By Keith Sharp
Michelle Truman is a musical schizophrenic.
Some nights she exhibits an aura of Stevie Nicks, other nights, she stars as one-quarter of her own ABBA tribute team or captures the spirit of Shania Twain, Joan Jett or Lita Ford. And more recently, she has assumed lead vocal in the band Toronto as a replacement for Holly (Annie) Woods, who retired during the pandemic.
On the phone from her home base of Milton, Ontario, Truman notes a recent tour with The Headpins and Lee Aaron had gone well and attracted rave reviews as the Toronto fan base has welcomed the new lead vocalist who had actually served as a backup singer to Woods for the past nine years.
“No one can replace Holly, but her words to me were `just go out there and have fun,’” noted Truman, whose Toronto band will be appearing on a bill with Chilliwack and Honeymoon Suite on Friday, May 26th the second night of Ed Sousa’s 6th Annual McBowl Concert in support of Ronald McDonald House which this year runs for three nights with a special surprise concert on Sunday, May 28th.
Although the current Toronto lineup does not feature any of the original band members (Woods, guitarists Brian Allen and Sheron Alton, keyboardist Scott Kreyer, bassist Nick Costello and drummer Jimmy Fox) formed in 1980, the current lineup of Truman, drummer Barry Connors – who has been in the band since their second, Head On the album, released 1981, bassist Gary Lalonde (who also played on that second album – and is also performing double duty with Honeymoon Suite) plus former Coney Hatch guitarist Steve Shelski, Saga keyboardist Jim Gilmour, Carmela Long, background vocals and bassist Tom Lewis is intent on keeping the Toronto music legacy alive.
“These are songs people know and love, and they want you to capture the essence of them,” states Truman, who insists this current lineup is more than just a tribute band to the original lineup.
Explaining the difference, Truman believes it comes down to the ad-libs. “When you sing a song in a tribute band, you try to sing the song as it was originally recorded; you want to replicate what has been done before. But when you step into the shoes of a previous singer, you want to add your own personality, and that is a major difference.”
Truman, who claims she has been in the music union since the age of three, keeps her multiple characters in check using a unique colour-coded suitcase system. “I am married to my colour-coded system,” she claims. “I have one suitcase coded for my leopard print Shania costume; I have a second suitcase which contains my ABBA outfits, one for my Stevie Nicks stuff and another containing my Joan Jett/Lita Ford leather outfits.”
Has she shown up at an airport with the wrong suitcase? “No, but I have shown up with three and a half different suitcases when I was performing multiple different shows,” she laughs.
Truman admits it is a challenge capturing the essence of various artists and claims fronting Toronto is probably the one band she can really be herself. “There are times when my Toronto costume didn’t arrive in time for the show, so I just go out in what I’m wearing and just be myself.”
As far as taking over from an established star (Woods), Truman reiterates that it’s all about the song catalogue. “Songs like “Your Mama Don’t Know,” “Even The Score,” “Start Telling The Truth,” and “Enough Is Enough.” “It’s nice to spark those times of joy with people, especially those summertime festivals when people have a beer in their hands, the sun is shining, and you kick off your set with one of Toronto’s best songs of their lives. There is no better feeling; you feel that energy; it’s just a wave of joy.”
Moving forward, Truman claims fans want to hear songs they already know, so a new album isn’t likely (the last one was Holly Woods’ solo release in 2007), but they are set to rework a classic band cover (but she is not yet revealing which one) plus one new track.
For ticket information for Toronto’s appearance at the 6th Annual Rock N Bowl concert, please link to: http://www.classicbowl.com/mcbowl/