Letters from home told me that my father was having more and more difficulty coping. What’s more my sister had moved to Italy, and I was the only family he had left in America. This weighed heavily on my mind and I could not see myself leaving him alone under such circumstances. I received offers to play from Little Richard and Janis Joplin but I turned them down. I had decided to break from Pickett and I did so at the end of my second year with the tour. I said goodbye to the group in Vancouver, and headed home to care for my father and the new music I wanted to play.Once I had established a routine that ensured my father’s well being, I got into the Montreal scene. It took me little effort to locate the ingredients for a fine band and soon The Influence was born. Toronto soon called and after playing the club scene, we were signed by Bernie Cougleman. We cut our album at Bell Studios in New York. Entitled simply The Influence, it got enough attention to set us up on a two-month tour opening for The Doors and Steppenwolf.

Things didn’t work out for us afterwards, so we split up, and I went back to New York to hook up with The

Buddy Myles Express.The Express toured the college scene and we recorded an album. Billy Cox was a member of the group and it was an honour and a pleasure to have spent some fine moments in his company. The album contains the original version of ‘Them Changes’. The song was later covered by Jimi Hendrix with Buddy and Billy at the Filmore East on The Band of Gypsies album. My work with Buddy elicited an offer from Three Dog Night to join their ensemble, but the same concern prevented me from accepting their offer. Toward the end of my tour with Buddy, I spent an eventful time with him as he worked with Hendrix on the ‘Band of

Gypsies’ album. Jamming with Hendrix and getting to know him was a sheer pleasure. However, the constant

commuting finally got to me and I decided to strike out on my own. In 1971, I put together a power trio called Charlee. RCA signed us and we cut an album called Charlee. Doug Pringle’s CHOM FM based in Montreal launched it on the newly created Rock FM niche. One of the songs –‘Lord Knows I’ve won’- went to No.1 in Australia for 3 weeks. This led to a tour with the New York Dolls and another offer! This time it came from an unexpected source-England. I was summoned to the offices of Yvan Deschenes, then President of RCA Quebec. It turned out that David Bowie’s agent, Tony DeFries, had heard me in studio when he was in town dealing with RCA. The offer was to join Bowie’s band, which was then readying itself for the ‘Ziggy Stardust’ tour. Turning down such an offer was a very hard thing to do, but I had made my choice, and there was no going back on my wanting to stay close to my father. Charlee met with some success and I was beginning to carve a place for myself, even if the record industry was having a difficult time cataloguing my style. I still shake my head in disbelief about that period in my life.

Believe it or not, a DJ from Dayton , Ohio- of all places– fell in love with the album and gave it extended airplay.

Result? We sold 6,000 copies out of 1 record store in one week! And as an import to boot! However, the powers to be wouldn’t follow through and it was soon back to Toronto. In Toronto, I met up with Luke Gibson and became part of his group called Luke and The Apostles. We soon took Toronto by storm, and wound up playing the Strawberry Fields Pop Festival before a crowd of 275,000 people. Remember- this was 2 years after Woodstock, so the vibe was still fresh and boy what an unforgettable happening it turned out to be for our group. GBX was looking for exposure at the time, so they offered us as many amps as we wanted for the show. How could we pass up an opportunity like that? That evening we came on stage at midnight, introduced as a local band. What the people got was a vision and a sound worthy of their numbers: 36 GBX amps backed by a double set of Ludwig drums…Anyone who was there that night will never forget the experience. Shortly thereafter, Bernie Finkelstein got us a showcasing at Ungano’s in New York for CBS Records. Things were just taking off for us when Luke decided that he wanted to go back to nature, and he retreated to life on a farm. So much for hope and effort!

The 2 ½ years I spent in Toronto were full of good times and great people- Dominic Troiano, Val Stevens, Doug Riley, King Biscuit Boy, Cathy Young, and David Clayton Thomas of Blood Sweat and Tears…nothing but fine

memories. Back in Montreal, I dove head first into studio work and soon found myself working constantly- even though I did not know how to read music. I worked extensively for Tony Roman of CANUSA Records, and for Yves Lapierre of Studio Tempo, both of whom were recording the majority of the name French acts in Quebec at the time. Every now and then, I would go to the States to work with Buddy Myles. Then the inevitable happened and my father had a major heart attack. From that point on, we were inseparable- Augusto and son! In 1974, I met Michel Pagliaro and we got together with Marty Simon, Dwayne Ford, and Buster Jones to form The Rockers. Michel had a French hit out at the time called

‘J’entends frapper’. This, added to his success with ‘Rain Showers’ and ‘Lovin’ you ain’t so easy’ gave Michel a high profile. Once we jelled as a group, we were extremely busy. We made several TV appearances and the bookings were plentiful. CBS signed us up for 3 albums, and we even wound up recording at the same studio where Elton John recorded his Yellow Brick Road album. Le Chateau Studio in France.

The following year two major events took place in my life. The first was my father’s death resulting from a thrombosis. The void he left in my life would take a long time to fill, but it was as if he allowed the possibility of undertaking a solo career to now become a reality. Discussions with George Lagios made it clear that it was time for me to record on my own. So it was, that in 1976 I signed as a solo artist with Aquarius Records, then under the management of Donald K Donald, Terry Flood and Bob Rags. April Wine and I now shared the same roof! Between 1976 and 1977, I was

booked into the Phase One Studio just outside Toronto, and under the production of George Lagios and Michel Pagliaro I recorded my first solo effort titled simply `Walter Rossi`. (It was on this album, that I had the privilege of introducing the ‘talk box’ to the music industry. It was put together by Peter Traynor, the founder and owner of Traynor Amplifiers. I used it on my song ‘Dance with me’and on Pagliaro’s ‘Chateau d’Espagne’. Peter did it with me specifically in mind. Peter Frampton later showcased the ‘talk box’ on his single ‘Do you feel alright’.) The reaction to the album was favourable. Reviews by Martin Melhiush, David Farrel, Ritchie York and Montreal’s Juan Rodriguez created interest and I wound up opening for The Stampeders…talk about opposing styles! It garnered enough interest to get me a Juno nomination in 1977. Throughout this, I still kept busy as a studio session guitarist, but my next album would change that situation.

In 1978, inspired by the personal approach of such groups as Pink Floyd, Supertramp and Genesis, I wrote a song called ‘Soldiers in the Night’. I wrote that song in a tiled bathroom with an acoustic Ovation guitar…in thirty minutes. On hearing the song, George Lagios took us into Studio Tempo, in Pte-St. Charles, and three weeks later we had another album- but no title. Just as ‘Soldiers’ had come to me, so did the title for the album- Six Strings Nine Lives.The album’s jacket added interest to the album, with it’s unique foldout image of my Gibson

Les Paul Custom serving as the outer cover, and it’s replica serving as the dust jacket. (I consider myself honoured by the fact that until the advent of the CD the production costs of that jacket stood as one of the highest in the history of the industry.) It was a hit and the airplay was outstanding. Before I could turn around, I

was on the road and touring extensively – playing to sold out audiences at every show. By the year’s end thesupport grew to the extent that I was awarded the 1979 Juno in the Most Promising Vocalist category. That same year, the album also earned crossover recognition in Quebec at the initial Felix awards, by being nominated in the Best Album of the Year category and winning in the Album Art division. We toured quite regularly – filling halls wherever we went. The crowds were always behind me , and I got to love my fans. It seemed like they were the only real family I had. They appreciated what I was offering them and who I was; just an older shy kid who loved to play his guitar.

From the shows, to the studios, to the bars after hours – I had friends all around me, and I never knew what it was to spend time all alone.You know, life is so unpredictable. So full of surprises. To me, one of the most important surprises, is that my old Gibson Les Paul has ( through all the marketing process) become far more recognizable than my own face. It should seem odd- yet it is so fitting. After all, my guitar has been my constant companion and closest friend. It`s been with me throughout all my travels- and I`ve been on the road since I`m 18. It has brought me the biggest joys, and made me reflect on my life and my sense of self- worth. It has supported and helped me in my darkest moments. To know that my fans have made such an association, is the greatest gesture of recognition that I could possibly have hoped for in my life.

Thank you.

 

Well, that’s how things happened for me in breaking out and making my place as a solo performing artist. It’s been a pleasure sharing this time with you, and I hope there’s something in my experiences that will be of help to someone out there.

Back