Whisky Hollow was one of the very first Country Rock bands in Canada and is considered to be one of the most influential pioneers in the Country Rock movement.
The name Whisky Hollow is taken from a real place. Historically it was a section of Brantford, Ontario Canada that existed in the late 1800’s and was home to distilleries and considered the rough part of town.
The band Whisky Hollow took this name because that was where the band was born and developed. Unknowingly the seeds were planted in the late 60’s when musicians/songwriters, Lenny Wilde and Jimmy Windle teamed up with Guy Wilkes, (a future Whisky Hollow member) and Rick Fowler to form Sergeant House. Wilde and Windle have been a songwriting team ever since.
In the mid seventies Wilde was playing with Twilite, which included future Hollow members, drummer Jerry Ammerman and guitarist Bob Silverthorn. Jim had just left Autumn, a group lead by future Hollow member, drummer Vern “Fatty” Smith.
Wilde and Windle made the decision to stop playing and concentrate on their songwriting. Shortly after, Ammerman and Silverthorn left Twilite and offered to help out by forming a group to make demos of their songs.
Recording equipment was very primitive in those days compared with today’s standards and the guys decided to play a few gigs to get money to buy better equipment. Thus the band was formed and played its first gig at the Burford Fair Grounds in 1975.
The crowd reaction was so positive the guys decided to keep the band playing and kept busy throughout Southern Ontario for the next year and a half.
Recording in those days was a rare thing and releasing a single was virtually unheard of, but when they saw an advertisement for the Mercy Brothers recording studio they made a call and set up a session.
They worked up two originals tunes, Cinderella and Old Nate, and invited local steel guitar player Art Rook to join them on the session. After the session, the Mercy Brothers recommended them to an independent label, Thunderbird Records.
The single was released with Cinderella on the A side and the local station CKPC and other stations in the region jumped all over the song. Overnight the band took on a whole new perspective in their career and bookings were coming in from all over.
The owner of Thunderbird was a friend of Freddy Mackinnon’s, a famous blind guitarist from Maritime Canada. Freddy was music director on the George Hamilton IV TV series based out of Hamilton, Ontario on CHCH-TV. Freddy came to hear the band and fell in love with their energy and originality and booked them on the show.
While doing the sound check for the first song, George approached the band and commented on the flags draped over Lenny’s Piano and Organ. In those days the band had a Canadian Maple Leaf over one instrument and a Rebel flag over the other. George being from the South commented that both flags together were a strong combination and both meant a lot to him.
George loved the bands performance, which led to a number of follow up appearances on his TV show. With his influence the band started appearing on other independent Country music TV shows all across Canada. This gave them invaluable experience and allowed them to develop a smooth professional manner in front of the cameras.
At the same time the band was developing an act that stood out as different and unusual in the genre in which they were playing. Heavily influenced by the Eagles, Beatles and The Band, Whisky Hollow soon took on a life of it’s own. Their show was a combination of originals songs, and original arrangements of cover tunes.
Whisky Hollow’s music always stood out because of their intricate harmonies and their stage presentation was always entertaining with a sharp tongued humor that their ever growing following loved and looked forward to. They quickly became known as a hard hitting, partying, goodtime band.
Their versatile sound was anchored by Jerry on Drums, and Jimmy on bass. Lenny played organ and piano, and doubled on guitar, banjo, and mandolin. Bob heavily influenced the sound with his lead guitar and harmonica expertise. The bulk of the lead vocals were handled by Lenny, Jimmy, and Bob.
The guys then felt it was time to record their first album and went to Thunder Sound in Toronto. The album, “Population 4” was done in record time due to their inexperience in a studio and is rather raw sounding compared to today’s standards. However, it does represent what their actual on stage sound was like.
Robert Thompson of Rowdy Records heard the demo and signed Whisky Hollow to their first LP release and released the single on his label, “You’re Always There”. The single got more air play and opened the door for future national releases.
Lenny then had a fortunate meeting with Dave Wiley at a hockey arena. He convinced Lenny that the band needed a corporate logo and designed one for the band. This logo was maintained for the life of the band. It appeared on T-shirts, ashtrays, beer mugs, glasses, whisky jugs and all sorts of merchandise. This was unheard in the country market at this time and put Whisky Hollow way ahead of their time in the promotional end of the business. Lenny’s parents had a small business that produced their merchandise, which was another stroke of luck.
Whisky Hollow’s exposure again increased when they appeared on a popular daytime talk show on CKCO-TV in Kitchener, Ontario, The Johnny Walters Show. This led to almost weekly performances for the next number of years.
With all the exposure and a growing fan base it was time to turn the band over to a management firm and the band teamed up with Manager Bill Siep. At the time Siep was developing a heavy metal band, Helix. They went on to be international recording stars and a mainstay in their style of music.
Under Siep’s direction the band was refined and developed into a more polished and professional group that could hold their own on any concert stage. Their first major concert was in Hamilton, Ontario with Country music legend, Faron Young.
Following the concert the first of many press articles started appearing where ever the band was performing. This continued on a regular basis until the end of the band’s career and added to their exposure and growing number of fans.
Now it was time to start working on a follow-up album. They started recording at Grant Avenue Studios in Hamilton under the direction of producer Danny Lanois. Danny went on to become a world- class producer for such artists as U2, Aaron Neville, Robbie Robertson and Bob Dylan. Lanois has won 9 Grammies and Whisky Hollow considers their association with him as a highlight of their career.
The band was joined on the session and several concert shows by Hamilton steel guitarist Ernie Geroux.
During this time period Whisky Hollow was making more and more high profile engagements. These included an appearance with Country super-star Tammy Wynette and their first of many appearances on Opry North, a nationally syndicated radio concert, Canada’s version of the Grand Ole Opry broadcasts.
They then decided to start their own record label, Shotgun Records, and released their new self-titled album and the first single on Shotgun, “Promised Land”. The guys were delighted to see it make the RPM magazine top 50 chart within weeks.
Follow-up singles from that album were released over the next few years and all of them reached the chart and stayed for many weeks. Airplay for Whisky Hollow records was consistent on radio stations coast to coast, in limited US markets, Europe and South Africa.
The guys then heard of a new Country music TV series, Lively Country, that was starting to tape shows at CHCH TV and applied and were accepted. Although the band was only scheduled for three songs, they actually taped 19 songs on that first day due to their extensive TV experience.
The executive producer, Lionel Shenken, fell in love with the band and edited those appearances into the full 26-week season.
Bob then left the band to pursue a more traditional country music career and went on to play with some of the top country groups in Southern Ontario.
Guitarist Pierre Maher then joined the band and brought more of a rock edge to Whisky Hollow’s sound. His guitar expertise, vocal abilities and humor took the band in a different direction and allowed the band to further expand their unique sound.
The touring expanded and the band was playing further and further a field and reaching a greater audience. One of their more noted concerts was with Country music legend, Freddy Fender at the Southampton Coliseum. Another thrill was performing at an outdoor Opry North taping in front of an audience of over 8000 people.
Lively Country was about to start videotaping it’s second season and Whisky Hollow was offered the job as house band for the show and some co-host duties. Lenny was offered the job of Music Director for the show. Steel guitar player Doug Johnson joined the band for the TV appearances. Doug’s career continued after Lively Country and he went on to become one of the premiere steel guitarists in Canada and has received many awards for his talent.
According to Visual Productions the show was now syndicated in 127 markets around the world and the band now had an international audience to hear their music. The show continued for another two years and then was picked up for two seasons of re-runs by CITY-TV in Toronto.
All during this time period record releases continued with airplay and chart action all across Canada. “Bar Room Bon Vivant”, “Cosmic Cowboy”, “What You Have To Offer”, “I Need Some Lovin’”, “It’s All Over Now” all made great hits and help increase album sales for the band.
They even released a bi-lingual record, taking advantage of Pierre’s heritage. “It’s The Last Time” was recorded in English on one side and French on the other which gave the band exposure to the French Canadian market. They had previously made appearances on the Claude Patry TV show in Quebec City.
The band was also busy in studio writing and recording songs for Lively Country. They were responsible for all the tracks for 2 to 3 songs for themselves for each show as well as the several tracks per show needed for host Stew Fargo. Considering the show had a 26-week season for another two years, it made for a hectic recording schedule and Lenny and Jimmy were pumping out original tunes like a production line.The band was still touring and during an east coast concert and promotional tour they taped the Maritime Country TV series.
In 1980 Whisky Hollow was nominated as “Best Performing Group” at the Canadian Country Music Awards in Toronto and again in 1981 at the Awards in Winnipeg.
It was now time for a management change and they signed with Toronto manager, David Peever. David kept the band busy and opened many doors for the band in the more traditional country market.
Visual Productions then started airing a show on CHCH-TV called Music Till Midnight. This show was made up of performances from various other Visual shows and featured Whisky Hollow several times a week for several years.
Pierre then left the group to pursue a solo career and Guy Wilkes joined the band as lead guitarist. Guy Wilkes was considered one of the best rock and blues players and singers at the time and again brought a whole new influence to the band’s sound.
During this time period Whisky Hollow was kept busy playing some great engagements like the Canadian National Exhibition several years in a row and the prestigious Royal York Hotel and headlined many fair dates.
It was then that R.J. Nellzy, “that fiddle playing fool”, joined the band and added to their good time, foot stomping sound. Nellzy again took the band in another direction musically while still maintaining their originality. The energy level and comedy on stage just jumped to an even higher level.
Jimmy then left the group to pursue a successful career in the Christian music market. He recorded a solo album, produced several albums, continued his writing and became music director of several religious organizations.
The band was holding auditions to replace Jimmy when they met Pat Brousseau. Pat was a renowned bluegrass guitar player and singer but auditioned for the open bass guitar position. Pat’s bass playing, singing and harmony expertise impressed the band so much he was hired on the spot and again the band developed a whole new dynamic.
Nellzy also introduced steel guitar player Joey Allain to the band. Joey became a regular side man with Whisky Hollow whenever available creating a powerful six-piece version of the band.
In 1983 Lenny had become a partner in Solid State Recording Studio, a division of Shotgun Music Corp and the band started working on their next album, “We Know Better”.
The album was produced by Steve Beach and spawned the single releases “We Know Better”, “Hey Bottle Of Whisky”, “Old Trains” and “The Heart of Dixie”. These releases put Whisky Hollow back on the national charts over the next year.
The hectic schedule and the fun continued for another year but when it was time to go back on the road again Guy left the group to return to his blues and rock career and drummer Jerry Ammerman retired from the music business.
Old friend and drummer Vern “Fatty” Smith had been helping out with the road crew and joined the band as drummer, and studio guitarist and banjo player Barry Kirk took Wilkey’s spot. The band toured for six months and released the single “I’ve Always Been A Survivor” which kept Whisky Hollow on the radio charts.
By this time Lenny was also reaching the “burn out” stage and decided to fold the band after a successful 10 year run. Lenny left for New York City to continue his electrical career. Barry returned to teaching guitar. Nellzy and Joey continued to play together in several local country groups and their personal careers. Fatty returned to his career and played with several local groups. Pat returned to the bluegrass field.
In 1985 Lenny returned from the US and was offered the opportunity to put together a musical TV pilot for old friend Lionel Shenken at Visual Productions.
Whisky Hollow was quickly put back together with Fatty, Barry, Joey, Nellzy and Pat. Steve Beach joined to replace Lenny on keyboards and Lenny stepped out front playing rhythm guitar.
The concept of the show was to have Whisky Hollow performing live on a studio set and the guests were Nashville name acts on videotape, an unheard of idea at the time. The band also made three music videos for the show, a first for a Canadian country act.
Lenny wrote new songs and the theme for the show, which had a working name of “Wilde Country”, but was later changed to “ Rock Country”. The show had a great look and sound and was aired on CHCH-TV many times in a late-night time slot but was never picked up for syndication and the group again disbanded.
Lenny returned to the United States but kept in touch with Jimmy over the years. In 2002 Jimmy started talking about a reunion tour but Lenny was not interested. Jimmy was persistent and reduced his idea to a Reunion concert. In 2005 Lenny found himself back in Canada and Jimmy, Bob and Lenny put together a trio to have some fun locally on weekends.
The Reunion Concert idea then became a reality and took place in Whisky Hollow in September of 2006. The concert was sold out and a music/documentary DVD was produced of that special evening.
Before the concert, the band was honored with citations and congratulations by Lloyd St. Amand, Member of Parliament, Dave Levac, Provincial Member of Parliament and Mike Hancock, mayor of the City of Brantford.
The first show of the evening depicted the original four piece band. Original drummer Jerry Ammerman stayed in retirement but joined Fatty, Jimmy, Bob and Lenny on stage for the first song.
They stayed on stage for the second show and Pierre and Wilky joined the guys to represent the next stage of the band. The third show added Nellzy, Pat and Joey, to end the evening with a 9 piece powerful super group that brought the house down.
After much urging from the fans the guys decided to resurrect Whisky Hollow and go back to making music. Jerry stayed in retirement. Bob retired shortly after and Joey stays busy with his own group.
The current Whisky Hollow is a six piece band made up of Lenny Wilde on keyboards and mandolin, Jimmy Windle on bass, Pierre Maher on lead guitar, Guy Wilkes on lead guitar and harmonica, Pat Brousseau on lead and acoustic guitar,and Fatty Smith on drums. R.J. Nellzy also joins the band on fiddle when his schedule permits.
All seven share the lead vocals and they still maintain their phenomenal harmonies, stage energy and humor. Whisky Hollow is back and the ride continues.
80’s video Alabama Party
70’s video Ladies