Rock on the rocks.
Rob, Dave, Christian, Ivan and Bruce (former keyboard guy) all lived in the same neck of the woods in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada: the Canterbury corridor (but this ain’t no Chaucer tale).
Growing up there, Sudbury was known as the nickel capital of the world because of its massive mineral resources, the result of an earth-shattering meteorite impact about 1.8 billion years ago. Yep… we lived in a 15km diameter crater (the second largest in the world). And Sudbury has the world’s largest nickel! Today, among the potholes, bingo halls and all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets, Sudbury is the prosperous heart of northern Ontario, bustling with industrial diversity, tourism, education, medical research, economics, entertainment, and more. But enough about Sudbury.
The dawn of a budding friendship between Rob and Tony began in Miss Taylor’s kindergarten class at Churchill Public School; later nurtured while sitting at the back of Mrs. Beal’s second grade class reading Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense… you know the one: “There was a young lady of ____.” Copyright prevents us from further quoting the book!
Musically, Tony was the first of the group to begin formal training (at age 6), on of all things, the stomach Steinway (like every other ethnic kid in town), under the tutelage of world champion accordionist, Iona Reed. Insert your favourite squeezebox joke here ________ (eg. What’s the difference between an accordion and an onion? Nobody ever cried cutting up an accordion!) And he even wore ties and cufflinks then.
Ivan had entered into his own push-me-pull-me battle with the ol’ windbag. The accordion was a really, really popular form of entertainment in 1960s Sudbury. We only had two TV channels: CBC and CBC French (Radio-Canada).
By fourth grade, Doc Kozak from the Sudbury Symphony was recruiting new talent for the youth orchestra, and Rob began playing the viola. Imagine… accordion and the violin’s first cousin… Concerto for Cat and Chainsaw.
By the sixth grade we started the first ever instrumental music program in the elementary schools in town, with the prodigiously fetching Miss Cresswell waving the baton. Hmm. Come to think of it, it was all guys in her class. Christian on alto sax, and Ivan, Tony and Bruce all on clarinet. OK, so we hadn’t discovered cool instruments yet. The alto was like a duck call with plumbing. And the liquorice sticks rounded out the cacophonous din reminiscent of french-fry-addled seagulls on Moonlight Beach.
Bruce was immersed in Conservatory piano lessons, too, but he and Tony would often while away the hours dispatching four-handed novelty tunes over toast and tea.
Mr. Schneider took our seventh-grade class by storm. Sporting a dazzling pair of electric blue suede platform shoes, he built the most ambitious band program the school has ever seen (still to this day). It was then that Rob discovered his own plumbing prowess with the French horn.
By eighth grade, Tony could competently navigate the drumset, the music program grew exponentially, we had junior and senior concert bands, a full-size stage band, and a pop combo called Zero Plus (because we were better than nothing). Frank moved from Timmins and started playing trumpet in the school band in seventh grade.
In the summer of 1973, Tony confirmed his squeezebox mastery by winning a North American title. Then high school started for most of us. If memory serves, Dave was still doing long division.
All of us but Tony went to Lasalle Secondary School. As zoning would dictate in those days, Tony went to Nickel District because it was right across the street from his house. Lasalle was, and still is, highly regarded for its comprehensive, award-winning music program, largely the responsibility of the legendary Joan Mantle. We all participated in music in high school. The Lasalle band travelled extensively throughout Canada and made a memorable trip to Scotland on a band exchange program… but that’s another “whole story”. What happens in Scotland, stays in Scotland… although, a couple shots of single malt and we’ll surely bump our gums!
By 1974, Rob and Christian were refining their skills on the bass and guitar respectively. Dave was taking an interest in what we were doing in their parents’ basement (the music and the home-made wine). It was the ingenuity of dropping an army radio microphone inside the body of a C.F. Martin Sigma classical guitar (replete with frightfully unspeakable distortion) along with Ivan’s synthesizer he hammered out of soup cans, and Tony banging on the food-grade pails Uncle Freddie brought home from Loblaws, that was the rudimentary engineering of a ragtag rock band.
Then Rob (the beloved older sibling role model) bought Dave a Silvertone guitar (Electrohack as we called it) and a Flag amp. Primitive, but at least it had a tube in it and the guitar had pickups (well, kinda). We never gave much thought to a lead singer.
In 1975 Tony cashed in his college tuition savings and bought his first real drumset, a huge kick-ass red vistalite Ludwig rocker set with a 26” bass drum and eight tom toms ranging in size from 6” to 18”, finely tempered to play Momma’s Little Baby. Sahweet!
Alas, the equipment purchases began. Rob sold the cow for three magic beans… no wait… not beans, it was a glorious Rickenbacker fireglo bass and an HH Electronics amp. Christian splurged on a Fender Stratocaster and Bruce started his own Roland keyboard dynasty. The time was ripe to start a band.
But what would we call it?
Silmaril, of course. Silma-whaa? Huh? See, back in 1976, we were big fans (pronounced geeks) of The Lord of the Rings novel. The band name was derived from J.R.R. Tolkien’s LOR prequel, The Silmarillion (his first and last book, begun in 1917 as an introduction to the legends and characters of Middle Earth, and finally completed by his son four years posthumously), in reference to a stolen set of three jewels. The Jewels of Fëanor, were gems created from the essence of the Two Trees of Valinor (Laurelin and Telperion) before the First Age. They were among the most prized of all the wonders crafted by the Elves and were coveted by many. Yeah… I hear the copyright lawyers clawing at the door right now. And we’re nothing but a band of thieves.
So you might say that LOR’s fan base really began with us… no really… you might say that.
The next thing we needed was a place where we could make noise… er, uh… music. We got the royal assent to use the main music room at Lasalle because it already had most of the gear in place… including an incongruously cannibalized drum kit, mammoth amps and a quintessential Fender Rhodes electric piano. “Make it one for my baby, and one more for the Rhodes.” So, every Friday afternoon at about 3.15 when the school cleared out, we set out to build our repertoire… until the custodian evicted us… in her indistinguishable eastern European drawl. We think she said, “O.K. boys, time to go!”
As we built our set list, we also started to attract curious passersby (intramural girls volleyball and the likes). Our one conspicuous deficiency, however, was a lead singer. Enter Frank (hey, this kid has chops), and suddenly we had a band (and the attraction of intramural girls badminton, basketball, powder puff football and the entire cheerleading squad… take that, jocks). Those many Friday afternoons spent watching us in Room 216 crafting our skills spawned an irresistible temptation for a prepubescent Dave. He wanted a piece of that action (the music and the cheerleaders).
Although Dave was not actually a member of the original band, he was there for both (count ‘em… 1, 2) original public performances of Silmaril as a “hired gun.” Yep, we only did two gigs: the Westmount Public School Fun Fair and the McLeod Public School graduation dance, before getting hit by a bus full of Catholic schoolgirls on their way to see the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show… no wait, that wasn’t us.
A modest Traynor PA, six green and red flood lights, and a Moog synthesizer we borrowed for the sole purpose of generating excruciating sound effects… you know, cannon blasts, sirens and the likes. Captivating.
The “basement sessions” followed and yielded three original songs. Dave returned from work one day in time to catch the makings of Bag on Her Head Blues to which he immediately grabbed his Ibanez Artist and jumped in. With draught on tap (the local brewery sold suds in big plastic balls with built-in pumps), countless takes of Love is a Melody, and the two haunting cuts of Where do We Begin?, featuring his guitar solo which to this day still ranks as one of the all-time greatest moments in our past… by the summer of ‘77, Dave was officially part of the brethren!
Then we hit a bit of a dry spell… (crickets…).
Hey! Wake up. We’re half way there.
We all continued to play in other groups. Tony, Frank and Christian gigged with the Sonny Musico Big Band (Tony for 16 years). With veteran mentors like Alfio Cinotti, Vic Comisso, Dick Perras, and Richard Toivonen we absorbed invaluable insight into performing different genres of music. The inimitable Con DiSalle showed us how to groove… and how to set ‘em up and knock ’em down. Tony’s jazz background was hugely inspired and influenced by the sui generis master of the brushes, Keith Gilroy.
Rob and Bruce played in a slick, polished pop band called Timothy; and Dave played with a mom and pop band called Mojo that provided top shelf wholesome entertainment (along with long-time friends Jeff McNeice and another Dave … more on him later). Both groups performed extensively on and off the road.
Silmaril became just a fond memory.
Until one day during a trip home in 1996, Rob decided that it was time to do another gig. He set about on a relentless quest to find everybody… you must understand, by that time everyone (except Tony) had left the crater to find fame and fortune, and everyone had wives (some more than others) and little doobies (except Tony) and so on. But alas, the database was complete and plans were begun for the big reunion fooforah.
Nothing over the top… just 300 or so of our closest friends.
Now, these things don’t just happen overnight, so it wasn’t until November 1998 (about 18 months later) that we had an ambitiously robust set list, and a venue to house the event. Upon arrival at the Steelworkers Hall in Oshawa, the traditional laying-on-of-hands and requisite catching up was augmented by a four-hour set up. We brought a lot of gear. Our intention was to do this once and go our separate ways for likely another 20 years… perhaps our next opportunity to catch up would be while sipping mint juleps on the veranda. But, ya know… if you’ve got the music in you, you need to get it out! And playing together is such a blast we’ve been gigging regularly ever since that fateful night.
Bruce did a few more gigs with us, then opted out of the reunion project. We see him once in a while. We miss him. We’ve adapted our set list from time to time but we’re still covering the greatest tunes from the 1970s. Suffice it to say, we’re geographically challenged… but the long drive is a small price to pay for sharing the joy of music with our audience. We gig regularly in Whitby, Oshawa, Peterborough, Oakville, Toronto and make the trip home to Sudbury when we can. We left an indelible impression in Barbados, where the indigenous gentry really dug our “alternative” music.
OK, back to the other Dave… Cuomo that is. Dave is our go-to drummer when the northern highway is closed because of a snowstorm or Tony is otherwise occupied dispensing some jaunty show tunes and can’t get down to the big smoke. A superbly talented musician, Dave has bailed us out on many occasions. We owe him a sincere debt of gratitude… ‘cause we can’t afford to pay him.
Since we reconnected, we’ve also had the privilege and sheer delight of having some old and new musician friends join us on the boards. Of particular note, the multi-talented Don Rodgers, another life-long friend has shredded with us on vocals, keyboards and tenor sax. Don’s delightfully charming sister, Carol, has graced our stage with her formidable singing chops. Another good friend, Mark Edwards, has taken the vocal lead to new places. On a couple rare occasions, we’ve augmented our set list with a lineup of horn tunes masterfully delivered by Brent Smith and Brad Dow on trumpet, and Kevin Fajzc on trombone, with Don on tenor sax. We’ve indulged in the exceptional wailing guitar of Denis Chaperon. The incomparable and jaw-droppingly stunning, Jess Crowe has upped our game with her top-shelf artistry. The breathtaking and superlative Natalie Crispo schooled us in eloquence and precision.
You never know who may drop in on us.
As our golden age stealthily creeps upon us, we look to the next generation of Silmarillions. Dave’s son, Connor, has proven himself more than worthy to accompany us in various roles. This kid is a pure joy… and frankly, now one of the guys!
So check us out when you get a chance. Rob still brings more new toys to every gig. Christian still hasn’t settled on the ideal guitar/amp combination. Dave still makes the heartiest breakfast. Frank is still hittin’ the stratosphere. Tony still lives in the crater. Ivan is still Ivan, and that’s why we love him!
Rock ‘n roll!