Obituaries, Oct. 5, 2023
Sebastian Agnello, a Toronto-based singer/songwriter, died on September 28, at age 71. No cause of death has been reported.
By Kerry Doole
Sebastian Agnello, a Toronto-based singer/songwriter, died on September 28, at age 71. No cause of death has been reported.
A message from the Agnello Family posted on social media reads: "We're incredibly sorry to share the passing of the incomparable Sebastian Agnello. Seb was a beloved husband, father, grandpa, brother, uncle, friend and protest singer. A gifted musician and songwriter, Seb always said 'the guitar is just a prop so I can shoot my mouth off.' And he did. Seb was a true master storyteller - whether they were his stories or ones he found. No matter if he was playing Maple Leaf Gardens, the local watering hole, or his daughters' weddings, he made every room feel like his living room.
"Seb always left an impression. He was kind, generous, and always considerate of others. And he was cool. A lot of people will miss Seb. A private service will be held for immediate family only."
Agnello played professionally from age 13 when he joined the Lords of London, a group formed by a number of his friends from East York Collegiate in Toronto. Late in 1966, the Lords went to RCA studios in Toronto to record their first single for Apex, Corn Flakes And Ice Cream/Time Waits For No One, on a 4 track unit. Their established teen fan club requested Corn Fllakes so often that it shot to #1 in Toronto and soon followed suit in the rest of Canada. It was also number one in Boston, Georgia, and Australia, where it had been released on Decca.
A follow-up single, Popcorn Man/21,000 Dreams, flopped but the band kept playing the Yorkville clubs in Toronto, impressing such local faves as the Ugly Ducklings.
In 1967, the Lords of London played a few US cities, but further commercial success eluded them. The group disbanded, with the members forming prog rock outfit Nucleus. Agnello left after a short stint to go solo.
Both solo and as a bandleader, Agnello released music as Sebastian, SEB, Seb Agnello, Sebastian and S.C.A.B, beginning with the 1971 album Head Roach. The 1983 Sebastian Country album, Full Moon & Welfare Cheques, was especially well-received. In an interview with Bob MacAdory of The Global Television Network, Agnello explained that “rock musicians don’t like punk musicians, punk musicians don’t like jazz musicians, and jazz musicians don’t like anybody, so we decided to put together a band of different types of musicians and play country music so everyone could see that it’s possible to get along." Blue Rodeo bassist Bazil Donovan and drummer Cleave Anderson joined him in both S.C.A.B. and Sebastian Country.
Agnello was long a fixture on the Toronto club scene, especially at Danforth watering hole The Black Swan. He hosted a weekly open mic session there for a very long period, drawing praise from participants for his supportive nature.
In a 2017 Toronto Sun feature, writer Jim Slotek noted, "Sebastian Agnello says his occupation is 'bar musician.' And he has 40-plus years of experience watching the Toronto bar scene’s ups and (these days) downs. 'Sinatra used to call himself a saloon singer. So I feel good about calling myself a bar musician,' says Agnello.
"A long-time side-man of choice for Canadian bands (he’s played on more than 200 albums), Agnello has played strip clubs and dives and remembers a time when 'there used to be over 250 clubs in Toronto that hired musicians from three to six nights a week, paying a decent wage.'
"Agnello’s home club these days is The Black Swan, which has been operating for generations. 'The kids run it now. I started working there for their parents in the ‘70s. I’ve hosted Acoustic Mondays for the last six years. We have music six nights a week,” he said. “That’s 20, 30, 40 musicians a week working there. It would break my heart if it ever closed.”
Veteran Toronto singer/songwriter Brian Gladstone offered this tribute on Facebook: " It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that we bid goodbye to one of the brightest lights on the Toronto music scene. Sadly, self-proclaimed gadfly Sebastian Agnello is with us no more. I've known and worked with Seb for more than 25 years now, and I'm sure he's played Winterfolk to full rooms at least 10 times - and they kept coming.
"I viewed Seb as a protest singer, a controversialist, a dynamic storyteller, and a highly opinionated artist whose political rants were rarely based on reality. Sebastian spent more than fifty years entertaining and sharing his special craft to enthusiastic audiences. The world is truly a far better for Sebastian Agnello being a part of it. RIP my friend. You will be deeply missed."
Toronto musician/broadcaster Danny Marks posted this on Facebook: "Sad to think Seb's gone. Truly a lovely guy with an edge all of his own. He will be remembered and forever loved by his progeny. The love he gave will remain in their hearts. People talk about the "Walk of Fame" and billboards and stuff. it's up to us to remember the fallen in our hearts and minds. He lived as he saw fit. Props!"
Agnello's former bandmate, Bazil Donovan, offered this tribute to FYI: "Sebastian Agnello. I played in a popular local band called The Sharks when Seb and I first crossed paths. We both had many things in common. We were both involved in the New Wave and punk rock music scene in our hometown of Toronto. The year is 1980, and record companies were lining up with contracts for the Sharks to sign. The thing that Seb and I had in common was that while we were both part of the New Music scene, we were also involved in the Country Music scene which was alive and very active in the city. Both Seb and I never worked day jobs, so we looked at the country music scene as a way to support ourselves while we were at the same time pursuing a career writing and performing original rock music of the New Wave and punk persuasion.
"We definitely worked hard doing every gig we could get our hands on. We were Sebastian Country to the folks in the working class honky rinks on what is now West Queen West, and we were SCAB to the New Wave Punk scene. This and a stint backing up Subway Elvis allowed us to keep food on the table and pursue our passion at the same time. SCAB stood for Seb, Cleave and Bazil. Our drummer was Cleave Anderson of the Sharks and later my rhythm partner in the birth of Blue Rodeo.
"Sebastian was a very talented guitarist and singer-songwriter with a history that dated back as far as the mid-60s with Lords of London and Spuff, who opened for Jimi Hendrix at Maple Leaf Gardens. Seb and I stumbled down a lot of roads together and sure had fun doing it. He taught me a lot about music along the way as he was very experienced as both a frontman and a side man. He also was an accomplished keyboard player which he played on the tour out to the wilds of North Dakota on the Western Run of the Subway Elvis tour. We had a lot of fun together and I will hold all those memories with me forever. Many laughs, a few tears and a life lived on his own terms. That is how I will always think of Seb. I am a man who danced to his drummer's beat. RIP my friend. You will be missed."
Sources: Toronto Sun, Facebook
Steve Glenn ( born Steve Oreskovich), an Ontario radio personality and recording artist, died on Aug. 20 at age 80.
Glenn launched his career in radio as a DJ in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, moving on to CKTY (Sarnia), CKBY-FM (Ottawa), CKRY (Calgary), and CFTI (Timmins); before returning to CKTY in Sarnia where after another 5-year stint he retired when the station changed format away from Country music.
While in Ottawa, Steve Glenn recorded the song Plain & Simple Life, written by Terry Carisse and Bruce Rawlins, released on the Ottawa-based Snocan Records label. Glenn was frequently featured on live music events throughout the Ottawa Valley.
Source: Larry Delaney, Cancountry
(Gerald) Keith Lawrence, the founder of BC-based record label Haida Records and manager of Chilliwack and Valdy and The Hometown Band, died on Sept. 17 at age 86.
His passing was noted by his former colleague, Ray Pettinger, in a Facebook post. It read, in part: "Some sad news today…my good friend and Haida Records founder, Keith Lawrence, passed away this morning in Victoria. I learned so much from Keith during our many years working together and as lifelong friends. My condolences go out to Bobbi and the Lawrence family."
For FYI, Pettinger collected the following information: "Keith was a gifted athlete. His passion for hockey, lacrosse, and golf started at a young age and carried through right into his later years. He was drafted by the Boston Bruins NHL hockey team from his junior hockey team in Humboldt, SK. He played for the Victoria Shamrocks in lacrosse. He was a founder of the Saanich Minor League as well as coaching all levels of hockey in Victoria. He coached many NHL hockey players in their early hockey careers. He played Oldtimers hockey into his senior years.
"Keith left the insurance business to follow his love of music, where he managed the careers of The Collectors, Chilliwack and Valdy. In 1972, Keith negotiated a deal with Jerry Moss of A&M Records in Los Angeles. A&M Records Canada would handle distribution in Canada, and A&M LA would have first rights worldwide on all artists signed to Haida. Valdy was the first artist signed to Haida, and the first release was the gold-selling album Country Man, which contained the hit single Play Me A Rock and Roll Song. He was very successful in everything he chose to do."
The On A&MRecords website reports, "The agreement between Haida Records and A&M ran through 1973. At the time, Gerry Lacoursiere, Managing Director A&M Records, noted, "Keith Lawrence has shown he has a keen ear for talent and can direct it to its full potential."
Haida also signed a rock group named Spring from Vancouver. A single, So Far Away, written by Terry Frewer (formerly with Spring) was planned for a February 1973 release but was never released. A Claire Lawrence solo album, Leaving You Free, was released on the Haida label in 1973.
One Haida employee who went on to have a very successful career in the music industry was the late Cliff Jones. He worked as a road manager, overseeing the touring of the Collectors (later Chilliwack) and Valdy. As an artist manager, he worked with the Hometown Band and Shari Ulrich, and while working for Bruce Allen Talent, he co-managed the Payola$.
Keith Lawrence's brother, Claire Lawrence, co-owned Haida with him. Claire was co-founder of Chilliwack, a group Keith Lawrence managed for a period via Haida Productions. Discogs reports that Haida Records "folded around 1974, with its principal act, Valdy & The Hometown Band, moving to A&M."
The Juno-winning Hometown Band was founded in 1975 by Claire Lawrence, and its lineup included notable folk singer/songwriter Shari Ulrich.
As news of Keith Lawrence's passing spread, friends and colleagues quickly paid homage on social media. On Facebook, Chilliwack leader Bill Henderson posted, "I'm sorry to hear that Keith is gone. He was someone who loved music, the energy of it, and the people who could bring it alive with their performances. And he was one tough dude as well. Many of us were very happy to have him on our side. Rest in Peace, Keith and condolences to Bobbi." To FYI, Henderson added, "There are the two main things about Keith that I really appreciated: the first was his awareness of the power and living breathing nature of music, and second was what a tough protector he could be."
Haida also signed a rock group named Spring from Vancouver. A single, So Far Away, written by Terry Frewer (formerly with Spring) was planned for a February 1973 release but was never released.
Ray Pettinger: "I met Cliff in the early ’70s in Winnipeg when he was the road manager for Chilliwack We also worked together at Haida Records on many road trips with Valdy. He had a rough exterior but a very warm heart. I always remember Cliff best in Victoria, driving around in Keith Lawrence’s convertible with the top down, wearing his Leon Russell leather top hat. Cliff had a style all his own."
Sources: Ray Pettinger, Larry LeBlanc, Discogs, Bill Henderson, Shari Ulrich, Facebook
David Russell Batiste Jr., a renowned New Orleans drummer who powered the Funky Meters and many other bands, died on Sept. 30, at age 57, after a heart attack.
The cousin of Jon Batiste, he also played in the Meters, George Porter Jr. & Runnin’ Pardners, Dumpstaphunk, Bonerama, Papa Grows Funk, the Wild Magnolias, the all-star trio Vida Blue, and the Joe Krown Trio, in addition to his own Orkestra from da Hood and Russell Batiste & Friends.
He came to prominence in the late 1980s as the drummer in a latter incarnation of acclaimed New Orleans funk band the Meters, following the departure of original Meters drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste.