There’s a reason it’s considered the “Holy Grail” of Toronto Funk. The story behind this album is as amazing as the music itself. It begins in Montego Bay, Jamaica, 1947 with the birth of Wilfred "Wayne" McGhie. McGhie first gained notoriety playing on the Island circuit with the likes of the Celestials, Dizzy Barker, and Jimmy Wisdom. In the 1960’s, after the Canadian Government relaxed immigration policies, the streets of Toronto were no longer solely dominated by the white European, Scotts and Irish. Instead there were pockets of immigrant communities springing up all over the city. The Jamaican community used the West Indian Federation Club located on Brunswick Avenue as one of their cultural embassy’s. Or as Harry Gairey wrote, “We felt it would be some place for West Indian girls to go on their day off.”
This is where Jo Jo Bennett was tasked with forming a house band and where our story begins. Bennet recruited McGhie from Jamaica and after gigging at the WIF McGhie began to rise in local prominence. McGhie’s virtuoso was quickly recognized and found him writing songs like, “Chips-Chicken-Banana Split”, performed by Jo-Jo & The Fugatives and, “Mr. Fortune”, performed by the Hitchhikers – both featured on the Jamaica to Toronto compilation.
Art Snider’s Sound Canada Recording Center in 1969. (Interestingly enough, Art’s brother, Dave, was the founder of the famous Dave Snider’s music store on Yonge St.) The credits on the album read like a best-of list featuring the likes of Alton Ellis, Ike Bennett, Everton Paul and Lloyd Delpratt. The record was a hit and they knew it. Snider saw potential in the record and made a deal with Quality Music’s subsidiary Birchmount to distribute the album. Everything was going perfectly.
But! Just as Wayne McGhie & The Sounds of Joy was hitting the shelves, there was a fire at Birchmount’s warehouse destroying all remaining copies. After the record failed to initially sell, plans to re-issue it were abandoned and it seemed like this album would be lost to the sands of time.
After the albums commercial failure, McGhie returned to Jamaica and continued to try and produce music. Moving between Toronto and Jamaica, a dissuaded McGhie eventually dropped off the map – both with friends and the broader Toronto music scene. During all this, John Carraro, an NYC record dealer, managed to find a copy of the long-lost Birchmount original and sold it to P.M. Dawn (New Jack Swing duo) for a supposed $300. Side note, copies today go up to $584 USD. As word of the fat breaks and heavy beats on the album spread thanks to DJ’s like Q-Tip, Mr. Supreme, Pete Rock, DJ Sureshot, Buck 65, and Gary G-Wiz (Public Enemy), the album began to gain prominence in the funk world. But where was Mr. Mcghee?
After a chance encounter with Jay Douglas (Torontonian reggae/soul artist), the great guys at Seattle based Light In The Attic Records were able to track him down at his sister's house in Toronto. McGhee looks to be doing well and I’m sure he’s happy that his long lost album is finally gaining the recognition it deserves as the Holy Grail of Toronto Funk.
The album features Everton Paul and J. Joseph on drums. Listen for the distinct bass drum and complementary tight snare and hi-hat in the first four bars of "Dirty Funk". I'm not sure exactly how they recorded it, but the drums have a real punch, and in turn power the rest of the band. Tracks to look out for include the R. B. Greaves cover "Take A Letter Maria" and the feel-good classic "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye". Enjoy.
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