Kelly Jay, formerly of Canadian group Crowbar, whose 1971 hit “Oh, What A Feeling” became the title of commemorative box sets celebrating milestone anniversaries of the Juno Awards and was called “Canada’s second National Anthem” by late guitarist Jeff Healey, passed away today (June 21) in Calgary after suffering a stroke. He was 77.
Jay played keyboards, percussion, bass, harmonica and sang, and wrote or co-wrote many of Crowbar’s songs.
A Facebook post from his son Hank Fordham reads: “I sit here with a heavy heart and feeling of somber as I make this announcement. Kelly Jay has passed away. Kelly passed comfortably on June 21st at 2am. I just wanted to say I love you dad, and that I look forward now to getting to see you on the other side some day. There’s a show up in heaven today, and the world is left with your gift of music.”
Jay had been in the hospital since early June.
After receiving the news from doctors that her father would not recover, on June 12 Bella Fordham posted a video update on her Facebook, along with these words and a link to a Go Fund Me page to help with funeral costs. “It breaks my heart that some people don’t have a wonderful father and I consider myself very lucky. Everyone knows my dad as a legendary Rockstar. I know him for the man that has raised my siblings and I with an unfathomable amount of love.”
Born Henry Blake Fordham in Toronto in 1941, Jay began playing locally in bands in the early 60s. After graduating from the Ontario College of Art, he played the nightclub circuits all over Canada and the United States, for many years fronting Kelly Jay and the Jamies.
He was, of course, best known for Crowbar, formed in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1970, after some of the members backed Ronnie Hawkins, who apparently fired them with the declaration, “They’re a nice bunch of boys but they can f**k up a crowbar in about 15 seconds.”
The band cut two albums, Official Music, and Gooduns, with the late Richard Newell, a.k.a. King Biscuit Boy, the first under King Biscuit Boy with Crowbar; the second just under King Biscuit Boy’s name.Then, after a few personnel changes, including keyboardist Richard Bell joining Janis Joplin’s Full Tilt Boogie Band, they released their first album strictly as Crowbar, 1971’s Bad Manors, which included the hit “Oh What A Feeling,” co-written by Jay and Roly Greenway. That year, they released a first by a Canadian band — a live concert album, Larger than Life (and Live’r Than You’ve Ever Been), recorded at Toronto’s Massey Hall, and simulcast on nationwide radio.
In 1972, Crowbar was selected to perform at Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau‘s re-election rallies; wife Margaret was reportedly a fan. The album Heavy Duty also came out that year, followed by KE32746 in 1973. In addition to some best of compilations, in 1997, the album Live At The Whiskey A Go-Go By Crowbar (from a July 22, 1971 concert) was released.
The group’s signature song, “Oh What A Feeling,” was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2011.
Canada’s Crowbar is not to be confused with the New Orleans metal outfit of the same name.
The past two decades, Jay had endured much heartbreak. In 1997, his daughter Tiffany went missing in Japan, a mystery that was never solved. In 2006 the mother of his children died when her car was struck by a motorcycle, and in 2012 his wife of 15 years died suddenly of heart disease. A year later, he was featured on the TV series Hoarding: Buried Alive; one of his treasures was a tour bus filled with memorabilia such as cassettes and tape reels, and music he recorded with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, according to a 2015 article in the Calgary Herald.
A year after the TV appearance, his family revealed, Jay was admitted into the Peter Lougheed Centre for multiple health concerns including cellulitis, resulting from type II diabetes. As bills started to mount, one of his grown children started a Go Fund Me campaign to help prevent the foreclosure of Jay’s house. It worked. But Jay continued to be in and out of hospital not just for cellulitis, but also for a broken hip, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and then Parkinson’s.
On June 12, knowing of their dad’s fate, Bella, Shawna, Hank, and Randy started another Go Fund Me campaign to help give their dad a proper burial.
“Our family is devastated, this is such a tragic loss for so many,” the family wrote. “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.”
In the post soliciting funds for his burial, they also mentioned their goals to organize his collection of rock memorabilia and also complete the book he was writing, plus release an album Jay had in the can called Milk, Honey and Wine.
The family also invites friends, colleagues and fans to send in their stories such as meeting Jay or how he influenced them. “We will do our best to compile his writing and the stories of his closest friends, fans and family into the book he always wanted to complete (and was very close).”