As a record collector, one of the biggest thrills is digging for 45’s. It encompasses an entire world of unknown – from groups who cut one single and disbanded, to a plethora of small independent labels that put out a few records before vanishing or making the big-time. It is a rich, diversified field of endless fascination, and there is always an audible gasp when you find an ultra rare single or “Holy Grail.”
Dickie Damron’s 1958 debut single “Rockin’ Baby” with “Gonna Have A Party” on the flip is considered a top three for rarity in Canadian first generation Rockabilly, and is truly a “Holy Grail.” The single is so rare it has sold online for $1613. Look in any record pricing guide and it is valued from $1500 – $2000, audible gasp! The original pressing on Laurel Records is a blue label with silver text. Recent reissues are a black label. What a once in a lifetime experience to find this original buried in a box at The Inner Sleeve record store. It’s a rockin’ debut evoking innocent times, and is nearly impossible to find in good playing condition.
Damron was born in Bentley, Alberta, half way between Calgary and Edmonton. At age 14, he put a band together with his brother and girlfriend (future wife) playing old-time fiddle and accordion music at weddings, graduations and local events. They evolved a Rockabilly sound; a blend of Rock ‘n Roll meets Country Western meets Rhythm and Blues.
The first sessions were recorded in 1958 on a Crown two-track recorder at the C.K.R.D. studio in Red Deer. The tape was sent to King Plastics in Ohio, the only pressing plant Damron was aware of, and released on his custom label, Laurel Records. The name Laurel was inspired by his brother’s girlfriend. Coincidentally, when Elvis’ movie “Jailhouse Rock” came out, a Laurel Records was mentioned in the film and the band feared they would be sued by Hollywood big wigs! The single received good promotion as it was distributed for jukebox play throughout central Alberta. Not a lot of Rockabilly was played on the radio, so the band was thankful. People would hear the tune on the jukebox, go to a dance, and buy the record. How many couples danced to this very single at the local soda shop? If only records could talk… Every pop and click tells a tale.
Damron cut a couple more singles in 1960 but didn’t have a hit until 1970. His recording career has spanned over 30 years with 27 albums. His exceptional contribution to Country music landed him induction into the International Country Music Hall Of Fame in Texas. He now lives in Mexico, but rumor has it you may spot him during the summertime visiting his old home in Bentley, a true country boy at heart.
Elusive and intriguing, facts about Canadian legends, The Folklords, remained scarce until their sole album Release The Sunshine was reissued on CD. The label sent out a challenge to dig up information on the group and bandleader Tom Martin replied to provide insight on their history.
From 1966-67, Tom Martin and Paul Seip played in a Mod cover band, The Chimes of Britain. In 1968, with the California scene really happening, they changed directions, began writing Dylan-inspired original material and created the independent label COB. Their songs “dealt with alternative lifestyles and complexities of a changing world.” Forming a trio with Tom on guitar and Paul on bass, they added Tom’s wife Martha Johnson on auto-harp, which became definitive to their sound. The auto-harp is a chorded zither played by depressing dampers that mute all of the strings other than those that form the desired chord.
COB released a limited pressing of “Forty Second River” and “Unspoken Love”, moody and sombre singles that received very little airplay. The vinyl fell into the hands of Jack Boswell of independent Canadian label Allied Records and he invited the trio to Toronto where they signed a contract to record Release The Sunshine in 1968.
Mixing dreamy psych-pop with acid-soaked folk, chiming guitars and earnest harmonies, the album is a rare instance where the auto-harp is used in a psychedelic setting. At the request of Boswell, his 18-year-old son sat in last-minute and played drums, keeping time as best he could to give the album a pleasant amateur quality. The record nestles nicely in line with the sunny music of We Five and is ahead of its time like a tender version of The Jesus And Mary Chain. After touring and TV spots, they found little success and disbanded in 1970.
When you think of Canadian rock legends The Guess Who, their hit “American Woman” may spring to mind, but their sound and history is drenched in British influence and humble beginnings playing roller rinks and school dances. The band was originally formed in Winnipeg as Al and the Silvertones in 1958, taking their name after the classic Silvertone guitar. Founding member, singer and guitarist Chad Allan evolved the band into the Reflections, the Expressions and finally, Chad Allan and the Expressions.
In 1965, with members Randy Bachman (lead guitar), Bob Ashley (piano), Jim Kale (bass) and Gary Peterson (drums), the group cut a Merseybeat inspired record, a cover of “Shakin’ All Over” originally performed by British rockers Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. The promo single was released with only a white label and the words “Guess Who?” in order to give the illusion of being a British Invasion band. Radio stations held “name that band” contests and disc jockeys announced them as “Guess Who?” The name stuck, and the single sold over a million copies, charting #1 in Canada and #22 in the US.
The 1965 album includes covers and original Beat tunes. It was released in Canada and the US under different labels with different track listings. The record pictured is an original Canadian release on Quality records, and has since been reissued on CD.
Allan’s unique tonal quality and Rickenbacker guitar complimented and contrasted Bachman’s signature Gretsch guitar, giving the group a driving sound perfect for their blend of cover tunes from the 50’s and 60’s. In Randy Bachman’s recent book, Vinyl Tap Stories, he reminisces he worked for years mowing lawns and delivering papers to save $400 for a new guitar. In 1961, he bought an orange 6120 Gretsch Chet Atkins model, noting it wasn’t as shallow-sounding as a solid-body guitar, and how it had a beautiful mid-range twang – made famous in “Shakin’ All Over” (and later in BTO’s “Takin’ Care of Business”). Legend has it that on the original Johnny Kidd recording, the guitarist used a cigarette lighter to achieve the wavering sound before the chorus, but Bachman was able to use a Bigsby vibrato to the same effect.
The famous Gretsch was stolen from a hotel room in 1976, and was never recovered. Bachman thinks it may be in the possession of British pop band The Thompson Twins, having recognized it in one of their music videos. Chet Atkins sent him a similar model after hearing of its loss.
In 1966, Allan was replaced by Burton Cummings as lead singer, and the group continued to release top 40 singles, garnering international success as The Guess Who. Allan and Bachman joined forces again in 1971 in the rock group Brave Belt, which upon Allan’s departure morphed into Bachman-Turner-Overdrive.