Touring Canada in the dead of winter hints of insanity or desperation. For the band Shadrack it was a little of both. Touring Canada seemed like an adventure but it also seemed like a good way to make some money. Canadian clubs paid good money to bands from the States. So, on a wintry day in early February the band, a soundwoman, two children, two dogs and me as road manager set off from Spokane to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The band-guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, and chick singer put its equipment in a battered old truck and the rest of us traveled by car. My husband was the bass player.
We spent the night in a town with the beautiful name of Moose Jaw and stayed in a little hotel. The next morning we had our first Canadian egg-a pallid, sick looking, dimly yellow thing.
We drove all day in caravan and passed through mile after mile after mile of prairie land, relieved only by the occasional impoverished Indian reservation or the flames of gas vented from oil fields. After dark we finally arrived in Saskatoon. The band was to play in the large bar part of a Chinese restaurant. Bone tired, we unloaded all the equipment, the amps, speakers, PA, mike stands, etc. Then we saw our living quarters above the restaurant.
They consisted of a large room with a kitchen and a series of boxlike bedrooms whose walls didn’t go all the way to the ceiling. A sort of Dilbert like place when home from the office. Oh, well.
The next day we were able to see Saskatoon and it was beautiful with dry, crunchy, squeaky snow and sharp blue skies. It was 20 degrees below zero, the coldest any of us had ever experienced. Fortunately we had all purchased engine oil heaters and we all were plugged in. We also had boots, down jacket, gloves, hats, and ski masks.
We stayed in Saskatoon for two weeks. The band did well but there was a lot of bickering and tension. The next gig was in Prince Albert, up north. In Prince Albert the band had a very nice house with real bedrooms and living room. We could look out over the town from our second story window and see onion domed churches and pretend we were in Russia. The band continued to bicker.
Prince Albert is pretty much the end of the line as far a civilization goes and it was here that the province of Saskatchewan put its prisoners, its mentally ill, and its developmentally disabled. The latter two brought groups to the club to dance and listen to the band. A 16 year old little butch became enamoured of the sound woman and spent all her time with us in the club and in our house. Nothing would dissuade her and we didn’t mind her hanging around.
On our day off Herb and I decided to see Prince Albert National Park, about 80 miles from Prince Albert the town. We saw no cars whatsoever on the road and after driving about 30 miles we started thinking about what would happen if we had car trouble. It was about 35 below zero and we wouldn’t last long without help. We turned around and went back to town. I was getting sick of all the people all the time so we got a motel for the night. I was dozing and Herb was watching TV when he saw flames outside. Our car was on fire. The oil heater had caused one of the hoses to catch fire. We beat out the flames and the car was towed to a garage to replace the hose. Not a very good day.
After one week in Prince Albert, the guitarist quit and he and his wife went home. The next day a new guitarist arrived. Tony had driven non- stop all the way from Seattle and he was very wired. He was also very good. Unfortunately, he acquired a 16-year-old girlfriend and could not be talked out of taking her with him.
The next week we left behind the heart broken little butch and drove to a tiny town surrounded by flatness and nothingness. Tony had his underage girl along. The pairings were I and Herb, the drummer and the sound woman, the chick singer and the keyboard player and Tony and the young girl. Soon everyone but Herb and me had crabs and the accusations were flying and the air was thick with suspicion. The living quarters for the band was a cinder block building in an alley next to the garbage bins. It had a row of cinder block partitions that didn’t go all the way to the ceiling and one bathroom. It looked like a prison cellblock. The only good thing about this gig is that we all got very tasty Chinese food. After two weeks in this town, we headed for Regina, Manitoba.
Regina was like a miracle after where we had been. It is a lovely city with amenities and some very good restaurants. We stayed in motel units attached to the club. One night some guys started to hassle the band because they thought the woman singer was Native American. Words were exchanged and suddenly a fight broke out. It was two men against the band and when the dust cleared, the sound women needed a neck brace, there were black eyes and bruises and the PA system had been destroyed. The two bad guys ran away before the Mounties got there a half-hour later. Before they left, the bad guys said they were going to come back and kill everyone in the band. The guys were known and one of them was wanted for killing a Mounty so we took these threats very seriously. We couldn’t get out of town because there was a blizzard. We had a band meeting. Tony said his uncle was a capo with the Mafia and could take care of things. The group voted and Tony called his uncle. The next day one of the guys was picked up by the Mounties. The following day the other one got into his car and it blew up.
The band couldn’t play because they were getting their PA fixed plus the club thought they were trouble. Finally the blizzard ended, the PA was fixed and we headed out. We headed out with very little money because the drummer and his girlfriend and two kids had run up a very large tab at the restaurant and there wasn’t much left for the band. The next gig was in Surrey, British Columbia, a hard two days drive with enough money for gas and motel but none for food. Herb and I had some cheese in our glove compartment but when we left our dog alone in the car, she ate it all.
We drove through the night, the landscape eerie with huge gas flames. When we stopped in Calgary, it was like a different world. The temperature was a balmy 35 and we walked around in shirtsleeves.
The next day we climbed threw the Rockies, much of the drive in Banff National Park. It was beautiful and hair raising with snow and ice on the roads and sheer cliffs below the road. Often we drove beneath shelters meant to protect us in case of avalanche.
Finally we reached Surrey, a town near Vancouver. We had to charm a motel manager into letting us stay without us putting any money up front and then we had two charm the club into giving us a pay advance so we could eat. We hadn’t had anything but coffee with lots of cream. The first thing I ate was a whole bag of chocolate covered marshmallow cookies.
We drove to Vancouver to see the sights. It was paradise. We went to an area that was like an old city where you could walk about without traffic. I had my first trifle, a delicious English dessert. The egg yolks were a robust yellow.
By this time things were so bad between members of the band that everyone knew it was only a matter of a short time before it broke up. The main thing was to get some money and get back to the states. It didn’t help that the agent had booked the band as a fifties rock and roll band and they were a contemporary rock band. The club owner was furious but kept them on and played as much rock and roll as they knew.
The next gig was in Nelson, British Columbia, a relatively short drive over the beautiful Cascade Mountains. In Nelson the band was put up at a charming old hotel and played in a grotto-like club. Everyone agreed this was the last gig. It was marred when a bouncer killed a customer who had gotten out of hand.
For some reason we all went over the border in our usual caravan. We were sweating bullets because the 16-year-old girl was still with Tony and there was lots of marijuana in the equipment truck. Fortunately, the border guards just gave us a cursory once over and everyone was back in the U.S.A.