If you played music in Guelph over the past 40 years, there is a good chance you played with – or were on the same bill as – Roly Greenway.
His motto, “You’re Never Too Old to Rock and Roll,” was more than just a catchy song title.
Music fans from Canada and around the world knew Roland “Roly” Greenway as a veteran, award-winning rock and roll musician who co-wrote one of the most iconic Canadian hits of the 1970s, but many in Guelph simply knew him as their good friend and jam buddy 'Roly.'
Greenway passed away in hospice Tuesday after a long battle with cancer. He was 78.
“I’ve played in at least five bands with Roly over the last 20 years,” said Avery Diebolt, as he reminisced about the times he spent with Greenway in the basement jam space they christened the Euclid Tavern, “We got together every week to play and write songs. That is what I am going to miss most.”
His sister Gayle Butler shared the news on Facebook shortly after noon Tuesday.
“It is with a very heavy and broken heart that I have to tell you Roly Greenway, my brother and BFF, passed away this morning after a crazy battle with cancer. I loved him beyond belief and will miss him every day. RIP Roly, I can’t believe you are gone.”
The news reverberated through the community as words of condolence and stories about Greenway from fellow musicians and fans began to stream on to Butler’s page and other social networking sites.
“He may have been a little bit older than me, but he had a young soul,” said friend Natasha Miller. “He was so full of life and yet he was very grounded.”
Greenway was born on Dec. 10, 1942, the only brother of three siblings. He picked up the guitar in 1958 when he was 16 years old and two years later, he was working as a professional musician.
“He played with Zsa Zsa Gabor and Liberace and all kinds of people before he joined up with Ronnie Hawkins,” said Diebolt.
In 1969 Greenway joined the backup band for Ronnie Hawkins and toured under the name Ronnie Hawkins and Many Others for a year until Hawkins fired the whole band.
According to rock and roll legend Hawkins told people, “Those boys could f--- up a crowbar in 15 seconds.” They would go on to celebrate his constructive criticism by naming their new band Crowbar.
It was during his time with Crowbar that Greenway teamed up with keyboardist Kelly Jay Fordham to write the hit song Oh What a Feeling.
Greenway was still earning royalties on the song 50 years later and in 2011, both he and Kelly Jay, were inducted into the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
Crowbar disbanded and reunited several times before Kelly Jay’s death in June 2019.
Greenway continued to perform, write and record with a number of groups over the years but he never enjoyed the same level of success and was forced to pick up a side gig as a landscape contractor to pay the bills.
He jokes about the situation in a song he wrote and recorded with Diebolt and guitarist Tim Palser.
“We’re never gonna make it 'cuz we can’t go on the road. We got houses, kids and bills to pay and we’re all getting old. We’re part time rock stars.”
Greenway remained single and childless for most of his career until 2004 when he got a call from a band teacher living in the US named Diane King.
“I Googled him and learned that in 1965 and ’66 he was playing with the group The Five Ascotts,” said King. “That is when he met my mother. I guess you could say I am a rock and roll love child.”
Father and daughter reunited on Thanksgiving Day, 2004.
“The bond was instantaneous,” said King. “I am my dad’s twin. We had a spectacular relationship, and it was a special experience when he invited me to be his guest when he was inducted into the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.”
They remained close and Greenway tried to shield her from the news about his failing health.
”I knew he was ill but he would sugar coat it whenever we talked on the phone,” said King. “He went into hospice on Dec. 2 and because I live in Michigan, I had to quarantine for 19 days before I could cross the border to visit him.”
She was able to spend time with him Monday and he died the following morning.
The loss of Greenway has left a silence in the local music community but his sense of humour and positivity about life is preserved in his songs and the stories he shared. It is only fitting we give him the last word.“We’re gonna fill your head with music and satisfy you soul. Oh what a feeling. What a rush.”