Music was a big part of my life growing up. We had an upright Steinway piano in our family room for my entire childhood. Our father was a great piano player who paid his way through medical school playing for kids’ gymnastics classes at Toronto’s West End Y. My twin brother Tim and I took, or should I say, endured, piano lessons until we were adolescents. And we sang in the church choir for many years.
Back in the early ’70s, Tim and I never missed an episode of the Partridge Family TV show and that fueled our popstar ambitions. After all, our choir-trained singing voices weren’t bad. We were probably about 11 or 12 when we started working up songs and trying out fledgling harmonies in our bedroom. We thought we might just be the next big teen heartthrobs following in the wake of Donny Osmond and David Cassidy. It really had nothing to do with dreams of screaming girls. It was all about the music…We even saved up our allowance and purchased a cheap Radio Shack cassette recorder equipped with two tape decks. In one deck, Bert Kaempfert and his Orchestra would be playing the hits of the 1970s. Then Tim and I would sing overtop and record it all on the second tape deck. As you might imagine, it sounded just like two young kids whose voices hadn’t yet changed singing over muffled elevator music. High-fidelity it wasn’t.
At Sunday night dinners, we’d perform our songs for our family, and any other unsuspecting guests who joined us, just after dessert. Not exactly the Ed Sullivan show, but we thought of it as paying our dues and honing our craft. Ahhh, the optimism of youth.
Tim actually stuck with the piano while I picked up the guitar in my late teens. We performed a couple of times at high school music nights, and while it seemed to go reasonably well, there was absolutely no swooning in the audience. We both started writing songs and probably have amassed 30 or 40 songs between us. Writing songs was how we dealt with whatever was going on in our hormone-driven teenage years. Naturally, most of them were love songs of the unrequited variety.
While in university, some of my engineering classmates and I formed a rock band – Schoolboy. No, I’m not sure who came up with the name or why we agreed to use it. I was the original lead singer, but my voice was a little too John Denver to pull off Jethro Tull’s Aqualung or The Animals’ We Gotta Get Out of This Place, which were both part of the band’s repertoire back then. So, in a moment of inspiration, we advertised on campus for a lead singer. And man did we find one. He was amazing, and filled with talent, passion and energy, as he still is. Andy Maize, co-founder of the great Canadian band, The Skydiggers, was the lead singer in our university rock band. It’s true. We like to think we gave him his start in the music business. Schoolboy played several gigs on campus, sometimes performing to huge crowds who had come to hear the band for which we were opening. To this day, most of Schoolboy gets together at least once a year to relive our glory years and play some tunes. I’ve often said that playing in that band was just about the most fun I’d ever had.
As the decades pile up, I find the subject matter in my songwriting evolving. In recent years, I’ve written a song about a good friend who turned 60, and a love song to my ball hockey league. You might think the hockey song was written as kind of a joke, but it really wasn’t. Entitled More than the Game, it’s about a community of great guys staving off age by playing ball hockey once a week. We don’t play in public very often (for very good reason), and when we do, it’s still a “swoon-free zone.”
I still play my guitars once a week or so and have a few unfinished songs I’ve been working on for years. But the roots of a nearly lifelong love for music stretch back to that upright piano and a cheap Radio Shack tape recorder in our childhood Leaside home.
Terry’s seventh novel, Albatross, was published by McClelland & Stewart in August and is available in bookstores everywhere.