If any Canadian outfit had the talent to make it south of the border during the '60s, it was Toronto outfit Mandala. Yet despite recording a string of stunning singles, the group's jazz-inspired soul-rock was arguably too experimental for the mainstream rock market and the group remained one of rock's 'might of beens.'

Mandala started out during the summer of 1964 working as the house band at the club Bluenote supporting visiting US soul artists like the Supremes. Keyboard player Josef Chirowski (b. 2 March 1947, Germany), bass player Don Elliot (b. 8 December 1944, Toronto, Canada) and drummer Whitey Glan (b. Finland) had worked together previously in Whitey & the Roulettes and the Belltones.
The trio quickly adopted the name the Five Rogues when former Belltones and original Roulettes singer George Olliver (b. 25 January 1946, Toronto, Canada), and ex-Robbie Lane & the Disciples and Ronnie Hawkins guitarist Domenic Troiano (b. Michaele Antonio, 17 January 1946, Mondugno, Italy, naturalized Canadian in 1955, d. 25 May 2005) joined.
The group quickly became a popular local draw and for a brief period of time worked with David Clayton-Thomas following his departure from the Shays in late 1965. During this period, the Five Rogues also recorded the tracks "I Can't Hold Out No Longer" and "I'll Make It Up To You", which got no further than the demo stage. In September 1966, however, the band decided to reinvent itself and emerged with a new name and image.
Mandala is a symbol (a circle within a circle within a circle) used by Buddhist monks as an aid to contemplation and was chosen by the band's manager, Rafael Markowitz (aka Randy Martin), a former TV clown. Markowitz envisioned the band as being a channel for the audience to release its emotions and the newly named outfit returned to the Toronto scene with its "Soul Crusade," which was met with mass hysteria.
Mandala immediately made a visual impact with their pinstripe, gangster-style suits and were apparently among the first Canadian bands to use strobe lights at their concerts. Markowitz was also a master at manipulating the media and made sure that the band was one of the best paid on the local circuit.
The US market soon beckoned and Mandala spent more and more time south of the border. In November 1966, the band played at West Hollywood's Whisky-a-Go-Go and attracted 1,400 fans to the Hullabaloo a few weeks later by word of mouth. During this busy period, the group opened for the Byrds and the Rolling Stones among others.
In March 1967, the band travelled to New York to perform at Steve Paul's the Scene for an extended engagement, running from 6 March through to 2 April. While in the city, Mandala took part in Murray "the K's" famous "Music in the Fifth Dimension" held at the RKO Theater from 25 March to 2 April. The show featured a number of artists, including Wilson Pickett and the Blues Project as well as British bands Cream and the Who, both making their debut US appearances. The group returned to Steve Paul's the Scene for a second run from 25 April through to 4 May.
Thanks to their dynamic stage act, Mandala had won a recording deal with the KR label in the US during late 1966 and recorded their debut single, "Opportunity" c/w "Lost Love" at Chess studios in Chicago with the Dells providing backing vocals.
The group's debut single stormed into the Toronto top 10 in February 1967 and was quickly followed by another top 10 success, "Give & Take" c/w "From Toronto '67," which was released three months later. In June, Mandala returned to New York to play one off dates at Steve Paul's the Scene and the Action House. Around this time, the band also reportedly began work on an album but it was never finished and Mandala's line up soon underwent several important personnel changes.
During late September, singer George Olliver quit the group in frustration and formed his own band, the Children. The new group never recorded, however, and Olliver subsequently recorded an album for Firebird Records with a new outfit called Natural Gas in 1969 (the album incidentally includes an Olliver/Chirowski instrumental from the Mandala repertoire, "Tribute to Rubber Boots"). He later recorded two singles, "I May Never Get To See You Again" c/w "Shine" for Much Records and "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You" c/w "If I Can Just Be Strong Enough" for the Corner Stone label (with George Olliver and Friends) before playing and recording with Toronto band the Royals in the mid-'70s. He continues to perform regularly on the local circuit.
Keyboard player Chirowski also left at this point and briefly worked for Canadian Pacific Railways and local groups the Power Project and the Freedom Fair before becoming a member of the highly-rated rock band, Crowbar. During the '70s, he worked with Alice Cooper and briefly toured with Lou Reed. Later he did session work for Peter Gabriel.
Mandala meanwhile recruited singer Roy Kenner (b. 14 January 1948, Toronto, Canada) and keyboard player Henry Babraj from local outfit Roy Kenner & the Associates, who'd made the obscure recording "Without My Sweet Baby." The new line up travelled to the US West Coast, and one of its shows included supporting Buffalo Springfield at the Swing Auditorium in San Bernardino, California.
The new personnel signalled a change in the group's fortunes. After Atlantic chief Ahmet Ertegun acted on a tip from producer Phil Spector and bought the group's contract from KR, Mandala returned to the studios to record their Soul Crusade album.
The band reportedly recorded six tracks at Atlantic Studios, New York in February 1968 with Arif Mardin, including the new single "Love-itis" c/w "Mellow Carmello Pallumbo," which was another huge local hit during the summer. The band completed the sessions for its long-awaited album in April and then returned to Toronto where a young hotshot keyboard player named Brian Hutt was brought in to replace Babraj after a memorable audition on Parliament Street. (Hutt, incidentally, later played in George Olliver and Friends.)
The new line-up continued to be a popular local draw and started to gain a modicum of recognition south of the border as well. One of the band's appearances was at the Philadelphia Music Festival in July 1968. New Keyboard player Brian Hutt, however, did not stay long and was replaced by Hugh Sullivan from local group, Mr. Paul and the Blues Council. Sullivan was later credited on the album's sleeve for keyboards (along with Babraj).
Bad luck, however, continued to dog the band; Mandala had intended to tour Canada to promote the record but Elliot was involved in a car accident and the tour was delayed until October.
Despite the setbacks, Soul Crusade received positive reviews in Canada. The album features some choice cuts, including "Every Single Day" co-written by Troiano with Kensington Market singer Keith McKie (when he was with the Vendettas) and Troiano's "World of Love" and "Come on Home." Local R&B singers Jimmy Livingston, Diane Brooks, Eric Mercury, and Shawne Jackson are among the cast of supporting players.
Mandala's final single, the non-album tracks "You Got Me" backed by "Help Me" was only given limited release in December and the group began to fall apart. Despite the positive reviews, the album failed to attract the sales the group had expected (some sources suggest that Ertegun felt artistic differences with Markowitz and Atlantic did not push the album). On 1 June 1969 Mandala played their final date at the Hawk's Nest in Toronto.
Following the group's demise, Elliot went on to play with hard rock outfit Leigh Ashford while Sullivan moved to Los Angeles to briefly work with Toronto bass player/singer Neil Merryweather, before later doing sessions for former Steppenwolf frontman John Kay (alongside Glan).
Kenner, Troiano, and Glan meanwhile brought in local bass player Prakash John and made a lone album as Bush (the live segment also features Sullivan) before splitting in 1971. Glan and John subsequently became top session players, working for the likes of Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others while Kenner and Troiano joined the James Gang after guitarist Joe Walsh left for a solo career. Troiano, who later joined the Guess Who and established a moderately successful solo career, sadly died in May 2005 after a long battle with cancer. Kenner is currently doing jingles and voice-overs and working with a band in Toronto.
While the group's individual members have continued to plough successful careers as performers, Mandala's recorded legacy remains largely undiscovered by the wider record buying public. The fact that the band's Soul Crusade album and the non-album singles have yet to be picked up for a comprehensive CD collection probably doesn't help, although there are rumours that one collectors label may be set to put the record straight. Until then, interested readers may be interested to learn that copies of the band's long lost treasures can be found at the Gemm website.

by Nick Warburton

My First Encounter with the Mandala
by Erick Nelson

In 1967 I was in my first half-decent band, with an outstanding guitar player, Bob Sexton. We liked the Rascals and Paul Revere and the Raiders, and played a lot of Chuck Berry type rock 'n roll. I was still in high school. We were booked for one of those Battle of the Bands that was so prevalent in the late 60's; this one at the Hullabaloo in Hollywood (later, the Aquarius theatre). We were excited because all the big-time groups played here. The stage had a revolving circular platform, so that several bands could set up at the same time. Turns out we lost the Battle, because whoever brought the most friends would win the vote and we didn't bring any friends! This was a Sunday afternoon. After it was over, we decided to hang around and hear the "real" band that was coming on. Looked like they had a lot of cool equipment and would probably be good. The lights went out and some announcer said "On the first day was born..." and the drummer started playing a solo. He had a shaggy Beatle haircut - blond, almost white hair. Did great stuff. We thought - Wow, pretty good. Then we hear "On the second day... " and the bass player appears, playing a fretless bass! I had never seen that before - he just cooked. Then the guitar player - I remember his sound as really brittle, electric, and fast. I look over at Sexton, and he says "not too bad..."
The Hammond B3 player - now he was just smokin'! His B3 (as I had noticed back stage), was cut down on the audience side, so it actually tilted so you could see the keys. The guy really got into playing it, so that he put his hand to his face like it was killing him. The B3 just screamed. By now - I've got goose bumps up and down my arms. The band is playing together, and I'm thinking "Gosh, I wonder what's going to happen next!!"
All the guys are wearing these red and white striped suits, with black shirts and white ties. Normally, you'd think they looked goofy, but not when they played like this. And then "On the fifth day was born... " and this Greek god guy with blond hear comes out, wearing that same striped suit, and the first thing you hear is a Sly Stone/James Brown scream. "Ahgggggg" - one whole note above the note he winds up on - I look over at Sexton again, and by now we're just grinning at each other. I have no idea what song they started with. They did Sam and Dave things like "Hold On, I'm Coming"; and "Knock on Wood" by Eddie Floyd. Songs that are now R&B standards, but were new and current at the time (it was the first time I ever heard "Knock on Wood").
If they had just played about seven songs and gone home, they would have been the best band I had ever heard (including those that played at the Hullabaloo). But - between songs they just never quit playing. George Olliver, the lead singer, would start talking about the Five Steps to Soul. Well, here I am with my girlfriend and the guys in my band, and there's no way I'm going to participate, clap my hands, get up and dance - nothing. But somehow he gets the audience to "put your hands together," then to stand up and dance along. And he's got some kind of message. He's saying that people are too afraid of each other, that they're living in little bubbles, can't reach out to each other. So they can't really love each other. They need to learn the Five Steps to Soul.
Between each song, the message starts coming across, and he's got us in the palm of his hand. He says drugs won't solve it, laws won't solve it. Only coming together will solve it. I don't remember any details of his "message" - it was all visceral, general... and overpowering. After maybe 40 minutes of this, he's got people coming up on stage to "testify" - that is, to dance. Every song is better than the last. Olliver is dancing like James Brown. Huge strobe lights come on across the stage. It's the first time I've ever seen or heard of THAT. He swings the microphone around in a huge circle (a move later to become a rock staple) and it looks frozen in various positions because of the strobe. Now, as they run around the stage, the striped uniforms with black shirts takes on a strange effect as the strobe light dominates.
Well, you can't strobe forever, so they wind it up with some frenzied song - people are rushing the stage, it's becoming actual pandemonium. Olliver throws himself off the stage into the crowd, and people are ripping at his clothes. I see body-guard type guys - BIG guys - rushing out, knocking people's hands off him, pulling him out of the frenzy onto the stage. During all this, the band is going for broke, just pounding. As soon as they get him off stage, the band does a dramatic, but quick, ending. And boom - they're off the stage.
The lights come up, and you see tables turned over, people strewn on the ground, picking themselves up and dusting themselves off, saying "Man, what was that!"
We went home exhausted. We talked about nothing but this experience for days. Naturally, we were naive and hadn't seen all of the best acts in the world - from our high-school dance orientation, this was like playing ball with Michael Jordan. But later, I saw plenty of great groups - Blood, Sweat and Tears, the Rascals, Stevie Wonder, Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt - and they couldn't tie the shoes of these guys. It was trying to compare a soundtrack to the whole movie. What they did was a larger dimension, a different thing.
The Mandala came back to Hollywood a few more times, and by then had a following. We went every chance we got. We had a sax playing friend who was a James Brown fanatic, and after taking him he eventually agreed that these guys were even better than James Brown. THAT'S how good they were. One time we went to hear them at the Hullabaloo, and after they rocked the place as usual, the Grass Roots had to come out and follow them. The Grass Roots had the number 3 hit single in the U.S., "Live for Today," and when they came to play they sounded like Mickey Mouse. The place went nuts. The audience booed them off the stage! I actually saw some people taking one of those small round cocktail tables and pounding it upside down on another one.
Later, we went to see our heroes as usual, and a different lead singer came out. Roy Kenner, turns out it was. He screamed, he danced, he boogalooed, he did it all - he was good, but it wasn't the same. He just didn't seem like he believed it; he didn't have the spark. We went home halfway through the set, crushed.

Mandala - The Atlantic Sessions

Atlantic Studios, NYC, February 1, 1968

13798 Help me
13799 Love
13800 Something kooling
13801 Forget your pride
13802 The answer
13803 I'm losing you

Atlantic Studios, NYC, February 5, 1968

13824 Love-itis

Mandala - Soul Crusade, April 1, 1968

14165 World of love
14166 One short year
14167 To be with you
14168 Can't hold out
14169 Mellow carmello palumbo
14170 Every single day
14171 Don't make me cry
14172 Stop crying on my shoulder
14173 Come on home
14174 Faith

Shirma Sound Studios, Detroit, ?February 14, 1969

16372 Cross country man
16373 I can hear you calling
16374 Why don't you leave me alone
16375 Lazy day
16376 instrumental blues

Live Dates (A Work in Progress)

Advertised gigs (as the Rogues)
January 7 1966 - Jubilee Auditorium, Oshawa, Ontario with Jay Jackson
January 8 1966 - Gogue Inn, Toronto with the Last Words and Jackie Ross & the Jades
January 15 1966 - The Hawk's Nest, Toronto
January 21 1966 - The Hawk's Nest, Toronto

Advertised gigs (as the Five Rogues)
April 9 1966 - The Hawk's Nest, Toronto
April 13 1966 - Whitby Arena, Whitby, Ontario (billed as the Rogues)
April 16 1966 - The Hawk's Nest, Toronto
April 22 1966 - Club Mimicombo, Toronto
April 29 1966 - North Toronto Memorial Arena, Toronto
September 2 1966 - Jubilee Auditorium, Oshawa, Ontario
September 4 1966 - Broom and Stone, Toronto with Spasstiks and Ambassadors
September 9 1966 - Gogue Inn, Toronto with the Ugly Ducklings, Susan Taylor and the Paytons, and Alan MacRae
September 10 1966 - Brampton Orange Hall, Brampton, Ontario
September 10 1966 - Whitby Arena, Whitby, Ontario with Associates, Shawn and Jay Jackson and the Majestics (possibly last date before becoming Mandala)

(As Mandala)
October 9 1966 - Club Kingsway, Toronto with Shawne & Jay Jackson, the Majestics, the Secrets, and the Tripp
Early-mid November 1966 - Whisky A Go Go, West Hollywood with Fever Tree
Early-mid November 1966 - Hullabaloo, West Hollywood
December 16 1966 - Michael Power High School, Toronto
December 17 1966 - George Harvey High School, Toronto
December 26 1966 - The Hawk's Nest, Toronto
December 29 1966 - In Crowd, Toronto

January 7 1967 - The Hawk's Nest, Toronto
January 12 1967 - Ryerson Winter Carnival, Ryerson Theatre, Toronto with Dee & the Yeomen, the Creeps, Dianne Brooks, Eric Mercury, and the Soul Searchers
February 3 1967 - Hawk's Nest, Toronto
February 11 1967 - Orange Hall, Brampton, Ontario
February 11 1967 - Clarke Hall, Port Credit, Ontario
February 12 1967 - Syndicate Club, Toronto (formerly Club Isabella) with the Syndicate Five
March 6-April 2 1967 - Steve Paul's The Scene, New York with Eric Anderson
March 25-April 4 1967 - Murray the K's Easter Rock Extravaganza, RKO Theater, Manhattan, New York with the Blues Project, Cream, Wilson Pickett, Jim & Jean, Chicago Loop, Mitch Ryder, and others
April 8 1967 - YMHA, Toronto
April 15 1967 - Oshawa Civic Auditorium, Oshawa, Ontario with the Tripp, Shawne Jackson, Jay Jackson & the Majestics, Jack Hardin & the Silhouettes, the Midnites, and others
April 16 1967 - Crang Plaza, Downsview, Ontario
April 25-May 4 1967 - Steve Paul's The Scene, New York
June 22 1967 - Bonaventure, Montreal
June 23 1967 - Kin-Oak Arena, Oakville, Ontario
June 24 1967 - Milton Arena, Milton, Ontario
June 27 1967 - The Hawk's Nest, Toronto
June 30 1967 - North York Centennial Centre, Toronto with the Power Project, the Spirit, and Livingstone's Tripp
July 1 1967 - Orange Hall, Brampton, Ontario
July 9 1967 - Broom and Stone, Toronto with Livingstone's Tripp
July 18 1967 - Steve Paul's The Scene, New York
July 30-August 5 1967 - Garden of Stars, Montreal
September 27 1967 - Steve Paul's The Scene, New York (probably Olliver's final show)
October 8 1967 - The Roost, Ottawa (probably Kenner's first show)
November 1967 - Cheetah, Hollywood, California
November 13 1967 - Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino, California with Buffalo Springfield and Yellow Payges

April 17 1968 - Action House, New York with Fallen Angels
May 10-12 1968 - Troubadour, West Hollywood
June 27 1968 - North Toronto Memorial Arena, Toronto
June 30 1968 - Port Carling Surf Club, Port Carling
July 6 1968 - Balm Beach Danceland, Balm Beach, Ontario
July 13 1968 - Jubilee Auditorium, Oshawa, Ontario
July 20 1968 - Biquin Island Hotel, Bracebridge, Ontario
July 24 1968 - Philadelphia Music Festival, Philadelphia with the Who, the Troggs, Pink Floyd, and others
August 3 1968 - Kee-to-Bala, Bala, Ontario with Rifkin
August 4 1968 - Pav-Orillia, Orillia, Ontario with Scarboro Fair
August 5 1968 - Nelson Arena, Burlington, Ontario with the Dana
August 13 1968 - The Hawk's Nest, Toronto
August 17 1968 - Balm Beach Danceland, Balm Beach, Ontario with Mornington Drive
Late August 1968 - Central Canada Exhibition, Ottawa
September 14 1968 - Broom and Stone, Toronto
September 21 1968 - Neil McNeil's High School, Toronto
October 6-20 1968 - Canadian tour (Elliott drops out and others play as quartet with Sullivan covering bass on keyboards)

January 24 1969 - Village Pub, Detroit with Electric Blues Band
April 7 1969 - Detroit Pop Festival, Olympia Stadium, Detroit with MC5, SRC, Amboy Jukes, and others
April 8 1969 - Grand Rapids Pop Festival, Civic Auditorium, Grand Rapids, Michigan with MC5, SRC, Amboy Jukes, and others
May 17 1969 - Whitby Arena, Whitby with the Bedtime Story
May 24 1969 - Pavilion, Orillia, Ontario
June 1 1969 - The Hawks Nest, Toronto

Courtesy of Nick Warburton


WEA Records
Producers: Arif Madrin, Jerry Greenberg, Joe Wissert
Studios: Atlantic, RCA, and Sound Canada

We’re talking history here. White Canadian soul circa 1966, Toronto’s own Mandala were wowing crowds from New York to L.A. with their sweaty sounds. Comprised of Domenic Troiano on guitar, George Olliver, lead vocals, Joey Chirowski on organ, and drummer Penti (Whitey) Glan, the band, originally called The Rogues, started out as a house act at the Club Blue Note. Signed to the Chess label, their first single, "Opportunity" was written and produced by Troiano and in 1967 broke nationally in Canada.
Switching to the Atlantic label, the band were working on their debut and final album, Soul Crusade, and true to the spirit of the times psychadelia dominated the cover. "Love-itis" was picked up as a single and made CHUM’s Top 10 in July of 1968, but the album wasn’t released until almost a year after its recording.
Troiano, who’s now working mostly on TV soundtracks (Night Heat) is tickled pink by WEA’s Classics compilation of Mandala hits. "When Bob Roper (A&R Manager at WEA) came to me with the idea, I thought it was a joke," he recalls, quickly adding, "I’m glad they did it, though.
"There wasn’t much to choose from," Troiano admits.
The biggest challenge putting this piece of vinyl together? "Trying to trace the Chess masters," says Troiano. "We finally found Marshall Chess and went to the warehouse, but there was 10,000 boxes to go through. We never did find them." Instead they had to hunt up mint condition records to remaster.
So why a 1985 release of this material? Does Troiano think there’s a revived interest in Mandala? "No, not really... although I’ve heard Soul Crusade goes for about $30 at record collector’s conventions." He laughs, "I think the old fans just need a new copy of the record." He doesn’t think it was money that motivated Roper’s decision. "Bob was just into the band," he explains, but adds, "He had gotten calls from distributors on a steady basis asking about us, so he felt there was a demand."

Canadian Musician, February 1986

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