When Tanglefoot formed in the early '80s, the group bore little resemblance to the version that audiences see now. Schoolteachers Joe Grant, Bob Wagar, and Tim Rowat used to wear period costumes as they sang old traditional standards and their audiences were usually their students. The theatrical presentation was a way for them to bring Canadian history alive for the kids, whose knowledge of historical events was weighted heavily on America's past rather than their own country's. The students could tell you in a minute that Betsy Ross made the first U.S. flag and George Washington crossed the Delaware River, but the children stumbled miserably when asked about Canadian historical figures such as Louis Riel or John A. MacDonald. In addition to playing the old tunes, the teachers also presented short historical plays or scenes.
Today, the period costumes are gone. So, too, are many of the old songs, although one still finds its way into the group's repertoire now and then. The group's music is now comprised mainly of "new traditional" material, original compositions that were first written by Grant. Later, each member of Tanglefoot had a hand in contributing to the stack of new material. The group's name was taken, appropriately enough, from an old tune that was written in the 1800s about the Don Jail in Toronto. The song made reference to Tanglefoot whiskey, but the teachers decided to drop the reference to alcohol because of the age of their first audiences, their school children.
The group's lineup underwent numerous changes in the following years. Rowat dropped out in 1988, the same year Steve Ritchie came aboard. In 1994, the trio evolved into a quartet with the addition of Al Parrish. Wagar left the group the following year and Francis Skrzeszewski stepped in to take his place. By 1996, the outfit grew to a quintet with the addition of Rob Ritchie. Before the '90s ended, Skrzeszewski was out and Terry Young was in. Young had played with the group once before, at a performance at Iggstock in 1994. Rob Ritchie left for a short while in 1999, taking time off when his child was born. He returned, but during his absence, the group welcomed Erin Donovan into its ranks. ~ Linda Seida