After a few years as weekend warriors in seedy bars and high school dances under the name The Toronto Shotgun, frontman John Dudgeon and guitarist Tony Dunning decided to take it to the next level. Along with bassist Rob Cockell, Bob Forrester, and drummer Ray Angrove, they changed their name to Steel River and by ’69 had become staples on the bar circuit throughout Ontario, having also played some dates out west and in the northern US.
They decided to cut some demos and hired producer Greg Hambleton to oversee them. But since Hambleton also owned Tuesday Records and happened to like what he heard, he offered them a deal, which they gladly accepted. He also became the band’s manager and they finished up the sessions at Toronto Sound Studios, and their debut album, WEIGHIN’ HEAVY was in the stores by the fall of 1970.
They chose their cover of A Passing Fancy’s “Ten Pound Note” b/w “Momma Pie Blues” (cut from the original sessions) as the first single, which soared up the chart until making it to #10. By the end of the year it was still on the chart, sitting at #79, and had made some minor waves on Billboard in the US. Another song that didn’t make the album, “If You Let Her Know” appeared as the b-side to their second single early the next year, “Walk By The River,” which stalled after cracking the Canadian top 40.
Still, enough impression was made to afford the band the opportunity to tour the US as an opening act for some of the hottest tickets at the time until they decided to come home and work on their next project. Hambleton returned with them to Toronto Sound and A BETTER ROAD was released in the summer of ’71. Unlike its predecessor, there were no covers, but like the debut album, it was predominantly a joint writing effort between all the members of the group.
The first single “Southbound Train” was backed by another non-lp track, “A Lie,” and grazed the top 40, as did its follow-up, “Joyful Judy.” Keeping in the band’s tradition, it too had a non-album b-side, “Mexican Lady.” Following an extensive series of dates that took them throughout central Canada, to the East Coast, and into the US, they took some time off while working on the next project. But by the next year Tuesday Records was out of business, and the band was therefore without a label, producer, or manager.
They were picked up by Axe Records in ’73, who released the first of three singles over the next year and a half, starting with “Just Remember” b/w “Lazin’ Children.” It made little impression on the masses, nor did its follow-up “Armoured Car” b/w “Hold Me Close” the following spring. One last single, “We Want You To Love Us” b/w “Keep Movin’ On” was released, which also failed to make a dent on the charts. All the while, the band was still making waves as a live act, and had toured the majority of the continent.
But when Axe couldn’t be convinced to release a full album, the group disbanded and everyone went their seperate ways, reuniting briefly in 1980 with new drummer Dennis Watson for a series of Toronto area gigs. Dudgeon went on to release a solo album in ’83 called PUT MY ARMS AROUND YOU, which received good airplay in pockets throughout Canada and the US. In ’04, he joined Mojo Grande, a funk/blues hybrid band, which fell apart after a couple of years.