BILL & SUE-ON HILLMAN: A 50-YEAR MUSICAL ODYSSEY
Music Influences: 1943-1961
Strathclair ~ Victoria ~ A WORLD APART ~ China ~ Hong Kong
The music has always been there. I was born in wartime, January 11, 1943. Conception took place in Halifax where my dad, Jerry Hillman, was stationed with the Royal Canadian Navy but later, when my debut onto the world stage was imminent my mom, Louise, returned to Strathclair MB so I could be born at her birthplace surrounded by family. When I was old enough to travel we returned to the East coast to be with my dad. By this time he was stationed in St. John's, Newfoundland. The ferry to the island recently had been torpedoed by a German U-boat so dad arranged for us to take a passenger plane for the last leg of the trip -- he also had to arrange for passports as Newfie, at that time, was still a British possession.
From that time on I was exposed to music as my parents' social life mostly involved jam sessions with friends. Dad blew the trumpet and mom played accordian, and piano when available. Before the war, my mother and uncles, Don and Bill Campbell, had teamed up with the neighbour kids, the Christies, to form a dance band that played many hall and barn dances. The music from those war years must have left its mark as I'm always filled by waves of nostalgia whenever I hear the big band sounds and hits from that era. In '44 dad was transferred to Victoria, BC (Esquimalt and Comox) and since my parents both loved to go to the movies, some of my first memories are of theatres with their magic images and soundtracks. Near the end off the war dad volunteered to serve on HMCS Prince Robert, a ship that was fitted with the latest in radar and armament and was part of a joint British/American fleet to help facilitate the Japanese surrender in the Pacific. Mom and I returned to Strathclair to await his return. I have vague memories of his departure and return. His ship had spent the summer of '45 in Hong Kong and he returned with fantastic souvenirs, photos and stories that fired my imagination and which seemed to inculcate a livelong appreciation and fascination for travel, the military, adventure, Chinese culture, and exotic lands and music. He had fond memories of Hawaiian and Hong Kong entertainment troupes who had presented music and dance shows on board ship and during shoreleave. One curious thing I remember him saying was that the Chinese girls -- the girls in the entertainment troupe were probably singing Chinese opera, somewhat strange sounding to Western ears -- were terrible singers... ah, if only he could have seen into the future : )
We took over the family farm, Maple Grove, a half-section grain, dairy and livestock farm homesteaded by my great grandfather in 1878. This marvellous place with its pastures, waving grain fields, woodlots, towering spruce trees, ravine, old stone buildings, and majestic red brick house would be the centre of my world until I left for university in 1961. Radio became my window to the world and I constantly roamed the dial of our big Westinghouse floor model, bringing in songs and voices from far-off places -- the equivalent of today's Internet. I became a sponge for every kind of music and radio programme -- shows that featured superheroes, mystery, comedy, SF, and variety entertainment. I discovered the stars of Sun records and followed the birth of rock and roll on this radio. In fact, I heard Elvis, the Hillbilly Cat very early -- on stations beaming music from the deep south in 1954: WSM, WLS, KXEL, etc. And, wired into this booming radio, was a 78 rpm turntable on which I played, over and over, the family collection of records: Bing Crosby, Hank Williams, big bands, pop songs and western swing.
There wasn't much money to throw around and we all worked hard. We had cattle and about 1,000 laying hens which I had to feed by carrying water, grain and chop by pails. My audience of cows and chickens gradually learned to put up with my vocal renditions of the hits of the day. I hauled out the manure, gathered eggs, milked the cows, and did the crushing, as well as shovelling snow and coal. What money I saved from doing these daily chores went into buying records, books, magazines and comics. I talked my mom into sending for records through an ad that offered 50 hit songs for just a few dollars. Too good a deal to pass by. The package that arrived in the mail wasn't quite what we had expected, however. Each 78 rpm disc had three somewhat abbreviated songs per side ... and they weren't by the original artists. But there was some good stuff there: Sh-Boom, Sincerely, The Man in the Raincoat, etc. - pop and C&W and a whole lotta stuff I'd never heard of.
My own first record purchase, however, was a little later from G.V. Henderson's Drugstore: That's All Right Mama b/w Blue Moon of Kentucky by Elvis Presley and the Blue Moon Boys on RCA Victor 78 rpm. Before long I had bought out his whole stock of Elvis records and had the entire collection of the singles Elvis had released on Sun Records. The next treasure trove of singles came as prizes for selling school magazine subscriptions: Fats Domino, Jack Scott, Gene Vincent and Little Richard. Sadly there was very little music in our school. We did however, get permission to clear out an old junk room in the school's basement and on days when the weather was too miserable for us to play baseball or football outside (guys and gals played tackle football all winter out among the snowbanks), we listened and danced to records. These were truly exciting music times -- the birth of rock 'n' roll and my own music awareness -- and today there are very few hits from the '50s and '60s that don't generate some memory from the past. My life then, as now, seemed to revolve around music.
My mother, sensing a bit of a music obsession, enrolled me in piano lessons for a couple of years. Silly kiddie tunes, scales and boring practises just never captured my imagination... this wasn't the music I was hearing in my head. Mom tried to kindle the fire by buying sheet music for songs in which I had shown some interest: Love Me Tender, Don't Be Cruel, Third Man Theme, etc. Dad's sister, Aunt Merna, tried to get me to put some excitement into my dreary plodding by giving me pointers on syncopation and rhthym. My music teacher added an element of fear through weekly scoldings and rapping my fingers with her pencil. And around this time Jerry Lee Lewis came on the scene with his pumping piano to show just how exciting a piano could sound. But he was too late.
One day, Dad returned from a trip to Winnipeg with a Harmony Monterey archtop guitar that he had bought at Ray Hamerton Music and that was the end of the piano. I was captivated from the start: the smell, the touch, the look, the sound. The strings were so far above the neck that it was almost impossible to play, but I persevered -- blisters and bleeding fingers. Around this time Dad came in raving about a new song he had heard on the car radio of our '49 Meteor. It was I Walk the Line by Johnny Cash. He was excited because the guitar riff on the record was one of the few things dad knew on guitar. Before long he had shown me how to do a walking run from G chord to C to F and back again. Wow... I could play I Walk the Line! Uncle Don soon showed me how to put some chords to some simple folk songs and I was on my way - picking up ideas, riffs, chords from every guitar player I saw. Music continued to be a driving force: I sent for a Doc Williams acoustic guitar course from a Wheeling West Virginia radio station, Mom bought a guitar chord book and some music folios with guitar chords, Nannie sent for an autoharp for me to try, Dad made a few more trips into Ray Hamerton's and returned with a C-Melody sax for himself and a 5-string banjo for me, sister Bonnie took over where I left off with the piano lessons, and of course the jam sessions continued around my grandmother's upright Heintzman piano.
About the only good thing about being shortsighted and having to wear glasses was that I got to go to Winnipeg once a year for appointments with Dr. Green, the eye specialist. This led to some major events on my memory calendar. On one of these visits I saw Elvis's Love Me Tender, soon after it was released, in the Metropolitan Theatre -- well, "heard" more than "saw" because I had just come from an eye test and examination and had drops in my eyes. On another of these visits I went to my first big city major music concert at the Playhouse Theatre -- little knowing that in 20 years I would have the thrill of appearing on this same stage many times myself. But back then, I was dazzled by the lights, the sound, the applause, the velvet curtains on the stage -- and the guitars! The show featured Jim Reeves, Johnny Horton, Country Johnny Mathis and Charlie "Hot Rod Lincoln" Ryan. On later trips I came back with hard-to-find Lonnie Donegan skiffle albums and LPs by England's guitar instrumental group, The Shadows.
Another big event during my teen years was the annual Provincial Exhibition in Brandon. A trip to Brandon would give me a chance to roam through the record and book shops. Brandon Fair always offered great entertainment on the Grandstand and the two big tent sideshows -- one with black performers, one with white -- had exciting bands and dancers, albeit a wee bit racy for a youngster. A few years later I would be performing on TV remotes and various stages at the fair but in these early years the closest I came to performing was giving 4-H Club demonstrations and showing Rhode Island Red chickens since I was a member of the Strathclair Poultry Club -- not exactly a glamorous introduction to the world of show business.
Two other Brandon music shows stand out in my memory. Seeing the Johnny Cash / Jim Reeves Show in the old arena was a real thrill. After the show when the stars headed across the arena floor to the dressing room area, the majority of autograph seekers followed after them.
But Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant of Johnny's Tennessee Two (3) stayed in the stage area to pack up. This was the days before roadies and big tour buses. I saw Luther alone at the side of the stage and made my way over to him to boldy ask if I could try out his Fender guitar. He said "Yup" and this led to my first real guitar lesson. Luther wasn't a really great accomplished guitarist... he probably didn't know many more chords than I at that time... but the lessons I learned in that short time about interaction with fans and the importance of creating your own style were invaluable. His "boom-chick" style of damped guitar and simple memorable riffs is probably one of the most imitated. Sadly, he died in a house fire a few years later.
The other major Brandon musical event for me was also at an old arena concert. One of the stars was Ferlin Husky, a dynamic entertainer whose contribution to country music seems to be somewhat overlooked. What impressed me most about the show, though, was his lead player. I could hear steel guitar sounds but there was no steel on stage. Upon moving closer to the stage I soon deduced that the lead player was getting these long sustained sounds with the aid of a volume foot pedal. It wasn't long before I had bought a DeArmond pedal and was imitating his style -- a device I have used ever since.
The Bend Theatre in Strathclair was a magic place that showed two movies a week, hosted many local concerts and, occasionally, brought in a touring music group. In the '50s, Winnipeg radio station CKY had a Saturday morning show that featured a regular live country band. The bands would use the show to plug their live performances around the province and most of them found their way to our theatre quite regularly. Station DJs, such as Porky Sharpeno, would moonlight as emcees on these shows and would usually plug the show all week on their radio shifts. The stage shows featured a nice mix of country songs and instrumentals, pretty girl singer, cornball humour, audience participation, costumes, lighting (black light was a favourite gimmick), and sale of photos, programmes and songbooks. Many years later I would refer to a Ray Little Show songbook for the lyrics to the Kentuckian Song that Sue-On recorded for our fourth album. (The song had originally been featured on the soundtrack of a '50s Burt Lancaster movie, The Kentuckian.) After digging through stacks of memorabilia I finally found these obscure lyrics . . . on one of the inside pages beside the picture of the smiling steel player, Tex Emery.
See the full page of photos HEREThe Bend Theatre stage show that stands out most in my memory, however, was the Hal Lonepine / Betty Cody Show in the mid-'50s. Accompanying this husband and wife singing team was their 15-year-old son, Hal Lonepine, Jr. on Gretsch guitar. The kid was incredible . . . and he later became even more incredible when he set the guitar and jazz world on its ear. In those later years he dropped the Jr. stagename and performed under his real name: Lenny Breau. The show also featured the Ward Sisters and a steel and bass player who came out later in a Grampa Jones type costume and persona to add a bit of comedy relief. The guest singer was a very young and dynamic Elvis impersonator named Ray St. Germain. Ray also went on to become a major performer with hit records, international tours and his own television show. One of our greatest thrills was meeting Ray, one of our early influences, many years later at the Manitoba Association of Country Artists Award Show. We and Ray were both up for the Manitoba Entertainers of the Year Award. . . and Sue-On and I were more surprised than anyone in the room when we were announced the winners of this major award.
The big old 78s in my collection just didn't have the pizzazz of the new unbreakable 45s and LPs with their stacking turntables, colourful photos and peer acceptance. So, for many months leading up to Christmas '56, I started a campaign to make my parents very aware that our old turntable was terribly obsolete. Success! Under the tree that year was a portable RCA record player that could play all three speeds and all sizes of records. Along with this technological marvel was a selection of records from various members of the family: Elvis' second album, Bill Haley, Pat Boone and Crazy Otto (my Aunt Merna was a real fan), Tennessee Ernie Ford (my Nannie was a fan), and a few more. My record collecting and guitar playing now went into full gear as I could hide away in my room and play along for hours every day, picking guitar riffs off my growing collection: Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Lonnie Donegan, Dale Hawkins, Gene Vincent, et al. This collection grew in leaps and bounds when I joined the RCA record club: Chet Atkins, Hank Snow, bluegrass, etc.
The arrival of my transistor radio meant that I now had a constant musical companion while doing chores. It was a sad day when this 7 transistor Standard, pocket-book sized radio ended up at the bottom of the lake during a boat accident. But was soon replaced by a big multi-band Sharp which brought in stations from all over North America. This much larger boom box served me well a few years later when I spent my summers spray painting houses, barns, bins and elevators.
Great changes were also wrought by the arrival of television in our home. There wasn't much of the new music on the tube but the Ed Sullivan Show had the occasional rock act: Elvis, Buddy Holly, The Everlys, Buddy Knox -- and CBC's Hit Parade show and Country Hoedown had some interesting moments. But the early days of TV were magical. I 've tried to share some of the excitement in the CKX-TV Overview chapter of this Odyssey.
My Harmony Monterey archtop had served me well, but it had many limitations. One day while thumbing through the new Simpsons-Sears mail order catalogue I came upon a picture of a guitar that seemed to offer everything I wanted in an instrument: a shiny black, gold-flecked Silvertone electric guitar. The price was way out of my range but my grandmother had been saving her pension cheques for an emergency such as this. The story and photos of this guitar, and of each guitar that came after is featured in our Favourite Guitars I Have Known... and Own chapters.
Around this time, weekend country dances became a fairly regular social event. Most towns had old time dances that featured local musicians but the best teen dances were at the Oak River Arena Dance Gardens. The town was small but they brought in some fairly big names. One night that stands out featured Marty Robbins and his band. Marty was riding high with cross-over pop/country hits that included the classic El Paso. This was an event to look forward to because of the great guitar work on his hits (the guitarist on the record was Nashville legend, Grady Martin). On this particular night, however, Marty's long-time lead player (name forgotten) fell sick and had to leave the stage. Marty ended up playing lead himself for the rest of the night . . . occasionally sitting informally on the front of the stage. This was the first time I -- or anyone -- had ever heard fuzz guitar was on Marty's hit, Don't Worry 'bout Me. Story has it that the effect was discovered in the studio by accident when a guitar amp malfunctioned because of a loose tube or there was a patch mix-up in the board.
A few years later, whenever I went with the gang to functions in nearby Newdale, I always looked forward to having a coke or hot chocolate in Soo Choy's Paris Cafe because he always had a good stock of magazines to browse through. We were sometimes served by his pretty young daughter, Sue-On, a pretty and bubbly little girl who had recently come from Hong Kong with her mother. Her older brother Kenny and I were friends and classmates through grades 11 and 12.
I was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets for eight years -- having joined as a Junior Cadet at age 11. My two weeks at Air Cadet 1960 Summer Camp in St. Jean, Quebec, gave me the opportunity to jam with another guitarist - a real treat because there were very few players around home. He wasn't much better than I was but he did a nice version of Honky Tonk and soon I had another riff to add to my slowly growing guitar repertoire. Another memorable music experience associated with Air Cadets was the singing of a seemingly limitless number of bawdy ballads on the many military bus trips we took over the years -- songs I haven't had much occasion to sing since as there hasn't been much demand for them in mixed company.
The summer of '61 closed the first chapter of this musical odyssey. With a suitcase of clothes, box of books . . . and guitar, I moved into Brandon College Men's Residence. I remember that my first record album purchases I made down at Brandon Musical and Kennedy's didn't impress many of the guys in the dorm: Don Reno & Red Smiley bluegrass, Bob Dylan, Hank Snow with Anita Carter, The Staple Singers, Elvis Presley Gospel Album, Frank Sinatra and Dinah Washington. For me though, it was a sort of musical rebirth. Within a year I was playing guitar on a daily live TV show and was the proud owner of a new Gretsch guitar.
Grand old Westinghouse radio ~ Cruising Down the River ~ I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover ~ Jimmie Wakely ~ Roy Rogers ~ Gene Autry ~ Blackhawk ~ Disney Comics and Cartoons ~ Straight Arrow ~ Nabisco Shredded Wheat cards ~ Breakfast Club ~ Clair de Lune ~ Superman ~ Pep ~ Radio Dial ~ WSM ~ Toronto Star Weekly Tarzan Sunday Page ~ 5 Cent Coverless Comics ~ John Russell Fearn ~ Movie Serials ~ Radio and Cereal Premiums ~ Lone Ranger ~ Cheerios ~ Tom Corbett Radio, Comics and G&D ~ SFX & Organ on Radio ~ Hardy Boys ~ Zane Grey ~ Edgar Rice Burroughs ~ Whitman ~ Tennis ~ Football in the Snowbanks ~ Baseball ~ Cisco Kid ~ Shadow ~ Eddie Arnold's Cattle Call ~ Bomba ~ Saskatoons ~ Mosquitoes ~ Sun Records ~ Elvis ~ Cash ~ Perkins ~ JL Lewis ~ Harmony Monterey ~ Silvertone Electric ~ Rock 'n' Roll ~ Doc Williams Guitar Course ~ Chet ~ Gretsch ~ Fudgesicles 6 Cents ~ Popsicles 5 Cents ~ MAD ~ Double Bubble ~ 3D Comics ~ Mighty Mouse ~ Three Stooges ~ Prince Valiant ~ Cinemascope ~ Tree House ~ Father's Hunting Knife ~ Wild Flowers ~ Snow Caves ~ Sloughs ~ BC & Quebec Air Cadet Camp ~ Empire Stadium Football Usher ~ Bike ~ Fair Day ~ Rupert Annual ~ George Formby Movies ~ 78s ~ 45s ~ 33 1/2 albums ~ Lonnie Donegan Skiffle ~ Cliff Richard Shadows ~ Hal Lonepine and Lennie Breau Western Shows ~ Sabre Jets ~ Ventures ~ GI Joe Comics ~ '49 Meteor ~ SF Mystery Book Clubs ~ Classics Illustrated ~ Working Summerfallow ~ Playboy ~ Board Games ~ Home-made Jetan board ~ Piano Lessons ~ Glasses ~ Sgt Preston ~ Farm Chores ~ Help Magazine: Kurtzman, Elder, Davis, Wood, Roth ~ Humbug ~ Saturday Night 25 Cent Allowance ~ Big Little Books ~ And Now In The Very Words of Mr. Burroughs... ~ Nautilus Atomic Sub baking soda and vinegar
THE COLLEGE YEARS: 1961-1965Early '60s while taking Bachelor of Science at Brandon College I earned much of my tuition and spending money by working with a multitude of bands. This was a much more pleasant way of earning money than my summer jobs at the time which included working as a painter in the CE section at CFB Rivers, working the Strathclair area doing custom spray painting of barns, elevators, houses, rinks, etc., working for the Manitoba Telephone System for which I dug holes for telephone poles with a spoon and bar (no mechanical augers at that time), and working in my parents' Marshall Wells Hardware Store in Newdale.
During these College years I freelanced with a variety of groups: Neepawa Variatones, Lenny Fairchuck, Brandon College Jazz Combo, and various hometown bands back in Strathclair and area -- but the major groups I worked full-time with were:
The line-up of pre-Sue-On bands I worked with in the early '60s:
THE BLUE ANGELSDoug Broland (drums), a budding artist who now owns a motorcycle shop north of Brandon.
There are no known photographs of this group in action.
Ken Blair (rhythm guitar) eventually became a school teacher and principal. Ken and I later worked together on Alan Jones' Free Spirit recording project.
Bill Hillman (lead guitar) Gretsch Nashville guitar through a Harmony amp
We played four-hour dances for which I picked guitar solos all night. It was the days of instrumental bands, a la Ventures, Fireballs, Shadows. Our venues included community halls and clubs, dances as far away as Saskatchewan and regular gigs at Riverside Hall, south of Brandon.
Later, our sound was beefed up considerably by the addition of Alan Jones, a blind physiotherapist who had come from England to take a position at the Assiniboine Hospital. Al played piano and sax. Both were hard to amplify however, as the PA systems of the time were quite primitive by today's standards. Al became an invaluable source of material as he had his brother in England send over the latest albums by the Shadows and later, The Beatles. Alan and I became close friends and later we were involved in many recording projects (The Free Spirit Album). Many years later, Alan helped line up our first tour of Britain and he often joined Kevin Pahl, Sue-On and myself on the UK stages. Alan and his wife Sky now live in Victoria where he has his own physiotherapy practice.
Murray Bateman (trumpet and arranger): now a successful Calgary architect.
THE FLAMINGO COMBO
Cyril Stott (saxophone): now owns a large farming operation north of Brandon - and is also father to Amanda Stott who has embarked on a very successful solo recording career.
Audrey Lintott (piano): at the time we didn't know that she sang... later we worked together on a series of TV shows where she was the featured singer.
Barry Norris (drums): an accountant
Bill Hillman (Gretsch Nashville guitar)
This was another great learning experience as we sat/stood behind old traditional style music stands and read everything from pre-arranged charts -- everything from old jazz standards to the instrumental hits of the day, leaning heavily to Bert Kaempfert hits.
THE SHADOWS -- later named THE DOVERMEN and then THE FUGITIVES
This group consisted of Delkeith Dubbin (rhythm guitar and vocals), John Bishop (bass), Warren Hannay (drums), Bill Hillman (lead) and later Cyril Stott (sax). I brought Cyril in from another group I was working with: The Flamingo Combo. After the band parted ways with Dubbin we picked up local guitarist/singer Gerry Budinski and became The Fugitives.
In the early days of the British Invasion we played all over southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan, many Brandon and Winnipeg community clubs and shows, and Western Canada tours. We started off as a guitar band doing many of the Shadows hits - guitar instrumentals I had learned from records imported from England. When the Beatles exploded in Britain and eventually invaded the North American charts, we started doing more R&B, blues and hits off the British charts.
Our manager. Fred Smith, owned the Brandon Roller Rink where we played on a regular basis and eventually became house band. This was a musician's dream as "The Rink" also promoted shows featuring the top touring rock acts of the day - as well as some obscure black bluesmen. We got to meet, study and sometimes play with acts like: The Ventures, Conway Twitty (before he turned Country) with Al Bruno on guitar, Johnny Burnette, Dorsey Burnette, The Fireballs, Johnny Cash, and Chad Allan and the Reflections/Expressions (this band later evolved into The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive: BTO).
Our first big break came on November 16, 1964, when we were booked as opening act for the CKY Fall Festival of Stars in the Winnipeg Auditorium. We then stayed on stage as backup band for the Newbeats, who were warmup act for Roger Miller and The Everly Brothers. Miller's guitar player was Thumbs Carlisle while the Everly's lead player was Sonny Curtis from Buddy Holly's Crickets (composer of Walk Right Back, Mary Tyler Moore Theme, etc.)
The years have dimmed many of my memories of this show but a few things stand out:
- some of the songs we opened with were a Shadows instrumental, The Kink's You Really Got Me and a song from the Stones' first album
- the look of surprise on the faces of the Newbeats when we showed up shortly before showtime to rehearse their songs (Bishop and Dubbin were in their late teens but they looked MUCH younger)
- Larry Henley showing me the standard guitar blues riff they used on all their numbers (it has served me well... I've adapted it to countless songs)
- our first look at the excited sellout auditorium crowd
- seated in the front row was a band we had studied and admired many times when they performed in Brandon: The Reflections with Chad Allan, Randy Bachman et al.
- the great backup musicians in the two headliners' bands
- our first experience with a really wild audience... it started with them singing along with all the hits... and then bursting into screams as the Everly magic took hold
- the show had originally been billed as The Roger Miller show as he was currently riding high with a string of top ten hits BUT early in the tour it was determined that Don and Phil Everly HAD to close the show because at every appearance the audience had gone wild in Beatlemania style
- the exciting look and stage presence of the Everlys... and the goose bump harmonies!
- the fire wardens closing the show down each time waves of fans mobbed the stage during the Everlys' act
- the first time we had worked with male performers who wore stage make-up... and who appeared strangely "glassy-eyed."
- returning to the auditorium to pack up equipment the next morning and finding one of the famous black Everly Brother Gibson acoustic guitars behind a curtain
- the "disappointment" next morning while we were packing up when a long distance call came from the Everlys' road manager in Minneapolis asking if anyone had found a missing guitar
- the drudgery of returning to the Oh-so-mundane classes at Brandon College then the excitement, soon after our return, of learning that we had been chosen as Bobby Curtola's backup band for his winter tour of Western Canada.
Headliners on the Roger Miller Show, coming to the Auditorium Nov. 16, are the Everly Brothers, Don and Phil, (above) of Bye Bye Love fame. Sharing the billing are the Newbeats and the Chug-A-Lug Band. The Everly Brothers rendition of Bye Bye Love sold one and one-half million records.
The Everly Brothers, Roger Miller and the Newbeats headed the CKY Fall Festival of Stars at the Winnipeg Auditorium on Monday night.
EVERLY BROTHERS SCORE GREAT HIT
by Richie Cage
Winnipeg Free Press ~ November 16, 1964
Don and Phil Everly, the original long-hair boys, sang their hearts out to the near capacity audience. Harmony and perfect tune was made for these two brilliant young performers. Bye Bye Love, Wake Up Little Susie were some of their great hits on the record charts not long ago.
The Everly Brothers haven't been heard from in a long time. Teen-agers thought they had died out, but their performance left a solid impression on the audience. They still have appeal.
The audience, for the first time this season, sang along with the performers. Never before has the audience sung for performers of the Rock and Roll era.
Roger Miller, a relatively new singer on the teen scene, was another wonderful performer. He combined wit, and a sparkling, friendly personality.
Mr. Miller has showmanship and a rare talent. Chug-a-lug and Dang Me are two of his current hits.
He was behind the scenes for many years as a successful song writer and only recently has he made his debut as a singer. If Mr. Miller were not a success as a singer he could quite easily become a top comedian. He has a mind like a bear trap that snaps decisively on things of humor. On stage he clowned with the members of his group and made the crowd roar with his antics.
The Newbeats, three slick-looking gentlemen in powder-blue suits, sang their hit tunes Bread and Butter and Pink Delarus. Dean, Mark and Larry supplement their good looks with great hits, such as Tell Him No. Larry Henley, the lead singer, has tremendous range to his voice. This strange quality has brought the Newbeats recognition in the recording world.
Rounding out the performance was the Dover Men from Brandon, a group of three guitarists and a drummer. This group backed the Newbeats after only 15 minute's playing and turned in a great performance.
The surprise of the night was the audience participation which, at such performances is usually apathetic. The chorus could be heard along the avenue for some time after the show was over.
The Early Rockin' Years II: The Bobby Curtola ConnectionThe Curtola tour was great... Bobby was very professional and a nice guy, his manager Mrs. Martell was a demanding perfectionist and added to our storehouse of show biz "know how." We had all the free Coca Cola we could drink, the crowds were Standing Room Only and treated us like pop stars... really an incredible experience.
Sadly we couldn't sign on with Bobby after our tour of the Canadian prairies as most of us decided that our day job careers, wives-to-be and education came first. I returned once again to the drudgery of college classes... and Bobby signed another local band, The Challengers, to tour with him across the US as the Martells.
2000 FANS SURGE AFTER CURTOLA -- Almost Trampled
CURTOLA PROVED IT, HE'S SIMPLY GREAT
You've heard that Bobby Curtola is great and now you've seen it for yourselves - because he proved it Saturday. This was the evening he sang for Portage teens at a local show which was the completion of a tour of Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba towns.
The reception, according to Fred Smith of Brandon, the gentleman in charge of the tour, was the same everywhere Bobby and the Dovermen played -- Great!
Two thousand young fans brought in the year 1965 with Bobby at the Brandon Roller Rink.
Four Portage lasses ended their vocal praise of Bobby's program quickly -- by fainting. This is by no means a record, however, for dimpled 20-year-old Bobby who boasts more than 20 hit singles and five record albums.
In performances earlier this year the Dovermen backed the Newbeats (on fifteen notice incidentally), Roger Miller and the Everly Brothers.
The boys are rhythm guitarist and vocalist, 18-year-old Del Keith Dubbin; 19-year-old drummer Warren Hannay; John Bishop, the curly headed and youngest member, a 17-year-old bass guitar player; and lead guitar man, 21-year-old Bill Hillman.
In 1962, the original Country Gentlemen had just broken up but Barry Forman, a fiddler from Rivers, had kept rights to the name. Barry and I were classmates in college and I had jammed with the band a few times -- so after the break up we put a line-up together to fullfill previous television and appearance contracts. During this time Barry and I also played many dance dates for which we picked up a variety of musicians.
THE COUNTRY GENTLEMEN
Barry Forman (fiddle and accordian): went on to become a teacher and owner of a string of successful Ford dealerships
Larry Clark (drums and piano): A well-know local jazz musician who went on to become a lecturer at Brandon University, City Planner, Forest Ranger and a successful recording artist performing novelty forest ranger songs under the name Uncle Smokey.
Audry Lintott (singer): I had worked with Audrey in another band where she played piano - it was quite a surprise to learn that she was an also an accomplished singer.
Bill Hillman (lead guitar)
The new television show was a daily live show as part of the CKX-TV Noon Show. Barry and I would rush over to the studio from morning classes each day. The shows were largely unrehearsed. While the news, weather and sports were being broadcast we would coax the graphics designer to take an early lunch break and we would all squeeze into her closet-sized office to do a hurried acoustic run through of songs for that day's show.
The first show was a bit of a shocker. I had warned my parents and sister at home in Strathclair that I might be on the CKX-TV Noon Show so they all tuned in to watch the event. I had planned on staying the background for the first shows but because of a timing problem I suddenly found myself playing a "Wildwood Flower" instrumental solo without warning or rehearsal. I later learned that my mother and sister Bonnie had put on quite a display of tearful excitement in front of the old Westinghouse TV.
During this time Barry and I also played many dance dates for which we picked up a variety of musicians. We then went on to take over the Co-op Jamboree TV show which had featured Russ Gurr and the Carnahans for so many years and at this time the band line-up changed somewhat with:
Jake Kroeger (rhythm guitar and vocals): a Rapid City/Rivers farmer and plumber
John Skinner (drums): a Rivers farmer.
Frequent guest: Ray Power (rhythm guitar and vocals): Ray was one of the original Country Gentlemen and a school teacher.
CKX announcers for the show included Harold Roberts (TV weather man), Lorne Ball, as well as Ernie Nairn and Keith Cummings who went on to become well-known CBC announcers.
The Co-Op contract turned out to be a most rewarding one for us. We were featured in a weekly TV show which spotlighted a different Co-Op community each week. The live studio audience consisted of people from that week's featured town and the show's guests were actually winners of Co-Op "Talent Nights" held in the rural areas. The company even sent us out to appear at some of the Talent Night shows.
We also carried on the tradition of doing live Co-Op "Neighbour Night" and "Social Evening" appearances at every town in the area which had a Co-Op store. These were great sho biz learning experiences as we had to put together shows that would entertain rural, sit-down audiences that were made up of all ages.
The MC for many of the live shows was Ozzie Puloff from CKX who also sang old standards. Also featured were organists Kris Thor and Frank Woodmass, as well as local guests from each town. In the early '60s audiences still looked upon TV performers as being something special and this was really our first taste of "stardom" with applause, autographs, stares, etc.
Throughout the early sixties, we performed live CKX TV and Radio shows at the Provincial Exhibition in the Brandon Fair Grounds Paviliions. We did numerous shows each day and never failed to get caught up in the excitement of these events. Live TV shows are difficult to do under the best of conditions but we never knew what was going to happen in these productions. We had to put up with crowds milling by, equipment breakdowns, unprepared guests, production gaffs, and a wall of distracting noises from the midway: competing sound systems, kids, animals, and vendors. Many of the Grandstand performers appeared on our shows to promote their evening performances - the one who stands out in my mind was a young impressionist from Ottawa named Rich Little. This was before neither Barry of myself did much in way of vocals so the show was pretty heavy on guitar and fiddle instrumentals.
In the summer of '64 we were hired by Imperial Tobacco to perform at the Morris Manitoba Stampede. At this time Barry and I were working mainly as a duo and were hiring pickup musicians to fit the size of the job. We agreed that the perfect singer to take to this gig was our predecessor on the original CKX Co-Op TV shows: Russ Gurr. We were looking forward to working with the flamboyant Russ as we thought he would be a natural for working a rodeo crowd. CKX announcer Lorne Ball agreed to come along as a front man and he showed up in an expensively-tailored western dress suit he had borrowed from Western movie/recording star, Rex Allen who had played Brandon recently.
Our shows at the Morris Stampede went extremely well, so well in fact, that Russ in turn, hired us the next summer to back him at the Austin Threshermen's Reunion.
During our 1965 performances at the Threshermen's Reunion, we were so wrapped up in the parades of old steam engines, the rodeo action, threshing contests, and enthusiastic crowds that we paid little attention to a small camera crew who filmed our show one afternoon. Much later we learned that they were from the National Film Board of Canada and were gathering footage for Montreal's Expo '67. Two years later we had the thrill of seeing this footage after standing in line for hours at the Labyrinth Pavilion. We then learned that our images appeared on the pavilion's giant split screen, 30 times a day for the whole year.
THE COUNTRY GENTLEMEN MAKE 10,950 APPEARANCES AT EXPO '67 ~ MONTREAL
The successes at the Threshermen's Reunion and at Expo led to an exclusive contract with Federal Grain Ltd. Starting in the summer of '66 they supplied us with a tour bus and portable stage and sponsored us on promotional tours every summer to major exhibitions and rodeos across Western Canada. Sue-On and I married in 1966 and her arrival on the scene brought about a major change in band direction and personnel.
The stage is now set.
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Bill and Sue-On Hillman Eclectic Studio