canada.gif

gb.gif

de.gif

us.gif
 

(Please shop locally and independently. But if you can't, we appreciate your supporting Thrasher's Wheat by clicking image above. Thanks!!!)

ADVERTISEMENT
<-Older Posts Blog Home Newer Posts->

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Mynah Birds: An In Depth Exclusive

The Mynah Birds
John Goadsby (aka Goldie McJohn), Bruce Palmer, Richie Grand, Ricky James Matthews, Jimmy Livingston and Frank Iozzo (aka Frank Arnel)
February 1965
(Click photo to enlarge)


Editors Note: In honor of the annual Record Store Day and the vinyl release of The Mynah Birds single, we bring you an in-depth look back at The Mynah Birds.

Reduced to a footnote in Neil Young and Rick James’s careers, Toronto R&B sensation, The Mynah Birds have been overlooked in the annals of rock history. In a Thrasher's Wheat exclusive, Nick Warburton uncovers the fascinating story behind the first largely white band to sign to Motown Records. Nick Warburton is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years’ experience of writing across a wide range of topical issues and is a specialist in the field of popular music. His pioneering work on The Mynah Birds was recognised by Universal Records, which contacted him to assist with the band’s entry on its Motown 1966 Singles Boxed Set.



In 2006, Universal Music Distribution unveiled volume six of its epic Complete Motown Singles series. Like its predecessors, the five-disc package, documenting the year 1966 and containing no less than 125 tracks, had been compiled and presented with immaculate detail.

Housed in a hard back cover and adorned with a replica copy of The Four Tops’ classic “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” in the front window, the boxed set was a fitting tribute to the ground-breaking music recorded under the auspices of Motown Records during the 1960s.

However, what made the 1966 singles series stand out for many avid rock fans was the inclusion of two previously unreleased tracks by The Mynah Birds, the legendary Toronto R&B band that for a mere six weeks married the unlikely talents of future funk star, the late Rick James (or Ricky James Matthews as he was then known) and Canadian guitar legend Neil Young.

The Mynah Birds - October 1965
(Click photo to enlarge)


Scheduled for release as a single on Motown’s V.I.P. subsidiary in spring ‘66, and assigned the catalogue number 25033, the garage/folk-rock classic “It’s My Time” (allegedly one of several Rick James/Neil Young collaborations but credited to Michael Valvano, Ricky James Matthews and R Dean Taylor in the boxed set) should have been a smash single.

Driven by James’s distinctive soulful voice and Young’s ringing 12-string guitar, the infectious “It’s My Time”, coupled with the contrasting “Go On and Cry”, a soft ballad credited to James, rhythm guitarist John Taylor and Motown staff writers, Michael Valvano and R Dean Taylor, had all of the ingredients to be a hit record.

But it was withdrawn when, half way through the recording of an album with producers William “Mickey” Stevenson, Michael Valvano and R Dean Taylor at Motown’s Hitsville studio, the band imploded in spectacular fashion.

James was AWOL from the US Navy, and his surrender to the FBI put an end to any further recordings. Left to reassess their futures, Neil Young and bass player Bruce Palmer promptly relocated to Los Angeles where they founded Buffalo Springfield. For Young it was the start of an illustrious career that would lead him to superstardom and a successful solo career.

But how did an interracial Canadian R&B band come to fall under Motown’s radar in the first place, and, more importantly, what happened to the rumoured album that was shelved?

To answer these questions, we need to go back to the autumn of ‘64 and a thriving Toronto live scene, into which stepped a young man wanted by the FBI: James Ambrose Johnson Jr.

The Mynah Birds at El Patio, Toronto in Feb '66.
Photo by Toronto Telegram.
(Click photo to enlarge)


Months shy of his 17th birthday, the Buffalo native made an instant impression after being invited to sing a few songs with Klaus Karl Kassbaum’s band at the El Patio coffeehouse in Toronto’s bohemian district, Yorkville Village. The future Steppenwolf bass player, better known as Nick St Nicholas, duly hired him as singer, and, dressed in the teenager’s US naval gear, they became the aptly named Sailorboys.

Besides Rick James and Nick St Nicholas, the line up at this time also comprised lead guitarist Ian Goble and drummer Rick Cameron. One early witness to the nascent group was Bev Davies, who later ran the Cellar coffeehouse in Yorkville where she befriended struggling folkie Neil Young.

For those in the know, Bev Davies was the woman that missed out on Neil Young and Bruce Palmer’s famous road trip to Los Angeles after being promised a place in the hearse.

“I was at Ontario College of Art fall 1964 [and] “I used to go to the El Patio to see Ricky James Matthews band,” says Davies. “I think Nick had an older brother who was at art school that year. The art school had a band called ‘the art school rubber band’ and he may have been in that. There was some connection between the band sometimes called The Sailors and the art school.”

Davies remembers James strutting around the stage. “Two outstanding songs that I remember him doing were ‘Hitch Hike’ and “I Got My Mojo Working’, she adds.

Local fame soon beckoned when eccentric businessman Colin Kerr, the owner of a local nightclub called the Mynah Bird, offered his services as a manager and renamed them after his favourite pet, a minor bird called Rajah. He also insisted the musicians adopt Rajah as band mascot and dress in minor bird colours on stage!

“He had [this] one minor bird that he would leave in a cage with a tape running 24-7 saying, ‘Hello, Ed Sullivan’ because he was quite convinced that sooner or later we’d end up on his [TV] show,” remembers new drummer Richie Grand.

The Mynah Birds - "Mynah Bird Hop" 45RPM
(Click photo to enlarge)


In a more constructive move, Kerr engineered a recording deal with the Canadian arm of Columbia Records, which resulted in a hopelessly rare one-off single – the R&B belter “Mynah Bird Hop”, coupled with the calypso-flavoured “Mynah Bird Song”.

Both sides of the single were penned by Colin’s brother, the late Ben Kerr, and featured another future Steppenwolf member, John Goadsby (aka Goldie McJohn) on organ plus new guitarist Frank Iozzo (aka Arnel).

Issued in early ’65 with the catalogue number C4-2660, the single bombed. Yet despite its chart failure, the two tracks offer a fascinating glimpse into James’s formative years as a singer. Even as a teenager, his charisma and immense talent is clearly evident.

Of the two tracks, “Mynah Birds Hop”, is by far the more impressive and finds the teenager sharing vocals with a man nearly 10 years’ his age – the late Jimmy Livingston, who co-fronted The Mynah Birds for a few months and would go on to front The Just Us, The Tripp, Livingston’s Journey and Heather Merryweather.

One of rock’s true madcaps, Livingston’s off-the-wall stage persona was way ahead of its time – readers are advised to check out The Tripp on Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald’s three-part documentary series Yonge Street: Toronto Rock & Roll Stories, where the singer’s unnerving performance beats Joy Division’s Ian Curtis to the punch by 10 years.

Livingston later decamped to L.A where his prodigious consumption of hallucinogenic drugs would tragically see him fall into the Syd Barratt/Skip Spence orbit of rock casualties.

The troubled singer was but one of many musicians that would pass through The Mynah Birds’ ranks during late ‘64/early ’65; another journeyman being future Mandala, James Gang and Guess Who guitarist, the late Domenic Troiano.

But it was arguably the arrival of the late Bruce Palmer, traded with Nick St Nicholas from local rivals, Jack London & The Sparrows (later to morph into Steppenwolf) that shifted The Mynah Birds up a gear.

Soon after Palmer’s arrival, Kerr landed the band an important showcase gig at the Collonade Theatre in downtown Toronto and, according to Grand, in an inspired move he paid hundreds of girls to rush the band’s limo as it pulled up outside the venue!

The Mynah Birds - "Mynah Bird Song" 45RPM
(Click photo to enlarge)


The writing was on the wall, however, and by late spring ’65, The Mynah Birds had split from their eccentric manager. “We broke away from him and went with another little promoter,” remembers Grand, who left soon afterwards to join The Stormy Clovers, the first group to perform Leonard Cohen songs. “We went to Montreal as The Swinging Doors and played at the Esquire Show Bar.”

Left with the band name, James and Palmer secured the patronage of well-healed businessman John Eaton, and in June 1965 brought in three musicians from Brantford, Ontario band, The Bunkys – lead guitarist Tom Morgan, rhythm guitarist and songwriter John Taylor and drummer Rick Mason.

Eschewing the Kerr wardrobe and decked in clothes to match their idols, The Rolling Stones, The new-look Mynah Birds soon turned heads.

One was the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which, according to Mason, filmed the band for a long-lost documentary while playing at the Devil’s Den. “CBC came down the stairs and filmed the whole night of us,” says Mason. “Somewhere in their archives they have the footage of us.”

Eager to get a foot in the fledging Canadian rock market, one of Eaton’s first moves was to buy the musicians some new equipment and to set up an expense account. They also acquired a new manager, a shady character known as Morley Shelman, who was suspected of pocketing most of the money Eaton forwarded them.

Nevertheless, it was Shelman who used his connections with actor Sal Mineo to pique the interest of Motown Records. In October 1965, an awe struck band drove down to Detroit to audition personally for Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson.

According to Garry Graff and Daniel Durchholz in the excellent Neil Young: Long May You Run: The Illustrated History, The Mynah Birds got as far as taping a backing track for “No Greater Love”, written by Howard Lemon and produced by Harvey Fuqua.

But for Tom Morgan, the session was a turning point. Sensing the label was only interested in Rick James, he bailed out two months later making way for an unlikely replacement – struggling folkie Neil Young.

The Mynah Birds
Rick Mason

Photo by Nick Warburton
(Click photo to enlarge)


Rick Mason remembers Young’s first job with the band – the Inferno, a club on Toronto’s east side in early January 1966. “They put rubber gym mats out for us to play on! The first song we go to do, Neil goes up to do his lead and unplugs his guitar. He plays the whole lead without his guitar plugged in!”

Soon after, the new line up returned to Detroit to begin sessions for an album, but only completed four tracks, cut between 18-26 January. Mason remembers the label being a hard taskmaster. “Twenty-four seven, day and night until we dropped,” is how he describes the workload.

“Neil used a 12-string a lot,” he continues. “But we never did anything as a band. It was all done in parts and they put it together. Then everybody would drop in and do songs with us, like Smokey Robinson and Tammi Terrell.”

Several of the song titles are listed on the Broadcast Music Inc (BMI) website. Only one is credited to Neil Young: “I’ll Wait Forever” which is listed as a co-write with Ricky James Matthews, Michael Valvano and R Dean Taylor, and was completed at the January sessions.

The other finished track is “I Got You (In My Soul)”, a Rick James/John Taylor co-write that sounds suspiciously like a direct lift from Van Morrison and Them’s ‘Little Girl”!

John Taylor’s widow Carolyn has five separate song-writing contracts signed by Rick James and her late husband for Jobete Music, dated 18 January 1966. These include “Go On and Cry” and “I Got You (In My Soul)”, as well as three previously unknown songs – “We Gotta Go”, “Don’t Change Your Mind” and “Pretty Words”.

The Mynah Birds - August 1966
John Klassen, Rick Mason, Mark Smith, John Taylor and Tom Morgan
Photo by Rick Mason
(Click photo to enlarge)


According to an article in Billboard, dated 5 March 1966, The Mynah Birds only recorded four tracks in January but had plans to return to Detroit the next month to undertake further recordings.

“The Mynah Birds are billing themselves as the first Canadian group to be signed by Tamla Motown, with the first single under their new recording and management contract to be released shortly, it’s ‘I’ve Got You [In My Soul]’, written by lead singer Rick James [sic], one of the four numbers cut last month at the Motown studios in Detroit,” ran the review.

It then added: “The group’s personal manager, Morley Shelman, reports they’ll return to Detroit next month for more sessions with an album in sight and talk of US tour upcoming.”

Regrouping in Toronto a week after the first batch of sessions, The Mynah Birds were billed to play the El Patio in Yorkville Village on 11-13 February when news of James’s AWOL status reached Motown. The April sessions were duly scrapped, and with James in the FBI’s custody, The Mynah Birds’ career derailed. But that’s not quite the end of the story.

With Young and Palmer heading to Los Angeles, remaining members John Taylor and Rick Mason kept The Mynah Birds going for another year. Bringing back former member Tom Morgan alongside The Bunkys’ bass player John Klassen and new singer Mark Smith, the group gigged incessantly before finally dissolving in spring 1967.

Not long after, and having served time in military prison, Rick James was offered a second shot at Motown. Pulling together yet another version of The Mynah Birds with former David Clayton-Thomas sidemen, guitarist Bill Ross and drummer Al Morrison, plus bass player/singer Neil Lillie (aka Neil Merryweather) from The Tripp, they rehearsed at the label’s Gold Star studio before laying down a couple of backing tracks at Hitsville with R Dean Taylor in the producer’s chair and an unknown organist.

Session logs for 21 June 1967 reveal that two songs – “Masquerade” and “Fantasy” were cut before a studio dispute curtailed the sessions and irrevocably split the band, leaving Rick James to go on to a plethora of fascinating groups such as Salt & Pepper, Heaven & Earth, Great White Cane and The Stone City Band before finally striking gold with “Super Freak” in 1981.

While the Motown sessions in January 1966 provide a tantalising glimpse of what might have been had James’s arrest not scuppered the record deal, it would not be the last time that Rick James and Neil Young would cross paths.

Watch this space for the next chapter!



Nick Warburton has been researching the history of The Mynah Birds and its related groups for a documentary and for a forthcoming book. He would like to thank Rick Mason, Stan Endersby, Tom Morgan, Carolyn Taylor, Carny Corbett, Richie Grand, Neil Merryweather, Harry Weinger, Bev Davies, Ivan Amirault and Goldie McJohn. This is an extended and modified version of an article that was published in Record Collector in March 2012.

Email: Warchive@aol.com
Web: www.nickwarburton.com
Follow Nick on Twitter @Lucifersblues

Copyright © Nick Warburton, 2012. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior permission from the author.


Thanks Nick! Great research.

More on Rick James and Neil Young: The Mynah Birds, The "Super Freak" and Neil.

Labels: , ,


Links to this post:

Create a Link

13 Comments:

At 4/20/2012 09:46:00 AM, Anonymous Alex said...

Can't wait to get the 45rpm of the Mynah Birds, released tomorrow!

 
At 4/20/2012 10:20:00 AM, Blogger punkdavid said...

Marvelous article! Can't wait to read part two. This beautifully puts together the many bits and pieces of history that had been published previously about this obscure band into a coherent whole.

I find it very interesting that "Masquerade" and "Fantasy" were recorded several months after the other tracks, all of which have been circulating together on a studio outtake collection for the past six years or so. Now we can know for certain that Neil did not appear on those later recordings.

 
At 4/20/2012 11:37:00 AM, Blogger Kimball said...

anyone know if Neil's on the cuts that are going on that record store day release tomorrow? I think its "Its My Time" and "Go on and Cry".

 
At 4/20/2012 12:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kimball, Neil is DEFINITELY on the two Record Store Day 45 tracks

 
At 4/20/2012 12:45:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Enough about old Neil let's here some new Neil
http://www.musicme.com/#/Neil-Young/albums/Oh-Susannah-0054391977380.html

 
At 4/20/2012 02:51:00 PM, Blogger BecauseSoundMatters said...

Happy Record Store Day!

 
At 4/20/2012 11:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got my copy of the Mynah Birds single today... VERY VERY cool stuff! So glad to have it to add to the Neil Collection! I hope you all can track down a copy! 5000 only. I got the only one that came to my area... two record stores and only one copy came in. I'm sure some stores got five or ten copies...RSD is good for that. It's a cool thing that really should be done better! Anyway great single! It retails for $6 so dont pay $50 or more like I've seen online.

 
At 4/21/2012 06:44:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fuck Record Store Day!
Fuck those limited editions.
Record Store Day should be a fun loving music day.

So "anonymous" how can I get this Mynah Birds if they only printed 5000 or 6000 thousand copies and they didn't even release it in my country? Right, I have to go online and pay 50 bucks for it.

 
At 4/21/2012 08:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any way for folksin the US to listen to that whole track? It says must be in france to listen. I can only get 30 seconds to play..

 
At 4/21/2012 08:58:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So is anybody bothered about this new release "Americana" or are people just living in the past?
New beats old everytime.

 
At 4/21/2012 10:51:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, not at all.
Neil Young is lost in marketing.

 
At 4/22/2012 08:44:00 PM, Blogger Sharry said...

Excellent article on the Mynah Birds. Thanks for the enjoyable read. I look forward to reading Part 2.
Here's an added bit of related trivia that goes with the story.
The manager of the Mynah Birds, John Eaton, is the great-grandson of Timothy Eaton, who founded the Eaton's department store dynasty in Canada. His full name is John Craig Eaton. He's the grandson of Sir John Craig Eaton, his namesake. Sir John Craig Eaton's wife was Lady Eaton, the former Edna McCrae from Omemee. (There's a strong link between Neil and Omemee from his very early life, of course.)
There's also a cool connection between John Craig Eaton and Neil's illicit selling of some of the Mynah Birds' equipment, but I don't want to spoil any forthcoming information that may appear Part 2.

 
At 4/23/2012 09:36:00 AM, Blogger Thrasher Wheat said...

Sharry,
Nice to hear from you!

Always interested in your perspective on in depth Neil-ology.

No spoilers! ;)
thrasher

 

Post a Comment

<< Home

<-Older Posts Blog Home Newer Posts->

Won't You Please Come to New York
Just To Sing?

People's Climate March NYC - 9/21/14

Willie for a Nobel!

Willie Nelson for Nobel Peace Prize
for Farm Aid and his work on
alternative fuels, and world peace initiatives.


Demand justice for Aaron:
Support "Aaron's Law" and inquiry into his prosecution


Please Help Support Independent Media &
Non-Corporate Advertising


This Blog's For You!


It's Been Called The
"Missing Link" in the Ditch Trilogy

time-fades-away-banner2a

Sign the Release "Time Fades Away" Petition
Join The 10,000+ Who Have Already Signed


WIN AN ISSUE!
Broken Arrow Magazine - March 2014

broken-arrow-mag-new-logo.gif

Neil Young Appreciation Society


sugar-mtn-logo.jpg
Sugar Mountain

Neil Young Setlists
rust-radio-new
Rust Radio


youngtown-rock&roll
Youngtown Rock and Roll Museum
Omemee, Ontario, Canada

Featuring Neil Young,
The Beatles, and others

bumpersticker-neil-concert.jpg


i-l-ove-neil-young-sm.jpg
Bands Covering Neil Young songs


bumper-sticker-live-music-better-sm.jpg


This Blog's For You!

ny-times-logo.jpg
Official Neil Young News Site

bridgeschool_logo
The Bridge School


The Bridge School Concerts
25th Anniversary Edition

**100% of Proceeds to Benefit Bridge School***

farm-aid-logo.gif
Farm Aid

Stop factory farms
Go family farms!

linda-eastman-neil-young-sugar-mtn-sm.jpg
The Essential Neil Young

neil-young-sleeveless.jpg
Fans Favorite Neil Albums

neil-young-heart-of-gold-film-still
Top 50 MP3
Neil Young Song Downloads


Top 10 Best Selling Neil Albums Today
amazon-neil-store.GIF
Support Thrasher's Wheat
via Purchases from:
United States - Amazon.com us.gif
Canada - Amazon.ca canada.gif
United Kingdom - Amazon.uk gb.gif
Germany - Amazon.de de.gif







Neil Young Songbook Project

Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Alchemy Concert Tour Reviews

Fall 2012 N. America Tour
Spring 2013 Australia/New Zealand Tour
Summer 2013 Europe Tour

Europe Summer 2014 Concert Tour
Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Thrasher's Wheat Radio Supporters Go To Europe

jttp-film-poster-sm.jpg
Neil Young Films

2010 MusiCares Honors Neil Young

Proceeds from sales go to MusiCares,
which helps musicians in need of
financial and medical assistance.

live-rust-promo-poster.jpg



trans-promo





Neil Young FAQ:
Everything Left to Know About the Iconic and Mercurial Rocker
"an indispensable reference"

paul-neil-bridge2004-sat-sfc-kkomenich-sm.jpg
Paul McCartney and Neil Young

woodstock-poster.jpg


"You can make a difference
If you really a try"

lennon_peace_liberty
John Lennon and Neil Young


"hailed by fans as a wonderful read"

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young:
csny-1974-poster.jpg
The Supergroup of the 20th Century



eddie & neil
Eddie Vedder and Neil Young

buffalo-springfield-poster.jpg
Revisiting The Significance of
The Buffalo Springfield


"The revolution will not be televised"
... it will be blogged, streamed,
tweeted, shared and liked

Turn Off Your TV

Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain and Neil Young

Neil Young's Feedback:
An Acquired Taste?

Young Neil: The Sugar Mountain Years
by Rustie Sharry "Keepin' Jive Alive in T.O." Wilson

"the definitive source of Neil Young's formative childhood years in Canada"

neil & joni
Joni Mitchell & Neil Young

europe 1987.jpg


dylan-young-crop
Bob and Neil

weld
So Who Really Was "The Godfather of Grunge"?


Four Dead in Ohio
kent state
So What Really Happened at Kent State?

concert-pass-europe-2003-solo.jpg


dissent is not treason
Dissent is the highest form of patriotism

Rockin' In The Free World

speak truth to power

emmylou-harris-neil-young-0305-crop
Emmylou Harris and Neil Young

wilco-062305-wide-background.jpg
Wilco and Neil Young

bluenotes-pass-young88crewlam-sm.jpg

bruce-springsteen-neil-young-bridge-oct-1986.jpg
Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young

europe87concertpass


elton-john-neil-young-crop-sm.jpg
Elton John and Neil Young

musicares-neil-young-2010.jpg
2010: Neil Young Year in Review -
A Tale of 2 Neils

ronnie-vanzant-neil.jpg
Lynyrd Skynyrd and Neil Young


Neil Young Nation -
"The definitive Neil Young fan book"

powderfinger
"Powderfinger"
What does the song mean?

Random Neil Young Link of the Moment
neil-sad.jpg
Wisconsin-solidarity.jpg
I'm Proud to Be A Union Man

UNITED WE STAND/DIVIDED WE FALL


When Neil Young is Playing,
You Shut the Fuck Up


Class War:
They Started It and We'll Finish It...
peacefully

A battle raged on the open page...
No Fear, No Surrender. Courage

"What if Al Qaeda blew up the levees?"


"I've Got The Revolution Blues"

Willie Nelson & Neil Young
Willie Nelson for Nobel Peace Prize



John Mellencamp:
Why Willie Deserves a Nobel

willie_picnic_poster_070503



Love and Only Love

"Thinking about what friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie"


We're All On
A Journey Through the Past


Neil Young's Moon Songs
Tell Us The F'n TRUTH

Freedom:
freedom-video
Does Anything Else Really Matter?

"Nobody's free until everybody's free."
~~ Fannie Lou Hamer

Here Comes "The Big Shift"

Maybe everything you think you know is wrong?
"It's all illusion anyway."

Propaganda = Mind Control
Brighter Planet's 350 Challenge
Be The Rain, Be The Change

csny2k-plate.jpg
the truth will set you free
This Machine Kills Fascists


war is not the answer
yet we are
Still Living With War

"greed is NOT good"
Occupy the Music

Hey Big Brother!
Stop Spying On Us!
Civic Duty Is Not Terrorism

The Achilles Heel
#NullifyNSA
Orwell (and Grandpa) Was Right


Yes, There's Definitely A Hole in The Sky

Wake up!
"consciousness is near"
What's So Funny About
Peace, Love, & Understanding & Music?

churchsign


Share

Words

(Between the lines of age)