Guess Who (CBC)
John Einarson knows more than a thing or two about rock and roll, He's a highly acclaimed historian and author who's written books about Ian & Sylvia, Buffalo Springfield and Randy Bachman among others. He's also the expert on the made in Manitoba kind of rock.
Since retiring from his teaching position, John has been involved in a variety of projects and one of them is the Magical Musical History Tour. It's without a doubt one of the most popular events in Winnipeg. So popular in fact, the organizers have to continually add extra tours to keep up with the demand. Book now for the September dates.
SCENE asked John Einarson why Winnipeg was once known as the rock and roll capital of Canada.
What's one of the main reasons Winnipeg's early rock scene was so rich?
Winnipeg's isolation allowed for a strong and vibrant local music scene to grow and flourish. We weren't on the touring circuit, so much of the live music we enjoyed was generated locally. Another key factor was the existence of dozens of community clubs which gave neighbourhood kids a venue to perform live. It was music at a grassroots level and very exciting.
Why are music fans so fascinated to see where musical history took place?
They may know the songs and the recording artists but being able to see the roots of that music and that artist, a house where a song was conceived or a community club, teen club or school where an artist got his/her start connects even the most casual fan to that music or that artist. It personalizes the musical experience. Imagine sitting on the steps of the school where Neil Young sat "dreaming of being a star" (Don't Be Denied, 1973).
Why was Winnipeg known as the rock capital of Canada?
In 1965, the Guess Who's Shakin' All Over became one of the first Beatle-era records by a Canadian rock 'n' roll group to top the charts right across Canada. Up to that point Canadian rock 'n' roll was largely regional and fragmented with few bands cracking the charts nationally. That song is often regarded as ground zero for the eventual growth of a nation-wide homegrown music industry in Canada. As a result of the success of that record, labels came in search of more Winnipeg talent and many local bands signed and released records. Winnipeg's Guess Who were Canada's first rock 'n' roll superstars.
What's one story you can tell us that thrills the participants in the tour?
Stopping at the former location of CKRC radio (in the old Winnipeg Free Press building on Carlton St.), I tell participants about the time local guitarist Neil Young and his band The Squires recorded their first song with vocals by Neil (they had recorded a non-vocal instrumental the year before). It was April, 1964 and after Neil sang his composition I Wonder he asked CKRC recording engineer Harry Taylor what he thought of the recording. Harry replied, "You're a good guitar player kid, but you'll never make it as a singer." Neil made his triumphant return to Winnipeg for two sold-out concerts at the Centennial Concert Hall in January 1971 and while in town he went back to CKRC to find Taylor whereupon Neil said to him, "I came back to show you that you were wrong."
Who comes on your tours?
While the participants are skewed heavily toward the baby boomer generation, not all are over 50. We've had some teenagers as well as 20 and 30-somethings, too. And a fairly even mix of males and females. Some have come from Saskatchewan, one from Leipzig in Germany, and a family from Fort Worth, Texas (ex-Winnipeggers).
What was the most unusual situation?
At one point, while cruising down Oxford Street in River Heights heading towards Terry Jacks' (Seasons In The Sun) childhood home, one of the participants asked me to stop the bus so he could point out to his grandchildren the house he grew up in, back in the 60s. He never knew that he lived five or six houses down from Terry Jacks. On another drive down Oxford Street, stopping at the former Jacks residence, a participant exclaimed that this was now the house of a very close friend of theirs who, in fact, was a musician. The occupant had no idea he lived in Terry Jacks' house.
What's the difference between the music scene in Winnipeg now as compared to some 40 years ago?
Back then there were more opportunities to play live. There are fewer in Winnipeg now. It was easy to get a group of friends together, learn 20 or 30 songs (after all, they were no more than 3-4 chords) and make your debut at your neighbourhood community club. Those days are long gone. Plus it was a lot more inexpensive back then. Fred Turner once told me that he made his live debut at Orioles Community Club with the whole band all plugged into one little Fender amp. It was so noisy onstage that they had to kick each other in the ankles to change chords. At the end of the night they were each given a chocolate bar and a Coke. Nowadays kids make demo tapes in their basement and post them on the Internet before ever playing before an audience. It's just not the same.