Johnny Stevens was one of the good ones -- a pillar of the London-region
music community, a doer of good deeds, a happy man.
Stevens was a star on the London scene in the 1960s. One band was Johnny
Stevens and his Sextet -- also known as Johnny & the Canadians when under
super manager Saul Holiff's guidance. They were busy in 1964, 1965 and '66
sharing the bill with the Dave Clark Five, recording in New York, earning $1,100
a week at Campbells and playing shindigs at the old London Arena.
Stevens, of St. Thomas, died of cancer on Nov. 23. He was 69.
"He will be missed . . . he was the most even-tempered person," recalls
Sarnia-based guitarist and singer Ronnie Fray. Then a Londoner, Fray led the
Bel-Aires who backed a Stevens vocal group, the Dynatones, perhaps as long ago
as the 1950s.
"They were so popular in that era -- Johnny was just a good man," says Cathy
Atwood, of London, ex-wife of the Sextet's sax player Dave Atwood. He managed
affairs for the band and Cathy Atwood drew up many of the contracts.
Stevens was born in Bridgetown, N.S., on Sept. 1, 1938, the son of a
minister. He sang pop, R&B, rock and gospel over the decades and faced down
racial discrimination in the U.S. from promoters who didn't like a black man
fronting a band.
"Back then, things were beginning to change. Because of colour, John wasn't
always accepted. There were some problems with that," says Sextet guitarist Ken
Gough. "Among musicians, there's none of that."
Stevens ran a bakery in St. Thomas and lived there with Heather, his wife of
46 years, and their family. The St. Thomas Times-Journal has paid tribute to his
life and community service.
In the 1960s, the Sextet was on a bill with the Supremes and, much, much
later, Stevens sang for Prime Minister Jean Chretien. His last group was Raisin'
Cain. He last sang for the public at a London church in October.
Free Press files include a classic shot from the Nov. 3, 1964, concert when
British Invasion popsters the Dave Clark Five rocked the old Treasure Island
Gardens (later the Ice House).
That photo would be used to promote a February gig at Campbells. Says the ad:
"Just returned from a triumphant visit to New York where they cut four new
records for Columbia." Those sides included Gough's A Million Tears Ago, Say
Yeah -- co-written by Gough and organist Lou Crockett -- and Bo Diddley. I'd
love to hear more about those.
Cathy Atwood's records show the band being paid $1,100 a week for a May, 1965
gig at the old 100 Dundas St. club. Another classic photo was used to promote
that Campbells gig. It shows the band in suits, custom-made in their hometown,
strolling at Victoria Park. "We also took some (photos) messing with one of the
cannons -- stuffed paper down the barrel and lit it on fire to simulate the
smoke," says Crockett. "The hard hat in John's hand was for the cannon shot
which didn't work." A Victoria Park official objected -- "which is why we are
all laughing so hard," Crockett recalls.
Amid the cool laughs, another image. "John always wore his silver-grey suit,"
To read James
Reaney's blog, click here.