Old rockers getting out of their rockers could mean one of two things, or probably both.
It could mean rock ’n’ roll musicians over a “certain age” are going to get out of their rocking chairs and actually play some music again until they get too tired (approximately two songs worth) or it could mean that these same musicians are “off” their rockers and becoming “a little crazy” by attempting to play rock songs that they could barely pull off when they were much younger (about the time guitars were invented) and they all played in various bands in Central Alberta (about the time bands were invented).
I would vote for both interpretations being a fairly accurate summary of the event taking place at the MAG (Red Deer Art Gallery and Museum) this weekend and the first weekend in December.
It’s called Central Alberta Rocks and the official poster for the do features a black and white photograph by famous former photog of the Red Deer Advocate Calvin Caldwell of a bunch of mangy musician-type young guys hanging around an old band bus.
They look like rejects from a casting call for the 1967 off-off Broadway production of the musical Hair, or perhaps a class picture from the heavy duty mechanic apprenticeship program graduation of 1990. I know; I was there. In the photo, I mean. I admit it. About 100 pounds skinnier (450 kilometres metric), with much (very much) more hair, none of it grey.
And those other reprobate musicians in the picture — the ones who are still with us in this world — were and are friends of mine, as only friends can be when they hit the road in an old bus together and play wild and woolly dances, clubs and concerts until the crowd is happily exhausted from too much fun, and everyone is joyfully deaf, and the band members all need chiropractors but they are already on the road to the next 120-decibel adventure.
The caption on the MAG poster reads: “… a small sampling of the history of rock and roll bands that originated in Central Alberta, the music they performed and the places they played.” What it doesn’t say is that museum staff along with various graciously aging band dudes have been meeting regularly for over nine months now to gather prized local rock ’n’ roll posters and pictures, fascinating and foolish memorabilia and unforgettable stories from the back in the day. The ‘day’ being 1960 to 1975.
Ahh, the ’60s and ’70s! The really critical years of the baby boomer generation and our music, when the most important thing in our lives was which specific particular members of the opposite sex were going to be at the upcoming Lindsay Thurber Comp dance, and which groovy, far out band was going to be playing at Varsity Hall on the long weekend.
Thing is, the museum also lists what it calls “Old Rockers Performances” on Sunday and Dec. 2 and 3. That means a bunch of us geezers have been having a hoot (do they still say “having a hoot?”) getting together various musical foursomes and fivesomes of people we haven’t played with since Pierre Trudeau was prime minister.
Old Rocker No. 1: “So should we try a rehearsal at about 7 o’clock?”
Old Rocker No. 2: “Make it 7:30, I always have a little nap after supper.”
Old Rocker No. 3: “OK, but we have to be done by 10.”
OR No. 1: “10 o’clock? But back in the day we wouldn’t even be finished our first set by then!”
OR No. 3: “Yeah, but now I have to work in the morning.”
OR No. 2: “By the way, I’m getting my son to load my equipment for me.”
Then there were the meetings, phone calls, emails and texting (for those geezers who actually knew how to text) for several months trying to decide on which few tunes from the era we could actually (attempt to) perform at the museum. We started by researching the top 10 Hit Parade lists from 1965-70, and picked our favourites. That narrowed it down nicely to about 275 songs. After another several weeks ‘discussion,’ in the form of sitting around listening to our favourite songs, laughing and telling outrageous lies about the good old days, we narrowed the list down to under 100.
And then we just gave up and somebody picked a couple of popular tunes we thought people would like and we attempted to learn them.
Old Rocker No. 1: “What key did you say this was in?”
Old Rocker No. 2: “Key? What’s a key again?”
Old Rocker No. 3: “My hand is cramping up already.”
Old Rocker No. 4: “But we’re still just tuning!”
But things have come together in spite of ourselves and now we Old Rockers get to experience something that some of us haven’t experienced for nearly 40 years: loading a ton of band equipment in the snow and cold.
And of course we get to play some great tunes that people who come out to the MAG might, with a little effort, actually recognize, even though you probably won’t recognize the musicians that you used to know, seeing that there’s been, as Bob Dylan said, “A lot of water under the bridge, and a lot of other stuff, too.”
Or, if you’ve never seen a 1970 Electrohome Space Age Bubble stereo ‘record player’ and never had the chance to put the needle down on a vinyl 45 record on a turntable, the MAG is the place to visit between today and Jan. 1.
You can check out some old pictures of Central Alberta’s first bands, The Regents or The Drifters, or see some old Griffin or Coal Company or The Brass Theme posters. Or if you’ve wondered what the heck Le Chat Noir was, you can find a map of where bands played.
And you can come and sing along with some vintage musicians who will be there at three casual receptions during the month, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their nap time.
Old Rocker No. 1: (as the song ends) “All right! That seemed a bit loud. How did that sound to you guys?”
Old Rocker No. 2: Pardon?
Old Rocker No. 3: What?
Old Rocker No. 4: My fingers hurt, is it 10 o’clock yet?
See you at the museum.
Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.