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Road boss keeps takin’ care of business Documentary shines light on Winnipeg-born tour manager and his career working with musicians

This weekend marks the Winnipeg première of Almost Almost Famous, a documentary that casts an eye on a troupe of enormously talented tribute artists, among them Ted Torres as Elvis Presley, Lance Lipinsky as Jerry Lee Lewis and Bobby Brooks as Jackie Wilson.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/06/2019 (1333 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

This weekend marks the Winnipeg première of Almost Almost Famous, a documentary that casts an eye on a troupe of enormously talented tribute artists, among them Ted Torres as Elvis Presley, Lance Lipinsky as Jerry Lee Lewis and Bobby Brooks as Jackie Wilson.

Movie preview

Almost Almost Famous
Directed by Barry Lank
Cinematheque
78 minutes
Friday to Sunday

The Barry Lank-directed film also introduces viewers to tour manager extraordinaire Marty Kramer, a grey-ponytailed bundle of energy who ensures the Class of ’59 cross-country tour runs smoothly, and that the needs of its headliners are met, night after night after night.

Moviegoers unfamiliar with Kramer are in for a treat, particularly if they purchase tickets to the Saturday night screening (7 p.m., Cinematheque). After the credits roll, the Winnipeg-born septuagenarian will participate in a Q-and-A session along with Lank and rock historian John Einarson. Kramer will surely discuss a who’s who of famous performers he’s rubbed elbows with during his decades-long career. Everybody from homegrown legends — such as the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive — to rock royalty such as the Rolling Stones and Janis Joplin. (If you’re in the audience, make sure to ask about the time he was assigned the task of handing Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page his guitar before the British band went onstage at the Winnipeg Arena. He had to ask which of the four, shaggy-haired musicians standing a few steps away from him was Page.)

“It’s been about 3½ years since I’ve been back (to Winnipeg) and I’m really looking forward to getting together with old friends this weekend, and hopefully making some new ones,” says Kramer, when reached at his office in Richmond, B.C.

“The plan right now is to attend the (Friday) première and the Saturday night screening, but not the Saturday or Sunday matinées. Instead, I’ll spend my afternoons running around to some of my old haunts, maybe Salisbury House or VJ’s for a burger, and probably Sargent Sundae for some ice cream.”

“You nailed that, for sure,” Kramer says, laughing, when asked if he ever stays up wondering where life would have taken him if, on his way to class at West Kildonan Collegiate some 55 years ago, he hadn’t stuck his head inside a Main Street billiards room to say hi to a few buddies.

Tour manager Marty Kramer started his career working with Burton Cummings. (Photos by Merit Motion Pictures)

“I can safely say everything I have and everything I’ve done I owe to walking into the pool hall that day and running into Burton Cummings, at the time the lead singer of the Deverons,” Kramer says, noting the two lived 10 blocks apart, growing up.

“After we started talking, he asked if I’d be interested in doing some publicity for his band’s shows, which led to my becoming the Deverons’ manager, which led to Burton joining the Guess Who (in 1965), which led to him saying, ‘Marty, you’re coming with me.’”

"There’s definitely a book in the works chronicling my life on the road and my direct access to all these great musicians," Kramer says.

Kramer chuckles again, recalling how Cummings used to pay him 50 cents for a night’s work lugging the Deverons’ equipment from community centre to community centre.

“Sometimes we’d go for a bite after a show and he’d toss an extra nickel to the waitress, telling her, ‘Hey, throw some gravy on Kramer’s fries, too.’ Back then, as broke as we all were, to get gravy on your fries, that was the be-all, end-all, let me tell you.”)

Following a 20-year association with Cummings — from his days with the Guess Who to his work as a Juno Award-winning solo performer — he hooked up with Randy Bachman in 1985, after BTO’s lead guitarist learned Kramer was between gigs.

That led to another 20-year professional partnership, this time as tour manager for Bachman’s assorted projects. One of the most memorable moments occurred in 1995, when the singer-songwriter was invited to share a stage with an ex-Beatle.

‘Sometimes we’d go for a bite after a show and he’d (Burton Cummings) toss an extra nickel to the waitress, telling her, “Hey, throw some gravy on Kramer’s fries, too.” Back then, as broke as we all were, to get gravy on your fries, that was the be-all, end-all, let me tell you’–Marty Kramer

“In 1993, Burton Cummings was part of the Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band tour, along with people like Joe Walsh from the Eagles,” Kramer says. “Because I was running things for Randy at the time, Ringo’s people reached out to me, asking if he wanted to hop aboard, too.”

Back then, Bachman and Cummings weren’t on the best of terms, Kramer says, so he told Starr’s management team thanks, but no thanks. But if they were still interested in Bachman’s services the next time Starr went on tour, they should feel free to reach out.

“Two years later, almost to the day, I get a phone call, ‘Hey, it’s the Ringo tour; are you and Randy still available?’ The next thing I know, I’m in New York City, standing in the same room as Richie — that’s what Ringo asked everybody to call him — talking about a Beatles concert I went to in Minneapolis, back in ’65.”

 

 

These days, Kramer keeps busy running tribute tours like the one featured in Almost Almost Famous.

Come fall, he’ll hit the road with another set of acts, this time mimicking the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bonnie Raitt and Heart.

“Before each (tour) I ask myself a series of questions: Do I want to retire? No. Do I have to work? No. Do I want to work? Yes. Can I still get the job done? Yes,” he says. “But between you, me and the wall, once I get past the era of the ’70s and ’80s, I can’t really see myself dealing with the Dr. Dres or 50 Cents of the world. I don’t think I’m cut out for that style of music.”

Kramer (left) with a couple of the performers from the Class of ’59.

 

One more thing: if you already have weekend plans and can’t make it down to Cinematheque to meet Kramer in person, you’ll probably get another chance in the not-too-distant future.

“There’s definitely a book in the works chronicling my life on the road and my direct access to all these great musicians,” he says.

“The working title is Kramer A to Z, given I’ve worked with everybody from the Average White Band and Asleep at the Wheel to ZZ Top. As soon as we get ’er done I’ll be back in Winnipeg to sign a few copies, I promise.”

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

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David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

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