Gary James' Interview With
Bill Henderson Of
They are probably best known for a song called "My Girl" (Gone Gone Gone). Released in 1981, it was popular in the U.S. as well as Canada, which is where this band calls home. We are talking of course about Chilliwack.
Chilliwack member Bill Henderson talked with us about his group.
Q - Bill, as we speak, is there still a Chilliwack that performs?
A - Yes, there is and it's been the same line-up since about 1997. So, what does that make it? Fifteen years almost. The longest consistent line-up the band has ever had actually, but never done a studio album. We did a 'live' album called "There And Back". Jerry Adolphe is the drummer and he and I worked together in Chilliwack starting in 1985, right after the last studio album. I've been working with him for almost thirty years and the bass player is Doug Edwards. Doug is actually one of the most successful songwriters in Canada because of one song, "Wildflower". He wrote the music to "Wildflower". And Doug I've known since the '60s. When I was in The Collectors in the '60s he was in bands as well. We were always around each other, but didn't work together, except in the studio we did some sessions together. Then the fourth member of the band is my brother Ed and Ed plays guitar in the band. And of course I've known Ed since he was born, which was quite some time ago.
Q - Are you the only guy in Chilliwack who was there from the very beginning?
A - That's right.
Q - What is the music scene like for 'live' music in Canada today? Are there a lot of venues for you to play?
A - There are quite a few. The rise in casinos in Canada has created a whole level of concert performance that a band can do. A lot of American bands come up and play the casinos in Canada as well Canadian bands. I think generally they're kind of Classic Rock, or classic music like Pop / Rock. There are also of course fairs and festivals. They're generally kind of seasonal, from Spring to Fall. And then there are theatres if you want to promote your own show or you can get a promoter to work with who's going to do some theatres. I like playing theatres. They are smaller rooms. It's harder to economically make it work, but I love playing for an audience that's listening. It just lifts the music considerably to have an audience that's actually listening and not just dancing, although I love the dancing thing too. But a concert performance is my favorite.
Q - How big are these theatres we're talking about?
A - All the way from quite small, like two hundred or something, to one thousand, twelve hundred maybe.
Q - How many gigs a year would you say you're doing?
A - Twenty to twenty-five.
Q - When you're not performing with the band, what are you doing with yourself?
A - (laughs) All kinds of stuff. I spent twenty-three years on the board of SOCAN, which is basically Canada's version of ASCAP or B.M.I. It's a performing rights organization. It's an author's rights organization, basically collecting royalties from radio and TV and other media that actually play music, in other words perform it in the largest sense of the word. I was on the board of The Songwriters Of Canada for many years. I was the president of both of them for a number of years. I was on the CARAS board, Canadian Academy of Recording Arts And Sciences, which puts on our Juno Awards, the Canadian equivalent of your Grammys. So, I've done a fair amount of that kind of thing. That was something later in my career that I became interested in, knowing more about how the music and the industry fit together. I came from a place where I was very much the artist and business was something I had no idea about. So it was really an educational experience for me. I'm now pulled back from all of that. Just this last year, I left the SOCAN board after twenty-three years, Society of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers of Canada. There's another group I work with sometimes called Ulrich, Henderson, Forbes, UHF. Sherry Ulrich, who used to be the Hometown Band in the '70s. And Roy Forbes and myself. We formed this acoustic trio. We put out two CDs and I guess we formed in '89. I think that's when we formed. So, we play together sometimes and that's a really nice thing. It's acoustic. Also, I like to do solo shows which are largely acoustic, but sometimes I'll have my electric there too and play it as well, but nobody else onstage but me. And I really enjoy that. And another whole aspect of my life is I live on an island off the West Coast of Canada called Salt Spring Island. My wife and I have about ten acres of land. There's a huge garden that requires quite a lot of work and upkeep. We heat our house and cook our food on a wood stove from the Fall to the Spring. So that too, obviously is a fair amount of work, just physical work getting all the wood in. It needs to be dried and split and stacked and then you bring the right wood. You know your different woods and how long they burn. So that's a whole other kind of life and most people will call it just being at home, but if you live in a house that's completely serviced to the environment, you don't have nearly the kind of work to do that you do in a house like this. So, it's more than living at home, it's more like running a farm, a bit of that thing. So, that keeps me busy. I'm one of the directors of the Salt Springs Folk Club. Matter of fact, I was one of the people who put it together back about '93 or '94, something like that. It's been very successful. We get all kinds of great, great international entertainers here as well as local people who are really, really talented. So, I'm part of the group that puts all that together.
Q - If you ever hurt yourself splitting wood, that would put a big dent in your income.
A - I have, (laughs) but I heal quickly because I have no choice. I have to. Then there are other things. I'm working on a musical now with another fellow who lives not too far away on Vancouver Island. So we have written the songs together and he's written the script and I'm also going to music direct the show. That means I'm involved in casting the show, which is what we're doing now. It's going to be produced in April, 2013 in a theatre in Victoria, British Columbia, which is on Vancouver Island. And I wrote another musical with him a few years back that was produced in Calgary and Vancouver called Beyond Eden and it was about the interface of the white people on this coast line with the native people who've lived here for thousands of years. It's an interesting piece. So, I get involved in music in a number of different ways. I'm actually learning to play the fiddle. I've been studying the fiddle for a little over two years now. So, a new instrument. That very much recharges my musical batteries. Also, I'm starting up a project with Claire Lawrence, who is one of the original members of Chilliwack and was an original member of The Collectors as well, the predecessor band. Claire and I developed back in the day, in the late '60s, early '70s, a way of improvising that was extremely powerful. As a 'live' band, we were one of the most powerful 'live' bands anywhere in North America. We blew lots of major acts off the stage when we opened for them with the improvisation.
Q - What acts are you talking about?
A - Vanilla Fudge, Ten Years After, Santana in Vancouver. One of the local newspapers in Vancouver, after we'd done this for about the third time in a row, wrote there should be a humiliation insurance headliners should take out when they play after Chilliwack. The reason I tell you this is 'cause it's hard for people to conceive of the possibility that people could improvise in front of an audience of ten thousand or whatever and actually galvanize the entire room so that people are just higher than kites and won't let you leave the stage. It's hard for people to imagine that 'cause there weren't many people who did it, but we did. I'm working with Claire and we haven't played that way for many years. Of course it was a different time and the audiences were different then than they are now. So, we are going to explore this and see what we can do. We're a couple of old guys now, but we still have the fire in the appropriate places, I think.
Q - Before Chilliwack, you were in a group called The Classics?
A - I was not. I was in The Collectors, which was a predecessor group to Chilliwack. The Collectors started in 1966. The Classics started earlier than that, probably '61, '62. Several of the people who were in The Collectors had been members of The Classics. Claire Lawrence was one. Glenn Miller, the bass player, and Howie Vickers, the lead vocalist. They were all in The Classics and they became members of The Collectors, along with two other people, Ross Turney, the drummer and myself on guitar. So, neither of us had been in The Classics.
Q - So, what kind of material were you playing at that time?
A - The Collectors started out as a house band in The Torch Cabaret, playing six nights a week, four, five sets a night, mainly R&B. But it started in '66, so there was this whole other stream of music actually gushing out of San Francisco. San Francisco and Vancouver were actually like sister cities at that time. Culturally, they're very similar. We got a tremendous amount of energy from San Francisco and also ideas. But some of our ideas came from other places like Classical music. Classical musicians, they call it serious music sometimes, (laughs) in the twentieth century did some extraordinary things. They were the first to work with synthesizers, long before Rock and Pop got the synthesizers. They really played a part in inventing all of that. So anyway, we drew some ideas from that as well. So, this group, The Collectors, was really a psychedelic group. Everyone thought we were total druggies. None of us did drugs, but the music we played was very challenging and kind of adventurous and different. It had Rock roots to it and rhythm and we'd been an R&B band and we knew how to play R&B, but were including all this other stuff in it that made it quite a different thing. We were Jerry Garcia's favorite band. He got us into the Fillmore with Bill Graham. He talked to Bill Graham and said "you gotta get these guys from Vancouver." And so, we played our brand of music. Bill Graham jumped on the stage and said "This is the band that's taking music where it's going." Those were heady times. It was a great time for us because we were really cutting edge at the time. Chilliwack never tried to be super cutting edge. We were trying for something a little different then, but The Collectors was all about do something a little different than that, but The Collectors was all about do something that no one else has ever done, blow their minds. That's what we were trying to do. (laughs)
Q - Who wrote you big hit, "My Girl" (Gone Gone Gone)? Did you write that?
A - Yeah. That was Brian MacLeod and myself. It was a co-write.
Q - How did life change when that song became such a hit?
A - Well, I was able to pay for a complete re-model of my wife's kitchen. (laughs) We had a video for "My Girl (Gone Gone Gone)" and it was one of the first videos out there. MTV was brand new. So it was us and The Stones with "Start Me Up" and there were a few others. There weren't that many. And so, we became extremely visible. It affected our lives in ways like, we would get on a plane to go down to your country to play in different places and people on the plane would recognize us. We were becoming very, very visible. We played American Bandstand, Solid Gold, Merv Griffin and lots of shows that people played in those days when they were building their careers. We spent quite a lot of time in the States at that time.
Q - Those were shows, but did you tour?
A - No, we didn't. When that one came out we had decided we weren't going to do any touring. We were gonna be like Steely Dan. We weren't gonna tour. We were just going to put out records. What happened was, we did that and a couple guys in the band, Brian and Ab, started another band they could play 'live' with, which was called Headpins, which was a much harder Rock band. In the end, those two guys ended up going with Headpins, leaving Chilliwack in about 1984. In the end, we did relent as it were and do a bit of touring, but not very much. I had done so much touring. Even from the very beginning in The Collectors in 1967 when we came down to the States and started recording in the studio in L.A. We basically lived in the States for two years. We all had families back in Canada and it was not good. It's not good for families being apart that much. So we decided after a few years of that, we came back to Vancouver and we decided we were gonna base ourselves in Canada and we were gonna stay home as much as we could and still have a career, and that's what we did.
Q - And there was enough work for you to do that.
A - Yeah, we managed.
Q - How far up the charts did "My Girl (Gone Gone Gone)" go in the States.
A - 19 with a bullet. That's Billboard.
Q - Did the record get a lot of promotion?
A - Well, not as much as it should have. It did get some. We were on Millennium, which was distributed by RCA. RCA was really not very co-operative in the promotion department. Millennium did bust their balls on it really hard. They did a good job. They did the best they could. They were a small company. They just didn't get the co-operation from RCA. I think the song could have gone much higher, but it really would've taken a lot more effort.
Q - Where did you get the idea that you could write your own songs?
A - From The Beatles. In 1965 I was playing Classical music. Elizabethan music, some Jazz. No Rock, no Pop. I heard about this band called The Beatles. I didn't want to know about them particularly, but I walked downtown and saw their poster for A Hard Day's Night. It was on a movie theatre. The guys looked very interesting. So, I went in with a friend and I came out of that theatre and from that moment on I was into Rock / Pop music. I went home. I put the Classical guitar under the band. I pulled out the electric and it stayed that way. One of the things The Beatles did that changed the music industry is they wrote their own material. Before that, they didn't do that so much. My first awakening of music was music from the United States. Matter of fact, it was the music from the South. It was Elvis. It was The Everly Brothers. It was Buddy Holly. That was the stuff that really got me going. That's what woke me up to music. I liked music before that, but I wasn't nuts about it. When I heard that, I went nuts about it and had to play guitar. I had to learn how to play guitar. So my first energy came from that. Then it went into Folk music, Classical and Jazz and I took music at the university. After I saw A Hard Day's Night, I thought the energy is back in Rock 'n' Roll. I thought it died out in the early '60s. Rock and Roll had become so Poppy and limpid to me. I didn't like it. But The Beatles brought the energy right back. I'm just one of thousands of musicians who were affected by that band.
Q - Now, are you saying you didn't see The Beatles until August, 1964? You didn't see them on The Ed Sullivan Show in February, 1964?
A - Yeah. Other people had seen them before me. They would've seen them on Ed Sullivan. But I was turning my back on Rock music, because Rock music had died. To me, there was no Rock music in the early '60s. It was all Fabian. This is the problem with the music industry; the music industry wants to make money. So when they hear someone like Buddy Holly do his thing, they go "Oh my God" and "all the kids are going nuts." They go "We got to get into this. Let's get Buddy! Give him anything he wants!" They got Buddy and they say "Buddy, do what you did on the last record." Buddy is an artist. He's not a businessman. He doesn't do what he did on the last record. He does what works for him. But the music industry doesn't understand that. Very few of them have faith in artistry. They have faith in business. If it worked once, it'll work again. So that's why you get all the imitation songs. In the early '60s, that's what it was all about. They were imitating. They were trying to do it again. It just didn't have any energy. So I turned my back on it. I didn't want anything more to do with it. Jazz had way more for me than Rock did. But then The Beatles came along and really put themselves into it. They had the daring to defy record companies. Their record company didn't want them to do their own songs. Their producer didn't want them to do their own songs. But finally he started to realize these guys are doing some interesting stuff. (laughs) So, he got into it. Those individuals, John and Paul, were such powerful people as well as big talents, that they swept the industry along behind them, just struggling to keep up. Remember how every one of their albums that came out was different? (laughs)
Q - Oh, yeah.
A - It was so exciting. But then the industry gets a hold of it, they got it and start producing bands they think are going to do what The Beatles did. They want 'em to sound the same every time. And that's what we ran into in the '70s. People said "What is Chilliwack? One time you're this, another time you're that. What are you?" They want to promote a stable, knowable thing. It's business. And artistry an business are very different. If an artist could do the same painting over and over and have it be great every time, he would! But you can't. It doesn't work that way. It's magic. It really is magic and that's what artists are tapping into. And it doesn't always work. Matter of fact, nine times out of ten it doesn't work. But every once in awhile you hit one of those things and it's like a gift.
Q - Where did your record company see Chilliwack?
A - Oh well, we had several record companies.
Q - Your first one, Millennium.
A - They would've known us from The Collectors. And the first one was London / Parrot. The first Chilliwack album was London / Parrot. If you're looking for that thing of how does a band come from The Torch Cabaret to doing their own material on a record, for us, you gotta go back to The Collectors. That's when it started. By the time we got to Chilliwack, we had a reputation already. We changed our name, but people were there because of the reputation. So, how did that happen? It happened because we were playing this place called Torch Cabaret, playing for strippers and what have you, playing R&B. Every time we wrote a new song, it went into the set of the R&B tunes, and one of the R&B tunes dropped out. By late 1966, we're starting to get the hippies coming down to The Torch Cabaret to hear this band doing weird and interesting music. So, a vibe started to develop about the band. And then a sweet guy by the name of Jack Hirschora, who was more of a businessman and had some money, he came down all excited. And he had a friend named Barry De Vorsen in Los Angeles, who had a record company called Valiant Records and they had The Association, "Along Comes Mary", "Cherish", and The Cascades, "Rhythm Of The Rain". So, Barry, who had this record company, knew Jack. Jack had come to see us at The Torch Cabaret. Jack phones up Barry and says "You gotta get these guys on your label." So Barry sent a bit of money up and we did some demos. We sent the demos to L.A. and Barry said "Yeah, I want to produce them. I want to do a record with these guys." Now we go down with Jack to L.A. and we go into the studio. We go into Columbia where The Beach Boys were just doing sessions. We did the night shift. We started at about seven or eight o'clock at night. They (The Beach Boys) had been going during the day. We went to about nine or ten o'clock in the morning and recorded two sides. Those came out and the first one went to number three in Canada. It did fairly well in the States too, considering there was only one promotion man. So, that's how it started and they continued to like the band. We did reasonable business so they were willing to continue to work with the band. They did a few more singles with us and then Warner Brothers bought Valiant Records. Barry sold his company to Warner. Now all of a sudden we're on Warners, a huge, major label. And we're assigned a producer, and the producer was Dave Hassinger, and Dave had engineered The Stones "Satisfaction" with Andrew Loog Oldham being the producer. He (David) also produce The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, which were two bands we worked with and liked. So, we went with him, and we put out two albums and that first album really established The Collectors as a force to be reckoned with. So, that's really how it started.
Q - In your travels, did you ever cross paths with Jim Morrison?
A - Oh, yeah. We played with Jim and The Doors many times.
Q - And with Janis Joplin?
A - We played with Janis a few times too.
Q - What did you think of Morrison?
A - He was very caught up in some stuff and I don't know exactly what, but part of it was his own stature, his own artistry. We never really talked to him, but we were in the same dressing room in some situations. He was very, like... we were all young, OK? We were all like early twenties and people have attitudes, big time. Major attitude stuff going on. You couldn't talk to him. All he basically was doing was posing. I'm sure there are people who knew Jim well and I have no idea who Jim was 'cause you couldn't really find out unless you were close to him. I'm sure his band mates knew him quite well. (laughs) But it was very difficult to know him. I didn't really try either because he kind of kept a barrier up around him. You could just feel it.
Q - Did you like Janis?
A - Yeah. Janis was really a very communicative person. She loved her music and she loved having fun. She was great. I didn't really get to know her, but I was around her and yeah, she was cool.
Q - Did you ever work with Jimi Hendrix?
A - No. I never worked with Hendrix, but there's an interesting story about Hendrix. He had either a grandmother or aunt that lived in East Vancouver. Of course he was from Seattle. He would come up to Vancouver to visit her and he'd go out and check out the bars in Vancouver an there were a couple of bars like The Smilin' Buddha and I can't remember what the other one was. Right down the downtown eastside. Really rough part of town. Blues bars. And there was a guy who played in there who was very unique. He played the Strat guitar and he turned his amp right up to ten. He cranked it wide open. Everyone in those days said "Too loud. Too loud." So he laid it flat down on the stage, face down and just put a little bit of it over the lip of the stage, just to adjust the amount of volume to have. Then he'd play this incredible way, which was all kinds of sustain and feedback. All this weird stuff going on. Nobody was doing that. But Jimi probably got to see him do it and there are a lot of people who say that's where he got that stuff from. Jimi was already a great guitar player. He played with all the big R&B singers of the day, or played with lots of them anyway. People were trying to shut him down 'cause he played so much. He was a great player, but there was this other element with the feedback and people think he got it from this guy in the club up here.
Q - Does it follow that once you've written a hit song, it should be that much easier to write a follow-up hit song?
A - The problem is knowing where the hit songs come from. With the really big songs that really capture people, very often, now not all the time, there are plenty of exceptions, but a lot of the time writers have been writing for years and years and have hundreds of songs and all of a sudden one comes along. It just sort of happens. Boom! It comes out of nowhere. It's done in the amount of time it takes to sing it and it's a hit. All the work they've done, and it feels like they didn't have to do any work on that song, which is not true. All the work they've done is actually building 'em up to that point. When the songwriter looks at that experience and says "Wow, that song did great! I wish I could do that again. How'd I do that?" It's really hard to know how you did that, 'cause it just came to you. When you say OK, you just had a hit, shouldn't that mean you could have more? Certainly it could, but you can't track it using logic. It doesn't respond that well. Songwriting doesn't respond that well to logic, not that there isn't any. There is, but there's more to it than that. There is a spiritual element to it that is undeniable.