Canadian Musician Walter Rossi Dies At 74

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Canadian musician Walter Rossi, co-founder of the band Charlee and a sought-after session player in the '70s, died Friday night while battling lung cancer. He was a month shy of his 75th birthday.

Rossi’s friend John Lovaghy revealed in a Facebook post: “I was honoured to be the one to help him crossover. He is no longer a prisoner in a sick body … Walter is free to have fun on the other side.”

Born Walter Rossignoli into a music-loving family in Italy, he started playing guitar in his early teens while living in the Montreal area.

“The guitar became the only thing I could think of, after school, on weekends, at the dinner table, anywhere, everywhere and any time,” Rossi recalled, in a self-penned history on his website.

Rossi was playing in a band called The Soulmates when he was invited to attend an audition at Toronto’s Massey Hall for a spot in the touring band for Wilson Pickett. He spent a year on the road backing the renowned soul singer.

Back home, Rossi joined progressive rock band Influence, with whom he released an album in 1968 and opened for acts like Blood, Sweat & Tears, The Doors, Steppenwolf and Procol Harum.

Rossi left in early 1969 to join The Buddy Miles Express and, later, Luke & The Apostles with ex-Influence bassist Jack Geisinger. They paired up in 1971 to create Charlee and the band signed a deal with RCA Records.

An in-demand session player, Rossi launched a solo career in the late ‘70s, releasing four albums and songs like "Soldiers in the Night," "Sniffin the Breeze" and "Ride the Wind." At the JUNO Awards in 1980, Rossi beat out Bryan Adams to be named Most Promising Male Vocalist of the Year.

Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, Rossi performed on many other recordings and composed music for films and commercials. He claimed to have turned down offers to play with David Bowie, Little Richard, Janis Joplin and Three Dog Night.

Rossi reflected on his life in the personal history he posted on his website. “From the shows, to the studios, to the bars after hours – I had friends all around me, and I never knew what it was to spend time all alone,” he wrote. “You know, life is so unpredictable. So full of surprises.”

He is survived by sister Gisella Rossignoli, who wrote in a Facebook post that her brother's music will live on. “Many will remember you for the great and sensitive artist that you were."