When Jeffery Mosher was a first-year music student at Dalhousie University, pursuing a career in the competitive music industry seemed far-fetched.
His classmates felt the same way in the late ‘90s, when making ends meet through music seemed near impossible. But some of them were starting to earn a few hundred bucks on the side playing gigs with a new band called Tony Smith and The Mellotones.
Mosher was barely old enough to get behind the wheel of a car when he first saw the band. It was in the late fall of ‘97 during a matinee performance at the long-closed Blues Corner bar. Tony Smith and The Mellotones had just formed one of their first shows. Even some of the musicians’ parents showed up.
“At that point, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do with my life,” says Mosher.
Tony Smith, a Halifax vocalist with more than two decades of music experience over his band mates, fronted the ensemble. “Tony was like a father figure to us at the time,” says trumpeter and vocalist Jody Lyne. “He’s the one who started everything.”
It didn’t take long for the high-energy funk band to gain attention. From weekly bar gigs to playing university campuses, they soon became one of the city’s most popular party bands. They got their reputation by digging up funk and soul tunes from the past, digging into the catalogues of artists like Otis Redding to Marvin Gaye.
After a couple years of gigging, and an invitation for a few cameo appearances by Mosher and his keyboard-playing brother Ian, it was finally his opportunity to join the band. He’s playing with those same classmates 21 years later.
Their last public show as Tony Smith and The Mellotones was at the Marquee Ballroom in December 2001. Smith then went to pursue other projects, including forming another band called Soul Finesse. He still keeps in touch with Mellotones.
Twenty years later and after some band shuffles, it still surprises him how far The Mellotones have come as an established eight-piece band. They’ve made successful careers from performing and became music teachers. Bassist Mike Farrington teaches private lessons; Lyne is a full-time band director at Bedford Academy and instructs an R&B ensemble at Nova Scotia Community College.
“Everything I do is music, and I’ve always wanted to make sure that’s how it was always going to be,” said Lyne.
Thursday nights are a ritual for the band. For the past 15 years of weekly Thursday night performances, many of the venues where the band played have either shut down or changed locations.
The now-gone Thirsty Duck, Hell’s Kitchen, and Stage Nine were all regular venues. According to Lyne, he’s able to count on two hands how many Thursday performances he’s ever missed.
“We’re a band of brothers, both literally and figuratively,” Lyne says. “We see each other three or four times a week; everything we do is together.” Most of them met their girlfriends or future wives at these shows, so those shows have become more meaningful, he adds
The Mellotones have gone from touring cross-country with New Brunswick bluesman Matt Andersen, to playing a Thanksgiving show at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, and more recently, performing a soft-seater at Neptune Theatre. Playing at Atlantic Canada’s biggest theatre was a first for the band.
Being the longest playing weekly band in Halifax, Mosher thanks fans for how far they’ve come.
There’s no secret as to why the music is so popular. The work of songwriters like Marvin Gaye and Wilson Pickett is timeless and that’s why it resonates just as much today as it did then. “Halifax has done a great job in supporting the entertainment industry, and we’re grateful for that,” says Mosher.