Garfield

Garfield was a Canadian art-rock band fronted by musician–songwriter Garfield French. They made the 1976 Mercury album Strange Streets and the 1977 Polydor title Out There Tonight. French continued the Garfield name for the 1979–81 Polydor albums Reason to Be and Flights of Fantasy.

Members: Garfield French (lead vocals, piano, acoustic guitar, mandolin), Walter Lawrence (guitar, electric cello, vocals), Paul O’Donnell (guitar, harmonica, banjo, mandolin, synthesizer, vocals), Jacques Fillion (keyboards), Dennis French (drums, percussion), Chip Yarwood (flute, synthesizer, clavinet), Maris Tora (bass, vocals)


Background

Garfield coalesced when singer–pianist and songwriter Garfield French and his younger brother, drummer Dennis French, teamed with bassist Maris Tora, keyboardist Chip Yarwood, guitarist–cellist Walter Lawrence, and guitarist–organist Paul O’Donnell.

Garfield French was the oldest of nine children in a musical Newfie family that settled in Toronto in the 1950s. The French household hosted parties of local Newfies who held impromptu jams with folk instruments (accordion, fiddle, harmonica) and percussive sundries. He played piano from a young age and found early inspiration in the music of Bob Dylan and Tim Hardin.

The group first gigged Ontario’s pub and college circuits as The Garfield Band. They staged theatrical shows where members swapped instruments and performed amid fog and candelabras. They centered each show around “Sundown,” an unrecorded thirty-minute opus with solos by each member. As their profile rose in the southern province, the University of Waterloo became their hotbed.

On October 28, 1975, Garfield supported 10cc in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre in Southam Hall. Their set impressed 10cc’s label, Mercury Records, which signed Garfield and linked them with veteran American producer Elliot Mazer, a soundman on Sixties albums by Dave Pike, Ian & Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, and The Paupers.


Strange Streets

Garfield released their debut album, Strange Streets, in June 1976 on Mercury. It features nine originals by Garfield French, who plays piano and guitar.

Strange Streets features secondary instrumentation by synthesist Chip Yarwood (flute) and guitarists Paul O’Donnell (banjo, organ) and Walter Lawrence (cello).

In addition to the six-piece band with bassist Maris Tora and drummer Dennis French, Strange Streets features guest contributions by keyboardist Jacques Fillion and veteran pianist Bob Hill (a recent Doc Watson sideman).

A1. “Strange Streets” (2:52)
A2. “Give My Love to Anne” (2:57)
A3. “Someday if You’re Lucky” (3:11)
A4. “Above Market Street” (3:40)
A5. “Old Time Movies” (3:30)
B1. “Nanny’s Song” (2:50)
B2. “Ride the Waves” (3:08)
B3. “Catch You Next Time Around” (3:11)
B4. “Eyes” (8:47)

Sessions took place at His Master’s Wheels, a San Francisco mobile studio also used for 1976 albums by David Soul, Jerry Garcia, and Yesterday and Today. Elliot Mazer produced Strange Streets amid 1975–76 titles by Barclay James Harvest, Frankie Miller, and Rab Noakes. He co-engineered the album with Robert “Smiggy” Smith, a German–Scottish soundman who played in the bands Writing On the Wall and Blue.

Strange Street sports a cool-blue cover designed by Joe Kotleba of AGI Media Packaging. It shows a one-way street woven into a hexagon. Kotleba also has visual credits on 1975–76 albums by Charles Earland, The Impressions, LeRoy Hutson, The Notations, Ohio Players, Rush, and Streetwalkers. The back cover features night-time alleyway group photos by associate Barry Neubauer.

Garfield promoted Strange Street with opening slots on the Canadian leg of the Doobie Brothers‘ tour behind Takin’ It to the Streets. Fillion joined as their seventh member.

Mercury lifted two singles: “Old Time Movies” (b/w “Ride the Waves”) and “Give My Love to Anne” (b/w “Nanny’s Song”). Garfield lacked airplay in their native Toronto but conquered other cities, including Montreal, where they did a week-long stand at the Moustache Club. “Old Time Movies” reached the Canadian Top 40.

Garfield received a 1977 Juno nomination for Most Promising Group. French shook the band from Mercury and signed with Polydor for the Canadian market. In the US, they signed with Capricorn, a Macon-based label that launched the Allman Brothers and since grew its roster with Dixie Dregs, Grinderswitch, Hydra, Sea Level, and Wet Willie.


Out There Tonight

Garfield released their debut album, Out There Tonight, in 1977 on Polydor (Canada) and Capricorn (US). It contains eight originals by Garfield French, including two singles (“All Alone Again,” “Mississippi Jimmie”) and the side-closing epics “Play It Again Boys” and “Private Affair.”

Out There Tonight features unique secondary input by reedist Chip Yarwood (Clavinet, Moog synthesizer), lead guitarist Walter Lawrence (cello), and rhythm guitarist Paul O’Donnell (harmonica). Yarwood splits piano duties with Garfield and his brother, drummer Dennis French. Garfield himself shares acoustic guitar with O’Donnell and Lawrence, who both add classical guitar. 

Jacques Fillion alternates the Solina String Ensemble (with O’Donnell and Garfield) and the ARP Omni synthesizer (with O’Donnell and Yarwood). String arranger Clayton Ivey plays guest piano on “After All This Time.”

A1. “Out There Tonight” (2:38)
A2. “All Alone Again” (3:01)
A3. “It’s Not That Bad (At All)” (3:25)
A4. “Play It Again Boys” (8:10)
B1. “Mississippi Jimmie” (3:04)
B2. “After All This Time” (2:49)
B3. “Look At Yourself” (3:15)
B4. “Private Affair” (8:04)

Sessions took place at Ivey’s Wishbone Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where co-owner Terry Woodford produced the album in sequence with titles by Hot, Jerry Butler, Thelma Houston, and erstwhile Steppenwolf singer John Kay. He co-engineered Out There Tonight with Steve Moore, a soundman on 1977 albums by LeBlanc & Carr and soul singers Ann Sexton, Bill Brandon, and Lorraine Johnson.

Polydor lifted “All Alone Again” as a single (b/w “It’s Not That Bad (At All)”). Capricorn issued the single with “Mississippi Jimmie” as the b-side.

Tensions arose when Capricorn insisted that Garfield launch the album with a US tour ahead of Canada, the band’s established base. Despite a second round of Wishbone Studio sessions, French severed ties with Capricorn, just before the label’s bankruptcy. Their intended third album wound vaulted until French released its contents as Lost In the Shoals, Wishbone Studio Recording 1979.


Reason To Be

Garfield released their third album, Reason to Be, in 1979 on Polydor (Canada only). It features ten Garfield French originals, including the single sides “Buffalo to Boston” and “Over Dry Martini.”

On Reason to Be, French retains five-sevenths of the prior lineup: guitarist Walter Lawrence, bassist Maris Tora, synthesist Jacques Fillion, and Garfield’s brother, drummer Dennis French. Garfield himself plays piano, synthesizer, and guitar (rhythm and acoustic).

A1. “Glamour” (3:30)
A2. “Buffalo to Boston” (4:16)
A3. “Ride the Thunderbolt” (4:06)
A4. “The Hounds” (3:00)
A5. “Houston” (4:12)
B1. “Johnathan’s Rainbow” (4:05)
B2. “Over Dry Martini” (3:53)
B3. “Midnight Dream” (3:46)
B4. “Win Some Lose Some” (2:50)
B5. “Cold On the Streets” (3:22)

Reason to Be is one of the first full album productions by Dixon VanWinkle, a long-time engineer with early Seventies credits behind Van Morrison, Paul McCartney, Pharoah Sanders, Stanley Clarke, Free Design, New York Dolls, and the Canadian bands Guillotine and Rain.

Polydor lifted “Buffalo to Boston” as a single (b/w “Over a Dry Martini”). Garfield toured the album in central Canada and the US Midwest. On January 21, 1980, they supported Rush at the Montreal Forum.>

In March 1981, the Canadian sub-label Irving & Almo issued “Ride the Thunderbolt” as a single backed with a new song, “Things I See.”


Flights of Fantasy

Garfield released their fourth album, Flights of Fantasy, in September 1981 on Polydor. It contains eight Garfield French originals, including the a-sides “Like I Love You” and “High Class.”

Flights of Fantasy retains drummer Dennis French and guitarist Walter Lawrence, who back Garfield in a new six-piece configuration with bassist Neil Nickafor, percussionist Mike Phillips, and keyboardist Terry Watkinson (b. 1940), who arrived fresh from a five-album run with Max Webster.

Musical guests include ex-Harmonium organist Jeff Fischer (Wulitzer on “Small Town Woman”) and former Motherlode|Dr Music saxophonist Steve Kennedy.

A1. “Like I Love You” (3:10)
A2. “Got More Than You Want” (3:21)
A3. “Small Town Woman” (3:06)
A4. “Some People Burn You” (6:26)
B1. “High Class” (3:21)
B2. “Nights Roll On” (3:09)
B3. “One On One” (4:37)
B4. “Grand Bahama” (3:23)

Sessions occurred at Springfield Sound in Springfield, Ontario, where Garfield French co-produced the album with engineer Dan Donovan, a prior Lisa Hartt Band soundman who supplemented Nickafor’s basswork. Flights of Fantasy features five studio backing vocalists, including Teenage Head auxiliary Kelly Jay.

Flights of Fantasy sports visuals by Canadian graphic artist Reid Morris, who also designed 1981–82 sleeves for Virgin Records titles by XTC (5 Senses) and Culture Club (“Time (Clock of the Heart)”). On the front cover, Garfield posed for Graham Fowler, an English-born haberdasher and scooter enthusiast who later ran a Manhattan shoe shop.>

Polydor lifted “Like I Love You” (b/w “One On One”), followed in December 1981 by “High Class” (b/w “Got More Than You Want”).

Garfield toured Flights of Fantasy through early 1982 and then went their separate ways.


Discography:

  • Strange Streets (1976)
  • Out There Tonight (1977)
  • Reason to Be (1979)
  • Flights of Fantasy (1981)
  • Lost in the Shoals: Wishbone Studio Recordings 1979 (2016)

Sources:

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