Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/9/2016 (1469 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
What happened to many local musicians once the lights turned off and the curtain descended? In the 1960s and ’70s, Winnipeg boasted hundreds of bands made up of musicians and singers from every neighbourhood and beyond. Inspired by Beatle dreams, they had taken up instruments, formed bands and played the thriving local circuit, some for a short time while others hung on longer. But for every Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman or Fred Turner, there are a thousand others who never scaled the heights of fame and fortune and instead set their dreams aside for careers beyond the spotlight.
Veteran drummer Al Johnson (the Quid, Chopping Block, Fifth, Next) and guitarists Paul Newsome (Musical Odyssey) and John Burton (Power Company) became railway engineers. The Jury’s guitarist, George Johns, made a smooth transition from making records and playing music to a career in radio becoming a major programmer and radio station owner. Electric Jug & Blues Band frontman Blair Wheaton is currently head of the sociology department at the University of Toronto, while harmonica player Don ‘Stork’ Macgillivray is a journalist. Ed Smith of the Deverons, Cummings’ first band, retired not long ago from a long career behind the scenes at CBC Winnipeg where he might have crossed paths with Janice Harding-Jeanson (Sally Screw & the Drivers) and Kinsey Posen (Blue Frizz). In the late 1980s, the fellow delivering my Dominos pizza one evening was former Galaxies and James & the Good Brothers member Jim Ackroyd.
Chances are if you flew in or out of Winnipeg in the 1970s to ’90s, ex-Mongrels bass player Garth Nosworthy may have guided your plane as an air traffic controller. Mongrels drummer Larry Rasmussen became an upholsterer. The Third Edition’s keyboard player, Milt Reimer, is an accountant, while drummer Marcus Fisher was a longtime firefighter in Vancouver. Two members of the Fifth, Melvin Ksionzek and Richard Gwizdak, became professional photographers. The Love Cyrcle’s Wesley Doll went on to a lengthy career with paper manufacturers MacMillan-Bloedel. Moody Manitoba Morning composer, singer/songwriter Rick Neufeld became a tour bus driver for the likes of Bruce Cockburn and Norah Jones.
"I never thought that I would become a lawyer," said John MacInnes from his office in Calgary where he has practised for three decades. After founding the Mongrels with junior high buddies Geoff Marrin, John Nykon, John Hardt and drummer Joey Gregorash, MacInnes helped assemble Sugar & Spice — five Rolling Stones-crazed guys and the angelic-voiced Murphy sisters, Kathleen, Maureen and Aileen — in late 1967. In February 1968, the group released a Randy Bachman-penned single, Not to Return, and debuted live before a sellout crowd at UMSU. The following year they recorded a lushly orchestrated anti-war single, Cruel War, and signed to an American record label.
All indications pointed toward a massive U.S. hit until songwriter Peter Yarrow, who was mistakenly not credited on the record, threatened to sue. "Sugar & Spice had a lot of contractual issues, especially with Peter Yarrow," MacInnes said. "So I spent a lot of time at our lawyer’s office downtown."
Despite having a brother and grandfather who were lawyers, MacInnes hadn’t given a law career any thought, until then. "When the lawyers would be talking about our band situation I sort of knew what they were saying, but some of it was like another language to me. That piqued my interest in law school. I figured that having a law degree would help serve the band well while I kept playing. It would be an advantage to my music career."
In the end, their record label withdrew the single from the market, killing any hopes of American success. MacInnes left the band later that year. He paid his way through law school playing in the Tweadle Band. Ex-Logan Avenue Comfort Station guitarist Mark Freed and Don ‘Fabulous George’ Jordan were classmates in law school. Kathleen Murphy also became a lawyer several years later.
"I consider myself fortunate," MacInnes said, "because all that legal wrangling we had in Sugar & Spice ultimately saved my ass and gave me a career direction.
"I’ve given a lot of legal advice to musicians over the years," he said, "because most musicians can’t afford to hire a lawyer. But they always need legal advice. I know, because I’ve been on both sides of the situation as both musician and lawyer, so I’m sympathetic to them."
Guitarist Brian McMillan had been touring in Joey Gregorash’s backing band, Walrus, when he came to the realization that this wasn’t the lifestyle he wanted. "I enjoyed the playing," he said, from his shop, Prairie Studio Glass (formerly Prairie Stained Glass), at the corner of Sargent Avenue and Sherbrook Street. "But I didn’t like all the travel and hotels. I had too much time on my hands because you had maybe three hours on stage and 21 hours with nothing to do." Walrus had performed at the legendary Festival Express concert in Winnipeg as well as the notorious rain-soaked Niverville Pop Festival. McMillan had also recorded with Gregorash. "I was looking for a more secure future," he says. "Music is a risky business. The only thing I had ever trained to be was a rock star," he laughs.
In the early ’70s, McMillan left the road to work in real estate sales, a vocation he kept for five years. "By that point, I wanted to start a family, and real estate wasn’t conducive to that. Too many agents I knew were divorced because of the weird hours."
A chance meeting with stained glass artist from Calgary pointed a new direction for McMillan. "I found the transition from music to visual arts very smooth and satisfying," he states. He studied the craft while still holding down his real estate gig until he was ready to open up his own business. "It took five years to build up Prairie Stained Glass," he said of opening up shop in 1978. "I had two other jobs as well for a time just to keep the business going." In recent years, he has transitioned the business to his son. But McMillan hasn’t slowed down. He is involved in a cleaning business venture with his daughter and performs frequently at assisted living facilities throughout the city. He also worked occasionally with Gregorash, earning a gold record in the 1980s for Together.
"I grew up with the Beatle dreams like many other kids back then, but one has to be realistic," he said. "If the opportunities aren’t there, then you have to pursue other avenues."
Singer-songwriter Carol Isaac led a gypsy-like life before settling in Winnipeg in the latter ’60s. Born in Saskatchewan and raised in Nova Scotia, the daughter of an Air Force father, she hit the road as a solo folk music artist in her latter teens criss-crossing the country by train or by thumb to perform at coffeehouses.
"I was playing at the 4D (Fourth Dimension) coffeehouse in Fort William in 1965 when Neil Young was playing afternoons there with his band the Squires," she said. Isaac recorded a solo album in Montreal and even appeared on radio with Tommy Hunter but put down roots in Winnipeg after playing a few gigs with country performer Eddie Laham. Meeting Bill Ivaniuk, folk duo Bill & Carol was born.
By 1969, the two had switched to electric instruments with Carol on electric guitar, Bill on bass, drummer Gord Osland, and guitarist Greg Leskiw and taken the name Wild Rice. After Leskiw left to join the Guess Who, guitarists Eddie LeClair and Dale Russell played in Wild Rice. "It was really hard after Greg left because we had a pretty good sound together," she said.
"We opened for several acts at the Centennial Concert Hall and did a few shows with the Guess Who," said Isaac, who recalls Guess Who manager Don Hunter bringing the group to New York to try getting RCA Records to sign them. In late 1972, Wild Rice released an album titled Together on their own Rice Records label recorded at Century 21 studios in Winnipeg and featuring the top local musicians. The group appeared in local pubs and played in the American Midwest.
"It was a bit tricky playing down there because of the Vietnam War going on and the draft," she recalls. By the mid-1970s, the two had grown apart. Their swan song came one night performing at the Paddock restaurant on Portage Avenue. Ex-Guess Who member and friend Jim Kale was in the audience heckling the two. "I just stopped in the middle of a song," she said, "put my guitar down, went out into the audience, grabbed Kale by the lapels and offered to take him outside to settle things. I wasn’t going to take any nonsense from him." That was it for Wild Rice.
Isaac married Manfred Wadien and moved to Saskatchewan before returning to rural Manitoba. She had three children before the marriage broke up. She now lives in the Interlake and has driven a school bus for 15 years.
"I had to survive," she says. "I built my own house and have a lovely garden. Doing music professionally to put food on the table sours you after awhile. My family became my focus." For a time she and her children performed as Prairie Rose. "My only regret is that Bill and I didn’t split up the duo sooner," she muses. "We would have grown individually the way we wanted to. I had stopped growing as a musician."
Not long after she started as a bus driver, someone recognized Isaac from her Wild Rice days, and the word spread. "I like being invisible," she said, "but most of the kids I drive for now know I’m a musician. They’re all musicians themselves, so I get a little bit of respect."
Perhaps no other local musician made quite the career switch than Murray Enns, who went from playing keyboards in ’80s new wave band Sally Screw & the Drivers to becoming head of psychiatry for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and professor of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba. "My parents had me taking classical piano lessons as a kid," said Enns, who grew up in suburban Charleswood, "but once I heard rock music, it just grabbed me." His parents, however, did not regard rock music as a career. "I think they always envisioned their son growing up to be a doctor," he said. "But they did support me by buying instruments for me."
Sally Screw & the Drivers was a popular club and pub band. "By local standards, we were doing all right," Enns said. "We were working pretty hard six nights a week, and I was blowing my eardrums out. But it gradually started to dawn on me, the realization that although I was enjoying making music, it was an all-consuming lifestyle.
"As much as I loved it, I also saw that it would be a very slow and challenging prospect to make it in music. It’s a hard thing to make a living from. I saw guys around us in other bands with a greater depth of talent who weren’t exactly making a good living. I guess I was a little more level-headed. I was looking for a more secure future."
Instead, Enns set his sights on medical school.
Of his rock ’n’ roll days, Enns said: "I have very fond memories. It was a good period in my life. I didn’t have much time to play music in medical school, but now I get to play as a hobby. My daughter is a singer-songwriter, however, I try not to give her any advice." He does acknowledge that being in a band provided some practical experience. "In a band, there is generally no leader, so you work together as a team to resolve situations. That experience has served me well in my later career."
Latter ’70s new wave/power pop quartet the Fuse is fondly remembered by many Winnipeggers. Brothers Jeff, Don and Paul Hatcher along with friend David Briggs were ahead of the curve writing their own material and packing the pubs and socials. One night at the St. Vital Hotel, Elvis Costello joined the band onstage to perform his song Alison.
With a highly professional focus and outlook, the Fuse moved to Toronto where they transformed into the Six. "When the Six called it a day," said guitarist and singer Jeff Hatcher, "myself and the Big Beat rode along for several more Toronto years, with many side trips to Winnipeg and New York, the two places where we could, respectively, earn some decent money performing, and drag record-company people out to see us, until we called it a day."
Hatcher then relocated to Vancouver and hooked up with Billy Cowsill, who had previously enjoyed fame in his family’s band before falling from grace amid a slew of personal problems. As the Blue Shadows, the band accrued considerable attention on both sides of the border for their appealing alternative country sound based around original material from Hatcher and Cowsill and boasting Everly Brothers-style harmony singing by the two. The Blue Shadows earned a gold record for their stunning debut album On the Floor of Heaven.
Despite great promise, a Juno nomination and two albums under their belts, the Blue Shadows folded in the mid-1990s. "I had been a working musician for almost exactly 20 years," Hatcher said. "I wanted to continue doing something with my music training and experience but had no desire to stay in the music business. It became nearly impossible to make a living as a guitar-player-around-town. There were now fewer gigs, less money and, it seemed, more bands. Easy in the ’70s and ’80s, doable through part of the ’90s, and then it was over."
Hatcher was able to channel his appreciation for, and experience in, music into a new career path. "One day a friend whose son lived with autism told me about the music therapist he had hired to work with his boy," Hatcher recalls. "I had never heard of music therapy. I attended an open house hosted by the music-therapy program at Capilano College in North Vancouver and was convinced this was where I was going." He went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in counselling psychology and now works as a music therapist, clinical counsellor, consultant on projects and as a supervisor for music-therapy students here in Winnipeg.
"Today, music is all around me as ever," Hatcher said. "But I now use it for purposes other than self-expression or career advancement and that, personally, is progress to me."
Finder’s Keepers organist Len Rosolowich saw the writing on the wall early. "I was astute enough to realize that bands like the Fifth and Shondels, who were far better musicians than we were, hadn’t made it," he said. "So I believed you had to have a backup plan." A graduate of St. John’s High School, Rosolowich was already enrolled at the University of Manitoba while playing weekend gigs with the quintet. "I came from a tap-dance background so I always had broader interests than just rock ’n’ roll," he said.
Rosolowich had performed alongside Burton Cummings in two St. John’s High operettas. "I knew I enjoyed musical theatre." When Finder’s Keepers folded, he embarked on a career teaching science at his former alma mater. "I had a great time as a student there, so I was happy to be back," he says.
Now retired, Rosolowich spent his entire career at St. John’s, serving as department head for 25 years. He also performed at Rainbow Stage and the International Inn’s Hollow Mug and continued doing so for several years.
"I’ve given advice to many of my students who wanted to pursue music as a career," he said. "And I always tell them to have something to fall back on."
Guitarist Rob Langdon was talented enough to have made a career in music had he chosen to. A veteran of several well-known local bands including the Love Cyrcle, Dianne Heatherington & the Merry-Go-Round and Musical Odyssey, he instead chose a career in emergency room medicine. But not before studying engineering first with an eye to developing medical technology.
"My talents were in science and math," he said from his home in Dallas, where he has lived since the late 1970s. "I had a tremendous curiosity about electromagnetism and things like calculus. I always loved music, but I was a realist. I didn’t have a voice like my bandmates Craig Troop and Marc Lafrance." But he did give music a shot. "The Musical Odyssey went on tour for a year," he said. "Craig and I were already enrolled in medicine, so we asked the dean, Arnold Naimark, if we could take a year off. We told him it was a great musical opportunity. (Based on) his faith in us, he told us to go do it and he would save our spots in medicine. It was great fun and lots of parties, but I didn’t see my future doing this. At the end of that year, we went back to further our studies in medicine."
In the 1990s, Langdon and a fellow Dallas physician founded T-System, a method of streamlining information for ER doctors and hospitals that began as a paper product before becoming digital. By 2000, Langdon had left the ER to work full time as CEO of T-System, which has become a US$100-million company. "I went from being a musician to an ER doctor to a businessman," says Langdon, who plays for fun in a cover band with other doctors. "Life is good." Langdon recently co-produced a documentary film on percussionist Miles Copeland and got to play with the famed Police drummer.
Hermann Frühm had given a career in music his best shot. "I gave it a good 15-year run," he said, having been in Winnipeg recently for a wedding. The gifted keyboard player had been a member of several well-respected local bands including Dianne Heatherington & the Merry-Go-Round, Mood Jga Jga and Crowcuss. Mood Jga Jga signed to an American label and released a superb debut album of all-original material in 1974. By 1980, Crowcuss had released two critically acclaimed albums and even enjoyed a hit single in Guatemala. Soon after, the quintet decided to relocate to British Columbia. Frühm and three of the band members, including former Musical Odyssey drummer Marc Lafrance, made the move only to discover bassist and ex-Guess Who member Bill Wallace wouldn’t go. "I drove a five-ton truck from Winnipeg all the way to Vancouver," states Frühm. The band broke up at that point.
"I tried valiantly to carve out a career in music in Vancouver," he admits, "but I was like the new kid on the block." With a wife and three children to support, he needed a steady paycheque. "I was 36 when I got my first day job," Frühm said. "I had to face reality. I had gone straight from high school to playing music, so I had no college background." Frühm took a job at Acklands in their warehouse for a few years before moving to a union job at a paper mill. It was working there in 1986 that he came up with the idea for the all-in-one, multi-bit MegaPro screwdriver. "I just thought, ‘There must be a better way to store screwdriver bits in a hollow-handle screwdriver.’ My father was a carpenter, so I had an affinity for tools of all kinds." By 1989, he had created a working prototype. That became the turning point.
"There are hundreds of multi-bit screwdrivers on the market," says Frühm, "but ours is the only retractable cartridge. We have it patented. MegaPro is a great little company. I’ve been going at it for 25 years now." As CEO, Frühm’s company has been manufacturing the popular screwdriver since the early 1990s. Sales are in the millions. Not content with that, Frühm has also developed a stage and concert lighting technology rig, Parasol, that will ultimately transform concert lighting all over the world. "I’m a creative guy," he admits.
"I have a baby grand piano in my house," says Frühm, "and I sit down every day, even if only for 10 minutes, and play. I still get incredible pleasure from it."
John Einarson writes about Manitoba’s music history. Sign up for his fall Off the Record music history classes at mcnallyrobinson.com.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, music historian John Einarson is an acclaimed musicologist, broadcaster, educator, and author of 14 music biographies published worldwide.
The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.
Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.