Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A friend in need...

Let's make some music for an old rock 'n' roller

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Lately, I've been reflecting on the meaning, and the value, of those rarest of friendships, ones that go back to when we were kids.

In part, that's because earlier this month, I flew to Toronto to celebrate the 50th anniversary of a friendship that began with a bantam football championship season. Allan Eastman and I have seen each other only occasionally over half a century. He went on to travel the world as a successful TV and movie director and I made my home here. But on Nov. 8, we sat in a Toronto pub reminiscing in a cellphone call to our Silver Heights Spartans coach, Moe Hogue, back in Winnipeg, remembering the lifelong bond football gave us by allowing us to get to know each other before we hardly even knew ourselves.

Which brings me to the other reason I've been reflecting on the meaning and value of long-standing friendships -- the story of what's happened to Chad Allan and his old friends.

-- -- --

There was a period, around the time the Spartans were crowned champions, when the Buddy Holly-like Allan was a bigger star in Winnipeg than the two rock 'n' roll bandmates who went on to be the internationally rich and famous Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings. Bigger even than another Winnipeg rock contemporary -- Neil Young.

In fact, as local rock historian John Einarson writes in Sunday's Free Press, Bachman's forthcoming book, Tales From Beyond The Tap, suggests his and Cummings' careers might not have taken off without the Guess Who's original frontman and leader.

"There can be no denying that without Chad Allan, Burton Cummings and I may not have had the successful careers we've enjoyed," Bachman says in the book. "He was the catalyst for our success, whether he realized it or not."

But there's a reason -- beyond Bachman's acknowledgement of Chad Allan's influence -- that the now Vancouver-area pensioner came to mind this week.

Earlier this month, a friend began passing the hat online for Chad Allan and his wife.

Allan Kowbel, as he was born, took the stage name Chad Allan in tribute to one of his favourite 1950s singers, Chad Mitchell.

But Allan was never destined to be a rock star. His soft-edged voice was too fragile, he was too gentle by nature and he didn't like the way the road rolled.

Vancouver appealed to him, though. He travelled there in the late 1970s and settled in the area during the early 1980s. He taught music, played lounges and more recently toted his accordion to seniors homes and legions for singalong sessions.

Hardly the stuff of fame and fortune.

He and his wife live in a small, rented apartment in Burnaby.

And in March, he will be 71.

Which is where a friend passing the hat online comes in. Jamie Anstey is a partner in Regenerator Records, which a few years ago put out a compilation of early live performances of Chad Allan-led groups that preceded the Guess Who. Allan reportedly made several thousands on that project, now in its second pressing.

But hardly enough to retire.

Which is why, earlier this month, Anstey used a website called to ask fans and friends of the iconic Winnipeg rocker to donate money to Allan and his wife.

"This fundraiser is to buy Chad and his wife a condo or apartment, and a car so they can be comfortable and retire," the web page says. "Chad has given so much to the music industry over the last 50 years, it's time to give a little something back."

The stated goal is a seemingly delusional $350,000. When I last checked, the campaign had raised $695.

All this was supposed to be kept secret from Allan -- he doesn't venture online -- because the fear was he wouldn't allow it. That belief is bolstered by the fact that a few years ago, when admirers in Winnipeg simply wanted to celebrate him and his local legacy by convincing the University of Manitoba to grant him an honorary music degree, Allan had to think about it.

"I have to pray on this," he told a friend.

The next day, struggling with his emotions, he declined.

If the website now makes him seem destitute, Anstey's record-label partner, Larry Hennessey, says he's not.

Hennessey chose his words carefully when he described Allan's financial situation.

"I'd say just below comfortable."

Allan hasn't been able to work much in recent years.

"He's a bit frail," Hennessey reports, "but in grand spirits. He's just a lovely human being. All sunshine."

-- -- --

I don't suppose one could really classify Burton Cummings as an old friend of Allan's, given that he replaced him as lead singer of the Guess Who and they are such different men.

But this week I called Cummings' manager, Lorne Saifer, with another delusional idea. Doing a benefit concert for Chad Allan, maybe like the one in 1987, when Cummings, Bachman and Young all shared the stage with Allan. Saifer diplomatically said "all options are open," but suggested Bachman was the one Allan had the closer relationship with.

So Wednesday I emailed Bachman, and Thursday I left voice-mail messages with both Bachman and his manager, Gilles Paquin.

Neither had responded by my Friday night deadline.

I suppose Randy Bachman doesn't really owe Chad Allan anything, beyond maybe his career.

But given Allan's circumstances, one would think his old friend owes him, if not me, at least a phone call.

*** UPDATE ***

Actually, early Saturday afternoon, after the column was in print and online, Randy Bachman’s manager did return my call.

Gilles Paquin said Randy has helped out Chad "directly... over the years."

Paquin also said that, coincidentally, he and Bachman are "in discussions" with the Unison Benevolent Fund, which helps Canadian musicians in need, and maybe Randy would be able to help with a concert involving that organization.

So maybe the concert idea isn’t so delusional after all.

Let’s hope it happens.

Both for Randy’s old friend Chad Allan’s sake, and for everyone who remembers the days the music lived in 1960s Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2013 B1


Updated on Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 7:29 AM CST: fixed cutline

1:53 PM: Updated after call from agent

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