The Sugar Shoppe – The Sugar Shoppe (1968)

One of the best bands you’ve never heard of, Toronto based group The Sugar Shoppe released on of the best albums produced by a Canadian band during the 60’s, but it didn’t generate a hit. The Sugar Shoppe included Victor Garber, Laurie Hood, Peter Mann and Lee Harris.

The Sugar Shoppe is probably my all time favorite “no hit” wonder. I’m always willing to take a chance buying a record from obscure bands from the 60’s and 70’s that never hit stardom if the price is cheap enough, and The Sugar Shoppe’s first, and only, full album is the best one I ever bought. I found it at the bottom of a pile of throw away albums at an Orono, Ontario antique market. Ever since then I have seen the album a few times here and there, and my heart always skips a beat, wishing I could discover it all over again, and I’m tempted to pull some random record buyer and point it out to them, telling them they have no idea what they are missing. I never do it though, cause I usually dislike when weirdos in record stores tell me to buy weird records.

The Sugar Shoppe were an above average vocal group formed in Toronto in 1967 by Peter Mann, a New Yorker working in Canada, and consisted of vocalists Victor Garber, Laurie Hood and Lee Harris. The group was Toronto’s answer to the Mamas and the Papas, or to a lesser extent Spanky and Our Gang, The Free Design or The Peppermint Rainbow. Fusing folk-rock with elaborate vocal arrangements and solid harmonies, The Sugar Shoppe worked Toronto night spots in the later half of the 60’s, and had very minor success with a pair of singles. This gained the attention of Capital Records, who shipped them down to Los Angeles where they were given access to The Wrecking Crew to record their debut album which was released in 1968.

Were The Sugar Shoppe too Canadian for US listeners? Despite being a dynamic vocal group made up of four good looking people, and despite appearances on The Tonight Show and Ed Sullivan, they just didn’t hit with record buyers.

But who knows why an audience doesn’t gravitate to a group. Its not like Capitol Records didn’t support the group. They arranged appearances for the Sugar Shoppe on Ed Sullivan and “The Tonight Show.” It could be suggested that they were “too Canadian” and not part of the California music scene, which was dominating the charts at the time – but Canadians such as Denny Doherty, Zal Yanovsky, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and John Kay were thriving at this time (mind you, all but Cohen had made California their base of operation, while the Sugar Shoppe seems to have stayed in Toronto). But, despite being an above average pop album (seriously, its better than a lot of albums being released by a lot of the eras hit pop groups) the record didn’t spawn any hits. Strange, as the Sugar Shoppe reflected both the sound and spirit of the era, and was made up of a good looking group of talented people. The Sugar Shoppe’s debut self titled album could be the best Canadian album of the 60’s that nobody bought.

The group had one last crack at it in 1969 when they released a single of Laura Nyro’s “Save the Country” (not on their debut lp), which had hit the top of the charts by the 5th Dimension, and performed it on their second, and final, performance on Sullivan, The video of the performance is on YouTube and is the only footage of The Sugar Shoppe on the internet. It’s a dynamic performance, and clearly shows just how great this group was. But, the single didn’t become a hit and by 1971 the group was finished.

The Sugar Shoppe on stage in Toronto in the late 1960’s.

Members of the Sugar Shoppe were still working in music throughout the 70’s, and involved with chart making performers like Klatuu and Myles and Lenny. The girls were part of a Toronto based group called Shooter, but I can’t find much on that band. But it was, of course, Victor Garber who had the most success. He joined the cast of Toronto’s production of “Godspell” in 1971 (a cast where pretty much everyone became famous) and still works in Hollywood today as a well respected multi award winning actor. Laura Hood died in the 1990’s and Peter Mann passed away in 2021. I have no idea where Lee Harris is. I’ve done searches because I’d love to interview her about the Sugar Shoppe but there are a lot of Lee Harris’ out there, in both Toronto and beyond. If anybody has a line on her whereabouts drop me a note. Would love to interview her.

If you see this album, and you dig 1960’s sunshine pop as much as I do, you got to pick it up. It’s out there, and I see it from time to time. Its not available on Spotify, but the entire album is on YouTube if you want to preview it. You wont be disappointed.

UPDATE – June 2024 – I received a message from a reader which pointed out that according to the Museum of Canadian Music’s entry on The Sugar Shoppe, Lee Harris passed away sometime in the 1990’s from a battle with Multiple Sclerosis. This means the only member of the fantastic vocal group that is still alive is Victor Garber. Take a moment to visit the entry at the link above. There was some interesting info i did not find in my original research and some great rare articles and photos of the band.

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