the advent of television, the introduction of 45’s, Sputnik, the Edsel.
The late 50’s was a period of optimism in North America. The young
people of the time, an emerging force that would later come to be known
as the Baby Boomers, hadn't struggled through the war years. They
were looking for something more exciting. They discovered that vitality
in Rock and Roll.
Augustine United Church still
stands on River Avenue in Winnipeg’s trendy Osborne Village district.
Back then, the area was called Fort Rouge. And it became the setting
for the inception of one of Winnipeg’s most influential bands - The Crescendos.
Still without a drum kit, Vance would borrow a set from the uncle of one
of his school friends, Terry Loeb, and every Saturday, the two boys would
practice together. Terry, too, initially wanted to be a drummer,
and they would take turns rehearsing, each learning off the other.
Gradually, other budding musicians began to drift into the practice sessions,
and the gatherings took on a more structured arrangement. The diverse
group of teenagers eventually formed into a viable unit called The Crescendos.
The early 60’s saw The Crescendos
start out playing the local community clubs. Initially, the band
performed instrumentals only, but with the burgeoning influence of British
bands such as Cliff Richards and The Shadows, their repertoire was gradually
reworked to include vocals. It was an exciting time in the music
industry and local teen clubs began springing up throughout the city.
Radio stations jumped on the bandwagon, and one DJ in particular was instrumental
in marketing the Crescendos. CKRC’s Doc Steen promoted their shows
and played their music on air, starting a trend that would set the benchmark
for all others to follow. He even went so far as to allow the band
to practice in the station’s studio, which gave the group first crack at
listening to newly released material. They would often wind up playing
tunes that had not yet been released to the public, and when the songs
finally did receive airplay, many thought they were listening to the Crescendos
instead of the actual groups who had recorded the music.
The Cellar was one of the
first clubs to cater to the rock culture. The Crescendos played there
almost exclusively throughout 1963 and were so much an integral force within
the club that other bands wanting to play there had to audition for The
Crescendos. The Crescendos would have the final say on who would
be allowed to perform. It was at the Cellar on one of those auditions,
that Vance first met Kurt Winter, and a life-long friendship would develop
from that propitious meeting.
In 1964, The Crescendos were
approached by an entrepreneur who had the cash, but not the know-how, to
set up another teen nightclub - The Twilight Zone. The organization
of the club was turned over to the Crescendos, and in addition to taking
over where The Cellar left off, it quickly became the place for musicians
to frequent when they weren’t playing. It was also the place to kick-start
many new bands as entertainment ran every night of the week. The
Twilight Zone was the setting where The Crescendos made that fateful decision
to take the band international.
It took a year for the band
to save enough money to book passage on a ship to England, and on July
20, 1965, Vance Masters (then known as Schmidt), Glenn MacRae, Terry Loeb,
and Dennis Penner docked in Liverpool, the birthplace of The Beatles.
Try to imagine, just for a moment - 1965: The Beatles, Liverpool, the British
Invasion, the whole world caught up in the frenzy of Carnaby Street and
Piccadilly Circus. You’re 19 years old, and you have just jumped
right into the middle of the whole foray. The entire metropolis was
throbbing with creativity; photographers, models, musicians, designers
and actors were emerging from every nook and cranny of the city.
What an amazing time that was! Nothing seemed impossible or out of
reach. But the first months of their adventure were anything but
a storybook tale.
The band arrived in England
with no bookings scheduled and began making the rounds of the English clubs,
often playing just for the exposure. They had used their entire savings
for their train and boat tickets, and resorted to such tactics as pilfering
coal from their neighbors to heat their flat, and relying upon the generosity
of their growing legion of fans to get through the lean times. Dennis
Penner, disillusioned by the whole ordeal, lasted only 5 months, and returned
to Canada. By this time, however, the band had developed a loyal
following, and they hired Stewart McKernan, a bassist from Liverpool, to
replace Dennis. They became regulars on THE
CAVERN Club’s schedule. On occasion, Paul
McCartney got up to play with them. John Lennon and Brian Epstein
were often in the audience to catch the band’s show. Chris Curtis,
drummer for The Searchers, took the band under his wing, gave them a new
name - The 5 AM Event - and produced their first single, a cover of a Paul
Revere and the Raider’s tune called Hungry. While the release failed
to chart in 1966, it has since become a classic and was re-released on
a CD titled Maximum 65. HUNGRY,
by The 5 AM Event, is now considered one of the top twenty tunes for that
year and the original 45 has become a much sought-after collector’s trophy.
The flip side of that 45 contained (I
WASHED MY HANDS IN) MUDDY WATER. The
obscure band from Winnipeg has gone down in history along side of such
legendary notables as The Kinks, John Mayall, David Bowie, and The Small
Faces, who all appear on that compilation CD of 20 songs, released in 2000.
Near the end of his tenure in Britain, Vance sat in as drummer for The
Merseys, a Liverpool teen pop band formed out of the break up of The Merseybeats.
The band also featured Joey Molland, later of Badfinger fame. On
October 7th, 1966, Vance set sail for Canada.
The return of The Crescendos
to Winnipeg was like a brand new start for the band. Dennis Penner
came back into the fold and they resumed playing. Being the only
band from Winnipeg that had dared to take a chance of living the life most
musicians dreamed of, they were overwhelmed by fans and fellow musicians
alike at their first performance. While in Britain, the band had
developed their own distinctive sound and style, and they were a breath
of fresh air into what had become a stagnant scene locally. They
caused a decided shift in the direction music took here, with other bands
changing their music to keep up with The Crescendos. 1967 brought
an end to The Crescendos. Vance and Glenn were both now married to
girls they had met in England, and Glenn had taken a full-time job at Winnipeg
piano. Vance and Terry went on to play with several unremarkable
groups such as The Exiled and The Clayton Squares, until the summer ’68
when Vance re-connected with Kurt Winter in The Fifth.
On December 11, 2008, Joey Molland played at one of the Casinos in Winnipeg,
reuniting with Vance and Glenn after 42 years. Full story can be