GARFIELD’S LONG-AWAITED RETURN
A CONVERSATION WITH GARFIELD FRENCH
When I was a kid, maybe ten, I was visiting my brother in Montreal. We were in a record store on St. Catherine’s St., and I heard this remarkable song. It just shook me to the core. When I asked the guy behind the counter what he was playing, he showed me an album by a group, who I assumed was from Montreal, named Garfield. The song was “Private Affair” from the album Out There Tonight. I bought the album there and then, and over the next few years delved into the music of Garfield, who I found out later were from Toronto.
“Montreal was our base; we got played there all the time. I think it was our European influence and sound. But even with all the effort from my friends and family, we could not get airplay in Toronto, my hometown. It sucked,” revealed Garfield French, the centre and namesake of the band, during a recent conversation.
The original Garfield Band (who then shortened their name to Garfield) featured Garfield French (vocals, guitar, and songwriter); Walter Lawrence (cello, guitar); Paul O’Donnell (guitar, banjo, harmonica); Dennis French (drums); Chip Yarwood (flute, keyboards); Jacques Filion (keyboards); Maris Tora (bass). From 1976, Garfield released four albums, toured with 10cc, Doobie Brothers and even did a show with Rush. Then in 1981, after the release of their fourth album, Flights of Fantasy (featuring the hit “Like I Love You”), there was nothing. No formal announcement, just silence from Garfield. Until 2016, when Garfield French, using the name Garfield starting issuing music again with little or no fanfare. He just quietly began issuing new music and older music previously unreleased, like his new album, Lost In The Shoals, Wishbone Studio Recordings, 1979.
“We were signed to Capricorn Records and there were two vice presidents, but no one was watching the shop. They were close to bankruptcy. They sent us down to record but there were problems from the beginning. They did not like my band, thought they were playing crap, and did not want me to use them I ended up with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section. My management just told me to sit there and shut up and listen to the label. My band played on it too. When the executives listened to it, there were no smiles. They wanted southern rock, no European style music. I said, just listen to it. A half hour later, we were out the front door. They refused to pay the recording costs and dropped us from their label. It was not a good time,” remembers French.
Garfield continues, “It was a hell of a fight to get my guys on the record. My manager was upset with me, because management was losing money too. Within 48 hours, we were sent back to Canada. So we went back to Montreal, where we recorded, and we were signed to Polydor records in Canada. My manager let them pick the producer, they picked an arranger for us, and my management was saying to me ‘Do not open your big mouth’, I was humming the songs that I was writing to them and they were sending out to Nashville to have strings recorded. The album, Reason to Be, was produced by Dixon Van Winkle (Men Without Hats). I sat at the piano playing songs for him, and he was marking the ones that would be recorded, i.e. the ones he liked. Marked them with a star, very humiliating, I just wanted to scream.”
Although the album produced a hit single in Canada, “Buffalo to Boston”, Garfield was reaching his breaking point, He had suffered heartbreak and humiliation, and Garfield’s ambition was quite simple, “All I wanted to do was write and play my music.”
For Garfield, the mounting bills, lack of money, lack of label support, and all the other issues were taking the fun out of playing music. By 1982, he had made his decision.
“We did a show at the Forum, with Rush. I was bursting with pride, had a wonderful time, felt welcomed by Rush and the crowd. We did a solid performance, crowd loved us. I walk off the stage and the label guys say ‘Why are you wearing leather?’ I clicked off, wanted to tell him to go fuck himself. From there I could not get a minute to breathe. I got back to the hotel, where the bill had not been paid, and I met with my manager and I found out my money situation was much worse than I thought, no money in my account, so I went home, closed my door and called my management and quit. Then they sued me, which they lost.”
So Garfield French was no longer making music. In his own words, he had “lost everything”. To make ends meet, he became a cabinet maker, courier, and worked in a trucking company. But he always “had an instrument around”. When his father took ill, he became serious about music again.
“My father never forgave me for leaving the music business. I began writing songs then many about him and from that came the album December Roads. That album was recorded in one take. It didn’t matter if I fucked up in the song; I wanted the feeling and emotion.“
Which brings us back to his recent release, Lost In The Shoals, Wishbone Studio Recordings, 1979.
“I got a call from the Terry Woodward who was our producer when we recorded at Wishbone Studios. And he says he has the tapes for our follow-up to our Out There Tonight album, which he also produced. He said he had the tapes, but then I was digging through a box here and I had them too. These were marked as final mix, but I seemed to remember there was one more mix after this one. But once they were converted to digital, I thought ‘Holy shit, I don’t remember anything’. But then it all came back. This album should have been out right after Out There Tonight.”
Well, thankfully with the help of technology, that album has been issued and there are more scheduled. Garfield is also writing and performing new music.
Overall, he has no regrets. “I’m the happiest I have ever been. I had my opportunities in the past, and so many people will say why did you quit? You could have been big. But I had had enough of the industry and I had two very good reasons to quit, my two daughters. I didn’t want to be in L.A. or New York City, because I wanted to be home with my daughters; I wanted to be a dad. That was the best decision I ever made.”