Posts Tagged ‘Wray Ellis’

Chapter One.

Posted on: May 30th, 2018 by wrayadmin No Comments

I lived in cottage country, Ontario. "No traffic light" kind of place. From the day I turned 18, old enough to get into hotels, (June 26, 1976 - and not a moment sooner...so kid, stay in school) I would do the circuit every Monday night to check out the bands. In Haliburton, there was the Beaconbrook Hotel - with its tables adorned in red terrycloth condoms - festooned with cigarette burns. Through the week, you could catch duos or single acts. On the weekend, it was full bands. Usually country. Out on the highway, there was the Paradise, where you could play shuffleboard on the back deck overlooking Paradise Lake. By far, The 'Dise was the more picturesque as the name would suggest, but it had a decidedly rougher clientele. More of a rock bar, I once saw a 7-pc band from Madoc do the entire album: Dark Side of the Moon. Later that night, I saw a hammer settle an argument. In Minden, you had the Rockliffe Hotel which was famous for its ubiquitous t-shirts and long weekend lineups. Cottagers and resort staff flocked to it. The Rock had the best bands. They were loud, had lots of sound equipment, cables...and lights. It was a longer drive with a much greater chance of being pulled over by John Law so we preferred to stay in town. But, wherever the good band was, that's where I'd be.

One of the regular bands I particularly liked was called "Rainbow Wind". They did an odd mix of country & rock. Plus, they were a good bunch of guys who'd let me sit in and jam. I say "I", but often it was "we". Mike and Tom were two regular cruising pals. They came from different social circles so I got exposed to several universes. Different social circles meant different parties and different stacks of records for me to pore through. I was the turntable nerd. The guy who could change records in almost complete darkness and never nick a groove. It gave me the chance to sample these ever changing stacks of albums. Doobie Brothers. David Bowie. Bay City Rollers - who I never really cared for but could appreciate the marketing.

My parents always said not to get into music until I had something to fall back on. So in the summer of 1978, when I had graduated as an Audio Visual Technician from college in Peterborough, I was free. With my little scroll stuffed in a tube, I went off to Bracebridge to see my buddies in "Rainbow Wind". Terry, Steve, Jeremy and Laurie - or Mick as he was more commonly known, had become good friends. They could play traditional country or heavy blues-based rock so they could play anywhere. Whenever they played the local taverns throughout the Highlands of Haliburton and Muskoka, I'd be there. On Friday nights, I'd show up with my Strat and sit in for a tune or two. Usually, we'd just jam the blues in E. Laurie, a Tele player, always longed for a Strat and would use mine for as long as I'd let him play it. At closing time, we'd go up to the band rooms and jam until the sun came up.

Rainbow Wind had a rotating bass chair. Sometimes it was Mike, sometimes it was Steve. Both had other bands on the side. But when Steve announced that he was moving on to spend more time with his bluegrass band, I sensed an opportunity. I desperately wanted to be a touring musician...and they needed a bass player. Hey - what if I learn to play bass? I convinced Terry to float my name as Rainbow Wind's new bass player - never mind the fact that I had never even held a bass before. However, Laurie and Terry generously gave me an audition. We sat around the music store in Haliburton and jammed a few tunes. I somehow managed to achieve a thumping sound out of the old bass they had kicking around. To be honest, I was terrible...but luckily, I was also funny. So, I got the job - not from my playing. It was for my "entertainment value". (I didn't care. I was in!) After a few days of casual bass lessons from Laurie, we were off to North Bay on Sunday for a two-week gig. At the tender age of 20, I was on my first tour.

After a couple of hours on the highway, we pulled up to the Belmont Hotel - a once-glorious art deco building, now having seen better days. Entering the grand, terrazoed lobby, it was as if time had stopped back in the late 40s. The front deck was both sleek and imposing. A wall of identical diamond-shaped key tags hung in perfect symmetry. As we dropped our suitcases and drank it all in, it was deserted. Personally, I was leaping inside! I was impressed by the lobby, the old leather chairs, even the cigarette machine that still sold matches for a penny. The sign on the desk says: Please Ring Bell. Never one to be shy, Laurie slams his thick palm down on the bell. The eruption of tone pierced the stillness like a machete. ... Nothing. He was just about to ring it again when we heard the shuffling. Distant at first, these were slow feet in slippers coming our way. Slowly. Still coming...must be a thousand years old. Around the corner came a sad, stooped fellow, maybe in his mid-30s. He carried a wiener dog.

"This is Fritz", he apologized softly. "I'm Glen. You get two rooms." This would be the first of many situations where I was glad Laurie was the leader: "Oh shoot, Glen - didn't our agent Francine call you...? We need 4 rooms - it's in the contract." "F-F-F-OUR rooms?", Glen stuttered. Rather than checking, Glen exhaustedly pulled 4 keys down from the board and handed them to Laurie. We signed the guest book and headed up the sweeping stairway to what was surly going to be four lavish suites with all the modern luxuries...

As was tradition, Laurie inspected the rooms first and decided who got what. None of the rooms was what you'd call luxurious. Each room had a twin bed, a dresser, a sink and towel rack - with one towel. While sparse, it was clean. Terry and Laurie got adjoining rooms. Jeremy disappeared, as I would come to expect. By this time, it was late on Sunday night so there was little discussion. I was given the smallest room and, closing the door behind me, I dropped my suitcase (and borrowed bass) on the floor and plopped down on the bed. The sudden silence consumed me. I had done it! I was on tour with a rock band. Okay, so there was some country and bluegrass music...but at this very moment, I had arrived! I gazed out the window into the empty streets of North Bay. Giant flakes of snow drifted lazily into the beam of street light outside my window. What a beautiful scene. How perfect, I thought. Here I was, on my own...finally an adult. No parents to answer to. I hadn't played a note, and yet, I was a professional TOURING musician. As I sat there admiring myself, I realized the future was in my hands. This was it! What amazing, crazy, wonderful times lay ahead of me? I couldn't imagine. It was beyond exciting.

I had never felt so alone. I sobbed.