When I joined The Northwest Company they were already a well established group with several singles released, and had played concerts and appeared on national television. The group had formed in Haney, British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver now known as Maple Ridge, by Gowan Jorgenson and Ray O'Toole and several other local musicians. Originally they wanted to call themselves The Bad Boys in an attempt to affiliate themselves with the hip Vancouver clothing shop The Bad Boys' Rag Shop where they hoped to rescue some spiffy uniforms. When that failed, they settled on a name straight out of the Canadian history book: The Northwest Company.
The line-up when I joined in 1967 was Gowan Jorgenson on bass and vocals, Ray O'Toole on lead guitar and vocals, Vidar Skofteby on rhythm guitar, organ and vocals, and lead vocalist Rick McCartie. I was replacing drummer Jerry Ringrose. The manager was "Pale" Dale Clark. The music we played was rock, modeled after countless bands that played cover tune from the top 40. Bands like The Shadows Of Night, The Outsiders, The Buckingham's, and others of that time, right down to the matching suits. By the time the band broke up in the mid 1970's all that had changed.
Disk jockey Daryl "B" Burlingham (when C-FUN was a rock and roll station) had been the band's producer since their first sessions. My first recordings with the group was Ray & Gowan's good-time Time For Everyone and a cover of The Beatles She's A Woman done Vanilla Fudge style. The single was release on Apex Records during the summer of 1968. It was a local hit, nearly reaching the top ten locally and getting lots of airplay elsewhere in Canada. The follow-up Can You Remember/Sunday Song did not do nearly as well.
The NW Co had a fairly visible profile in the late 1960, though it took a while to shake the 'matching outfit' image many people still had of us. By the late 1960s suits were definitely not hip. The local CBC TV station CBUT provided us with many local and national spots on programs like the coast to coast "Let's Go" and "Where It's At", to name two music show featuring live local talent. I recently watched a tape of our many appearances on the CBC between 1967 and 1970, and it is fascinating to watch us change as the times changed around us. We played concerts with the likes of Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Beach Boys, The Who, and other major league acts.
About this time the NW Co slimmed ranks with the departure of singer Rick McCartie. The remaining four members moved into a house on Texaco Drive in Burnaby, a Vancouver suburb, where we worked hard on our songwriting and vocals. Since everyone was now writing songs, it only seemed natural that you would sing your own songs. That's how I became a lead singer. By early 1970 we had moved to a big house on Patterson Avenue, right across from Central Park in Burnaby when rhythm guitarist Vidar Skofteby got married and left the group, leaving us a trio.
At this point we were doing almost all original material. We had a new manager, Ron "Tomato" Graham, and we played dances and concerts throughout western Canada, sometimes opening for bigger acts like Boz Scaggs, The Byrds, Lee Michaels and others. It was as a trio that the band really blossomed. With strong material contributed by all, we landed a deal with Coast Records, run by CKLG disk jockey Stevie Grossman (known on air as Stevie Wonder on CKLG) and partners. They had PBS Studios high on the hill in West Vancouver, on the way to Cypress Bowl. The studio was built for the movie "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" and had a huge room with a control room high above the studio floor. The other local acts on Coast Records were Spring, The Seeds Of Time, and Craig Wood.
The first single we recorded there with Stevie was my Rock'n'roll Lover Man and Gowan and Ray's Let It All. Local artist Chris Blade made a wonderful, though slightly obscene poster for the song, and we had a solid hit record. London Records of Canada handled the distribution. I also wrote the second single's A-side, along with Gowan, called (Everybody's Got To) Care, while Ray supplied the rocking Don't Hear Me Complain.
Ray O'Toole left the band in 1971, almost leaving Gowan and I a duo. But we got former Mother Tucker's Yellow Duck rhythm guitarist Leslie Law to join, along with lead guitarist Dan Smith. The band took a radical turn towards AM top 40 radio, and made the club circuit home.
For the last few years of The Northwest Company's life the lead guitar spot was kind of the hot seat. It had a high turnover rate, but saw some fine talent pass through. After Ray left we had Danny Smith, who would later find success with his band 6 Cylinder. He was followed by Zak August and then Brent Shindell. Shindell had previously played with The High Flying Bird, and would later be a member of The Bruce Miller Band , and Doucette (Jerry Doucette). The last lead guitarist was also the first, namely Ray O'Toole, who came back to join Gowan, Les and me for one last go.
After we got new manager Brian Cassidy we signed with the new Stamp Records and recorded some tracks with Jay Telfor at Studio 3 in Vancouver, and I played tablas on a session with folk singer John Laughlin on a track called Come Autumn. It was released on his album titled Changes In The Weather on Stamp Records.
The NW Co single was recorded with the line-up of Gowan, Les and myself, along with Zak August and Mark Dowding on sax. I wrote the A-side and Gowan the B-side. Sweet Suzy (The Bandit/There Ain't Nothing Wrong With Rock And Roll charted nationally in the spring of 1973. We toured as usual, supporting acts like The King Biscuit Boy (from Crowbar) and others.
Home base seemed to be Gary Taylor's Image One club just a few feet from the legendary Cave night club in downtown Vancouver. Brent Shindell added his cutting lead guitar to the last segment of the group. He will be heard on the forthcoming CD that Neptoon Records plans to release sometime this year (2002) that feature a hot set at the Pender Auditorium where we blew Country Joe and The Fish off the stage.The last line-up of The Northwest Company featured founding members Gowan Jorgenson, Ray O'Toole, along with myself and Les Law. We recorded some track with Jay Telfor, but they were never released. And so the sun set on one of the longest playing bands in Vancouver at that time, as most of the other groups from the sixties had broken up before the seventies, or had changed into something else. Just around the corner was disco and punk. Ray and I would work together again in our next venture, Home Cooking.