Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Crescendos members catch up with Badfinger rocker at city casino

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Rock 'n' roll never forgets.

For two Winnipeg musicians, the lyrics to Bob Seger's classic rock anthem rang true last month at the Club Regent casino. After 42 years, Glenn MacRae and Vance Masters reunited with an old mate from Liverpool who went on to live the rock 'n' roll fantasy.

In August 1965, Winnipeg quartet The Crescendos -- MacRae, Masters, Terry Loeb and Dennis Penner -- dared to live the dream of countless young musicians across North America by pulling up stakes for the rock 'n' roll mecca of Liverpool.

"We had seen the Beatles movies and the Ferry Cross The Mersey movie and figured that's where it was at," says MacRae. Arriving by boat in the middle of the night, the four excited young men cooled their heels until the immigration office opened.

"We couldn't sleep, we were so excited," he recalls. After clearing customs, their first destination was the most famous club in rock 'n' roll: The Cavern, once home to The Beatles.

The Crescendos soon began gigging on the club circuit and were quickly accepted by Liverpool musicians.

"It was a real community of players," says MacRae. "It was quite remarkable how were welcomed with open arms. Whatever help they could give us, they would."

Among the groups The Crescendos befriended was a young outfit called The Masterminds.

"Back in those days, they would have several bands playing at gigs," MacRae recalls. "A band would do an hour, then pack up and move on and another band would play. We did some of those gigs with The Masterminds, and that's how we met Joey Molland. I remember Joey was enamoured with Terry's Fender guitar and our Fender amps, so he invited us over to his house for a jam the next day."

Still in his teens, Molland was making a name for himself on the Liverpool circuit with The Masterminds.

"I can still picture Joey onstage back then," remembers MacRae. "There was a certain way British guitar players played, more up picking than down picking, and Joey typified that style. He was a very confident player and had that ultra-Mod look. The Masterminds were definitely a cut above the rest of us."

Molland, in turn, was impressed with the Winnipeggers.

"Oh sure I remember the Crescendos," he said in a recent phone interview. "They were a really good band -- good vocals, as I recall. I remember the singer, Glenn, and Vance was a fantastic drummer. We used to see them at the Blue Angel club all the time. We were like the house band there and we played with The Crescendos there several times."

Molland's brother, Gordon, even became The Crescendos' road manager.

In early 1966, The Masterminds' lone single, a cover of Bob Dylan's She Belongs To Me, failed to break the group into the big time and they folded soon after.

"We'd done as many gigs as we could to promote it, but in the end it flopped," says Molland.

In February of that year, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, managers of The Who, put the word out on the Liverpool streets that they were recruiting for a new band to back The Merseys in London. They plucked Molland and two others from The Masterminds along with Masters from The Crescendos.

"There was all this gossip going around Liverpool that they were looking for musicians with a certain look," recalls Masters, "so Lambert approached me. I went to London with Joey and some other guys."

Masters' tenure with the band, dubbed the Fruit Eating Bears, was brief.

"We all lived in a hotel, all in the same room, and rehearsed," recalls Masters, "but I came back to The Crescendos after a couple of weeks. And I'm glad I did."

Molland, meanwhile, stayed on for a year before joining Gary Leeds & Rain. When that outfit folded, he heard about a band called The Iveys, who had been taken under The Beatles' wing. He auditioned and joined the group. On the advice of Beatles road manager Neil Aspinall, The Iveys changed their name to Badfinger.

Through the early '70s Badfinger scaled the rock 'n' roll heights, recording hit singles that included Come And Get It (written and produced by Paul McCartney), No Matter What, Baby Blue and Day After Day, the latter featuring George Harrison on guitar. They toured the world and even appeared at Harrison's star-studded 1971 Concert For Bangladesh.

Tragedy, however, struck Badfinger after their business manager pocketed all their advance, some $200,000. Frustrated and broke, two members -- Pete Ham and Tommy Evans -- ultimately took their own lives. Molland found himself out of work in Los Angeles before moving with his wife to Minneapolis to rebuild his career. He has since toured under the Badfinger name as the lone surviving member. A protracted legal battle over royalties with Apple Records was eventually settled in the 1980s and Badfinger's album catalogue has been reissued in recent years.

Back in Liverpool, The Crescendos fulfilled their dream of playing The Cavern on several occasions, but following the failure of their single Hungry, produced by The Searchers' Chris Curtis, they returned to Winnipeg in early 1967. (Following the Cavern gig, bass player Penner was replaced by Liverpudlian Stuart McKernan.)MacRae managed Long & McQuade music store while Masters enjoyed a long career drumming in bands like The Fifth, Brother and a later version of the Guess Who.

With so many years and so much water under the bridge, would Molland remember his Winnipeg friends? No worries. He had been looking forward to seeing MacRae and Masters again after all those years, he said in the phone interview.

Prior to taking the stage, the two local musicians were ushered backstage to an enthusiastic greeting from Molland. And they sat front and centre for Molland's set.

"He hasn't changed a bit," pointed out MacRae as he watched Molland tear through several Badfinger hits. "He doesn't seem like the star he really is. He's like the guy we used to know."

"It's a wonderful surprise," Masters added. "He's such a good guitar player and singer, and was back then, too."

Following his set, Molland joined MacRae, Masters and their wives for a two-hour stroll down memory lane as they perused MacRae's scrapbook of photos and clippings. "What was so surprising," marvelled MacRae afterwards, "was how much he remembered about those old times -- the people and places -- considering his career after that."

The three vowed to remain in touch.

"It's great to see these guys again," said Molland. "That's one of the things I really missed when I left Liverpool... that community feeling. Back then, the bands and musicians used to socialize together, hang out together, talk about records, guitars, gigs, whatever. And The Crescendos were part of that whole scene with us."

 

John Einarson is a Winnipeg music historian. His most recent book, co-authored with Chris Hillman, is Hot Burritos: The True Story of The Flying Burrito Brothers.

 

 

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2009 D4

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