The Rock Doc of Mechanicland
By Dale King and Julia Hebert
Aesthetic dental surgeon Elliot Mechanic is a doctor who rocks. Literally. Visit a former old Anglican church in Montreal North any night and the famed upscale tooth designer can be found in Mechanicland – the complex of three recording studios he created there, strumming the daylights out of a guitar. The goal of this nearly 60-year-old rocker is the same one he’s had most of his life: Get a hit record, have fun and stay young.
Having a tremendous knowledge of music production, Doc Mechanic has written and recorded songs since he was a kid. He has collected unique recording equipment of all periods and a serious record collection of some the world’s rarest soul albums. In the 1980s and 90s, Elliot was one of North America’s early vintage guitar collectors and dealers, and personally dealt hundreds of instruments with the who’s who of music, including Keith Richards, Brian Setzer, Mick Mars, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Klaus Voormann. The revamped church studio is testament to Elliot’s passion for music, and the name Mechanicland still carries its reputation for giving musicians everything they could dream of.
The married father of four daughters divides his time between his home in Montreal and his condominium in Miami’s South Beach – the balcony on which he plays and writes music. Still, Elliot keeps striving for that big musical hit. After long days in the dental office, he renews himself by visiting his “Rock Room,” which houses rock ‘n’ roll posters, guitars and amplifiers.
His passion for performing was nearly innate. “At age 4, I’d get up in front of audiences at summer camp and tell jokes,” he says. “I was a ham on stage.” A counselor named Bucky showed the kids how to rock on with his cool Fender Stratocaster. For Elliot, it was love at first twang. “When I came home from camp, I took lessons from Bucky. I really liked to play.”
But what he didn’t necessarily aspire to as a young man was a career in dentistry, preferring the music world over crowns and makeovers. Elliot’s dad, a handbag maker who hit it big providing official totes for the 1967 Montreal World’s Fair, struck a deal with his son. If the budding guitar man could land a record deal with a “major” label, he could skip dental school. If not, a lifetime in the tooth trade was in the offing.
“I played in a rock band called Caravan in high school and at McGill University,” he recalls. “At age 19, I made a demo of a song called I Love You Baby, But Not Like Rock ‘N’ Roll. We shopped it around the U.S., visiting New York and L.A. One small record company in Buffalo was interested. But it was not a major label, so I kept my end of the bargain and went to dental school.” However, to this day 41 years later, Elliot still periodically plays in the same Caravan band with his longtime buddies.
Hanging On to a Dream
For a time, Dr. Mechanic put his musical vibe on hold as he devoted time to dentistry. Years later, “I was asked to take part in a charity ‘Battle of the Bands.’ ” Elliot called a friend, Costanzo “Cussy” Nicodemo, looking for singers. Cussy introduced the dentist to three underprivileged Haitian girls whom he had been coaching in a government-sponsored project called Culture X. “The girls didn’t know a thing about oldies,” said Elliot. “They thought an oldie was a two-year old Beyoncé record.”
The trio practiced and practiced. The girls were dubbed the “Surf Sisters” because of their tight harmony inspired by their Gospel music roots that made them sound like The Ronettes and The Supremes. They rocked the “Battle,” and afterward, Elliot groomed them to be his comeback project – to major adulation. He puchased an old church in their neighborhood, converted it into a music studio, with the intention to develop them into world-class artists. They were so good that Valley Dental Arts flew the group to perform at a convention for the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry in Atlanta. That night, the house was full of rockin’ docs.
At the same time, the master dentist opened the church to community aid efforts for developing bands – a drumming clinic and recording lessons. He teamed with choirmaster Jethro Auguste to serve the community by getting “kids off the streets.” But it wasn’t entirely kicks and grins. Elliot said he lost the Surf Sisters to a rival producer who “convinced them to break their contract. Then, the producer took advantage of the girls, using them as backup singers and later telling them to get lost.”
Dismayed and disillusioned, Dr. Mechanic changed focus. But he has never waivered on his dream. He gutted the studio and turned it into a commercial recording business. Now, after a busy day at the office, Elliot can retreat to his studio to jam with hip hop, rap and R&B artists, both young and old. “We are all for one here,” he said. “It brings balance to my life.” His dream is to see one of his artists make it big. Who knows, maybe we’ll see a Mechanicland act on a theater marquee soon.
Rock on, Doc Mechanic!