I grew up Yellowknife in the 1960s and 1970s. My earliest musical influence was listening to my Mom playing the Baldwin organ, faithfully practicing the hymns she played at the Anglican Church every Sunday. Though she and another piano teacher tried, I did not take to the ivories so my folks bought me a used set of drums at 13. I played in school bands and sometimes with my Mom at community events. At 15, I made the switch to Bass guitar and immediately began playing Classical, Big Band, Jazz, Rock and Roll, Country and Western and Folk music. Bass players were few and far between in Yellowknife. I probably played more styles of music in those first 3 years than I ever will again in my life. Most of the time, I found myself playing with musicians who were often 15 years or more my senior and would revel in their musical life stories dating back to the 1950s and 1960s. They were all very patient and supportive, tutoring and mentoring me along the way. I still treasure those formative years playing music with them and now, further on down the road, I appreciate even more the legacy of their generosity, talents, professionalism and the rich musical history embodied in the stories they told me.
I left Yellowknife to study String Bass at Grant MacEwan Community College in Edmonton in the early 1980s and after graduating, returned to my home in the north to play with local musicians and touring bands passing through, to fill the dance floors in the bars and community halls, flat deck band stands or the bare dirt floors of the local arenas for festivals, carnivals and jamborees. In retrospect, picking up the torch handed to me by the generation of musicians featured in this collection.
My motivation to research and document this early music scene in the north may have begun with my own memories of hearing the hit songs coming through the family radio. Listening to every LP record my older brothers brought home and reading their Rolling Stone magazines cover to cover was part of my daily routine as a kid. Too young to understand what it was all about, I still experienced a visceral reaction listening to the Beatles “Sgt. Peppers” and “Rubber Soul” albums, the Band’s “Big Pink”, the “Concert for Bangladesh” and the “Woodstock” box sets. I would sit with headphones on in the corner of the living room, studying the album covers and inner sleeve notes. After school, you could find me at Yellowknife Radio, the local music store, sifting through the bins of LP records.
Fast forward to 2004, while writing stories and songs for my solo show ‘A Place to Call Home’, I recalled my own faded snapshot of looking through an open door into the Legion club room and seeing a live band for the first time. The guitar player’s name was Archie Loutitt and his band was called “Northbound Freeway”. The story and song “Calling Archie” is my testament to the profound impact that moment had in my life.
As a young, idealistic Bass player looking to make his way in life as a professional musician in the late 1970s, I looked to the recordings and photographs of the musicians from the early Rock and Roll, Blues, Country and Big Band eras as my model. While this was happening in the cities and cultural centres of North America and the world, I wondered if there might be an equally rich and relevant history here in the north that would parallel or echo these profound musical eras. When I began collecting these interviews in 2003, I was driven by the desire to create a freely accessible place and a welcoming vessel where these musicians and their musical stories could be documented, recognized and celebrated. Through my own musical journey, I recognize that I gravitate to musicians and musics that have preceded my own generation. I have always felt that I should have been born, at least, a Baby Boomer so that I would have been able to participate or at least been witness to this amazing time of cultural revolution and musical upheaval. With this project, I recognize now that the closest I will ever get to identify with those times is through the eyes, the experiences, the musics, the insights and stories of these musicians of northern Canada who lived it.