The Consuls were born Christmas week of 1957 in Playter Hall at Broadview and Danforth. The group’s founding members were Willie Page, acoustic pianist Bruce, acoustic(doghouse)bassist Len, guitarists Gene and Harold and drummer Peter.
1956 Ford Consul(1) Â©
Our repertoire and sound were established by rehearsals at Bruce’s house. Norm’s swing/rock’n roll tunes became the climax of our shows, and Bruce’s vocal renditions of Huey Piano Smith’s and Fats Domino’s songs were the essence of our style and could be heard at any point from the beginning to the end of every Consuls performance.In a sense the driving off-beat of Norm’s tunes provided the rock element, and Bruce’s relaxed piano accompanied song styling added the roll. Gene sang the Buddy Holly and Everly Brothers tunes. I sang Little Richard’s “Jenny Jenny Jenny”, Elvis'”Laudy Miss Claudy” up front while Norm took over the drumming duties.
Through 1958 we performed mainly at dances in the Long Branch/New Toronto area. We played at two Club Dancelands, one at the Met on the north side of the street over a store front in Mimico/New Toronto, and the other Club Danceland on a street north of the west end of Lakeshore.There were also engagements at the Polish Hall, and the Hunt Club on Lakeshore near Browne’s Line. Throughout this period, January 1958 until June 1959 when we disbanded, we were rivals of a West Toronto group, the Wildwoods. Bobby Dean and the Gems were also part of this rivalry which seemed almost amicable despite each band’s group solidarity. In fact when we, The Consuls, had the good fortune to be invited to Bell Sound in New York City by Dion and the Belmonts’ record company to record, it felt as though everyone was behind us even The Wildwoods. At times it seemed that our manager, Roger Kennedy, and The Wildwoods’ manager, Peter Harrington were partners offering their support and revelling in our successes.
The Big Apple (Bell Sound)
We were all excited about this opportunity to become, as we understood, the first Canadian group to record at Bell Sound.
We arrived in New York in a rented station wagon just before sunrise after driving all night through a snow storm that started outside of St. Catherines, Ontario where we skidded off the road into a snow bank, and ended as we approached the skyline of the Big Apple. We were soon in the studio recording Bruce’s “I’m Happy” and “Runaway”. The recording studio at New York City’s Bell Sound in 1959 appeared a lot more basic than I had expected considering this was where Dion and the Belmonts, Elvis Presley and other big pop names were said to be recording, and because our Buffalo, New York recording produced by Hernando, of his radio show Hernando’s Hideaway, was considered to be inferior in sound and possible record sales to what could be produced at the Bell Sound studio. I recall how difficult it was in those days to record a proper balance of my drums. We had to cover my bass drum so that it would not dominate the other instruments. I have a feeling that the reason I can’t make out my drum beat on “I’m Happy” is that they hadn’t at that point in the session been able to figure out how to get a balanced drum sound without completely muffling the drums. The drumming in “Runaway”, however, is much more precise and musically satisfying: I can hear the rhythm and blues snare drum off-beat with the triplet cymbal feel which is reminiscent of the way I thought I had learned to play some 20 months after I had purchased my first drum set in April or May of 1957, and learned my first drum rhythms by copying Bill Doggett’s “Honky Tonk part one” off-beat by striking the cymbal and snare drum on only the 2 and 4 beats without playing the 1 and 3 cymbal rhythm, sort of a pause bang(cymbal&snare)pause bang(cymbal&snare). That evening most of us went over to the Little Garden Theatre to visit Dick Clark and his “American Bandstand” while I remained at the hotel trying to catch up on my sleep.
Some weeks later that winter, we performed in a rock and roll show with Dion and the Belmonts, the Royal Teens, Jesse Lee Turner, and other stars promoting their latest hits at the Oakville Arena in January or February of 1959 where the ice on the skating rink remained hard and slippery. But someone from an Oakville paper showed up, and did an article on the Consuls with a photo of me identified as Jesse Lee Turner of “Little Space Girl” fame on the front page singing “Jenny, Jenny, Jenny”.
Robbie Robertson becomes a Consul in the spring of 1958.
Shortly after the Oakville show we became aware of a guitarist, Robbie Robertson, whom some in our group wanted to recruit as a bassist to replace Leonard Stubbs. We went to see Robbie perform at a place called the Lansdowne Assembly Hall on Lansdowne Avenue just north of Queen Street and The Green Dolphin restaurant. Robbie’s group, Robbie and the Robots, with his buddy Pete Traynor on bass, Robbie’s name scrawled across his guitar ( his “Robbie guitar”) played through amplifiers adorned with little aerials sounded unimpressive. The Robots’ unimaginative repertoire consisted mainly of Bo Diddley-like instrumentals led by Robbie.
Robbie joined the Consuls that spring. We then had two guitarists, Gene MacLellan, and Robbie Robertson who would not accept the role of bassist for which he had been recruited.
In June of 1959, disappointed that our New York recording had produced only a small quantity of 45’s under an unknown label, Delta(2), without the promotion, or broad distribution we had anticipated, The Consuls disbanded after a final performance at a dance in an Oakville auditorium. next: The Suedes
back to Toronto’s Secret
(In this photo Pete Traynor/Thumper is on bass to the right of guitarist Don Doyle .)
(1)The term, consuls, was originally used to denote two leaders of Rome’s Republic elected for terms of one year, though I think I recall that our group’s labelling itself “The Consuls” was actually inspired by a British automobile, the Consul. Obviously I had nothing to do with applying that name to our band, and have always believed that Bruce Morrishead had originated it. Some time after Robbie, Gene, and I left the “The Consuls”, the new group formed around the two remaining “Consuls” became known as “Little Caesar and the Consuls” the new name inspiring a kind of imperialist air, surprising me because I rightly or wrongly had always believed the name had more mechanical/commercial or even democratic origins than evoked by reference to the autocratic, lifelong rulers of the Roman empire.
(2) “Abel” is in fact the name of the label linked above to the tunes we recorded in New York City. I recall that I might have eventually received a 45 rpm copy with a blue “Delta” label that quickly disappeared. Several years ago I was surprised to find the tunes Online (then removed) placed there by a self-declared Doo Wop fan from Spain of all places.Though the tunes may sound like Doo Wop today, I do believe that the Consuls were oblivious to the Doo Wop designation or even the pop classification of tunes like “Earth Angel” “Come and Go With Me” “The Great Pretender” etc. we now call Doo Wop. I think we saw ourselves more as an instrumental Rock and Roll/Rhythm and Blues group than a 4 or 3 part Doo Wop-like vocal ensemble.
Peter De Remigis