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A brief history of domenic troiano

Before the implementation of Canadian content regulations, homegrown music was naturally very much segregated by region without the help of radio to expand a group’s listening audience. One of Toronto’s hottest new sounds in the mid 60’s was a ‘Blue-Eyed Soul’ groove. Ironically, many of the leaders of the new soul-jazz fusion were immigrants from various parts of Europe, bringing a wide array of foreign spices to the mix. Mandala’s origins began in 1965. Italian-born Domenic Troiano left to form his own group, The Five Rogues, in Toronto. Along with vocalist George Olliver, they basically assimilated The Belltones. Previously known as Whitey and The Roulettes, they were comprised of Finnish-born Pentti ‘Whitey’ Glan on drums, bassist Don Elliot, and German-born Josef Chirowski on keyboards and trumpet. They quickly became a popular local draw and worked with David Clayton-Thomas, then landed the gig as the regular house band at Toronto’s Club Bluenote.

In a time not so long ago, guitarist/songwriter Domenic Troiano was caught up in the very middle of the massive cultural changes sweeping the world of music.

Back in the summer of ’66, the crashing waves of the British Invasion had smashed into North America, with bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and The Who leading the way.

The biggest invaders next to The Beatles were The Rolling Stones, who hit Toronto to a frenzied city-wide reaction, much like the Beatles had at New York’s Shea Stadium two years earlier.  CHUM-AM radio ran a contest to find two “T.O.” bands to open the Stones’ show at Maple Leaf Gardens, and mobilized “Hogtown” fans, already pumped by the Stones’ appearance, chose the Rogues and the Ugly Ducklings. Each of these hip bands was helping to create another unique musical genre, the “Toronto Sound” — full of the blues, rock, and a lot of soul.

The Rogues and Troiano opened for the Rolling Stones in 1966

The Rogues’ flashy lead guitarist was twenty-year-old Domenic Troiano, who got his younger brother Frank as a “roadie” into the hockey arena, packed with thousands of deliriously happy fans. The Ugly Ducklings opened to a great response, followed by the Rogues, who then earned a rapturous reception from their fans. The air was electric, the kids wild. The McCoys (with Rick Derringer), the Standells, and the Syndicate of Sound followed next. Wow! But things were just getting started.

After the concert promoters had served up such a tasty entree, it was time for the mind-blowing, main course. Watching from backstage for this entire musical repast was fifteen-year-old Frank Troiano, with eyes wide open. Can you imagine the colours, sights and sounds he witnessed? Frank recalls fans swooning and screaming, then losing their freaking minds for Jagger and his bandmates.

“Donnie” playing his famous 1963 Fender Telecaster

The younger Troiano enthusiastically recalls being so proud of upcoming star and brother “Donnie” and even happier that he’d been allowed into this historic moment — eleven years later in 1977, the Stones returned to Toronto to infamously play at the El Mocambo Club, secretly billed as “The Cockroaches.”

Anyway, Frank brings us right back into that summer night in ’66:

“One of the swooning fans seated behind the stage let herself down from above and rushed towards Jagger, but she was restrained. Encouraged, many more jumped on the stage. It was pandemonium, even more so when the Stones performed their new hit ‘Satisfaction.’ After doing some frenzied encores, the band rushed off stage. But I took my cue to head onto the stage and saw that the fans had thrown all kinds of trinkets, bracelets, and film containers with phone numbers. I waved at the fans as if I was meant to be there. My brother Donnie had gone back into the dressing room after the Stones’ set, and then came out. He was startled to see me onstage, but smiling at my boldness, he told me to get off, as it was time to go home. So I did my only duty that night by carrying his special ’63 Telecaster into the car. It was the beginning of my future career of being a roadie and road manager for Donnie’s later bands.”

This is where this writer comes in.

Ten year later in 1976, I was a cub reporter, still in school, when I sought out the Domenic Troiano Band at the famous Colonial club on Toronto’s Yonge Street. After ten glorious years, playing with the Mandala, the James Gang, the Guess Who and others, while working with the crème de la crème of musicians from New York to Chicago and Los Angeles, Domenic had set out on his solo career. In another ten years, his multi-channeled music path had led him to scoring music for network TV and movies.

But that night at the Colonial, Donnie befriended this reporter, and he became my first music legend interview. In that time period from ‘76-‘80, this young reporter also interviewed the likes of Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Townsend, YES, the lovely young Wilson sisters of Heart, the dynamic trio of RUSH, among others on the burgeoning Canadian music scene — many have gone onto the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But the “Almost Famous” start to my own writing career began with interviewing Donnie, who later introduced me to the world of television and movies through the French Connection detective turned producer, Sonny Grosso. Indeed, Domenic Troiano was at the heart of that exciting time period for not only me but hundreds of musicians.

Here’s just a sampling of some amazing stories on Troiano’s influence on others’ musical lives.

The Five Rogues, pre-Mandala days.

George Olliver was the lead singer in the Mandala on the Troiano-penned song, “Opportunity”, which topped the charts in ‘65/’66, and was recently inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. Olliver recalls meeting Troiano:

“Donnie had been working with Ronnie Hawkins, and he came to see our group, Whitey & the Roulettes. At that time, he was known as Toronto’s number one guitarist. He loved our band and asked if he could join. Needless to say, we welcomed him with open arms. Donnie took over leadership of the band, which we collectively renamed ‘The Rogues,’ and he brilliantly procured the amazing management services of Randy Markowitz — who changed up our look and onstage visuals. That was the beginning of the amazing story of The Mandala.”

By the way, the Mandala’s awesome 1968 “Soul Crusade” album, with such legendary tunes as “Love-itis”, is now available on Spotify.

Burton Cummings, who co-founded Canada’s The Guess Who, wrote the lyrics for “American Woman,” which reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970. Troiano joined the band in 1974, and he co-wrote and contributed to two albums, “Flavours” and “Power in the Music.”

Cummings recently posted his favourite Guess Who songs on Facebook. Five of them are from the Troiano era (1974–1975) including “Dreams” about which Cummings gives credit to Donnie’s influence: “The song probably wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for Troiano’s guitar licks that start it all off. I listened intently to those guitar riffs, and really absorbed the rhythm of them… Of all the Guess Who records, this is one of my absolute favourites… ‘Dirty’ is a good rocker, again all built around Troiano’s guitar riff… ‘Coors for Sunday’ would never have happened were it not for Troiano playing me another guitar riff and saying ‘Got anything for this…?’ And he sure did a spectacular guitar solo in this one…”

Troiano promised to record Shawne Jackson…and he did

The lovely and talented actress/singer/songwriter Shawne Jackson, whom I first met at that Colonial gig with Donnie, and who later married Domenic, chimes in with her wonderful memories of his influence:

“I first met Donnie at The Bluenote when I was 16 and he was 18. I was the band singer and he was the guitar player. We became close friends instantly. From day one, Donnie said, “I love your voice and some day when I get the money, I’m going to record you.” True to his word, we recorded ‘Just As Bad As You’ in LA in 1974, and the album ‘Shawne Jackson’ in 1976. Without Donnie behind me, I probably would not have had a career in singing. He always encouraged and pushed me to sing — although it was never a true love of mine. He bought me all the latest records and shared his love of music and opened my mind to many different kinds of music. Donnie also affected every guitar player of our generation. He was idolized and respected by ALL…deservedly so! He shared his knowledge with everyone he came in contact with. He was and still is the nicest, kindest man I’ve ever known. I am truly blessed to have had him in my life.”

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    01. Burnin' At The Stake
    The Domenic Troiano Band

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    02. Peace Of Mind
    The Domenic Troiano Band

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    03. Savour The Flavour
    The Domenic Troiano Band

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    04. Lonely Girl
    The Domenic Troiano Band

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    05. Willpower
    The Domenic Troiano Band

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    06. Master Of Concealment
    The Domenic Troiano Band

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    07. I'd Rather Be Your Lover
    The Domenic Troiano Band

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    08. Rock & Roll Maddness
    The Domenic Troiano Band

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    09. The Outer Limits Of My Soul
    The Domenic Troiano Band

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