|Origin||Toronto, Ontario, Canada|
|Years active||1969-1972 ; sporadic reunions until 1981|
|Associated acts||A Passing Fancy
Downchild Blues Band
|Past members||John Witmer
John ("B.J.") Bjarnason
Whiskey Howl was a Toronto-based Canadian blues band, most popular between 1969 and 1972. The band is notable as being one of the early Canadian bands promoting and developing blues music in Canada.
- Whiskey Howl was always a great live band, but what truly made it stand out were the undeniable abilities of the band’s two lead vocalists: Pickett, one of the world’s most accomplished ‘harp players’ and the late John Witmer, arguably one of Canada’s most gifted R&B singers.
- Extract from Biography of Michael Pickett; www.michaelpickett.com.
The original band was composed of John Witmer (vocals), Peter Boyko (guitar), Gary Penner (bass), John ("B.J.") Bjarnason (harmonica) and Ron Sullivan (drums). By their second performance, they were an opening act for Led Zeppelin. They later opened for or played with such artists as the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Johnny Winter, Big Mama Thornton, Screaming Lord Sutch, Elvin Jones, Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland, Buddy Guy, Lonnie Johnson and Doug Kershaw.
The band's rapid early success is exemplified by their appearance at the historic 1969 Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert, which was headlined by The Doors and at which John Lennon's Live Peace in Toronto 1969 album was recorded. At the time, the band was less than a year old, with band members still being in their teens or early twenties.
The band's concert performance locations during their first year included the prestigious Convocation Hall, where they opened for Chuck Berry, and Massey Hall, where they opened for Bobby "Blue" Bland, Buddy Guy and Lonnie Johnson, in the latter's last public appearance. The band then returned to Varsity Stadium for the Toronto Rock Festival, on March 26, 1970, where they shared the bill with Canned Heat, Small Faces, Amboy Dukes, The Zombies and Brian Auger and The Trinity, among others.
Band personnel at the time of recording the first album were Richard Fruchtman (bass, vocals), Wayne Wilson (drums), Dave Morrison (guitar, vocals), Michael Pickett (harmonica, vocals) and John Witmer (vocals). Witmer was a founding member and Wilson an early member of the band, in 1969; Pickett had joined in 1970, replacing original harmonica player John ("B.J.") Bjarnason, who had left the band to study to become a chiropractor. The album was produced by noted American producer and engineer Johnny Sandlin, associated with the Allman Brothers Band, among others, and featured Chuck Leavell, then of the Allman Brothers, on keyboards.
The band regrouped on occasion after 1972 and in 1981 regrouped for a recorded reunion performance at Toronto's famed El Mocambo club, resulting in their second, and final, album release. At that time, original members Witmer and Pickett were joined by John Tilden (guitar), Rick Burkett (bass), Ed White (drums), John Johnson (tenor saxophone), Simon Wallis (baritone saxophone) and Dave Dunlop (trumpet).
Band members Michael Pickett and John Witmer went on to further contributions to Canadian blues music. Vocalist Witmer became the lead singer of the Downchild Blues Band during the 1982-1986 period, as well as subsequently continuing as a professional musician until his death in 2004. Vocalist and harmonica player Pickett developed a multiple award-winning solo career.
- 1972 Whiskey Howl (Warner Bros. Records; CD Release 2008, Pacemaker)
- 1981 Live At The El Mocambo (As The Whiskey Howl Big Band; CD Release 2005, re-release 2009, Solid Gold)
- Whiskey Howl - The First Year 1969-70; www.livinblues.com.
- The band's history is contemporaneous to that of the Downchild Blues Band, also formed in Toronto in 1969. While Whiskey Howl existed for only three years, the Downchild Blues Band (later known as Downchild) has performed consistently for four decades; see Downchild Blues Band.
- Performance Poster Advertisement; www.wolfgangsvault.com. Identified year of poster (1979) appears to be in error; ticket prices ($3.50 -$5.50) and reference to Zachariah movie would more likely date the poster as of 1971.
- See The Toronto Rock & Roll Revival Website; www.members.tripod.com/rockandrollrevival. See also Toronto Rock & Roll Revival Promotional Handbill, where Whiskey Howl is first listed, ahead of Bo Diddley and Chicago; www.wolfgangsvault.com. Other listed performers were Junior Walker and the All Stars, Tony Joe White, Alice Cooper, Chuck Berry, Cat Mother and the All Night News Boys, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, Little Richard, Doug Kershaw and The Doors. Kim Fowley was listed as the Master of Ceremonies. Screaming Lord Sutch was later added to the bill, as were the Toronto area bands Nucleus and Milkwood, the latter of which included Malcolm Tomlinson; see Toronto Rock and Roll Revival Website. The appearance of John Lennon, Yoko Ono and The Plastic Ono Band was not publicly known in advance.
- At the time of the band's formation, Witmer was 18 years old, Penner and Sullivan were 19 and Bjarnason was 20. The oldest member of the group, at 23, was Boyko. When Wilson joined the band, he was only 20. See Whiskey Howl - The First Year 1969-70; www.livinblues.com.
- Fruchtman had previously been associated with A Passing Fancy, a Toronto-based band that achieved a degree of national commercial success.
- John Gardiner, Whiskey Howl's Michael Pickett takes centre stage in this week's Classic Vinyl; www.cktimes.ca (The Chatham-Kent Times), posted March 30, 2004. Four decades later, Bjarnason continues with a chiropractic practice: see Beaches Metro Community News Professional Directory; www.beachesmetro.com; retrieved 09-04-28.
- Leavell references his involvement with the album in Chuck Leavell Discography; www.chuckleavell.com.
- Uncredited, Biography of Downchild Blues Band, The Canadian Pop Encyclopedia; www.jam.canoe.ca.
- Witmer died in July 2004; see Toronto Blues Society, Loose Blues News, September, 2004; www.torontobluessociety.com.
- Including Maple Blues Awards on three occasions as harmonica player of the year plus, in 1999, a "Blues With A Feeling Award", honouring a distinguished musical career. The Maple Blues Awards are considered to be Canada's equivalent of the U.S. Blues Music Awards. See Michael Pickett Awards; www.michaelpickett.com.
- allmusic listing; www.allmusic.com.
- allmusic listing; www.allmusic.com.
- As noted by one reviewer in relation to this live performance, "No other band would do an a capella version of 'Rock Island Line'... "Mother Earth", "Early in the Morning" and "Let The Good Times Roll" are standards here now because of this band. These performances still hold up today." John's Blues Picks, November, 2005; www.torontobluessociety.com.