Neil Merryweather

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Neil Merryweather
Birth nameRobert Neilson Lillie
Also known asBobby Neilson
Neil Lillie
BornDecember 27, 1945
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
OriginToronto, Ontario, Canada
DiedMarch 28, 2021(2021-03-28) (aged 75)
Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Musician
  • songwriter
  • Vocals
  • bass
Years active1965–2021

Neil Merryweather (born Robert Neilson Lillie, December 27, 1945 – March 28, 2021) was a Canadian rock singer, bass player and songwriter. He recorded and performed with musicians such as Steve Miller, Dave Mason, Lita Ford, Billy Joel and Rick James and released catalogue of albums.


Merryweather was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and began his career in Toronto during the early 1960s, performing under the name Bobby Neilson.[1]

The Just Us and The Tripp[edit]

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 briefly change their name to The Ookpiks (after a native-designed stuffed toy owl that was being promoted by the Canadian government). Because another group was already using that name, they briefly switched to The Sikusis (after a different stuffed toy). After the Canadian government demanded payment for their name, the band 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). Afterwards, 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 & 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. 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. The band remained regularly play 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, Merryweather came up with the new name, The Tripp, in September 1966.

The new group appeared on the first episode of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s TV program, The Sunday Show. They opened for the top band in Toronto, the Mandala, and stole the show and afterwards were approached by Mandala guitarist and friend Domenic Troiano and his manager Riff Markowitz. Riff became the Tripp's manager. One of the Tripp's shows during this period was a performance at Maple Leaf Gardens on September 24, 1966.

The Tripp began to perform at venues like Boris’ Red Gas Room, the Devil's Den, 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 a few years later, Janis Joplin’s backing group Full Tilt Boogie, and the last edition of The Band).

The 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 recruited Marty Fisher (keyboards) and Gordie MacBain (drums) formerly of Bobbie Kris & The Imperials. While in search of a guitarist, Merryweather ran into the drummer from The Staccatos (later to become The Five Man Electrical Band) who told him about guitarist Bruce Cockburn of The Children. Merryweather recruited Cockburn. Rick was picked up by the police for a breaking and entering charge involving a Yorkville Village clothes store and was being held in jail when it was discovered that he was also a draft dodger from the US Navy. Merryweather named the band The Flying Circus.

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", "Mother", "The Elephant Song" as well as Neil's "Last Hoorah" 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 and Massey Hall in Toronto. They also opened for two nights for Roy Orbison at the Capitol Theater in Ottawa. Motown offered them a contract, but Cockburn rejected the deal, refusing to give up song publishing royalties.

Merryweather left The Flying Circus in March 1968, and 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' named after the iron furnace in[2] his grandmother's basement where they rehearsed. Gary Hall was soon being called "Coffee" by Neil's grandmother (the name stuck, though he chose to spell it "Coffi"). The band got three demos together with the help of an engineer friend at Arc recording studio. Friend Bruce Palmer (former bassist for The Mynah Birds and now playing in LA with Buffalo Springfield) was in Toronto and sold the band on going to Los Angeles.

'Merryweather' and subsequent recording career[edit]

The band adopted the name 'Heather Merryweather' after the title of one of the songs they recorded with lyrics by band friend, June Nelson. Heather Merryweather's first gig was to be at the Topanga Coral but the night before they were to play the Coral burned down. The Coral owners quickly rented a store on Ventura Blvd and opened the new club as Big Pink. Heather Merryweather were the first band to play the club. Jimmy chose to part ways from the band. Merryweather took over the vocals and began writing new material. Heather Merryweather later shared the bill with Chicago Transit Authority at the Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood. From that performance, they were signed by the new A&R rep John Gross. Gross became the band's producer. The band decided to shorten their name to 'Merryweather' after the album was completed. Merryweather was at Capitol Records and ran into Linda Ronstadt.

Merryweather's second album, Word of Mouth (released in September 1969), was a double-album recorded in Los Angeles featuring the band with Steve Miller, Barry Goldberg, Charlie Musselwhite, Dave Mason, Howard Roberts and Bobby Notkoff.[2] The group fragmented, with Merryweather quitting after a dispute. Merryweather turned down an offer from Stephen Stills to join Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young as bass player.

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 was 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 J.J. Velker. Merryweather agreed to do the album for the money to support the new band. They did a follow-up album for RCA, Ivar Avenue Reunion, featuring the same basic group plus Goldberg, Musselwhite, and Merryweather's new girlfriend, ex-C.K. Strong singer Lynn Carey.[2] RCA signed the duo as 'Merryweather & Carey'.

Merryweather and Lynn Carey, along with guitarist Kal David and former Merryweather bandmates Roth and Hall, recorded the Vacuum Cleaner album for RCA in 1971.[2] Two tracks that they recorded at Kent Records under the name "Momma and Pappa Rock'n Family" (Kent 4522) were bought by RCA, also found their way onto the Vacuum Cleaner album. Merryweather found the replacement staff to be weak and he left with the idea to form a new group with Lynn out front. Merryweather recruited Coffi Hall as drummer and found guitarist Rick Gaxiola and keyboardist James Newton Howard.[2] Merryweather had put together a new hard rock band which he named Mama Lion in 1972, featuring Carey on lead vocals.[2] He produced a "demo" recording at Paramount studio. Ken Mansfield became the new band's manager and, within a week, sold the band to Artie Ripp's new Family Productions label, which was a new affiliate of Famous Music. The band recorded two albums, Preserve Wildlife (which featured Neil's idea of a 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 this band calling itself Heavy Cruiser. They released two albums, the eponymous Heavy Cruiser (1972) and its followup, Lucky Dog (1973). The band was offered a management contract with Shep Gordon and was booked to open for Alice Cooper on his upcoming tour. Ripp stealed the management. The Alice Cooper tour was lost. After a few small tours of small clubs was arranged by Ripp's management, Mama Lion wound up in Europe where a series of internal disputes caused Merryweather to let guitarist Rick Gaxiola go. He replaced him with Alan Hertzberg from Billy Joel's band. Merryweather produced the second Mama Lion album Give It Every Thing We Got starting it in New York and finishing it in Los Angeles. The internal friction in the band partly caused Lynn Carey's substance abuse and Ripp's constantly saying that she was Mama Lion and not the band. Merryweather, after finishing the production of the album, quit. The double-album that he produced was cut down to a single album and the title was changed to Give It Everything I Got. The cover featured Lynn Carey alone without any band members. The band was sent back to Europe for another string of weak tour dates. The band broke up in Paris and the band members left, leaving Lynn Carey.

In 1974, Merryweather put a new band together called the Space Rangers.[2] Through friend Morey Lathower (VP of A&R at Capitol), he was able to secure time at Capitol Records studios and in two nights he recorded the Space Rangers' first album. Taylor got a deal with Mercury Records and Merryweather was signed. Merryweather bought a Chamberlin keyboard from Sonny & Cher. The band was booked into the Whiskey when the Space Rangers album was released (1974). Merryweather took the band into Village Recorders and, in five days, produced his second album for Mercury called Kryptonite.[2] The label released it in 1975.[2] Merryweather disbanded the Space Rangers due to lack of support. Notable cuts included a cosmic psych rock version of The Byrds' "Eight Miles High" and the David Bowie-inspired single "Hollywood Blvd.", as well as the autobiographical rocker "The Groove".

Merryweather produced two singles for a three-girl-singing-trio he called "Band of Angels", one on Mums Records and one on Midland International. He did three albums at Sound City, The Hollywood Stars, solo artist Kyle, and his own album.

His wife Victoria encouraged him to make music again especially after finding pages of albums and history on the internet. She helped him build a studio in their house. Merryweather hooked up with Jamie Herndon (guitarist/keyboardist) and Dusty Watson (drums). Merryweather was hired by DIC Entertainment to write and produce songs for two children's TV shows, Super Human Samurai Cyber Squad (ABC) and Tattooed Teenaged Alien Fighters From Beverly Hills (USA). Merryweather and Herndon wrote and produced forty eight songs in a month's time for those shows. The trio recorded two albums Hundred Watt Head and The La La Land Blues Band together and continue recording with Herndon, Watson and Hundred Watt Head.

In 2015, he made a guest appearance on the Volume Three album by Janne Stark's Mountain of Power. He sang on the tracks "Hey Serena/Wheel Of Fortune Turning". On the album, Stark also covered Merryweather's songs "Give It Everything We Got/Kryptonite". The album was released on Grooveyard Records.[3] In 2016, they started working on an album under the name Merryweather Stark. The album Carved in Rock was released on CD and double vinyl by GMR Music in 2018.[4] Merryweather was also working on the production of Space Rangers 3 reuniting with drummer Watson.

In 2020, Merryweather Stark released their second album Rock Solid (GMR Music) on CD and LP. Neil also participated on the Volume Four album by Janne Stark's Mountain of Power, where he sang on the songs "In My Eyes" (originally by Three Man Army) and "Sweet Wealth" (originally by the band Rockicks). Late 2020, Swedish label Regain Records started working on re-issuing Neil's Kryptonite and Space Rangers albums. They were re-mastered by Janne Stark, who also mixed the bonus tracks featured on the releases.[5] While recording the Rock Solid album in 2019, Neil and Janne Stark visited the Skeleton Key studios in Las Vegas and teamed up with drummer John Wackerman. The trio wrote and recorded the basic tracks for the album Cosmic Affect in only three days. The album was not released until November 11, 2022, on Metalville Records.[6]

On March 29, 2021, Merryweather died in Las Vegas, Nevada, after a short illness.[7]



  1. ^ Posted by Michael Limnios Blues Network on June 15, 2013 at 11:00pm; Blog, View. "An Interview with Neil Merryweather -- a most interesting career, spanning to all history of Blues & Rock". Retrieved December 24, 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Colin Larkin, ed. (1995). The Guinness Who's Who of Blues (Second ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 266/7. ISBN 0-85112-673-1.
  4. ^ [1] [dead link]
  5. ^ "Neil Merryweather & the Space Rangers - Space Rangers LP/CD/TAPE BUNDLE".
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Merryweather Stark". Retrieved September 28, 2021.