Craig Carmody tenderly pulls the sleeve out of the album. It’s a moment he has been waiting for more than half his life. The vinyl reflects his face, slightly wizened by time, as the memories and music flood back to life.
It’s been more than four decades since Carmody, now known as the sax man with Vernon band The Legendary Lake Monsters, joined his then bandmates to record an album in Toronto.
Back then, Carmody was a rocker with long, straight hair playing flute and sax with his Scarborough high school buddies in the band Cloud.
They would later change their name to Heat Exchange, and that’s where Carmody’s story begins with the record he now holds in his hands. Aptly titled Reminiscence, the album has been 45 years in the making.
“We were your typical high school band looking for gigs,” remembers Carmody, who is also known locally for his woodwind work with Vernon blues-rock outfit Kath and the TomKats and in various jazz trios. “I wish I was as good a flute player then as I am now.”
The band, which played progressive rock (think King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer), was first discovered at a three-day music festival in Ontario, known as Rock Hill.
“Roland Paquin, who managed big-name bands at the time, saw us and came on board as our manager. He wanted to get us a recording contract and brought in various executives to look at us,” said Carmody.
Toronto label Yorkville, which was responsible for releasing a number of top-10 Canadian hits in the ’70s, ended up signing the band in what was one of the largest record contacts for a Canadian act at the time.
Carmody and his Cloud bandmates holed up in a warehouse provided by the label to practise every day for six months before laying down the tracks.
“I picked up a pay cheque every week to practise. That was unheard of. It was an unusual situation with a full-time producer who would tell us what worked and what didn’t,” said Carmody. “They were generous with us and gave us anything we wanted.”
When band members decided they wanted timpani on one of its songs, the studio brought in the drums.
As the band got closer to recording its songs, it received word that its name might have to be changed.
“Apparently, another band had recently released an album under the name The Clouds and it was thought that our name was too close and might cause some confusion,” said Carmody.
Heat Exchange was born.
The recording session produced eight rough tracks to be played for record executives at several big American labels. However, the suits wanted to know how the band went over live – at that point, Heat Exchange hadn’t played any live shows in more than a year – and if it could generate a hit single.
The band and label decided to do just that with the song Can You Tell Me.
Carmody can remember when he and the band were told it was going to be played on Toronto rock station CHUM.
“We ran home and spent all evening listening for our song. At 10 p.m. they played it… They only played it at night, not prime time. I think back then programmers resented the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications) when they were told to play Canadian content. They had to play the song six times, but it didn’t mandate prime time. In our case, the CRTC programming worked against us.”
Nonetheless, Can You Tell Me made it to the top 10 in some smaller centres around Canada, and Carmody says he saw the record, with its B side single Inferno, in some restaurant jukeboxes.
The result was Scorpio Lady.
“We needed something to put on the B side and so stuck the track Reminiscence from the album material into that position. I really am not sure that Scorpio Lady got any airplay at all, but it was available in record stores,” said Carmody.
By then, things started cooling off. No money was coming in from the record company and the band was forced to go back out and play gigs to stay alive, said Carmody.
“It was frustrating and when we weren’t on the road, we were being hassled by the record company to come up with a hit single. Several of us in the band were getting more than a little frustrated.”
At that point, Carmody was thinking about getting married and moving to Edmonton.
“I was rapidly losing faith in the rock star dream,” he said.
However, Heat Exchange decided to take one more kick at recording a hit single and produced the song She Made Me All Alone.
That would be the last single the band would ever record together.
“We could have become a band historically important in Canada, but we didn’t come up with the elusive hit single. We had the big label. They put us in the finest studio, but the project was shelved.”
Carmody ended up moving to Edmonton and later to Vernon in 1994. Bass player Ralph Smith moved to Nanaimo and never returned to music, instead he went into the business world. The remaining members stayed in Toronto, playing in the band Truck before moving on to their own careers.
Guitarist Neil Chapman has played with the Pukka Orchestra and the late Leonard Cohen. Drummer Marty Morin still tours with Classic Albums Live and recently drummed with the Abbey Road show that came to Vernon. Keyboardist Gord McKinnon received his doctoral degree in sacred musicology and is a retired professor who still plays in rock bands. And singer Mike Langford, now based in Peterborough, Ont., has played in several bands.
“I was out of touch with the band members for a long time,” said Carmody.
That is until Carmody’s grandson decided to post one of Heat Exchange’s singles and a picture of the band on YouTube a few years ago. U.K. music blogger Richard Sheppard, who writes about obscure music on his site www.aftersabbath.com, saw it and posted a message asking about the band.
“My grandson wrote to the guy and said ‘that’s my grandpa on the left,’” said Carmody.
Sheppard, in turn, asked if he could contact Carmody to do an interview for his site.
“I ended up writing a story on the rise and fall of Heat Exchange,” said Carmody. “It was a lengthy article and he posted the whole thing. He also found some of the tunes we released as singles and posted them… There was lots of interest in our music. He thought it would be good for the band to finally release its full album.”
In 2015, Carmody gathered up the master tapes of Heat Exchange’s original recordings and travelled to Kelowna to meet with recording engineer Bob Gablehouse, who remastered the whole album.
“Everyone in the band was on board and looked after the costs,” said Carmody, adding he also tried to get in touch with the former manager/owners of Yorkville Records, now long defunct, to no avail.
With the help of Sheppard, Carmody was connected to the Guerssen record company in Spain (www.guerssen.com), who liked what they heard.
“They said they wanted to put it on their label,” said Carmody, adding contracts were then sent out to each band member and signed.
Officially released Feb. 15, Reminiscence by Heat Exchange is now available on vinyl and CD, with liner notes and the history of the band written by Carmody. A digital download of the album is also available.
“We’re not expecting to make money off this. It’s more for a niche market for those people who are interested in progressive rock of the ’70s,” said Carmody. “It’s been exciting for us 45 years later to finally see this released.”
In the end, it’s a bit of Canadian music history that fell through the cracks and has found a new life.