Lawrence Gowan

The following Biography is comes from Jam Showbiz, The Canadian Music Encyclopedia

Lawrence Gowan, born in Glasgow, Scotland, has been playing in and around the Toronto music scene since the early 1970's. He's a classically trained pianist from the Royal Conservatory of Music and a devout Progressive Rock fan.

In 1976 he formed Rhinegold with fellow school mates Daniel Bourne (drums/vocals) and brother Pat Bourke (guitar/keyboards/vocals). Lawrence fronted this power trio as keyboardist and vocalist amidst his theatric story telling and acrobatics. Lawrence regularly danced on top of his baby grand piano and pranced about the stage like a wildman on fire.


Rhinegold's songs were molded with the same progressive rock substance of Genesis, Supertramp, and Queen - maintaining their melodic sense without abandoning the pretense of good storytelling like other Prog Rock icons like the Moody Blues, ELP and Yes. The Beatles were also a heavy influence and the band often incorporated their songs, as well as those by Genesis and Supertramp, into their set of otherwise all original material. Rhinegold's originality stemmed from their ability to weave a mythical story live and hold the audience's interest not only with rock solid performances and professionalism, but with Gowan's charisma as a frontman. The songs told tales of far-off lands in the middle-east ("Trail of The Jade"), Teutonic folklore ("Black Forest Riders"), early exploration ("Passage To The Rhine"), superstition and witchhunts ("Two Faces And A Black Dog Grin") and more cosmic pursuits ("Dr. Starlight And The Watchmaker", "Galaxy Dancer").

There were also more playful flights of fancy with nods to childhood ("Circus Overture", "Comic Strip Boogie"). With these heavy concepts came a light and stage show to rival the stadium acts complete with costume changes (they even had a song about their costumers - "Madame Malabar"). Alas, 5 years in the club scene throughout southern Ontario led to several former bass players and no significant response from the music industry themselves. Despite their best efforts to attract attention for their packed houses and elaborate stage personas, Rhinegold was up against other power trios - Rush, Klaatu, FM, Triumph who had pretty much saturated the hard driving, over-the-top, production market of the late '70's. Disco was king and Rhinegold was dead.

In Between

For a short stint Lawrence hooked up with Terry Draper and Dee Long (moonlighting from their day-gig as Klaatu) to perform cover tunes as FUNN. The loose atmosphere and intoxicated circumstances surrounding the band led Gowan to explore other avenues in search of that illustrious "big break". He toured briefly as Ronnie Hawkins keyboard player and scraped together enough money for a demo tape. By 1982 Gowan had been signed to CBS Canada for a multi-album solo record deal. The demos were reworked and a 'band' brought in, including the recently unemployed Kim Mitchell of Max Webster fame, to perform Gowan's newest commercial pop record. Gone were the 12 minute opuses of Rhinegold's past and instead offered 4 minute pop ditties heavy on the Saga keyboard bent.

Artwork was supplied by award winning graphic artist Hugh Syme (Klaatu, Rush) and the album spawned two medium charting singles "Give In" and "Keep Up The Fight" (which also became a video). The album floundered into immediate obscurity and Gowan found himself without a direction. However, CBS still believed in his talent as a first-class showman and songwriter so Gowan returned to ESP to continue demos throughout 1984. With CBS firmly backing the 'NEW' Gowan, the material was shopped around to various producers hoping that someone could steer Lawrence in the right direction as they had mistakenly forwarded the first album to people who blatantly rejected the record as too '70's retro. However, one day Lawrence received a call from infamous British producer David Tickle who was in Toronto working on another CBS Canadian act, Platinum Blonde. Tickle had heard a demo tape and thought that Gowan had something unique, but he too felt it was just rehashing the same pap that Canadians and Brits had been clinging to from a bygone era. Tickle wanted newer material which Lawrence obliged him with. When there was no response Gowan took it as a sign of no interest.

By late 1984, Gowan had given up on Tickle when suddenly he got a call from the producer who was out driving in a new sports car. Tickle asked him to hold the line because he wanted Lawrence to speak to someone. Tickle put Jerry Marotta on the line and the two began talking like old pals about their favourite music. Tickle had deliberately waited to respond to Gowan because he was waiting for Peter Gabriel's rhythm section of Tony Levin & Marotta, to finish Gabriel's latest record so they could commit to Gowan's material. Within a week the quartet were in Ringo Starr's house in the French Riviera putting down bedtracks for what would become a career making album: 'Strange Animal'. The record was released in 1985 to much publicity and hype as much for the sheer production value and craftsmanship as for the "who's who" performing on it.

The Big Time

Gowan toured with The Kinks and several Canadian rock acts supporting them and building a grass roots following based on the first single and much applauded animated video for "Criminal Mind". The title track then followed with its own video as Gowan moved from opening act to headlining small venues. With the third single, "Guerrilla Soldier", the album was breaking wide open. A fourth single, "Cosmetics", secured a full year's touring schedule with Gowan opening in the US in 1986 for Tears For Fears on their successful 'Songs From The Big Chair' Tour.

During the 1986 Juno Awards Gowan was swamped with nominations and yielded several awards for album graphics (Hugh Syme - again) and video production ("Criminal Mind" & "Strange Animal") as well as 'Producer of The Year (David Tickle). Eventually, 'Strange Animal' would sell 300,000 copies. By late 1986, Gowan was resting and assessing his new found fame and fortune. As all record companies do, CBS was hot on Gowan to reproduce the success of his sophomore effort. By March 1987 the new album 'Great Dirty World' - once again produced by David Tickle and featuring the rhythm section of Marotta and Levin - was released to even more fanfare and hype than 'Strange Animal'. The album's lead off single, "Moonlight Desires", was a guaranteed smash due to the notable duet appearance of YES frontman John Anderson.

Gowan's ability to attract rock nobility on his records was giving him instant credibility and another hit record. Though it didn't sell exactly the same numbers as 'Strange Animal', 'Great Dirty World' saw the release of two more singles -- "Awake The Giant" and "Living In The Golden Age" -- and allowed Gowan the freedom to tour exclusively on his own headlining shows throughout Canada culminating in a two night engagement at Toronto's Massey Hall. However, the Americans, always elusive about Prog Rock and anything remotely arty or Anglocentric, passed on the release of the album. CBS saw this as a sign of the times and decided to unload their new 'hot' property to a label that did have success in the US - Anthem, home to Toronto scene-mates Rush. Gowan spent two years re-developing his career and songwriting under the watchful eye of Anthem's Bob Roper (who would eventually become Lawrence's manager) and they formed a battle plan. The US market seemed at least remotely interested in Canadian acts, so Lawrence's vision was retooled to a decidedly Cancon flavour and the old progressive Brit sound of Lawrence's two previous albums was left at the door with David Tickle and his infamous rhythm section. However, Jerry Marotta still contributed plenty to the follow-up disc, 'Lost Brotherhood', which was released in 1990. Gowan let his hair down (literally) and got down and gritty with some hard rock players from Canada's old school: guitarist Kenny Greer (Red Rider), guitarist Steve Shelski (Coney Hatch), Jerry Marotta, and even labelmate Alex Liefson making a guest appearance on several tracks. The whole affair was produced and co-written by Eddie Schwartz ("Hit Me With Your Best Shot", "Does A Fool Ever Learn"). Schwartz had Gowan over-write for the album and they picked the 10 best tracks to grace the record.

For the first time, Gowan had a ballad in the form of "All The Lovers In The World" and a flashy, sexy video to pump up his image as available rock-bachelor.. The second single, the cult-in-your-backyard paranoia schtick - was "Lost Brotherhood" itself which did nothing if not help fill seat after seat in clubs and concert halls. He even landed a coveted Saturday afternoon slot at the late, but great, Ontario Place Forum. The momentum was held as CBS issued a second ballad - "Out Of A Deeper Hunger" - and launched the record in the US on Rush's advice through Atlantic Records. Again, the Americans weren't biting.

Anthem gnashed their teeth as did Gowan. They gave him one more shot to re-affirm his status as king of Canadian Male rockers. So, in 1991, Lawrence put away his piano, picked up an acoustic guitar and headed to Jerry Marotta's private recording facility in Woodstock, New York and began the task of re-inventing himself - for the third time. With a guitar as his new muse, Gowan was able to take a fresh approach to songwriting and brought in many songwriters to co-write with including Annette Duscharme, Eddie Schwartz and Eagles helper J.D. Souther. The results were spectacular. Kenny Greer returned as Gowan's guitar foil and John Sebastian (Lovin' Spoonful) stopped in for a guest appearance. The 1992 album was humourously entitled '...But You Can Call Me Lawrence' because he had changed his name from Lawrence Gowan to GOWAN to Lawrence Gowan over the course of his career. The first single "When There's Time For Love" put Lawrence Gowan back on top of the charts and he toured exclusively on the strength of this one song with nothing but and acoustic guitar, a piano and Kenny Greer to back him. With that success he returned later that year with another single - "Dancing On My Own Ground" and a live band - consisting of himself, Kenny Greer, and Kim Mitchell's rhythm section of Peter Fredette (bass/keyboard) and Paul DeLong (drums). The 1980's theatrics were dropped in lieu of a tighter more musician oriented slant on the Gowan repertoire. His entire set list consisted of stripped down, bare-to-the-bones arrangements of all his hits including a piano only version of "Criminal Mind". Lawrence Gowan had returned with a vengeance.

In early 1995 at Toronto's Massey Hall, Gowan joined an All Star lineup of oldtime rockers (Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, The Band) to celebrate Ronnie Hawkins 60th birthday. Gowan was part of Hawkins' stage band and contributed three performances of his own. Despite the obvious success and peak performance of '...But You Can Call Me Larry', Lawrence Gowan had seen very little profit on what he considered a huge monetary turn around...with that, Gowan left Anthem records after the record ran its course and took Vice President Bob Roper with him. The two decided to take Gowan's career into their own hands and release 1995's 'Good Catches Up' independently so that all the resources were accountable and instantly recoupable. The record did not set the world on fire but was strong enough to elicit three more singles: the title track, "Guns And God" and "I'll Be There In A Minute".

Gowan, Kenny Greer and Paul DeLong performed "Heart Of Gold" on the 'Borrowed Tunes' Neil Young tribute with 40 other SONY Records acts. Profits went to The Bridge School in San Francisco Bay Area and Safehaven Project for Community Living in Toronto -- both charities supported regularly by Young himself. 1995 also saw '...But You Can Call Me Larry' certified gold by SONY Canada and SOCAN awarded Gowan recognition for the 10 most frequently played singles on radio in '95: "Soul's Road" (co-written with Annette Ducharme) and "Dancing On My Own Ground". Gowan finished up 1995 and 1996 on the road with Kenny Greer and Jeff Jones (both from Red Rider) on guitar and bass respectively, and Paul DeLong on drums.

One Man Show

As sales slowed on 'The Good Catches Up', Gowan jumped at the opportunity to do a one-man show tour in 1997 opening for Burton Cummings in which Gowan promoted not one, but two live albums: 'Au Quebec' for his loyal Francophone following, and another recorded at the Glenn Gould theatre in Toronto, called 'Solo Live: No Kilt Tonight'.

The "Best Of Gowan" CD on Columbia/SONY was released late in 1997 with the lead-off single "Healing Waters" -- a tribute to the late Princess Diana of Wales. The song was practically commissioned by the BBC during a promotional tour Gowan did in the UK during the time of her death. The push of Gowan's popularity led to a similar 'best of' package in the UK in 1998 called 'Home Field'.


1999 saw Gowan return to the recording studio with producer Terry Brown to record 11 songs for the follow-up to his last studio effort, 'The Good Catches Up', only to be interrupted in May, 1999 by a phone call asking him to fill in for Dennis DeYoung on Styx's 1999 comeback tour. Gowan has committed to 53 dates on the tour through the remainder of 1999. He has been playing one-man dates as a warm up to break in the newly learned Styx material and he hopes to return to Canada for some full-band dates (featuring Greer and Jones again) between Styx dates. Gowan's solo album should be completed and released by late 1999 or early 2000. Gowan had met the band in 1998 when he opened for them at Montreal's Molson Centre and Quebec's Colisee.



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