R.I.P. Crowbar's Kelly Jay Fordham

He co-wrote the Hamilton outfit's 1971 hit "Oh What a Feeling"

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Jun 21, 2019

Kelly Jay Fordham — a former member of Canadian rock outfit Crowbar who co-wrote the band's 1971 hit "Oh What a Feeling" — has died. Fordham's family confirmed the artist had passed away in Calgary early this morning. He was 77.

A GoFundMe campaign started by the family to help with funeral costs explained Fordham had been in hospital since June 9 after suffering a severe stroke that affected the left side of his brain. In a video posted to Facebook on June 12, daughter Bella Fordham said that doctors confirmed the artist would not recover.

Born Henry Blake Fordham in Toronto in 1941, the muscian began playing in local bands while attending the Ontario College of Art in the early 1960s. After graduating, he continued performing in clubs throughout Canada and the United States, fronting group Kelly Jay and the Jamies.

Fordham had a hand in forming Crowbar in Hamilton in 1970, after other members of the group were fired from their jobs as backing band members for Ronnie Hawkins. Having previously performed under the moniker And Many Others, the new band name came from Hawkins exclaiming upon firing them, "They're a nice bunch of boys but they can fuck up a crowbar in about fifteen seconds."

Crowbar recorded and released their debut album Official Music alongside Richard Newell (a.k.a. King Biscuit Boy) in 1970, followed by 1971's Gooduns. The former was credited to King Biscuit Boy with Crowbar, while the latter saw release only under King Biscuit Boy.

Following a few personnel changes, the group released their Bad Manors album as Crowbar in 1971, named after their farmhouse in Ancaster, ON. The album included hit "Oh What a Feeling," co-written by Fordham and Roly Greenway.

Initially thought to be a pro-drug song, Fordham would note that "the song was written in 1969. Man walked on the moon. Woodstock. The summer of love. It was written about the times, about everything that was happening," and "was meant to be celebratory."

"Oh What a Feeling" was designated a Canadian cultural staple by the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2011, recalling how the song "soared up the charts quickly reaching gold in Canada." The song became the namesake for the Juno Awards' 1996 anniversary box set Oh What a Feeling: A Vital Collection of Canadian Music. In 2009, the song was named the official theme of the 97th Grey Cup in Calgary.

In 1971, Crowbar also saw the release live album Larger Than Life (and Live'r Than You've Ever Been). Recorded at Toronto's Massey Hall, the album made Crowbar the first Canadian band to release a live recording, which was also simulcast on national radio. Following Crowbar's 1974 split, Fordham hosted an overnight radio show on Toronto's CHUM-FM in the early 1980s. 

Fordham's family recalled how personal, medical and financial troubles caused his health and ability to play music to deteriorate these past few decades. In 1997, his daughter Tiffany went missing in Japan and was never found. In 2006, the mother of his three children, Katherine Marsden, was killed in a car accident. In 2012, his wife of 15 years, Tami Jean, died from heart disease. 

In 2013, Fordham was featured on TLC series Hoarding: Buried AliveThe following year, he was admitted to the Peter Lougheed Centre for health issues, including cellulitis as a result of type II diabetes.

"Our family is devastated, this is such a tragic loss for so many," Fordham's family wrote on the GoFundMe page. "Kelly Jay was so much more than a beloved musician, but a friend, a love and a brother to soo many. On behalf of the family, we are soo sorry to everyone, as we were all together waiting anxiously in hope for news of a better outcome.

"Kelly Jay was so proud to be part of Canadian rock and we're all so grateful that his voice, image, and talent will be celebrated long after he does pass."

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