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The Last Words

The Last Words - I Symbolize You / It Made Me Cry - 7

I Symbolize You / It Made Me Cry - 7"
Columbia - 1966

Michael Panontin
The Last Words got their start in Clarkson, Ontario, in what is now Mississauga, just as the fifties rock and roll of Bill Haley, Elvis Presley and Little Richard was about to give way to the Beatles and all those British Invasion bands. The four - guitarist Graeme Box, bass player Bill Dureen, pianist Noel Campbell and drummer Ron Guenther - played exactly two shows as the Beachcombers (for a whopping $5 and $10 per gig) before changing their name to the Nighthawks, which the guys admit netted them higher fees thanks in part to the popularity of Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks over on Toronto's hopping Yonge Street strip.

By 1964, the lads (now Box, Dureen and Guenther, with bass player Brad Campbell replacing his brother Noel and Dureen taking over the keys) had changed their name to the hipper-sounding Last Words on the advice of their new manager Jack London and seemed ready enough to enter a studio and make a record of their own. Their first disc, a couple of originals for RCA International, 'The Laugh's On Me' and 'She'll Know How', pretty well went unnoticed but at least managed to score the group some steady employment, most notably at the El Patio Coffee House in the buzzing Yorkville neighbourhood.

And so it was back into the studio for a second try, this time for Columbia Records. That record, Box and Dureen's undeniably Beatlesque 'I Symbolize You', was issued in the early fall of 1966 and eventually shot all the way up to the #2 spot nationally. Columbia even went so far as to take out a small ad in the November 5th issue of Billboard touting it as "an instantaneous hit!" (which, in hindsight, seems somewhat strange given that 'I Symbolize You' was never issued south of the border). Even better was the bottom side of the record. Those kids who were curious enough at the time to flip it over would have discovered the catchy, and even more blatantly Beatles-sounding 'It Made Me Cry', surely making this a nifty little double-sider worth digging for.

Of course, the Last Words' career went into lift-off for a spell after the release of 'I Symbolize You'. The group notched slots at Maple Leaf Gardens (on a bill with the Ugly Ducklings, Chad and Jeremy and the Beach Boys) as well as at Massey Hall and the O'Keefe Centre. A third single was issued in early 1967 but by then things were changing pretty fast in the world of pop music, with flower power, acid and free-form radio rendering cutesy Merseybeat clones like the Last Words as obsolete as straight-leg pants and Beatle boots.

Campbell was the only member to go on to bigger things. After a short stint with the Paupers, he and Skip Prokop made the move down to New York, where they both found varying degrees of success. Prokop of course hooked up with Paul Hoffert and eventually formed Lighthouse, while Campbell would audition for Janis Joplin, plucking bass strings for both the Kozmic Blues Band and the Full Tilt Boogie Band, right up to her death in October 1970.

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