Claude Morrison Of The Nylons: “We didn’t find a cappella, a cappella found us”

After more than 35 years circling the globe, the curtain is coming down on the touring chapter of The Nylons’ illustrious and legendary career. Beginning in spring 2016, the iconic Canadian a cappella legends will embark on a year-long series of farewell shows to say goodbye to the dedicated fans who have supported and embraced them over the years.

“We are looking forward to the upcoming farewell shows – and we are going to make the most of them,” says Claude Morrison, who founded the seven-time gold-and platinum-record-selling group in Toronto in 1978. “This will be a celebration and we will go out with a bang.”

In addition to Morrison (tenor), current Nylons members are Garth Mosbaugh (tenor/baritone), Gavin Hope (baritone/tenor/bass) and Tyrone Gabriel (bass/baritone). The Nylons will perform farewell shows throughout Canada and the USA through the end of 2016, followed by a tour of Holland in early 2017.

Eric Alper: You’ve done hundreds and thousands of interviews in the past. Before I start, I want to know what not to ask. What’s the question you’re asked the most?
Claude Morrison: How did you get your name…
Eric: Okay. So Claude, how did you get your name?
Claude: *laughs* Just played right into your hands, there. You want to know? I’ll give you the story, long story short. Back when, it wasn’t too long after the 50s and 60s, during which time vocal groups name themselves after fabrics. For some reason, don’t ask me why. The Chiffons, for instance and so – this is very tongue and cheek – The Nylons. Which was another fabric and four guys, nonetheless. It was a little confusing but people never forgot the name.
Eric: Are the beginnings of The Nylons what Hollywood would put in a movie if it was the 70s? Four guys standing underneath the lamp post, late at night, just singing?
Claude: Not really, more like on the rooftop. That sort of image is kind of correct with our experience. But no, we were theatre people; we were actors, singers, dancers. You know, triple threat. We were, as we used to put it, between jobs or resting. Meaning we were unemployed so we had time to kill. So we just got together for the heck of it and sang together. There was no piano around, so a cappella. We didn’t find a cappella, a cappella found us. Nobody knew where it was going, including us. It really was like going for a wild ride. Everyday was a new adventure and was like gee, what’s going to happen now.
Eric: What do you mean by that?
Claude: Well we didn’t really set out to do this. We just wanted to have a vocal group. Whether or not there were instruments in there, was not really expressly a key. It was all about the vocals but then, as I said, there happened not to be a piano around. So the medium found us. A capella found us. It just kind of happened and it happened quickly. Before long we got our start in Toronto. It just all caught on, there was a buzz.
Eric: I can only remember Manhattan Transfer having success as a vocal group at the time you were starting. Were there others?
Claude: The Transfers were the closest they got but they would do maybe one acapella song per album and they were great at it. Now there’s so much more out there. I’ve had so many people come up to me and say over the years, “You guys are responsible for my getting into this”. Which, after 35-years I guess it’s impossible not to have some kind of impact on somebody.
Eric: Can you describe what the 2016 Nylons are like in relations to the 1978 Nylons? Because the songs still are the same or at least your interpretation of them. Can you update songs to the time we’re in now or is it based on the members that are in the group and their strengths?
Claude: Taste change when you go from some members to another and absolutely nothing against the originally membership of the group. I would say in terms of music knowledge and theory, the current membership is better trained, has more musical training. At first when we began, I was the only one that had musical training. All the other guys, much to their credit, were just going on instinct, but what instinct they had!
Eric: When I first saw the band, you were already selling out O’Keefe Centre and Ontario Place in Toronto. Was there a moment where you realize that this is going to be bigger than you actually imagined?
Claude: Yes, and I’ll tell you that we played a very long stretch down on Queen Street and University. On the weekend, we would do 2 shows a night. Between shows, people were lining up. It was just a club, it wasn’t Carnegie Hall or anything, and it just floored me that people were standing outside, in the cold weather, lining up to hear us. I always thought it this is something that would be right up my alley but I know it would be up so many other people’s alleys, as well.
Eric: It’s coming up to the start of the final tour for the group. You’ve had to think about this decision for a time. Does it make it real now that it’s starting soon?
Claude: Not so much, as this isn’t us riding off into the sunset for forever. We’re still going to be around but under certain circumstances, more of our own choosing. We’ve been going for 37 years.
Eric: Why stop touring?
Claude: I find, myself speaking, that the mileage is catching up with my body because I’m not getting any younger. So I just think less is more. The less we do, the more I enjoy it.
Eric: How do you decide the songs for this specific tour? Are there songs that you might not have performed in a while mixed with the classics?
Claude: Yes, there’s all that. Then there’s stuff that hasn’t been recorded, rarely have been performed. So there will be all that. There will be some new-old stuff, old-new stuff and new-new stuff. So we’re still kind of all going through that now at this early stage. We’re still picking and choosing what will be the line-up because that means we could sing them all and it would be a 4-hour show.
Eric: I don’t think you’ll hear people complain from anybody out in the audience.
Claude: No, you’ll probably hear the singers complain more than the audience. *laughs*
Eric: Looking back, were there any genres of music that you just couldn’t figure out enough to make it work for a cover, or a specific song that you wanted to do, but didn’t sound great to you? .
Claude: Well one time we tried, took a stab at putting together Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s such a complex piece of music and as a record it’s phenomenal. The engineering of it. At a certain point we sort of thought, wait a minute…Why are we knocking ourselves out when they got it right the first time. So unless you bring something totally new and different to it, the world is fine with Freddie Mercury and Queen.
Eric: You released albums from ‘82- ‘89 on Attic in Canada and Windham Hill in the U.S. and then after that you signed on with Scotti Brothers Records in the U.S. Did you feel any pressure being on those labels in America to be more commercial or perhaps cover certain songs?
Claude: I suppose. The record company always will want to have input into the material. We consider it, fairly, but we never felt put upon to do something. We’re not going to be pressured into doing something that doesn’t feel right. That doesn’t feel organic. But at that same time period, when we left Attic and went on with Scotti Brothers, it was a very tumultuous time. Paul Cooper had just left the group- Paul and Marc Connors were the two founders. I may be a founding member but the group is really found by Paul and Marc. A year after Paul left the group, then Paul passed away. We basically had to replace half the group in one swoop and that really took a leap of faith. You have to dive in, hold your breath and keep your fingers crossed.
Eric: You lost your friends. Forget about bandmates, these were your friends.
Claude: Yeah and it’s been suggested to us, well to me, that I should write a book.
Eric: You should write a book.
Claude: *laughs* I wouldn’t be able to do it because the people that were around at that time, are no longer with us and I would need help. There’s nobody I could go to right now to help me jog my memory.
Eric: Look, if Keith Richards could write a book and not remember half the stuff where he was actually at, you could do it.
Claude: But Charlie Watts and Mick Jagger are still around and they were around in the old days. Paul, Marc, Dennis, Ralph, they’re all gone.
Eric: I’m going to sell you on this idea. It’s not just a book on the music and The Nylons, but what Toronto and Canada went through in the 70’s through the eyes of The Nylons.
Claude: It was a lot going on. It was kind of in the golden age, wasn’t it? Because there was so much going on and stuff that endures, and has endured.
Eric: So, now that you’re not going to tour, what are you going to do on your spare time?
Claude: Write a book.