Inventor amplified Winnipeg sound

An inventor best known for creating the Winnipeg sound of rock 'n' roll in the 1960s and '70s was remembered by musicians and friends at a memorial service Sunday.

An inventor best known for creating the "Winnipeg sound" of rock 'n' roll in the 1960s and '70s was remembered by musicians and friends at a memorial service Sunday.

Thomas Garnet (Gar) Gillies died on Dec. 23 after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 85.

Hundreds of family members, friends and musicians packed a Portage Avenue funeral home on Sunday to honour Gillies, who was a radio repairman by day and jazz musician by night.

Working from his West End Winnipegrepair shop in the mid-1960s, Gilles invented and produced the Garnet Amplifier, a vacuum tube-based amplifier that lent a distinctive, gritty, distorted sound to rock bands, including The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

"My son was a roadie for The Reflections, which became The Guess Who, and we made them all guitar amplifiers and a piano amplifier," Gillies told CBC News in a 2003 interview.

"Other groups in the city of Winnipeg heard these guys because they are probably the best in the city, and they wanted them. And so we started building amplifiers. At no time had we planned to be Garnet Amplifiers. It just evolved."

Larry Laker, who played in several bands in the 1970s, said Sunday that the sound of Gillies' amplifier had its own edge, which had musicians coming back to it long after abandoning tube-based amplifiers in the 1980s.

"No matter how many improvements they made on solid-state amps, it didn't give them the same tone as a tube amp, which has more harmonics and just a richer, more beautiful sound," Laker said.

"It's like when you have a beautiful acoustic instrument, compared to one that's made out of plywood."

Gillies closed the Garnet Amplifier Company in 1989, but continued repairing his amplifiers for years afterward.

Gillies loved young people: wife

He also taught emerging artists the nuts and bolts of amplifiers, which his wife, Rita Robitaille-Gillies, said he relished.

"That's what I see when I think of Gar, is I see his great love for the young people," Robitaille-Gillies said Sunday.

"I think it kept him young, too. And I've heard some say that he never grew up. And that was good— we liked that, you know, because he kept us young as well."

A mural depicting Gillies and his work was unveiled on the side of 1349 Portage Ave. in 2003.

In recent years, a Garnet amplifier originally worth $50 in the 1960s and '70shas fetched more than $1,000 on eBay.