the closing days of 1969, three of Winnipeg’s most distinguished musicians
gathered together around the kitchen table of a friend’s house. All
veterans on the music scene, they had played virtually every location available
from community clubs to arenas to international venues. And all three
had come to the same conclusion at the same time. Tired of performing
cover versions of other people’s material, they formed a unique partnership,
based upon a gentleman’s agreement and a shared desire to prove to themselves,
and only themselves, that they had what it takes to make a lasting difference
in the music world. Brother - the name itself denotes the mindset
that spurred Vance Masters, Kurt Winter, and Bill Wallace to pen some of
the more memorable songs in Canadian music history.
Together for less than six
months, Brother garnered a cult following in a very short period of time.
Dubbed Winnipeg’s only supergroup by John Einarson in the book, “Shakin’
All Over”, they collectively composed all their own material and became
a collaborative writing team that with any one of the members missing,
could not have produced the same caliber of music. They were musician’s
musicians, and it was not uncommon to see more than 50% of their audiences
made up of players. The quality of their performances was such that
when they were fired from one of their jobs for playing too loud, the audience
in attendance that night protested by picketing the club for several days
afterward, tying up traffic on one of Winnipeg’s busiest thoroughfares.
Disenchanted by the politics
behind the booking agencies and the musician’s union at that time, Brother
refused to join the union or to sign with any one management team and set
about arranging their own gigs. The local agencies brought pressure
to bear on the club owners, advising that if the rooms booked Brother,
they would no longer receive bands from the agents’ stables of acts.
But Vance, Kurt, and Bill played anyhow, often performing for no monetary
compensation - just for the sheer pleasure of getting their music out there.
And they were an extremely close-knit group, choosing to spend almost all
their waking time together. It was practically an “us against the
world” mentality that overtook the three, and outsiders rarely understood
the inner circle meaning of many of their comments. Some of their
ideas were downright absurd, but that was also a hallmark of the trio.
It was an all or nothing attitude that prevailed, and they fed on each
other, building upon a wisp of an idea put forth by any one of the members.
One such intent was to take over The Beatles’ Apple Studios to record their
material, with the justification that when the finished product was heard,
all would be forgiven for adopting such a drastic measure to get their
music heard. Needless to say, sanity prevailed, but it didn’t stop
their dream of recording their material.
Brother was also responsible
for putting on Manitoba’s first rock festival. After reading in the
newspaper about an accident victim who died because no hospital in Winnipeg
had the necessary equipment to save her life, the three set in motion a fundraiser for the Lynne Derksen Oxygenator Fund. They organized the now legendary NIVERVILLE POP FESTIVAL on a farm just south of Winnipeg. Enlisting
the assistance of the Mennonite community to handle the financial side
of the project, the band took care of all other details for the event.
Nearly every one of Winnipeg’s top acts donated their time for the worthy
cause, and well over $10,000 was raised that afternoon.
The band wrote, rehearsed,
and re-worked the songs, recording many of their practice sessions.
They shopped those demos around to several record labels, but were rejected
by each and every one. They knew they had a veritable gold mine in
at least one of those pieces, yet they were also acutely aware that what
they were lacking was a recognizable name within the industry. And
the A & R men in the record companies were now seeking to sign formula
acts. Just look at what was charting in 1970. The top ten hits
that year, according to Billboard, were:
Not exactly a conducive environment
into which an unknown act from a small prairie town in the frozen wasteland
of Canada could introduce songs such as Bus Rider and Hand Me Down World.
The real kicker to the whole thing was that one of the record labels, RCA,
would later make a fortune off those same tunes when they were recorded
by one of their already-signed groups. That group was The Guess Who.
And it caused the break-up of the only Winnipeg band, at the time, capable
of surpassing the success of The Guess Who.
1. Venus - The Shocking
2. Mama Told Me Not To
Come - Three Dog Night
3. I Think I Love You
- The Partridge Family
4. Tears Of A Clown -
Smokey Robinson & Miracles
5. The Rapper - The Jaggerz
6. I Want You Back - Jackson
7. Spirit In The Sky -
8. Vehicle - The Ides
9. War - Edwin Starr
10. Green-Eyed Lady - Sugarloaf
Much has been written about
Kurt Winter’s entry into The Guess Who. A lot of it has been manufactured
promo. When Randy Bachman resigned from the band, he left a huge
writing deficit. Not only would The Guess Who have to replace an
outstanding guitarist, it was imperative they hired someone with songwriting
talent, and someone who preferably had a ready catalogue. In Burton’s
own words, “There were umpteen things that The Guess Who ended up kind
of stealing from Brother’s repertoire once Kurt joined the band.”
But the true ruthlessness is not in the financial compensation denied to
Bill and Vance for their contributions. It lies in not acknowledging
the other two thirds of Brother for the composition of those tunes.
Writing credits were never attributed to Vance Masters and Bill Wallace
because The Guess Who didn’t want their public to know that they had to
go outside of the band nucleus for material. 18 years later, The
Guess Who finally revealed, on the LINER
NOTES to an album titled Track Record, The
Guess Who Collection, the identity of the real writers of those songs.
Had The Guess Who not usurped Brother’s catalogue, would they have merely
fizzled out with the departure of Randy, much in the same manner that occurred
after Kurt left the band in 1974?
Kurt, Bill, and Vance did
eventually produce one single under the Brother name, but as Bill Wallace
so succinctly summed up that session, “All our good stuff was already recorded
by The Guess Who.” The session, financed by Kurt, was recorded in
an effort to assuage Kurt’s feelings of self-reproach over what he perceived
to be a betrayal of the bond of friendship he held with Vance and Bill.
The record company provided absolutely no promotion for the single.
It received very limited airplay in their hometown as by the late sixties,
radio stations had moved to national programming and local DJ’s no longer
had the control of their play lists.
From the book, “American
Woman, The Story of The Guess Who” by John Einarson: In February
1994, Brother made a surprise reunion appearance at a Winnipeg benefit
concert for the Museum of Man and Nature’s rock ‘n’ roll exhibit.
By way of an introduction, drummer Vance Masters announced, “Here’s some
songs very special to us that I think you’ll recognize, but here’s the
way they were supposed to be done.” With that the trio tore into
Hand Me Down World, Bus Rider and Rock and Roller Steam (with the Running
Back To Saskatoon riff back where it belonged) to an enthralled audience,
most of whom were likely unaware of the musical history lesson before them.