Toronto soul singer Wayne McGhie hasn't owned a copy of his album for years. Released in 1970, it's now such a rarity that collectors have pushed the price for original vinyl copies of Wayne McGhie & the Sounds of Joy to around $600 (U.S.). Even second-generation dubs on digital audio tape have been known to sell for up to $100 or more.
But for years, McGhie was all but forgotten after he disappeared from Toronto's vibrant funk, soul and reggae scene of the late 1960s and 1970s, a scene that had been his life. Other Jamaican musicians in the city at the time -- including such historic names in reggae circles as keyboardists Jackie Mittoo and Lloyd Delpratt and, for a spell, singer Alton Ellis -- had lost touch with McGhie. Rumour was that he had died, or was living on the street, or was lost to drugs, or had returned to his native Jamaica.
Like the 1960s and 1970s Toronto soul-funk scene itself, McGhie could have faded from memory if it weren't for the work of a tiny company in Seattle that conducted a manhunt last year to find McGhie, now 57, and re-release his much sought-after album.
"My friend, this is unbelievable," said singer Jay Douglas, recalling McGhie's story and the old scene. Douglas currently heads the Toronto reggae and rhythm & blues band Jay Douglas and the All-Stars and grew up in Montego Bay on the same street as McGhie. He was also one of the few who had seen McGhie roaming Toronto's streets after he drifted away.
The last time had been around 12 years ago. "I went into a Coffee Time to get tea and a doughnut. And who was sitting in a corner? It was Wayne. I was shocked, man. He wasn't even talking music no more. I bought him a coffee, and we talked for about an hour. And that was the last time I saw him.
"It's strange. Here was a man who loved music, was crazy about the music. And [years later]he doesn't want to say nothing about the music. He don't even want to know what's going on. To know who he was -- good voice, good player, happy-go-lucky -- it's a strange feeling, man," Douglas said.
McGhie and Douglas had both practised doo-wop harmonies in the late 1950s at the Montego Bay Boys Club and played the local Palladium theatre with their respective groups.
Douglas left for Toronto in the early 1960s, but McGhie stayed, attracting the attention of people such as Jo Jo Bennett, who performed on the Montego Bay hotel circuit. Bennett later relocated to Canada in 1967 and set up a house band at Toronto's West Indian Federation Club. He then asked McGhie to come to Toronto to play with him.
A wave of Jamaican musicians were settling in Toronto at the time, bringing a blend of styles with them. "It really created a stir, ya' know? Because we used to play all types of music: the funk, the American style, Jamaican style and calypso, all different styles of music," said Bennett, who also continues to play trumpet for the Toronto-based Satellites.
The Montego Bay scene in particular added something extra to Toronto, soul and funk. "In Jamaica, the music in Montego Bay was really influenced by a lot of Americans. People in Kingston dealt mostly with Jamaican music -- the ska and the rock steady [precursors to 1970s roots reggae] But people in Montego Bay dealt mostly in American music. So it was a kind of vibe that came naturally, ya' know?"
It helped turn Toronto, for a time, into a pan-continental crossroads for soul and funk, mashing it up in the clubs with R&B and 1960s rock. Much of it gravitated to Yonge Street, as opposed to Yorkville's folk and hippie scene. "Oh yeah, my friend. Those days, I tell you, when you go to Yonge Street, if you were not dressed to the max, you were looking out of place," Douglas said.
"Those days we would get ready to go to the Sapphire Club, the Brown Derby. But the number-one club of all of them, the grandmaster of them all was Le Coq d'Or. And that's where you had to know your stuff. That's where they were bringing people like the Commodores before they made it big, the Parliaments, Funkadelic. I remember the Blue Notes with Teddy Pendergrass. King Curtis, know what I'm saying?"
At the same time, the WIF Club was a central spot for predominantly black audiences, all making for fertile, ultra-competitive ground for McGhie and other soul-funk acts.
"In those days, it was very hard to get any record company or any big-time record producer to look at an artist, unless something really grabbed that producer or owner of a record company," Douglas said. "We knew about [the recording studio]Sound Canada and Quality [Records] But nobody knew Wayne got an album out of them. You may get a 45 [single] but an album? That shows you how talented and how far ahead he was from the rest of the cats."
To hear W ayne McGhie & the Sounds of Joy today is a revelation with its Jamaican soul-American funk mix, with faint rock-steady inflections. The album, released by Birchmount/Quality Records in 1970, obviously targeted a mainstream audience, although McGhie had an sharper, edgier and yet more soulful voice than, say, Johnny Nash, the soul singer famous for the 1972 hit I Can See Clearly Now. Because the original master tapes couldn't be found, the recent CD version, reissued with unusual care by Seattle-based Light in the Attic Records, had to be re-mastered from a vinyl copy of the record. The LP sold few copies when it was originally released, and a fire at Quality Records' warehouse years ago destroyed the company's remaining stock, making it that much rarer.
After recording the album, only to watch it fall quickly into obscurity, McGhie worked through the 1970s, including a stint with RAM, which was a popular local band connected with the funk group the Hitch-Hikers, according to Kevin Howes, a Vancouver-based writer and DJ who was involved in tracking down McGhie and wrote the CD's thorough liner notes.
But by the early 1980s, McGhie had fallen away from music. The scene had changed. He divorced his wife and after visiting his only daughter Marnie one day at school, he was served with a restraining order not to see her again.
"He didn't live anywhere. He gave up his apartment and kept walking the street. I just didn't know what happened," said his sister Merline Myles who originally taught him to play the guitar and now lives in Etobicoke. McGhie lived for a time with her. "We were on the 11th floor and he would be talking to someone over the balcony. I was scared because I didn't know if the voice he was hearing would ask him to jump."
McGhie was admitted from time to time to the Queen Street mental hospital and was diagnosed as schizophrenic. He was treated with pills, his sister said, but when he felt better, he would stop taking them and would relapse. It was a cycle that repeated for years. "Seeing him walking on the street with no shirt, no shoes. You'd see this man, you wouldn't know he is a good musician," Myles said.
Yet, by the mid-1990s, the few copies of McGhie's album in circulation were commanding astronomical prices, particularly in the hip-hop world. Eventually, two Seattle musicians/record collectors introduced Matt Sullivan of Light in the Attic Records to the disc. "To make a long story short, it blew my mind. There on I said I have to find Wayne and have to find out the history of this record," he said.
This proved easier said than done. Sullivan spent months contacting everyone he could connected to Quality Records: accountants, creative directors, musicians who might have known McGhie, record collectors, record sellers, even barbers -- all to no avail. "No one had a clue," he said.
Eventually, through a friend of a friend, Sullivan was introduced to Douglas, who had grown up with McGhie. Douglas had no idea where McGhie was, but he knew that McGhie had a sister in the Toronto area. He found her weeks later by locating others who knew McGhie from his Montego Bay youth.
After months of searching, Sullivan and Howes finally travelled from the West Coast last January to meet McGhie, Douglas and McGhie's sister at her home and play McGhie the re-mastered version of the album that he hadn't heard for years. "It was definitely one of the most powerful moments of my whole life, pushing play on the CD player and seeing Wayne's eyes while listening to the album," Sullivan said. A reception at a Toronto club was held the following night for McGhie and a host of musicians from the old scene. McGhie declined to show. Reached on the phone recently for this article, he said in a faint voice that he was on medication and preferred not to speak. After only a minute, he sounded tired, in utter contrast to the powerful voice from three decades ago on his album.
But in addition to the added attention, an unexpected surprise resulted from the reissue. An article in the Toronto entertainment newspaper NOW in May mentioned the new CD re-release of the album and was read by McGhie's daughter, who is now in her early 30s. She contacted the record label in the hopes of finding her father and has since reunited with him.
"That's the greatest payday, my friend," said Douglas, who wound up being the crucial link in finding McGhie and reintroducing his music to a larger audience. "This is what makes life interesting."