Northwest Company

Northwest Company was like many other early groups in rural Canada at the time, a bunch of friends that began in the garages, graduating to dances at curling clubs and high schools. Hailing from Haney, BC, they started out in ’66 as a poor man’s power trio with guitarist Ray O’Toole, Gowan Jorgenson on bass, and drummer Richard Stepp. But within a few months the lineup had swelled to include Rick McCartie and Vido Skofteby on guitars, and were adopting a more rounded sound.

They played mostly covers of the British hits of the day, as they moved up to the Vancouver circuit while still playing the rest of the province with other up and coming BC acts like Family Dog and The Marksmen. They were recorded by Grenadier Records and the single “Hard To Cry” b/w “Get Away From It All” got decent airplay around the Vancouver area. Wthin a few months, they signed a new deal with Apex Records, and “Time For Everyone” b/w “She’s A Woman” and “Can You Remember” b/w “The Sunday Song” followed.

They moved over to London Records in the spring of ’68, in time for the single “The End Is Autumn” b/w “Eight Hour Day,. Getting rave reviews for their live show, they’d found an image, and were decked out in white pants and striped blazers and backing up the likes of Dion, The Big Bopper, and Chad Allan & The Expressions. They also got some additional exposure by appearing on CBC TV’s “Let’s Go,” an afternoon program that highlighted promising acts of the day.

But by the time they’d signed with Coast Records in 1971, McCartie and Skofteby were gone, replaced by guitarists Zak August and Leslie Law. They also welcomed new drummer Jerry Ringrose to the group and went back to the studios in Vancouver to once again re-shape their sound. “Rock n Roll Lover Man” b/w “Let It All” showed a definite progression, now sporting fuzz guitar work and a heavier backbeat. They followed it up that summer with “Everybody’s Got To Care” b/w “Don’t Hear Me Complain.” But the label went bankrupt before the end of the year, and the band carried on for awhile while recording some new material.

They signed with Stamp Records in 1973 and released the single, “Sweet Suzey” b/w “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With Rock & Roll.” But internal problems with the band, plus the label’s financial woes and the inability to land a major label deal spelled the final curtain on the group by the end of the year. O’Toole gained the most notoriety post breakup, joining Blue Northern in the late ’70s for a pair of albums.

Northwest Company re-united now and again over the next couple of decades, and were featured on a couple of Vancouver compilation albums from Neptoon Records, starting in the mid ’80s. In 2003, Neptoon released the band’s only full length album, a collection of their hits spanning their time on the charts, as well as some material that was recorded for an album in the early ’70s, which never materialized.

  • With notes from Jim Bedard, Larry Niven, Gunnar Stomperud

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