My Woman / Sitting in the Station - 7"
Franklin - 1968
Most people who know Winnipeg at all probably know it for the Guess Who, or perhaps as the place where a teenaged Neil Young cut his first record. But the prairie capital famous for its bitterly cold winters, a pretty decent ballet company and, I suppose, its hockey team, had a sizeable music scene of its own back in the late sixties. One label that seems to have slipped into the undergrowth of obscurity is the locally based Franklin Records, whose roster included a litany of singles that now trigger the salivary glands of collectors the world over. At least one of them, 'Expedition to Earth' by the band of the same name, can easily fetch into the four figures these days.
Franklin released 38 singles and one compilation during its five years of operation from 1967 to 1972, ranging from scorchers like the Expedition to Earth disc to placid AOR fare, like Sugar 'n' Spice's 'Cruel War', a top-ten hit for the label in 1969. Franklin honcho Frank Weiner, whose main concern was his booking agency, Hungry I, has intimated that it was never really his intention to create hits. "The records were simply used to promote the bands and get radio airplay," he recently told the Winnipeg Free Press. Thus, few Franklin releases ('Cruel War' being the most notable) ever surpassed the standard run of a thousand copies.
One Franklin band definitely worth the digging is the Mongrels, a quintet consisting of singer and organist Joey Gregorash, guitarists Duncan Wilson and John Nykon, and a rhythm section of bass player Garth Noseworthy and drummer Larry Rasmussen. In all, the Mongrels recorded five singles during their brief career, a few of which were penned or co-penned by Randy Bachman. Though still a member of the Guess Who at the time, Bachman was looking to ease into the songwriting end of the music industry, and so sometime in early 1968 he and Mongrels' manager Lorne Saifer partnered up to form Sabalora Productions. One of Bachman's more successful co-writes would find its way onto the topside of the Mongrels' second release.
Like much of the AM fare coming out back then, the catchy 'My Woman' treads that fine line between awesomely upbeat and sickeningly saccharine and thus could probably have fit comfortably onto any of the Monkees' first four or five LPs. Cashbox summed things up nicely, calling it "good, clean Top 40 sound with hit potential". Alas, neither 'My Woman' nor its croonier flipside troubled any charts outside the Winnipeg area, though the record did manage a pressing south of the border on the M & L imprint.
Things started to really open up for the Mongrels the following year. "The one near success we had was a song called 'Funny Day' in 1969. It was played on Dick Clark's American Bandstand on Rate-a-Record," Gregorash recently told CM. "The teens did not pass the song because they felt the tempo was too fast for dancing! Later that night we played River Heights Community Club here in Winnipeg and took some friendly razzing. But still, the locals were proud that we even got on such an iconic show." The boys also appeared locally on popular TV shows like Teen Dance Party and Young As You Are as well as on CBC's nationally broadcast Let's Go.
Alas, the Mongrels were not long for this earth, and closed up shop after the release of their final single for RCA Victor in 1970, by which time Gregorash had already left the band for a fairly successful solo career and an equally impressive stint on TV. "I hosted Dance Party on Saturdays, after Bob Burns, the original host for years, handed me the torch," he added, "and during the week, Joey and the Hits, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Young As You Are followed until my solo recording career." Indeed, Gregorash's resume would grow even longer the following year when his 1971 LP North Country Funk scored him a #3 single ('Jodie') and a Maple Leaf Award (for his soulful cover of Neil Young's 'Down by the River').
(For completists on a budget, the Super Oldies label included six of the Mongrels' Franklin sides - along with 51 other tracks! - on the swell 2-CD set, The Story of Franklin Records.)
Sugar and Spice
Cruel War / Not to Return - 7"
Expedition to Earth
Expedition to Earth / Time Time Time - 7"
United Empire Loyalists
No, No, No / Afraid of the Dark - 7"
How'd We Ever Get This Way / Are You Ever Coming Home - 7"
He's My Soul Baby / Pot of Gold - 7"
The Poppy Family
Beyond the Clouds / Free from the City - 7"