Glenn McDonald (musician)
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Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, McDonald became rebellious as a teen and ended up in a reform school run by the Christian Brothers of Ireland. At the age of fourteen, he discovered the saxophone and Charlie Parker. He eventually moved to Toronto, and became a regular on Canada’s jazz scene from the 1960s through the 1980s.
McDonald migrated to Toronto and joined the Soul Searchers – a well-known R&B band in Canada - in 1969. It was fronted by Dianne Brooks and Eric Mercury, with Terry Logan on guitar, William "Smitty" Smith on organ, and Eric “Mouse” Johnson on drums. Glenn replaced Steve Kennedy on saxophone. Later, Glenn teamed up with arranger Ray Sicora and Jim Heineman to form a film soundtrack production company. The company recorded four compositions by Smitty Smith. Engineered by Phil Sheridan, these sessions included several horn players that would eventually become the Boss Brass, as well as string players from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The plan was for the label to become Canada’s answer to Motown, and the recordings from these sessions are classics, with Glenn the featured soloist on the only instrumental. Unfortunately, these recordings ended up in litigation and were never released.
This setback led Glenn to move to Killaloe, ON in 1970. McDonald and Jim Heineman formed The Killaloe Mountain Band. It was here that the important relationship between McDonald and guitarist Lenny Breau began, with Lenny a frequent visitor. There exist several unpublished recordings with McDonald and Lenny on the bandstand together. In his later life, McDonald would negotiate with guitarist Randy Bachman to sell these recordings, but McDonald died before a deal could be reached.
In 1980, McDonald returned to Toronto. John T. Davis and Jim Heineman collaborated with vocalist Jeanette Brantly to produce a CBC Easter gospel special. The idea was to team up the major singers in the city, including Liberty Silver, Ron Small, Carlene Davis, Jackie Richardson, Wayne St. John, Bobbi Sherron, Erin Malone, and others. McDonald played a rendition of Lover Man, captured on video.
Many of McDonald’s classic solos were never recorded and only exist in the memory of those who were present. Some of his most important performances took place at George's Spaghetti House in Toronto, where he fronted a quartet consisting of Gary Williamson on piano, Bob McLaren on drums, and Dave Field on bass. Glenn does appear on recordings with Claude Ranger, Demo Cates, Michel Donato, Reg Schwager, David and Rob Piltch, Don Thompson, Terry Clarke, P.J. Perry, Jerry Fuller, Neil Swainson, Steve Wallace, Bobby Brough, Lionel Williams, Greg Pilo, Sonny Greenwich, and many others.
McDonald battled with alcoholism and drug addiction for most of his life, and finally recovered in 1994 through the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. He spent the final years of his life sober and working directly with other alcohol and drug addicts. He succumbed to cancer in 1998.
Randy Bachman Controversy
During the last year of his life as his health declined, McDonald continued to negotiate with Randy Bachman to sell the rights to the unpublished recordings of his with Lenny Breau, but a deal was never reached. The tapes mysteriously ended up in Bachman's hands and some of the music was later released on Bachman's own label, but it is not known how Bachman got the tapes nor to whom he paid a purchase price.
The portrait of Glenn McDonald on this page was taken by myself (Bert Bell) in 1995.