During the summer we were married - 1966 - Sue-On accompanied me
to most of our Country Gentlemen dance jobs and fair gigs. We performed
at quite a few Manitoba Exhibitions - the forerunner of what would evolve
into our extensive Federal Grain tours with Russ Gurr. Two of the larger
events were the Dauphin
Fair and the Austin Threshermen's
Reunion. These involved appearances where we provided entertainment
and music segues for the rodeo in the afternoon and full grandstand shows
in the evening. We also performed on a float during the parades. Throughout
these appearances Sue-On took well to the road and obviously had natural
stage presence and her female presence, moves and occasional playing of
percussion instruments certainly livened up what, up to that time,
had been an all guy band.
After the summer fair season we had a small wedding -- attended by
just band members and close family. By then I realized that my bride had
great showbiz potential. She had taken seven years of classical piano lessons
and had sung in the United Church choir ... and she looked great.
And I knew that she wouldn't be content to sit at home while I was out
performing every weekend -- too often I had seen this lead to marital discord
among my musician friends. So, we went to work on developing a stage act.
Our audiences had been mainly light rock and country fans so we dug through
our record collection to find material that would work for her and came
up with current songs from Brenda Lee, Patsy Cline, Patti Page, Lulu, Nancy
Sinatra and we also worked at adapting many country, folk and rock standards.
Sue-On's great ear for harmony opened another avenue as we started
to work on duets. Knowing her piano background I sent for a electric Hohner
Pianet, taught myself to chord on piano and then passed on as many by-ear
tricks to her as I could. Gradually we worked these new solos, duets and
piano sounds into the band. Setting a trend for the rest of our married
life, we encouraged each other and dovetailed our individual strengths
and weaknesses. Soon I had the confidence to start doing my own vocal solos.
The guys in the band were generally very tolerant of this newbee interloper
but more and more the two of us started to play local country bars -- gigs
in which we were joined by Jake Kroeger on vocals/rhythm from the Gentlemen,
and for a short time, bassist/singer Ed Neufeld from a group we had worked
with on CKX and the Austin grandstand shows. We started off in hotel beverage
rooms in Hamiota, Shoal Lake, Strathclair, Minnedosa, but as our popularity
grew the bookings increased in larger venues -- as far away as Brandon
and in the many military bases around the province -- we started to look
for a new name.
The name Country Gentlemen didn't seem to fit a band with a featured
girl singer. Searching through my Zane Grey collection, the title of one
of his western novels drew my attention: Western Union. The name stuck
for the next ten years.
Throughout this '66/'67 season I used two new guitars on stage. A
few months before we were married my Gretsch Chet Atkins Nashville guitar
was stolen while I was freelancing with a band at a dance in McCreary.
My grandmother and parents both came to the rescue and soon I was using
both a Gretsch Country Club and Fender Telecaster on stage.