In the beginning...
Vancouver and music were growing a scene.
Vancouver had the weather, economy, lots of clubs, liquor laws that supported live music, and a vibrancy that belied its small city size.
Recording studios were establishing strong roots that attracted professional musicians, engineers and producers -- and still do to this day. The clubs -- Rohans, The Savoy, Sky's on Broadway, the Arts Club, Town Pump, Gary Taylor's Rock Room, the Spinning Wheel, The Cave, the Body Shop, to name a few -- catered to audience thirsts, and the thirsts were for live and original music. Talent from across Canada and the west US coast migrated into Vancouver to take advantage of the growing opportunities this city afforded the Music Industry.
And Vancouver had gems galore in its own backyard -- Ferron, Chilliwack, Trooper, The Hometown Band, Six Cylinder, Valdy, Triumph, Powder Blues, Shari Ulrich, Pointed Sticks, DOA -- well-known musicians and songwriters who are in the top echelons of the Canadian Music Scene.
Two guys. A songwriter out of Toronto looking for a player to accompany his songs. A guitar player, born and raised in Vancouver, several bands and gigs under his belt. Common friends introduce them. Doug Bennett and John Burton performed in coffee joints, small clubs and restaurants. They decided in the fall it was time to find a rhythm section, expand their repertoire, begin recording their tunes, and aim for the wealth of gigs available in all those clubs. John called on some buddies he played with in other bands, and so another Vancouver gem of a band begins its long and fruitful journey into the Canadian Music Scene.
Dennis Henderson (bass), Drew Neville (keys), Ted Laturnus (drums) came together with Doug and John for Halloween 1977 to play a rockin' illegal basement party -- and everyone had so much fun, Doug and John jumped on the adventure and the Theme Dance was conceived. They'd make the best parties in town and promote their own shows!
As hard as it is for you to believe, in the beginning, Doug was a very shy guy. He suffered great stage fright -- until he mastered the fine art of bolstering his own natural abilities of quick and witty repartee. Behind that shy exterior was a burgeoning comedian.
Theme Dances such as "Cool Jerk", "Secret Agent", "Frankie Avalon", "Kiss" -- all were sell-outs. The Legion on Commercial Drive, The Japanese Hall on Cordova, The Oddfellows Hall on Gravely, and The City Space Warehouse on Powell Street were the venues where they attracted people in crowds. These were advertised by word-of-mouth and Doug's "delightfully silly handbills" which the guys plastered all over the city. They were gaining a following of hundreds who adored the parties these boys knew how to throw. They followed them into the clubs.
Every few months they threw a Theme Dance. They started playing gigs in clubs up at Whistler and in Vancouver. They were becoming a "cult." And though the band was becoming more successful and gaining fans, musical differences and other opportunities caused a parting of ways in the fall of 1978.
Doug and John then gathered together the Slugs that would take Doug and the Slugs on to national and international success:
Richard Baker (guitar), Simon Kendall (keyboards), John "Wally" Watson (drums), John Burton (guitar), Steve Bosley (bass)
December 8, 1978 Doug and the Slugs played a sold-out show with another Vancouver gem, 6 Cylinder, at the Elks Lodge on Granville Street across from the Yale Hotel. Destiny rocked front and centre on the dance floor.
Things heated up quickly. The boys stepped up their shows. Their fans were begging for more. Doug and the Slugs embraced the fans' love and laughter and gave back more of what they wanted. The clubs were excited to host this ever-growing-popular band, and the Slugs worked very hard making sure they and their audiences had a good time! Musically, this band was tasty, spirited and talented.
Not to mention irreverent. By late spring '79, the Slugs were one of Vancouver's, and the surrounding area's, top draws. What was this phenomena? What do you call it? (mouse over to expand quotes)
Best let them tell you themselves... May 79 -- For the Guzzling Gourmet! Combining a healthy dose of garden fresh originals with a few well marinated, still flavourful leftovers in a musical delicacy best described as Slug Soup
Vaughn Palmer, Vancouver"The Slugs are as nutso as anything gets in this nutso city. But they are also crazy like a fox. The gags are merely decoration.....the band has been steadily building a reputation as one of the finest around."
The songs encouraged a show, and the show encouraged a song. In addition to talented songwriting and musicianship, the band was steeped in theatre. Theatre of what, no one was quite sure of. But EVERYONE loved it!
By the end of "summer of love" 1979, Doug and the Slugs were firmly entrenched in the clubs. They called themselves Slugs, but they moved forward like whirling dervishes. Still considered a "party" band, a "bar" band, they were promoting, booking and managing themselves -- with astonishing alacrity.
The Slugs' reputation grew. Now they were one of the top draws on the island as well as the mainland.
Press (mouse over link to read reviews):
Vancouver Province: The Slugs are the subject of Vancouver's most determined cult. Without a major recording, radio broadcast or booking they have become the most-in-demand band in the city, building a following on a tongue-in-cheek approach backed by outstanding music and talent.
Brian Davis, Monday Victoria's Magazine:"These guys have been working hard. They may be Slugs, but they're no sluggards. It was just over two years ago that Doug Bennett and his fellow Slugs emerged on the Vancouver scene. Being an unproven band, playing mostly original tunes, club owners were reluctant to hire them. The Slugs' reputation grew. Now they're one of the top draws on the island as well as the mainland."
Vancouver Province: "The Slugs are the subject of Vancouver's most determined cult. Without a major recording, radio broadcast or booking they have become the most-in-demand band in the city, building a following on a tongue-in-cheek approach backed by outstanding music and talent."
It was time to record. As all artists find when it's time to commercially produce their art, the cost is usually more than what's in their pockets. Doug and the Slugs needed help with financing to record. The help came in the form of Peter McCullough, a long-standing respected impresario in Vancouver. He financed the recording of the Slugs' first single, "Too Bad" in September 1979 at Tetra Hedron Studio. The studio, owned by Tom Lavin of the Powder Blues, was the forerunner to the well-known current studio Blue Wave. Interest was growing in testing the waters of the band's local success, and Sam Feldman and Howard Steel came on board to help produce the recording. This original single recording (with "The Move" on the back) was produced as a 45rpm and, unfortunately, the original master tape was recycled following the pressing. The version of "Too Bad" that most of us hear today was a new recording done in May 1980 when RCA distributed the Slugs' first album.
Sam decided it was time to step a little deeper into the waters -- he set up a tour for the Slugs to Toronto and points east. After all, Toronto was the music scene in Canada...
He then packed them off to Toronto's Jarvis House and Ottawa's Seaway Townhouse Pub. On the first nights of their engagements, the clubs were quiet, only a few people were there. A few media types, who appeared bored with yet another request to review one of those western upstarts that always try to take Toronto by storm, were also there with draught in hand. Toronto didn't have a clue who this band was. Certainly not a band worth going out to see in the cold and snow -- a Vancouver band, you say? But those people who were there were completely blown away. They started spreading the news. The media loved them, and by God that draught went down fine!. By the next night, people were lined up to see this phenomenon. And by the final night, many people just couldn't get into the club -- it was jam-packed. The same happened in Montreal.
Doug and the Slugs. They weren't just a Vancouver band anymore.
Paul McGrath, The Globe and Mail:Legend has it that Vancouver is about two years behind Toronto when it comes to pop music, but that surely cannot be the case, because Vancouver's most popular band just breezed into town, and it's as up to date as anything going on in Toronto. Scratch one legend and enter one more legend: Doug and The Slugs.
Greg Burliuk, The Whig-Standard, Montreal: No one could accuse Doug Bennett of being uncreative or for that matter uncocky. The 27-year-old former Georgia Straight graphic artist has a calm smoothness on stage that belies his limited two years of experience. Without the Slugs however, Bennett would be nothing. Guitarists John Burton and Richard Baker, drummer John Watson, bassist Steve Bosley and keyboard player Simon Kendall play Bennett's songs, which make up most of the repertoire, superbly.
But Vancouver still claimed them as their own. And they welcomed them back with open arms at two sold out shows at The Commodore, the venerable and beloved dance hall with a "spring" dance floor. The Slugs didn't let their trip to the "real" Canadian big cities on the other side of the Rockies go to their heads. Uh uh. They were still what they had always been. Irreverent.
|Unknown Vancouver Entertainment Publication:Doug and the Slugs Announce Their Return -- Fans riot, music world ecstatic, Ted Kennedy is forgotten. In a press conference held earlier this morning, Doug Bennett announced that he and The Slugs had listened to numerous petitions to "Bring Back The Slugs" and "Slugs Come Back" and were indeed ending their retirement from the Vancouver Music Scene.
"How long has it been?" queried one cab (sic) reporter at this morning's meeting.
"Six weeks," quipped Bennett, "But it feels like we've never been away."
"What have you been doing all this time?" asked a second journalist.
"Milking cows in Toronto," Bennett explained.
"Why are you coming out of retirement?"
"A few of us were having trouble getting by on our pensions," said Bennett. "And the royalites from our single couldn't keep me in Grecian Formula 16."
"But promoter Sid Bernstein..." sputtered the cub reporter.
"Yeah, I know, he offered us Shea Stadium if we'd play a single concert in New York," the leader of the Slugs huffed. "What an insult. It's not even baseball season.
The Columbian, New Westminster: Never mind the return of The Beatles after a decade. How about the return (to Vancouver) of Doug and The Slugs (after six weeks in Toronto)?"
"It was a musical event of no small significance as the group scheduled its "return from retirement" for last Thursday night at the half-century-old Commodore Ballroom then had to add a second comeback show Saturday night at the same venerable venue. Again it was SRO."
"Then to the accompaniment of sirens, Doug and The Slugs returned from retirement, resplendent in grey suits, pasty white faces, grey hair and wrinkles, powered by six nurses pushing wheelchairs. The ancient entertainers managed to painfully drag themselves onstage, wheezing and groaning, forcing their arthritic joints once again into place amongst the waiting musical instruments."
"They began with a song, introducing it: 'We'd like to do a song about being old and being able to --- like a dog. It's called, '99-1/2 Just Won't Do' Then, lead by leader Doug Bennett looking like something out of the movie Phantasm, they tore into the old rhythm-and-blues classic."
"Cut away all the gimmicks, forget the attention-getting devices. This is one tight band.
A new decade. The single they recorded in September was finally ready to ship. Doug and The Slugs were still unsigned, still doing most of their own promoting, and still wildly popular. That first 45rpm went rocketing around the country. Radio play exceeded everyone's expectations, and the band gained a new respect and following. Finally, their irreverence was being taken seriously.
Now not only movers & shakers, they were news-makers -- at home and across the country. Even jolly old England took up the cry!!
Denny Boyd, Vancouver Sun:"A mystery by the name of Doug Bennett -- He's an entertainer, that much is obvious when you see 1000 people lined up in the rain down Granville St. from the Commodore's doors around the corner and all the way to the alley on Smithe." "He's a burgeoning success. Last night (Jan 29/80) he passed the high tide mark of celebrity: a scalper was getting $8 for $6 tickets outside the Commodore." "The band and its leader will probably make a canful of money in 1980 and be known far beyond British Columbia. But beyond his talent I don't think anyone will know Doug Bennett. Not ever. It's maddening.
Maclean's Magazine:"The jumpingest joints in Vancouver these days are the places graced by a sextet known as Doug and the Slugs." "...now the Slugs become a happening wherever they play. Fans, known as Sluggers, take particular pleasure in dressing up for special "Slugfest" theme nights, even when it means having to look like Lucille Ball to get in free."
Music Express, 1979 Chimo Awards (Canadian Music Publication):Top Bar Band Doug and The Slugs
David Dalton, The Times, London England:"Piccadilly Radio presenter Ray Teret is putting his reputation as a hit picker on the line again." (Ray was presented with a silver disc in recognition of his on-air support leading to the top of the European charts for the French group Plastic Bertrand's Ca Plane Pour Moi) "Teret's latest piece of kite flying involves Vancouver band Doug and the Slugs. 'It's going to crawl up the charts very quickly -- the fastest slug in the world.'"
Roman Cooney, Calgary Herald:"After two miserable attempts to inject new life into Calgary's concert scene recently, along comes an outfit like Doug and the Slugs to shake things up." "Doug and the Slugs are one of the top nightclub bands in Vancouver, and that Slugmania is spreading quickly from its West Coast breeding ground, leaving hordes of Slugmaniacs in its wake."
(above) After 4 weeks of being maliciously maligned, bumped for bananas and beamed down to the wrong planet, Doug and the Slugs' first single (Too Bad/The Move) has arrived in the stores. Long live Ritdong!
Along with playing even more often in Vancouver, they embarked on a touring frenzy throughout BC and Alberta, Washington, and in the Spring again headed east to Ontario playing clubs, university dances, and school concerts. With the single now playing constantly on the airwaves, reaching #2 on the Canadian charts, they were something to talk about and everyone wanted to see them play live. They appeared on CBC in their own special "Slugmalion", and soon a major record company was sniffing around them.
Although the Slugs had a huge number of original songs, they had only recorded the single in Vancouver in September 1979 and a 5-song demo while in Toronto in the fall of '79. RCA was interested, but they needed to record an entire album. So they headed East, those young men, and recorded Cognac & Bologna in Toronto at Metalworks Studios. Sam Feldman financed the recording, Ritdong produced. Doug and the Slugs provided the talent, energy, songs and ideals. It took them all the way to a platinum recording and a partnership with RCA Records.
Music Express (Canadian Music Publication):Slugs grabbed by RCA -- RCA Records continue to develop their Canadian roster. Their latest acquisition being Vancouver's Doug And The Slugs." "Their debut single, Too Bad, is receiving heavy airplay throughout the country, serving as a strong indicator that The Slugs album could follow in the footsteps of RCA stablemates, The Powder Blues Band, whose initial album has already reached the platinum (100,000) sales level." "The Slugs have enjoyed tremendous national popularity with a recent showcase gig at Toronto's El Mocambo nightspot being oversold by some 200 tickets - causing a near riot on the premises."
James Muretich, The Calgary Sun:"The first time I saw them... the band had more than 1200 people bopping up and down on the Commodore Ballroom dance floor." "However, in Calgary, the group was an unknown commodity. Then, with the independent release of a song called "Too Bad"... it began to gather some notoriety." "Now, with the release of its first album, Cognac and Bologna, the group is ready for a full-scale onslaught on the innocent ears of Canadians everywhere." "The fascinating aspect of this group's music is the way it can easily combine fine musicianship with witty lyrics and a sense of humor guaranteed to leave you laughing." "And what a band! The two guitarists lay down effortlessly smooth leads, the bottom is funky, and the piano playing boogies like crazy."
Isaac Williams, Victoria Times:"...and stood back to listen to the most anticipated album of the year." "This is not only the best Canadian album of the year, not just the best album of the year, but the next step in the evolution of rock music!"
"What Doug and the Slugs have done in less than forty minutes is reunite musicianship with new wave energy. Until now there have been two strongly opposed factions in music: energy, economy and audience entertainment versus technical expertise and professionalism. This album destroys the argument that the two camps cannot be combined."
Too Bad was now screaming up the charts, being heard in every major city across Canada. With the album to back it up, The Slugs went into even more heavy touring. Vancouver's best loved band was becoming Canada's best loved band as the Slugs headed out on "The Insecure Tour."
Pulled in from the road. It was becoming a tradition. Doug and the Slugs made sure they were home in Vancouver for the Christmas season. Again, Vancouver welcomed them home with open arms to two completely sold out performances at the Commodore. Now they had an album on the way to Gold sales, a #1 single, tours throughout Canada, and they had lost none of their irreverence.
Just over three years since the first gig, Doug and the Slugs were now a very successful Canadian Band. They were particularly known for three things: great songs, outstanding musicianship, and live shows that couldn't be beat for fun, irreverent humour and the infectious desire to dance. Even at their concert gigs, people danced in the aisles, jumped up on the stage to join in the antics, and rocked and clapped in their seats.
Thus began the years of successful touring throughout Canada, the US Eastern Seaboard, and the US West Coast. Thus, also, began the identity that was fundamental to the success of this group. Six different people with six different backgrounds who contributed to the whole sound -- music that's fun to listen and dance to and fun to watch.
The band was nominated for two Juno Awards in 1981: Too Bad as best single of the year, and Doug Bennett as best composer of the year. The same year, they recorded their second album, "Wrap It" and The Slugs (without a Doug) recorded a single "Running Around." They performed for the Young Progressive Conservatives' bash in Ottawa, and were the favourites at colleges and clubs throughout Canada.
They headed off on their first foray into the U.S. market where they played to overflow crowds in New York, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco. The Slugs, their management, and even the fans were really quite surprised at the turnouts to their gigs. They were introducing themselves to this market, and "slowly but surely" they would establish themselves as a respected band, just as they had everywhere in Canada. They were profiled in several U.S. music publications, appeared on the David Letterman Show, and gathered a following throughout the US college circuit.
In the midst of almost constant touring, Doug and the Slugs recorded their second album, "Wrap It", and the Slugs recorded a single under the name "The Slugs without a Doug."
"Wrap It" was a different album from "Cognac & Bologna" -- different in that the band had matured, the songwriting had matured, and the recording reflected the influence of Vancouver co-producer Jim Vallance. It was also different because it was recorded in Vancouver, and the Slugs were on their own turf. Always a band with wide influences, the Slugs and the tunes were more creative, and created a collective power that won the respect of their audiences at their live shows, as well as the connoisseur of popular music. Oh yeah, the Nylons happened to be in town while the Slugs were recording, and are featured on the first single release, Real Enough.
That’s it for the formative years…more to be added, stay tuned....