Meanwhile, my friend Bruce became restless, discovered jazz, and Miles Davis, and took off to Berklee College of Music in Boston, a mecca for jazz music study. Returning a year later, certificate in hand, he again became active in the Montreal music scene. He landed a less than glamorous seven night gig at a downstairs joint called La Cave - The Cellar, a left-bank Pigalle style club, complete with artistic types in berets, playing button accordions, with Piaf wannabees, whose owner thought he was in Montmarte, with Gangster, his miserable barking Chihuahua. I called it "the dungeon". The new six-day union rules meant I was Bruce's sub for a night off. A win-win. Soon he left for the Toronto jazz scene, while I stayed in Montreal and replaced him at La Cave. The dungeon gig for me lasted a year and then I moved on to become part of a show group, on to other Montreal clubs.
At times the danger of the night club circuit reared its ugly head: the face-off, when a couple of less than sober patrons decided to tear each other limb from limb, and were evicted from the basement club by a Goliath bouncer UP the stairs to the sidewalk; the fight, which exploded one night during our second number and developed into the near total destruction of the club by a rival night club faction; and the brawl, another competing gang set-up, in a north end bucket of blood that saw us hiding below stairs, in a safe if rather dingy basement room. It has to be said though, that as musicians we were always protected by the gangster-owners of the clubs who ensured that when a fight broke out, we were hustled off to some safer area. From 1956 to 1962 it was tough, but despite it all, or perhaps because of it, and being invincible, of course, we enjoyed making music, entertaining people, and just being young.
Our quartet, The Rhythm Jesters, with Montreal celebrity rockabilly star Bob Davies, was well known in the Montreal circuit so we never lacked work. Going from club to club was an adventure. Having groupies was a status symbol. Appearing on TV in the Like Young show, a weekly teenage music show, sponsored by Eaton's department store, and broadcast by CFCF TV in Montreal made us feel like celebrities. Stopping the show at the Montreal Forum Labour Day concert was a thrill, going to Hawthorne, Nevada – for a 4 week gig was exhilerating. Auditioning for, and just being offered a personal management contract by none other than Billy Ward of The Dominoes of Liberty Records, was rewarding. We didn't sign it, having school and romantic commitments back home. We played at the dance pavilion at Belmont Park, an amusement park just north of Montreal, where part of the pay was unlimited free rides on all the attractions. Of course we played until closing, by which time the midway was nearly deserted, and the rides closed.
Since then I've worked in the music scene in Montreal, Halifax, and Ottawa as a player-performer, composer, arranger, orchestrator, teacher, and producer, all as a part-time semi-professional. I've been fortunate to have my music performed and recorded by some top musicians in those cities and elsewhere, and published in Toronto and the UK. However, those first six years, as tough as they were, as crazy as we were, "bucket of blood" and all, were the greatest ride.
Cafe Mocambo - Montreal