3's a Crowd
1964 in Vancouver, Canada
3's a Crowd (or The Bill Schwartz Quartet as they were originally called) formed in Vancouver in late 1964. The group's original line-up consisted of folk singers Brent Titcomb (b. Arthur, August 10, 1940, Vancouver, British Columbia), Donna Warner (b. May 23, 1946, Edmonton, Alberta) and Trevor Veitch. (b. May 19, 1946, Vancouver, British Columbia), and their repertoire was a mixture of folk and comedy routines. In the summer of 1965, the trio sent a demo tape to Sid Dolgay, an original member of Canada's premier folk group The Travellers, who had just formed his own management company Universal Performing Artists (UPA). Dolgay invited the trio to Toronto to perform some engagements and signed the band to his management soon afterwards. Over the next few months, the group toured largely as a trio, abetted on a few occasions by ex-The Bad Seeds bass player Brian Ahern (b. Nova Scotia).
In March 1966, bass player Ken Koblun (b. May 7, 1946, Winnipeg, Manitoba), who had previously played with Neil Young in Four To Go, joined 3's a Crowd. Koblun however, often suffered from mental problems, which were aggravated by his drug use and his time with the group was marked by several periods of lengthy absence. (Koblun's most notable departure took place in January 1967 when he was invited to replace Bruce Palmer in Buffalo Springfield.)
His replacement on these occasions was Comrie Smith (b. Sept. 29, 1945, Toronto, Ontario) who also shared a Neil Young connection. During his time with 3's a Crowd, they were awarded a Juno (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) for best folk group of 1966, a distinction they also enjoyed in 1967. The new line-up also signed a short-term deal with Epic Records in the summer of 1966 and travelled to New York where, assisted by a session drummer, bass player and horn section, the trio recorded covers of Len Chandler's 'Bound To Fly' and Gordon Lightfoot's 'Steel Rail Blues.' The resulting single was released in October and reached #34 on the RPM chart. (During this period, Warner was offered a place in The New Christy Minstrels, which she declined).
In April 1967 3's a Crowd expanded their line-up with the addition of singer/songwriter David Wiffen (b. March 11, 1942, Surrey, England) and drummer Richard Patterson (b. Sept. 20, 1944, Ottawa, Ontario) from Ottawa folk-rock band The Children. That same month Epic released the comedy single ''Honey Machine', which the trio had recorded earlier in the year. 3's a Crowd quickly disowned the single and severed their ties with the label. Despite the setback, the group made its first major US appearance shortly afterwards at Steve Paul's Scene in New York.
During the summer 3's a Crowd performed at the highly prestigious Mariposa Folk Festival, held at Innis Lake, Ontario, after which they re-enlisted Koblun (from Elyse Weinberg's O.D. Bodkins and Company). The reshuffled line-up debuted at the Expo '67 Exhibition in Montreal during August and as a result won a recording contract with Dunhill Records, thanks to the intervention of Mama Cass Elliot.
The following month, they performed at Expo's Canadian Pavilion Feature stage and for some of the dates Warner (whose health began to fail) was replaced by singer Colleen Peterson (b. Nov. 14, 1950, Peterborough, Ontario). Later in the month, the group flew out to L.A to record their lone album 'Christopher's Movie Matinee' with engineer Chuck Britz and staff producer Steve Barri. Following the album's sessions, the group returned to Toronto to appear on their own national CBC TV special 'Our Kind of Crowd', featuring the band's chosen guests Joni Mitchell and Richard Prior.
Koblun left the band for the last time in December and was replaced by Wayne Davis (b. April 28, 1946, Toronto, Ontario) from Bobby Kris and The Imperials. (He returned to Winnipeg and enrolled on a computer course at the University of Manitoba, and later moved to San Francisco after playing with local outfits Tram and Rin Tin Iron.)
A cover of Toronto singer/songwriter Murray McLauchlan's 'Coat Of Colours' backed by Bruce Cockburn's 'Bird Without Wings' was released later that month in Canada on RCA Victor and was a modest hit. 'Christopher's Movie Matinee' followed close on its heels, highlighting the song writing talents of David Wiffen and his former Children cohorts Bill Hawkins and Bruce Cockburn. In late February/early March, the band set out on a tour of Western Canada including performances at the Simon Fraser University and the Retinal Circus in Vancouver. They then headed for California for a string of dates at the Ice House in Glendale, supported by Jim & Jean, which coincided with a final single coupling Dino Valenti's 'Get Together' with Wiffen's 'I Don't Want To Drive You Away'.
3's a Crowd returned to Toronto for a warmly received set at Massey Hall, with members of the Toronto Symphony on March 29. However, Warner's deteriorating health resulted in her departure in May, followed soon afterwards by Titcomb and Veitch, and the group was temporarily put on hold.
Sid Dolgay's two investors in the group, Harvey Glatt and Toronto film producer Sid Banks wanted to keep the band going however, and a new line-up was formed around Wiffen and Patterson in Ottawa during the summer. The new group comprised Peterson and ex-Children guitarist Sandy Crawley (b. Dec. 7, 1947, Ottawa, Ontario) plus former Olivus members Bruce Cockburn (b. May 25, 1945, Ottawa, Ontario) and Dennis Pendrith (b. Sept. 13, 1949, Toronto, Ontario). Over the next couple of months, 3's a Crowd toured Canada as opening acts for The Turtles and Gary Puckett & The Union Gap.
During this period, Harvey Glatt produced a music video of the group performing Cockburn's 'Electrocution of The Word', which was shown at the Youth Pavilion of Ottawa's Central Canadian Exhibition. In August Sid Banks, who had commissioned a TV variety series on CBC TV called 'One More Time', decided to write the band into it as a way of recouping his investment. After this ended in February 1969, Glatt booked the group on a spring tour of US universities and colleges. Crawley however, had been offered some acting jobs and declined the offer, leaving the others to set out on a 2-month tour of the American South. 3's a Crowd performed their final engagement in Columbia, South Carolina in April 1969.
Cockburn subsequently signed a solo deal with True North Records, while Pendrith joined Ugly Ducklings spin-off GNU. Patterson reformed The Esquires as Canada Goose and Wiffen later moved to Oakland, California to record a solo album for the Fantasy label. Peterson meanwhile ended up with New York group TCB.
Thanks to Nick Warburton for this wonderful biography.