MHC Heritage Diary - Episode 16 - North Bay's Musical History

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In this episode, MHC Chair, Peter Handley speaks with local musician Bill Vrebosch. Handley and Vrebosch discuss other notable local musicians including Bandmaster Virgilli, Jake Thomas & June and Curly McFarlane. Handley and Vrebosch also discuss Vrebosch's entry into the world of music, his teaching career and how he raised his children while maintaining both. Vrebosch also shares details of his many musical endeavours that took him all over Ontario as well as information about the local music scene today.

Peter Handley:
Welcome to North Bay’s Heritage Diary. Listen up and we shall weave for you tales of days and times gone by, which can inform today and show the way to tomorrow. This Municipal Heritage Committee podcast looks at our town, our people and our stories. This time we open the diary of our shared past and take a look at music through the eyes and the thoughts and the ideas of Bill Vrebosch - musician, music teacher and politician of course… Musical family. Can we say you came from a musical family Bill?

Bill Vrebosch:
I would say so because it was not uncommon for my family on Main Street. We lived at the end of Main Street. My grandparents on a Sunday afternoon for tubas, brass instruments and band instruments to show up. My grandmother played the guitar and my grandfather actually played the spoons.

Peter Handley:
Oh good lord.

Bill Vrebosch:
So it was nothing for our family to get together and just play band music because they were brought into the band by Mr.Virgili. He came from Sudbury and they brought him into North Bay and he became the mentor for so many people in North Bay.

Peter Handley:
Including your family.

Bill Vrebosch:
All my family. My father, my two uncles, my aunts. They were all into it. My aunt played the sousaphone that wraps around you.

Peter Handley:
Okay, when we talk about the bands and band music. What exactly were they playing? Was it marshal stuff?

Bill Vrebosch:
It was mostly military and military based, but to my uncle Maurice who passed on. He used to come down. I guess there was a Cangiano wagon that used to come down Main Street pulled by horses with the hay bales on it. He would pick my uncle up on my grandfather’s step and he would get on that wagon and he would go to a club in Ferris which I can't remember the name of. But it would go there and play all night and come back. So they play all the way down, play all the way there and play all the way back.

Peter Handley:
The quality of some of these bands… I mean they had to be good because they were competing, some of them, in the CNE on certain occasions.

Bill Vrebosch:
I just finished looking at a picture of my father in the 1930s and there is a picture there of the T&NO band after they won third place in the Toronto Exhibition.

Peter Handley:
Okay, I know that one year they won and another year they came second and it was just a great success story. It really was.

Bill Vrebosch:
Well it was because they were so much of an influence. I can remember a man named Caddy Petrolia and Caddy was man who I had so much fun with when I joined the Eighth Field Squadron Band because the T&NO Band kind if morphed into an army sponsored band and it became the engineer’s band at the army barracks and that's when I joined. Caddy used to play without music – he just made it up!

Peter Handley:
Oh really?

Bill Vrebosch:
He knew his parts so well that he simply marched down the road playing his own part. A lot of the time he made them up.

Peter Handley:
What did he play?

Bill Vrebosch:
He was a baritone player at the time.

Peter Handley:
Baritone?

Bill Vrebosch:
The baritone was a medium sized. A little smaller than the tuba.

Peter Handley:
Oh and a baritone what?

Bill Vrebosch:
Well that’s what it’s called. The baritone and then the alto horn and then the trumpet. So there was four of them. The tuba, the baritone, the alto horn (which one of my uncle’s played and the trumpet.

Peter Handley:
And all that’s gone now isn’t it?

Bill Vrebosch:
Well it is because when they first built Chippewa and we moved over there from Algonquin, the teacher there was also the instructor. I think the first night for me was the last night for Mr. Virgili. Mr. Virgili had taught all my family how to play - . my dad, my uncles, my aunts. So we had a very strong connection with him. In fact, when he moved to North Bay from Sudbury, he was my grandfather’s partner at the ONR. They were both finishing carpenters in the private cars. My grandfather came here in 1905 or something from Florida for that reason.

Peter Handley:
There’s a remnant still of Mr. Virgili just across from Algonquin on the store. There’s a block up above high and it says ‘Bandmaster Virgili’. It’s like a keystone for the building almost.

Bill Vrebosch:
Exactly. His son Vic was a very good influence for me too because at the time I only read music. I was only in grade 10 and everything I did, I didn’t try to play anything off the cuff. I was always reading. Once, I stepped onto the back of the truck when we used to do the open-air dances where there is the food store now at Cassells Street and the bypass. There were dances there.

Peter Handley:
Really?

Bill Vrebosch:
Yes and Vic invited me up onto the stage and I tried to play a song called ‘Moon Glow’.

Peter Handley:
Yes.

Bill Vrebosch:
Well I was making a hell of a mess of it. But, I remember a guy named Jack Theissen who played a big double bass but Jack also played clarinet. They were all multitalented these guys. He just moved the bass in behind me, they didn't boo, they didn't scream or kick me off the stage and he said ‘you’re not holding some of your notes long enough, so I’ll hum it and you play it’. I never forgot that lesson. That they didn't turn me down or force me off the stage because I was making mistakes – they helped me.

Peter Handley:
And what did you play?

Bill Vrebosch:
I was trying to play a tenor saxophone that I bought at Melrose Smoke Shop. I paid $17 a month for two years for that.

Peter Handley:
Boy oh boy. Were a lot of the young people when you were growing up into this sort of thing? Into this music?

Bill Vrebosch:
I don't think so. They read a lot more than they do now though. It’s very difficult to get someone to read music now. Some of the young people I find them. I've had people ask me. Can you teach me to play saxophone. I say well the first thing we’re going to teach you is how to play your scales. I'm not sure if the commitment is there anymore. They just want to just learn off the Internet and learn a particular song. They don't quite understand how that scale and the in the three chords of basically make up the first, fourth and fifth of most songs. They have no idea how that works.

Peter Handley:
Is that why you became a music teacher?

Bill Vrebosch:
I think so because at the East End of North Bay when you stepped at your house at night after 5:30 or 6, it was nothing to just take a step up to Regina Street and there was a big veranda there and are all kinds of musicians there. Mandolin players, clarinet players… On a good Sunday night, it was like visiting a movie. So, we always heard that and my teacher was Yugo Ricci and his brother who played the tuba was down at Ricci’s store. The East End of North Bay was like a live music in Italian movie every night.

Peter Handley:
Okay, to put it bluntly though, we’re talking the 30s?

Bill Vrebosch:
My dad in the 30s. Yes, when they were there because I rememeber Mr. Virgili and my grandfather worked together, my grandfather always loved music so he got Mr. Virgili to teach all his kids how to play music and they all joined into this T&NO band which was a marching band in North Bay that was sponsored by the railway. It morphed into the Eighth Field Squadron Band at the Army barracks.

Peter Handley:
Okay. Was Vic Virgili, Bandmaster Virgili’s son?

Bill Vrebosch:
Yes and Vic click played the accordion as you remember.

Peter Handley:
Yes. So, when you taught music what did you teach your kids and what level was it? It was high school?

Bill Vrebosch:
It was great 7 & 8. I was working in a bank in Sault Ste. Marie at the time and Tom Harrington walked and said I need a music teacher in North Bay. I said, ‘Tom, you know I don't have the background in education’ because I stopped at the end of grade 12, Peter, and I went on the road for a while.

Peter Handley:
On the road playing?

Bill Vrebosch:
Yeah. Well I was in and out. North Bay musicians may show up in Barrie or someplace and we’d go for a week to someplace, but he wanted me to come back to school so I said he took me over to Algonquin a local college and made me write the mature student exam which got me into Teachers College. Because I had just a basic knowledge of all the instruments because of my family, I knew how to play the trombone - I couldn’t play it very well but I knew about it, I knew about a baritone, I knew about a violin, I knew about this and that. He said ‘I need somebody who is not as classically trained. I need somebody who's from the other side of the tracks and knows how to play the instruments.’ So, that's how I got into it and he basically promised me a job before I was even in Teacher’s College. So, I came back to North Bay to go to Teachers College to become a music teacher.

Peter Handley:
Are you happy you did that?

Bill Vrebosch:
Yeah, it was a good experience. Except, the separate schools didn't put the money into the program, like the public schools did. I was offered a job at a public school and I turned it down and I took this separate school one, but we didn't have the money to back it up. Like I would have sometimes 500 kids a week come through my room and a thousand kids a week sometimes because they moved us all over the place. So, it was really hard on the kids because we only had 60 instruments and they couldn't take them home and couldn't practice. It would break some of their hearts because they tried their best but who can learn an instrument on once a week for an hour and no practice time


Peter Handley:
So you were a practical teacher then? You were teaching them how to play instrument ‘x’?

Bill Vrebosch:
I taught Beethoven with a drumbeat.

Peter Handley:
Because I know when I got music in high school, it was esoteric stuff. I mean, I still recall Beethoven’s symphony two because that’s what we had to take.

Bill Vrebosch:
Well that’s what I had in the daytime. But in grade 10, Bruce Duncan came to town and Bruce was a violinist who went to actually play with the Miami Symphony when he left here. So, he took over the music job at Chippewa which trained a lot of us and then then we also played across the road on Tuesdays and Thursdays with the Eighth Field Squadron Band. We actually paid to practice at the army barracks. Yeah, and we were given an instructor and Yugo Ricci was my instructor privately. My dad paid a lot to get me into music. What happened was, I went to Algonquin and I got put into a music program - not because I wanted to be, but because I was put into it as I was part of the leftovers that weren’t registered properly. So, they put me with a violin and I did not like the violin. My fingers were too big for the half positions. So, my father during the summer said ‘I can get lessons for you and your brother for $0.75 an hour from Mr. Ricci’ so he bought us a clarinet and we started taking lessons. Then when I went back to grade 10, that's when I started playing the clarinet and got off the violin.

Peter Handley:
You basically had a side career playing music in different bands and in different venues. What were you playing then for these dances and all that stuff? It wasn’t marshal was it?

Bill Vrebosch:
No, it wasn't. I actually because they read so much. I still have the old books at home but Gary Hennessy, Brian McDowell and Tim Clark and I formed a little quartet at Chippewa and we read everything. So, I would write it down and score all the notes out for myself and write out all the chords for the guitar and on Saturday nights at Chippewa we’d play for a dance and we’d get seven dollars a night for that.

Peter Handley:
And how old were you roughly?

Bill Vrebosch:
16 or 17 because a lot of the time I don’t think we were supposed to be in there a lot of the times. Do you remember the Red Line Inn, Peter?

Peter Handley:
Yes, I was going to ask you about that.

Bill Vrebosch:
Well do you remember Mrs. McLean? Alec Sages was a relation so she would sit us in the kitchen, walk us to the stage and when the set was over come out and get us and bring us back to the kitchen. We weren’t allowed in the bar, but she’d give us a coke. So we would play down there and wherever else we could. I remember playing at the Elks Playground in the little shacks. We’d make enough money to buy each other a pop maybe.

Peter Handley:
Was this the original band?

Bill Vrebosch:
No. We had a group called the Commodores. We had a group called the shadows. And they were all out of this embryo of people I had around me. But we just loved to play music. We would play wherever we could.

Peter Handley:
Were you playing versions of the pop hits of the day? Or dance music?

Bill Vrebosch:
Well, a lot of times. Because the two boys I was playing with - Brian McDowell and Pete and Gary Hennessy were guitar specialists, and they loved Chet Atkins and they loved to get into Dwayne Eddie. Well, Dwayne Eddie always had a saxophone part so that's what we started doing – these little 8-12 bar sections. We just grew into it and then I have to go back to the Blackfly Club. Now I’m really going to bring you back. I’m trying to remember the lady's name who bought it.

Peter Handley:
Buck Kyle opened it.

Bill Vrebosch:
Well Mrs.Kyle is surely the lady I’m talking about. But, Mrs.Kyle had a band contest on Sunday afternoons for young bands. Well, our singer quit an hour before so my first two vocal songs of my life were ‘Bachelor Bill’ by Cliff Richards and I think the other one was ‘Only Make Believe’ by Conway Twitty. I don’t know if we won the contest or came close, but that really started us into thinking that we could actually play publicly. So we would go to playgrounds, I remember going to Sundridge and playing in the arena for teen dances. We played anyplace that would let us play. Going to Corbeil, where I actually ended up going to Corbeil were I ended up 40 years in politics but they had a dance hall probably twice the size of this place and we used to sing through half of a telephone. A man adapted the telephone, cut it in half and made a mic out of it. You had to watch though because if you put your hand up too far you’d get a shock because there was a bare wire. So, we’d go there and our pay would be maybe enough to buy each other a pop, but we played wherever.

Peter Handley:
But that’s transferred to the garage bands and all that sort of stuff in modern day. So that’s been going on for a long, long time.

Bill Vrebosch:
Music is something that grows with you I think. But surprisingly enough, not one of my children took it up. Tanya was in my classroom an alto saxophone player and my son was a drummer, but none of them took it past that. We tried everything but they just didn't seem to take to it the way I did. I was brought up with my father expecting me to play music.

Peter Handley:
All right, okay, that's a difference.

Bill Vrebosch:
While you see, the option was, my brother was a very technical and he could read anything that was written on paper. But, for me, I’d ad lib. I would play by ear a lot. My brother could outplay me if it was reading the page right, but he didn’t want to go any further. We both quit one time and I saw what it did to my dad and he was totally deflated and so I said, I will start taking these lessons again. So I started and that's how I got into the squadron band. It was Billy Bee that followed up Mr. Virgili.

Peter Handley:
Yeah, I was going to ask you about him.

Bill Vrebosch:
Billy wasn’t really the conductor type. He loved it and he tried it, but he wasn't a Virgili or a Bruce Duncan. But, every Tuesday and Thursday you had 35 people in that little band room and we played everything from musicals to military marches. Our commitment was that once a year we had to go down to Toronto and march down Avenue Road and my God the bands in college you had 100 people and they were spread over. We’d only have 35. We had to put 10 feet in between us just to make it look like we had bodies. So, we had a commitment to that through the Armed Forces.

Peter Handley:
Other names in music that you heard when you were a kid? I'm thinking of the McFarlane's – country band.

Bill Vrebosch:
Now I’m going to go back there again. We just lost June McFarlane and June was probably one of the best yodelers in North Bay. She was Curly’s sister. She lived on Memorial Drive. She just passed away about two months back. I got gave a bunch of the records. We actually entered the Hall of Fame for Nipissing Country Music on the same night. She represented her family and they were the backup band for Billy O’Connor and the Happy Gang that you used to listen to at 1 o'clock on the radio all the time.

Peter Handley:
The McFarlane's – if you remember Burnie Meehan, I used to do the operating for a couple of years for the Saturday afternoon shows which was ‘Country Music with Burnie Meehan’

Bill Vrebosch:
And his son Gary.

Peter Handley:
And Gary did some singing. But, he had tapes – reel to reel tapes of the McFarlane’s playing. Generally, jigs and reels, but country music wasn't your thing was it?

Bill Vrebosch:
I have to admit, Peter. It didn't matter what kind of music was for me. I could sing country, three-chord rock and roll and as you know, one of my biggest songs is Cara Mia which was a learned thing because at the time we didn't have a lot of money, but my father somehow arrange that he could buy a record player I used to listen to that every Sunday morning. David Whitfield, Here in my Heart and Cara Mia. Tricia Brewer. Because my father could only afford 12 records. So, we would come home from church and my father would put the record player on all 12 of these little 45s and we’d go through Ricochet Romance, Here in my Heat, Cara Mia, Mary Alonso once in a while. My father could've been a good singer. But, he would sit me on his knee because I was only about 8 or 9 at the time. But I swear I knew the words to ricochet romance before I could even play ball.

Peter Handley:
Let's talk about some other names from your old buddy Burnie Meehan to live television. I have to give a bit of an aside. I have to laugh at television today, I really do. They have one live show a year and that's a Christmas show. You know and back in the 50s and the 60s. It was live television. I can recall Herman Prescott, Vic Virgili and the Laurentian Valley Boys, hunting and fishing shows, all live.

Bill Vrebosch:
I have Bill Saunders original microphone. My son wants to keep it as an heirloom.

Peter Handley:
Oh, you should.

Bill Vrebosch:
There's another guy, Bill Saunders, who played in that 1930 band with my dad. He was a trumpet player. Very bad eyesight as you know, but he played in the band with them. Another name you just brought up, Irwin Prescott. I used to bring my father his lunch at the ONR and here’d come Irwin down the track with one of those little cars that you’d push. He’d be singing away country music. Once we learned a little bit about playing music, we’d go to Trout Creek on a Saturday night and as soon as everyone saw Gary and I come in, he’d leave the stage and go corral everyone for us, let us play for the rest of the night and give us five bucks for gas. But you have to learn from people like that, Peter. You learn by listening and my father always said you listen with your eyes and ears and so that's what I was doing. In fact, when I went to Toronto actually was one of the down there with Gary. We we took the train. We had a suitcase and our instruments and we got off at Union Station and started walking up Younge street and we got to some place where we heard some guitar and we poked our heads in and the guy said ‘do you know how to play these?’ But we didn’t know anything about Union, Peter. So we went in and did the afternoon for this gentleman and then Union threw us out. But that’s how you learned. Gary went back to North Bay and I would go out and listen to different groups. When I was there, I was about four or five months when the band broke up with Ronnie Hawkins at the cocked door lounge. They moved out to a place out on Bloor Street that’s now a Long & McQuade Store. But, later they moved there and Ronnie joined Robbie Lane & the Disciples. After hours there was this place called the Blue Note Club upstairs and fortunately there I was asked one night, they said to me ‘get up to Crane Plaza (which was North Toronto Westin) we may need some extras’. So, my son always tells people ‘my dad played with Roy Orbison, you know’. I was so far down on the performer list I don’t think I needed to be rated but I actually got a chance to sing one song I forget what it is now. But they used to have all these run up performers before and I got to meet Roy Orbison and all these performers would end up at the Blue Note Club after. Orbison wouldn't get off the bus though. And I said, well I have to; he’s an idol of mine. I saw him in North Bay at the arena on King Street. I think I saw there was that he was just a young fellow at the time, and so I went down and talk to him. I said ‘hello’ to him and I said, ‘I need to have something that says I met Roy Orbison and he gave me a copy of the sheet music for Blue By You Bayou and my son just took it home to Toronto.

Peter Handley:
This is when you were trying to make it as a musician, right? What’s the time period that you were in Toronto?

Bill Vrebosch:
I would say 68-69 and then because I formed my band Descendants of Time in 72 and at time you basically paid to play on Yonge Street.

Peter Handley:
Did you join Union eventually?

Bill Vrebosch:
I did. I didn’t play the Cock Door Lounge, I played the Zanzibar which is turned into a strip club but at the time was just a nightclub. I’d go down and see some of the guys play jazz music at the corner, the Brown Derby . But, what I would do is listen and learn, so we would go back - we lived in the YMCA on College Street and they had little practice rooms. So, we’d go home and I’d go into those little practice rooms and see if I could play them. Eventually, my father's came down and said ‘what are you doing here?’ He had given me a name: ‘Wild Little Willie’ because I had a song called ‘Wild Little Willy’ and my father didn't appreciate the fact that while I was working in a bank, I was mainly playing music in Toronto. So he said ‘it is time to come home.’ So that's when I left.

Peter Handley:
Do you do you regret coming home?

Bill Vrebosch:
I don't know. I don’t know if I could have made it or not, but I saw a lot of guys who didn't make it, and they're still playing for 200 bucks a week and some of them lost their families. It’s a very difficult life because once you play music, the other life starts and that's the carousing and boozing and all the other stuff and that part didn't interest me at all.

Peter Handley:
Okay, I want to go back to the music closer, rather than the country arrangements the big band arrangements?

Bill Vrebosch:
They were not my thing. I was not good at staying very strict to the store. I always even right now when I play background for all the musicians right now, I'm all over the place on the saxophones following chords and I’m having a ball.

Peter Handley:
Would you say that what you're doing is playing jazz?

Bill Vrebosch:
While I guess it was. It sounds funny but we had to saxophone players on a Friday night in a little club in Corbeil and I said to the guys because the guitar player was doing his thing and the other guy on Saxophone from Kitchener was doing his thing and I was doing mine. I said ‘it’s almost like Dixieland’ where we all stick to the chord structure but we all play what we think should be played. So, that was my looseness to the saxophone. I used to love to play just behind people. But, I was a vocalist mainly in my band. Saxophone was secondary for me with my band because Ken Simm was my guitar player and the odd time he just didn't connect with the souls so I’d do them on the saxophone. We have jam nights all over this area. Like I go every Wednesday to Mattawa to play with a little jam band. They’re in Bonfield, they’re in Calvin Township, there’s an open mic at Cecil’s here. When I walk into Cecil's I get funny because I think our band, Descendants of Time, was the only one that actually was a North Bay band that played in the house at the time and we were the only band that ever played there that was local. That's work that's where I met my eventual Descendants of Time. They were playing in the beer side, I was playing on this side, size I was having a problem with some of my boys, and they were going to have a problem because they didn’t have a lead so we went together and Ken Simm came up with the name Descendants of Time and we lasted 20 years. But it it's been fun. I have to say that and I’ve got respect right now that is beyond anything I ever expected. Like you can look up Duke the Touque.

Peter Handley:
I was going to ask you about the song.

Bill Vrebosch:
I wrote it in 1972.

Peter Handley:
He was the mascot for the North Bay Winter Fur Carnival.

Bill Vrebosch:
Yes, he was. But, I didn't have all the words and I was teaching at Mother St. Bride’s as a student teacher and it was about a half hour before the end of his class, so I gave all the kids in class a paper and said give me two lines that rhyme about North Bay. So I had about half of the words, so I took all these little pieces of paper home. We had a house that was so small you had to go inside to change your mind when my wife and I were first married. But, we had all these pieces of paper all over the floor and I’m looking for some, my wife is looking for some. We thought well this might go together with this and that might go together with that. But, my technical ability on guitar were three or four courts maximum. It was G,C & F. But I wrote that thing went down and we paid $500 at a studio in Toronto to record Duke the Touque and we got 500 copies of it for $500. So I put Cara Mia on the other side and now if you go to YouTube and look up Duke the Toque, it’s selling for $75, it’s a 45 and it’s listed as a rock song.

Peter Handley:
Did you ever give the kids any credit?

Bill Vrebosch:
I always did. I always told them that they helped me write the song because they did. I was about three quarters of the way through.

Peter Handley:
Do you remember any of the verses?

Bill Vrebosch:
Oh I remember all the words. Come to the Gateway of the North, where Duke the Toque dances back and forth. I am plagued with that song for the rest of my life and Cara Mia is the other one. In fact, about a month ago I'm in the grocery line and some guy is singing ‘Cara Mia Mine…” I turned around and said ‘My God’ and he said ‘1974 at the Commodore Hotel, you sang for mine and my wife’s wedding.’ He remembers me and my signature song. I just finished it in Corbeil. We did a version of Cara Mia in Corbeil on July 1 and it was my final song.

Peter Handley:
You mentioned Don Brooks?

Bill Vrebosch:
Oh we were complete rivals. He played at the Voyager I played at the Commodore and I’m telling you there was a rivalry there. Don always said that he was number one and I said ‘well then I guess I’m number two’.

Peter Handley:
So what type of music was Don famous for then?

Bill Vrebosch:
Don was like us, he did cover songs. We didn’t mind if was a country song or whatever. We played very quickly and our tempo was very fast. Don had his own following. I mean a strict following – they just loved him. To this day, Don Brose is still doing five or six shoes a month at senior homes and everything and he is still singing. I just did a show two years ago the called ‘The North Bay Legends’ and we packed the place and sold out so I guess some people we have an effect on people. But it was a rivalry between the Commodore Hotel and the Voyager and Don had one we had the other. We actually had a rivalry I'm telling you it was blood and guts almost for a while. There was no friendship.

Peter Handley:
But there is now?

Bill Vrebosch:
Oh yeah, there’s a respect. You know, when Don and I were playing a show at the Best Western together and I timed it so I would do my first set in Don's set would just go just past midnight because he was turning 80 that night so we did that show together. We appreciate each other, you know?

Peter Handley:
You mentioned the Commodore and you mentioned the Voyager and we briefly talked about the Redline Inn. What are some other places you played? Okay, the Voyager still in existence. The Commodore?

Bill Vrebosch:
No, it’s turned into a church now.

Peter Handley:
Blue Spruce is gone…

Bill Vrebosch:
Yep, Blue Spruce is gone. We played up there so many times.

Peter Handley:
That was on the North Highway.

Bill Vrebosch:
And then the White Oaks in Temiscaming, Nipissing in Sturgeon Falls – Nipissing Hotel.
But, I went from the Commodore – a man named John Hadkowski said ‘why don’t you come to the Fraser and play for me?’ But I said, ‘I don’t know, I heard you have a tough time over there, I heard you have a few fights.’ He said, ‘well just come and try it.’ We lasted 12 years there, Peter. So, in twenty years, I basically played three places: the Redline Inn, the Commodore Hotel and the Fraser House.

Peter Handley:
Did you ever play the Empire?

Bill Vrebosch:
Only on special occasions. Remember the old Winter Fur Carnival?

Peter Handley:
Yeah.

Bill Vrebosch:
Well it was sponsored by the Hydro and we did the music for that for a couple of years and you played specialty nights like weddings and such.

Peter Handley:
What about the Capitol Centre, or Capitol Theatre… They had a stage.

Bill Vrebosch:
Never got to that one. In fact, that’s actually a dream of mine. One day I'd like to find out how much it would cost me to actually rent the Capitol Centre and get all my friends and all the musicians and all the people I've known over time. Let's just go and put a good show on and I’d do it so it was free.

Peter Handley:
You mentioned Jake Thomas is a Jake in the fundamentals.

Bill Vrebosch:
That's him.

Peter Handley:
Okay, okay,

Bill Vrebosch:
He decided when he was on the road with me – I given him credit because a lot of guys will just leave you, but Jake had an offer from another band was called Kelly J and the Stingrays and they went on to be another big rock band that they offered Jake a job so he decided to go with them. He said ‘I’m going to be going with this new band, but I’ll play with you until you get somebody. You’ve got to appreciate that. He could have moved on and just left me cold. But he didn’t. So, Jake and I have always had a respect for each other because of that, and to tell you he's one of the best, jazz/ rock 'n' roll/blues players in Ontario.

Peter Handley:
I want to ask you briefly about Music City and the pictures on the wall. Russ Smith – he had music city for years.

Bill Vrebosch:
Russ – I was his first customer. He showed me his bill book when he finally retired. He said ‘I just discovered something, you were the first input into my bill book when I moved onto Cassells Street’ because for a while he operated it out of his garage on King Street. That’s where he started. He used to live on King Street right by the school so he operated there and then he finally into the store. As you know, he was ‘Smiling Russ’ when he was on the Prescott Show and was the guitar man.

Peter Handley:
Okay, the picture catalogue that he had on the wall down at Music City.

Bill Vrebosch:
I think Bob Ahem has most of them. When they moved out of there and Long & McQuade took over, they didn't know want to do with all these pictures. I look at some of these pictures and I can see people… I can’t remember their names, but I know their faces. I mean, you saw them.

Peter Handley:
It’s a great catalogue though, it should be scanned and I don’t know…

Bill Vrebosch:
It is. I think if you check carefully. Bob Ahern has them and he just retired from Long & McQuade. He spent so many years with Music City, but I think he has all those pictures with all the bands and they actually worked hard and getting them together.

Peter Handley:
Victor Virgili and the Laurentian Valley Boys – Remind me of who played for them Do you remember?

Bill Vrebosch:
Well, Jimmy Nutter and…

Peter Handley:
There was a young guitar player?

Bill Vrebosch:
Lamothe – Larry Lamothe. And you know the Lamothe family? Al Lamothe who was a steel man and his father was the big bass player with Norm Mauro.

Peter Handley:
Okay, just to wrap up, the importance of music in a community?

Bill Vrebosch:
I'm trying to get through to people who are using so much technology now. You can buy a program called Garage Band and make up the whole recording on the computer.

Peter Handley:
It makes it easier.

Bill Vrebosch:
Well yeah, but just did a show for July 1 and Don Brody said, ‘this is just raw rock 'n' roll’. We didn't have time to practice so we went into a gentleman's garage in Chisholm. Learned the beginnings and endings for 15 or 16 songs, and that's what the part we knew we stepped on the stage. We knew the beginning, we knew the ending and what came in the middle was just if I looked at him, he took a solo and he if looked at me then I took one. That’s the way it went. Right now, North Bay’s music scene is very limited. There’s a few little things happening at the Voyager. That's what the main place for live music right now. The Fraser house on Saturday afternoon… But we’re very limited in North Bay where you can play live so a lot of these things have started up. So, somebody said ‘why don’t you come to Mattawa, we’ve got a little band there.’ So, I got to meet basically a musical family coming out every Wednesday night we play up there and we play everything from old country to French country to rock 'n' roll and the Tremblay families is another one to be mentioned. Look at all the musicians out there in Mattawa. There are 5 or 6 bands operating the out there. I'm playing with a guy that's 78, I’m going to be 76, our drummer is 83.

Peter Handley:
Well there must be young people out there?

Bill Vrebosch:
Well they are but they play.. I guess they find our music a bit old. I mean, I don’t mind playing Rock Around the Clock.. I have a ball with it. But, it’s only three chords and I guess they have a different way. But even for country music, I love to listen to George Jones, not for George Jones, but for the way he got from one note to the next note. I liked to see how he slid from one note to the next one. But, you don’t hear George Jones anymore. But, they hear it when I play.

Peter Handley:
Bill, thank you very much.

Bill Vrebosch:
Oh, I could I go on for days, Peter.

Peter Handley:
The life of a longtime musician, music teacher, and politician. The stories of Bill Vrebosch. Thank you for spending some time with us and listening to our stories. These productions are put together by the Municipal Heritage Committee not only to retell old tales, but hopefully to kindle interest in local and area history. Local lore is important to any community and we shouldn’t let it go unremarked or unremembered. Views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily those of the Corporation of the City of North Bay or its employees. Join us next time, as we flip another page of the diary of our shared past. You can reach us at peter.carello@cityofnorthbay.ca. Production - Kealey Ducharme. Pete Handley speaking.