Originally known as the Rogues, Canadian quintet Mandala were led by Italian-born Domenic Troiano, and quickly became known as one of the hottest bands on the Toronto R&B scene in the '60s. The group featured Troiano on guitar, keyboardist Josef Chirowski, Don Elliot on bass, vocalist George Olliver, and drummer Whitey Glan. Famous for their blistering live performances, Mandala's unique sound blended elements of soul, funk, R&B, and psychedelic rock, delivered with an aggressive attack. On-stage, the group always provided a memorable experience, with strobe lights and bandmembers in matching suits, encouraging crowd participation akin to a religious revival.
After making the rounds in the Toronto area, the band began playing shows in the U.S., making several high-profile appearances in Los Angeles and New York. In late 1966, they signed a deal with KR Records and recorded their first single, "Opportunity," at Chess Studios in Chicago. The Troiano-penned cut became a Top Ten hit in Canada and was swiftly followed by "Give and Take," issued in May 1967. Despite the band's rapidly rising stardom, Olliver left Mandala in mid-1967 and was shortly followed by Chirowski, who went on to play with Alice Cooper and later appeared on several Peter Gabriel albums. They were replaced by vocalist Roy Kenner, a friend of Troiano's, and Henry Babraj, both from R.K. & the Associates. Mandala soldiered on, prepping material for their debut album and touring the U.S. and Canada. Record exec Ahmet Ertegun soon discovered the band and liked what he heard, signing Mandala to Atlantic. Before long, Henry Babraj was out of the band, and Hugh Sullivan was recruited as Mandala's new keyboard player.
In the summer of 1968, Mandala's debut LP, Soul Crusade, was released. The album was dominated by Troiano, producing all but one track (the single "Love-itis") and solely writing seven of the album's ten songs. "Love-itis" gave the band some airplay in the States, and the record was greeted with positive response. Leaving the band around this time was Don Elliot, whose exit was prompted by an auto accident. He briefly played with Leigh Ashford in the early '70s before dropping out of the music business. After the departure of Elliot, the group continued as a quartet with Sullivan covering bass parts using his keyboard pedals. Nonetheless, frequent personnel shifts, creative stagnation, and record label politics damaged the band's momentum. Ertegun reportedly battled with Mandala's manager, Randy Markowitz, over the direction of the group; Troiano once stated that Ertegun wanted him to sing lead vocals instead of Kenner. The band embarked on a short Canadian tour in October, but it wasn't enough to stir up new interest. A single released in December, "You Got Me," also did little for the band's fortunes. They played a handful of dates in 1969 but soon decided to call it quits, giving their last live performance in June at the Hawk's Nest in Toronto.
Following the breakup of Mandala, Troiano, Kenner, and Glan formed Bush with bassist Prakash John; they released one album in 1970 before splitting. Glan played drums for Lou Reed and then backed Alice Cooper with Chirowski and John in the mid-'70s. Hugh Sullivan worked with Steppenwolf vocalist John Kay before passing away in 1978. Kenner and Troiano joined the James Gang in 1972 and collaborated on various musical projects through the '80s. Unfortunately, Troiano passed away in 2005 after fighting cancer for a decade. George Olliver continues to perform and remains a local R&B hero in Toronto. Although Mandala's recordings have been mostly out of print since their heyday, interest in the band has held steady. Classics, an anthology of singles and album tracks, was delivered in 1985. The group was featured heavily in the 2005 CBC documentary [RoviLink="VW"]Shakin' All Over, examining the history and influence of Canadian music from the '60s. Soul Crusade was released for the first time on CD by Canadian indie Pacemaker Entertainment in June 2010. ~ Jeremy Frey
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