Crack Of Dawn

By way of a recording contract with Columbia Records in 1975, Crack of Dawn became the first black band to be signed by a major record company in Canada paving the way for generations of Canadian R&B and reggae musicians in the future.    

Crack of Dawn's self-titled album released in 1976 met with instant success. Radio embraced a succession of singles that included hits  “It's Alright (This Feeling)”, “Keep The Faith” and “The Key” that led to extensive touring, television specials and concert  appearances with top-tier American R&B acts.

The band was formed in the mid -70's when the font of the Toronto R&B music scene had for the most part run dry. In fact, a decade earlier, R&B groups accounted for half of the bar bands in Toronto. Back then, Canadian R&B bands were typically mixed, most often featuring black singers with white musicians and playing predominantly the American hits of the day. Montreal had the Apollo, Club 217 and the Esquire Showbar. Halifax had the Arrow Club and Club Unusual. And while other Canadian cities had their own scenes, Toronto was hitting its high water mark with the legendary Club Bluenote, Le Coq D'Or, the Colonial and others along the Yonge Street strip

but by the mid 70's the face of entertainment on Yonge Street had dramatically changed for live entertainment.

Clubs had either closed or changed over to discos. In fact, Toronto itself had quietly grown through its own metamorphosis with burgeoning West Indian immigration influencing the very soul of the city. 

Two such relatively new West Indian immigrants at the time, guitarist Rupert Harvey and trombonist Trevor Daley met during a stint in the Toronto band the Cougars, which then featured singer Jay Douglas and the legendary Jamaican pianist/songwriter (“Pass the Dutchie”) Jack Mittoo – a new immigrant to Toronto himself.

 

Daley remembers the tribulations confronting black music in Toronto at the time and the legacy gap between the late 60's and mid-70's: “Back in the '74, the Cougars was just about it. Of course I had heard of Diane Brooks, Jackie Richardson and all those people – they were household names. But black Canadian artists were hard to find with the clubs having reverted back to booking American R&B acts by then.” 

Daley and Harvey decided to strike out on their own, along with another Cougar member – saxophonist Alvin Jones. And here is where the distinctly Canadian cultural mix that would epitomize Crack of Dawn began to simmer. The group then added Mark Smith, a bassist born in Canada followed by trumpet player Dwight Gabriel and his sister vocalist, Jackie Gabriel from Springhill, Nova Scotia, a community with deep Afro-Canadian roots. With the addition of Carl Otway, a recent immigrant from Grenada coming in on drums, one might think the cultural balance would have then shifted more towards the Caribbean, and most likely to reggae with the band's strong  Jamaican contingent but there was a powerful eighth member of the group who was never to rehearse in his basement while he provided direction and shaped the sound. With his Nova Scotian roots, producer Grant Gabriel moved the group more in a North American direction. But with three of original members being recent immigrants, the group naturally evolved as an essentially Canadian experience.        

 

With rehearsals in Grant's basement regularly running until the sun came up, Alvin suggested the band be called Crack of Dawn, the time of day when they hit their mark and accomplished the night's objective. As the band began to make their way through what was left of the Toronto club scene, Rupert brought his older brother Carl into the group as lead guitarist. Around that time, another major shift occurred with Jackie leaving the band and singer Glen Ricketts replacing her. Ricketts had immigrated to Canada in 1969, but had returned to his native Jamaica to pursue a successful music career before returning to Toronto.

At this point, the classic Crack of Dawn was formed, melding their wide cultural influences with principle songwriting from Ricketts and the Harvey brothers. And within a year, history was made by way of a recording contract with Columbia Records in 1975, thus distinguishing Crack of Dawn as the first black band to be signed by a major record company in Canada and so paving the way for generations of Canadian R&B and reggae musicians in the future.    

 

Crack of Dawn's self-titled album was released in 1976 and met with instant success. With radio embracing a long succession of singles that included “It's Alright (This Feeling)”, “Keep The Faith” and “The Key”, touring became intense. Having added keyboards from label-mate Dwayne Ford in the studio, the band brought in Jacek Sobotta to round out the sound on the road. Bassist Mark Smith then left the band and was briefly replaced by Keith Jones, with Andre King (originally from Trinidad) permanently holding down the bottom thereafter.   

 

After a year of criss-crossing the country from Vancouver to Halifax, Crack of Dawn sadly decided to call it a day, citing the old affliction of musical differences that plagues so many bands. Everyone then went their separate ways, with most staying in music: Ricketts moved back to Jamaica and began a successful solo career; Rupert Harvey went on to form the successful reggae act Messenjah; Carl Harvey and drummer Otway became independent producers, with Carl producing most of Messenjah's albums and the hit single "Hands Up" by Sway, and playing lead guitarist for Toots And The Maytals for more than 25 years; King continued as a musician and then taught music at York University; Dwight Gabriel got into session work; Jones became a successful investment adviser; and Daley set up a management company to handle the careers of Messenjah and several others. 

Crack of Dawn reunited in 2015 through invitations to perform at concerts. So here they are now, older and wiser after forty two years since they first came together – Crack of Dawn, pioneers in the dawn of funk music in Canada are hotter than ever with a new recording on G-THREE titled "Spotlight" scheduled for release November 19th, 2017 .

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