Jon & Lee and The Checkmates

Al Dorsey Batman Batusi Blackstone Bruce Cockburn Canada Crazy World of Arthur Brown Dave Brown Dave McDevitt David Clayton-Thomas Jeff Cutler John Finley Jon-Lee Group Larry Leishman Lee Jackson & The Checkmates Michael Ferry Michael Fonfara Paul Carrier Peter Hodgson Rhinoceros Ron Scribner The Electric Flag The Phoenix Toronto Wes Morris

Lee Jackson (Vocals) 

Michael Fonfara (Keyboards) 

Larry Leishman (Guitar, Vocals)  

Dave Brown (Drums)

Peter Hodgson (Bass) 

Wes Morris (Drums) 

John Finley (Vocals) 

Jeff Cutler (Drums) 

Toronto’s R&B favourites, Jon & Lee and The Checkmates were originally known as Lee Jackson & The Checkmates.

The original band (formed at a local high school in 1962) comprised singer Lee Jackson (real name: Michael Ferry), lead guitarist Al Dorsey, bassist Dave McDevitt, drummer Paul Carrier and a saxophone player, whose name the others cannot remember.

They were joined soon afterwards by classically trained keyboard player Michael Fonfara (b. 11 August 1946, Stevensville, near Niagara Falls, Ontario).

Towards the end of 1963, the group’s manager introduced a second lead guitarist, Larry Leishman (b. 4 April 1947, Dunfermline, Scotland) from local band The Tempests.

The new line-up however, was short-lived as Dorsey soon left. His departure precipitated a series of personnel changes and by mid-1964, former Esquires singer John Finley (b. 6 May 1945, Toronto, Ontario) and his cousin, bassist Peter Hodgson (b. 16 April 1946, Toronto, Ontario), also ex-The Tempests were added alongside drummer Wes Morris.

Morris’ predecessor, Dave Brown meanwhile had gone on to join Jay Smith & The Majestics. When Morris left to join The Majestics in the summer of 1964, the group added Jeff Cutler (b. Rowland Jefferies Cutler, 8 September 1941, Toronto, Ontario).

The new line-up quickly changed its name and was picked up by local booking agent, Ron Scribner, who organised concert dates in high schools across Ontario to promote the band.

In early 1965, the band moved up to the city’s vibrant club scene and for a while were residents at Yorkville’s Avenue Road Club and the Devil’s Den. In April of that year Jon & Lee and The Checkmates opened for The Rolling Stones at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, followed by what was probably their most prestigious concert performance, an appearance (in front of 60,000 people) at Nathan Philips Square in September supporting Bobby Curtola.

Around this time, the group cut two songs on four-track with their manager and musical director, Eddie ‘Duke’ Edwards, which led to TV appearances in Buffalo and New York.

The band also attracted the attention of American record companies RCA, Motown, Mercury, Elektra and Decca; they actually cut some demos with the latter in New York but they were never issued.

During 1966, the band traveled to New York and played at the Phone Booth and the Peppermint Lounge. The group also performed alongside Junior Walker & The All Stars, The Chiffons and The Temptations at Shea Stadium. On 21 August, the group appeared on Compass on Channel Six.

That same year, Edwards composed ‘Batman Batusi’, which the band recorded for the ABC-TV Network. The track appeared on a rare 45 with the A-side performed by another group.

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Shortening their name to The Jon-Lee Group in June 1967, the band travelled to New York to play at Steve Paul’s The Scene and to record for ABC Records.

The band completed four tracks, including a cover of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Girl Beautiful Girl’, which never saw the light of day.

Instead, the label chose to release the soulful ‘Bring It Down Front’ with the instrumental rocker ‘Pork Chops’ (credited to Edwards, and provisionally titled ‘Fuck Up’).

 

The single subsequently reached #23 on the RPM chart in October, when it was released in Canada by Sparton Records. The single also hit #10 on Toronto’s Chum chart.

On 31 July 1967, the band returned to Toronto for its final set of gigs. The band’s music started to take on a more psychedelic bent but didn’t go down so well with audiences.

Jackson and Finley separated from the band in mid-September 1967 and the others moved to New York to become the house band at Steve Paul’s The Scene. For a while they acted as David Clayton-Thomas’ support band, The Phoenix.

However, when Thomas was deported from the US in November for being an illegal alien, Fonfara joined The Electric Flag (in time to appear on their debut album) and toured with the group for almost a month before running into Finley and Hodgson in L.A in early December.

Both had auditioned for Elektra’s new band ‘Project Super group’ (which later became Rhinoceros) and although Hodgson missed out on the original line-up, Finley was recruited, and duly recommended Fonfara for the band. Hodgson and Leishman would later join Rhinoceros together with Duke Edwards.

Lee Jackson meanwhile remained in Toronto and reverted to his former name. He later went on to work with Bruce Cockburn briefly and became a local rock promoter. In the early ‘70s, he worked for the Toronto Stock Exchange and ran a small studio before joining a floor-covering firm in 1974.

Jeff Cutler, who briefly worked with The Holy Modal Rounders and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, later became a movie set producer.

The others (minus Cutler and Jackson and with new members) reformed as Blackstone in 1972.

Recordings

45 Batman Theme/Batman Batusi (ABC-TV Network) 1966 (B-side only)

45 Bring It Down Front/Pork Chops (Sparton P1617) 1967

Advertised gigs (as Jon & Lee and The Checkmates)

25 April 1965 – Maple Leaf Gardens with Rolling Stones, The Paupers and others

 

20 June 1965 – Devil’s Den, Toronto

26 June 1965 – Purple Candle Club, Wasaga Beach, Ontario

 

10 July 1965 – Purple Candle Club, Wasaga Beach, Ontario

11 July 1965 – Devil’s Den, Toronto

16-17 July 1965 – The Hawk’s Nest, Toronto

18 July 1965 – Devil’s Den, Toronto

25 July 1965 – Devil’s Den, Toronto

29 July 1965 – “Red Cross Blood Donor Clinic”, Varsity Arena, Toronto with The Big Town Boys, The Paupers and J B & The Playboys

 

10 August 1965 – Sauble Beach Pavilion, Sauble Beach, Ontario

27 August 1965 – Club 888, Toronto

29 August 1965 – Devil’s Den, Toronto

 

3 September 1965 – Dunn’s Pavilion, Bala, Ontario

5 September 1965 – Lakeview Casino, Grand Bend, Ontario

12 September 1965 – Devil’s Den, Toronto

13 September 1965 – Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto with Bobby Curtola, David Clayton-Thomas & The Shays and others

25 September 1965 – Gord’s A Go Go, Oshawa, Ontario

26 September 1965 – Devil’s Den, Toronto

 

1 October 1965 – Mimicombo A Go-Go, Mimico, Ontario

10 October 1965 – Hop in the park, Eglington Park, Toronto

31 October 1965 – Maple Leaf Gardens with Rolling Stones and others

 

12 November 1965 – Mimicombo A Go Go, Mimico, Ontario

13 November 1965 – Hop in the park, Toronto

 

4 December 1965 – Avenue Road Club, Toronto

10 December 1965 – The Hawk’s Nest, Toronto

December 1965 – Peppermint Lounge, New York

 

14-16 January 1966 – The Avenue Road Club, Toronto

22 January 1966 – North Toronto Memorial Gardens, Toronto

28-29 January 1966 – Avenue Road Club, Toronto with Majestics with Shawne Jackson (then to New York)

 

20 February 1966 – Avenue Road Club, Toronto

27 February 1966 – Avenue Road Club, Toronto

 

4-5 March 1966 – Avenue Road Club, Toronto

6 March 1966 – Avenue Road Club, Toronto

12 March 1966 – The Hawk’s Nest, Toronto

26 March 1966 – Avenue Road Club, Toronto

 

1 April 1966 – Avenue Road Club, Toronto, with Franklin Sheppard & The Good Sheppards

3 April 1966 – Avenue Road Club, Toronto (afterwards went to New York, Detroit and Philadelphia for three months)

 

6-7 May 1966 – Avenue Road Club, Toronto

13 May 1966 – Avenue Road Club, Toronto

20 May 1966 – Hawk’s Nest, Toronto

22 May 1966 – Avenue Road Club, Toronto

 

19 June 1966 – Broom and Stone, Scarborough with David Clayton-Thomas and The Ugly Ducklings

 

9 July 1966 – Hunters Beach Pavilion, Lake Simcoe, Ontario

13 July 1966 – Whitby Arena, Whitby, Ontario with The Five Rogues, Bobby Kris & The Imperials and The Ugly Ducklings

13 July 1966 – North Toronto Memorial Arena, Toronto with The Big Town Boys and The Secrets

16 July 1966 – Port Carling Surf Club, Port Carling, Ontario

20 July 1966 – Don Mills Curling Club, Don Mills, Ontario with The British Modbeats, Bobby Kris & The Imperials and Dunc and The Deacons

23 July 1966 – Hidden Valley, Huntsville, Ontario with Barry Allen, Wes Dakus & The Rebels

26 July 1966 – North Toronto Memorial Arena, Toronto with The Jaybees and Wes Dakus, Barry Allen & The Rebels

30 July 1966 – The Hawk’s Nest, Toronto

 

7 August 1966 – Avenue Road Club, Toronto

14 August 1966 – Avenue Road Club, Toronto

19 August 1966 – Hidden Valley, Huntsville, Ontario

20 August 1966 – Hunter’s Beach, Lake Simcoe, Ontario

21 August 1966 – Avenue Road Club, Toronto

27 August 1966 – Port Carling Surf Club, Port Carling, Ontario

28 August 1966 – Broom and Stone, Scarborough with The Just Us and All Five

29 August 1966 – The Hawk’s Nest, Toronto

 

2 September 1966 – Balmy Beach Club, Scarborough, Ontario

3 September 1966 – Purple Candle, Wasaga, Ontario

6 September 1966 – Balmy Beach Club, Scarborough, Ontario

 

21 October 1966 – Gogue Inn, Toronto with Jack Hardin & The Silhouettes, The Five Good Reasons, Nicky Garber and Percy Dovetonsils

28-30 October 1966 – The Castle, St Catherine’s, Ontario

 

6 November 1966 – Avenue Road Club, Toronto

11 November 1966 – Cobourg Lions Pavillion, Cobourg, Ontario

19 November 1966 – Gogue Inn, Toronto with Jaye’s Rayders and others

 

30 December 1966 – Villa Inn, Streetsville, Ontario

31 December 1966 – Gogue Inn, Toronto with Eddie Spencer & The Power and The Wyldfyre

 

22 January 1967 – Club Isabella, Toronto

29 January 1967 – Charlie Brown’s, Toronto

 

4 February 1967 – Gogue Inn, Toronto with The Five Good Reasons and The Paytons

 

22 April 1967 – Avenue Road Club, Toronto

28-29 April 1967 – Avenue Road Club, Toronto

 

6 May 1967 – Gogue Inn, Toronto with Jack Hardin & The Silhouettes and Simon Caine & The Catch

20 May 1967 – Centennial Cool-Out, Kingston, Ontario with The Guess Who, The Esquires, The Townsmen and others

Advertised gigs (as Jon-Lee Group)

8-11 June 1967 – Steve Paul’s The Scene, New York

 

2 August 1967 – The Hawk’s Nest, Toronto

5 August 1967 – Port Carling Surf Club, Port Carling, Ontario

26 August 1967 – Broom & Stone with The Peepers and Christopher Edward Campaign

 

1 September 1967 – Hawk’s Nest, Toronto

2 September 1967 – Port Carling Surf Club, Port Carling, Ontario

8 September 1967 – The Thing, Toronto with The Power Project

16 September 1967 – Hawk’s Nest, Toronto

Toronto live dates were taken from the ‘After Four’ section of The Toronto Telegram. 

Copyright © Nick Warburton. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any from or by any means, without prior permission from the author

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