In the early 1970s, a music writer called Domenic Troiano "a musician's
musician." The label acted as a double-edged sword for the Canadian
guitarist. Troiano is undoubtedly a solid musician, utilizing a technical
and intelligent guitar style throughout his career. In his twenty years
as a guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist, Troiano performed many styles
of music ranging from rock to soul to jazz-fusion. On the other hand, the
"musician" label led people to believe that Troiano's music was an acquired
taste. Although technically skilled and often experimental, many true
musicians never enjoy mainstream success. Although he is not widely known
in the music world, Domenic Troiano is regarded as an extraordinary talent
by those who are familiar with his work. He is a Canadian Music Hall of
Fame member, and his signature guitar style can be found on many albums,
including his five solo LPs. In addition to his credits as a guitarist,
Troiano has also composed music for television and film and has produced
albums by other artists.
Domenic Troiano was born in Modugno, Italy on January 17, 1946. His
family moved to Toronto, Canada three years later. In his early teens,
Domenic developed a love for rock and R&B music. One of his earliest
idols was Canada's own Robbie Robertson. "Influences were the early
rock and roll guys... Chuck Berry, Elvis," Troiano said in 1996. "Then
I got into blues stuff. I used to see Robbie Robertson a lot in the bars
because back then, they'd have a matinee where we'd get in on one side of
the bar and just have Cokes." Troiano picked up the guitar at 15. He
taught himself how to play by purchasing chord books and studying the
work of his guitar heroes. Troiano soon found himself in the middle of a
burgeoning music scene in Toronto. Only a few years after picking up the
guitar, Domenic replaced Robertson in rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins's
band. The first song he ever wrote, "The One For Me," became the B-side
of Robbie Lane and the Disciples' first single. Troiano stayed for eight
months until musical differences set in. He continued to develop his own
style of playing. Domenic joined the house band at Toronto's Blue Note
club. The group soon began playing venues besides the famous Toronto
hangout. After leaving the Blue Note, the group named themselves the
Five Rogues, then the Rogues, and later Mandala.
Randy Markowitz became Mandala's manager. Markowitz gave the group an
edge over other Canadian bands, using aggressive promotion tactics and
developing a stunning lighting arrangement for their live shows. Troiano
said, "He came in like a hurricane and the locals were just flabbergasted.
They were shell-shocked because they were used to dealing with 15
year-old kids, and suddenly they're dealing with this entrepreneur."
Wearing matching pinstripe suits onstage, Mandala became known for their
high-energy live shows and undeniable stage presence. In Canada, the
reaction they received was similar to that of the Beatles arrival in
America a few years earlier. By today's standards, the group was harmless, but they often
drove female fans into a frenzy and were criticized by concerned
citizens for their long hair and immoral music. After seeing one of the
band's shows in Toronto, blues great Bo Diddley recommended the group
to Chicago's Chess Records. Mandala recorded their first single,
"Opportunity," at the Chess studios in Chicago, and the song became a
hit in Canada in 1967.
Despite Mandala's popularity, vocalist George Olliver left the group in
mid-1967. He was replaced by Roy Kenner, an old friend of Troiano's.
Atlantic Records signed Mandala and released their debut album in 1968.
Domenic wrote or co-wrote 9 of the LP's 10 songs. Soul
and its single "Love-itis" (an obscure R&B cover written
by Harvey Scales) sold well in Canada but failed to make an impression
in America. Interest in the band began to wane. "For four years we've
been trying to do something as a group, but Canada doesn't give a
damn," said Troiano in 1969. "No one will do anything, no one will
give you any help. The group has never really gotten along with any of
the Canadian radio stations." Mandala fizzled, and Troiano, Kenner,
and drummer Whitey Glan decided to form a new group. They recruited
bassist Prakash John, moved to Arizona, and named themselves Bush.
Troiano said, "I'd met this guy who said, "I've got a place in the desert.
If you wanna get away awhile, come on down." So we did and stayed for
three months, rehearsing new material every day."
Troiano's new band was a musical departure from Mandala. Bush excelled
in simple, blues-influenced songs that were raw without sacrificing
musicianship. Onstage, the band took a more down-to-earth approach to
performing, dressing casually and letting the music speak for itself. By this time, Troiano
had become well-known for developing a unique guitar technique. "Troiano
does things with the electric guitar no one else is doing," wrote L.A.
music critic R.E. Maxon in 1970. "For instance, how about playing
distinctly different melodies simultaneously? Can't be done, you
say? See Bush, and you'll see it done, as your mouth falls open." Reb
Foster, a popular DJ from Los Angeles, traveled to Arizona to see the
band. Foster ran a management company and was affiliated with
ABC/Dunhill through his own production company, Cuordoroy Records.
Impressed with the band, he got Bush signed to ABC/Dunhill.
Bush soon began touring with labelmates Steppenwolf and Three Dog Night.
The band found themselves in the middle of a legal nightmare as they
prepared to release their debut album in the middle of 1970.
"ABC/Dunhill gave Reb his own label, Cuordoroy," said Troiano. "We were
the first new signing to Cuordoroy, and just after we finished our
album, ABC/Dunhill sued them, they sued ABC/Dunhill, and we ended up
being the political football." Their eponymous album disappeared without a trace
after its release. Nonetheless, Bush continued to tour in the southwest
U.S. By the spring of 1971, the band had very little money and only
a small following. In June, after a gig at the Bitter End in Los Angeles,
Troiano, Kenner, Glan, and John decided to pull the plug on Bush. Although Bush was history, Three
Dog Night recorded the band's song "I Can Hear You Calling" and included
it as the B-side of their own single "Joy to the World." The single
turned out to be one of the group's best sellers.
Not long after Bush split, Domenic Troiano began work on his first
solo album. He worked with engineer Keith Olsen and an assortment of
musicians, including his Bush bandmates. As Troiano was finishing his
album near the end of the year, he received a call from Jim Fox and
Dale Peters of the James Gang. Guitarist Joe Walsh had just left the
Cleveland-based power trio, and Fox and Peters were interested in
recruiting Troiano as Walsh's replacement. "They'd liked the Bush and
Mandala records, and they saw me at a club in Cleveland when I jammed
with [Eric] Clapton," said Troiano. "They asked me to join because
they liked my playing during the jam." Domenic was reluctant to sing
lead vocals, so he suggested Roy Kenner as vocalist.
Troiano and Kenner joined the James Gang at the end of 1971, and the new
lineup's first LP, Straight Shooter
, was released in
early 1972. Most of the songs were written by Troiano and Kenner.
Domenic even sang lead on his pensive ballad "Getting Old." The album
was a radical departure from the Walsh-era LPs, featuring a different approach to rock from new musicians fronting the band. Public reaction to
the new group was mixed. At a show in Santa Monica, California, the
band was pelted with eggs, tomatoes, and pennies. Conversely,
writer Alan Niester said that the new James Gang
were "one of the premier live rock bands left in America." For
some, the change went unnoticed. "When I was in the James
Gang," Troiano said in 1974, "people would ask me, 'Where's your Les
Paul, Joe?'" After its release, Straight Shooter
to sell as well as earlier James Gang albums.
While still a member of the James Gang, Mercury Records signed Domenic
as a solo artist and released his album in the summer of 1972.
Recorded at Sound City Studios in Los Angeles, Domenic
featured a wide variety of musical styles. Songs
like "The Writing's on the Wall" and "The Wear and the Tear on My
Mind" were very pop-oriented, while "I Just Lost a Friend" and "Let
Me Go Back" were surprisingly sentimental. "The Answer" and the
10-minute "Repossession Blues" featured some of Troiano's best guitar
work. Many critics liked the album, but like Straight
, the album failed to breakthrough commercially.
The James Gang featuring Troiano and Kenner released Passin'
in late 1972. Once again, the LP featured the
distinct Kenner/Troiano sound, but the songs sounded more focused and radio-ready than before. In addition, guest musicians from Nashville gave
several songs a country feel. Passin' Thru
modestly and received mixed reviews. As the James Gang toured
Japan late in the year, Troiano began thinking about his next solo
In December of 1972, Domenic Troiano began work on his second solo
effort. He rehearsed with a new group of musicians in Los Angeles,
including bassist Willie Weeks, drummer Kenneth Rice, and keyboardist
William Smith. As with his first solo LP, Troiano would co-produce
his second album with Keith Olsen. Released early in 1973,
was an ambitious record that maintained
Troiano's high level of musicianship. The second half of the LP
featured an 18-minute blues medley that originated from a nearly
half-hour long jam. "Once we cut the track, I figured we could do
a lot more with it," said Troiano. "I brought in a horn section
which turned it into something else than the original blues jam."
The album was met with critical praise. "As arranger and producer,
Troiano is interested in encouraging dialogue between instruments,
and he has therefore given a great deal of thought to dynamics and
voicing, qualities often neglected on rock albums," wrote a reviewer
in Guitar Player
. "Troiano does not prove his skill by
cramming four thousand notes into a measure of music, but instead
mercifully gives each tone thoughtful, unhurried, and respectful
treatment." Soon after Tricky
was released, Troiano
left the James Gang. "The James Gang was a fun time for me," Troiano
stated. "They were good guys, but musically, we just weren't close."
In addition, ABC/Dunhill had sued the band for breach of contract
while Troiano was a member. He chose to remain in the group until
the conflict was resolved. Roy Kenner stayed with the group, and
Domenic was replaced by Tommy Bolin.
After releasing two solo albums and two albums with the James Gang
in only 16 months, Domenic's reputation as a "musician's musician"
grew. In early 1974, he was asked to join the Guess Who. The
Canadian group, led by Burton Cummings, had enjoyed massive success in
North America with such hits as "These Eyes," "American Woman," and
"Share the Land." By 1974, the band was looking for a guitarist,
and Troiano agreed to fill the vacancy. The band cleaned up their
image and refined their sound. They released Flavours
in the fall of 1974. Many critics praised the revamped group.
"They have never been so good overall," wrote Bart Testa in
. "Their future work may make the Guess Who the
major band they always should have been." Flavours
sold well and the album's first single, "Dancin' Fool," even made
the American Top 40.
The Guess Who released a second album with Troiano in 1975. Although
Power in the Music
met with good reviews, general
interest in the band was declining. Vocalist Burton Cummings was
burnt out and felt the band was simply going through the motions. In
October, he announced he was quitting the group. "We all said we
had better things to do," Troiano commented. "Our last single sounded
like the Mahavishnu Orchestra, which nobody wanted to accept from
the Guess Who. So I figured I was better off to do my own project
for a while." Also in 1975, The J. Geils Band resurrected the
Mandala classic "Love-itis" on their 1975 Hotline
After the Guess Who split, Domenic moved to Toronto to be closer to
his family. He quickly formed his own group and began experimenting
with jazz-rock, funk, and musical improvisation. Early band members
included Fred Mandel, Keith Jones, Wayne St. John, Dave Tyson, and Jimmy
Norman. Troiano released his third solo album, Burnin' at the
, on Capitol Records in 1977. One of the album's
highlights was "The Outer Limits of My Soul," a duet sung by Domenic
and his wife, recording artist Shawne Jackson. Produced by Richard
Landis and Randy Brecker, the album was a fresh start for a musician
who deserved to be more widely recognized for his talents.
magazine stated, "Troiano displays a fierce blend of
rock, R&B, and soul-tinged numbers with his vocals bearing a gritty
edge." John Swenson of Rolling Stone
came up with an appropriate bunch of songs with challenging
arrangements to keep the all-star session crew busy. He shows
consummate mastery of his instrument, and he's never played better
than he does here."
Domenic Troiano Band
With drummer Paul DeLong, bassist Keith Jones, and keyboardists Jacek
Sobatta and David Tyson backing him, Troiano issued his second Capitol
album in 1978. The Joke's on Me
was recorded at Toronto's
Sounds Interchange and was produced by Terry Brown, best known for
his work with progressive-rock group Rush. The album was a challenging
and inspired effort that was highly overlooked by critics and the
general public. Troiano regrouped and recorded what would be his
next album later in the year. Produced by Domenic himself,
was released in April of 1979. The LP featured a
wide range of styles and former bandmate Roy Kenner occasionally
singing lead vocals. The album instantly spawned a hit, "We All
Need Love," which turned out to be Troiano's most successful
single as a solo artist. The song reached the Top 20 in several
European countries and became a radio smash in Canada.
Domenic was nominated for Producer
of the Year for Fret Fever
at the 1980 Juno
Awards in Canada; he lost to Bruce Fairbairn for his work on Prism's album
. Although the album enjoyed modest
success, Fret Fever
turned out to be
Troiano's last with Capitol Records.
Domenic Troiano reemerged in late 1980 with a new musical project.
Black Market featured Troiano, Bob Wilson, and Paul DeLong in a no-frills
power trio setting. "I've been typecast in a jazz-rock vein because
the last three albums with Capitol had a variety of stuff,
including some jazzy moments," Troiano said in 1981. "Black Market
hopefully will remind people that I've been playing hard-edged,
aggressive music for twenty years. I've been rockin' since high
school and I don't intend to stop now." In the age of
new wave and a minimalist approach to rock, Black Market seemed
very appropriate for the times. Changing of the
, the group's debut album, was issued on independent
label El Mocambo Records in 1981. Despite Troiano's enthusiasm
about Black Market, the project only captured the attention of
the Guard, 1981
After Black Market, Domenic decided to take a break from group
projects. "I got tired of the road, and the bands I played in all
had problems, either with record companies or their own
direction," said Troiano. "I needed a change." He focused his
attention on session work, music production, and television and
film scores. In the 1980s, Troiano worked with such artists as
Moe Koffman, Diana Ross, and Joe Cocker. Into the 1990s,
Domenic composed music for a handful of television shows such as
, Top Cops
, and Counterstrike
. Troiano earned
three Gemini award nominations between 1988 and 1993 for his
work on Hot Shots
. "In the TV and film business, if they
like what you do, they pay you on the
spot," Troiano said in 1989. "It's not like the music business
where, if you sell a bunch of records, you might see some money
in about nine years time."
In 1994, a new British band known as Bush exploded on the rock music
scene. Their debut album, Sixteen Stone
released and enjoyed great commercial success. Around the same
time, Troiano was planning to re-issue the 1970 album by the original
Bush. Legally, Troiano's band still held the rights to the
name. Twenty-five years after its initial release,
was remastered and released on CD along with several unearthed live tracks from the band's last ever show in 1971. England's
Bush, led by Gavin Rossdale, became known as Bush X in Canada to
differentiate between the two groups. As the popularity of
Rossdale's Bush skyrocketed, the new group wanted the X taken away
from their name. Amid the controversy, in March 1996, after
30 years in the entertainment industry, Domenic Troiano was
inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. He was inducted
along with Steppenwolf vocalist John Kay, Lovin' Spoonful guitarist
Zal Yanovsky, Mamas and the Papas vocalist Denny Doherty,
and Blood, Sweat, and Tears vocalist David Clayton-Thomas.
"I'm known as a guitar player, but the truth is I've moved
on," Troiano commented in Maclean's
. "My whole life,
I've been known as a guitar player and I don't play anymore.
Something's wrong... but I guess if I really wanted to play,
By early 1997, the conflict between Troiano and Gavin Rossdale's Bush was still unresolved. Domenic met with the new band to discuss
the problem at hand. In April, Troiano and Rossdale held
a press conference in Toronto to announce that the X would be
dropped from the new Bush's name. "Our band, which I was proud
of, worked 25 years ago and it's ancient history," Troiano said
at the conference. "These guys are out there doing it now and
I think this is a good ending to this." Troiano later commented
on the popularity of both bands known as Bush. "What did they sell,
five million? We probably sold about five, maybe five hundred,"
he laughed. "I tell you what though, it's a good record.
I dare say it's better than theirs."
To the delight of many fans, Domenic Troiano's solo work was
reissued on CD in the late 1990s. Troiano Triple
collected highlights from his Capitol albums,
and The Toronto Sound
featured Domenic's first
two solo albums in their entirety. In November of 2000,
Troiano's song "Just as Bad as You" (a hit for Shawne
Jackson in 1974) was honored by Canada's SOCAN awards
along with other classics including "Summer of '69"
and "Born to Be Wild." Into the new millenium, Troiano
remained immersed in the entertainment industry. He ran
his own studio and independent label, Black Market, and
continued scoring music for TV and film. He even began
making appearances playing guitar at various music events
in Toronto, culminating in a solo performance at the Orbit
Room in May 2004, his first in over twenty years. Troiano
remained productive through the 2000s despite being diagnosed
with cancer a decade earlier. Unfortunately,
Troiano's health began to deteriorate by the end of 2004. He lost
his battle with cancer the following year, passing away at his
Toronto home on May 25, 2005, exactly one year after his Orbit
Throughout his many years in the music business, Domenic
Troiano played the role of guitarist, singer, songwriter, arranger,
producer, and composer. Specifically as a guitarist, he
gained a devoted following in Canada, America, and Europe
that exists to this day. By learning from his heroes
and experimenting on his own, Troiano developed his own
unique sound and a technical skill that only a handful of
guitarists acquire. Although he never enjoyed great
commercial success, Domenic Troiano will be remembered
simply for his impressive body of work. As he
said in the title track of his 1979 album Fret
, "it's the music that counts, not who they
think you are."
By Jeremy Frey, March 2001
Revised September 2005
Mini-biography by Mark Miller