As Domenic Troiano-penned “Opportunity” Song Gets Inducted, Musicians & Fans Recall the Man with Fret Fever
Simply. The. Best.
That’s what his legendary bandmates from George Olliver and Roy Kenner, to The Guess Who’s Burton Cummings and dozens of others thought of Domenic Troiano. And, that’s what The French Connection detective turned award-winning TV/movie producer Sonny Grosso called him at his Canadian Hall of Fame induction in 1996: “That damn good musician, our pal Domenic Troiano.”
And now, “Opportunity” one of guitarist/songwriter Troiano’s early hits that he wrote for Mandala. will be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame along with 5 other classic Canadian songs at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto on November 21.
“We came three thousands miles from Canada to LA. To tell you exactly how it feels. Maybe it’s here we’ll get our opportunity” — opening lyrics to Opportunity.
Indeed, in 1965, Troiano and his bandmates formed The Rogues when the Toronto music scene was starting to erupt. They changed their name to Mandala in mid-1966, and like the lyrics of the song, the band felt a need to cross over the US/Canada border, looking for new opportunities. They created an immediate stir at several clubs in Los Angeles, performing for four nights at the Whiskey A Go-Go, on the famous Sunset Strip. As the story goes, on the way back to Toronto, the group stopped off in Chicago and recorded Troiano’s “Opportunity” at legendary Chess Studios, with The Dells providing backing vocals. Released as Mandala’s debut single on Decca’s subsidiary label, KR, “Opportunity” rocketed up the Canadian charts in early 1967.
With the help of their innovative manager Riff Markowitz, who dressed the band in pinstripe, gangster-style suits and created a light show that included strobe lights, Mandala’s “Soul Crusade” was a live extravaganza. It drove fans wild.
Troiano, who sadly passed away in 2005, said in a Canadian Icon documentary about those times: “Mandala had the most memories (for me), it was the first time around for a lot of thing. First time to the States. Cutting records, playing in front of screaming kids, that whole live band thing…it opened up a lot of avenues of just crossing the border, there was another world out there.”
As for the fans of this band — Five Rogues once backed up the Rolling Stones at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1966, just before becoming Mandala — read what some of them recall of this groundbreaking R&B, soul outfit:
Dave Bingham, lead vocalist in The Ugly Ducklings, recalled, “Hard to believe this was 1966–67. These guys were it. A live Mandala show was like a religious experience!”
Randy Ray, co-author with Mark Kearney of the wonderful book, “As The Years Go By…Conversations With Canada’s Folk, Pop & Rock Pioneers,” recalls seeing Mandala in high school in Ontario: “The single, Opportunity, is a Canadian classic. I remember seeing the Mandala at my high school, Wexford CI, in Scarborough. Just amazing.”
There’s a passage in their book “As The Years Go By…” that goes: “Some journalists have called their Crusade evangelical…their presence on a stage can truly be likened only unto a crusade bringing forth all that dwells within the soul of man, regardless of his color or creed.” And Troiano is quoted as saying: “We were a white band doing rhythm and blues. The Beatles and The Dave Clark Five were big. We were doing James Brown and Ray Charles and it was a battle to get work. No one would book us, so yes, it was a crusade.”
As for Troiano and his sublime musicianship, which took him to playing in the James Gang when guitarist Joe Walsh left to join the Eagles, another book passage has Donald Fagen of Steely Dan talking up Troiano: “Dom was a touring mate of ours in the mid ’70s when he was with the James Gang.” Steely Dan frontman Donald Fagen said in a tribute on Troiano’s web site after Troiano’s death. “Walter (Becker) and I used to stand in the wings after our set and watch as he played the long, psychedelic solos required of him. It was the sort of gig where he’d end up under a follow spot on his knees sending these sustained, creamy lines heavenward, or at least out into the crowd of worshipful, wine and Quaalude-addled young men. Nevertheless, Dom always added a very personal elegance to everything he played…He could do it all — startling licks, clear octave lines, driving rhythm parts — whatever the party called for. Everyone wanted to play with Dom. When we were starting up Steely Dan, he was one of the first guys we called. Dom said, thanks, but he was just too busy.”
Domenic’s tight family includes two siblings, Gina and Frank who, along with his wife Rita, has two Troiano lads, Marcus and another talented musician Julian Troiano who plays in Scott & Julian, an exceptional performing duo.
Frank recalls being awed by seeing his older brother perform: “The Mandala’s live performances were one of the most exciting experiences that I had ever had in my tender teen years. Everyone who watched the band were in a trance of sorts because of singer George’s personality and the band’s musicianship. It was unbelievable and you would only get it if you watched them live. When ‘Opportunity’ was released it raced up the Canadian charts and our family was so excited. The song itself was unique and fresh and the guitar solo was amazing, even to this day. For those two-three years the band had reached a cult status. Those were great times to be a Troiano.”
After his performing career, Domenic successfully segued over to composing and being music supervisor for producer Sonny Grosso’s many TV show and films, shot in Canada. Those shows included the CBS/CTV hit cop series, Night Heat, for which Troiano wrote the memorable theme music along with BJ Cook, and with Roy Kenner singing.
For all the fans of Domenic “Donnie” Troiano, his music lives on, as he was a true gent and quite simply the best.
Click on the highlighted words for links to classic songs and performances. For more information, check out “Donnie’s” discography, his website, and also his nephew Julian Troiano’s YouTube music and Facebook pages, and at Scott & Julian.