HEY, bus rider, it’s time to crank that history lesson up.
A local touring company is rolling out the Magical Musical History Tour showcasing Winnipeg’s rock ’n’ roll past, offering locals and tourists an opportunity to see where the city’s musical harvest was sown.
The bus doesn’t drive down Bannatyne Avenue, the street made famous by the Guess Who album So Long Bannatyne, but it does go to Bannerman Avenue, Scotia Street and Grosvenor Avenue where Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman and Neil Young, respectively, once lived. It even travels Chevrier Boulevard and stops at Kurt Winter’s former house, featured on the back of the aforementioned 1971 Guess Who record.
"It’s long overdue. I’ve had people ask me for years about something like this," says local music historian John Einarson, who was enlisted by Heartland International Travel & Tours to narrate the local trek and provide some of his personal anecdotes.
"I have such a foundation and such a love of this history, especially the anecdotes like Neil Young being told that he couldn’t sing and he wasn’t going to make it. That’s fun. What I like is teaching people about these things they didn’t know before."
At three hours long, the tour offers plenty to learn.
During the inaugural outing on Tuesday, Einarson kept up a steady stream of banter as the air-continued bus criss-crossed the sweltering city, visiting nearly 30 different sites, including the locations of former downtown clubs like the Blue Note Café and Town N’ Country supper club; up to the North End where Cummings and Bachman spent their teenage years; down to St. Vital to check out the sites of other long-gone hangouts like the Twilight Zone Club and the 4th Dimension Coffeehouse; and to Crescentwood, where Young lived for five years and Seasons in the Sun writer Terry Jacks grew up.
Some of the most famous community clubs and schools — St. John’s High School, Earl Grey C.C., Kelvin High School, Crescentwood C.C. and River Heights C.C. — are part of the tour, with Einarson recalling gigs he saw, was a part of or that were the stuff of legend before the drinking age was lowered to 18 and the live music action shifted to venues that served alcohol.
"On any given night in 1965 you might have Burton Cummings and the Deverons playing in the North End, Randy Bachman with Chad Allen and the Expressions playing at Crescentwood, Neil Young and the Squires playing at River Heights and Fred Turner playing with Pink Plumm at Earl Grey.
What a time," Einarson says about the future rock legends.
"It’s funny, when you talk to these people who have played arenas all over the world in front of thousands of people, some of their fondest memories are of playing the community clubs and sock hops in Winnipeg."
Information about Winnipeg’s most famous exports represents the bulk of the tour, but Einarson provides an overview of the flourishing 1960s scene when Bob Burns of CJAY television hosted Teen Dance Party and bands like the Mongrels, the Fifth, Sugar & Spice, Gettysburg Address, the Quid, the Shags and Satan & the D-Men got the kids out on the dance floor.
Einarson also brings budding rock ’n’ roll historians into the present with a look through the decades, while touching on artists such as Joey Gregorash, Oscar Brand, Fresh I.E., Chantal Kreviazuk, Eagle and Hawk, Fred Penner, the Weakerthans, Remy Shand, the Watchmen, the Pumps/Orphan, Kilowatt, the Wailin’ Jennys, Steve Bell, McLean & McLean, Tom Jackson and Loreena McKennitt, among others.
A DVD worked sporadically on the inaugural trip, but the system has been upgraded to ensure tour guests can properly view the video portion of the trip, which includes archival pictures, candid artist shots, local teen hangouts, long-gone buildings, promotional photos and album covers along with a soundtrack.
Several different tour plans were proposed, including a full day with a stop at The Bay’s Paddlewheel Restaurant for lunch, but it was decided a three-hour trip of highlights would work best, Einarson said.
For the people on the bus, it seemed to be just about right, as participants asked questions, offered up their own memories and added insights into some of Einarson’s facts and anecdotes, whether it was recalling certain artists’ shows at various venues, pointing out other significant landmarks, or providing career updates.
The first run served as a test and most of the 24-seat bus was filled with people invited by Heartland and Einarson, but Sylvia Booth of Leipzig, Germany, was along for the ride after discovering the tour online.
"I liked it very much. There was a lot of information. There were a lot of people I didn’t know, but the tour made it clear how big they were and how big the Winnipeg music scene was and is," said Booth, 36, the former wife of late Eagle and Hawk bassist Randy Booth, who was visiting family and friends.
The Magical Musical History Tour currently has four more trips planned this summer, but could add more tours to the schedule depending on demand, says Heartland owner Don Finkbeiner.
Tickets for the tours, which depart at The Forks, are $39.30 and must be booked in advance at www.heartlandtravel.ca.