THE DEVERONS GET STARTED

(and other tihngs)

CKY TOP FIFTY CHART 1962

It’s difficult to say exactly when the fascination with music, particularly records, signed a permanent lease in my psyche. I know for certain that it was well before 1953, the year I started kindergarten at Luxton School. My mother collected seventy-eights and I was always fascinated with our old wind-up phonograph machine. She had records by Bing Crosby, Eddie Fisher, Dinah Shore, Guy Mitchell, Perry Como, The Mills Brothers, and Frankie Carle and his Honky Ton Piano. I know there were many others because she had lots of records, but these few artists spring to mind immediately without much recounting effort. My mother also played the piano, having had some lessons when her parents could afford it.

There was always music in the house. My mother would sometimes sing with my Aunt Molly and my Aunt Pat…usually “Whispering Hope” or perhaps some Christmas song…their three part harmony wasn’t half bad, and to a little kid listening around the piano right there in the dining room, it was pretty damned impressive. Molly, Pat, and my mom could all play the piano and sing…apparently so could my dad, although the one time I saw him near a piano, you would never have known it.

Suffice to say, both my parents had music in them. Melodies and structures always seemed to dance through my head very naturally and unmysteriously. Even my grandmother would occasionally stroll over to the old piano and pick out some simple melody. She was almost shy about it, yet she didn’t seem to mind having a little kid watch her. Yessirree, I grew up in a house full of music.

I was born on the last day of 1947 and the first records I actually OWNED and could call MY OWN were seventy-eights…simple mathematics lets one know that I was collecting records by the time I was eight years old. My mother bought me a 78 of Hound Dog/Don’t Be Cruel by Elvis. That record peaked in August of 1956. There you have it…by the summer months of 1956 I was already enthralled by this new energy they were calling Rock and Roll. I remember seeing Elvis on Ed Sullivan just afer we had first gotten a TV set…I was about seven or eight years old, but he GOT ME…I wanted to be just like him…one night my uncle George was over at the house and he had some blue suede shoes…he had taken them off while visiting…I remember grabbing a broom, holding it like a guitar, stepping into this huge pair of adult’s shoes and launching into “Well it’s one fo the money, two fo the show…” my mom, Uncle George and Auntie Pat thought it was hilarious…probably some of my earliest applause…

March of 1959…Brook Benton had just scored BIG BIG BIG with “It’s Just a Matter of Time” and he was going to be on Ed Sulllivan the coming Sunday night. I sat glued and enthralled through the whole show of jugglers, ventriloquists, comedians, dancers, and lame Broadway numbers ( a genre, by the way, whose validity or reason ENTIRELY ELUDES ME TO THIS VERY, MIDDLE-AGED DAY ). About fifty-seven and a half minutes into the hour, Ed brought Brook out and he managed to squeeze in most of his recent Number Three smash…1959…I guess any black singer was pretty lucky to be on network television at all in 1959…

Many folks tend to think Elvis “started the whole thing”…I think not…Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was probaably far more outrageous than Elvis would ever be…so was Litle Richard. One has to remember how America was in the fifties…WW2 and Korea were over and gasoline was about twenty cents a gallon. Advertising still said that smoking was “delicious” and “fashionable”. Kids and their parens would ALL listen to Dinah Shore and Bing Crosby…TOGETHER!

Into the midst of this Ozzie and Harriet adventure of a country bursts this “devil music”, tailored strictly for teenagers. The world had begun to change more quickly and irreversibly than ever before in history.

It’s a little blurry exactly when I first knew I wanted to be in a band, or had the ability even to consider it, but one certain incident may have cemented my ultimate fate. Grade Eight…Luxton School…music class with Miss Milgrom. Edd Smith and I were just about best friends, hanging out together almost constantly. He already had a cheap electric guitar and amp. We had auditioned for the Amateur Show, a local Winnipeg television show, dreaming of winning and being asked back to perform a for a second time on television. Our audition had deemed that we spend a certain amount of time in preparation. During those early “rehearsals” we worked up duet versions of several numbers. Edd and I, having learned these several numbers ANYWAY, privately approached Miss Milgrom one day and asked her if we could perform something in front of the whole room during our next music class. We ended up performing “This Time” by Troy Shondell and “What’d I Say” by Ray Charles at the end of the next class. I played piano and sang, and Edd sort of “played along” on electric guitar. Members of the whole class, particularly the girls, were seemingly very impressed…the die was cast for me right there that afternoon in Grade Eight at Luxton School. I knew what I WANTED to do, yet actually accomplishing it was several years away at this point.

Edd Was constantly turning me on to “things rock and roll” that I otherwise might not have come across. I must give Edd Smith a HUGE amount of credit and gratitude concerning what he did for me during the most malleable period of my adolescent life. I might never have heard “Silver City” by the Ventures were it not for Edd. I might never have been interested enough to send money orders to England for Shadows albums on vinyl in ’62, ’63, and ’64 were it not for Edd. Even in Grade nine (our last year at Luxton) his knowledge of and enthusiasm for all things rock and roll hit me square in the face.

Shortly after Winnipeg had first gotten “Channel Twelve”, Edd and our friend Tom Laszlo started talking about the coming D day…I had no idea what they meant, nor that they were referring to “DEE” day…they were talking about the imminent appearance of Joey Dee and the Starliters on American Bandstand to lip sync something on Channel Twelve at four thirty on a Friday afternoon. All week long at school, I looked forward to that few minutes of black and white television history. Since the single of Peppermint Twist peaked on the Billboard chart in January of 1962, this magic “week of anticipation leading up to DEE day” must have occured during the winter of 1961/1962. Edd Smith nurtured the seeds that radio had already planted in the head of a North End kid, several years earlier.

Edd and I did another Amateur Show appearance several months after the first one. This time we had a drummer with us, a school friend named Francis Kostiuk. He had a great set of drums, and somehow we ended up on television, just the three of us, doing Dion Di Mucci’s “The Wanderer”. As memory serves me, we rocked pretty good this time. I was still delivering the Winnipeg Tribune six days a week at this point, and I remember some of the younger girls who lived with their parents on my paper route commenting and giggling about my singing “The Wanderer”. I was about twelve or thirteen at this time, and VERY shy of girls. I found out quickly what power there lurked in the ability to get up and sing a few tunes…even stuff you hadn’t written yourself. The Beatles hadn’t happened yet, but I was already sold hook, line, and sinker on the idea of being a pop singer for a living.

GRADE FIVE, Luxton School

Miss THOMPSON’s Room

February 1959

The 1958/1959 school year found me in Grade Five at Luxton. I had the extreme fortune to be something of a teacher’s pet for Miss Thompson. I remember her as if it were yesterday…she almost encouraged my foolishness, bu only when it was born of intelligence. Phyllis Stall weas my female counterpart in foolery. I breezed through the exams all year, barely having to concentrate at all, leaving MUCH or MOST of the time for foolery and creativity. I had heard the song DONNA many times on the radio, never really knowing much about who sang it. I loved the song…I had no idea then that the guy who had written it and sang it was only seventeen. Hell, that was only five or six years older than me !

It was a cold snowy Winnipeg morning in February and I was listening to the radio, having breakfast before leaving for school. The announcer said something about

“such young, talented people tragically passing on, and how much they would be missed…” Then he played Donna…My first rock and roll tragedy…Grade Five (?)…I felt it deeply, and to this day I don’t quite know why. *I only got to like Buddy Holly much later, and I never really heard anything other than Chantilly Lace by the Big Bopper, so their passing didn’t actually dance on the head of a North Ender that morning…but I was extremely touched and saddened when I heard that Ricthie Valens had died. To this day I believe that if he had lived, he would have been one of the biggest and most enduring stars EVER in pop music…consider this…he had just turned seventeen when the plane went down…that means that all of his recordings were done while he was fifeen and sixteen. He WROTE most of what he sang, and he played great guitar…the proof of his guitar prowess can be clearly heard in the instrumentals “Fast Freight” and “Big Baby Blues”. He wrote Donna, a classic to this day, well into the nineties. I was just a kid in Winnipeg but I felt a personal sense of loss. Rock and Roll was already teaching me much larger lessons.

During the summer holidays of 1959 (my break between Grade Five and Grade Six) my mother took me to New York Ciy for a holiday. Never again was I EVER the same. We went to Philadelphia on the same trip and visited many relatives, but the time in New York City changed me forever. That summer two of the hottest singles in North America were country flavoured records that crossed over onto the pop charts…they were “The Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton and “Waterloo” by Stonewall Jackson. While in New York I saw my first RECORD STORE. By that I mean a store that was there solely for the purpose of selling records…back in Winnipeg and Fargo and Grand Forks, there was a record “section” in the midst of most of the larger department stores, or even in the Woolworth and Ben Franklin five and dime type stores..but here in New York they had RECORD STORES. This world of records was courting, wooing, and mesmerizing me now, and I was just about to start Grad Six.

That summer I bought singles of “The Battle of New Orleans” and “Waterloo” in picture covers…specially released by Columbia, these picture covers were on a limited number of 45’s. I still have them both as of this writing in August of 1994. I also purchased an album, one of my first album purchases ever…”The Everly Brothers’ Best” on Cadence, that great colour picture of them wih the bright blue background.

Back home on Lansdowne Ave. that summer, those American releases (Johnny Horton, Stonewall Jackson, and the Everly Brothers) not only spoke to me, they SCREAMED at me. Show business fascinated me. While in NYC, my mother had managed to score us a couple of tickets to watch some radio show…LIVE…Johnny Nash was on that show, the summer of 1959, and I remember how impressed we both were…he was GREAT…you just didn’t see this kind of stuff at home in the prairies of Manitoba !

The incredible power of it all…impressions that live with me now even in middle age. The huge Pepsi Cola sign, over a block long, that was actually a real waterfall several stories up, overlooking Times Square. The water fell from what was probably the seventh or eighth story to what was probably the third or fourth story. Some guy on the street that summer even told my mother and me how many million gallons of anti freeze it took to keep that Pepsi waterfall going throughout the New York winters. Very close to that Pepsi waterfall was a gigantic billboard of one of the most popular baseball players of the day (probably a Yankee) blowing appropriately large and perfect smoke rings out over pedestrians and traffic…it was a 1950’s ad for Camel cigarettes. While we were being the consummate tourists and loving every minute of it, my mother and I went over to the Statue of Liberty…since it was the summer of 1959, we were still able to climb he last flight of stairs and go out onto the observaion deck that is her torch…not long after that summer, the torch was closed to the public forever because of its having become unsafe. Of course, my mother also took me up to the top of the Empire State Building, one of he most intense deals of the entire trip. For a eleven year old from Winnipeg to see New York City from atop the Empire State Bldg. in the summer of ’59 is a gift from a parent that remains beyond value…ANY value…my mother is DIRECTLY responsible for opening up my head…

God bless her for it. Thanks again, Mom…I NEVER took it lightly.

57,58,59..60 and thereabouts there were certain records that hypnotized me while sumultaneously telling me that there was a special place on this plane on this planet where not necessarily everyone belonged…you had to be asked to join this invisible club…as early as when CJOB 68 was Winnipeg’s 3rd rock station I remember hearing the original “Ooh Pooh Pah Doo” by Jesse Hill one Saturday morning…”Nobody But You” by the Laffayettes…”Dear One “ by Larry Finnegan…”Le the Little Girl Dance” by Billy Bland…”Hot Rod Lincoln” by Charlie Ryan…”Kissin’ Time” by Bobby Rydell…”Suzie Baby” by Bobby Vee and the Strangers…”Waitin’ In School” by Ricky Nelson…”Bird Dog” by the Everly Brothers…”Shortnin’ Bread” by Paul Chaplain and the Emeralds…”Danny Boy” by Conway Twitty…”Just Ask Your Heart” by Frankie Avalon…”What’d I Say” by Ray Charles…”Love You So” by Ron Holden…”Wonderful World” by Sam Cooke…”Where or When” by Dion and the Belmonts…”Beatnik Fly” by Johnny and the Hurricanes…these are all records I bought…45’s I still have…all pre Beatles.

Often when I talk to many of my old friends and other people who are approximately my age, they tend to forget anything musical which occured before the Beatles. There was a very healthy rock and roll scene prior to the British Invasion. During the 62/63 school year, I managed to weasel my way into the Deverons, a band I would eventually end up kind of leading. During our earliest cantations we had a rather large repertoire composed ENTIRELY of pre Beatles music. In retrospect I realize those were some of the best days of my life in show business. We in the Deverons were all still living under our parents’ rooves, yet we were treated as local royalty…all the trappings of success in life without having to take any of the risks involved to attain it.

I’ve only ever been in two bands in my life…the Deverons and the Guess Who. Edd SMith, Derek Blake, Boris Pawluk and John Gach all went to St. John’s High when I did. Those four started rehearsing in John Gach’s parents’ basement, a rumpus room with really good acoustics. During the days at school, Edd would casually mention what numbers they were currently working on…I would always drool with jealousy…I wanted SOOOOOOO BADLY to be in the band. They played instrumentals only…none of them sang. I guess their “repertoir” consisted of numbers by the Ventures, Fireballs, Chantays, Surfaris, Duane Eddy, and any other guitar-based instrumental acts of the day. After a few weeks of hearing about the Deverons second hand through Edd, I asked him if I could come to a practice and listen. That week I found myself in the Gaches’ basement at a Deveron practice. I asked them if I could sing something…would they play along…

I sang Donna, Come On Let’s Go, and Bonie Moronie from the Ritchie Valens album. Every guy in every band in Winnipeg at that time knew those numbers. I sang my heart out. They immediately liked having a singer. We may have tried Baby What’s Wrong by Lonnie Mack that day too…probably tried some others, I honestly can’t remember. Before I knew it I was singing with the Deverons. I didn’t stay on the stage all night…they remained primarily an instrumental band, and several times during the evening, I would come out and sing a tune and then disappear quickly. Derek and his dad had put some serious money into Derek’s guitars, amp and mikes. The Deverons would never have gotten off the ground so early without all that gear. Peter, Derek’s dad had bought two mikes, cables, a huge Fender amp for Derek and whoever else, and a Fender Jazzmaster for Derek. For a long time I sang all my vocals through one of Derek’s amps. Later, when I began playing the available upright pianos at all of the community clubs, churches, and schools, it too went through one of Derek’s amps.

I’m not sure exactly when the Deverons w/yours truly first played publicly, but the first lineup was John Gach on drums, Edd Smith on guitar, Boris Pawluk on guitar, Derek Blake on Guitar, and Burton Cummings on perhaps six vocals throughout the evening. We played for a long time without ever getting paid. My Mother got us some gold vests, and later some matching rainbow striped shirts from Eaton’s…those things were the first band uniforms I ever remember wearing. Shortly thereafter I purchased a Buescher C Melody sax from a guy named Barry Lank in West Kildonan. I paid him the sum total of $25 for this instrument. In my small bedroom on Bannerman I listened over and over to the solo in Country Boy by Fats Domino and to anything at all by Johnny and the Hurricanes. A couple of weeks later, the boys let me start playing a few sax istrumentals on stage with the Deverons. Now with both the singing and the sax playing, I was having to leave the stage less and less throughout the evening. Things were getting better for me in this thing called the Deverons.

The name DEVERONS is a direct rip-off from an American group called the DEVRONS. I know nothing of this group, except that they had one minor, regional hit with a guitar instrumental called Brand X. I have checked Joel Whitburn’s books on Billboard’s charts, and according to him, this Brand X record never charted for even one week on Billboard’s top 100. Derek had heard and learned the instrumental and I suppose he became enamoured with the name…probably kept saying it over and over and over in his head like a mantra, thereby falling prey to its sonic spell…Derek had subtly added an extra E to the spelling, and this band from St. John’s High School came to be known as the DEVERONS. This was Autumn of 1962.

I still hated having to leave the stage at all during the Deveron shows, but I had nothing to do wen I wasn’t singing or playing sax. Then one night in the early winter of 1962 we played at St. Martin’s In the Field Church Parish Hall…off to the right side of the stage stood a beautiful old upright piano…the boys started off the first set that evening with a couple of guitar instrumentals…I came out afterward and sang a couple of tunes…then at the point when I would ordinarily have left the stage again, I calmly walked over to the old upright and pounded along with the ensuing instrumental. It wasn’t even miked or amplified in any way, but I felt like I’d never skulk off the stage again to wait my turn in the wings. I think Derek felt threatened that night…that may have been the point at which he began losing hold of the reins of the band to me…but Hell, I wasn’t even miked yet !

No one had a real electric bass yet in the Deverons. Edd Smith was playing a black and white electric Silvertone guitar, tuning the four bottom strings down and playing what amounted to his versions of bass lines for the arrangements. We would do Sheila by Tommy Roe, Only Love Can Break A Heart byGene Pitney, Wild Weekend by the Rebels, Minnesota Fats by Johnny and the Hurricanes, Donna and Bonie Moronie by Ritchie Valens, Woderful World by Sam Cooke, Walk Don’t Run by the Ventures and a host of other ditties of the day.

This prticular lineup went on for a while. When I say “a while”, I probably mean only a few months. Boris was he first poroblem. He and Edd and I had been in the same home room for years at Luxton…the three of us knew each other fairly well. Boris and I had both been in each other’s homes. He seemed to get bored with it all very quickly. He probably didn’t even play with the Deverons more than two months after I had come along. I think Don Gunter replaced Boris for a short while…then it seems we became disenchanted with John Gach’s drumming…Ken Birdini was there for what now seems like thirty seconds…then suddenly Craig Hamblin was drumming for the Deverons. Or was Craig there when Boris was still there…have to take pentathol to figure that out.

The lineup that was really to be the Deverons finally cemented itsself very early in 1964. It was Ronn Savoie on drums, Edd Smith on bass, Derek Blake on lead guitar, Bruce Decker on rhythym guitar, and yours truly on piano and vocals. By this time I was using a Di Armond violin pickup to amplify every available upright piano at the gigs. Once this paricular five piece luneup was in place, things went on to a much more serious level.

Edd Smith was now using a real Fender Bass. Everyone but Ronn behind the drums was singing. Oh Yeah…by the way…the British Invasion had just happened…

Bruce seemed to be the key to the perfect balance in the Deverons. I remember the day he came to “audition” at Derek’s place at 403 Powers. He played along on his Fender through his beautiful amp and after three or four songs he was in…

Bruce was the pretty boy from well to do Silver Heights. The girls loved him…he was blonde and great looking. The Deverons had personality, that’s part of the reason we developed such a fanatical following while we were still remarkably young. I imitated the singers whose songs we did, Derek was moody and nutty, Edd was our semi-British eccentric, Ronn was happy go lucky and GREAT on the drums, and Bruce played good John Lennon type rhythym and sang good backgrounds. We did a ten minute version of My Girl Sloopy by the Vibrations in our show…we did it for years before the McCoys whitened up the tune and sent it to Number One. I liked both the Vibrations’ AND the Deverons’ versions of Sloopy a hundred times better than that horrid record by the McCoys…hey guys, could you have sounded a little whiter…

The Deverons did a little recording. We did our first session in St. Boniface around 1964…I sang a Deveron written thing in G called Suzy Baby. We also did an instrumental that session. Sadly, I don’t have the masters from those sessions, and I don’t know if they still exist anywhere, but boy would I love to hear them…we were all so YOUNG….

In 1965 Daryl Burlingham snuck us into CKY Radio’s back studio overnight and we banged off four cuts. We snuck out again about half past six in the morning. The four cuts done at this particular session were Blue Is the Night, She’s My Lover, Yes I Do, and Leave Her Alone….fortunately I have the only masters of these cuts right here in my house and hopefully they will be released on a pending CD of the Deverons recordings….

It’s difficult to say exactly when the fascination with music, particularly records, signed a permanent lease in my psyche. I know for certain that it was well before 1953, the year I started kindergarten at Luxton School. My mother collected seventy-eights and I was always fascinated with our old wind-up phonograph machine. She had records by Bing Crosby, Eddie Fisher, Dinah Shore, Guy Mitchell, Perry Como, The Mills Brothers, and Frankie Carle and his Honky Ton Piano. I know there were many others because she had lots of records, but these few artists spring to mind immediately without much recounting effort. My mother also played the piano, having had some lessons when her parents could afford it.

There was always music in the house. My mother would sometimes sing with my Aunt Molly and my Aunt Pat…usually “Whispering Hope” or perhaps some Christmas song…their three part harmony wasn’t half bad, and to a little kid listening around the piano right there in the dining room, it was pretty damned impressive. Molly, Pat, and my mom could all play the piano and sing…apparently so could my dad, although the one time I saw him near a piano, you would never have known it.

Suffice to say, both my parents had music in them. Melodies and structures always seemed to dance through my head very naturally and unmysteriously. Even my grandmother would occasionally stroll over to the old piano and pick out some simple melody. She was almost shy about it, yet she didn’t seem to mind having a little kid watch her. Yessirree, I grew up in a house full of music.

I was born on the last day of 1947 and the first records I actually OWNED and could call MY OWN were seventy-eights…simple mathematics lets one know that I was collecting records by the time I was eight years old. My mother bought me a 78 of Hound Dog/Don’t Be Cruel by Elvis. That record peaked in August of 1956. There you have it…by the summer months of 1956 I was already enthralled by this new energy they were calling Rock and Roll. I remember seeing Elvis on Ed Sullivan just afer we had first gotten a TV set…I was about seven or eight years old, but he GOT ME…I wanted to be just like him…one night my uncle George was over at the house and he had some blue suede shoes…he had taken them off while visiting…I remember grabbing a broom, holding it like a guitar, stepping into this huge pair of adult’s shoes and launching into “Well it’s one fo the money, two fo the show…” my mom, Uncle George and Auntie Pat thought it was hilarious…probably some of my earliest applause…

March of 1959…Brook Benton had just scored BIG BIG BIG with “It’s Just a Matter of Time” and he was going to be on Ed Sulllivan the coming Sunday night. I sat glued and enthralled through the whole show of jugglers, ventriloquists, comedians, dancers, and lame Broadway numbers ( a genre, by the way, whose validity or reason ENTIRELY ELUDES ME TO THIS VERY, MIDDLE-AGED DAY ). About fifty-seven and a half minutes into the hour, Ed brought Brook out and he managed to squeeze in most of his recent Number Three smash…1959…I guess any black singer was pretty lucky to be on network television at all in 1959…

Many folks tend to think Elvis “started the whole thing”…I think not…Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was probaably far more outrageous than Elvis would ever be…so was Litle Richard. One has to remember how America was in the fifties…WW2 and Korea were over and gasoline was about twenty cents a gallon. Advertising still said that smoking was “delicious” and “fashionable”. Kids and their parens would ALL listen to Dinah Shore and Bing Crosby…TOGETHER!

Into the midst of this Ozzie and Harriet adventure of a country bursts this “devil music”, tailored strictly for teenagers. The world had begun to change more quickly and irreversibly than ever before in history.

It’s a little blurry exactly when I first knew I wanted to be in a band, or had the ability even to consider it, but one certain incident may have cemented my ultimate fate. Grade Eight…Luxton School…music class with Miss Milgrom. Edd Smith and I were just about best friends, hanging out together almost constantly. He already had a cheap electric guitar and amp. We had auditioned for the Amateur Show, a local Winnipeg television show, dreaming of winning and being asked back to perform a for a second time on television. Our audition had deemed that we spend a certain amount of time in preparation. During those early “rehearsals” we worked up duet versions of several numbers. Edd and I, having learned these several numbers ANYWAY, privately approached Miss Milgrom one day and asked her if we could perform something in front of the whole room during our next music class. We ended up performing “This Time” by Troy Shondell and “What’d I Say” by Ray Charles at the end of the next class. I played piano and sang, and Edd sort of “played along” on electric guitar. Members of the whole class, particularly the girls, were seemingly very impressed…the die was cast for me right there that afternoon in Grade Eight at Luxton School. I knew what I WANTED to do, yet actually accomplishing it was several years away at this point.

Edd Was constantly turning me on to “things rock and roll” that I otherwise might not have come across. I must give Edd Smith a HUGE amount of credit and gratitude concerning what he did for me during the most malleable period of my adolescent life. I might never have heard “Silver City” by the Ventures were it not for Edd. I might never have been interested enough to send money orders to England for Shadows albums on vinyl in ’62, ’63, and ’64 were it not for Edd. Even in Grade nine (our last year at Luxton) his knowledge of and enthusiasm for all things rock and roll hit me square in the face.

Shortly after Winnipeg had first gotten “Channel Twelve”, Edd and our friend Tom Laszlo started talking about the coming D day…I had no idea what they meant, nor that they were referring to “DEE” day…they were talking about the imminent appearance of Joey Dee and the Starliters on American Bandstand to lip sync something on Channel Twelve at four thirty on a Friday afternoon. All week long at school, I looked forward to that few minutes of black and white television history. Since the single of Peppermint Twist peaked on the Billboard chart in January of 1962, this magic “week of anticipation leading up to DEE day” must have occured during the winter of 1961/1962. Edd Smith nurtured the seeds that radio had already planted in the head of a North End kid, several years earlier.

Edd and I did another Amateur Show appearance several months after the first one. This time we had a drummer with us, a school friend named Francis Kostiuk. He had a great set of drums, and somehow we ended up on television, just the three of us, doing Dion Di Mucci’s “The Wanderer”. As memory serves me, we rocked pretty good this time. I was still delivering the Winnipeg Tribune six days a week at this point, and I remember some of the younger girls who lived with their parents on my paper route commenting and giggling about my singing “The Wanderer”. I was about twelve or thirteen at this time, and VERY shy of girls. I found out quickly what power there lurked in the ability to get up and sing a few tunes…even stuff you hadn’t written yourself. The Beatles hadn’t happened yet, but I was already sold hook, line, and sinker on the idea of being a pop singer for a living.

GRADE FIVE, Luxton School

Miss THOMPSON’s Room

February 1959

The 1958/1959 school year found me in Grade Five at Luxton. I had the extreme fortune to be something of a teacher’s pet for Miss Thompson. I remember her as if it were yesterday…she almost encouraged my foolishness, bu only when it was born of intelligence. Phyllis Stall weas my female counterpart in foolery. I breezed through the exams all year, barely having to concentrate at all, leaving MUCH or MOST of the time for foolery and creativity. I had heard the song DONNA many times on the radio, never really knowing much about who sang it. I loved the song…I had no idea then that the guy who had written it and sang it was only seventeen. Hell, that was only five or six years older than me !

It was a cold snowy Winnipeg morning in February and I was listening to the radio, having breakfast before leaving for school. The announcer said something about

“such young, talented people tragically passing on, and how much they would be missed…” Then he played Donna…My first rock and roll tragedy…Grade Five (?)…I felt it deeply, and to this day I don’t quite know why. *I only got to like Buddy Holly much later, and I never really heard anything other than Chantilly Lace by the Big Bopper, so their passing didn’t actually dance on the head of a North Ender that morning…but I was extremely touched and saddened when I heard that Ricthie Valens had died. To this day I believe that if he had lived, he would have been one of the biggest and most enduring stars EVER in pop music…consider this…he had just turned seventeen when the plane went down…that means that all of his recordings were done while he was fifeen and sixteen. He WROTE most of what he sang, and he played great guitar…the proof of his guitar prowess can be clearly heard in the instrumentals “Fast Freight” and “Big Baby Blues”. He wrote Donna, a classic to this day, well into the nineties. I was just a kid in Winnipeg but I felt a personal sense of loss. Rock and Roll was already teaching me much larger lessons.

During the summer holidays of 1959 (my break between Grade Five and Grade Six) my mother took me to New York Ciy for a holiday. Never again was I EVER the same. We went to Philadelphia on the same trip and visited many relatives, but the time in New York City changed me forever. That summer two of the hottest singles in North America were country flavoured records that crossed over onto the pop charts…they were “The Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton and “Waterloo” by Stonewall Jackson. While in New York I saw my first RECORD STORE. By that I mean a store that was there solely for the purpose of selling records…back in Winnipeg and Fargo and Grand Forks, there was a record “section” in the midst of most of the larger department stores, or even in the Woolworth and Ben Franklin five and dime type stores..but here in New York they had RECORD STORES. This world of records was courting, wooing, and mesmerizing me now, and I was just about to start Grad Six.

That summer I bought singles of “The Battle of New Orleans” and “Waterloo” in picture covers…specially released by Columbia, these picture covers were on a limited number of 45’s. I still have them both as of this writing in August of 1994. I also purchased an album, one of my first album purchases ever…”The Everly Brothers’ Best” on Cadence, that great colour picture of them wih the bright blue background.

Back home on Lansdowne Ave. that summer, those American releases (Johnny Horton, Stonewall Jackson, and the Everly Brothers) not only spoke to me, they SCREAMED at me. Show business fascinated me. While in NYC, my mother had managed to score us a couple of tickets to watch some radio show…LIVE…Johnny Nash was on that show, the summer of 1959, and I remember how impressed we both were…he was GREAT…you just didn’t see this kind of stuff at home in the prairies of Manitoba !

The incredible power of it all…impressions that live with me now even in middle age. The huge Pepsi Cola sign, over a block long, that was actually a real waterfall several stories up, overlooking Times Square. The water fell from what was probably the seventh or eighth story to what was probably the third or fourth story. Some guy on the street that summer even told my mother and me how many million gallons of anti freeze it took to keep that Pepsi waterfall going throughout the New York winters. Very close to that Pepsi waterfall was a gigantic billboard of one of the most popular baseball players of the day (probably a Yankee) blowing appropriately large and perfect smoke rings out over pedestrians and traffic…it was a 1950’s ad for Camel cigarettes. While we were being the consummate tourists and loving every minute of it, my mother and I went over to the Statue of Liberty…since it was the summer of 1959, we were still able to climb he last flight of stairs and go out onto the observaion deck that is her torch…not long after that summer, the torch was closed to the public forever because of its having become unsafe. Of course, my mother also took me up to the top of the Empire State Building, one of he most intense deals of the entire trip. For a eleven year old from Winnipeg to see New York City from atop the Empire State Bldg. in the summer of ’59 is a gift from a parent that remains beyond value…ANY value…my mother is DIRECTLY responsible for opening up my head…

God bless her for it. Thanks again, Mom…I NEVER took it lightly.

57,58,59..60 and thereabouts there were certain records that hypnotized me while sumultaneously telling me that there was a special place on this plane on this planet where not necessarily everyone belonged…you had to be asked to join this invisible club…as early as when CJOB 68 was Winnipeg’s 3rd rock station I remember hearing the original “Ooh Pooh Pah Doo” by Jesse Hill one Saturday morning…”Nobody But You” by the Laffayettes…”Dear One “ by Larry Finnegan…”Le the Little Girl Dance” by Billy Bland…”Hot Rod Lincoln” by Charlie Ryan…”Kissin’ Time” by Bobby Rydell…”Suzie Baby” by Bobby Vee and the Strangers…”Waitin’ In School” by Ricky Nelson…”Bird Dog” by the Everly Brothers…”Shortnin’ Bread” by Paul Chaplain and the Emeralds…”Danny Boy” by Conway Twitty…”Just Ask Your Heart” by Frankie Avalon…”What’d I Say” by Ray Charles…”Love You So” by Ron Holden…”Wonderful World” by Sam Cooke…”Where or When” by Dion and the Belmonts…”Beatnik Fly” by Johnny and the Hurricanes…these are all records I bought…45’s I still have…all pre Beatles.

Often when I talk to many of my old friends and other people who are approximately my age, they tend to forget anything musical which occured before the Beatles. There was a very healthy rock and roll scene prior to the British Invasion. During the 62/63 school year, I managed to weasel my way into the Deverons, a band I would eventually end up kind of leading. During our earliest cantations we had a rather large repertoire composed ENTIRELY of pre Beatles music. In retrospect I realize those were some of the best days of my life in show business. We in the Deverons were all still living under our parents’ rooves, yet we were treated as local royalty…all the trappings of success in life without having to take any of the risks involved to attain it.

I’ve only ever been in two bands in my life…the Deverons and the Guess Who. Edd SMith, Derek Blake, Boris Pawluk and John Gach all went to St. John’s High when I did. Those four started rehearsing in John Gach’s parents’ basement, a rumpus room with really good acoustics. During the days at school, Edd would casually mention what numbers they were currently working on…I would always drool with jealousy…I wanted SOOOOOOO BADLY to be in the band. They played instrumentals only…none of them sang. I guess their “repertoir” consisted of numbers by the Ventures, Fireballs, Chantays, Surfaris, Duane Eddy, and any other guitar-based instrumental acts of the day. After a few weeks of hearing about the Deverons second hand through Edd, I asked him if I could come to a practice and listen. That week I found myself in the Gaches’ basement at a Deveron practice. I asked them if I could sing something…would they play along…

I sang Donna, Come On Let’s Go, and Bonie Moronie from the Ritchie Valens album. Every guy in every band in Winnipeg at that time knew those numbers. I sang my heart out. They immediately liked having a singer. We may have tried Baby What’s Wrong by Lonnie Mack that day too…probably tried some others, I honestly can’t remember. Before I knew it I was singing with the Deverons. I didn’t stay on the stage all night…they remained primarily an instrumental band, and several times during the evening, I would come out and sing a tune and then disappear quickly. Derek and his dad had put some serious money into Derek’s guitars, amp and mikes. The Deverons would never have gotten off the ground so early without all that gear. Peter, Derek’s dad had bought two mikes, cables, a huge Fender amp for Derek and whoever else, and a Fender Jazzmaster for Derek. For a long time I sang all my vocals through one of Derek’s amps. Later, when I began playing the available upright pianos at all of the community clubs, churches, and schools, it too went through one of Derek’s amps.

I’m not sure exactly when the Deverons w/yours truly first played publicly, but the first lineup was John Gach on drums, Edd Smith on guitar, Boris Pawluk on guitar, Derek Blake on Guitar, and Burton Cummings on perhaps six vocals throughout the evening. We played for a long time without ever getting paid. My Mother got us some gold vests, and later some matching rainbow striped shirts from Eaton’s…those things were the first band uniforms I ever remember wearing. Shortly thereafter I purchased a Buescher C Melody sax from a guy named Barry Lank in West Kildonan. I paid him the sum total of $25 for this instrument. In my small bedroom on Bannerman I listened over and over to the solo in Country Boy by Fats Domino and to anything at all by Johnny and the Hurricanes. A couple of weeks later, the boys let me start playing a few sax istrumentals on stage with the Deverons. Now with both the singing and the sax playing, I was having to leave the stage less and less throughout the evening. Things were getting better for me in this thing called the Deverons.

The name DEVERONS is a direct rip-off from an American group called the DEVRONS. I know nothing of this group, except that they had one minor, regional hit with a guitar instrumental called Brand X. I have checked Joel Whitburn’s books on Billboard’s charts, and according to him, this Brand X record never charted for even one week on Billboard’s top 100. Derek had heard and learned the instrumental and I suppose he became enamoured with the name…probably kept saying it over and over and over in his head like a mantra, thereby falling prey to its sonic spell…Derek had subtly added an extra E to the spelling, and this band from St. John’s High School came to be known as the DEVERONS. This was Autumn of 1962.

I still hated having to leave the stage at all during the Deveron shows, but I had nothing to do wen I wasn’t singing or playing sax. Then one night in the early winter of 1962 we played at St. Martin’s In the Field Church Parish Hall…off to the right side of the stage stood a beautiful old upright piano…the boys started off the first set that evening with a couple of guitar instrumentals…I came out afterward and sang a couple of tunes…then at the point when I would ordinarily have left the stage again, I calmly walked over to the old upright and pounded along with the ensuing instrumental. It wasn’t even miked or amplified in any way, but I felt like I’d never skulk off the stage again to wait my turn in the wings. I think Derek felt threatened that night…that may have been the point at which he began losing hold of the reins of the band to me…but Hell, I wasn’t even miked yet !

No one had a real electric bass yet in the Deverons. Edd Smith was playing a black and white electric Silvertone guitar, tuning the four bottom strings down and playing what amounted to his versions of bass lines for the arrangements. We would do Sheila by Tommy Roe, Only Love Can Break A Heart byGene Pitney, Wild Weekend by the Rebels, Minnesota Fats by Johnny and the Hurricanes, Donna and Bonie Moronie by Ritchie Valens, Woderful World by Sam Cooke, Walk Don’t Run by the Ventures and a host of other ditties of the day.

This prticular lineup went on for a while. When I say “a while”, I probably mean only a few months. Boris was he first poroblem. He and Edd and I had been in the same home room for years at Luxton…the three of us knew each other fairly well. Boris and I had both been in each other’s homes. He seemed to get bored with it all very quickly. He probably didn’t even play with the Deverons more than two months after I had come along. I think Don Gunter replaced Boris for a short while…then it seems we became disenchanted with John Gach’s drumming…Ken Birdini was there for what now seems like thirty seconds…then suddenly Craig Hamblin was drumming for the Deverons. Or was Craig there when Boris was still there…have to take pentathol to figure that out.

The lineup that was really to be the Deverons finally cemented itsself very early in 1964. It was Ronn Savoie on drums, Edd Smith on bass, Derek Blake on lead guitar, Bruce Decker on rhythym guitar, and yours truly on piano and vocals. By this time I was using a Di Armond violin pickup to amplify every available upright piano at the gigs. Once this paricular five piece luneup was in place, things went on to a much more serious level.

Edd Smith was now using a real Fender Bass. Everyone but Ronn behind the drums was singing. Oh Yeah…by the way…the British Invasion had just happened…

Bruce seemed to be the key to the perfect balance in the Deverons. I remember the day he came to “audition” at Derek’s place at 403 Powers. He played along on his Fender through his beautiful amp and after three or four songs he was in…

Bruce was the pretty boy from well to do Silver Heights. The girls loved him…he was blonde and great looking. The Deverons had personality, that’s part of the reason we developed such a fanatical following while we were still remarkably young. I imitated the singers whose songs we did, Derek was moody and nutty, Edd was our semi-British eccentric, Ronn was happy go lucky and GREAT on the drums, and Bruce played good John Lennon type rhythym and sang good backgrounds. We did a ten minute version of My Girl Sloopy by the Vibrations in our show…we did it for years before the McCoys whitened up the tune and sent it to Number One. I liked both the Vibrations’ AND the Deverons’ versions of Sloopy a hundred times better than that horrid record by the McCoys…hey guys, could you have sounded a little whiter…

The Deverons did a little recording. We did our first session in St. Boniface around 1964…I sang a Deveron written thing in G called Suzy Baby. We also did an instrumental that session. Sadly, I don’t have the masters from those sessions, and I don’t know if they still exist anywhere, but boy would I love to hear them…we were all so YOUNG….

In 1965 Daryl Burlingham snuck us into CKY Radio’s back studio overnight and we banged off four cuts. We snuck out again about half past six in the morning. The four cuts done at this particular session were Blue Is the Night, She’s My Lover, Yes I Do, and Leave Her Alone….fortunately I have the only masters of these cuts right here in my house and hopefully they will be released on a pending CD of the Deverons recordings….

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