Yvon Bonneville on Record Collecting in the 1950s

 

In memory of Yvon “Super Bopper” Bonneville (1944- 2019)

at right : On stage at the 21st Annual Roots of Rock and Roll Concert ("Heartbreak Hotel – Nashville, Music City USA") at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall, Montreal 2018. Photo by Howard Kay.

These interviews were recorded in 2018. The first part was recorded in Mike’s Restaurant in the food court at Place des Arts, before we attended a concert by Roger Hodgson (of Supertramp fame). The second part was in my car, after a session at a friend’s home of scanning the covers of his extensive collection of picture sleeves of 45rpm records.

Yvon was the president of the Canadian Jerry Lee Lewis fan club, and had met his hero around 1962, spending an afternoon with him. Many years later, on a pilgrimage to Sun Records in Memphis, Yvon and his party were invited to Lewis’s home in Louisiana.

I met Yvon in 1987, and we became good friends. On Radio McGill (“CKUT 90.3, right here in Montreal”) I had a Sunday evening show called 7 Nights to Rock (“a history of rock and roll in no particular order”). One night, I was doing a special on Jerry Lee Lewis. A friend of Yvon’s phoned him to say, “There’s someone on the radio right now playing your guy.” Yvon tuned in and phoned me at the station. After some praise, he mentioned some songs and history I should have included. I invited him to come to the station the next week and fill in the missing parts of Jerry Lee’s career. He ended up co-hosting the show the next Sunday, and the week after we did it again. He presented a total of four hours on Lewis. In 1988, we connected in Ottawa for Jerry Lee Lewis’ concert there. I wrote up a review of the show, and Yvon published it in the fan club newsletter. You can read the review here.

He spoke English the way many French Canadians do, ones that grew up poor and learned it any way they could. I have kept his speech patterns, and you will notice the letter “s” missing from many words. Since you are reading this and not hearing him speak, not only will you miss his charming speech, you won’t get to hear his incredible laugh that spontaneously bubbled up from within his gentle soul.

Yvon Bonneville : I first started to buy records in 1956. They were 99 cents plus tax : a dollar seven ($1.07). At that time, I was still 12 years old. I had to do errands for the neighbours. They gave me just one cent as a tip.

Craig Morrison : For doing what ?

YB : Any kind of things. Well, I go to the restaurant, bring anything they need, cigarettes or anything from the restaurant.

CM : Take-out food ?

YB : Sometime. Or go to the grocery store, buy a quart of milk or something like that. They give me just one cent.

CM : Was it the same neighbour or more than one ?

YB : No, more than one. And at that time, there’s a place I used to go called the East End Boy’s Club. They play some movies, every Saturday morning, and it cost 15 cents. And I had a hard time to make 15 cents. Sometime I was missing two or three cents. I had to ask my mother to give me three cents, “I need three cents to go to the movie.” It was English movie. That’s how I learned how to understand. At first I didn’t understand anything. It was mostly cowboy movie : Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, Roy Rogers. I became interesting in country music because of those guys.

CM : Did you remember the names of any of the movies ?

YB : No. It was all the ’40s movie, but we saw them in ’56, ’57, ’58. My father used to pay the rent, 15 dollars a month, so when you bought an album, which was at three dollars and 29 cents plus tax, it was extremely, extremely expensive.

CM : How did you pay for the records that you bought ?

YB : I knew a place that they were buying some steel, and I know a place where they throw away some steels, so we make a wheelbarrow. We used to go there every night after school to pick up the steel. On Saturday morning we go to a place called, guenilleux–I don’t know in English—give you scrap. He was buying scrap and we sell him steel to buy records. This is how I start buying records.

CM : How much would you get for a load of steel ?

YB : For a week, about a dollar or two.

CM : How much did a full load in the wheelbarrow weigh ?

YB : Oh, at least one hundred pounds.

CM : Were you with some friends doing this ?

YB : Yes, we were a couple of guys.

CM : Did you make your own wheelbarrow ?

YB : Yes ! We had to !

CM : Out of what ?

YB : Wood that we found in the alley.

CM : What did you do for a wheel ?

YB : I don’t remember.

CM : So when you would make one or two dollars, would you have to split it between the guys ?

YB : No, each and every guy had their own. Many guys used to do that because it was the only way to make money at that time.

CM : And why would you get scrap metal that someone would leave ? They could have made money with it.

YB : Yes, but not everybody was interesting to work that hard. We used to take our steel at the railroad track. Because at that time there were lots of train with lots of steel in it, and when they bought, some steel came out near the track. So we went there after school and took the steel.

CM : So, you could go to the same place each day and there’d be some more that fell off the railway car.

YB : That’s right. Every day.

CM : So, you could buy one or two records every week ?

YB : Yes ! Or save our money and buy an album at the end of the month.

CM : Which did you do ?

YB : Both. Whatever music I like.

CM : Where did you buy these records ?

YB : I used to go to each and every record store in Montreal.

CM : How many were there ?

YB : Lots of record stores. I used to take the phone book and there was a few page of records. I used to phone them. It’s unbelievable, all the record store, plenty of record stores in the ’50s in Montreal, compared to today. There was a lot on Ste. Catherine [street]. I used to go to Monk Boulevard [in NDG]. When I was a young kid, I live in the east, so it was very, very far. There was no Metro at that time. I had to take the bus or the tramway.

I start buying record in ’56 but start collecting in ’58. And in ’58, I wants a record from ’54, ’55, ’56, so they were out of print at that time. Because records last only for six month at that time. After six months, it was very hard to find a record, after the hit. So, I made a list of the record I’m looking for. One I have a very hard time to find was “Pink Pedal Pushers” by Carl Perkins on Columbia. His very first record on Columbia. Came out in ’58 and I didn’t bought it because there was so many good record that I could not buy everything, so I had to make a choice. And I remember, records in record stores were classified by company and number. So if I want “Pink Pedal Pushers,” I call each record store and I said, “Do you have Columbia 41131 ?” That was the number of the record. They said, “No, we don’t have it.” OK, the next one, I ask the same question to each and every record store. One said, “Yeah, I got it.” I said, “OK, keep it. I’m going to get to buy it right now.”

CM : Do you remember who had it ?

YB : No, no, I don’t remember, because I did that for many, many, many record. Some music store, they receive a book called Record Date. They received that every month, big book. And it was in this book, all the one who are still in stock. So I remind the change and a couple of months, I say, “Can you give it to me ?” An old one. So, I had all the numbers and all the titles to make my lists.

CM : When you were in these record stores, did they start to recognize you as a customer ?

YB : Some of them. There was one called Philip Sill’s Record Store. The Beau-Marks used to record there because there was a recording studio downstairs. And I used to go there every day. Every day ! They recognized me, of course. And at that time, in the ’50s, they had some booth, about 12 booth. You go inside, there was two bench, the posters on the wall, and a record player. You go to the counter and say, “Oh, give me this one, this one.” You take a pile about ten 78 or 45, you go into that booth and you play them and you choose the one you like. Sometimes we choose 12 record, bought just one. So we had a good time just playing the records. That’s how I discovered Jerry Lee Lewis. In December ’56 I bought three records for the very first time in my life.

CM : Three records the same day ?

YB : Yeah, I was keeping my money. I said, “I don’t want to buy just one.” At that time, I didn’t even have a record player, so I have to go to my friend’s to play my record, and that last for two years, because we were poor, you know.

CM : What did your dad do ?

YB : He was a butcher. So, yeah, the three first record that I bought, I bought “Mystery Train” by Elvis, “Be-Bop-A-Lula” [by Gene Vincent], and the third one—it was the guy at the counter, he say, “Yvon, listen to this, you gonna like it”—and it was “End of the Road” by Jerry Lee Lewis, “Crazy Arm” on the other side.

CM : His first record.

YB : Very first record, and it was not a hit !

CM : No. Was it on 78 or 45 ?

YB : 78.

CM : Do you still have it ?

YB : Of course ! Of course. I even have it on my T-shirt.

CM : Excellent. What made you decide to go from just buying records to collecting records ? You said you started collecting records in 1958.

YB : Yeah. Because my father, he said I was crazy about rock and roll. When it first came out, all the kids were crazy about rock and roll, but not the parent ! They hated rock and roll at that time. Only my mother and another mother that I know, who used to like rock and roll. But all the other mother, they didn’t like it. Elvis, oh, they didn’t like Elvis. So my father said one day, he said, “Oh, that just a trend. In six month, you won’t hear some more rock and roll.” I was so afraid ! I said, “I’m gonna buy all those record !” When I’ll be old, I want to hear those song : Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee, and Gene Vincent, all the real rockers, and Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino. I got to buy that. And I know that six month after, they were out of print. So I said, “Maybe he is right.” But he was wrong, and I was so happy ! When I hear [Danny and the Juniors’ song] “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay,” I say, “Yes ! It’s here to stay !” When I saw the Million Dollar Quartet picture in 1957, that I saw it for the first time...

CM : Where did you see it ?

YB : In a magazine called 16 Magazine. And it was volume one, number one. Yeah. That last for 30 years.

CM : You have that issue ?

YB : Yes ! And when I saw those four guys together, I said, “Man, rock and roll is here to stay for sure !” And I was right. This picture change my life completely. I knew, I knew at that time that rock and roll would stay.

CM : How did you know that ?

YB : Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash together. Man, that couldn’t miss.

CM : But that was only one day, an unexpected jam session.

YB : Yeah. After that we never heard it until the bootleg came out in 1981.

CM : Years later.

YB : Yeah. Nobody know when the record came out. It’s 1981. Because it came out on bootleg first, a red cover.

CM : I don’t remember the earliest edition. But I did hear it on a bootleg, and now you can hear everything.

YB : That’s right. There was only a small part of it on the first album. And they didn’t even start with the beginning.

CM : But maybe they didn’t know that there was more. I think they only found one reel, but we don’t know.

YB : I’ve got my doubts. Because we didn’t know who make the bootleg, but it was Shelby Singleton who own the tape.

CM : Right [we laugh]. Do you still collect ?

YB : I still, still, yeah. Well, mostly old ones. I buy some CDs, lots of CDs, rockabilly from the ’50s.

CM : What’s the most recent music that you’re passionate about ?

YB : [Long pause] I don’t know. I like all kinds of things. I like all kinds of music, anyway. I like country, I like rock, I like rhythm and blues, I like gospel, l like bluegrass, all kind of music. When it’s good, it’s good.

[Yvon and I went to many concerts and he liked every one of them, including the Electric Prunes and ? and the Mysterians ; the Rolling Stones ; Paul Simon ; Brian Wilson ; the Beach Boys ; Strawbs ; Nick Mason of Pink Floyd ; the Zombies ; Joe Louis Walker ; lots of free shows at the Montreal Jazz Festival ; and the stage musical of the Million Dollar Quartet. Yvon and I could talk about all kinds of music, from Muddy Waters to Hank Williams to Iron Butterfly to Roland Kirk, and we loved it all.]

CM : What kind of music don’t you like ?

YB : I’m not crazy about classical music. Because there’s too much rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and blues, and bluegrass. It’s so big.

The waitress said it’s going to be fast. How long does it take to make a soup ?

CM : They had to go kill the vegetables.

YB : [He laughs, and then we get served]

***

CM : Tell me about the first Beatles record that you ever bought.

YB : OK. I bought this record in 1962. I went to a record store and the owner, he knew me. So he said, “I’ve got a good record. I just received a good record.” He said, “Would you like to hear it ?” I said, “Yeah.” He said the guy, he sing just like Elvis Presley, and the band, they sound just like the Beau-Marks.” I said, “Yeah, that must be good.” So he played me “When the Saints Go Marching In,” which was the flip side at that time. It was written on the record, Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers. We didn’t know about the Beatles in ’62. So I bought the record because it was very good, both side. The other side was “My Bonnie,” which was side one. They took that song from Ray Charles. Ray Charles had recorded “My Bonnie,” I think it’s in ’57. He didn’t make a big hit out of it but the Beatles did it in ’62. I bought this record. It was on Decca Record in Canada. It was released also in United States, and it was released in Germany on Polydor Record. That’s the way I discovered the Beatles in ’62. So I’m one of the first in Canada who knew about the Beatles.

CM : How long did it take you to figure out that Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers were actually the Beatles ?

YB : After they became popular, yeah.

CM : How did you like “My Bonnie” ? Did you like “My Bonnie” or “The Saints” better ?

YB : Both were very good, but I don’t know. I like the “When the Saints” because he sounds like Elvis [laughs]. Yeah.

CM : You said that you knew the Beau-Marks.

YB : Oh yes, yes ! I was friends with those guys. I was in the studio when they recorded “Clap Your Hands.”

CM : Noooooo.....

YB : Oh yeah ! That day, they record four songs. It was in 1958. They didn’t have any record out at that time in ’58. And they record “Clap Your Hands,” and the other side, “Daddy Said.”

Their very first record [was] “Moonlight Party,” and “Rocking Blues” on the other side. But their name was not the Beau-Marks, it was under the name the Deltones. Have you heard “Moonlight Party ?” That’s very good rock and roll.

So I was in the studio for the first four song they recorded. I was a big fan of those guys. They know me because I always was in the record store and they were there, and one of the guy used to work in that record store. We became friends. I’ve got the complete collection of the Beau-Marks. Three albums and maybe between 12 and 15 [singles on] 45. They record one live in Toronto, at Le Coq D’or, which was owned by Ronnie Hawkins, by the way.

CM : Do you remember anything about what it was like in the studio or how they did it ?

YB : Yeah. The studio didn’t have a name because upstairs it was a record store. The producer was Philip Sills. He was the owner of the record store, Philip Sill’s Record Store. And he sells those tapes to Quality Records. He had a hard time recording that because his machine had a problem. Every time he pushed a button to record what was going on in the studio, there was a little noise that said “put put put.” If you played the record, “Clap Your Hands,” in the beginning before there’s music on it, you’ll hear “put” just before the record. But nobody has noticed that anyway.

CM : All right.

YB : Yeah, the good old days.

CM : Good story.


comments or questions ? email me

I have also posted several other interviews with veteran and legendary musicians. To go to the index page, click here.

CRAIG MORRISON
is an ethnomusicologist, teacher, author, and musician
based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
7 Nights Music Communications, 2006