Band on The Run

Posted on February 8, 2014 under Storytelling with one comment

Cabot Trail 2



“Get your motor runnin’ … head out on the highway…”

Born to be Wild – Steppenwolf

Do you remember?  The Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons.  The Lovin’ Spoonful, the Rolling Stones and Elvis.  The list is a long one but you catch my drift.  This was the music playing on the Top 40 back in the ‘60’s.  And this was a golden age of live music and every band worth a lick was copying these musicians and bringing their songs to life at dances in every town and village in the country.

Antigonish was no exception.

If there was such thing as a battle of the bands back then, the two that went toe to toe, in the friendliest way possible, were The Strangers and The Escorts.

The Strangers, simply put, were terrific.  The Lowe brothers along with Jody and Pat mastered any song they touched.  One of my favorites to this day is the classic hit by Paul Revere and The Raiders, “Him or Me”.   I have seen many great acts over the years but The Strangers will always be one of my favorite groups of all time.  Am I just a hopeless romantic for the good old days?  Possibly, but they were that good.

The Strangers plied their trade in our neck of the woods and were most often seen playing at the Parish Centre.  When they weren’t performing at that iconic venue, then there’s a very good chance that another local band was on the stage: The Escorts.  The band had many configurations, but when I played in the band in the late ‘60’s I was joined on stage my two of my brothers, Mike and Don, along with Joe on rhythm guitar and Richard on drums.

For an eighteen year old kid, it was as good as it got.  I had an opportunity to be on stage, singing harmonies and putting some cash in my pocket.  And maybe a chance to impress a member of the opposite sex.  That was wishful thinking.

Besides performing in our home town, we took our show on the road and played at dances and graduations throughout North Eastern Nova Scotia and Cape Breton.  It was not uncommon in the summer to do back-to-back nights in Baddeck and Ingonish.

And speaking of Ingonish, that was where my love affair with that part of the world began in earnest.  We had a regular Saturday night gig at St. Peter’s Hall for four summers in a row.  And what a gig it was.  Being in close proximity to several camp grounds, it was not uncommon to turn over three different audiences in one night, with the accompanying increase in gate proceeds. This was great because back then we split the gate with the parish.

The matriarch overseeing the hall was Mrs. D. and she kept a close eye on things because, back then, it was strictly a cash economy.  I vividly recall at the end of each night brother Don, who acted as treasurer for the band, arriving back at our accommodations with a grocery bag full of cash.  Ones and two dollar bills. fivers and ten spots and the odd twenty and fifty.  After taking out the money to pay on our loan for equipment, everyone got an equal share of what was left.  To this day I never had so much cash in my pocket … literally and figuratively.

Very often, the next day at Mass, the priest would be watching carefully to make sure that the band returned some of the profits in the collection.  The Lord giveth and He taketh away.

Back in the late’60’s James Brown popularized the dance “The Hustle” with his tune, “Get on the Good Foot”,  a precursor to break dancing.  Another form of brake dancing was invented on a traumatizing trip coming down Cape Smokey after a dance.

The band had acquired a “new to us” half ton truck ($800 worth) to transport band members and equipment.  Another new purchase was a Hammond organ picked up in Sydney the previous day.  The aforementioned treasurer had noticed a few days earlier that the brakes on the truck were faulty; so much so that he jury rigged (disabled) the brake on the front passenger wheel.  I still haven’t figured out the mechanical logic behind this.

Driving without operational brakes on level terrain is dangerous but manageable.  Descending a 925 foot mountain is another matter entirely.  The combination of five band members and hundreds of pounds of gear put additional strain on an already fragile braking system.  The driver realized very quickly that not only could he not stop the truck, he could not even get it to slow down.  He stood on the brakes, applying his significant weight to the effort.

Somebody commented that they smelled smoke in the cabin.  No kidding!  The pungent aroma of burning asbestos became apparent as the truck hurtled down the mountain.

We band members, all Catholics, may have been a little rusty in the prayer department at this stage in life.  On this day, more than one of us muttered a silent Hail Mary, fearing that we may just have played our final gig.

The cabin was completely filled with smoke (Cape Smokey smoke) as we neared the bottom of the mountain.  And then we saw it.  A runaway lane, built especially for logging trucks.

Moments later, the truck came to a halt, aided by Mother Nature in the form of a stand of alders at the end of the escape route.

After extracting tree branches from the bumper and grill, we got back on the road.  We flipped on “Friendly 58” CJFX radio.  The unmistakable voice of Del Shannon could be heard singing his classic 1961 hit, “Runaway”.



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