Wed­ding guests were Cana­dian who’s who

Toronto Star - - DEATHS, MEMORIALS, BIRTHS | GREATER TORONTO -

Among his peers in the ball­room was world-renowned com­poser/pro­ducer David Foster, a man John knew from those heady days in Yorkville when they were both cut­ting their teeth in Toronto’s bur­geon­ing mu­sic scene. Alan Frew, front­man for the chart-top­ping band Glass Tiger, was also in at­ten­dance.

And the place cards on the ta­bles ran down like a hockey card check­list of su­per­stars, past and present. Rec­og­niz­ing fa­mil­iar names like Paul Cof­fey, Grant Fuhr, Mark Messier and Soviet stand­out Vladislav Tre­tiak, John flipped a few over, an ideal can­vas to get au­to­graphs for his in­fant son, Jor­dan.

With each pass­ing speech, The Lin­colns’ time for their first set was pushed fur­ther into the night. John, much like a pro­fes­sional ath­lete watch­ing an ex­tended pre-game cer­e­mony from the bench, had his mind else­where — on mak­ing sure the group was fir­ing on all cylin­ders once it came time to play.

At some point soon they would be on, he thought, and they had bet­ter de­liver their best — or bet­ter, given the cir­cum­stances.

“You want to have the best lineup and the best per­son­nel for a spe­cific gig, and he cer­tainly han­dled that gig like a sport be­cause he in­flated the per­son­nel of the band and cherry-picked the best play­ers. He was like a coach, for sure,” said Jack Sem­ple, a guitarist and lead vo­cal­ist for The Lin­colns. “He was in his el­e­ment bark­ing or­ders to ev­ery­body and mov­ing peo­ple around. It was bril­liant to see.”

Now if only that or­gan pedal would ar­rive . . .

Be­fore John was ever a band leader, he was a hum­ble bass player who would as­cend to the top ech­e­lons of the mu­sic in­dus­try un­der unique cir­cum­stances — begin­ning with his fam­ily’s re­lo­ca­tion to Canada from In­dia as a 13-year-old in 1960.

He had a clas­si­cal mu­sic back­ground from his time at the pres­ti­gious Cathe­dral and John Con­non School in Bom­bay (now Mumbai), where he learned the vi­o­lin and pi­ano as well as sang in the choir. As he set­tled with his fam­ily in Scar­bor­ough, his in­flu­ences would soon ex­pand be­yond Mozart and Beethoven thanks to WUFO 1080, an AM ra­dio sta­tion broad­cast­ing just south of the bor­der in Buf­falo, N.Y.

“That’s when I heard rhythm and blues and that’s what turned me on to that great mu­sic,” the 69-year-old said. “At that time in Canada, R&B was king in Toronto. Yonge Street and Yorkville were the cen­tres of mu­sic.”

In­spired by the likes of Mo­town leg­end James Jamer­son Jr., Larry Gra­ham (Sly and the Fam­ily Stone) and Chuck Rainey, John picked up the bass gui­tar and was soon camp­ing out down­town at venues like Le Coq d’Or and the Colo­nial Tav­ern on Satur­days or would skip church on Sun­day to fre­quent the now-fa­mous River­boat and Pur­ple Onion in Yorkville. There, he could soak in a scene which boasted an as­tound­ing tal­ent pool.

John made a name for him­self as a dis­ci­plined and re­li­able player in Toronto in the mid-1960s and was re­cruited by a top lo­cal band named Mandala, which later mor­phed into Bush. When Bush moved to Los An­ge­les they were signed to a short­lived record deal in 1969.

But it was dur­ing the 1970s that his star would rise.

When Bush dis­banded, George Clin­ton re­cruited John to play with Funkadelic af­ter hav­ing pre­vi­ously filled in for Clin­ton’s other band, Par­lia­ment. From there he moved on to what was sup­posed to be a 10-day stint with Lou Reed in1973 to record Rock ’n’ Roll An­i­mal. Al­most two years and three al­bum cred­its later he tran­si­tioned to work­ing with shock rocker Alice Cooper, clos­ing out the decade as a con­trib­u­tor to three more al­bums, high­lighted by the con­cep­tual hit “Wel­come to my Night­mare” (1975) and per­form­ing on the sub­se­quent world tour.

Af­ter re­sid­ing in New York and L.A. for nearly 10 years, John had an itch to re­turn to his roots by the turn of the 1980s.

“Af­ter I fin­ished my stint with Alice I came back to Toronto and I thought, ‘I’ve al­ways wanted to have a re­ally kickin’ ’60s R&B band’ be­cause that’s my back­ground,” he said. “I formed a great band, I was blessed with some tremen­dous play­ers over the years, we were highly dis­ci­plined and I took that band on a mis­sion to play some of the out­posts of Canada where I knew there were R&B fans.”

In The Lin­colns, John would have a fluid group where he was the only true con­stant. Mu­si­cians came and went over the years but the one thing that was an ab­so­lute ne­ces­sity was that in or­der to be a mem­ber of the band, you had to be able to play at the high­est level.

The Lin­colns’ lineup over the years in­cluded the likes of re­spected horn play­ers Tony Car­lucci, Earl Sey­mour and Vern Dorge (the lat­ter two from Blood, Sweat and Tears), gui­tarists Greg Lowe and Sem­ple, Joe In­grao grac­ing the keys and Greg Critch­ley on drums.

Mark Armstrong re­mem­bers at­tend­ing their con­certs in Toronto while study­ing mu­sic at Hum­ber Col­lege. He was al­ways im­pressed at how they ar­ranged classic R&B songs and the fact his men­tor, Sey­mour, was a mem­ber added to his re­spect for The Lin­colns.

“It was a well-oiled ma­chine, the way Prakash ran the band,” said Armstrong, now a pro­fes­sional sax­o­phon­ist based in In­di­anapo­lis. “There would be an orig­i­nal record­ing that might have been two-and-ahalf to three min­utes long but by the time he was fin­ished with the ar­range­ment, along with in­put from other peo­ple as well, that two-and-a-half-minute song might be eight or nine min­utes.”

One night af­ter a show he ap­proached John about com­ing on board and was elated when he later got a phone call to fill in for a set. Shortly there­after he was hired on a full-time ba­sis, mere months ahead to Gret­zky’s wed­ding.

“At the time my girl­friend’s par­ents were very im­pressed that I would be play­ing the wed­ding, (but) oth­er­wise they were not pleased about their daugh­ter dat­ing a mu­si­cian,” he said. “As a work­ing mu­si­cian, play­ing with The Lin­colns was, if not the best . . . def­i­nitely one of the best gigs you could have. It was a gig that ev­ery­body wanted, so it was a big deal mainly be­cause of the high stan­dards that were set in the band and just to be part of it was def­i­nitely some­thing to be proud of.”

News of the pro­posal broke on Ed­mon­ton ra­dio in early spring, and while me­dia and fans were fo­cused on the Oil­ers’ quest to win the Stanley Cup for a fourth time in five sea­sons, the an­tic­i­pa­tion of the nup­tials grew.

“It was never out of mind that Gret­zky’s wed­ding would be an event,” re­called writer Terry Jones of the Ed­mon­ton Sun, a Hockey Hall of Fame jour­nal­ist in­vited to at­tend.

The time­line lead­ing up to his wed­ding and the weeks fol­low­ing turned out to be a sem­i­nal time not only in his ca­reer, but in the tra­jec­tory of the game it­self.

On May 26, 1988 the Oil­ers swept the Bos­ton Bru­ins in the Stanley Cup fi­nal on home ice, Gret­zky was awarded his se­cond Conn Smythe Tro­phy as the most valu­able player of the play­offs, and with­out ques­tion he was the toast of the town.

By Aug. 9, just 27 years old and in his prime, he was shipped to the Los An­ge­les Kings in the most un­think­able and mon­u­men­tal trade in NHL his­tory.

In be­tween the joy of another Cup win and the tears that flowed dur­ing his shock­ing de­par­ture from the City of Cham­pi­ons was the wed­ding of the most fa­mous Cana­dian ath­lete that has ever lived.

“It was the most no­table wed­ding in Canada’s re­cent his­tory,” said jour­nal­ist Al Stra­chan, who at­tended the wed­ding and, like Jones, is a mem­ber of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“For­mer prime min­is­ter Pierre Trudeau was mar­ried about 20 years ear­lier (in highly pub­li­cized nup­tials with Mar­garet Sin­clair) and I’m not even sure if the coun­try paid as much at­ten­tion to that as they did for Wayne’s.” Ac­claimed com­poser George Blond­heim, an Ed­mon­to­nian and friend of Wayne and Janet, agreed to help take care of the mu­sic for their spe­cial oc­ca­sion.

He ar­ranged for mem­bers of the Ed­mon­ton Sym­phony Or­ches­tra to play at the church cer­e­mony and per­formed a jazz pi­ano set prior to the din­ner. When the dis­cus­sion came to pick­ing a band to cap off the cel­e­bra­tion there was lit­tle doubt who should get the gig.

“The Lin­colns were just the best, classi­est band you could have wanted to at your wed­ding,” Blond­heim said. “If you place your­self in 1988, The Lin­colns toured na­tion­ally and across the U.S. They were stand­in­groom only be­cause they were so pro­fes­sional and so good.”

Alper agrees The Lin­colns were a per­fect fit and it was not sur­pris­ing that some­one with Blond­heim’s knowl­edge would se­lect them to be a part of the sound­track for The Great One’s big day.

“They could have gone for any­one, they could have had El­ton John play and no one would have bat­ted an eye­lash,” he said. “For peo­ple who knew who they were, The Lin­colns were a band to watch when they came into your town. Some didn’t have a clue who they were watch­ing and that they were ac­tu­ally mu­sic roy­alty.”

While many of the wed­ding guests may not have known of The Lin­colns, the Oil­ers were very fa­mil­iar with their mu­sic. Over the years they had seen them per­form many times at venues in Ed­mon­ton like the Side­track Cafe, the type of place The Lin­colns were hired to play for sev­eral nights at a time in those days.

Blond­heim had phoned John with the of­fer and they met at the Side­track one night sev­eral months be­fore the wed­ding. John recalls Wayne and Janet com­ing in to see the band that weekend and they spoke briefly af­ter a show. The de­tails were soon ironed out.

As sum­mer of­fi­cially started and the grand oc­ca­sion drew closer, the me­dia frenzy be­gan to pick up in earnest. What de­signer wed­ding dress would Janet wear? How much did Wayne pay for her ring? Was the cham­pagne re­ally $3,000 a bot­tle?

On the day of the wed­ding, thou­sands of peo­ple lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the happy cou­ple and their celebrity friends — in­clud­ing em­cee Alan Thicke — as they ar­rived and de­parted from St. Joseph’s Basil­ica.

“Who in the world of sports has had a royal wed­ding, pe­riod? Be­cause that’s what it was with­out a word of ex­ag­ger­a­tion,” said Jones, who cov­ered Gret­zky’s en­tire pro­fes­sional ca­reer, span­ning from the late 1970s in the World Hockey As­so­ci­a­tion un­til he re­tired in 1999 as a mem­ber of the New York Rangers.

“There was a story on ev­ery­thing. Ev­ery part of the wed­ding was a sidebar. There was a buildup for days of all this stuff.”

John and the band ar­rived in Ed­mon­ton the week of the cer­e­mony to get pre­pared and the grow­ing buzz be­came in­creas­ingly pal­pa­ble as the big day drew closer.

“Be­fore the wed­ding, all these writ­ers were guess­ing as to what band would be play­ing at the Gret­zky wed­ding,” he said.

“I’d be laugh­ing to my­self, no­body even thought of us, all these pun­dits nam­ing all these other bands un­til the day be­fore or some­thing when they found out.”

Sud­denly he was get­ting bom­barded from all an­gles for ac­cess to the re­cep­tion, peo­ple phon­ing him at his ho­tel or con­tact­ing him through mu­tual ac­quain­tances.

Shak­ing off sleuthing jour­nal­ists was one thing, but deal­ing with peo­ple within his own in­dus­try was another.

John says the lead singer of ar­guably Canada’s hottest band at the time put in a last-minute re­quest, through their man­ager, to sing with The Lin­colns.

“I said (to the man­ager), ‘OK, if he is go­ing to do a song, I’ll give him a choice of a cou­ple of R&B stan­dards and then maybe we will con­sider one of his tunes, but he’s gotta be there at sound check and if he doesn’t re­hearse with me, there is no way,’ ” John re­called.

“He doesn’t show up for the sound check (the af­ter­noon of the wed­ding). I don’t al­low any­body to get on stage with The Lin­colns un­less we have run through the tunes and I’m sat­is­fied it’s not go­ing to be an em­bar­rass­ment to the guest singer or to the band.

“Ev­ery­body thinks they are go­ing to en­hance my show with their pres­ence. Well, if you’re Ray Charles, yeah. If you’re Aretha Franklin, yeah.”

It was clear John didn’t hold him in the same es­teem and he never re­lented on his stance. The show would go on as ini­tially planned, ex­cept for one ma­jor de­tail.

Not want­ing to leave any­thing to chance, John made the hard de­ci­sion of sub­sti­tut­ing his current drum­mer with some­one more ex­pe­ri­enced, and so Jeff Stevens was scratched from the lineup, re­placed by Critch­ley, a vet­eran who had played with the band and was well versed with their reper­toire.

Al­though he would still at­tend the re­cep­tion, Stevens un­der­stand­ably did not re­ceive the news well.

Sem­ple ex­plains that the switch was not an in­dict­ment of Stevens’ abil­ity as much as it was a tes­ta­ment to John’s mu­si­cal dis­po­si­tion.

“It hurt Jeff’s feel­ings but at the same time, Prakash comes from the old school R&B thing,” the Juno Award win­ner said from his home in Regina. “James Brown had two drum­mers with him all the time and when one drum­mer was go­ing to work into the band, he brought his drums and sat be­side the stage in the wings and waited for James Brown to give him the look for him to play, and he might go on the road for six months be­fore he got the look, so in Prakash’s world that was to­tally ac­cept­able to do some­thing like that.”

Two months ear­lier, Bob Schin­dle’s heart was racing as sat be­hind the Bru­ins bench at North­lands Coli­seum in Ed­mon­ton, watch­ing Gret­zky raise the Stanley Cup high over his head and then gather with his team­mates at cen­tre ice for an im­promptu team photo in what would be his fi­nal game with the Oil­ers.

His pulse was now pound­ing for a com­pletely dif­fer­ent rea­son.

The vet­eran sound­man was sprint­ing up the es­ca­la­tor at the Westin car­ry­ing a card­board box. As he reached the se­cond floor he was stopped by the RCMP.

En­sur­ing se­cu­rity for an event of this mag­ni­tude ne­ces­si­tated a stern in­quiry as to what he was hold­ing and why he was in such a hurry.

Ex­plain­ing as fast as he could, he told the of­fi­cers that mo­ments ago a call came in to pick up a pack­age at the front desk un­der the name of Prakash John.

A bro­ken pedal ren­dered the Ham­mond or­gan use­less just hours be­fore show time and re­place­ment pedal had been ordered.

“This was like half an hour be­fore they were sup­posed to play, fin­ger­nail-bit­ing stuff,” re­counts Schin­dle, the head of sound for the Cana­dian Opera Com­pany in Toronto. “We were re­signed to the fact that this pedal wasn’t go­ing to make it and there wasn’t go­ing to be an or­gan . . . we got it in and it worked fine.”

With ev­ery­thing in place just in the nick of time, John and The Lin­colns took the stage with one press­ing mat­ter at hand be­fore they kicked off their seven-song set — the Gret­zkys’ first dance.

They would play the back­ing mu­sic while a fe­male vo­cal­ist would sing “When a Man Loves a Woman.” What could pos­si­bly go wrong now?

“We did the first dance thing and I am prob­a­bly pur­posely for­get­ting the song and wip­ing it out of my mem­ory,” he said shak­ing his head.

“She was read­ing the mu­sic off of a stand in re­hearsal but I didn’t think she would use it for the re­cep­tion!”

The Lin­colns kicked the show off with “Back at the Chicken Shack,” be­fore tran­si­tion­ing into Mo­town favourites “Soul Man” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

Al­most im­me­di­ately the dance floor be­gin to swell, an en­cour­ag­ing sign.

John was fur­ther buoyed by the pres­ence of Gordie Howe, who was one of the first peo­ple on the dance floor and, as it would turn out, one of the last to leave.

At the time, the man known as Mr. Hockey held the NHL’s all-time record for points (1,850). Gret­zky would sur- pass him a year later as a mem­ber of the Kings in an emo­tional “road” game against his for­mer team.

“Gordie Howe and his wife, Colleen, were danc­ing right in front of the band, as soon as we started play­ing, he was there. It was amaz­ing to see,” said John, beam­ing with child­like glee. “He is from Detroit and he said, ‘That’s my mu­sic!’ ”

Af­ter they closed their set with “Un­der the Board­walk” and “Knock on Wood,” Critch­ley, now a suc­cess­ful record pro­ducer and song­writer in Los An­ge­les, re­mem­bers Gret­zky thank­ing each mem­ber of the band with “a re­ally warm and con­nected hand­shake, like us be­ing there re­ally meant some­thing to him.”

But John couldn’t shake the thought that he left some­thing on the ta­ble, even though the con­sen­sus amongst the cel­e­brants was the op­po­site.

“The Lin­colns were a huge hit. It was fab­u­lous,” Blond­heim said. “They were killer and played their brains out.”

“Pierre Trudeau was mar­ried about 20 years ear­lier and I’m not even sure if the coun­try paid as much at­ten­tion to that as they did for Wayne’s.” AL STRA­CHAN

These days, many of the mu­si­cians who made up The Lin­colns over the years, in­clud­ing a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber that per­formed at “The Royal Wed­ding,” are scat­tered through­out North Amer­ica.

From Cal­i­for­nia to the Mid­west and across the Cana­dian prairies, they have en­joyed suc­cess in their re­spec­tive in­de­pen­dent mu­sic en­deav­ours, as has John, who is now set­tled in Oakville and ac­tively in­volved in the ca­reer of his son, Jor­dan.

In early 2016, at the be­hest of Prince, John was hired by Live Na­tion as a sound man­ager for se­lect dates on the late singer’s stripped-down fi­nal “Pi­ano & A Mi­cro­phone Tour.”

The two met a decade prior af­ter Prince watched John per­form with Jor­dan at Blues on Bel­lair in Yorkville one evening while he was still liv­ing in Toronto.

In fact, per­form­ing with Jor­dan is where you are most likely to find John.

Most Mon­day nights he is perched on a stool at the back of The Or­bit Room on Col­lege St., bass in hand, do­ing what he does best, an­chor­ing the back­ing band for his tal­ented heir.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, he gets asked about that mid­sum­mer night all those years ago and when it comes up, John still thinks the same thing.

“It was a great event but I am haunted by it,” he said.

“I would have done a free gig for the Gret­zkys just to ap­pease my own con­science.”

HOCKEY HALL OF FAME JOUR­NAL­IST

DAVE BUSTON/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

Wayne Gret­zky ges­tures to fans as he and his wife, Janet, leave St. Joseph’s Basil­ica af­ter be­ing wed be­fore 700 friends and rel­a­tives in Ed­mon­ton.

MARCUS OLENIUK/TORONTO STAR

In­spired by Mo­town le­gends James Jamer­son Jr., Larry Gra­ham (Sly and the Fam­ily Stone) and Chuck Rainey, Prakash John picked up the bass gui­tar af­ter mov­ing to Canada in 1960.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.