Reign Ghost & Christmas interview with Bob Bryden
Reign Ghost was a late ’60s rock group from Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. A wonderful slice of psychedelic rock!
Where and when did you grow up?
I grew up in Ottawa and then Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. My first 12 years were in Canada’s Capital city, Ottawa and then our family moved to General Motors dominated Oshawa in 1963. So, I grew up in a government, clerical town but went through my crucial teen years and the 1960’s in a tough, hard-working factory town (hence the Spirit of Christmas song ‘The Factory’ later on). My earliest movie memory is Disney’s ‘Davy Crockett’ – and the theme song is my earliest musical memory – along with ‘Standing on the Corner Watching all the Girls Go Buy’. One of the reasons I love original, orchestral movie soundtracks so much is because the first album/record I had was the soundtrack from John Wayne’s ‘The Alamo’ with music by Dimitri Tiomkin. When I first saw the lp in the window of record store on Elgin Street in Ottawa, I didn’t know what it was. I went into the store and asked the record man ‘what’s that picture of The Alamo doing in your window’. He replied, ‘That’s no a picture, that’s an album’. I said: ‘WHAT’S AN ALBUM?’ and that was the beginning of the end (or the start of my life) ha! ha! Because I was never the same again after getting that firs record.
Were you in any bands as a teenager?
You ask if I was in any bands as a teenager or if there were any releases – and the answer is YES!!! I was 17 when we recorded the first Reign Ghost album and 18 when we recording the 2nd Reign Ghost and the first Christmas (on the Paragon label). I was a ripe old 19 by the time Christmas recorded ‘Heritage’. Prior to Reign Ghost I was in a lot cool bands – my first was ‘The Outcasts’, then came ‘The Things’, ‘The Cigarette After’, ‘The Bluez Proclamation’, ‘The Christopher Columbus Discovery of New Lands Band’ to name a few. Most of this is chronologically laid out on my website.
What was the scene in your town?
When I started actually playing music – the drums around 1965. It kinda happened by accident (like everything in my life – yet there was purpose in it – that’s why I called MY life ‘Accidental Design’). A friend of my father’s asked if he could store his drums at our house. So suddenly – there I was with the same set of Ludwig drums that Ringo Starr had. In High School, 2 guitar players came to me and asked if I played the drums – I said – ‘NO, but I HAVE drums’. They said, ‘You’re the drummer’. It was like something out of a movie. The music scene in Oshawa was the same as anywhere else in the 60’s – lots of kids trying to emulate their musical heroes of the rapidly emerging counterculture. Lots of us doing British Invasion stuff and American Psychedelic and all the cross-breeding that eventually went on. (I was always a sucker for a ‘concept album’ – one that told a story). The Outcasts and The Things used to do Kinks, Troggs, Yardbirds, Stones, etc. By the time we formed ‘Christopher Columbus….’ we were doing full-tilt psychedelia – one of the my favourite memories is that the Christopher Columbus Discovery of New Lands Band show-stopper was my full-length rendition of ‘The End’ by the Doors – complete with smoke machine billowing out to the audience. I should add that all the bands did some original material as well – and that’s where I really wanted to go. This was all up to and including 1967.
What’s the story behind formation of your band?
Reign Ghost actually existed before Lynda Squires (my girlfriend at the time) and I joined. Their lead singer quite so we joined and took them in an original direction. (They had been a cover band). This was probably early 1968. I had written my first full song in 1967 (NICE YEAR TO BEGIN!!!) That first song was ‘Standing Room Only, Mr. Mars’ which I wrote on piano and which made it on to the first Reign Ghost album.
Do you remember some of the early sessions?
The story of the recording is pretty amusing. Firstly, I remember thinking when I was young in the 60’s: ‘Albums. Hmmm. I’d like to make ONE of those’. One days hanging around in my usual haunt – The Disc Shop at the Oshawa shopping centre there was salesman from Allied Records in the shop. He heard I was in a band – and we were practically signed on the spot. That’s the crazy way it could be back in Canada then: ‘Oh, you have drums – you’re our drummer’. ‘Oh, you are in band – you can be on our label’. Ha! It was practically that simple. We soon found ourselves heading for a studio in suburban Toronto. This was going to be a home-made, studio-basement record long before there was the word ‘INDIE’. Our engineer was a local television country disc jockey named Cousin Bill Bessey. We could’t believe it because everybody in Canada used to make fun of the crazy dude who played country record ON TELEVISION on Saturday afternoons while he showed pictures of barns and cows and fields – and here we were recording in his basement. It was hilarious. We made the first album REALLY fast – in a couple of week-ends I think. I do wish we’d been given time for a few more takes of songs.
Your debut was released in 1969 by Allied Records. What are some of the strongest memories from producing and recording your first LP?
Even though our record was REALLY rushed – I thought it was cool to be on Allied Records because Allied actually distributed the Elektra label in Canada. So, I could say, in a way, we were labelmates with the Doors, Earth Opera, Rhinocerous, Clear Light, Tim Buckley and all those other great Elektra artists. But really – we were ‘distributormates’. Ha! It was also pretty cool to be the only local band that actually had an album out. We were definitely ‘indie’ before many others. Even most of the Canadian bands that had records – and they are still my favourite records of all-time: The Paupers, Kensington Market, The Collectors, The Ugly Ducklings – were all with bigger, actual LABELS. We were even more ‘underground’ than they were.
What gear did you guys used?
My first electric guitar was an Ibanez. Equipment is a bit of blur because we were always begging, borrowing, (tempted to be) stealing – but mostly RENTING amps and stuff. Of course we had all the classic stuff that people like today – like Farfisa keyboards, Ampeg amps, lots of Fender everywhere. You really graduated when somebody in your band snagged a Gibson Les Paul and/or a Marshall Amp! I remember playing a Rickenbacker 6-string like John Lennon’s on the 2nd Reign Ghost album. ‘Lies to Live By’ by Spirit of Christmas has REAL mellotron.
What can you tell me about cover artwork?
Cover art for the first Reign Ghost was done by a friend of a friend. I still think it’s a pretty cool and very unique cover – with the superimposed photos and the Greek temple-type border.
How many copies were pressed?
No idea. I even asked the record company recently. They ‘couldn’t remember’. That’s kind of absurd in itself. Sure is a good way of keeping the artist ignorant about how much money he’s owed! Ha! But your readers – and all the bootleggers out there need to know the following: I NOW OWN THE RIGHTS TO BOTH REIGN GHOST ALBUMS PERSONALLY. I OWN WORLD RIGHTS FOR THE RECORDINGS AND THE PUBLISHING – ALL THE SONGS ARE OWNED COMPLETELY BY ME NOW. I HAVE THE MASTER TAPES. I spent a considerable sum of money to acquire the rights. So, if anybody is out there bootlegging or copying a lot – NOW YOU ARE STEALING FROM THE ARTIST DIRECTLY. ME. I do plan to do official releases of both albums – and I’m more than willing to do business with interested and sincere parties. So, if you are out there – and reading this – don’t bootleg me anymore. LET’S TALK. Thanks for letting me make this important business bulletin.
Would you share your insight on the albums’ tracks?
A1 Travel of Blue Paradox
When I hear this now – I realize I wrote if after seeing ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ in curve-screened, 6-track stereo CInerama. The Blue Paradox – is me. Blue could stand for melancholia and/or the colour of my eyes. Someone once told me when I was very young: ‘You understand paradox’. (It took me years to even grasp the meaning of the word! Ha!)
A2 A Long Day Journey
Just a love song I probably wrote thinking of Lynda Squires. She moved away once while we were going out – and that probably sparked the idea.
A3 Standing Room Only Mr. Mars
As I said earlier, my first song. I think it’s just about alienation and a lot of us were feeling that in the 60’s.
A4 Eyes Knows, So Does Ears and Carolina
My first recorded ‘epic’. (Long song). You know, one thing that I love about the first Reign Ghost album (and my other records being produced at that time) is the nonlinear writing. In those days – you could just start writing and let the song go wherever it wanted and there weren’t all the rules their seem to be today. Everybody’s trying to make perfect pop these days – we were just trying to make interesting music. Music that was surprising! I’m really hoping to recapture some of this non-linear, flowing but always changing quality in my future music. Get back to basics of NOT THINKING ABOUT IT TOO MUCH. Let it bubble up from the creative subconscious. I love this track melodically and lyrically.
B1 Curio Shop
I’m going to own up and say I think this song was directly inspired by a Country Joe and the Fish song called ‘Janis’. I took it in a different direction – but it’s a waltz rhythm (like ‘Janis’) and very pretty.
B2 Black Ode
The keyboard player for Reign Ghost, Dave Hare, wrote this – and it’s just straight ahead cool psych with fuzz and weird changes.
B3 Gum Wrapper Song
Guitar player Jim Stright wrote this – and we treated it like a satire on bubble gum music. Not to be taken seriously. We would get all goofy and silly when we’d do this song live – and also later with ‘Pudsy’s Parable’. We were actually musical snobs – and Christmas were even worse. Ha! (But we were so young – it’s forgiveable).
B4 Southern Hemisphere Blues Legacy
Still one of my favourite songs that I’ve written. I still do this song in my solo repertoire. I love the vague, 17-year-old stream-of-consciousness poetry, tonguetwisting and sometimes illogical lyrics. (‘cold, molten metal‘ ????)
Apart from the guitars being out of tune at times – I love the flow of this song. Again – like ‘Eyes Knows, Carolina’ – having cut my teeth on ‘The End’ and ‘When the Music’s Over’ by the Doors – I felt music and songs should be free to go wherever they wanted. I would love to do this song live again sometime. Long was never a problem for me. I even love long movies – I feel I’m getting my money’s worth. Ha!
How about concerts?
Reign Ghost played most week-ends – but just locally and by that I mean within let’s say 100 mile radius of Toronto. I still remember driving to gigs with Reign Ghost – the whole band and all the equipment in one station wagon and because I was the smallest and it was so crowded I had to literally crouch under the glove compartment the whole way. NOW THAT’S A VIVID MEMORY! One sad and important thing about the first Reign Ghost – is that we actually filmed an entire hour set with a full, professional film crew. Our Manager at the time was Jack London (famous for his band the Sparrows). He arranged the shoot with, I think, the Till Brothers (Erik I think and one other) from Toronto. We filmed it at St. Gregory’s Auditorium on Simcoe Street in Oshawa. BUT WE NEVER SAW IT OR HEARD ANYTHING ABOUT IT AGAIN after Jack London left as manager. So, it’s conceivable, that out there somewhere, there is a full hour, professionally filmed and recorded of Reign Ghost ‘live’. But where and who’s got it I have no idea. Sad. I’d love to find that.
In 1970 you released another album called Reign Ghost: Featuring Lynda Squires.
After awhile, there were a lot of arguments and typical band hassles in the first Reign Ghost. Lynda and I QUIT- the rest of them decided not to continue – so Lynda and I kept the name and formed a band with John Pudlis, Russ Erman, and Rich (Helge) Richter (who would become the drummer for Christmas). They wrote songs too and although they were more ‘poppy’ than mine – we have fun playing each other’s tunes in that band.
It was released on Paragon.
Paragon and Allied are practically the same only the producer Jack Boswell worked for Allied but he owned Paragon. They put out a few psych records but a LOT of country. They still do put out country.
Would you share your insight on the albums’ tracks?
A1 Long Day Journey
Just a very different take on the song from the first Reign Ghost album. I like it.
A2 More Than I
One of John Pudlis’s big ballads. It’s a pretty good song actually.
A3 Mother’s Got Troubles
This is a very different song and I love it. I remember that the chords were very weird.
A4 Pudsy’s Parable
Another mock-bubble-gum song. We were pretty sarcastic about songs like this and did them in that spirit.
A5 Ain’t It Great
Maybe the simplest song I’ve ever written.
B1 Breast Stroke Blues
Another kind of satire. I’m not much into blues. The people who mentored me in music were very against 3-chord progression that are basically stupidly repetitive. Some of the greatest pieces of music – pop and otherwise – are simple and even have less than 3 chords – but it’s what you do with those chords. You can play one chord and NOT be boring and repetitive. I find most blues mind bogglingly predicable. I like music which surprises or even shocks me. (I go back the ‘The Rite of Spring‘ by Stravinsky!) I wrote this as a total satire on the blues – and not an affectionate one. Sorry if I offend but please don’t bore me with your music.
B2 Solar Nice
Perhaps my favourite songs of mine on the album. I just live the off-kilter but pleasant lilt of the the piece.
A nice little rocker from John Pudlis.
B4 Enola Gay
In keeping with my history and desire to do long songs that go where they want. I was pleased to work on this tune with Pudlis and Erman – although the first half is so Iron Butterfly it’s ridiculous. (Pudlis was a huge fan of In-a-Gadda-da-Vida – if it isn’t totally obvious. Ha!)
What happened next? I know you were in a band called Christmas and later also in The Spirit of Christmas.
Well, I wanted to find the best players in Oshawa and put together a total no-compromise, original psych band. I knew all the guys – rounded them up and we became a band almost at the same time that Lynda Squire was cast in the Toronto production of ‘Hair’. She didn’t have the time to be in a band anymore, so I set out on my own and Christmas was formed. Christmas morphed all the time. One of the reasons I call my company ‘Marketing Man’s Nightmare’. I mean just look at the 3 Christmas albums – 4 if you count Massey Hall – it really does sound like 4 completely different bands – and all in the space of 2 or 3 years. Crazy! By the time were working on ‘Lies To Live By’ – we had added Preston Wynn on vocals and changed the name to The Spirit of Christmas. (I don’t really know why – ha!) We went very dark and progressive – but still demented and free and psych and nobody ‘got it’ in Canada. It’s only after all these years and particularly OUTSIDE OF CANADA that people began to ‘get us’. I do say though that more and more Canadians are now telling me how much they live all these records.
Age of Mirrors followed.
When Christmas broke up in 1975, I wandered, travelled for awhile. Got into theatre, acting, doing a solo acoustic psych-folk thing and then ended up in Hamilton, Ontario to manage the first ‘alternative’ record store in the area, Star Records. Got into producing punk. I’m kinda famous for producing the Forgotten Rebels first few records and a really cool guitar band called Durango 95. I never stopped writing or playing and the whole punk/indie thing inspired me to do it myself and do it again. I put out a solo album in 1981 called ‘See This Brick’.
Somebody once told me it was the best 60’s album released in the 80’s! Ha! I then formed a new band, Benzene Jag which put out one of my favourite singles I’ve made in 1983: ‘Fuck Off 1984’. You should check that record out – I stand behind it still.
Benzene Jag also recorded 6 more songs which are available on my website in the ‘curio shop’. I want to properly release an entire Benzene Jag retrospective at some point. We played a lot locally. Playing with the Forgotten Rebels and Teenage Head. While we were in ‘jag’ – the drummer and I branched out into an experiment with synths (80’s big-hair-music-ha!) called Age of Mirrors. We produced two albums. For a joke, I even took on a euro-brit sounding stage name: Simon De Beaupre. We received a lot of airplay locally on the first Age of Mirrors album: ‘Mirage’.
In 1991 I released my 2nd solo album: ‘Theatre Like This’ – but strangely it was a ‘cassette-only’ release! (Ha!) But most of it is available at my website.
Then in 2007 I released my third solo album: ‘Polaroid Verite’. It’s a very good record and I think will one day be appreciated.
I wish people could recognize that I’ve never really changed musically. I’ve always been true to what I believed about original music and I believe my 3 solo albums, Benzene Jag and the 2 Age of Mirrors albums are every bit as inventive and ‘psych’ as the Reign Ghost and Christmas stuff. I’m still writing and playing all the time. Look me up on Facebook or keep checking ‘for my next trick’ at www.bobbryden.com for updates. I have dozens and dozens of unrecorded songs and I’m very excited about the next ‘batch’ which will include one very long psychedelicized new tune called ‘Strobe Light Dream’.
Would you like to share a message with It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine readers?
Keep it wild. Keep on the path.
– Klemen Breznikar