Mashmakhan

Mashmakhan was a Canadian psychedelic rock band from Montreal that released the 1970–71 Columbia–Epic albums Mashmakhan and The Family and scored an international hit with “As the Years Go By.” Drummer Jerry Mercer later joined Halifax stars April Wine.

Members: Pierre Senecal (vocals, keyboards), Rayburn Blake (guitar), Jerry Mercer (drums, 1960-71), Trevor Payne (vocals), Brian Edwards (bass), Brian Greenway (1972-73), Steve Laing (1972-73), Lorne Nehring (drums, 1972-73), Allan Nicholls (1972-73)


Background

Mashmakhan stemmed from a partnership between singer–keyboardist Pierre Senecal and guitarist Rayburn Blake. In 1960, they formed a band with singer–bassist Brian Edwards and drummer Jim Nuchter. When Nutcher missed a gig, they hired Jerry Mercer (b. April 27, 1939; Newfoundland), who drummed beforehand with local jazz and Latin bands. Edwards left soon after his arrival.

Mercer, Senecal, and Blake formed The Phantoms, a rock ‘n’ roll band that slogged five years on Montreal’s live circuit, which alternately saw them billed as The Dominoes and Ray Blake’s Combo. By 1965, they morphed into The Triangle and weathered the onslaught or Motown and the British Invasion. They linked for a time with Barbados-born R&B singer Trevor Payne.

As psychedelia spread North, the trio linked with Gamma records for a 1969 single under the name Le Triangle. Senecal wrote the a-side, “2 Miroirs,” backed with Blake’s “Les Montagnes Russes.”

A. “2 Miroirs”
B. “Les Montagnes Russes”

Le Triangle impressed talent scout Bob Hahn, who produced a demo that landed them a deal with Columbia. They adopted a new name, Mashmakhan, after a brand of hashish sold by a local dealer. Edwards rejoined on bass and lead vocals after a spell in Five of a Kind with (future Natural Gas, Truck) keyboardist Brian Wray. The lineup of Blake, Edwards, Mercer, and Senecal settled in Toronto and recorded their first album.


Mashmakhan

Mashmakhan released their self-titled debut album in May 1970 on Columbia (Canada), CBS (Japan, Netherlands), Epic (Australia, New Zealand, US), and Date (South Africa).

Mashmakhan opens with the group-written original “Days When We Are Free” and contains eight songs by Pierre Senecal, including “If I Tried,” “Happy You Should Be,” “I Know I’ve Been Wrong,” “Letter from Zambia,” and the international hit “As the Years Go By.” Side B opens with “Gladwin,” composed by Rayburn Blake.

Senecal plays organ, piano, flute, and soprano saxophone on Mashmakhan.

A1. “Days When We Are Free” (6:11)
A2. “I Know I’ve Been Wrong” (4:47)
A3. “As the Years Go By” (3:03)
A4. “Shades of Loneliness” (4:46)
A5. “Afraid of Losing You” (4:07)
B1. “Gladwin” (4:23)
B2. “If I Tried” (4:33)
B3. “Happy You Should Be” (4:47)
B4. “Nature’s Love Song” (3:49)
B5. “Letter From Zambia” (6:11)

Sessions took place in New York City at Columbia Recording Studios with label soundman Billy Jackson, a onetime singer in soulsters The Re-Vels who also produced 1969–70 titles by Bernard Purdie, Ronnie Dyson, The Tymes, and Mongo Santamaria. Mashmakhan was engineered by Stan Tonkel, a soundman on the 1970 double-albums Bitches Brew by Miles Davis and Easy Does It by Al Kooper.

Mashmakhan and Easy Does It feature horn and string arrangements by orchestral bandleader Warren Vincent, an arranger of Fifties children’s music (The Tinkertones, The Cricketones).

Mashmakhan appeared in a gatefold with front-cover photography by Klaus Lucka, who renders the band with hovering double-vision apart from singer–bassist Brian Edwards, who sits with a stern expression under shimmery pink rays (zoomed on the back cover). Jerry Mercers shaved head (rare in the post-psych era) contrasts the hirsute looks of Rayburn Blake (far right) and the bespectacled, Lennon-like Senecal. Lucka also photographed the red-lit afro image of French-Canadian singer Robert Charlebois on the 1969 Gamma release Québec Love.

In the liner notes, Herbert Aronoff of the Montreal Gazette describes their music as “black rock and blue soul.” He deems them “a group for all seasons” and calls Mashmakhan “the first flower from a fertile garden.”


“As the Years Go By”

Columbia lifted “Days When We Are Free” as a single backed with “As the Years Go By.” However, the b-side clicked with radio programmers. On the week of August 22, “As the Years Go By” reached No. 1 on Canada’s RPM Top Singles Chart, where it ousted “(They Long to Be) Close to You” by The Carpenters and bowed two weeks later to “In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry. The single sold 100,000 copies in Canada and 500,000 in the US, where “As the Years Go By” peaked at No. 31 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“As the Years Go By” became an enormous hit in Japan with sales of one million copies. Mashmakhan ceased on their Eastern fame with shows before 40,000 at Tokyo’s ball park and (with Grand Funk Railroad) 15,000 in Osaka.

“As the Years Go By” appeared on numerous multi-artist compilations, starting with the 1970 Columbia Special Products release Sounds… Like Fun!, a promo comp for Pepsi-Cola Canada Ltd. with tracks by Chicago (“Listen”), Blood, Sweat and Tears (“I Can’t Quit Her”), Aretha Franklin (“Walk On By”), Sly & the Family Stone (“You Can Make It If You Try”), The Chambers Brothers (“People Get Ready”), Pacific Gas & Electric (“Miss Lucy”), and The Hollies (“You Need Love”).

“As the Years Go By” inspired numerous covers, including 1970–71 versions by Servian singer Miki Jevremović, Japanese showband Jimmy Takeuchi & His Exciters, and Greek rockers The Idols (translated as “Τα χρόνια περνούν”).


Transcontinental Pop Festival

Mashmakhan partook in the Transcontinental Pop Festival, a summer 1970 Canadian train tour with Mountain, Delaney & Bonnie, Ian & Sylvia, and headliners Janis Joplin, The Band, and the Grateful Dead. In 2003, director Bob Smeaton gathered Transcontinental Pop footage for the documentary film Festival Express (tagline: “The longest party on rock-n-roll history”). The film contains footage of one Mashmakhan number (“Comin’ Home Baby”). The DVD release adds a second (“As the Years Go By”).

As they commenced work on their second album, the National Film Board of Canada commissioned one new Mashmakhan song (“Couldn’t Find the Sun”) for Epilogue/Fièvre, a short film by director William Pettigrew.


The Family

Mashmakhan released their second album, The Family, in mid-1971 on Columbia (Canada), CBS (Japan, Netherlands), and Epic (US).

The Family features six songs by keyboardist–reedist Pierre Senecal, including “Children of the Sun,” “Start All Over” (both singles), “The Prince,” and “Mr. Tree,” the ten-minute closing epic. Two songs (“Children Laughing,” title track) feature him on lead vocals and rhythm guitar.

Rayburn Blake submitted two songs: “Come Again” and the NFBC-commissioned “Couldn’t Find the Sun.”

A1. “Children of the Sun” (3:35)
A2. “The Family” (5:45)
A3. “The Prince” (5:12)
A4. “Come Again” (4:30)
B1. “Children Laughing” (3:30)
B2. “Couldn’t Find the Sun” (2:35)
B3. “Start All Over” (3:40)
B4. “Mr. Tree” (10:25)

Sessions took place in the winter–spring at Thunder Sculpture Studios, a newly-opened Toronto facility also used for 1971 albums by Bruce Cockburn, Lighthouse, and Syrinx. Neil Young soundman David Briggs produced and engineered The Family with assistance from Kendall Pacios, who engineered the first two albums by Bonnie Raitt.

The Family appeared in an off-white gatefold that shows an old wooden house next to a winter tree in the Northern snow. The inner-gate has one large photo each of Blake, Edwards, and Senecal; placed over a repeated shot (times eight) of Jerry Mercer in action.

Columbia lifted “Children of the Sun” as the first single (b/w “Come Again”), followed by “Start All Over” (b/w “Couldn’t Find the Sun”). Mashmakhan promoted The Family with a North American tour.


Later Singles

After promotions wrapped on their second album, Mashmakhan went on hold.

Jerry Mercer did a brief stints with Ozark blues guitarist Roy Buchanan and Canadian popsters The Wackers. He joined April Wine for their 1973 third album Electric Jewels and remained with the band for 35 years.

Brian Edwards and Rayburn Blake formed Riverside, a folk-pop band that made a 1973 self-titled album on Columbia. Blake did a subsequent stint in the Lisa Hartt Band.

Pierre Senecal formed a new Mashmakhan with Brian Greenway, Steve Laing, drummer Lorne Nehring, and actor–songwriter Allan Nicholls.

A. “Time To Move On”
B. “Love Is”

A. “Light Blue”
B. “I Don’t Fear Tomorrow”

July 1972
A. “Ride Johnny Ride”
B. “Home”

June 1973 – Aquarius Records
A. “Dance a Little Step”
B. “One Night Stand”


Discography:

  • Mashmakhan (1970)
  • The Family (1971)

Sources:

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