiating a new contract with Capitol Canada, on the conditions they toured to support the album and lost the shtick of anonymity. Their fifth album, MAGENTALANE hit the stores that September and coincided with their first and only tour. Supplemented by O’ Brien, drummer Gary McCracken – ex of Max Webster, and bassist Mike Gingrich of Toronto, the band had rehearsed for 6 weeks before hitting the road with Prism.
Problems again arose for Klaatu however, when Long had decided in mid-tour he’d rather spend time in his studio producing other artists. Shortly thereafter, O’ Brien also left to work on fellow Surrender mate Zappacosta‘s first solo album. McCracken followed suit to join Wrabit, and was replaced by ex Goddo drummer Marty Morin.
The cost of 6 members touring the country, coupled with Capitol’s growing disinterest in supporting the group caused the band to fold their tent in August of ’82. Later that year saw the release of a quintessential greatest hits package called KLAASIK KLAATU. Filled with a collection of tracks from the band’s 5 studio records, it’s a considered a ‘must have’ by many.
The members went their seperate ways following the break up, with Long moving to jolly old London and becoming an accomplished midi-programmer and engineer for Sir George Martin, where he’d work with such mega-stars as Paul McCartney, Mark Knopfler and David Gilmour. Woloschuk became and accountant in 1984 and has been one ever since; Draper became a much sought-after producer and engineer between 1982 and 1996, releasing his first solo lp in ’96 as well. They got back together briefly in ’88 when they were forced under duress by a German television production company to record “Woman” for a local program. Written by the show’s musical producer, Paul Vincent Gunia, it would be the only cover the band would ever do. Though released as a single, the interest shown in the band didn’t constitute a reunion, and again the members went their seperate ways.
In 1991 a full-fledged reunion was intended to coincide with a proposed greatest hits compilation which would include several new tracks. Unfortunately though, their disagreements with BEI, the new distributor in Canada, squashed those plans. That same year, a collection of indie artists was assembled for AROUND THE UNIVERSE IN 80 MINUTES, a tribute to Klaatu’s music.
Attic Records of Canada issued PEAKS, which ended up being ‘best of’ album in ’94. Noteable about this album is that the publicity shots were actually taken from the MAGENTALANE album.
The next year saw Attic re-issue ENDANGERED SPECIES and SIR ARMY SUITE on a single CD under the guise of KLAATU – DOUBLE HEADER. The 3 disc set SUN SET: 1973 – 1981 was released in September 2003 on Bullseye Records. The band enjoys a continually loyal fan base to this day, with help of their fan club The Klaatu Audiophile Appreciation Society, with several UFO & ET organizations adopting “Calling Occupants” as their theme song.
Klaatu’s ongoing refusal to do things anything other than their way could be looked at as a double sword. They rarely compromised their vision of what the music should be, but in turn continually drew the ire of record executives. They’d been criticized for not having a Canadian sound, even though many homegrown artists found their biggest success by broadening their sound. While penning sci-fi epics such as “Calling Occupants” or having a Beach Boy undertone in “California Jam”, they made their mark and have gone down in history as one of Canada’s most original groups ever.