Vance Masters
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DIANNE HEATHERINGTON & THE MERRY-GO-ROUND
Dianne Heatherington - from the Masters family private wedding album © 1973With the end of Brother, Vance and Bill were once again on the job market and it wasn’t long before the hugely popular Merry-Go-Round snapped both up.  Fronted by Dianne Heatherington, indisputably the best female vocalist ever to grace the stages of Winnipeg, Merry-Go-Round was known for their polished shows and the exceptional proficiency of each individual member.  In 1971, the line up consisted of Dianne Hetherington (vocals), Duncan Wilson (guitar), Herman Freuhm (keyboards), Bill Wallace (bass), and Vance Masters (drums).

Their play list was a diverse collection of songs ranging from top 40 to Frank Zappa to their own original works.  And they caught the attention of CBC executives who offered the band a one-hour coast-to-coast musical variety television show, slated for the fall/winter 1971-72 schedule.  For three weeks in the summer of ’71, the band rehearsed Monday through Wednesday in the CBC studios, taping the actual shows on Thursdays and Fridays.  At night, they continued to play the local club circuit.

Late fall found the band back on the road, this time in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan playing a room called the Top Of The Inn.  As luck would have it, Kenny Rogers was also in town for a one-nighter.  He and his entourage showed up at the club after their performance and caught the final set of Dianne Heatherington and the Merry-Go-Round.  Impressed by the musicians’ abilities and original material, he approached the band to offer them a record deal.  Arrangements were made to meet Kenny in Las Vegas, and to then travel together to Los Angeles to record the album, with all expenses being covered by Mr. Rogers.

The band set out on the 1800-mile journey from Winnipeg to Las Vegas in the middle of winter.  For those who had never travelled the ice-covered roads of the northwest, there are no words that can accurately reflect the bleakness on many of North America’s highways in the dead of winter.  The trek took the band through the frigid state of North Dakota and into Montana.  Bill Wallace was behind the wheel of the Volkswagen car, with Dianne in the passenger seat and Vance asleep in the back.  The rest of the group was travelling in a van, a couple of miles ahead.  Just outside of Billings, Montana, the tiny Volkswagen hit a patch of black ice and skidded mercilessly out of control.  Rolling end over end several times, it finally came to rest on its roof, in the middle of a farmer’s field.  The windshield had popped out sometime during the roll and snow melted into the compartment and on the occupants.  The temperature was so cold outside that it froze on their faces instantly.  Amazingly, no one was seriously hurt, and the three trudged several hundred yards back to the highway to flag down help, which arrived some time later in the form of a semi-trailer.  By this point, all three were chilled beyond belief and all Vance could think of was, “Thank God - some heat!”  The trucker pulled over and everyone climbed in for a lift to the closest town.  And the first words out of the trucker’s mouth were … “Sorry for the cold - my heater’s not working.”  An ominous start to what was supposed to be their “big break”.

The band eventually made it into Los Angeles and spent 2 weeks laying down tracks for half of the album.  They returned to Winnipeg to finish off some scheduled dates, and while at home, received the contracts for the record deal from Kenny Roger’s management team.  They refused to sign those contracts, as all royalties would have been diverted to Rogers and the arrangement died on the table that day.  Vance and Bill had both learned from the Brother experience and would never again be unwitting subjects of a bid to misappropriate the rightful ownership of their material.  The songs from that album have never been released.

Several events came into play in the months following the Rogers episode that caused the band to fold in mid-1972.  With Bill Wallace offered a position in The Guess Who, Dianne made the decision to relocate in Toronto to pursue an acting career in live theater.  She later moved on to films with roles in Tom Cruise’s hit, Cocktail, and The Liberace Story.  Until her death from ovarian cancer in 1998, she also headed up her own corporation, which provided security on the sets of movies being filmed in Toronto.

Vance and Duncan continued to play together, creating an informal partnership that would endure for the next 5 years until Vance, too, joined The Guess Who, in the post-Cummings incarnation.

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