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Doug Willson: 1935-2002
Doug Willson

Born: August 19, 1935 in Welland, Ontario
Died: March 14, 2002 in Niagara Falls, Ontario

Canadian bass player Doug Willson

by Len Dobbin
Copyright © 2002 Len Dobbin


James Hale has forwarded this excerpt from a note from Len Dobbin, a broadcaster in Montreal, regarding bass player Doug Willson:


I awoke this morning to an email from Doug Willson’s wife, Pam. On Thursday, March 14th, Doug had a massive heart attack at his home in Niagara Falls and died instantly. As a bassist Willson was active in the Montreal area in the 1960s. Cisco Normand remembers working in a group with Willson, Stan Patrick and Bill Barwick in Three Rivers.

In 1967 he recorded a 45 rpm single, his salute to Canada’s 100th birthday. On Bobby Gimby’s “Canada” he was joined Henry Cuesta, Hagood Hardy and Don Vickery, while on his own beautiful “Canadian Theme”, Freddie Stone, Hardy and Vickery were on hand to back the voice of Tommy Ambrose. The label was Capitol.

Willson’s discography is unfortunately small and hard to find. In 1964, on June 15th, he recorded Jimmy Namaro’s “We Three” and “Blues For Fives”, with vibraphonist Namaro’s trio with Gord Carley on drums. The label was CTL [Canadian Talent Library]. With strings added [arranged by people like Frank Fusco and Namaro] they also did “The Moon Is Low”, “Let’s Fall In Love” and “The Man I Love”.

In 1965 he, along with Rob McConnell, Eugene Amaro, cellist Ron Laurie, Ed Bickert and drummer Stan Perry, was heard on the soundtrack of a 90 minute B&W white film, Winter Kept Us Warm. The film, with a title inspired by a T. S. Eliot poem, was a production by university students, written, directed and produced by David Sector.

That year, on November 25th in Toronto, Willson was involved in another CTL session, probably the most important recording of his career. The leader was saxophonist Pat Riccio and Doug was joined in the rhythm section by pianist Teddy Wilson and drummer Ed Thigpen [the group also worked at the Colonial Tavern].

Ten tracks were released under Riccio’s name: they were “Take The ‘A’ Train”, “Sophisticated Lady”, “Stompin’ at the Savoy”, “What’s New”, “Undecided”, “Misty”, “When You’re Smiling”, “Out Of Nowhere”, “Just One of Those Things” and “I’m Confessin’ That I Love You”.

On November 3 of last year I got to hang out with Thigpen at the Montreal Drum Fest, and he was happy to have news of a musical friend that he had lost all track of, and asked me to send his best to Doug. While living in Toronto, Doug also worked with Jim Galloway’s “Metro Stompers” and possibly recorded with that band in 1969.

Len Dobbin
Len Dobbin is a broadcaster in Montreal.

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