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Klaas Craats
Klaas Craats

In 1956 a grade 3 kid at the Redcliff elementary school marched into the school auditorium for an assembly, which is always great because it means getting out of an English or math class. This assembly was different however, as somewhere during the program a fellow student was introduced and he went to the stage to play his guitar and sing. The kid just sat there mesmerized, not knowing why this experience was having such an effect on him. The recollection is so strong that I can still recall it was Roy Vossler and he sang Singing The Blues. It was like being hit on the head with a hammer.

Fast forward to about 1959 after moving  to the much bigger city of Medicine Hat in 1957. This was at a time when most of the downtown store fronts still decorated for the annual Stampede and paintings of wild west scenes were plastered on the windows of most businesses . One of the evenings a street dance was held on 3rd street across from the then posh Assiniboia Hotel ,which attracted a then 11 year old kid. The band on the back of a flatbed was playing the usual mix of old time music and current country hits when a guy from the crowd was asked to come up and sing a few songs. What came out of those speakers was nothing like anything I had ever heard played live and it created a memory that has lasted some 60 years . I now knew what I wanted to do with my life. Elgin Mann singing Blue Suede Shoes that night was the catalyst that put in motion a career in the music business that has lasted a lifetime.

Klaas Craats
Klaas Craats

I left the city in 1967 for Toronto and then after spending most of my life playing music in Calgary I moved back to Medicine Hat in 2012 which one day got me thinking about all the old players that influenced me and gave me the opportunity to learn by working with them. The more I thought about that the more I realized that there was an incredibly vibrant music scene in a small town of some 30,000 souls during the 1960s and I reflected on the vast number of venues where musicians could learn their craft. Today, with more than double the population, there are far less venues that offer live music. In the mid 1960s musicians could find work in places like the Assiniboia Hotel, the Corona ballroom or the bar, the Cecil, the Royal, the Park Lane Hotel, the Ming Tree, the Legion, the Elks, the Moose and Eagles lodges, service clubs like the Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary, the Medicine Hat and Connaught golf clubs, junior and senior high schools, the Teen Hall and Honeycomb a go-go, Cypress Park, Waterton Lakes, not to mention dozens of rural towns all over Southern Alberta and Southern Saskatchewan starved for entertainment. Today’s players have the prospect of a few weekly jam sessions, a night in a bar or an occasional wedding or corporate function.

On starting to research material several things became obvious, one is that there are very few photos in decent condition that have survived this period and two is that there are all too many players that are no longer with us. I have restricted my research to the period from 1955 to 1970 only because it had the most meaning to me personally. None of the players in this site ever went on to change society or become household names but they played music in the hopes that their passion for playing could motivate people to listen and have fun.

Unfortunately memories become clouded over time and so many of the photos on this site will contain errors in timing, spelling and identification and I encourage anyone that can make corrections or add to the content to please do so as inconsistencies become fact when no one refutes them. I am hoping that there are a lot more photos and stories out there that can be added to this site and I am still in the process of adding other photos as well.

The quality of this collection of pictures and memorabilia is only as presentable as the source material will permit so please forgive some very obvious imperfections. It is also sad that it is too late for many of the faces in the photos to be able to see themselves in the context of this big picture. In addition to the pictures there are some items that are somewhat related to the era and may be fun to look at.

This entire project may beg the question “why ?” and that is very understandable. After a rewarding career in the music business I often think back to my beginnings in Medicine Hat and the local musicians I grew up with and I have to honestly say that playing music in the 1960s here was likely the most fun I have ever had in this crazy business.

Beatles Painting
Beatles Painting

There are some old friends that went far out of their way to help put this project together, among them being John Fyke, Wayne Spackman and Geri and Joe Mastel . Many thanks for all your help. I can only hope that someone will find photos from this collection that will elicit as many fond memories as they do for me.  Enjoy!!   Klaas