9 December 2009
"Ugly Ducklings" were formed in Yorkville Village near Toronto, Canada in 1965 by "Dave Bingham" (lead vocals, harmonica), "Glynn Bell" (rhythm guitar), "Rodger Mayne" (lead guitar), "John Read" (bass guitar), and "Robin Boers" (drums).
In 1965 "The Ugly Ducklings" making its live debut at Cedarbrae High School in Toronto's Scarborough district (the entire band minus "Robin Boers" studied there) and so flourished in the many coffeehouses around the Yorkville district as a Rolling Stones cover band with the cheeky monicker "The Strolling Bones".
In 1966 they had changed their name to "Ugly Ducklings" and begun penning their own songs attracting the attention of the local "Yorkville Records" label.
In the summer of 1966 they secured a residency at "Charlie Brown's Place" in Yorkville, Toronto and were given the opportunity to record their debut single, "Nothin'" / "I Can Tell" Yorktown 45001, 1966).
The Ugly Ducklings: "Nothin'" / "I Can Tell", York Town 45001: first pressings on black label with silver, Canada 1966
Reportedly the single was cut for $300 on a 2-track machine at "Hallmark Studios" released off "Fred White"'s "Yorktown Records"; "Nothin'", a "Dave Bingham"-"Rodger Mayne" collaboration, was on regular rotation on Toronto's AM powerhouse CHUM in a matter of weeks, thanks in part to pushes by DJs "Jungle Jay Nelson" and "Bob McAdorey" eventually peaking at #18 on the RPM Chart in 1966.
"The Ugly Ducklings" surfing on the success of "Nothin'", opened for "The Rolling Stones" ("Mick Jagger" later referred to "The Ugly Ducklings" as his favourite Canadian band) at Toronto's "Maple Leaf Gardens" in June 29th in front of 15,000, as well as a slot at the massive CHUM / Telegram "Toronto Sound" shindig (14 Hours - 14 Big Groups like "The Paupers", "Luke and The Apostles", "Stitch in Tyme" and "Little Caesar and The Consuls" and others in one place at one time! All Seats $2).
The Ugly Ducklings: "Nothin'" / "I Can Tell", York Town 45001: second pressings on colored label, Canada 1966
Paired with a raving version of "Bo Diddley"'s "I Can Tell", the lads hit pay dirt on their first attempt with the snarling swagger of 60s Garage classic "Nothin'".
As singer "Dave Bingham" remembers it, "Like all of our songs, it evolved out of Roger or Glynn (Bell) working up some riff on the guitar and me just singing along to it. In those days I'd make up the lyrics in like fifteen minutes. It was all pretty spontaneous stuff".
So it hardly comes as a surprise that their third single exudes a cocky adolescent swagger. The bitter "Just In Case You Wonder" is all surly Fuzz guitar and snarly vocals.
The choleric guitar solo by "Roger Mayne" shows a virtuosity that belies the band's modest claims to being poor musicians.
"That's Just a Thought that I Had in My Mind" is more carefree, toning the Fuzz guitar down a notch and drizzling it with mellifluous harmonies.
"The Ugly Ducklings"' fourth single "Postman's Fancy / Not For Long" (Yorktown Records Y-45005, 1966), saw them dabbling in Psychedelia to limited success.
The b-side, "Not for Long", is the better of the two tracks here, a summery slice of pop existentialism, languorous and carefree with some lovely lazy harmonica.
"Gaslight" / "Rimb Nugget" (Yorkville Records YV-45013), released in 1967, was their biggest hit and became a top 40 hit across Canada, peaking at #17 on the RPM Chart, and reaching #1 on CHUM 1050 in Toronto on October 2, 1967.
"Gaslight" was a good mixture of 60s Garage-Pop and Psychedelia.
Also that same year "The Ugly Ducklings" released the "Epilogue" / "I Know What You Say" single (Yorkville Records, YV-45017, 1967).
The a-side is an acoustic number while its flip is a decent foray into Psychedelic Pop notable for its sitar work and swirling backwards tapes toward the end.
Along with "The Haunted", "The Ugly Ducklings" were probably the best known Canadian 60s Garage Rock group of the mid-'60s.
Like "The Haunted", they drew heavily from "The Rolling Stones" - as well as bits of "The Kinks" and "The Pretty Things" - for their raunchy R&B/Rock sound, but had the edge over "The Haunted" in that they wrote stronger original material.
The group's debut album "Somewhere Outside", recorded in New York City and Toronto was issued in 1966 [Yorktown YT-500-01 and 1968 "Somewhere Outside" (re-issue) Yorkville] and contained all of the group's early singles.
The opening cut, "Nothin'", was also their finest moment, with its snotty Punk vocals and guitar assault.
"She Ain't No Use To Me" was a Punk shouter with some snappy guitar work, whilst "That's Just A Thought I Had In My Mind" is more restrained, veering more towards pop.
"Do What You Want" was a mid-paced Beat number; "Just In Case You Wonder", featured good Fuzz guitar; "Hey Mama (Keep Your Big Mouth Shut)", was a blistering rocker with loads of Fuzz guitar and Punky vocals from "Dave Bingham"; a snotty version of "Young Rascals"'"Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Any More", the closing cut, "Windy City (Noise At The North End)", an atmospheric instrumental complete with sound effects and more Fuzz guitar.
The album sold well in the Toronto area but due to lack of national distribution the band failed to break out across the rest of the country.
However, the label's decision to bring in producer "Brian Ahern" against the band's wishes, and its failure to distribute "The Ugly Ducklings"' records properly in the US led to the first of several personnel changes in early 1967.
Differences in musical direction led to "Rodger Mayne"'s departure later in the year and "Glynn Bell" followed him soon afterwards. In their place, "The Ugly Ducklings" recruited "Mike McKenna" from "Luke and The Apostles". "Rodger Mayne" subsequently tried to form a new group but nothing happened and he later went on to work in the TV business, producing commercials for ABC.
"Glynn Bell" meanwhile became involved with commercial art.
The new line-up made a few recordings in late 1967 and early 1968, including "Mike McKenna"'s "Blues Fell This Morning" and "Dave Bingham"'s "Rise To Your Calling", which were never issued at the time, but have since appeared on "The Ugly Ducklings" compilation "Duck Tales".
In the spring of 1968, "Ray Novak" was added on organ, but this line-up didn't gel and in June, "Mike McKenna" left to form "McKenna Mendelson".
Guitarist "Dave Kindred" was brought in to fill his shoes.
The revised band line-up made a comeback at Toronto's Flick during July 1968, but no recordings were made.
In early 1969, the band split up, only to reform a few months later as GNU. "Robin Boers" maintained the greatest profile working with "B.B. King", "Charlie Musselwhite", "Neil Merryweather" and the "49th Parallel".