It’s a great rock ‘n roll story, and a terrific Red Deer story as well.
Local music fans are invited to kick off summer with a rock ‘n roll bash to remember – two Red Deer bands from the 70s are joining forces for a 40-year reunion party.
Rockin’ in the Old Days! – featuring the Gaetz Avenue Dance Band and Sam – is set for June 26th-27th at Fratters. The music starts at 8 p.m.
“We had our last full-on reunion in 1995 at the Red Deer Lodge, and we said we had so much fun, we’d ‘do it again real soon’,” said drummer Harley Hay, one of the original members of the Gaetz Avenue Dance Band. “That was 20 years ago!”
He added every single original member of Sam featuring singer/songwriter Richard Harrow, and six of the seven original members of the Gaetz Avenue Dance Band (1971-1975) featuring frontman Thomas ‘The Voice’ Alexander will be onhand for the event.
Rounding out the Gaetz Avenue Dance Band are John Lacey on trumpet, Dave Parfett on Hammond B3 organ, Mike Gueffroy on sax and Gary Thompson on bass. Not able to make the coming show are guitarist Al Grondin and Al Garber on trombone.
Hay is also featured in Sam, which includes Richard Harrow on vocals and guitar, Lynnette Roder on vocals, Ron Mah on guitar, bassist Paul Robinson and filling in on drums will be Don Wells. There will be special guests as well.
Both Hay and Thompson are thrilled about the coming shows, and really have a blast remembering those early days when the Gaetz Avenue Dance Band in particular was in hot demand far beyond Red Deer.
“In about 1970 or so, we were all coming off of being in several different bands and didn’t really know what to do,” said Hay, who recalls sitting down with Lacey at the A&W one night to chat about launching a new band. Pretty much fresh out of high school, they both knew several guys who would want to jump onboard, including Thompson who was excited about the new venture.
After pursuing a few other sounds, styles and even monikers, The Gaetz Avenue Dance Band was eventually formed, bringing together talented musicians from different genres. There was an immediate chemistry and the right blend of talent – the guys knew there was something special about this team.
And it wasn’t long before fans and important contacts in the biz started taking note.
“It was tremendous. Those two years – 1974 and 1975 – we traveled so much,” said Thompson. Things were good here at home, but the Gaetz Avenue Dance Band’s popularity elsewhere in Canada was virtually exploding. “We traveled from Manitoba to Vancouver and then down to Washington.” This was indeed a full-time gig for the guys at the time, too. “We were going for the big time.
“More than two or three months of those two years, we would play as often as 26 jobs a month,” he added. “We would be at the University of Regina and have to be, the next day at noon, in Edmonton at NAIT to play a noon-time affair.
“Then we’d be at the University of Alberta that night. Then we’d be off to Fort St. John.”
Then they’d tear down at around 1 a.m. and head to a provincial park on the Manitoba border for yet another gig. Needless to say, this kind of whirlwind schedule takes a toll – even when a person is in their late teens and early 20s.
“We played every high school in Edmonton and Calgary that was ever built and still stands today,” he said with a chuckle. “And Kelowna was really the city that adopted us.”
Vancouver and Point Roberts, Washington were frequent stops at major clubs as well.
But eventually, the guys came to a bit of a crossroads.
“I think we were also facing a change in the world overall – disco was coming in,” explained Hay. “And also, the issue of Canadian content was really coming in as well. We were a cover band – we only recorded about three original tunes at Tommy Banks’ studio in Edmonton. So a lot of bands were going down that road, and it became a different situation.
“I think we also just got tired – physically and mentally tired – of being on the road. And we could see the writing on the wall with the disco and all of the other changes coming.”
Thompson also pointed out that a couple of major promoters in Vancouver were showing strong interest in the band, but they pointed out that the guys would have to be based at the west coast. “One of them said, we’d like to take you guys on. But you need to get out of where you are – you need to be in Vancouver.
“I won’t speak for anyone else in the band. But I can tell you that when those words were thrown at me I thought I don’t want to leave home,” he said with a smile.
But there were no real regrets. The guys headed home, settled down and followed their own paths to various careers and of course the raising of families.
“I think Gary is right – I think Vancouver was the turning point,” said Hay. “I wasn’t really keen on leaving here either – I had some other plans; I wanted to go to film school. And I was getting a little tired of being on the road.
“I think at that point we just looked at each other and said, ‘What do we really want to do?’ I also think we were caught in the middle of changing times, and with the age we were at – we had to make a decision about our future.”
The love for music, of course, continued. And in the meantime, they are utterly thrilled to join forces again for the coming shows.
“It’s just really an exciting thought to put this together,” said Hay. “Mostly, I’m excited about seeing our friends onstage and in the audience and remembering those dance hall days.
“And we still have the chops!”
Tickets for the shows are $20. For more information, call Fratters at 403-356-0033.