Domenic Troiano | Biography


In the early 1970s, a music writer called Domenic Troiano "a musician's musician." The label acted as a double-edged sword for the Canadian guitarist. Troiano is undoubtedly a solid musician, utilizing a technical and intelligent guitar style throughout his career. In his twenty years as a guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist, Troiano performed many styles of music ranging from rock to soul to jazz-fusion. On the other hand, the "musician" label led people to believe that Troiano's music was an acquired taste. Although technically skilled and often experimental, many true musicians never enjoy mainstream success. Although he is not widely known in the music world, Domenic Troiano is regarded as an extraordinary talent by those who are familiar with his work. He is a Canadian Music Hall of Fame member, and his signature guitar style can be found on many albums, including his five solo LPs. In addition to his credits as a guitarist, Troiano has also composed music for television and film and has produced albums by other artists.

Domenic Troiano was born in Modugno, Italy on January 17, 1946. His family moved to Toronto, Canada three years later. In his early teens, Domenic developed a love for rock and R&B music. One of his earliest idols was Canada’s own Robbie Robertson. "Influences were the early rock and roll guys... Chuck Berry, Elvis," Troiano said in 1996. "Then I got into blues stuff. I used to see Robbie Robertson a lot in the bars because back then, they'd have a matinee where we'd get in on one side of the bar and just have Cokes." Troiano picked up the guitar at 15. He taught himself how to play by purchasing chord books and studying the work of his guitar heroes. Troiano soon found himself in the middle of a burgeoning music scene in Toronto. Only a few years after picking up the guitar, Domenic replaced Robertson in rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins's band. The first song he ever wrote, "The One For Me," became the B-side of Robbie Lane and the Disciples' first single. Troiano stayed for eight months until musical differences set in. He continued to develop his own style of playing. Domenic joined the house band at Toronto's Blue Note club. The group soon began playing venues besides the famous Toronto hangout. After leaving the Blue Note, the group named themselves the Five Rogues, then the Rogues, and later Mandala.


Mandala

Randy Markowitz became Mandala's manager. Markowitz gave the group an edge over other Canadian bands, using aggressive promotion tactics and developing a stunning lighting arrangement for their live shows. Troiano said, "He came in like a hurricane and the locals were just flabbergasted. They were shell-shocked because they were used to dealing with 15 year-old kids, and suddenly they're dealing with this entrepreneur." Wearing matching pinstripe suits onstage, Mandala became known for their high-energy live shows and undeniable stage presence. In Canada, the reaction they received was similar to that of the Beatles arrival in America a few years earlier. By today's standards, the group was harmless, but they often drove female fans into a frenzy and were criticized by concerned citizens for their long hair and immoral music. After seeing one of the band's shows in Toronto, blues great Bo Diddley recommended the group to Chicago's Chess Records. Mandala recorded their first single, "Opportunity," at the Chess studios in Chicago, and the song became a hit in Canada in 1967.

Despite Mandala's popularity, vocalist George Olliver left the group in mid-1967. He was replaced by Roy Kenner, an old friend of Troiano's. Atlantic Records signed Mandala and released their debut album in 1968. Domenic wrote or co-wrote 9 of the LP's 10 songs. Soul Crusade and its single "Love-itis" (an obscure R&B cover written by Harvey Scales) sold well in Canada but failed to make an impression in America. Interest in the band began to wane. "For four years we've been trying to do something as a group, but Canada doesn't give a damn," said Troiano in 1969. "No one will do anything, no one will give you any help. The group has never really gotten along with any of the Canadian radio stations." Mandala fizzled, and Troiano, Kenner, and drummer Whitey Glan decided to form a new group. They recruited bassist Prakash John, moved to Arizona, and named themselves Bush. Troiano said, "I'd met this guy who said, "I've got a place in the desert. If you wanna get away awhile, come on down." So we did and stayed for three months, rehearsing new material every day."

Troiano's new band was a musical departure from Mandala. Bush excelled in simple, blues-influenced songs that were raw without sacrificing musicianship. Onstage, the band took a more down-to-earth approach to performing, dressing casually and letting the music speak for itself. By this time, Troiano had become well-known for developing a unique guitar technique. "Troiano does things with the electric guitar no one else is doing," wrote L.A. music critic R.E. Maxon in 1970. "For instance, how about playing distinctly different melodies simultaneously? Can’t be done, you say? See Bush, and you'll see it done, as your mouth falls open." Reb Foster, a popular DJ from Los Angeles, traveled to Arizona to see the band. Foster ran a management company and was affiliated with ABC/Dunhill through his own production company, Cuordoroy Records. Impressed with the band, he got Bush signed to ABC/Dunhill.


Bush, 1970

Bush soon began touring with labelmates Steppenwolf and Three Dog Night. The band found themselves in the middle of a legal nightmare as they prepared to release their debut album in the middle of 1970. "ABC/Dunhill gave Reb his own label, Cuordoroy," said Troiano. "We were the first new signing to Cuordoroy, and just after we finished our album, ABC/Dunhill sued them, they sued ABC/Dunhill, and we ended up being the political football." Their eponymous album disappeared without a trace after its release. Nonetheless, Bush continued to tour in the southwest U.S. By the spring of 1971, the band had very little money and only a small following. In June, after a gig at the Bitter End in Los Angeles, Troiano, Kenner, Glan, and John decided to pull the plug on Bush. Although Bush was history, Three Dog Night recorded the band's song "I Can Hear You Calling" and included it as the B-side of their own single "Joy to the World." The single turned out to be one of the group's best sellers.

Not long after Bush split, Domenic Troiano began work on his first solo album. He worked with engineer Keith Olsen and an assortment of musicians, including his Bush bandmates. As Troiano was finishing his album near the end of the year, he received a call from Jim Fox and Dale Peters of the James Gang. Guitarist Joe Walsh had just left the Cleveland-based power trio, and Fox and Peters were interested in recruiting Troiano as Walsh's replacement. "They'd liked the Bush and Mandala records, and they saw me at a club in Cleveland when I jammed with [Eric] Clapton," said Troiano. "They asked me to join because they liked my playing during the jam." Domenic was reluctant to sing lead vocals, so he suggested Roy Kenner as vocalist.

Troiano and Kenner joined the James Gang at the end of 1971, and the new lineup's first LP, Straight Shooter, was released in early 1972. Most of the songs were written by Troiano and Kenner. Domenic even sang lead on his pensive ballad "Getting Old." The album was a radical departure from the Walsh-era LPs, featuring a different approach to rock from new musicians fronting the band. Public reaction to the new group was mixed. At a show in Santa Monica, California, the band was pelted with eggs, tomatoes, and pennies. Conversely, Rolling Stone writer Alan Niester said that the new James Gang were "one of the premier live rock bands left in America." For some, the change went unnoticed. "When I was in the James Gang," Troiano said in 1974, "people would ask me, 'Where's your Les Paul, Joe?'" After its release, Straight Shooter failed to sell as well as earlier James Gang albums.


The James Gang

While still a member of the James Gang, Mercury Records signed Domenic as a solo artist and released his album in the summer of 1972. Recorded at Sound City Studios in Los Angeles, Domenic Troiano featured a wide variety of musical styles. Songs like "The Writing's on the Wall" and "The Wear and the Tear on My Mind" were very pop-oriented, while "I Just Lost a Friend" and "Let Me Go Back" were surprisingly sentimental. "The Answer" and the 10-minute "Repossession Blues" featured some of Troiano's best guitar work. Many critics liked the album, but like Straight Shooter, the album failed to breakthrough commercially. The James Gang featuring Troiano and Kenner released Passin' Thru in late 1972. Once again, the LP featured the distinct Kenner/Troiano sound, but the songs sounded more focused and radio-ready than before. In addition, guest musicians from Nashville gave several songs a country feel. Passin' Thru sold modestly and received mixed reviews. As the James Gang toured Japan late in the year, Troiano began thinking about his next solo album.

In December of 1972, Domenic Troiano began work on his second solo effort. He rehearsed with a new group of musicians in Los Angeles, including bassist Willie Weeks, drummer Kenneth Rice, and keyboardist William Smith. As with his first solo LP, Troiano would co-produce his second album with Keith Olsen. Released early in 1973, Tricky was an ambitious record that maintained Troiano's high level of musicianship. The second half of the LP featured an 18-minute blues medley that originated from a nearly half-hour long jam. "Once we cut the track, I figured we could do a lot more with it," said Troiano. "I brought in a horn section which turned it into something else than the original blues jam." The album was met with critical praise. "As arranger and producer, Troiano is interested in encouraging dialogue between instruments, and he has therefore given a great deal of thought to dynamics and voicing, qualities often neglected on rock albums," wrote a reviewer in Guitar Player. "Troiano does not prove his skill by cramming four thousand notes into a measure of music, but instead mercifully gives each tone thoughtful, unhurried, and respectful treatment." Soon after Tricky was released, Troiano left the James Gang. "The James Gang was a fun time for me," Troiano stated. "They were good guys, but musically, we just weren't close." In addition, ABC/Dunhill had sued the band for breach of contract while Troiano was a member. He chose to remain in the group until the conflict was resolved. Roy Kenner stayed with the group, and Domenic was replaced by Tommy Bolin.

After releasing two solo albums and two albums with the James Gang in only 16 months, Domenic's reputation as a "musician's musician" grew. In early 1974, he was asked to join the Guess Who. The Canadian group, led by Burton Cummings, had enjoyed massive success in North America with such hits as "These Eyes," "American Woman," and "Share the Land." By 1974, the band was looking for a guitarist, and Troiano agreed to fill the vacancy. The band cleaned up their image and refined their sound. They released Flavours in the fall of 1974. Many critics praised the revamped group. "They have never been so good overall," wrote Bart Testa in Crawdaddy. "Their future work may make the Guess Who the major band they always should have been." Flavours sold well and the album's first single, "Dancin' Fool," even made the American Top 40.


The Guess Who

The Guess Who released a second album with Troiano in 1975. Although Power in the Music met with good reviews, general interest in the band was declining. Vocalist Burton Cummings was burnt out and felt the band was simply going through the motions. In October, he announced he was quitting the group. "We all said we had better things to do," Troiano commented. "Our last single sounded like the Mahavishnu Orchestra, which nobody wanted to accept from the Guess Who. So I figured I was better off to do my own project for a while." Also in 1975, The J. Geils Band resurrected the Mandala classic "Love-itis" on their 1975 Hotline album.

After the Guess Who split, Domenic moved to Toronto to be closer to his family. He quickly formed his own group and began experimenting with jazz-rock, funk, and musical improvisation. Early band members included Fred Mandel, Keith Jones, Wayne St. John, Dave Tyson, and Jimmy Norman. Troiano released his third solo album, Burnin' at the Stake, on Capitol Records in 1977. One of the album's highlights was "The Outer Limits of My Soul," a duet sung by Domenic and his wife, recording artist Shawne Jackson. Produced by Richard Landis and Randy Brecker, the album was a fresh start for a musician who deserved to be more widely recognized for his talents. Billboard magazine stated, "Troiano displays a fierce blend of rock, R&B, and soul-tinged numbers with his vocals bearing a gritty edge." John Swenson of Rolling Stone commented, "Troiano came up with an appropriate bunch of songs with challenging arrangements to keep the all-star session crew busy. He shows consummate mastery of his instrument, and he's never played better than he does here."


The Domenic Troiano Band

With drummer Paul DeLong, bassist Keith Jones, and keyboardists Jacek Sobatta and David Tyson backing him, Troiano issued his second Capitol album in 1978. The Joke's on Me was recorded at Toronto's Sounds Interchange and was produced by Terry Brown, best known for his work with progressive-rock group Rush. The album was a challenging and inspired effort that was highly overlooked by critics and the general public. Troiano regrouped and recorded what would be his next album later in the year. Produced by Domenic himself, Fret Fever was released in April of 1979. The LP featured a wide range of styles and former bandmate Roy Kenner occasionally singing lead vocals. The album instantly spawned a hit, "We All Need Love," which turned out to be Troiano's most successful single as a solo artist. The song reached the Top 20 in several European countries and became a radio smash in Canada. Domenic was nominated for Producer of the Year for Fret Fever at the 1980 Juno Awards in Canada; he lost to Bruce Fairbairn for his work on Prism's album Armageddon. Although the album enjoyed modest success, Fret Fever turned out to be Troiano's last with Capitol Records.

Domenic Troiano reemerged in late 1980 with a new musical project. Black Market featured Troiano, Bob Wilson, and Paul DeLong in a no-frills power trio setting. "I've been typecast in a jazz-rock vein because the last three albums with Capitol had a variety of stuff, including some jazzy moments," Troiano said in 1981. "Black Market hopefully will remind people that I've been playing hard-edged, aggressive music for twenty years. I've been rockin' since high school and I don't intend to stop now." In the age of new wave and a minimalist approach to rock, Black Market seemed very appropriate for the times. Changing of the Guard, the group's debut album, was issued on independent label El Mocambo Records in 1981. Despite Troiano's enthusiasm about Black Market, the project only captured the attention of hardcore fans.


Changing of the Guard, 1981

After Black Market, Domenic decided to take a break from group projects. "I got tired of the road, and the bands I played in all had problems, either with record companies or their own direction," said Troiano. "I needed a change." He focused his attention on session work, music production, and television and film scores. In the 1980s, Troiano worked with such artists as Moe Koffman, Diana Ross, and Joe Cocker. Into the 1990s, Domenic composed music for a handful of television shows such as Night Heat, Top Cops, Juvenile Justice, and Counterstrike. Troiano earned three Gemini award nominations between 1988 and 1993 for his work on Hot Shots, Diamonds, and Secret Service. "In the TV and film business, if they like what you do, they pay you on the spot," Troiano said in 1989. "It's not like the music business where, if you sell a bunch of records, you might see some money in about nine years time."

In 1994, a new British band known as Bush exploded on the rock music scene. Their debut album, Sixteen Stone, was released and enjoyed great commercial success. Around the same time, Troiano was planning to re-issue the 1970 album by the original Bush. Legally, Troiano's band still held the rights to the name. Twenty-five years after its initial release, Bush was remastered and released on CD along with several unearthed live tracks from the band's last ever show in 1971. England's Bush, led by Gavin Rossdale, became known as Bush X in Canada to differentiate between the two groups. As the popularity of Rossdale's Bush skyrocketed, the new group wanted the X taken away from their name. Amid the controversy, in March 1996, after 30 years in the entertainment industry, Domenic Troiano was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. He was inducted along with Steppenwolf vocalist John Kay, Lovin’ Spoonful guitarist Zal Yanovsky, Mamas and the Papas vocalist Denny Doherty, and Blood, Sweat, and Tears vocalist David Clayton-Thomas. "I'm known as a guitar player, but the truth is I've moved on," Troiano commented in Maclean's. "My whole life, I've been known as a guitar player and I don't play anymore. Something's wrong... but I guess if I really wanted to play, I would."

By early 1997, the conflict between Troiano and Gavin Rossdale's Bush was still unresolved. Domenic met with the new band to discuss the problem at hand. In April, Troiano and Rossdale held a press conference in Toronto to announce that the X would be dropped from the new Bush's name. "Our band, which I was proud of, worked 25 years ago and it's ancient history," Troiano said at the conference. "These guys are out there doing it now and I think this is a good ending to this." Troiano later commented on the popularity of both bands known as Bush. "What did they sell, five million? We probably sold about five, maybe five hundred," he laughed. "I tell you what though, it's a good record. I dare say it's better than theirs."


Troiano, 1996

To the delight of many fans, Domenic Troiano's solo work was reissued on CD in the late 1990s. Troiano Triple Play collected highlights from his Capitol albums, and The Toronto Sound featured Domenic's first two solo albums in their entirety. In November of 2000, Troiano's song "Just as Bad as You" (a hit for Shawne Jackson in 1974) was honored by Canada's SOCAN awards along with other classics including "Summer of '69" and "Born to Be Wild." Into the new millenium, Troiano remained immersed in the entertainment industry. He ran his own studio and independent label, Black Market, and continued scoring music for TV and film. He even began making appearances playing guitar at various music events in Toronto, culminating in a solo performance at the Orbit Room in May 2004, his first in over twenty years. Troiano remained productive through the 2000s despite being diagnosed with cancer a decade earlier. Unfortunately, Troiano's health began to deteriorate by the end of 2004. He lost his battle with cancer the following year, passing away at his Toronto home on May 25, 2005, exactly one year after his Orbit Room appearance.

Throughout his many years in the music business, Domenic Troiano played the role of guitarist, singer, songwriter, arranger, producer, and composer. Specifically as a guitarist, he gained a devoted following in Canada, America, and Europe that exists to this day. By learning from his heroes and experimenting on his own, Troiano developed his own unique sound and a technical skill that only a handful of guitarists acquire. Although he never enjoyed great commercial success, Domenic Troiano will be remembered simply for his impressive body of work. As he said in the title track of his 1979 album Fret Fever, "it's the music that counts, not who they think you are."

By Jeremy Frey, March 2001
Revised September 2005





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