After I completed High School in Oakville, our whole family moved to Toronto. Already a keen listener to the AM hit radio formats, I taught myself a few guitar chords and wrote my first songs. In January, of 1964, the Beatles took over the charts and my interest in records, production and the music business in general was born.
Playing live was a daunting experience and early auditions to get folk-singer coffee house gigs quite often meant losing out to the more experienced performers like Gord Lightfoot. I thought that maybe if I could record a few of my songs, it would make a difference.
Around this time I moved out of the family home, took a room in a rooming house on Madison Ave in the Yorkville area and supported myself working in Simpson’s department store (now The Bay) in their stock department. I was able to save some money to pursue my dream.
The best known studios in Toronto were RCA on Mutual Street, Art Snider’s Chateau Records (Gord Lightfoot’s label at the time) and Hallmark Studios on Sackville Avenue.
Bob Vollum, the engineer at Hallmark, was friendly and very helpful. He let me sit in on a few session in the main studio, a huge hanger-like room dug deep below street level that could comfortably fit several large orchestras. A second adjacent room was a third of the size but still large by today’s standards. The control room, high above the floor could look over both rooms at once and boasted a round-pot broadcast style console board, a three-track half-inch analog recording deck and mono machines for the master mixes. Recordings from Hallmark in that era included A Wild Pair (Guess Who & Staccatos), Boom Boom (David Clayton Thomas), Somewhere, Outside (The Ugly Ducklings), The Hallmark Sessions (Lenny Breau) & Goes Electric (Moe Koffman) plus countless commercials.
When I approached Bob for advice on recording some of my songs, he generously volunteered to find the studio musicians and some back-up singers. I booked the studio for a session by paying for everything in advance.
On the day of the session I recorded two songs I had written, “Amelia” and “One Of These Days”. I played through the songs on my guitar, the musicians picked up the songs by ear without charts and got them recorded within the three hour Union call. The musicians were Ed Bickert on guitar, Ron Rully on drums and John Stockfish on bass plus three background singers, the Allen-Ward Trio supplied by their young manager, Marty Onrot. I’m sorry to say Bob Vollum passed away at 81 in 2014 after a long career in music and film.
With the recording done, the problem was now to get it released as a single by a record company. I sent it to RCA, Capitol, Phonodisc, Sparton, Quality, etc. One after another they turned it down. At that time, Canadian recorded successes were rare. Finally, I found Ron Scribner, a booking agent working out of Club 888, the old Masonic Temple at Davenport and Yonge. In the empty club, with both of us sitting cross-legged on the hardwood floor and with a small reel-to-reel tape machine between us, he listened to my songs. “I like that,” Ron said, “Why don’t you give Stan Klees and Walt Graelis a call?” and he gave me their number. Ron remained a friend and agent until he passed away far too young in the 1980’s.
Stan and Walt had recently had great success on Stan’s Tamarac/Bigland Records label with Bob Crewe produced recordings “Big Town Boy” by Shirley Matthews and “Heartaches” by Jayson King (aka blues vocalist Phil Gariepy). After hearing my tracks, they arranged for the release of the single on Stan’s Bigland label. Walt signed on as my manager until his RPM magazine success took all his time.
Stan felt my name was hard to pronounce and when the record was released I was surprised to see it was under the artist name ‘Greg Hamon’. Walt was successful in getting me appearances on various local TV ‘Record Hops’ – all based on the Dick Clark Bandstand format (practically every city in North America had one).
That first release, “Amelia” b/w “One Of These Days”, had limited success but I was encouraged by everyone I met and ready to do more.