Still in his teens, Tom Northcott was gaining a reputation while making his rounds through the Vancouver coffeehouse circuit in the early ’60s. In particular, he frequented the Kitsilano area, the focal point of the hippie headquarters north of San Francisco.
In ’65, he took over from Ronnie Jordan as the frontman for the Vancouver Playboys, already an established BC band that wore identical suits and were considered one of BC’s top up and coming bands, mixing an era-Beatles look to music stylings of The Ventures. Northcott established one of Vancouver’s first labels, Syndrome Records, which LA execs at Warner were impressed enough with to offer him distribution. While the Playboys toured the country that summer and fall, the label served home to their first single, “Cry Tomorrow.” The b-side, “She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not” was then pushed as a single backed with “Don’t You Just Know It.”
But by the end of the year, Northcott left and on 12-string guitar, he formed The Tom Northcott Trio with drummer Chris Dixon and Rick Enns on bass, and they were soon regulars on CBC TV’s “Let’s Go” program for the next couple of years while selling out the top clubs in the area, such as The Afterthought in Kitsilano. They headed to California, played throughout San Fransisco and LA, and opened for The Who, The Doors, and Jefferson Airplane, releasing “Just Don’t” to overall good reviews. “Goin’ Down” followed in the summer of 1966.
Northcott then formed a band with Howie Vickers, ex-of the Classics, and Susan Pesklevits, both of whom he’d met on the set of “Let’s Go.” After rebranding his label New Syndrome Records, “It’s True” b/w “Watch Me Go” from The Eternal Triangle was on the airwaves. The single then became the flip-side for “My New Love” early in ’67. But the band was short-lived, and Pesklevits married Terry Jacks and together they formed The Poppy Family. Vickers went on to form The Collectors (which later morphed into Chilliwack). Incidentally, they also signed with New Syndrome.
But Larry Waronker, head of A&R at Warner, saw bigger things for Northcott if he was marketed as a solo artist. Experimenting more in the surging psychadelic sound while still staying true to his troubador-like folk base, he scored big with his first single in ’67, his top 20 cover of Donovan’s “Sunny Goodge Street,” although a sanitized version was released when it was decided the original lyrics, such as “violent hash smoker” should be replaced by âfearless believer,â and slightly shorter with a re-worked arrangement. Although it was unintentional, execs were also happy when the pop nugget on the b-side, “Who Planted Thorns In Miss Alice’s Garden” also got some airplay. Northcott also ended the decade touring with Donovan, as well as with Mother Tuckers at the ’68 Retinal Circus, and Muddy Waters at the Winterland Ballroom in San Fransisco.
His recording of Harry Nillson’s “1941” became his first US single, reaching #88. “Rainmaker,” complete with arrangement from Jack Nitzsche, followed. An elaborate cover of Bob Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country,” as well as the 1970 #12 single “Crazy,” kept him on the airwaves for the next several years. He was also introduced to a national audience when he was featured on CBC TV’s “Where It’s At” program in the late ’60s, hosted by Lulu, one of Britain’s top stars of the day.
In 1970 Warner packaged up his singles as THE BEST OF TOM NORTHCOTT lp, released only in Canada. Closing out the album was the spare acoustic instrumental, “And God Created Woman.”
A year later his first full length conventional album of new material was released, UPSIDE DOWNSIDE. Although Northcott’s success had come from covers or songs written for him, he’d unchacteristically written half the record himself, and reached #58 on the Canadian pop chart. Neither of the first two singles, “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today” (one of two Randy Newman songs) or “Spaceship Races” cracked the top 40, but a cover of Leonard Cohen‘s “Suzanne” climbed to #8 before the end of the year. He also earned a nomination as best male vocalist at the 1971 Junos, but ultimately succumbed to Gordon Lightfoot.
He withdrew from recording over the next year or so while concentrating on co-founding Mushroom Records with Shelley Segal. It would prove to be one of Canada’s top choices for recording throughout the decade, home to the likes of Chilliwack, Heart, and dozens of others. But the rigors of the business finally caught up to Northcott, and he withdrew from music all together.
He didn’t return to the studios until 1990, releasing the single, “The Trouble With Love,” which peaked at #33 on Canada’s adult contemporary chart. But soon after its release, he again disappeared until his cover of “Suzanne” was resurrected for the Leonard Cohen tribute album, JOYFUL SONGS OF LEONARD COHEN.
With several of his hits still getting decent airplay on the radio, Neptoon Records dug Northcott’s material out of the basement for THE BEST OF TOM NORTHCOTT 1964 – 1971. Nicely wrapping up the bulk of his singles throughout his career.
In 2011, Rhino Handmade released what’s considered to be the definitive collection of his solo material, SUNNY GOODGE STREET: THE WARNER RECORDINGS. It featured all the crack session players that accompanied him in the studios, including Leon Russell (who also produced much of his material), Glen Campbell, Jim Gordon, Larry Knechtel, and the Beau Brummels’ Ron Elliott (another Waronker-produced act).
Complete with with trippy era artwork and four different jackets marketed, the compilation of his often psychadelic foray into the folk world included most of his hits between ’66 and ’69, (oddly, âThe Last Thing on My Mindâ b/w âAsk Me No Questionsâ from ’72 are missing). It did however contain six previously unreleased tracks, four of which were from the LA sessions – (“Ain’t Nobody Home,” “A Soulful Shade Of Blue,” “A Long Way Down” and Randy Newman’s “Somebody Always Gets Hurt”).
“See The Tinker Ride” and “There’s No Time” were recorded in in ’68 in London with Tony Hatch (often referred to as the UK’s answer to Burt Bacharach) at Pye Studios. He’d gained fame for the string arrangements with artists like Petula Clark, and the inclusion of âWho Planted Thorns in Miss Aliceâs Gardenâ is actually a re-mixed version. Hatch and then-wife Jackie Trent provided “There’s No Time,” which they’d released themselves in the ’60s, and the album also featured his final single with Warner, “Make Me An Island.”
After getting out of the music business completely by the early ’90s, he tried his hand at commercial fishing (his father’s background) and then an unsuccessful attempt at municipal politics. He eventually finished law school, and became a specialist in maritime and admiralty law in BC.