Winnipeg Free Press
Sunday, June 21,1987
Teen scene erupts at clubs
Community centres nourished
city's fledgling rock concerts
Early Winnipeg Rock Part 2 /)
By John Einarson Special to the Free Press
"If anyone ever asked me when the best times were in music for me," recalls Bachman Turner Overdrive's Fred Turner, "it was back in those early days in the community clubs." Without doubt, the most important and unique feature of the early Winnipeg music scene was the proliferation of community clubs in every neighborhood. The seeds of the '60s Winnipeg music scene were firmly planted in those clubs.
The postwar baby boom resulted in a huge population of young people. This caused a problem for the City of Winnipeg and the suburban areas which were not yet incorporated into one urban centre.What were they to do with all the kids to keep them off the streets? Their response was to build community clubs in each neighborhood. Some clubs already had been in existence since before the war, but dozens more sprang up in the late '40s and early '50s. Each offered organized sports, recreational activities, a wading pool, canteen, summer programs for children, and teen dances.
"Community clubs were tremendous," recalls the Guess Who's Jim Kale. "I grew up at community clubs. If it hadn't been for a community club, I would have been a delinquent. There were so many activities there. They were the hub of the community, and dances were a logical extension."
'Champlain was a magic place to play'
A feeling of youthful innocence typified the community club teen dance scene in the '60s. Kids went to have fun. There was no alcohol or drugs. "Only the music was the high," says Burton Cummings.
Colin Palmer of the Quid remembers; "It was a time when everyone wanted to dance, so the community clubs were always packed." Kids wanted to see live music, and they would follow bands week after week. "That's when the music was fun and the money was secondary," says the Jury's Ray Stockwell. "I probably paid more for the gas to get there than I made."
For anywhere from 25 cents to a dollar you would crowd into the tiny, sweaty halls and dance to your local band. The raised platforms that served as a stage would shake as the band rocked and the teens danced. Between songs, a DJ from CKY or CKRC reminded kids not to smoke in the hall, and introduced the next number. "Doc Steen would come and DJ community club dances for only $10," Kale remembers. The DJ would promote the dance all week on his show. A popular DJ meant a lot of kids at the dance. According to Kale, "If you got PJ the DJ (CKY's Peter Jackson) to DJ your dance, you were guaranteed a crowd."
Teens could meet all their friends at the club on Friday or Saturday evening. Most often the girls sat on one side of the hall and the boys on the other. Boys worked up the courage to ask a girl to dance, while the girls anxiously awaited an invitation. Invariably the girls danced with each other until that first male crossed the floor. Once the ice was broken the floor would be jammed within minutes, and sweaty teens continued to dance all evening. The DJ, or a parent chaperone, announced spot dances or lady's choice. Between sets, an old Califone phonograph would blare out the latest 45s. At the end of the evening, the lights would come on,
newly kindled romances would be suspended until the following week, parents would be waiting at the door, and eager young fans would crowd the stage to talk to the band or seek autographs. The next week it would happen all over again.
For young bands, the local community club was often their first gig. You could convince the kids on the club teen council to book your band, usually on a percentage of the gate, and all your friends would show up. Almost every musician in the city got his start at the neighborhood club. "The first real gig I ever played was at Orioles Community Club," Turner fondly remembers. "I played for a soft drink and a chocolate bar." Ken Smyth says Neil Young and the Squires' first booking was at Riverview Community Club. They got $5 for the whole band.
Jack Wong recalls that in the late '50s, the Continentals were one of the first bands to play community clubs. "We broke the field for a lot of bands by getting community clubs to book us."
In the latter '60s, after the Shondels had established their reputation at the Town and Country lounge, they abruptly left the adult crowd for the excitement of the community clubs.
The Orfans developed a strong, supportive following.
Cummings: the only high
When radio stations started broadcasting from community clubs, local bands were heard by a wider audience. "In 1959, I was 15 and playing community clubs in the Velvetones with the Pepsi-Cola Club every Friday night from 9:30 to 10 on CKY," recalls Mike Hanford. In the mid-'60s CKRC featured live broadcasts from West End Memorial Community Club every Thursday evening at 7:30. Soon after their return from Liverpool, the 5 AM Event (the Crescendos) were featured on one of those broadcasts, and the whole city heard the new sounds they brought back. Within two weeks of the release of the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, Footloose and Fancy Free performed cuts from the LP live from West End Memorial on CKRC. FLAFF's Dave Burgess remembers: "We even played a banned song on a broadcast from West End Memorial. CKRC had banned the Stones' Let's Spend The Night Together, but we played it over the air without them realizing it."
Through community clubs many loyal fans supported local bands. The Orfans developed a strong following. "The kids in the community clubs really took a liking to us," says Ed Heppner, "and once that started to happen, it just snowballed, and it was Orfans everywhere."
Bands would distribute their business cards to the community clubs for bookings. Other bands would phone the clubs to find out who was on the teen council and make a direct approach. Sometimes it was difficult to locate the clubs. "All the community clubs were listed in the phone book under clubs and organizations," recalls the Crescendos' Glenn MacRae. "You were never sure who you were phoning, or whether it was the Foresters organization or something." Often the teens in charge of the bookings at a club would attend other community club dances, so you could hand out cards at the end of a gig and get a booking for another club.
John Maclnnes recalls how the early Mongrels got their first community club engagements: "We used to get gigs where the Deverons had been. Where Burton Cummings had broken a piano, the community club organizer always asked first if we had a piano player. If we didn't, then we got the job."
Some community clubs were favorites with the bands. "Champlain was a magic place to play," recalls Glenn MacRae. "So was "Mapes" (Maple Leaf Community Club). The best community clubs were the ones that were well organized by their teen council. The enthusiasm seemed to flow down from them. They seemed livelier and the kids had more fun." West End Memorial Community Club was an important gig for many bands. "That was the first community club we played in Winnipeg," says the Fifth's Jim Grabowsky,after the band moved from Winnipeg Beach. "All of a sudden everybody wanted us." Glenwood Community Club was a hot spot as well, according to Glenn MacRae. "All the good bands played there."
However, River Heights Community Club was the most prized community club gig in the city. Chad Allan and the Reflections, and later the Guess Who, routinely held attendance records there. Drawing a big crowd at River Heights was a band's recognition of success. "My only regret," says the Cordells' Dennis Guyot, "is that we never played River Heights. That was the big gig."
When the Fifth played at River Heights people would line up at 5:30 p.m. to get in. According to Richard Gwizdak, everyone wanted to hire the band because they could pack the community clubs. Gwizdak recalls a humorous incident: "We played Charleswood Community Club and the whole ceiling came down. People were dancing and stomping their feet and pieces of the ceiling were falling on us as we played."
NEXT: The Cellar
An excerpt from John Elnarson's book Shakin' All Over: The
Winnipeg '60s Rock Scene.