#1430: The Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Townsmen

Peak Month: October 1966
8 weeks on Vancouver’s CFUN ALL CANADIAN TOP TEN chart
Peak Position #2
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ did not chart
YouTube.com link: “The Lion Sleeps Tonight
“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” lyrics

In the early ’60’s there was a local Ottawa band doing the dance club circuit named the Darnells. They included vocalist Frank Morrison, guitarist Dave Milliken and bassist Wayne Leslie. Meanwhile, another band named the Esquires included a drummer named Paul Huot and guitarist named Andre Legault. Andy Legault learned how to play guitar in his cousins’ basement. Hot and Legault were itching for something bigger. They talked with Morrision, Milliken and Leslie and the five became a band. They eventually settled naming themselves The Townsmen. In the summer of 1965 the Townsmen were regular performers At the Pineland Dance Pavillion in Ottawa.

On October 16, 1965, Ottawa Journal reporter Trina Janitch described the Townsmen in an appearance at a local concert when they were only six weeks old as a group. “They wear their hair short and they comb it. They wash their faces and even when they’re on stage they dress in grey flannel business suits. But when the Townsmen start playing that last word you think of is “square.” …. the Townsmen… are so busy the picture above is the first they’ve ever had taken. There just hasn’t been time between bookings.” Bass player, Wayne Leslie, told the Ottawa Journal “We think the long hair thing is a fad on its way out. Right now it appeals mostly to 12 and 13 year olds.”

“The Townsmen divulged how they got 40 songs ready for their concert sets. Paul Huot told the Ottawa Journal, “First we get a record of the song and listen to it about six times. Then, say if Andy is doing the vocal, he’ll take it home, and if I know Andy he’ll play it about 50 times to make sure he gets everything right. Then we go through it together straight. We work out our own arrangement of the song, and last we put in the vocal.” In 1966, the band released their first single, “I’m Such a Dreamer”, in 1966.

This led to a cross-Canada tour where The Townsmen were opening acts for American headliners The McCoys, Gary Lewis & The Playboys and the Young Rascals. Next up, the Townsmen released a cover of the Ivy League’s Top Ten UK hit from 1965 titled “Funny How Love Can Be”. The single peaked at #22 on the C-FUNTASTIC FIFTY in July ’66.

In its August 1966 issue for 25 cents, RPM magazine wrote about the new “hip” scene in Ottawa. They explained, “The Townsmen have played an important part in the development of pushing the youth scene to the forefront. Wherever they go, they create more interest than the many tourist attractions including the “peacenicks ” on Parliament Hill. For five guys to fill the Sparks St. mall with thousands of teenagers is quite a feat. It’s doubtful if Dief and Lester squaring off in a boxing ring could match the enthusiasm of the teenyboppers of Ottawa for their “fab”group. Who are The Townsmen? They’re just five ordinary looking Ottawa types who become unordinary when they pick up their instruments. Their onstage effort makes them sound like the biggest band in the business . From the raunchy “spit in the wind” groove, they move easily in to the romantic “sick in the gut” grind. These are The Townsmen. From September of 1965 they’ve come a long way. Their record releases on the Regency label have gained them thousands of new fans. From “I’m Such A Dreamer” which brought them Eastern Canadian recognition to ” Funny How Love Can Be” that got them charted on many of the hard to get to charts across Canada. Now comes the big one. Their greatest Dasanda Production yet.” The Lion Sleeps Tonight ” could be the kickerfor world recognition of THE TOWNSMEN whoare CANADIANS ON THE MOVE!I!”

The Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Townsmen

In their cover of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” the Townsmen sang the chorus, first verse and bridge. They skipped the second verse including the lyrics “Near the village, the peaceful village, the lion sleeps tonight.” The Townsmen sounded similar to the Tokens who had the #1 hit with the song in the winter of 1961.

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was originally written as “Mbube” (lion in Zulu) in 1939 by Solomon Linda, a Zulu migrant worker. He was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1909. The chorus of the song had the chant Uyimbube, meaning “he is the lion” in Zulu. Uyimbube was misheard and Pete Seeger and the Weavers who recorded the song with the title “Wimoweh” instead of “Uyimbube”. When the Tokens recorded the song they included English lyrics written in 1961 by George David Weiss, “Weiss wrote the English lyrics: “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, The lion sleeps tonight …” and “Hush, my darling, don’t fear, my darling …” Weiss also wrote, or co-wrote, Perry Como’s #1 hit in 1946, “Surrender”, “Lullabye of Birdland” for the Birdland Jazz club in New York City, “Wheel Of Fortune” for Kay Starr, “Can’t Help Falling In Love” for Elvis Presley, “That Sunday, That Summer” for Nat “King” Cole, and “What A Wonderful World” recorded by Louis Armstrong. Weiss was born in New York City in 1921 and raised by his Jewish parents. He left school and soon became a musical arranger for several big bands, including Stan Kenton.

Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore produced the Tokens version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and were credited with songwriting credits. They produced a number of hits for Jimmie Rodgers including “Honeycomb”, “Oh-Oh, I’m Falling In Love Again” and “Secretly”. Later the pair worked with Van McCoy on his single, “The Hustle”, which became a #1 hit in 1975. Weiss, Peretti and Creatore also co-wrote “Snoopy’s Christmas” for the Royal Guardsmen in 1967.

After “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was released by The Townsmen, Andy Legault left the group and was replaced by pianist Buddy Stanton and guitarist John Bocho.

In 1967 the Townsmen appeared in concert at Maple Leaf Gardens with the Happenings and the Guess Who? The Townsmen released a cover of The Tokens minor hit from ’64 titled “He’s In Town”. The single received airplay on C-FUN in the July ’67 and spent five weeks on the stations’ ALL CANADIAN TOP TEN.

The Townsmen broke up the following year. In 2008 a greatest hits CD titled We’re Doing Fine – The Anthology was released. It also included tracks from recordings by the Darnels and other side projects by members of the Townsmen during the ’60’s.

A Rolling Stone magazine article in 2001 had reported that Solomon Linda’s family were living in abject poverty in Soweto township near Johannesburg. In 2006 the family of Solomon Linda settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. The Linda family’s lawyer in South Africa said “The settlement involves a payment of back royalties to the family and the right to participate in the royalties in the future and that’s on a worldwide basis.”

Gary Comeau, BD Sampson, “The Townsmen,” Canadian Bands.com.
Trevor Hutchison, “The Story Of Ottawa Music: 1960’s -Today,”rockthistownproductions.com.
“The Townsmen,” RPM, August 22, 1966.
Trina Janitch, “The Townsmen: Speedy Rise to Shine,” Ottawa Journal, October 16, 1965.
Family Settles Lion King Copyright Suit,” Independent Online, Cape Town, SA, February 16, 2006.
ALL CANADIAN TOP TEN,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, October 15, 1966.

For more song reviews visit the Countdown.

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