Big Sugar

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Big Sugar
Big Sugar at Kitchener Blues Festival 2016.jpg
Big Sugar at Kitchener Blues Festival in 2016
Background information
Also known asAlkaline
OriginToronto, Ontario
GenresBlues, rock, blues rock, alternative rock, acoustic rock, progressive rock, reggae rock[1]
Years active1988 (1988)–2003, 2010–present
LabelsBread & Water, Universal, A&M, Hypnotic
MembersGordie Johnson
Alex Johnson
Ben Richardson
Rey Arteaga
Chris Colepaugh
Past membersTerry Wilkins
Al Cross
Walter Morgan
Paul Brennan
Kelly Hoppe
Garry Lowe

Big Sugar is a Canadian blues, reggae rock band. Their first album was released in 1991 and they continue to release new material (with a break between 2003 and 2010 during which bandleader Gordie Johnson left Toronto and created other musical projects).[2]


Big Sugar officially formed in 1988 in Toronto, Ontario, consisting of vocalist and guitarist Gordie Johnson, bassist Terry Wilkins, and drummer Al Cross, though the three musicians had already played together for several years as a supporting band for Molly Johnson's jazz performances[3] and as an informal jam band with members of the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir. After Molly Johnson returned to rock music with Infidels, she helped her former bandmates to secure a record deal; their eponymous debut album was released in 1991 on Hypnotic Records.

Five Hundred Pounds[edit]

Johnson and Hoppe in 1997

After Wilkins left the band in 1993, Big Sugar recorded the album Five Hundred Pounds with the help of guest musicians, including harmonica and tenor saxophonist Kelly Hoppe, also known as Mr. Chill. Hoppe brought a blues and old-school r'n'b influence into the band's sound. Hoppe would become an official member of the band in September 1994. He would later add keyboards and melodica to his sideman responsibilities. In July 1994, bassist Garry Lowe joined the band. Lowe had moved to Canada in the mid-1970s from Kingston, Jamaica. Soon after arriving in Toronto, he became an in-demand bass player for touring reggae recording artists. He often accompanied them at Toronto's famed Bamboo club on Queen St.W., among other venues. Lowe was a founding member of "Culture Shock", a popular Toronto reggae band. Johnson, an avid reggae maven (and one-time bass player), had been a fan of Lowe's and was overjoyed when he agreed to join Big Sugar as a full-time member.

Big Sugar had slowly built a reputation as an outstanding live band, and Five Hundred Pounds consolidated it; the album sold 10,000 copies in Canada on the strength of their live shows without any real publicity or radio airplay. During this time, Gordie Johnson also recorded an album as Don't Talk Dance, with Tyler Stewart of Barenaked Ladies and Chris Brown of the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir.

In 1995, the band released two EPs; Dear M.F., which featured a cover version of Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy"; and Ride Like Hell. Following the release of these EPs, Stich Wynston left the band and was replaced by Walter "Crash" Morgan. During the band's tour that year, however, Morgan suffered a heart attack, collapsed, and died on stage during a show in Iowa. Longtime band associate Raffa Dean was enlisted to finish the tour, and former Odds member Paul Brennan subsequently joined as the band's new drummer, appearing on one of their most commercially successful albums, 1996's Hemi-Vision.

Hemi-Vision's single "Opem Up Baby" was a notable first for the band, who recorded a French version of that song, "Ouvres-Toi Bébé", for radio stations in Quebec. The song gained widespread airplay in the province, and for their next album, 1998's Platinum-selling Heated, the band recorded a French version of each single they released; the French songs were collected on the 1999 EP Chauffe à bloc. Also that year, Johnson and Hoppe performed several acoustic shows as a duo under the name "Two Fools on Stools".

Cross returned as drummer in 1999. The band also added a new rhythm guitarist, Mojah. In July of that year the band performed at Woodstock 1999.

In 2000, the band released a dub album, Extra Long Life, under the stage name Alkaline. The same year Alkaline toured as a 8 piece band, complete with horn section. Although Johnson has continued to include dub mixes of Big Sugar songs periodically, fans are still waiting for another full dub album.

Brothers and Sisters, Are You Ready? and break-up[edit]

In 2001, Big Sugar released Brothers and Sisters, Are You Ready? Taking their abilities in writing and performing French material to its logical conclusion, a complete track-for-track French version, Brothers and Sisters, Êtes Vous Ready?, was released the same year. Only the English album concluded with a blistering rendition of "O Canada".

The two-CD compilation Hit & Run, featuring a greatest hits disc that included a special edition, limited run live concert performance disc, was released in 2003.

Big Sugar, known for its thundering rock shows performed without set lists, played their last concert before splitting up on December 31, 2003, at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton, Alberta. Gordie Johnson immediately formed the Austin, Texas-based trio Grady, which comprised Chris "Whipper" Layton on drums and Big Ben Richardson on bass. In 2012 he formed the duo Sit Down, Servant!! when he began playing triple neck steel guitar and Moog bass pedals. This project was born out of a mandatory restriction from playing electric guitar after carpal tunnel surgery. SDS toured the world opening for Joe Satriani and also George Thorogood and does occasional shows in their hometown of Austin TX as a 4 piece Latin/dub/jazz band. Kelly Hoppe formed Mr. Chill & The Witnesses, a roots music group. Mojah and Garry Lowe went on to form Truth and Rights Revue, a reggae band, releasing one album.


Big Sugar reunited in 2010 at the Telus World Ski & Snowboard Festival in Whistler, B.C. on April 23,[4] with tour dates through summer 2010. A new member, keyboard player/percussionist/rapper DJ Friendlyness, was added to the line-up. A new studio album evolved and was released in June 2011, titled Revolution Per Minute. Revolution Per Minute was released on both cd and vinyl with the vinyl album containing bonus "Alkaline" dub remixes and additional songs.[5] This release featured the radio hit "Roads Ahead". 2012 saw the first ever DVD release when Eliminate Ya! Live!, a double CD/DVD set that included a new single covering Al Tuck's "Eliminate Ya!" was released.

In 2014, Big Sugar released an album called "Yard Style" which contains uplugged versions of nine of their original songs, plus four previously unreleased songs. This release was accompanied by a 3-month national theatre tour with the ensemble of musicians from the studio recording resulting in 10-12 musicians onstage nightly. The tour was completely acoustic showcasing Johnson's vocal abilities along with the rhythmic group of hand drummers and Big Sugar's song melodies. Their next studio album "Calling All The Youth", was released in 2015 and distributed by eOne Records. 2016 saw the addition of Alex Johnson- Gordie's wife- on percussion and backup vocals (on stage after managing, working and touring with the band since the 90's), after DJ Friendlyness had left the band. In May 2017 long time member Kelly Hoppe retired from touring and Big Sugar. Austin based Rey Arteaga, master of Afro Cuban congas joined the band at this time as the band evolved to a more percussion heavy, guitar based presentation, no longer having keyboards, harmonica or horns. Big Sugar was devastated by the loss of Garry Lowe with his sudden death from cancer on July 7, 2018. In the words of Gordie Johnson "He was my greatest musical collaborator, our wisest elder. We were blessed to be on life's journey together."[6][7] Big Ben Richardson, Johnson's partner in Grady who actually played bass in Big Sugar briefly before Lowe joined the band, returned to the stage. Chris Colepaugh has rounded out the 5 piece band on drums.

November 2018 will see a Universal Music Big Sugar ICON album release on cd.

December 28, 2018, the date of Garry Lowe's birthday, Big Sugar is playing a tribute concert in Toronto, Canada that will have musical friends joining them that include members of Barenaked Ladies, Bedouin Soundclash, Broken Social Scene, Culture Shock, Danko Jones, Dream Warriors, Errol Blackwood, Human Rights, I Mother Earth, Isax Injah, Julian Taylor, Lazo Finn, Leroy Sibbles, Mojah, The New Deal, Adrian Sheriff Miller, Tom Wilson, Willi Williams, Wide Mouth Mason and more.



Year Title Chart positions Certifications
1991 Big Sugar - -
1993 Five Hundred Pounds - Gold
1996 Hemi-Vision 24 Platinum
1998 Heated 18 Platinum
2001 Brothers and Sisters, Are You Ready? 12 Gold
2001 Brothers and Sisters, Êtes Vous Ready?
2011 Revolution Per Minute 34 -
2013 Eliminate Ya! Live! - -
2014 Yard Style - -
2015 Calling All The Youth - -

Live Albums[edit]

  • Eliminate Ya! Live! – 2012
  • El Seven Nite Club Featuring Big Sugar - 1993


  • Eliminate Ya! Live! – 2012



as Alkaline[edit]


Year Title Peak Chart Position Album


1991 "Sleep in Late" × Big Sugar
1993 "Ride Like Hell" × Five Hundred Pounds
"I'm a Ram" ×
"All Over Now" ×
"Wild Ox Moan" ×
1995 "Dear Mr. Fantasy" 59 Dear M.F.
1996 "Diggin' a Hole" 9 Hemi-Vision
"If I Had My Way" 13 11
1997 "Gone For Good" 90
"Open Up Baby" 52 16
1998 "The Scene" 36 1 Heated
"Better Get Used to It" 17 18
1999 "Turn the Lights On" 8
"Girl Watcher" 7
2001 "Nicotina (She's All That)" × × Brothers and Sisters, Are You Ready?
2003 "I Want You Now" × × Hit & Run
2011 "Roads Ahead" 45 5 Revolution Per Minute
"Little Bit a All Right" 13
"If Santa Don't Bring You No Funk" non-album- Christmas single
2012 "Eliminate Ya!" 47 Eliminate Ya! Live!
2015 "Just Can't Leave You Alone" Calling All The Youth
"—" denotes releases that did not chart.
"×" denotes periods where charts did not exist or were not archived.

"Red Rover"- Brothers And Sisters, Are You Ready? (2001)

"All Hell For A Basement"- Brothers And Sisters, Are You Ready? (2001)

See also[edit]


  1. ^
    • "20 Questions – Gordie Johnson has his way ahead of Big Sugar show in Calgary". Toronto Sun. 26 October 2012. Retrieved 5 July 2014.
    • Van Rosendaal, Julie (26 July 2013). "5 Alberta food favourites from Gordie Johnson". CBC News. Retrieved 4 July 2014.
  2. ^ "Big Sugar". Archived from the original on 2010-11-16. Retrieved 2010-08-19.
  3. ^ "Johnson plays the infidel". Ottawa Citizen, August 15, 1991.
  4. ^ "Chart Attack". Chart Attack. Archived from the original on 2010-05-21. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
  5. ^ inc., Canoe. "Big Sugar sweet on hitting the road". Retrieved 2016-10-24.
  6. ^ Lew MacDonald. "Big Sugar bassist Garry Lowe passes away". I Heart Radio. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
  7. ^ "Big Sugar bassist Garry Lowe dead at 65 after battle with cancer". CBC. July 8, 2018.
  8. ^ Peak positions for Big Sugar's albums in Canada:
  9. ^ "Gold/Platinum". Music Canada. Retrieved 2011-07-09.
  10. ^ "Big Sugar Top Singles positions (153 - 316)". RPM. Retrieved 2010-08-08.
  11. ^ "Big Sugar Rock/Alternative positions". RPM. Retrieved 2010-08-08.
  12. ^ Peak positions for Big Sugar's singles on Canadian Active rock Chart:

External links[edit]