Toronto musician Rick Skol shares the story of his 1970 psyche-rock group, Gadsby & Skol, following a vinyl release over 50 years in the making.
The needle settles on the vinyl with a warm thud. That’s when things get loud and heavy!
Rick Skol kicks off on the drums. Not a moment later, we hear the ecstatic guitar of Charles Gadsby. Then Drew Tjernstrom drops in with his bass. You’re trying to stay grounded–but the spaceship’s already taking off.
It’s “Guitar Dog”: the first offering in Gadsby & Skol, the album by the Toronto psychedelic-rock group of the same name. It’s a high-flying instrumental opening inspired by ex-Blue Cheer guitarist Randy Holden’s LP ‘Guitar God’. This intro hangs with the best of them–and serves as a prologue of what’s to come.
From the ebbing melody of Skol’s “Stop!” and the hard driving “Fools Like You” to the contemplative lyrics of Gadsby’s “You Could Have” and “I Don’t Know”, bona-fide 60s aura flows like a wellspring out of your speakers. The vinyl was pressed hot–and its meticulously crafted sound is so strong that you’re flying back in your seat.
This is the first time that Gadsby & Skol can be heard in all the glory of vinyl–thanks to UK record label Blue Matter–and it doesn’t come a moment too soon. The cult-hit was released as a CD in 2001 and it’s about damn time we can listen to it on wax.
Behind this vinyl release is a story over a half century in the making.
It was the summer of 1970. The Woodstock era was crescendoing–as the psych-rock movement continued to push music beyond anything heard prior. Blue Cheer, Hendrix, and many others in the pantheon of greats had devoted their lives to their craft–and raised the bar for what was possible in sound.
Rick Skol in 1971 at Sam The Record Man, looking for the Gadsby & Skol vinyl that wouldn’t come out until 2023. Photo courtesy of Charles Gadsby.
Amidst all this, was an 18 year old Toronto-born kid named Rick Skol. A devoted musician, he had already played with multiple bands. Primarily a guitar player at this time, mid- 1970 found Skol looking to launch a new group that would take his efforts into the next dimension. But, after having so much trouble with drummers in the past, Skol decided to play the kit himself!
Enter Charles Gadsby, a guitarist from their high school, who was himself playing with several local groups.
“I phoned and asked him to come over,” Skol recalls, “and we just sort of clicked. He [Gadsby] was just such a monster guitar player.” Deciding they should form a heavy rock trio, they recruited their friend, Drew Tjernstrom, (who had played second guitar in Skol’s previous band), to play bass and he fit right in. “Drew was fundamental in keeping a steady keel during some of our more challenging times,” says Skol.
By the fall of 1970, the Skol house’s basement was a hotbed for experimentation and musical innovation. There were two goals. One: be as loud and heavy as possible, aligning with the sound of Blue Cheer, MC5, Hendrix, and Cream. Two: be themselves, which meant playing whatever the hell they wanted, whether it was commercial or not.
“We did a lot of jamming and playing covers at first”, the drummer says. But they soon started writing their own songs. It came together quickly.
They did a few gigs, which went well, but the pay was terrible. That, combined with a Toronto scene which put an emphasis on cover bands, made them decide to stay in the basement, practice like hell, and record their rehearsals.
“Gadsby borrowed a two-track reel to reel tape recorder from our high school,” says Skol. ”I hope we gave it back!”
The original tunes were half composed by Gadsby and half by Skol. Looking back, “Fools Like You”, the newly released vinyl’s fourth track, holds a special place in Skol’s heart.
“It was one of the last things that I wrote for the band,” he says. “I had been watching the news a lot by this time, and the images of the carnage and bloodshed in Vietnam were making me sick. U.S. president, Richard Nixon, and his cronies would insinuate that God was on their side. But, a true God does not take sides and should have nothing to do with war. So, I wrote that song about fools like them. Unfortunately not much has changed in the world since that time.”
The ending, which asks “Why is the world like this? Why is this happening? It’s fools like us”, sits heavy on the listener’s mind. It’s a feeling akin to the conclusions of Buffy St. Marie’s “Universal Soldier” and Dylan’s “Masters of War”.
Throughout the Gadsby & Skol lp, the 60s aura extends itself beyond just the music–there’s a message to it all that could only come out of the year 1970, while it still retains its relevance in a world still riddled with war, corruption, and angst.
Despite the promise, the Gadsby & Skol project was sidelined by late 1971–and over by 1972. It was lightning in a bottle, never to come back again. Or so it seemed.
In the meantime, Skol went on to obtain a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Toronto –and continued a career as a musician. Freelancing, he has performed, written and recorded everything from rock and jazz, to ballet and classical music, including extended stints with the original Canadian productions of Les Miz and Phantom of The Opera. He was also fortunate enough to have played with the incomparable Aretha Franklin several times, an obvious career highlight!
But one thing was missing: a vinyl record of his own material.
In 1995, Gadsby, who had built a deep musical career of his own as a solo artist, found the old reel to reel tape. It was in rough shape, having been in storage for 25 years, but the songs still sounded great. Rather than try to restore the tape, the three band members decided to reform and re-record the material, playing the tunes as true to their original form as possible.
In late 1999, Skol was able to pass a cassette of the newly recorded material to legendary British guitarist and songwriter extraordinaire, Nick Saloman, after his band’s (‘The Bevis Frond’) concert at the famous Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. Saloman loved it–and released it on CD on his Woronzow Record label in 2001.
The years Gadsby & Skol spent perfecting their craft was a catalyst for the perfectly-preserved 60s vibe. The CD was a cult hit.
Two decades later, completely remastered, the album comes full circle–with a limited run of 500 vinyl copies and a June 2023 release date on Saloman’s new UK label, Blue Matter Records.
Rick Skol getting his first look at the Gadsby & Skol vinyl unboxed, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Photo courtesy of Susan Skol.
“Maybe there’s something cosmically preordained about the way things turned out,” Skol says. “There seems to be a lot of interest in it these days.”
Cosmically or not, one thing is true: the album is out now–and it sounds great!