an earlier draft was published as "Life Launched By Rocket Radio," in the Victoria Times-Colonist, August 18, 1991 : M2,3
Here I am age 16 in the basement of the family home in Victoria B.C., Canada, playing my first guitar. (Notice that four of the tuning heads are missing : I had to tune them with a pair of pliers.) The microphone came from a reel to reel tape recorder. It is being held by an elastic band to the handle of a floor sweeper ; the handle could stay in an upright position so it made a workable mic stand. The guitar and mic were being amplified through an old four-legged record player unit- I did not yet own an amp. This photo was taken either right after Christmas 1968 or early 1969 (the dating was aided by the four pictures on the wall : they came with the Beatles’ White Album which was released in November 1968). My dad took the photo on a Polaroid camera. The photo is reproduced in the booklet of my Rocket Radio CD.
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada : conservative, traditional values, a retirement city, the capital city of the province. It’s a beautiful city on a beautiful island, and it’s my home town. I was born nearby (in Duncan) and grew up from the age of four in Victoria, where I was a teenager in the 1960s. Here’s my musical story.
Sound fascinated me. We had music at home : my parents’ records (dixieland, pop vocal groups, swing etc.), our player-piano rolls, vigourously pumped in turn by me and my two brothers (Brent and Kevin) and my sister (Sue), plus family singing, and especially the radio. We sang hymns at church and played kazoo at Cub camp. We heard the foghorns in the night.
In the middle and late ’50s, country music was pop music, and westerns were on TV (black & white) ; we had coonskin hats like Daniel Boone. We kids used to play in the kitchen while Mom cooked, and the kitchen radio brought us some of the first songs I can remember, like "This Old House" by Rosemary Clooney in 1955, and "Lonely Street" and Guy Mitchell’s version of Marty Robbins’ "Singin’ the Blues" in 1956.
In 1962 I started to listen avidly to the radio by way of a crystal set `rocket radio.’ It had one ear-plug speaker and an alligator clip aerial that I attached to the bed frame at night. To change stations, you twisted the top of the rocket, though you could never be quite sure which station it was until the disc jockey gave out the call letters. These cheap little radios could pull in an amazing array of stations, especially at night, and with just a slight movement of the top a different one would come booming in over your earphone. I figured girls had to be important because nobody hardly sang of anything else, unless it was cars or surfing, or both, and girls were usually part of that too. Also, there was a great run of novelty records, some which lifted parts of hit songs to tell a funny story.
We listened to KJR (950 AM) and later on Kolorful KOL (1300 AM) also from Seattle, CFUN (1410 AM) and later CKLG (730 AM) from |Vancouver, plus KRKO (1380 AM) from Everett, Washington.
DJs were real characters, like Pat O’Day and Lan Roberts on KJR. The latter, as a gag for Dave Lewis’ organ instrumental "Little Green Thing" (1964), gave away the official "Lan Roberts Little Green Thing." A friend’s brother sent away for it and it turned out to be a little piece of green material the size of an address label with those words printed on it. In Vancouver, the big DJs were Terry David Mulligan, Red Robinson, Fred Latremouille, who put out a 45 of "Good Lovin’" backed with "Latremotion" in 1965, Jay B. Shayne, Jolly John Tanner, a guy who called himself Little Stevie Wonder, and some English dude who’s last name was Starr, whose gimmick was his English accent, at a time when being English was just so lovely. Victoria didn’t have a rock station for many years.
By the mid-’60s, on Saturdays and after school, if we weren’t watching "American Bandstand" or "The Lloyd Thaxton Show" or the local Saturday "Club 6" teen show on TV, we would go downtown on the bus and visit the record stores. Actually there were only a couple of real record stores, it was more like record departments in large department stores or a section in a radio and TV store. We didn’t always buy something, but we kept up on what was new by browsing and picking up the weekly "Soundathon" charts (free handouts) from these stations, and for a while, from Toronto station CHUM. For a couple of years CFUN ran a 300-greatest- hits-of-all-time weekend and we’d follow along with the chart. The KJR chart shown here is only a portion.
We were part of the "Pacific Northwest" scene which encompassed Northern Oregon to British Columbia, including Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver, and Victoria. A lot of great music came out of this area in the ’60s, bands like Paul Revere & the Raiders, the Kingsmen, the Sonics, Tom Northcott, the Poppy Family and tons more. It was the stronghold of "Louie Louie," the song for which there was a movement to make it the state song of Washington.
The same was attempted in Oregon.
The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan in February 1964. I was in grade 7. Our class was split by the Beatles vs. Dave Clark 5 debate. My sister, my two brothers and I strummed away on cardboard guitars and whacked on a pots-and-pans drum set on a coffee table while Dad filmed us in the back yard.
I took one year of violin, and lasted a couple of years on the piano before I settled on clarinet, which I played in the school band, first at Lansdowne Junior Secondary School and then at Oak Bay Senior Secondary School. When I was in grade 8 , the band trip took us to Burnaby (just outside of Vancouver) and the host school threw a dance with a live group. Everytime I perform "Slow Down" it gives me that 13 year-old feeling. At the same time, my older brother Brent was playing double bass in the school orchestra. His first band was The Striders. They used to practice in the basement, playing songs like "Gloria" (by Them), "Satisfaction" (the Rolling Stones), "My Generation" (the Who), "Louie Louie" (the Kingsmen), "House of the Rising Sun" (the Animals), "I Fought the Law" (the Bobby Fuller Four), "Little Latin Lupe Lu" (the Righteous Brothers), "Good Lovin’" (the Young Rascals), "I’m Not Your Stepping Stone" and "Just Like Me" (both by Paul Revere and the Raiders), and Brent’s own "She Lied." They played in the cafeteria of our school, and once they played a set at a school dance as an intermission for the hired band. They blew the PA system, but were a sensation with the kids who dug them way more than the waltzes and latin tunes the "main" band was playing.
Besides the double bass, The Striders had a sax, guitar, drums, and a singer named Danny Costain (who owned the marching drum that was detuned to make a tom tom). They had a piano player for a while, but they fired him because everybody in the band, even the drummer, could play piano better than he could. Later Brent got an electric bass (a `Canora’), and when they got a new singer they changed their name to B.F. and the Puddlejumpers. B.F. stood for Barry Flatman. At another junior high school, they played a Battle of the Bands and won, which meant they got to be the band that played an intermission set at the 1966 Graduation Dance while the Art Hall Trio took a break (playing "Moon River" is hard work). The kids got excited and didn’t want to let them go. A pulled power plug stopped them, which was a blessing as they had run out of tunes. They got paid a dollar each (not bad since the minimum wage was 85c/hour).
The summer of ’65, our family drove south aimed for Disneyland. We watched for customized cars and wondered what (custom car artist and Rat Fink creator) Big Daddy Roth looked like. At one point in Northern California we visited relatives, and by good timing, my brother and I got to tag along to a teen dance with an older cousin and her date. They weren’t crazy about it and ignored us, but we dug the band. They were called The Ratz, whose lineup included Gary Duncan, who went on to be a member of the Brogues and then Quicksilver Messenger Service .
Also while driving through California, we heard The Syndicate of Sound, whose record "Little Girl" was one of our favourites, being interviewed on the air, advertising a couple of local dances and bragging about how loud they were. I was impressed by their aggressive attitude, but had mixed emotions about it (I liked my parents).
I saw my first `name’ rock band, the Grass Roots from L.A., right in the gym at my school. Another time, I was thrilled to see the Standells at the Vancouver Teen Fair. Some of the Vancouver bands used to come to Victoria. These were R&B bands, show bands with uniforms, organ and horns, bands like the Nocturnals (shown here : image from Pacific Northwest bands), who I saw at a shopping center, Jason Hoover and the Epics, and Kentish Steele and the Shantelles. A few years later there were hippie bands like Spring, Mother Tucker’s Yellow Duck, Papa Bear’s Medicine Show, and the Black Snake Blues Band.
In the fall of 1966, I bought my first guitar, an electric, from a guy who I’d seen playing in a surf instrumental band. It cost $35, paid off to my parents in weekly installments from my Star Weekly paper route. I amplified it through the old record player and spent my afternoons in the basement with my head near that 12" hi-fi speaker (great bass response). Brent showed me a few chords the two guitarists in his home-room class had demonstrated on their arms, and some other chords he had figured out from transferring his chord theory to the piano and then finding the notes on the guitar one by one. Otherwise I taught myself through folk guitar books. Together we played that joy-of-bar-chords "The Witch" by the Sonics, the fun-with-open-strings "Little Black Egg" by the Nightcrawlers, and songs by the Beatles, Kinks, Lovin’ Spoonful, Turtles, Beau Brummels, the Mamas and the Papas, and the Rolling Stones, as well as R&B songs like "Midnight Hour," "Knock On Wood" and "My Girl."
The first hootenany my brother and I played featured future-folk-music-star Valdy who was then best-known for running a folk coffee house. Brent played guitar and I played clarinet, though I soon switched to guitar. At our church coffeehouse, where there was an unlimited supply of peanuts and you just left the shells on the floor, we played alone and together, songs like "Abilene," the blues standard "Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out," Ian and Sylvia’s "Four Strong Winds" and Buffalo Springfield’s "For What Its Worth." After a while, I got to hate my first guitar (see photo at top of page). It was very hard to play. So I bought a Sears Silvertone (just like the guy in Spirit) with a removable neck, for $35. I wanted to burn my old one, some kind of ritual, but Brent offered me $2 for it, so I relented. The next day, he sold it for 5 bucks. I could’ve killed him.
The family went to Expo ’67 in Montreal, where we saw Gordon Lightfoot backed by electric guitar and stand-up bass. In Montreal, my brother Brent bought an electric 12-string guitar for $100 down on Craig Street (now Rue St. Antoine.) It made "California Dreamin’" sound really good, but it was stolen in 1969.
at right : Gordon Lightfoot
Records, we loved them. My first album was a Christmas present. I got Paul Petersen’s Lollipops and Roses, with the song "She Can’t Find Her Keys."
My older brother Brent got The Twang’s the Thang by Duane Eddy.
My first 45 was "Do the Bird" by Dee Dee Sharp, a hit in the spring of 1963. I memorized it, and also fell in love with the flip side "Lover Boy" : "go ’way and leave me alone."
I sent a dollar away to Coca Cola for their promotional album of Bobby Curtola : "Fortune Teller" was one of the 12 Golden Hits. On the cover he’s in the studio with a Coke in his hand.
Of those groups and songs mentioned above we had only a few of them — like the Stones, Beatles, Kinks — on record, plus a few more that we had taped off the radio on reel to reel. With that machine, we pretended we were DJs and made up hilarious skits and songs. Albums were $4.20, or $5.20 if you wanted stereo. I stood in line to buy Sgt. Pepper’s and when my turn came they had only mono left. I bought it anyway.
Other records we had were by Peanut Butter Conspiracy, The Music Machine, Syndicate of Sound, Bobby Fuller Four, the Spencer Davis Group, Love, Clear Light, Big Brother and the Holding Company (first LP on Mainstream), and some 45s like Roy Orbison’s "Pretty Woman." Around this time, one of my Dad’s friends who owned a MOR radio station gave us a big box of promotional 45s that they weren’t interested in. Boy, do I wish I still had them ! We found singles by the Youngbloods, Jefferson Airplane, the Barbarians, London Fog, and all kinds of wierd stuff like the Statler Brothers. I particularly remember a song called "Ding Dong Dolly" by the Turtlenecks. Another favourite was the Rogues’ version of Buddy Holly’s "Everyday." A few years later we used the 45’s for frisbees, throwing them into the ocean at Willows Beach. (I eventually found other copies of the Turtlenecks and Rogues records through record collecting luck.)
Records were too expensive for our teenage budgets—based on allowances and paper routes—to buy all that we wanted, so we bought a few and went to after school listening parties in the basement rec rooms and bedrooms of our friends. Any album that one of us bought was soon heard and borrowed by the others. Records from the States were released there before they came out in Canada. On trips to the US, I scouted for these and amazed my friends by picking up Buffalo Springfield Again in Seattle, months before it showed up in Victoria stores. I heard "Take What You Need" by Steppenwolf on FM radio and loved it. I searched for the album and found it in a mall in Portland, Oregon, while on a high school band trip.
We used to go ice skating at the Victoria Memorial Arena. This was a concrete echo chamber (recently demolished) that was sometimes used for concerts.
My mom and dad took me to see Louis Armstrong and the All-Stars there in January 1968. My dad, while I was growing up, was a car dealer (Morrison Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Cadillac), and he and his friendly competitors would get together in early February to show off their new models. They would rent the Arena and attract more people by putting on a stage show. It was booked by a promotor out of Winnipeg named Mickey Levine, who came to our house a couple of times trailing a `starlet’ or two. The first date I ever had, I took her to the Auto Show. Courtesy of these shows, I saw a real variety of class acts, like Florian Zabach, the violinist with a pop-novelty act : "Singing Canary" was one of his hits ; Dennis Day, who gave out fake cheques for a million dollars ; Jerry Murad’s Harmonicats, an all-harmonica group with the longest harmonica you ever saw ; and the Deep River Boys, a black vocal group who signed my autograph book. Years later, at the Jaycee Fair (Jaycee stood for the Junior Chamber of Commerce) I went back to see Tiny Tim, and still later Danny & the Juniors (who looked more like Danny & the Senior Citizens at that late stage in their career). I also saw the Byrds there in 1968. The Memorial Arena was also the site of various `Battle of the Bands.’ One year Nanaimo’s Cry For Justice won, duly announced in Off Beat, a short-lived local music newspaper.
I had a subscription to Hit Parader, which was the hippest music magazine at the time.
In one municipality, the police put on SPOT Dances (Saanich Police Organization of Teens) in high school gyms. It was a good place to hear bands, like the Peppermint Cyrcle, Footprints, and The Pharoahs, which, I learned years later when I ended up rehearsing with one of them, was the FIRST rock band ever in Victoria. Another place to hear rock bands was at the teen dances at the Crystal Gardens. It was a glassed-in Olympic-sized swimming pool. I remember one night when there was a different band at each end of the building, on the promenade overlooking the pool.
This photo of the Pharoahs comes from the website Royal City Music Project which documents the history of the Victoria music scene from 1956-1985. Check it out !
from left : Harry Creech (drums), DaveVidal (guitar), Jim Smith (guitar, vocals), Roy Rhymer (guitar), Don Chandler (bass). This photo comes from the website Pacific Northwest Bands, another archival project, like the Victoria one mentioned above, of immense proportions !
The Oak Bay Tea Party was also a place to hear live bands like the fabulous
Blues X 5 (pronounced "blues by five"), whose guitarist Norm MacPherson can stand with the best anywhere. He went on to form Moxie, and the Black Snake Blues Band, and played on records with Vancouver’s Poppy Family. The last time I saw him was the early 1980s on stage at the Mariposa Folk Festival in Toronto with Valdy—another resident of the Victoria region who recorded "Rock & Roll Song" in 1972 and many albums subsequently. In the late ’60s when Moxie was around, the other two best bands in Victoria were As Sherriff and Morning Star. These bands played mostly in community and church halls. As Sherriff recorded a single in 1970 : "His Father’s Good Machine"/ "Six Ways To the Ace," the other two bands had no singles, though the Black Snake Blues Band has two tracks on the rare Cool Aid Benefit Album made in Vancouver in 1970. Many of the Vancouver bands made 45s and some made albums. Some of the songs got local airplay and
showed up on the charts.
On Dominion Day 1967, in the Summer of Love, there was a battle of the bands in Centennial Square right beside City Hall, with the Blues X 5, Gulliver’s Travels, and about three more. The prize was a recording deal in Seattle. (The Blues X 5 won, but nothing ever materialized.)
The city of Victoria was pretty good about rock music and teens, and put on (or allowed) street dances in the summertime, right in front of the Empress Hotel at the Inner Harbour.
It was certainly a different time ; none of these venues involved alcohol at all and we didn’t know what drugs were. We had a gang of school friends, mostly the school band crew, and we had parties almost every week at different people’s houses. It was all 45s, pop and chips, boys and girls, and genuine innocence. My gang didn’t get into drugs until 1968 and ’69, though they had slowly filtered in a year or two before. I went in a `head shop’ and was amazed at the sign that you read as you left : "Dig You Later." Posters started to get psychedelic, and there were light shows at many of the dances. The best light show was by Godammatch Lights. There was a couple of Human Be-Ins at Beacon Hill Park but I missed them due to parental restrictions.
On November 30, 1968, a friend and I went to Vancouver just for a concert. It was an expedition, you had to take the ferry. We didn’t know anyone there and the ferries don’t run all night, so we had to stay overnight ; we stayed at the YMCA. But we were motivated, because we went to see Janis Joplin in her last tour with Big Brother and the Holding Company. They played at the Pacific Coloseum and an unknown band called Chicago Transit Authority opened. They didn’t have a record out yet, but after the first one became known just as Chicago.
The academic side of high school was usually a drag, except for art class, where we could bring our own records, like Paul Butterfield, and Mad River. I started writing poetry, getting into the `free school’ movement. I had my first car by then, a ’47 Oldsmobile, two-tone grey with Hydramatic transmission. I wish I still had it. We skipped school and drove up to the university to see the Collectors play outdoors. Now that was a fabulous band ! We saw them loads of times, even after they became Chilliwack.
The summer of 1969, after graduating from high school and a graduation party that perfectly stands as some kind of culmination of everything (with a half-way point being the morning start of the Swiftsure sailboat race), I went to Banff on the train from Vancouver.
At the Banff School of Fine Arts I studied photography, got my bike stolen, tried to dig the Who’s rock opera Tommy and the debut album by Crosby, Stills and Nash, saw bands like Dick Tater and a bogus version of the Zombies, hung around a coffeehouse called the Unsquare Cellar, on television saw a man walk on the moon, and rediscovered reading (Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut and The Outsider by Albert Camus). A friend and I tried to hitch-hike to the Led Zeppelin concert in Edmonton but got stranded half-way there, so we turned around and made it back the same night.
After summer session, I decided not to go all the way to New York for Woodstock, instead heading west again. On the way back, we saw Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee in Vancouver at a club called the River Queen (on Davie and Burrard). It was my first blues concert. In Seattle, the party took a sour end in a condemned crash pad, which served as a band house, with amps and drums set up in the living room and a lot of people hanging around. One night the cops stopped us while we were driving across town, asking, "Going down to the U District to take part in the riots, are you folks ?" We were just on our way to Tony’s mother’s for dinner.
That fall of 1969 I started university, and with the end of the ’60s, everything started to change. Music and life both got more serious, self-conscious, and fragmented. We met people that were actually more than one year older than we were, and the protected isolation was broken as the gang split up. This was mirrored in the changes in the music scene at that time ; within a year the Beatles had broken-up, and Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix were dead, with Jim Morrison soon to join them. The University of Victoria’s department of English brought in legendary author and catalyst Ken Kesey and various of his Merry Pranksters for a "symposium" up-island at the Shawnigan Lake Inn, and As Sherriff was the weekend resident band. It was all there : music, revolutionary politics, subversive literature, dope, skinny dipping
in the hotel pool, and a lack of focus.
In the spring of 1970 I went to Europe with my family ; we knew it would be our last trip together because my siblings and I were all teenagers by then. Brother Brent and I took off for a few days to traipse around England. We went to a rock festival (the Hollywood Music Festival) where we saw lots of acts, including Traffic, Ginger Baker’s Airforce, and the Grateful Dead (their first appearance outside of North America).
The next fall I went away and started to study music seriously, first at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, then at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Back in Victoria in the 1970s I played in many bands, notably Avalanche and then the Vintage Rock and Roll Band, and I began to be a professional musician and music teacher. But that’s another story.
I have also posted several interviews with members of 1960s psychedelic bands. To go to the index page, click here.
COMMENTS FROM READERS’ EMAILS
"1969 - the end of an era - Tonight I am supposed to be researching Montreal for my French language class fact sheet and ran across your website, specifically your bio page. My eye caught on the part about your 7th grade class being split by who was better, the Beatles or Dave Clark Five. I had to read on. I grew up in southern Calif and graduated from high school in 1969. Reading your story brought back so many memories of my own. It seems as if the world turned upside down during the 4 years, 1965-1969, we were in high school. Anyway, thanks !" - DV, California
“I too was a teenage music head. Looked at the picture of you in your basement and thought I could see myself and Ted Gouge in the background but it was probably my imagination. Your article brought back a lot of memories particularly dances with the Blues x 5 presiding (at Shawnigan Lake), Brent playing the bass at Sing Out as I played electric guitar, coffee houses and various other attempts at being musical. I do remember you having to tune that guitar with the pliers. I only pick up my guitar occasionally now but Dick Auchinleck is moving back to B.C. from Alberta so maybe we can play ‘Louie Louie’ again. I think I remember all 3 chords ! Glad to see you have made your life in music. Take care.” -Bob B, British Columbia
"I googled “As Sherriff Victoria BC” and your story from 1991 appeared. Reading it brought back and sharpened quite a few memories of the gigs, Oak Bay Tea Party and Willows Beach, etc. I too listened to As Sherriff and Moxie (’69/’70) and in 1970 bought the only Sonor Drums in the window from Rod Evans at Sound Source Music on Oak Bay Avenue (he gave me 10% off ..ha) still I paid $850. They were the only Custom Deluxe in Canada and in 1985 were air freighted out to London UK where I have lived since 1984. And yes I still play the same kit (solid German construction..ha). Shortly after getting my Sonor Drums I joined a band with Steve Cross in Victoria with his newly acquired Les Paul gold top. A year later played briefly in a band with Andy Godon from one of my favourite bands, As Sherriff (drummer Denis Scherck was one of my major influences). Anyhow, I just wanted to say thanks for posting the article. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Best regards." - Chris B, London
"I googled ’Six Ways to the Ace" and arrived on your site. Nice to hear a fresh account of those days - from someone who was at Willows beach and that Shawnigan lake weekend...the theme of which was "The rise of violence and the crisis of confidence" (whatever that means.) Thanks for your research and accurate details. I also went to Oak Bay Jr. and Sr. (I "graduated" in 1964)
regards," - Ed Simpson-Baikie [As Sheriff bassist/ guitarist]
"Really enjoyed this site. It brought back a lot of memories. I grew up just outside of Victoria, in Langford, and we had a good local Rock & Roll band. They played mainly Langford and Colwood venues at first, but I remember them later playing The Oak Bay Marina (I think) in 1967. They were really starting to develop a following by then. It was the first time I encountered or even heard the term ’groupies,’ as rich little Oak Bay princesses wanted to party backstage with the Langford guys. It was kind of funny at the time ; the guys thought it was a joke but I think it started to get out of control shortly after they became so popular. I moved away shortly before all that. Just wondering if you remember this band, called The Bakerloo Line ? They played a lot of Cream and Steppenwolf and they were good at it. They nailed the look for a band of that era because Terry had just come back from London, hence Bakerloo Line. Lead singer was Brooke ; on guitar were Terry and Dave. Some members also played in a Rock-a-Billy -type band as well (I can’t remember that band’s name but I helped organize a gig for them at The Hudson Bay’s graduating etiquette class (yes, those were different times !!) in 1966 or 1967. I moved to Vancouver and the music scene there was R&B and Blues and oh so boring to me after the music scene in Victoria that I had grown up with." - PJ
Really enjoyed your story about growing up in Victoria and the bands ! Glory days ! I saw many bands at my high school, Reynolds Secondary, SPOT Dances and would drool over the guitars and amps. I spent a lot of time at Hall & Fairfield [music store] checking out guitars. Saw As Sheriff many times. I did play guitar and played in some little bands : The Pot of Life , Major Griffith’s Frog Band. Thanks for the memories - could 5O years have really gone by so fast ? I still play and now have 13 electric guitars and 4 amps, making up for guitars I couldn’t afford in the day. Cheers, Ross Nixon