Q. Toronto in 1991 saw the formation of this band. They recorded their first album, “Five Hundred Pounds” in 1993, but when Jamaican-born Garry Lowe joined them in 1994, the band really took off. They disbanded amicably in 2004 as a protest to Canadian radio stations who said that their music was “too Canadian”. What sweet-sounding rock-blues group am I speaking about?
A. Big Sugar officially formed in 1988 in Toronto, Ontario, consisting of vocalist and guitarist Gordie Johnson, bassist Terry Wilkins, and drummer Al Cross, though the three musicians had already played together for several years as a supporting band for Molly Johnson’s jazz performances and as an informal jam band with members of the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir. After Molly Johnson returned to rock music with Infidels, she helped her former band mates to secure a record deal.
After Wilkins left the band in 1993, Big Sugar recorded the album Five Hundred Pounds with the help of guest musicians, including harmonica and tenor saxophonist Kelly Hoppe, also known as Mr. Chill. Hoppe brought a blues and old-school r’n’b influence into the band’s sound. Hoppe would become an official member of the band in September 1994. He would later add keyboards and melodica to his sideman responsibilities. In July 1994, bassist Garry Lowe joined the band. Lowe had moved to Canada in the mid-1970s from Kingston, Jamaica. Soon after arriving in Toronto, he became an in-demand bass player for touring reggae recording artists.
In 2001, Big Sugar released Brothers and Sisters, Are You Ready? Taking their abilities in writing and performing French material to its logical conclusion, a complete track-for-track French version, Brothers and Sisters, Êtes Vous Ready?, was released the same year. Only the English album concluded with a blistering rendition of “O Canada”.
Big Sugar, known for its thundering rock shows performed without set lists, played their last concert before splitting up on December 31, 2003, at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton, Alberta. Gordie “Grady” Johnson immediately formed the Austin, Texas-based band Grady and later joined Wide Mouth Mason as their full-time bassist, and also started the gospel dub duo Sit Down, Servant!! when he began playing steel guitar. Kelly Hoppe formed Mr. Chill & The Witnesses, a roots music group. Mojah and Garry Lowe went on to form Truth and Rights Revue, a reggae band, and have released one album to date.
The band reunited in 2010, playing their first show since 2003 at Telus World Ski & Snowboard Festival in Whistler, B.C. on April 23.