Born: 1956, Glasgow, Scotland
Studio Albums and Hit Singles:
1985: Strange Animal (#5, 3x Platinum)
Hit Singles: “A Criminal Mind” (#5), “(You’re a) Strange Animal” (#15), “Guerrilla Soldier” (#40)
1987: Great Dirty World (#4)
Hit Singles: “Moonlight Desires” (#10), “Awake the Giant” (#36)
1990: Lost Brotherhood (#26)
Hit Singles: “All the Lovers in the World” (#6), “Out of a Deeper Hunger” (#36)
1993: …but you can call me Larry
Hit Singles: “When There’s Time (For Love)” (#6), “Dancing on My Own Ground” (#15), “Soul’s Road” (#13)
1995: The Good Catches Up
Hit Singles: “Guns and God” (#14), “The Good Catches Up” (#18), “Get It While You Can” (#21)
Montreal and Vancouver had produced heavyweights Corey Hart and Bryan Adams respectively. It was now Toronto’s turn. Scottish-born Canadian (Lawrence / Larry) Gowan achieved nowhere near the success of his male contemporaries Hart and Adams, nevertheless he managed 13 Top 40 hits, 4 of which made the Top 10, as well as a multi-platinum and two platinum albums. His signature song and biggest hit was “A Criminal Mind” which peaked at #5 on the national RPM Singles Chart.
Larry was a classically trained pianist from the Royal Conservatory of Music, but, a fan of progressive rock, he decided to become a pop star. In 1976 he formed and fronted the band Rhinegold with his classmate and brother and included dancing, acrobatics, and story-telling with costumes and elaborate lighting effects in his concerts. They performed their own progressive rock songs as well as covers of Genesis and Supertramp songs. Audiences responded well to Gowan’s charisma as a performer. Stories told in their songs touched on such themes as exploration, folklore, superstition, witch hunts, and outer space. Despite the band’s strong reputation and packed houses, they were unsuccessful in attracting the attention of record companies to sign a deal. With his likeable persona, Gowan was able to jam with members of Klaatu and tour with Ronnie Hawkins. He eventually saved enough money to record a demo tape which led to a deal with CBS Canada.
Kim Mitchell helped him record songs for his debut, self-titled release. Two minor charting singles resulted from the album which sold poorly. CBS was less discouraged than he was, believing in his abilities, and that all was needed was an appropriate producer. British producer David Tickle, who was in Toronto working with Platinum Blonde, heard Gowan’s music and expressed interest. Larry forwarded him his new material and received no reply, but it turned out that Tickle had been waiting for rhythm section Levin & Marotta to finish work on Peter Gabriel’s latest release so they could work on Gowan’s.
Before he knew it Gowan found himself in Ringo Starr’s home on the French Riveria with a strong team of high-profile personnel. The result was the album Strange Animal. The comic-book style, theatrical, award-winning music video for the first single, “A Criminal Mind” was as popular as the song itself and helped push it into the Top 5. Many feel the song could have done better but it was up against hefty competition at that time with charity single “Tears Are Not Enough”, Madonna’s “Material Girl”, and Tears for Fears “Shout”. Gowan opened for the latter during their tour in the U.S.
David Tickle returned to produce Gowan’s follow up album Great Dirty World. “Moonlight Desires”, which featured Yes singer Jon Anderson, was a Top 10 hit.
CBS was intent on getting Gowan’s success to spread to the more populated (i.e. more lucrative) United States and knew that Americans tended to shun anything progressive, arty, or Anglo-oriented. They shuffled Gowan over to Rush’s record label—Anthem—and, under the watchful eye of Bob Roper, the progressiveness was dropped in favour of an edgier rock sound. Red Rider and Rush guitarists were recruited to play on the album. Eddie Schwartz-produced Lost Brotherhood was released, “All the Lovers in the World” ploughed through to #6 on the singles chart, and everything was ignored south of the border where the album was released through Atlantic Records.
CBS asked Gowan to re-invent himself a third time. Although he was trained primarily as a pianist, CBS insisted that Americans preferred squeaky acoustic guitars, and Gowan had to rise to the challenge of creating guitar-oriented material. J.D. Souther of the Eagles was brought onboard to ensure a more twangy sound that appealed to the Yanks. The result was the acoustic-laden …but you can call me Larry. The song-writing was highly praised and three singles made the Top 20, including “When There’s Time (For Love)” (#6). Once again, despite all their efforts, no headway was made in the U.S. The big single and album sales in Canada were bringing in lots of money but Gowan was receiving little profit. Tired of being manipulated by his record company, he left and took Vice President Bob Roper with him. The two decided to take destiny into their own hands and make a record done their way without trying to make it big in the United States. In 1995, Good Catches Up was released. Remarkably, although the album was released independently, it spawned three hit singles.
In 1997, Gowan released “Healing Waters”, a tribute to Princess Diana. In 1999 he was asked to fill in for the ill Dennis DeYoung on Styx’s comeback tour. This led to his becoming a permanent member of the band as keyboardist and vocalist.