Wednesday, September 1, 2010
The 60s Rocked in The Pas - Three Hairs and a Hat
By Norman M. Richards
previously published in North Roots Magazine
Photo provided by Jim Moran
When they started out they called themselves The Venturas. Their name was derived from the well known American instrumental group called The Ventures from Tacoma, Washington. For their time they played an easy to listen to style of guitar based songs. They became major contributors toward the surf sound that largely emanated out of California. The Ventures had a nationwide hit in 1960 titled “Walk Don’t Run.” That song and many others were a major influence on scores of upstart guitar players. Lead parts were fed whole to guys tuned into it. Charles Nabess was one of them. American rock and roll was taking shape. Elvis Presley hit the biggest. Gene Vincent, Eddy Cochran, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard had big radio hits. Buddy Holly, Bill Haley and The Comets, even Cliff Richard and The Shadows were an influence on Charles. Near the end of high school he began to imagine being in a band of his own. He met Larry Haynes who had the same thoughts. Jim Moran heard them talk and showed interest. Jim bought a basic drum kit. The boys acquired their first electric guitars.
Their first practice was in the Anglican Church Hall down by the river. They learned “Perfidia, Walk Don’t Run, Pipeline, Apache” and Jim had to learn “Wipeout” once other songs were ironed out by the guitar players. The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. That was a home run measured by the influence felt by every kid in town. No one moved unless a Beatle song played somewhere. It gave repertoire for The Venturas. Charles’ younger brother Donald was invited to join the band. I was interested in drumming too. But, I started as a non- instrument playing member of the band and helped with equipment setups and sound adjustments at dances.
Donald brought another side to the band’s performance. He did an uncanny imitation of Elvis Presley. Mom told me their Uncle, Simon Nabess was good at impressions too. Indeed, something felt essential about what they did on stage. The idea came to change their name to The Essentials. Along the way, the band had girlfriends who handled the door and band business. In passing, one gal, attached to a local skating coach said he might help the band if they were interested. He had a keen interest in music and knew performance well.
The band was introduced to Mel Metzner. He began to assist the band with rehearsals first and soon took over business affairs as manager. He encouraged them and became close confidant not unlike Brian Epstein was for The Beatles. Mel was friendly but was all business around local kids. Mel had a stutter like country star Mel Tillis. That endeared him to band members who’d grown close to him. Larry Haynes more than the others, took pains to finish Mel’s sentences. A kind of short hand took place between Mel and the boys. He helped with costuming and advice on everything. Charles bought a Mosrite guitar like The Ventures played. Fender amplifiers were purchased and Jim ordered a white pearl Ludwig drum kit. Their style and sound improved. Jim adopted a top hat most thought he slept in. He always had it on. Since The Beatles set trends, everyone wanted Beatle haircuts. British and American rock groups joined in. Again, time and circumstance was ripe for change. Three Hairs and a Hat became their new moniker. They played dances out of town more often. It helped them improve. Another step in the band’s evolution was to write songs and record. Being a recording act meant larger purses and bigger venues. They knew it and wanted more. One day they went south to record.
On return, it was clear something had changed in the hair and hat camp. It was an uneasy time for the band. Not long before, they did a triumphant show on the Lido Theatre stage. The town was excited. Jim was at his best. He had energy never before displayed. The band shone at this moment in their lives. Yet, not long after returning from recording, the band and drummer Jim Moran parted ways. Jim felt let down over the recording experience. I was surprised. Jim’s showmanship gave the band personality and even credibility. The band had to reorganize and find a new drummer. Everyone else in town was playing with somebody so they went without a drummer while improving their own chops. Their age, experience and time spent in their hometown matured. The band outgrew younger audiences. They changed their name to The Fallen Angels and scooped drummer Bill Allard from the other leading group in town.
That year I came back from Alberta where I had broken my arm working on an oil rig. On substantial compensation and in recovery I could now afford to buy those drums I had been dreaming about. I catalogue ordered the best professional drum kit available from Wagner’s Jewellers. Not long after, word got out I had drums. Jack Hebert and Garry Wenger called to form a group. To complete the sound we asked Patrick ‘Paddy’ McLaughlin to join us on keyboards. I felt wanted and they needed me since Bill had joined the rivals. We learned top forty dance hits. Our first time out we played on a CBC Radio program recorded live on stage at the MBCI auditorium. Our first song was “Light My Fire” by The Doors. It went over well. We soon began playing dances under the new name Symbols of Sound. Things were simple then. We hung posters up at popular spots each week and the kids came in droves to our dances on weekends. On long weekends we did midnight dances just as the other band did.
After playing for more than a year, we developed a good following. Since the angels left town often it made room for us. There was an unwritten agreement between bands not to hold a dance the same night. One day, over chips and gravy at Bob’s Restaurant someone said let’s play Friday. The kids in the next booth pressed us on. We decided, no posters, no nothing to play. Three hundred kids showed up. Someone said the angels were playing in the other hall. We looked at each other surprised. No one knew. There were four loyal couples dancing over there. Our hall was full. It felt so good we went for late night burgers at the A&W Drive In. We drove around town in the grey goose (dad’s 52 Pontiac) till five AM wondering about our future while patting ourselves on the back for being good musicians. Bands broke up over incidences like this but the angels stuck it out. Soon after, they started playing bars and night clubs. For them, it wasn’t about pleasing a younger audience, for us it was an imperative.
In the fall of sixty eight I moved to Winnipeg to join a band. The angels became better known as Three Penny Opera. Bill stayed with the angels for a year. Eventually a handsome blonde guy named Sherman Murphy joined three penny on tour. I stayed in touch with Garry and Jack over the years. We made a small recording some years later. I moved through radio, film and television as a host, writer and producer. I still love the entertainment business. Maybe one day I’ll be famous for something I wrote for the movies. How about a rock fable?