Neil Merryweather

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Neil Merryweather
Birth name Robert Neilson Lillie
Also known as Bobby Neilson
Neil Lillie
Born (1945-12-27) December 27, 1945 (age 68)
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Origin Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Genres Rock
Occupations Musician, songwriter
Instruments Vocals, bass
Years active 1965–?
Associated acts The Just Us, The Mynah Birds, The Flying Circus, Merryweather, Mama Lion

Neil Merryweather (born Robert Neilson Lillie on December 27, 1945 in Winnipeg, Manitoba) is a Canadian rock singer, bass player and songwriter. He has recorded and performed with musicians including Steve Miller, Dave Mason, Lita Ford, Billy Joel, Rick James and Wilson Pickett, and released an extensive catalogue of albums.

The Just Us and The Tripp[edit]

Merryweather began his career in Toronto during the early 1960s performing under the name Bobby Neilson.

During 1964, he joined forces with Gary Muir & The Reflections, a local group comprising Muir (vocals), Ed Roth (organ), Bill Ross (guitar), Brian Hughes (bass) and Bob Ablack (drums). Neilson’s arrival prompted the group to part from Muir and the band briefly changed their name to The Ookpiks (after a native-designed stuffed toy owl that was being promoted by the Canadian government). As it turned out that another group was already using that name, they briefly switched to The Sikusis (after yet another stuffed toy). After the Canadian government demanded payment for their name, they settled on The Just Us in early 1965.

In 1965, the group recorded its lone single, "I Don’t Love You" c/w "I Can Tell", for the local Quality Records label. (Some copies list the group as The Ookpiks, some The Sikusis, and some The Just Us.) Soon afterwards, Hughes, Ross and new drummer Al Morrison left to take part in the formation of The Bossmen around singer David Clayton-Thomas).

Neilson, who now went by the name Neil Lillie, befriended ex-Mynah Birds singer Jimmy Livingston in Long and McQuade’s music store where he worked in the backroom as an amp and guitar repairman and asked him to join a new line up of The Just Us. To complete the band, Lillie recruited former C. J. Feeney & The Spellbinders members Stan Endersby on guitar and Wayne Davis on bass.

In early 1966, The Just Us recorded an album’s worth of material at Arc Sound in Toronto, with the tapes being subsequently stolen by their manager. Undeterred, the band remained a popular local draw, regularly playing at Toronto clubs like the Hawk’s Nest, the In Crowd and the Gogue Inn as well as local high schools.

In June 1966, Davis left to play with Bobby Kris & The Imperials and Lillie learned to play bass in two weeks to fill the spot. Around this time, an American duo with the same name appeared on the charts and the group was forced to adopt a new name, The Group Therapy, for its show at the Varsity Arena on June 22, supporting The Byrds. When another local group surfaced with an earlier claim to The Group Therapy name, the band adopted a new moniker, The Tripp, in September 1966.

The new group never had the opportunity to record, but did appear on the first episode of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s TV show “The Sunday Show”. The band remained a regular fixture on the Toronto club scene throughout late 1966 and early 1967, and one of its most prestigious shows during this period was a performance at Maple Leaf Gardens on September 24, 1966 alongside the cream of Toronto’s rock bands.

With its more experimental approach to performance, The Tripp began to perform at more colourful venues like Boris’ Red Gas Room, the Flick and the Syndicate Club. Pianist Richard Bell from Ritchie Knight & The Mid-Knights briefly augmented the group in early 1967 but soon moved on to Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks (and years later, Janis Joplin’s backing groups and The Band).

Mynah Birds[edit]

Soon afterwards, Lillie left the group to take up an offer from singer Ricky James Matthews (later funk star Rick James) in a new version of The Mynah Birds. The band went to Motown studios in Detroit during August 1967 and recorded "It’s My Time", a song written by James and Neil Young during the group's previous incarnation. The project was shelved when the band fell apart.

James and Lillie returned to Toronto to find new musicians. Upon their return, Lillie was introduced to guitarist Bruce Cockburn, formerly of the Esquires. The pair decided to go ahead without James, and recruited with former Bobby Kris & The Imperials members Marty Fisher and Gordon MacBain, who were playing at the Concord Tavern in Toronto at the time.

Bruce Cockburn's Flying Circus[edit]

Signed to Harvey Glatt’s management, the group recorded a number of unreleased tracks in Toronto, including Cockburn’s “Flying Circus”, “She Wants To Know”, “I’m Leaving You Out” and “Mother” as well as Lillie’s “Last Hoorah” and “Elephant Song” and Fisher and MacBain’s “Where Is All The Love”. At the same sessions, the band also recorded songs by Cockburn’s former Children cohort, Bill Hawkins, such as “Merry Go Round”, “It’s A Dirty Shame” and “Little Bit Stoned”.

During late 1967, the band played at Le Hibou in Ottawa and the Riverboat in Toronto and opened for Wilson Pickett at the Capitol Theatre in Ottawa. Motown records offered them a contract, but the band rejected the deal, refusing to give up their song-writing royalties.

After leaving The Flying Circus in March 1968, Lillie reunited with former Tripp members Ed Roth and Jimmy Livingston to form a new band. Adding ex-Fraser Loveman Group guitarist Dave Burt and drummer Gary Hall, the new group, initially dubbed New King Boiler began rehearsing in Lillie’s grandmother’s basement. Gary Hall drank so much coffee that he was soon being called “Coffee” by Lillie’s grandmother; the name stuck, though he chose to spell it “Coffi”.

Merryweather and subsequent recording career[edit]

Renamed Heather Merryweather after a song the band performed with lyrics by band friend, June Nelson, the group soon shortened it to simply Merryweather. In the summer of 1968, the band moved to Los Angeles, and Livingston left the group. Shortly thereafter they were signed to Capitol records and recorded their eponymous debut album, which was produced by John Gross and released in early 1969. Neil Lillie officially changed his last name to Merryweather shortly before the release.

Merryweather's second album, Word of Mouth (released in September 1969), was a double-album of extemporaneous songs recorded in Los Angeles featuring the band jamming with numerous guests, such as Barry Goldberg, Charlie Musselwhite, ex-Traffic guitarist Dave Mason, Howard Roberts and Bobby Notkoff. Although the album was reasonably successful, the group fragmented, with Burt, Hall and Roth leaving to join Rick James in the formation of the band Salt 'N' Pepper. Prior to the break, Merryweather and Hall turned down an offer to join Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young as their rhythm section.

Merryweather flew back to Toronto to recruit replacements, then returned with them to record the album Neil Merryweather John Richardson and Boers for the blues label Kent in early 1970. The resulting album, credited to Merryweather, ex-The Ugly Ducklings drummer Robin Boers, guitarist John Richardson from Nucleus (and before that Lords of London), and ex-49th Parallel member JJ Velker attracted only limited interest, as did a follow-up album for RCA, Ivar Avenue Reunion, featuring the same basic group plus Goldberg, Musselwhite and Merryweather's new girlfriend, ex-CK Strong singer Lynn Carey.

Neil Merryweather and Lynn Carey, along with guitarist Kal David and former Merryweather bandmates Roth and Hall, recorded the Vacuum Cleaner LP for RCA in 1971. Merryweather, Carey, and Hall then formed the band Mama Lion in 1972, featuring Carey on lead vocals. The band recorded two albums, Preserve Wildlife (which featured a controversial photo of Carey appearing to nurse a tiger cub) in 1972 and Give It Everything I've Got in 1973. Merryweather also recorded with the Mama Lion lineup sans Carey, with the band calling itself Heavy Cruiser. They released two albums in 1972, the eponymous Heavy Cruiser and its followup, Lucky Dog.

After Mama Lion disbanded in 1973, Neil Merryweather released a couple of heavy glam rock solo LPs on Mercury Records: Space Rangers in 1974 and Kryptonite in 1975. Notable cuts included a cosmic glam rock version of The Byrds' "8 Miles High," and the Bowie-inspired single "Hollywood Boulevard" released from the album Space Rangers.

Merryweather then traveled to Europe and recorded 1978's Differences with British musicians, including drummer Clive Edwards of Pat Travers and UFO fame, and in 1980 recorded a pop-oriented album with the short-lived band Eyes titled Radical Genes. Following a brief and disastrous stint as Lita Ford's manager, co-writer, producer, and bass player on her debut solo album Out for Blood, he retired from music-making until the late 2000s, when he released an album with his new band, Hundred Watt Head, which is available on iTunes. In the interim he met his wife Vikki, who eventually encouraged his return to music, and worked as a creative resource consultant for the City of Los Angeles Department of Public Works.

Discography[edit]

Sources[edit]