Drummer Gerry Wand has previously written of how his music career commenced in Western Canada, including playing with legendary artists Billy Cowsill and John Witmer, among others and, after joining the band Fosterchild, being part of the backup band for Chuck Berry. He’s also written about a memorable “staredown” encounter with a moody Mitch Ryder, as well as spending ten days, early in his recording career, learning from master drummer Larrie Londin.
Fosterchild was a band considered to have great promise, having been signed to Columbia Records for two albums, and later releasing a third, on Edmonton-based Vera Cruz Records. Gerry has so far written about the recording of the first and third albums, as well as about the breakup of the band.
He has also written about some of his favourite Canadian drummers, as well as conveyed his impressions of legendary singer Kathi McDonald, following her untimely passing. Most recently, he wrote about the later career of Fosterchild band co-founder and band namesake, Jim Foster. Here he writes about the recording and related time associated with Fosterchild’s second album, Troubled Child.
It wasn’t very long after the release of the first, self-titled Fosterchild album that we started to get ready for the second album, Troubled Child. The band took a short break, but I didn’t. I had some homework to do, having learned from Larrie Londin on the first album. I had to learn everything he played on the first album , in order to duplicate it live, including his feel, which was not easy, since everyone drummer has his or her own sense of time.
Whenever we weren’t touring in support of the first album, we were either rehearsing to tighten up the live show or working up new songs that Jim Foster and Vern Wills would come up with. They came up with quite a number, amidst healthy competition.
Jim phoned me up one night and played “Behind The Eight Ball” for me on an acoustic guitar. I worked up a unique shuffle beat for it with my sticks on the arm of my sofa, while the phone rested between my ear and my shoulder, as I played along. That was about as far as immediate electronic interplay went, back then. He had put his phone down and was playing and singing into it, not so much different than the way he just recorded A Sailor’s Advice, more than 30 years later.
My oldest son told me he thought I got the idea for Eight Ball from “Reelin’ In The Years”, by Steely Dan. He’s probably right. I must have played “Reelin’ In The Years” a hundred times when it first came out. Certain things just seem to stick with you in your subconscious and pop up when you need them. Too bad, as I really thought I had made that one up. I guess it ends up as my version of a great shuffle beat.
The next day, Vern Wills showed up at rehearsal with “Cut Like a Razor”, another great song. Then “Hot Days Hot Nights” and “Too Late Now” by Foster. It was like that all the time. Always lots of new material from those two, to work through at rehearsals.
At rehearsals, drums, keyboards, bass and electric guitar parts were worked up
Then came the vocals. I didn’t sing, but once Vern, Jim, Barry and Peter blended the vocal harmonies together, some pretty good songs were ready to play live by the end of the week. The vocal harmonies were the icing on the cake. Those guys could really sing. No doubt about it. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that once they put their vocal harmonies together, there weren’t too many bands that I came across in my travels that could touch them. Not here in Canada, anyway.
For the year after the release of the first album, Fosterchild, we toured, and played either as a package with other bands such as Chilliwack and Trooper, or headlined at clubs, all the while working up new material for a new album .
When we weren’t touring, rehearsing new material on the road, we would rehearse new material off the road. When we played clubs, we rehearsed there in the daytime. I wonder if audiences appreciate how much rehearsal time goes into live performances or recordings.
By the time we were ready to record the second album, Troubled Child, there were over 25 songs to choose from. Some of the “rejects” can be found on the Soundcloud website under Handlebar Recording/Fosterchild, which is where we did a lot of pre-production for Troubled Child. There was another good album there, for sure.
Studio “B” at Little Mountain Sound was where the recording of the first album took place. For the second album, it was block booked for a month by our management team, Blair/Boas Management and CBS Records. Lou Blair was the owner of The Refinery Nightclub in Calgary, about which I have previously written, while Don Boas had been an executive at Warner Bros. Records. Lou Blair went on to manage Loverboy, through a relationship he was developing with Paul Dean, at the same time as he was co-managing us.
The block booking at Little Mountain Sound meant we could use it any time, day or night. Bob Rock had moved up the ladder and was assistant to engineer Roger Monk, with Jim Gaines, of Steve Miller fame, producing.
It was nice to see Bob Rock behind the controls. He and I had come a long way since the recording of the first album and in our own separate ways, we put our advice from Larrie Londin to good use. I haven’t seen Bob since then and he has gone on to produce some amazing albums including Aerosmith and Metallica, but I’m pretty sure that he would say that just those few minutes spent with Larrie Londin the year before has influenced the way he still records drums today.
Recording the second album was pretty straightforward. The bed tracks were kept pretty simple in order to leave room for the layers of vocals, guitars and keyboards. Totally different from when we recorded our third album, On The Prowl, which was recorded live with very few overdubs.
In terms of recording the various instrument and vocal tracks, we used the “one take” philosophy instilled in us by Bob Gallo and Larrie Londin. I don’t think we ever recorded a song that wasn’t one take. There aren’t many, if any, “Fosterchild – Take 6” tapes around. We were well-rehearsed and we also did a lot of live playing, so when we went into the studio, we just laid down the bed tracks on the first take. They usually had pretty good energy and a lot of time was left for guitars, keyboards and vocal overdubs by doing it that way. The first album was recorded with all first takes, so we just kept doing it that way. That’s the way we were taught.
To our surprise and disappointment, the second album was released to mixed reviews. It just didn’t have that commercial value to it, they said. Reviewers didn’t see it as having that one hit song that would take us from here to there. There were hits on the album, though; they just didn’t seem to connect.
Even though things started to slow down a bit after the second album didn’t do as well as expected (and CBS tour support vanished—another story), I was still living the dream. I was lucky enough to have been introduced to some great musicians and songwriters, and together we had a pretty good run. We didn’t make millions,–or a million,– or even hundreds, but we had a whole lot of fun and grew together as musicians, recording artists and friends. There is still a bond among us today, decades later.
We added Doug Johnson as a second keyboard player shortly after the release of the album. Doug was brought to us by our co-manager, Lou Blair. Peter just didn’t have enough hands to cover the additional string arrangements that were created in the studio when it came to playing live. Bob Buckley from Straight Lines, and later a sought-after composer and arranger in his own right, was involved in some of those string arrangements. If I recall correctly, the string arrangements were actually played in the studio by members of the Vancouver Symphony.
I played in three different versions of the band, and for me, although they all had their strengths, I think the two keyboard version with Doug Johnson and Peter Sweetzir was the most powerful. Doug had a classical background where as Peter’s strength was in blues and R&B. Together they were pretty impressive. Doug was with us for the better part of a year, but left to begin a project with Paul Dean, which later became Loverboy, and where both were connected by Lou Blair, our co-manager, who later became Loverboy’s manager, and consequently moved to Vancouver from Calgary.
I remember a great summer tour with the original Chilliwack members, including Bill Henderson. As a teenager in the late 1960s, I had seen them performing at the Montreal Forum, as The Collectors. It was a treat for me to be on the same bill as the guys who wrote and recorded “Raino” and “Lonesome Mary”.
One of the best shows I can remember was at the Ottawa Civic Centre with Trooper. We had been opening for them, and it had been fun to “Raise A Little Hell” on the road with the Trooper boys, from time to time.
The Ottawa show very was special, in that my four brothers made the trip down from Montreal for the show. I hadn’t seen them in a few years since I started out on my western adventure. I got the chance to show them what I had accomplished, since the time nearly fifteen years prior, when I bought my first set of drums from a Sears catalogue, after I got my first full time job at the age of 15.
I had a pretty good run personally. I think we all did. And, after Troubled Child, there was still a bit more to come.