The Henchmen playing Wasa in 1967.

The Henchmen playing Wasa in 1967.

Rock and roll rivalries of the EK: Part I

The bands! The haircuts! The Bluebird Inn and the 1960s in Cranbrook and Kimberley

Part I of II


Teenage years in Kimberley were fantastic, because we had two exceptional bands in town, The Epics, and The Henchmen.

Derek Clement was the front man for The Epics, playing rhythm guitar and harmonica, as well as lead vocals.

I am a bit partial toward The Epics — I was their “unofficial manager and a good friend to all of the band members, being the only person who could sit in on band practice at Derek Clement’s house in Chapman Camp.

Rob “Dusty” Young played lead and acoustic guitar, while doing vocals with Derek. Dusty has moved back to Kimberley in recent years and is playing in a band here with Marty Musser, Jamie Neve and Dave Birch.

Robert Young is a virtuoso guitar player, one of the best I have heard in my musical journey.

Grant Scott, the excellent bassist for The Epics, was particularly adept at listening to a song once or twice with Derek to get the chords down, give those chords to Robert Young, jot down the lyrics and, voila, a new song was ready to be performed at their next gig, which was usually at McDougall Hall in Kimberley.

The Epics’ drummer was Dennis Davies who had the very first Beatle haircut in Kimberley. The Epics soon were all sporting Beatles haircuts,  when long hair was not really “in” here in the East Kootenay.

The Henchmen were fronted by the late great Bobby Dixon, their lead singer. Nobber O’Brien was  the band’s lead guitarist and was pretty good. Calvin Wong played bass, while Larry “Muss” Musser was their mercurial drummer.

Billy Fraser was brought in to play keyboards for The Henchmen. the Epics countered by getting Eric “Ric” Birkeland to play organ for them, plucking him from under the considerable nose of Ralphie Yarwood, the Selkirk High School Band  leader.

Birkeland was amazing on the very popular Animals song of the day  — “House Of The Rising Son”. It was a highly requested number when the Epics played locally.

The Henchmen were influenced by The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and Tower Of Power. The Epics were influenced by The Beatles, The Who,  Paul Revere and, of course, The Stones.

The East Kootenay had the wildly popular “Battle Of The Bands” which gave out some  decent prize money.usually it was won by The Piltdown Men from Trail, who were  a pretty slick group, headed by Larry Hayden (guitar and vocals), Rod Gooderich on drums, and the late George Turner on bass. Bev Herman from  Kimberley was a fine vocalist with “The Piltdown Men.”

The Epics opened for The Guess Who at The Kimberley Civic Centre, in February, 1967. The Guess Who were very nice to us, I recall, particularly Burton Cummings, their lead singer, who had a reputation of being aloof — but not that night. The Epics played “Clock On The Wall,”  an original Guess Who tune and one Randy Bachman really liked.

Cranbrook’s  answer to The Epics and The Henchmen were The Thin Red Line and The Tycons — who had a wicked sax player, the late Stu Nyquist, who used to wow everyone with his version of “Night Train”. The Thin Red Line were fronted by David Houle, whose dad Lloyd owned CKEK Radio.

Lloyd was a heck of a nice fellow. He passed away after falling in the Grand Canyon while on a hike.

David Houle was a musical talent, an excellent singer, and indeed is still in the entertainment business in Vancouver.

“The Line” also played a lot at The Bluebird Inn, an amazing musical venue with its Scandanavian architecture and wonderful acoustics. A circular balcony, stage, and rooms where wedding parties and RCMP parties and dances were held.

The Bluebird was  the place to go. The Drifters, from Jaffray, served as house band.  They were fronted by  Butch “Skinny” McLellan, who sang blues and played a wicked harmonica.

The Bluebird Inn had fabulous acoustics, and the dance floor had a great spring to it as well. Everyone in the East Kootenay knew and loved  the Bluebird Inn.

Sadly, it burned down in the early 1980s and was never rebuilt. It was  located where the current Dodge dealership now sits on Cranbrook Street.

“Skinny” McLellan was also resident  bouncer at The Bluebird. He was a bear of a man with a heart of gold. Any fight that broke out at the Bluebird was swiftly dealt with by Skinny.

I was there one Saturday night with The Epics when a scrap broke out. Butch was chatting with me at the time. He said “I will be right back,” then sauntered over to the combatants and grabbed each of them by the scruff of the neck. He threw each guy off of the wall about five feet up from the dance floor. Butch returned to continue our conversation about 10 seconds later.

I remember being extremely impressed with Skinny. “Skin” played harmonica brilliantly, and sang a few numbers with The Epics that Saturday night, doing a few Ronnie Hawkins numbers.

Butch “Skinny” McLellan passed away in Cranbrook 12 years ago. He was a long haul truck driver all over North America, always packing his harmonicas to drop in on music jams in Dallas, Memphis and Nashville.

In 1986, I was gassing up my Toyota late one night at a vast Union 76 Truck Stop in California on the I80 between Sacramento and San Francisco. A huge truck without a trailer came careening into my view, heading for  my car. As I was still holding the nozzle and pumping gas, I saw my life flash before my eyes literally. The semi hit the brakes, smoke billowing from the tires and air brakes, the rig stopping about two inches from my bumper. Skinny McLellan jumped out of the cab with a big smile on his face. I had not seen Butch for 25 years.  “I knew it was you right away,” he said.  We went into the restaurant and had a two-hour dinner and had a great visit.

Skinny McLellan was a real legend in Cranbrook. He would always drive the Byng Hotel float in the Sam Steele Parade. He was a fixture at the Saturday afternoon jams. When he walked he was so light on his feet he seemed to float up to the stage. Once, at the Moose Hall in Kimberley, he broke up a fight simply by grabbing both scrappers and banging their heads together. It was funny to see.

Back then the Cranbrook guys did not like the Kimberley guys coming to Cranbrook whatsoever. Dating a girl in Cranbrook and taking her to a dance at the Bluebird Inn was asking for trouble. But Butch McLellan always had our back.

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