In the 1970s, whenever he was asked if the Beatles would reunite someday, Paul McCartney's answer was unequivocal: "You can't reheat a soufflé."
The band could never be the same, and a less-than-stellar performance could do irreparable harm to its legacy. In addition, there were unresolved issues dividing the band members.
Reunions can be risky business. Attempting to relive the past is never easy and can be fraught with pitfalls. Nonetheless, on the weekend of June 27 and 28, 1987, nine of Winnipeg's best-loved 1960s-era rock bands reunited for a concert event called Shakin' All Over: The Winnipeg 1960s Bands and Fans Reunion, organized by the Variety Club. All proceeds from the event were earmarked for the charity.
This was the first reunion event of its kind and required a herculean effort contacting musicians, many of whom hadn't seen or spoken to former bandmates in years, asking them to put together a set of songs. Some hadn't touched their instruments in years, while others had carried on playing.
To their credit, the Quid, Mongrels, Jury, Vaqueros, Shondels, Galaxies, Pallbearers, Carmine LaRosa & the Thunderstorms and Wayne Walker & the Strollers all came together and performed admirably to the delight of the 4,000 in attendance at the Convention Centre. Original Guess Who vocalist Chad Allan closed the formal part of the evening, bringing the crowd to its feet with the Winnipeg '60s rock anthem Shakin' All Over.
The event was organized to tie in with the release of Shakin' All Over: The Winnipeg Sixties Rock Scene, a book chronicling that vibrant and colourful time in Winnipeg when rock 'n' roll was the catalyst for social change. More than 250 bands plied the local community club, high school sock hop, teen club and church-basement dance circuit by the mid '60s.
In addition, bands played movie theatres, fashion shows, drive-in restaurants, car lots, sporting events -- just about anywhere teens might congregate. Here was an opportunity for fans to experience that excitement again and for bands to relive their glory days.
Joan Black, the Variety Club's executive director at the time, along with Variety's Pat Riordan, brought their immense organizational skills to the table, not only publishing the book but also mounting the event. Coca-Cola was the sponsor.
Saturday afternoon was the kickoff, with a book launch at the Paddlewheel Restaurant, a popular '60s hangout on the sixth floor of The Bay's downtown store. The five-hour concert, with tickets cleverly priced at $19.60, would be held the following evening at the Convention Centre.
Further icing on the cake was added when three of the biggest stars to emerge from that era -- Neil Young, Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman -- jumped on board for the reunion. It helped Young would already be in town for a Kelvin High School reunion that same weekend.
Saturday at the Paddlewheel, Young -- accompanied by his wife, Pegi -- and Cummings took seats at a table, where they signed copies of the book for a long line of elated fans. A few of the bands previewed their sets while MC Pat Riordan gave away draw prizes. Later that evening, Young would enjoy a reunion of his own when members of his Winnipeg band the Squires took the stage at the Blue Note Café on Main Street for an impromptu jam session. Meanwhile, Cummings regaled patrons with favourites at a local hotel piano bar well into the wee hours.
On Sunday evening, several of the city's radio personalities from the era -- including Doc Steen, Boyd Kozak and Ron Legge -- introduced the bands for their sets. Cummings joined the Vaqueros and Mongrels during their performances. There were many highlights, including Quid vocalist Ron Rene demonstrating he had lost none of his dynamic vocal power in the intervening decades.
The Mongrels performed the Beatles' Abbey Road medley flawlessly, and the Vaqueros' Ralph Watts dazzled on guitar while the band sported sombreros and ponchos. The Jury's George Johns came all the way from Florida to perform, while Galaxies drummer Don Maloney flew in from Port Alberni, B.C. Backstage, former Teen Dance Party host Bob Burns interviewed musicians for a later television special. Even Burton Cummings' mother Rhoda was interviewed.
Between sets, Garnet amplifier-maker Gar Gillies, CKRC recording engineer Harry Taylor and CKRC DJ Doc Steen were honoured for their contributions to Winnipeg music. Young's first recordings were at CKRC's studio -- with Taylor producing -- and he gave a Taylor a warm introduction, stating "This guy got us all making records. I was one of his first experiments."
On another break between bands, Young, Cummings, Bachman, Fred Turner of BTO and Chad Allan were each presented with Order of the Buffalo Hunt statuettes by the province and a civic citation from the city.
Following Allan's closing set, the inevitable jam commenced with Bachman and Cummings, who had joined Allan for Shakin' All Over, welcoming Young to the stage for rousing renditions of American Woman and Albert Flasher (joined by later Guess Who guitarist Kurt Winter).
Young took to the mic for Bob Dylan's Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues, altering the lyrics to "I'm going back to Kelvin High School, I do believe I've had enough."
He then launched into his signature song Down by the River, trading licks with Bachman. Back in the early '60s, Young was an acolyte of Bachman. This marked the first time they had played together. The evening concluded with an extended workout of BTO showstopper Takin' Care of Business. As they all left the stage arm in arm, Cummings shouted, "Thank you Winnipeg! This is our home and always will be."
In the end, Variety Club was presented with a cheque for $40,000.
While there have been similar reunion events since, none has captured the energy and exuberance of the 1987 Shakin' All Over reunion weekend.
"To see those original five guys in the Quid together again and to hear Ron Rene singing is just amazing," Cummings gushed afterwards. "I'm just so glad someone put this together. We all needed the chance to see each other again."
Sign up for John Einarson's Magical Music History Tour of Winnipeg at heartlandtravel.ca.