Bar Bands of the Northwest

🕔Apr 06, 2007

“We’re here for a good time, not a long time. So have a good time, the sun can’t shine everyday.”

These famous lines from Canada’s ultimate bar band Trooper epitomize Prince Rupert in what some might call the heyday of the northwest’s rock-and-roll music scene.

“There were 10 places to go to see live music on the weekend,” says Teddy Keehn, who has played in so many rock bands since 1965 that he can’t remember the names of them all.

A string of bluesy, rocky, old country bands from out of town would play in the Rupert Hotel or Tokyo Joe’s during the week, and the locals would often take over on the weekends, says Keehn, a multi-instrumentalist who most recently has been playing piano in his wife’s band, The Ditto Sisters.

Trooper, which was then called Applejack, would play several weeks in a row. The band members would be given a room in the now fire-razed Elizabeth Apartments where they would party when they weren’t playing. The band loved Prince Rupert and even wrote a song, Santa Maria, inspired by a trip they took on local fisherman Paddy Greene’s boat.

Others remember similar party scenes. Clyde Greenough of Queen Charlotte now rocks out in a band called Riptyde, but names of his earlier musical projects, not to mention the other bands roaming around Haida Gwaii’s music venues in the 1970s, roll off his tongue. His first band was called Silver Springs, and then there was Kids in Concert (a name they got from a banner left up after the playschool students’ show). Bands like Mime, Last Call, Skunkrock, and Rusty and the Streakers will also shake out a Queen Charlotte memory or two.

Those were the days when a Christmas party in Juskatla (the logging camp near Port Clements) would be 400 strong, says Greenough, and band members, wives, friends and groupies, numbering about 16, would be flown into Tasu and Sewell (mining and logging camps respectively) for parties.

He remembers the time they all got stuck in Tasu because of a December storm and he had to phone his boss to tell him he couldn’t make it to work. Or when the band organized the opening party for the Sandspit Hall: they sold the tickets and the liquor that night, and in their hotel room afterward the band members sat around with the bags of money they’d earned, laughing and throwing it all up in the air. He remembers the time Kids in Concert played at the Belmont during the All-Native Basketball tournament in Prince Rupert: the cleaners at the hotel room would cross themselves every time the band came in, he says.

Most of the details are hazy, he says, but admits, “We were a bunch of bad boys.”

But since those crazy days, the bar scene has died back a lot and no one is sure exactly why. There are a few good guesses: In Rupert’s case, the pulp mill closed and the number of fishermen in the area dropped drastically. Downturns in fishing and forestry have affected the Queen Charlottes too. But bar bands don’t seem to be roaming around the north like they used to.

Keehn remembers doing his share of touring between Quesnel and Prince Rupert. His band was relegated to the D-circuit, as it was called, mostly because they were more concerned about music than the show-biz aspect of things, he says. “A lot of it was about image then.”

Still, the band had to be business-like about their tours. They would finish a set at 2 am on a Saturday night in one town and then have to pack up and leave right away in order to get to their Monday night gig—in a town sometimes 1000 kilometre away.

Members of Trooper reminisce about the good times they had on tour in the north. Gogo, one of the newer members of Trooper, writes a regular road report on the band’s website ( “[May 7-12, 2001] I finally got to do what I had been asking for on every Western Tour. We got to play in Prince Rupert, the town where I spent many weeks gigging in my teens. I haven’t been back since, and it was so bizarre to play the same venue and stay at the same hotel. This was the best venue in the North back then. . . The manager remembered my group ‘Passion Play’ from 1985. She was 19 then, rocking out, and now she runs the place. She seemed surprised that I remembered that she had won the ‘Hot Legs’ contest.”
Slide guitar player Rachelle van Zanten, from Francois Lake, toured with her band Painting Daisies for 11 years. She now has an international solo career, but coming home is still important to her. “I love touring the Northwest! Why? Because the people and promoters are so supportive. I have played almost every big city in the U.S. and Western Europe and I mostly look forward to the shows along the Yellowhead Highway. For one thing, my mom will usually take the band in for a few days and feed us the best home-cooked meatloaf known to man or woman.”

But van Zanten was on the festival circuit, not the bar circuit—and there’s a difference.
Jim Harder of the Smithers rock/dance bands Foxy Autopsy and Audio Riot says part of the problem is that local bars aren’t always committed to the concept of live music. He used to live in Houston and found that local establishments sometimes brought in Vancouver or Prince George musicians, but for locals like him they didn’t want to pay. Now that he lives in Smithers, he’s happy that places like the Alpenhorn have some live music events, but he says it would be great if there was a bar just dedicated to live bands.

Steve Little, the morning guy at Terrace’s CFNR Radio, figures rock and roll is alive and well in Terrace. “There is big support here,” he says, “and from a whole range of ages.”
He thinks bars have been hit hard by non-smoking policies, a downturn in liquor sales, and an influx of home entertainment options. But that said, his own band Sound Collision plays 10 to 15 gigs a year, and other local acts like Accelerator and Sugarfoot play double that.

Kevin Moutray plays bass in two Vanderhoof rock bands, Heavy Weather and Bonifyed. He says the bars are usually packed when they play, but they only get gigs every couple of months. With two kids and his own business to look after, that works for him.

In the big city of Prince George the scene is a little more diverse. Sure, the area has its rock bands, but local singer-songwriter Colin Pearson says PG has a thriving metal scene too; that, and folk. Oh yeah— there are a lot of all-ages gigs for young people. Strange combination, but it works.

Max Jones thinks the scene is picking up. He gets enough work as a drummer to keep him busy in Prince George. He plays with Pearson in the Cutbank Cats, in Mama Guroove, and with the hip-hop Versus Project at various venues in town.

Back in Smithers, Harder is proof that being a musician in the north can be what you make it. When he was 18 he came up with three lifetime dreams. One was to tour BC as a musician and come back with his own real-life horror stories of life on the road. He hasn’t done that yet. But his other two goals, which he thought were more far-fetched, he has started or already achieved. One—to record an album—is underway: he and Foxy Autopsy are in the middle of recording Tick. Two was to put on a stage production of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, which, incredibly enough, he did last year—with a lot of help from the Bulkley Valley Arts Council, local actors, dancers and many others of course—but that was him and his band on the stage, playing 23 of the 24 songs from the seminal 1980s rock album.

In Prince Rupert, people are still talking about the theatrical tribute to heavy metal that local band Triple Bypass put on last year.

Then there are the music festivals—one in just about every northern town—the community hall dances, and the intimate coffeehouse venues. Heck, there are even people holding house parties with live bands. So what if the bars are not hopping like they were in the 1970s, 80s and 90s—the music plays on. Rock on, Northern BC!