Winnipeg Free Press Monday, June 22,1987
By John Einarson Special to the Free Press
Teen clubs reflect '60s
WITH THE growing popularity of community clubs and live bands spreading throughout the city, a few enterprising individuals attempted to capitalize on the excitement in the early '80s by opening teen night- clubs. These were non-licensed clubs featuring rock bands not only on weekends, but throughout the week as well. They were like "souped-up" coffee houses. One of the first to open was The Cellar.
Located off Fort Street, The Cellar was originally a jazz club until the Duguay brothers took it over in late 1962 and began booking rock bands. Although The Cellar only remained open until late 1964, its importance to the Winnipeg scene was enormous. It had a tremendous influence on similar teen clubs that opened in its wake, and on local musicians.
The Crescendos played The Cellar on a regular basis. "We were like the house band there," recalls Glenn MacRae. "We played there for months at a time, and used to practise there. We'd make maybe $10 a night during the week and $25 on the weekend."
What The Cellar offered that was different was its atmosphere: it was the antithesis of the community clubs. Whereas the community clubs epitomized innocent fun, The Cellar was a forbidden place that you dare not tell your Mom you went to. Glenn MacRae vividly remembers how The Cellar affected him. "The entrance was in a lane off Fort Street between Portage and Fort. Just even going down that lane was an experience, like you were in New York going to some subterranean bloc. It was like something you'd see on Naked City. It felt exciting, seedy, forbidden. There was a big red door with 'The Cellar' on it, and you went downstairs to the basement. It was pitch black and smokey. The walls were even painted black, with a mesh chain-link ceiling with pipes hanging down. It was dingy with no decorations. There was no stage, just a little platform."
In 1963, the Squires with Neil Young played The Cellar, and Ken Smyth remembers that experience. "A girl was standing up on a table taking her clothes off, and a fight erupted near the stage. I just caught a glimpse of a beer bottle that came at me and smashed on the wall." According to MacRae, people often carried in hidden liquor bottles and soon the place would get quite rowdy. "One night some guy walked down the stairs, pulled out a gun, and started shooting. Everyone hit the floor. He emptied the gun and then walked out." There were also numerous stories of knifings that occurred. Guitarist Chris Anderson was stabbed on his way down, the stairs one night.
But despite the infamy of the club, The Cellar was an important trendsetter. Many musicians recall that it was at The Cellar in 1963 they first heard Beatles music played by Chad Allan and the Reflections. This was months before the British Invasion hit North America. Jim Kale remembers playing the Beatles' hit I Saw Her Standing There at The Cellar in mid 1963. A number of bands got their first exposure outside their neighborhood from a Cellar gig.
"We used to audition at The Cellar," says MacRae. "That's how I first met Bill Wallace and Kurt Winter (then in the Cavaliers). They came down to audition and had homemade amps with the transformers and tubes on two-by-four planks."
Burton Cummings tells of an early experience at the Cellar: "One night I got a call from the Cellar, on a Wednesday, a school night. I was about 14 or 15. They said they were stuck. The band didn't show up and they had a pile of people who were getting angry . So I had to beg my mother to let me go to The Cellar for about three hours. I said: 'Please, I know it’s a school night but just let me go.' It was pretty good of her to let me go. It was different when I was with the other guys in the band, but I was all by myself. I took the bus down. It was dark and winter and I was going into this real raunchy club where guys got knifed and stuff. All there was the upright piano. No mikes, nothing. I sat there and screamed as loud as I could and blew them away for about 2 l /2 hours. I did everything I knew: Great Balls Of Fire, Blueberry Hill, What'd I Say, Once In A While, If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody, Mother-in-Law. Well, they went nuts. They even got up and danced. I made $8 for the night.".
Shortly before the demise of The Cellar in late 1964, another teen nightclub opened on St. Mary's Road in St. Vital. Patterned somewhat after The Cellar, the Twilight Zone quickly became a popular teen attraction as well as an important gig for bands.
"There was something about that place that symbolized the whole sixties scene," says the Quid's Morley Nickles. And according to Duncan Wilson: "The Zone had more of an impact than any other place."
MacRae recalls that the Twilight Zone was established by a retired farmer. "He had sold his farm in some place like Sperling and had a pile of cash, and wanted to open a teen club like The Cellar. He asked us (the Crescendos) to help set it up." The club was located beside the St. Vital Hotel. You would enter through a recessed door that led to a cash register where you were issued a card. This was punched when you arrived, and any food or drinks were recorded throughout the evening. When you left, you paid your accumulated tab. The club itself was blue, with red and white checkered cloths on the tables. The tiny stage was to the left, between the two washrooms, and framed by a pillar and a wall, which left a minimum of space for performing.
"We always used to hang out at the Zone and see other bands when we weren't playing," Colin Palmer remembers. Indeed, it was at the Zone that the nucleus of the Quid was formed.
Because it featured bands throughout the week, the Twilight Zone provided an opportunity for new, or less established bands to gig. After Palmer and Billy Pavlik disbanded the Viscounts in early 1965, they would frequent the St. Mary's Road nightspot, checking out younger bands for musicians. There they found bass player Morley Nickles from the Kingbeats, drummer Lenny Fidkalo in the Untouchables, and singer Ron Rene playing bass in the Torquays. "We thought he had a pretty good voice, so we asked him to join. We spent a lot of time teaching him how to hold a mike and be a front man." Thus the Quid was born at the Twilight Zone.
The Orfans' Dutch Schultz remembers that it didn't take a great many people to fill the place. Everyone who wanted to see you was there and you could look out and recognize all those familiar faces. In early 1965, the Saints made their first Twilight Zone appearance. "We played the Zone doing Buddy Holly stuff and Beatles," says Richard Gwizdak.
Neil Young would hang out at the Twilight Zone on off nights. The Squires also played at the Zone for one week in December 1964 for $150 ($20 per night was good money for the Zone). Jim Petrin of the Renegades recalls seeing Young there playing acoustic guitar and harmonica, with Al Johnson on drums and a bass player called Stretch (six-foot five-inch Ken Koblun).
There were many strange and wonderful things that happened at the Zone. "Lenny (Fidkalo) brought his motorcycle right into the club one night," laughs Palmer. And the Quid may have pioneered rock videos there. Brian Cooper, a photographer and Quid follower, had filmed the band in an early 1966 recording at CKRC and used to show the movie during breaks at the Zone.
More teen clubs soon sprang up throughout the city. The old Prosvda hall on Pritchard Avenue and Arlington Street became the Proteen club on Sunday evenings. The Chancellors' Ron Adams recalls his first visit to the club: "There were about five of us and we went to see the Galaxies. It was a really tough place. We just stood in the middle of the floor, afraid to move. We wanted to leave, but couldn't walk out. Then Jumbo Martin came by and recognized one of the guys with us. When he asked us outside for a beer we were so relieved to be able to get out of there."
Another wild place was Paterson's Ranch House at Logan Avenue and Keewatin Street. Neil Young recalls when the Squires played there. "We had to really work at it to get paid. There was a band that used to play there at night called Bluegrass Bob and the Bobcats, but they let us do our thing Saturday or Sunday afternoons."
The Cinema Hall opened in 1964 at Colony Street and Memorial Boulevard. It got its name because the film distribution companies had their offices along the Colony row, but it tended to draw a rough crowd.
End of series
An excerpt from John Einarson's book Shakn' All Over.