A veteran multi-instrumentalist musician and unique character on the Toronto musical scene for decades, C.J. Feeney (better known as Lee Van Leer) has passed away, according to information from people who have been performing with him lately and over the years.
According to one source, Van Leer, who was 72, had been “missing” since not showing up for an event on January 10 and was not responding to calls or knocks at his apartment door. Eventually concerned friends broke into the apartment and found him “several days dead” according to one band-mate.
The news has been kept quiet up until now as pals have endeavoured, without success, to get in touch with any family members, including a daughter he is believed to have fathered at some point in a life filled with a lot of ups and downs.
Campadre Benny Sanders of the H 2 Oh band, with which Van Leer regularly played and recorded, and Blues broadcaster/songwriter Danny Marks are planning to hold a memorial for Van Leer on February 28 at the Keating Channel restaurant, a source says.
An eccentric who had an eye for the ladies Van Leer often presented a dishevelled, preoccupied look that, along with regular use of a haphazardly packed push-cart jammed with gear and clothing, made some assume he might be homeless. But everything changed once he got on stage.
With his distinctive “thumb-chording” style of playing guitar (he often used his left thumb to form chords instead of his fingers) and his inventive and powerful piano playing, Van Leer was a musical master who made scintillating solos and swelling harmonies look effortless and was an accompanist much sought after by Toronto performers and always enthusiastically welcomed at jams.
(You can see a video of Van Leer performing at the Tribute Pete Traynor show in 2011 on YouTube.)
He was also a songwriter whose tune “Bashful” was featured on the Songtown IV: Toronto compilation album released by Pete Otis and SongTown in 2012 and who usually had a few original cds with him for sale featuring his own hand-made artwork.
Van Leer was one of the first musicians I profiled after starting this magazine project in 1992 as The Open Season and that became to-nite the next year (now, of course, TorontoMoon.ca). He was on the front cover of to-nite #004 in June 1993 and I’ve written about him many times since. [Paid-up subscribers who have registered as members of the website can read the 1993 article in a post in our Vault section.]
Van Leer was part of many, many combos of musicians and hosted and made countless appearances at jams across the city over the years.
A more extensive account of his musical career and life will appear in an entry on Toronto Moon’s forthcoming Musical Legacies Online Museum as soon as enough donations have been received to enable renewal of the hosting website and establishment of the project.