Also read this: Balderdash
I recently went through some old manila envelopes I had stored in my closet. One was entitled ‘Mario Dalla-Vicenza Last Will and Testament’ (My dad died in 1992…I still haven’t read the will to this date – no real need to…). Out of curiosity I emptied it’s contents and to my surprise, I found a whole bunch of pieces of paper pertaining to my first real band in high school, ‘Balderdash’.
I found set-lists and some personal notes. I don’t know who wrote these notes (my handwriting always looked like an 8 year old girl *as you can see on the contract* so a majority of the writing I’ve posted below isn’t mine).
Radio in those days ran the gamut. You would hear a ‘Carpenters‘ song next to a Led Zeppelin song and not think about it twice. It was all ‘Hit Parade’ and Balderdash’s set-list reflected that. Also, Rosanne and (at the time to a bit of a lesser extent) Pauline, wrote songs so we tried to include at least a couple in every performance. Being that we were a band from Ontario heavily influenced by Toronto radio, we played a lot of songs by bands that got a lot of airplay in Ontario but very little west of there. Regardless, they were ‘hits’ to us so we played them with enthusiasm and conviction.
‘Gyspy‘ was a song on the radio at that time by a band called ‘Abraham’s Children‘ who I’d first seen warming up The Stampeders at Cambrian College (soon to be named Sault College) when my brother Kenny sprung tickets for me to see them. While I was an instant fan of The Stampeders, Abraham’s Children were all about flowing clothes, beautiful stage gear and glitter, but the only song I recognized was, in fact, Gypsy’. I don’t believe they had any other hits.
You’ll also see ‘Southbound Train‘ by a band called ‘Steel River’. They had quite a few songs play-listed on the Soo radio station CKCY. My favourite by them was a song called ‘Ten Pound Note‘.
You’ll also note a lot of ‘Lighthouse‘ in our set-lists for reasons stated above regarding Toronto radio and it’s influence on the little northern towns. Plus, Lighthouse (along with April Wine) probably played more concerts in The Soo than anyone… so their music became a staple.
On a side note – life has a way doesn’t it?: Ronnie King (The Stampeders) and my brother Kenny now have a mutual admiration society in place between them in Calgary. My brother Ken is a great bass player/singer and Ronnie respects him in a wonderful way. I remember my brother Kenny watching the Stampeders at Cambrian College that night and remarking on how he wished he could get a bass sound as good as Ronnie had. Gawd stories like this make me feel so good!!!
Indeed: Ronnie was the first guy I saw as ‘showbiz’ that particular night. I wanted to be him so much. That wonderful white frilled suit, his huge smile and his interaction with the audience was incredible. He was the epitome of a star. Jeff Neill often stated this in Shama: The best rock stars are the ones where “The girls want to be ‘with’ them, and the guys want to be ‘like’ them”. Ronnie King was ‘exactly that’ to me that night and continues to be an inspiration. We’re not best friends… but in my eyes it certainly would be easy to be. Over the past few years we’ve shared stages a couple of times… and he’s always cordial, polite and humble… he’s the real deal.
You’ll also see a posting of ‘Murder in the First Degree’. This was a song by a band called ‘Crowbar’ out of Hamilton Ontario. They had an live album out around that time called ‘Larger than Life and Live’r than You’ve Ever Been’ that rocked the socks off of me and my cronies in Balderdash. Rene and Timmy were particularly impressed with this band and I soon was easily convinced that they were fabulous. I remember us all going to see them play at The Princess Theatre in The Soo on Gore Street.
It was one of the first ‘movie houses’ that I knew of at the time to go back to having live music. I remember Kelly Jay (the larger than life gravel-voiced piano player) saying something privately to the band in between songs that night. We all yelled out ‘Murder in the First Degree’, to which Kelly Jay immediately remarked, ‘That’s the problem with playing a theatre, the audience can hear every goddamned word you say’, and then they immediately broke into ‘Murder’. We were thrilled! We hadn’t heard his words to the band at all. We were just totally in sync with Crowbar! Crowbar were great live. Indeed, the only music I really knew from them was from their ‘Live Album’ and their one studio cut big single ‘Oh, What a Feeling’, which incidentally didn’t represent the bands ‘real sound’ at all. Roly Greenway (the bass player) sang that one and only song which became their ‘big song’ (don’t get me wrong it was a great track), but Kelly Jay was the lead singer/front man of the band.
Balderdash were the kings and queens of ‘The Medley’. You see, for most of our existence, we only had guitar, bass, drums and vocals. Although (mainly because of the girls) the vocals were stellar, instrumentally we couldn’t possibly pull off the horn arrangements of ‘Chicago & Lighthouse and the synthesizer/keyboard based songs of the other trending groups with the diminutive size of our little trio. So to combat that, when a song got into an area that we couldn’t properly execute because of our own instrumentation *’BOOM’ * we’d merge into another song by the same artist within a musical section that worked for guitar bass and drums. When that got tricky *BOOM* another one. Our medleys could be up to 20 minutes long if the artists had enough hits for us to cherry pick from.
You’ll see lots of ‘medleys’ in our set-lists. 😉
When SHA-NA-NA broke open the ‘Greaser Band’ act, a lot of people climbed on board. I remember going to see a band at the Memorial Gardens in The Soo. The big ‘show stopping’ event of their act was when the lead singer would actually eat a tube of Brylcreem.
Regardless of how idiotic the whole trend was, I was sold! Balderdash had to do an act – and we would do a Greaser Act in one of our sets!!!
Our first experiment was at CASS. My life long friend for many years Jeff Neill, has a role in this story (kind of). You see, Jeff’s dad, Owen Neill taught at this school located about 30 miles out of The Soo in a township called ‘Desbarats’ (pronounced Debra).
I had an 8 Track stereo that I bought my dad for Christmas with money from my first job at a store called Moore’s Modern Home Appliances.
My brother Jim sold stereos there and when they needed warehouse help in the fall, he suggested they hire me. I mistakenly thought I was there to sell organs and pianos, so I’d come to work dressed up, position myself in the store and sit on the organs and pianos trying to make some sounds that would ‘sell them’. The manager would come up and say, ‘Geez, why don’t you see what’s going on in the warehouse?’. So I would. I would look around and see that it was indeed a warehouse, then go back to position myself in front of a keyboard. Sales made sense to me. I was never designed to be a warehouse guy… in my mind.
I lasted until after the Christmas rush and then promptly ‘dismissed’. I was not-so secretly so happy to get out of there. But regardless, for the first time I was able to buy Christmas gifts. The 8-track player for my dad was a big one for me. He could play his Lawrence Welk, Mantovani, Curuso, Charles Magnante and Xavier Cugat to his delight and never have to get up and flip a record over. I thought it was a great gift… and thankfully, so did he.
Just prior to this upcoming CASS date, I had also been at a Christmas party and heard Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of The Moon’ album for the first time. I was stunned by it (still am)… and it leads into the next part of the story.
The plan was simple (in my mind). Vince Buczel and Brian Rouse were our ‘roadies’ for this big CASS Dance gig, and would run lights and be our ‘technicians’. We were going to put on a ‘SHOW’.
The show would start very dramatically. With a mic on each of the portable 8-Track player’s speakers and plugged into our little PA system, we would play the 8-Track tape of the song ‘Time‘ off of the aforementioned album, expertly fast-forwarded to start at the section (after the alarm clocks go off) where the big hanging chords lead up to the song ‘Time’.
The stage would start out black. As the chords thundered through our PA and counted down, we would appear one at a time at each mic position with the lights turned on on each person’s entry for the last 5 chords. Big production huh?
The girls couldn’t stop laughing at the ridiculousness of it, the kids in the audience were yakking all the way through our ‘big opening’ and I was furious that my vision was being destroyed.
We played our first set. Kind of a ‘humble response’, but I didn’t care. I knew the best was yet to come!
We played our second set. Hmmm – kind of the same lame reaction… but wait’ll they get a load of our GREASER SHOW!!!
Set three came. The girls always dressed alike (their mom did their costuming) and they did their best ‘bobby-soxers’ thing.
Timmy had the obligatory cigarettes rolled up in his white T-Shirt. Rene, however was having little to do with this idea, so he simply just wore a vest over his regular 70’s clothes.
I was ‘on it’. I slicked my hair back and had a great studded leather coat that I inherited from a guy (a partially sighted guy named Don White) who had boarded at our house for some time until my dad realized he was a bit of a shyster.
I had that jacket on with what came to be known as a ‘wife beater’ underneath and the best blue satin pants you ever did see. (Actually it wasn’t a far cry from my regular Balderdash garb at the time except for the slicked back hair…)
We went on and Timmy started: ‘One two three o’clock four o’clock rock…
– that song ended and I blasted out, yelling at the audience in my best ‘greaser voice’… to looks of shock and disgust. You see: I assumed that because it was a ‘show’, my expletives would be okay. The chaperones and assorted parents in attendance apparently thought otherwise. However, not knowing this while ‘in the moment’ and thinking I was being the funniest guy in the world that night, I continued with my melee. I talked of fish dying in Lake Superior when I certain girl did deep knee bends in the water… I tell you – I was on fire…
At the end of the night (garnering about as much applause as we’d received for our first two sets) Owen Neill took me backstage to pay for the band. He also told me we were banned from playing the school again. Owen was always an extremely cool guy – artsy and he ‘got it’… he understood to a degree, but he still had to do his job.
Here’s some notes on that night…
I found this contract for a dance we played at our high-school. I was always thrilled to play there… anywhere actually, but the ‘home town stage’ was always the coolest one to me…
Apparently someone was trying to be ‘management’ for Balderdash. I have no recollection of this and/or who’s handwriting it is. If anyone knows, please reply to this post.