Lisa Hartt

Born in Montreal, Lisa grew up in La Tuque and Dorval, Quebec, where her parents had a home for 57 years. She is the oldest of 4 children Christopher Jan, Peter Dana, and Kari Ann. Lisa has been singing professionally since the age of ten. Her first foray into the world of music and her decision to become a singer came early where she was chosen to sing as part of the Dorval United Church choir on a commercial for Bob Hahn. She earned the grand total of $10.00, and this solidified her decision to make a living in music. 

© Lisa Hartt

Although Lisa was driven to sing blues and jazz, she was made to study piano and learn the classics. Her grandfather, Leonard Ferdon, took her to her first concert in Montreal at Place Des Arts to see Andrés Segovia play classical guitar. She was so impressed with the great maestro – and the respect the audience gave him – she begged for her own guitar and was soon given a Swedish made Goya classical guitar.

Lisa formed her first group with local musicians in Dorval when she was twelve. By 1963, at thirteen, she was hanging out at the folk clubs in Montreal. Suddenly the world of folk music and activism became an obsession with her and saving up her babysitting money and with the help of a greyhound bus she would head downtown (Montreal or Ottawa) to the iconic folk venues like Café André, The Yellow Door, the New Penelope Café, Le Hibou Coffee House in Ottawa, and the Chanteclair, to absorb as much local music as she could vowing to herself to be on those same stages as soon as she possibly could.

Singing at open mic events Lisa met with students at Loyola University and formed a Canadian-style Peter, Paul and Mary group called The Lonesome Valley Three – with Robert Guyot and Mike Wheatley. They became quite popular and played the local circuit after she finished her schoolwork and on weekends. At that time, Joe Pedulo (Dean Morgan) noticed Lisa and gave her a few television spots on Eaton’s Junior Council shows and CFCF’s Like Young with Jim McKenna. She was getting a reputation as a young Petula Clark and started to work more as a solo artist, getting an entrance to the Café André scene where Penny Lang played and where the young McGill crowd would go to hear the latest folk acts like the Kingsmen with Guy Pillette and Bruce Davidson. Then as a young skier she would venture up north to hear The Bells and the Serendipity Singers with Frankie Hart and Francine Jarry.

In 1964 Lisa was asked to sing on a record for Montreal producer and songwriter Marty Hill. It was a single called “Simon, Simon” and the flip side “No One ‘Cept me.” These were exciting times for the now 15-year-old and she was so happy to be singing. The single came out under the name Lisa Taan with a photo that played up to her Scandinavian roots. 

Between 1967 and 1969 Lisa appeared in many groups including The New Mode Grass with Derek Smith, John Cripton, Chris Keene, and Lucky Cripton. 

Then there was the The Crystal Staircase with Ken Tobias, Don Greene, Charlie Clark, Skip Layton, and Mike Waye. The Crystal Staircase modelled itself on the vocal groups of the day, such as The Association and the 5th Dimension. Ken Tobias provided original songs like “Lady Laughter,” which was recorded at the home recording facility of Andre Perry. The Staircase played the Café André to a full house and Lisa’s rendition of “Guinevere” by Donovan was outstanding. Memorable outings to New York for photos were planned but Ken left to write for Bill Medley and Don went back to university to study composition. The next step was to form a new band as the club scene was now opening to fresh, new talent.

George Durst, formerly the maître d’ at the Ritz Carleton, was opening an exclusive member only club called George’s on Aylmer Street (Montreal), where all the movers and shakers from the business world would gather. The house band at George’s was called The First Amendment and featured Brian Edwards on bass and vocals, Lisa Hartt, vocals, and Charlie Clark, Ian Hully, and Skip Layton. It was the time of the British Invasion. The Playboy Club opened across the street and things were really happening.

In 1970 Lisa went to Bermuda and became the lead vocalist for a group called The Promise, featuring Tony Brannon, Michael Arscott and Jeffrey and Roddy Marshall. They worked at the 40 Thieves Club and the Robin Hood and soon developed a following. The band travelled to Germany to sing with Big Pete Lancaster, a legend in the blues world and the last of the German gypsies from India. It became difficult to work in Germany, however, so Lisa caught a ride with an English agent, Bill Thompson, and went to London to become part of the British “scene.” She auditioned for Tony Hatch who was writing for Cilla Black and Petula Clark and then promptly joined an all-girl big band called The Christine Lee Set. This was the beginning of a three-year adventure which would find the girls touring all over Europe in a rented bus and ending up in Cairo for a year working at the Cairo Sheraton during the Six-Day War. It was 1967, a dangerous and exciting time for the 19-year-old singer.

After the contract ended Lisa and the band arrived back at Heathrow and went their separate ways. At this point The Bells in Canada were hitting the top ten with a song by Ken Tobias and their manager Kevin Hunter. They sent Lisa a telegram that simply said. “Come back, you’re next on the charts.” Back in Montreal, Lisa met Rayburn Blake of Mashmakhan fame who was now playing with her old friends Brian Edwards and Frankie Hart in a band called Riverson.

At this point Lisa was learning how to craft her own songs. After three intense years on the road in Europe, she had no desire to do the club circuit. Lisa answered an ad for a female background singer for a young up and coming male drummer and vocalist, Gino Vanelli. She auditioned for the Vanelli family (Joe, Ross, and Gino) and got the job. This was a short-lived incarnation as the demos that she sang on with Gino finally grabbed the attention of Herb Alpert in LA and the story of Gino’s catapult to fame (and leaving his band behind) was written.

 So now what?

Lisa met up with Bob Hahn who had a publishing company resulting in the single “Touch Me” on Polydor. Bob formed his own label with Champlain Productions out of CTV called Rising Records and Lisa went to Toronto to record with Bill Misener of Laurie Bower singers fame to do her own solo album. Twelve tracks were recorded but nothing ever came of the project and to this day Lisa still has no idea what happened.

In Toronto Lisa met a couple of musicians, Dave and Barry McMullin, and formed a band called Touchstone, which played the opening for Second City at the Firehall. Lots of jingles at Morgan Earle Studios for BOAC and Bicks Pickles followed, and then back to the drawing board. Lisa was living with Rayburn Blake in Lake of Two Mountains, Quebec, when Riverson broke up and OZ was born. John Harris of Tranquillity Bass and Ian Thomas Management put together the final piece of the outfit adding Richard Yuen and Wayne Cardinal to the mix.

Relocating to Clarkson, Ontario, OZ featured Rayburn Blake on guitar, Wayne Cardinal on bass, Marty Deller on drums and Richard Yuen on keyboards. Auditioning for Music Shoppe and Ron Scribner, the band went on to become a steady working (half original/ half top ten) band honing their craft up and down the 401 in Ontario. This band was the precursor to the Lisa Hartt Band.

The Lisa Hartt Band comprised Lisa on guitar and vocals, Rayburn Blake lead and rhythm guitar and vocals, Denny Gerrard, bass and vocals, Richard Yuen, Keyboards and vocals, and Marty Cordrey on drums. Everyone in the band except Denny was a writer and the main thrust of the group was to marry the Montreal fusion sound (like Genesis) with folk rock and rock and roll mixed with some orchestral synth sounds. The band had great musicians, excellent songs, and a solid record contract!

The group were privileged to work with Phil Ramone on three songs and Ralph Murphy on another three. The group itself produced three tracks. The album was released in 1976 under the name of Starwatcher.

Rayburn’s song “Old Time Movie” was the first single and received airplay across Canada. Television, radio, and print reviews were positive, and Lisa was at her vocal best. Coming full circle, The Lisa Hartt Band opened for Gino Vannelli at Massey Hall in 1976 and Lisa received a Juno nomination for most promising female singer for Starwatcher. It was an exciting year for the band.

The next year found Lisa recording three songs in New York on the cast album of Rockabye Hamlet with Ralph Murphy. Then television followed with a wonderful CBC Super Special with Anne Murray, Phoebe Snow, Marilyn McCoo, Lisa Dal Bello, Lisa Hartt, Shirley Eikhard and many more fabulous women singers called Ladies Night. Anne debuted her famous song “You Needed Me” on this show.

The Lisa Hartt Band broke up after a couple of years with no follow up record and increasing financial worries and frustrations. Lisa was invited to go to LA after appearing on the Ladies Night show and The René Simard Show in Vancouver. She caught the eye of Alan Thicke and her old manager, Kevin Hunter who was now managing Natalie Cole, Peter Paul and Mary, and Peter Nero under his New Direction Management company. Natalie Cole wanted to record and produce Lisa Hartt and they both drove from Nashville to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to meet with Barry Beckett to discuss the project and choose songs. Nothing came of this as Natalie was dealing with her own personal issues. Lisa stayed in Nashville and continued writing songs. She met with David Foster, Maurice White, Brenda and Brian Russell, Jay Gruska, Bobby David, and Alan Thicke to establish a new musical direction.

At the time it was becoming more difficult for a Canadian to work in the US so Lisa returned to Toronto to work on another television super special called Listen to the Music. Listen to the Music was a Swedish TV 2 and CBC co-production starring Bruce Cockburn and Abba with Lisa Hartt and Ted Gardestaat as hosts for Canada and Sweden, respectively. 

Reinventing herself yet again, Lisa formed Lisa Hartt and the Times with Michael Zweig on guitar, Wally Cameron on drums and Clarence Greer on bass. The lean, mean, innovative new wave rock sound was a new direction and meant shedding the long curly hair and spandex for something cleaner and more urban in both look and sound. The group shared a loft on Queen Street East, where a whole subculture of artists and musicians lived and worked.

Lisa’s next musical venture was more rock meets R&B meets ska called Lisa Hartt and the Muscles of Expression with Terry Wilkins on bass, Bucky Berger on drums, and Mitchell Lewis on guitar. This time Lisa appeared with mahogany hair and flight suits and a whole new catalogue of material written for the show. Out of this incarnation came a CBC special hosted by Reiner Schwartz called A Little Night Music, featuring a whole half hour of Lisa’s music with Carey Crawford on guitar, Terry Wilkins on bass, Bucky Berger on Drums and Martin Soldat on keyboards. The evening was recorded at Nickles in Kingston, (Ontario) which thankfully preserved and archived the event.

This brings us to 1982 and Lisa is back in Montreal forming a new group called Suma, with Paul Boudreau, Claude Chapleau, and Michel Seguin. Another fresh look, new songs, and more touring, this time extensively in Quebec. Following this, another group called Profile and a show called An Affair with Music, with Luc Fortin, Jacques Mayrand, and Christian Beaudoin.

By 1984 Lisa was extremely tired and took a two-year hiatus playing only one solo gig at Le Bijou in Montreal, opening for Nina Simone. This was a time of introspection and renewal, culminating in a decision to return to Bermuda for rest and creative development. With familiar musicians on the island, Lisa sang, rested, and wrote songs under the blue skies and turquoise seas. She met classical guitarist and singer songwriter Michael Spillane at the Robin Hood in Hamilton and together they started a relationship and performed their song collaborations at the Bermuda Folk Club. They moved back to Montreal and formed a duo called Flame, playing small venues around the West Island (Quebec) and Montreal. Later they would travel and perform in Michael’s homeland of South Wales. Lisa and Michael were married in 1986 and have a son named Julian. 

Back in Montreal Lisa decided to finish her education and take a degree in Communication Arts. With a small son to take care of Lisa enjoyed the regular hours of being a student and savoured her time as a young mother. Music was still a major influence in her life and even when she was very pregnant with Julian, Lisa and Michael still played around the local coffee houses and cafes.

Lisa graduated from Concordia University with a medal of distinction in June 1995 and an honours degree. After Lisa’s mother Barbara died at the end of June 1995, the family moved to Mississauga, Ontario in 1996. 

Lisa and Michael continued writing and performing together, as a duo called Sarabande. Lisa also worked on her own solo projects and returned to singing in choirs. She learned to sight read and performs to this day in a jazz vocal choir called Oasis. 

During this period, Lisa and Michael wrote and recorded an album of songs at Velvet Sound Studios in Port Credit, with Mark McLay engineering the tracks. Michael wrote “The Best is Yet to Come,” a song accepted by the Oakville Special Olympics committee for a compilation CD as a fundraiser for the event. Another song recorded and produced during these sessions, “Who’s Gonna’ Stop the War?” was accepted for distribution by Music for World Peace Records.

With a deep conviction that it is everyone’s birthright to sing and play music, Lisa studied for three years with Gary Diggins at his sound sanctuaries in Toronto and Guelph to become an accredited sound practitioner. She continued her studies in holistic and transformative living to become a reiki master, combining her vocal talents with world instruments and the ancient practice of reiki.

The desire to share her music as a solo artist developed slowly. Aging gracefully, Lisa would quote the adage: “don’t die while the song is still in you.” Meeting up with old friends from Montreal – including Don and Sandy Graham, Michael Williams, Frankie Hart, and Rayburn Blake – she started writing and performing at local venues.

As a legacy artist Lisa is committed to singing for as long as she can, and strives to bring her original and uplifting spiritual songs to a wider audience.

2023 will see the return of Lisa Hartt as a dynamic singer songwriter with her new EP called Arrival. The first single, “Don’t Tell Me How I Feel” will be released in November 2022. 

The concept for the EP began over 40 years ago with Lisa’s decision to become healthy and heal her mind, body, and spirit. This was the beginning of her recovery journey.

“The songs were recorded and produced during the pandemic, which gave me a lot of time to reflect on my 40 years of clean, sober living,” she says. “I was fortunate to be able to work with the multi-talented Chris Birkett – with whom I found a like-minded friend. We have both been working towards developing conscious awareness in our lives, and he understood what I was trying to say in the songs and how I wanted the soundscape to be.”

The result of the collaboration is an astonishing journey filled with pathos, laughter, and truth. Lisa’s song writing has its roots in folk, soul, jazz and rock – a fusion of all these genres. Lisa has been on the road as a singer/musician for almost 40 years. This is her experience, her journey and her Arrival.