Long before I got into radio, I played in a few bands along with the likes of some other Winnipeggers such as Burton Cummings of The Guess Who, Randy Bachman of BTO, and the legendary Neil Young.
It all began while going to high school at TCI in Transcona and I was invited to join a local vocal group by the name of Shayne and The Devines. However, not being much of a singer, before long I began recruiting a few of my talented friends to join us. We had Pete Proskurnik on sax, Gordy Duke played the drums, Rolly Blaquiere was on bass, his brother Lawrence played the piano, and I was on guitar and became Shayne and The Rebel Raiders. (top photo below.) After a few rehearsals at the Maple Leaf Community Club, we began playing for dances at some of the other Community clubs in Transcona. Then realizing that our name Rebel Raiders sounded a little too southern for a northern group like us, we changed it to The Phantoms. (next two photos)
After spotting Perry Waksvic who could not only play guitar better than me but could sing all those Chuck Berry tunes too, I moved over to rhythm and he became our lead guitar. When we also added another sax man by the name of Jimmy Harrison we instantly became one of the best bands in Winnipeg. Now, not only were we playing all over Winnipeg but also all over Manitoba and the northern states as well.
However, when Shayne found out that it wasn’t going to be Shayne and The Phantoms, he left in a bit of a huff, so we recruited Donny Burns to replace him. (bottom two photos) Not done yet, we added a vocal group called the Castaways and became good enough to back up all the singers, at most of the variety shows including Bobby Curtola whenever he was in town.
Unfortunately, as good as we were, it was impossible to make any money with that many players, so when the Beatles invaded and conquered America with four, we cut to five. Things were going well until Perry started to become a pain in the ass, so we exited him and got Randy Bachman (BTO) to fill in until we recruited Terry Kenny. We also used Garry Peterson (The Guess Who) in the same manner to buy some time whenever we were between drummers but when lost Donny to Arc Records in Toronto, it was a real blow. We didn’t know it at the time but losing Donny was the best thing that could ever happen to us because it changed our lives.
Donny’s departure had come at a bad time because not only did we still have a few gigs left to play, but I’d also booked a studio at CKY and talked two of the station’s biggest Dee-Jays, Daryl ‘B’ and Chuck Dann (Chuck Riley) into helping us cut a demo tape. Our plan was to send the tape to local dance promoters such as John Wood, in hopes of procuring some gigs in the New Year. None of us at that time had any idea that later, John (J Robert Wood) would be a Hall Of Fame radio guy, Donny would become a Dee-Jay and voice-over guy, and I would move to America as a radio consultant. How weird is that?
Anyway, by the time our studio date rolled around, we’d recruited Bruce Walker as Donny’s replacement, but he wasn’t ready yet, so off we headed to CKY on that cold winter’s night, late December 1964 to cut nothing but instrumentals.
While waiting for Chuck and Daryl to set up, Bruce who had come along to the session to hang out, asked Terry and me if we could help him finish up a song that he was working on called “Until You Do.” He was hoping that maybe we could tack it on at the end of our session if we had some recording time left.
We’d gone into that session sounding like the Phantoms but came out of it as The Jury with a whole new sound. The weird part about all this is that even today some fifty years later, I can still remember every detail of that first recording session, but very little of those that followed. However, one thing I’ll never forget is hearing Hal Ross of London Records saying those immortal words after his hearing, “Until You Do.” “Hell, I’ll release that!” And just like that, we were London Records newest recording artists.
The only thing that ever came even close to Hal’s words, were Jimmy Darin’s (Jim Hilliard) which we heard him say on the radio shortly after we dropped our new record off on our way out of town. “Here’s a CKY exclusive, The Jury, with Until You Do.” Wow! We almost blew the speakers out of the car. And the only way I can explain how it felt to hear your record on the radio for the first time is to say that it was better than sex!
On a side note, Burton Cummings recently told me that he bought our first two records with the money he earned from his paper route. So when “Until You Do” began slipping down the charts, back into the studio we went to record our second release which was called “I Tried To Tell Her.” Thanks for the purchase, Burton.
When we went back into the CKY studios to record our third release called, “Back In My World,” the whole world was beginning to change and so were we.
When “Back In My World” fell off the charts, we decided not only to change recording studios, but also record companies, our look, and also get a new drummer by the name of Kenny Hordichuk. When we recorded “Please Forget Her” at the Kay-Bank studios in Minneapolis, it became the #1 Canadian record in Canada which got us an American release on Port Records.
On the flip side of “Please Forget Her” was a tune called “Who Dat?” which was a totally a different sound for us and went on became a cult favorite. Not only was it covered by a couple of punk bands (The Nomads and Vipers) some thirty years later, but a recent magazine article claimed that Who Dat? was fifty years ahead of its time.
Playing with The Jury was a wonderful experience, but as it turned out to be much better at radio than I was at being a musician and I was so busy doing radio that I never thought about my band days much. However, when I got the call some twenty years later that John Einarson, author of the book “Shakin’ All Over,” was putting a sixties band reunion together, I must admit that I got very excited.
I hadn’t seen my bandmates since I left the group back in the mid-sixties, so I was looking forward to having our own reunion at the 60’s reunion thing and when I flew in from San Diego, I discovered just how big the event was when I hit the border. As I was going through customs, they asked what the purpose of my visit was and when I told them that I was involved in the 60’s reunion thing, they smiled and said, “That’s the hottest ticket in town, welcome home.” Not only was it sold out, but it was also being televised. Hey, when you’ve got Neil, Randy, and Burton together at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, you count on TV being there too.
That whole night was just mind-boggling, especially when Randy and Burton strapped a Fender Strat on me and then pushed me out on stage saying, “It’s not The Jury without you man.” Miraculously, all the chords came back to me instantly, but what I’m most happy about is that we’re all still alive. Although, once again our look has changed as you can see in the pictures below. (for a taste of how the reunion concert went, click on the link at the bottom of the page.)
For a sneak peek at some upcoming Geo’s Media Blogs, go to GeorgeJohns.com. To see a brand new Blog Bob Christy and I are doing together about radio today, google “Writing Radio’s Wrongs.” On Twitter @GeoOfTheRadio. Sharing and commenting is appreciated.