Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/2/2019 (226 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
‘Bah-da bah-da-da-da, bah-da bah-da-da-da…"
To the opening strains of the 1966 smash Monday, Monday, The Very Groovy Things, a nine-person ensemble boasting some of Winnipeg’s most accomplished singers and musicians, slowly enter the room, flashing peace signs and handing out flowers. Sure, the calendar on the wall reads winter 2019 but tonight, at a sold-out house concert in St. Vital, it’s the Summer of Love, all over again.
This evening’s performance marks only the second time the group has performed in public. Except that’s not the way bass singer Bill Quinn, ex- of the Easy Ts, explains things when he steps to the microphone following their first number.
"Hey, man, it’s great to see everybody here on such a cold night," Quinn says, sporting greenish-blue, John Lennon-style shades and a tall fur hat, the sort typically worn by the late John Phillips, chief songwriter for folk rock group The Mamas and The Papas. "That last song, of course, was Monday, Monday. It only reached No. 10 on the charts here in Canada but in the United States, where we’re from, it went all the way to No. 1."
Wait, what; the States? Didn’t Quinn tell us a few days ago he grew up in Windsor Park?
Here’s the thing: not only do The Very Groovy Things, with their textured harmonies and note-perfect versions of crowd-pleasers such as California Dreamin’ and Creeque Alley, sound like the second coming of The Mamas and The Papas; in concert they act the part, too. For instance, as Jodie Borlé, a decorated jazz artist whose vocal style has drawn comparisons to Ella Fitzgerald, sets the stage for their rendition of Dream a Little Dream of Me, a tune sung by Cass Elliot on The Mamas and The Papas’ fourth album, she takes on the role of "Mama Cass," mentioning how she fell in love with that particular song after hearing it performed in a Greenwich Village night club almost 60 years ago.
the Very Groovy Things perform the hit song from 1965!Posted by The Very Groovy Things Band on Wednesday, January 23, 2019
Or when Quinn-as-Phillips nods toward Jane Fingler, a classically trained singer who also performs with Baroque choir Canzona, he introduces her as "my wife, Michelle," telling us they met at a party in Los Angeles in 1962, when he was still married to his first wife Susan Adams.
"I asked Susan if she’d mind if Michelle moved in with us and to my surprise, she said ‘Why not?’" he says, guffawing when a person seated near the back of the room shouts out, "Those were the days."
"That was something we discussed very early on; that if we were going to do this right, we should fully immerse ourselves in our individual characters during our show," says Dan Rochegood, announced earlier as Denny Doherty, the Mamas and the Papas’ lone Canadian member. "We watched a couple band documentaries on our own and later shared notes, talking a bit about how we should interact on stage. Prior to this project, I was only familiar with two of their songs (Monday, Monday and California Dreamin’) so not only has it been fun getting to ‘know’ Denny, it’s been fantastic learning all this other incredible music the Mamas and the Papas were responsible for."
In January 2011, Quinn, a retired music teacher, was on stage at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, providing back-up vocals for Rocki Rolletti during a benefit concert in support of Bill Merritt, co-founder of legendary Winnipeg band Mood Jga Jga.
At some point during their set, Quinn, who worked with Merritt in the 1980s in a group called Be Bop Beluga, turned to Laurie MacKenzie, Rolletti’s guitar player, and remarked, "Isn’t this a gas?"
"For sure," MacKenzie replied, adding if Quinn ever wanted to work together down the road, he should give him a call.
Six years later, Quinn was at the Centennial Concert Hall, taking in a show titled Arrival from Sweden: The Music of Abba, an Abba tribute act backed by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. That got him thinking; why were promoters spending tons of money to bring in a tribute act from Europe when there are enough talented singers living and working in Winnipeg to put on those types of shows with ease?
Already a member of the Snowtones, a Christmas-flavoured a cappella outfit consisting of two guys and two gals, the same as the Mamas and the Papas, Quinn figured a tribute act toasting the 1998 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees would be a good fit. First he needed a band.
In October 2017, a few weeks after the Abba show, Quinn and MacKenzie hooked up for lunch at the Red Top Drive Inn. Over burgers and fries, Quinn told MacKenzie, an eight-year veteran of the Guess Who, what he had in mind. He was "knocked out" when MacKenzie told him it sounded like a grand idea, and that he’d start hunting around for players.
It took a while but by May of the next year, MacKenzie had secured commitments from four widely-acclaimed musicians: drummer Greg Gardner, bass player Kinzey Posen, keyboardist Rick Boughton and guitarist James Hickerson. Later that month, Quinn met Borlé, also of the Snowtones, for a drink at The Pint. He asked if she’d be interested in "becoming" Cass Elliot.
"I’m 41 and didn’t grow up listening to the Mamas and the Papas. But when I was 18, I had a job where the company truck I drove around in only picked up AM radio, so I got to know a lot of their songs thanks to KY58," Borlé says. "So when Bill asked what I thought, I said, ‘count me in.’"
Rochegood, 43, also of the Snowtones as well as the Winnipeg Singers and Manitoba Underground Opera, was the next to sign up. And even though Fingler, who subs with the Snowtones on occasion, was born in 1991, a quarter century after the Mamas and the Papas headlined the Monterey International Pop Music Festival, she didn’t hesitate when Quinn asked if she was interested in being their Michelle. "My mom was 13 when the Beatles hit, so ‘60s music was definitely a thing in our house when I was a kid," says Fingler, a Glenlawn Collegiate alumnus. "If I remember correctly, my answer to Bill’s question was something along the line of, ‘Great vocal harmonies and awesome pop songs? What’s not to like about that?’"
The Very Groovy Things, a tag Quinn settled on after discovering the Groovy Things, his first choice, was already taken, spent much of last summer rehearsing. They made their official debut Sept. 17, 2018 at a house concert on Mathers Bay, after which they were flooded with compliments from those in attendance. One woman told Borlé she’d just returned from a Caribbean cruise; the Very Groovy Things were better than any entertainer she’d seen on the ship, she said.
Another fellow told Quinn that hearing them perform California Dreamin’ reminded him of a summer decades ago when he and his then girlfriend had jobs at a camp near Thunder Bay. That was one of the songs they sang at the top of their lungs, apparently, whenever it came on the radio on their way to Ontario.
"Songs from that era hit so many people in so many different ways," Rochegood says. "To see the look on their faces when we’re doing Dedicated to the One I Love or Go Where You Wanna Go (a tune recently employed by Honda in TV commercials hawking CR-Vs), it’s almost like they’re being transported back in time."
Going forward, Quinn has two main goals. First, he and MacKenzie hope to expand the set-list, currently about a dozen songs, to closer to 20. That shouldn’t be difficult, he says, pointing out besides their own compositions, the Mamas and the Papas routinely covered other bands’ recognizable hits, including the Beatles’ Twist and Shout and Martha and the Vandellas’ Dancing in the Street. (Already, one of the highlights of a Very Groovy Things show is their take on San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair), a generational anthem John Phillips wrote for his pal, Scott McKenzie, in 1967.)
Second, as much as he enjoys the intimacy offered by house concerts, he’s hoping to see the group booked into larger venues, perhaps the Canadian casino circuit.
"We do have something in the works with the WSO for the 2019/20 season, which, if it comes to pass, would be too cool to even put into words," Quinn says. "We’ve also discussed the idea of a Fringe Festival show; something along the lines of an interactive play we’d present as the show the Mamas and the Papas never gave. We’re just getting going but in my opinion, with the talent we have in this group, there’s not too much we can’t do."
For more information on the Very Groovy Things, and to see where and when they’re performing next, visit their Facebook page.
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.