It’s only since about July of 2016 at age 70 that I’ve taken to singing and playing guitar after many years – a half-century, no less! Suddenly, there’s this wondrous, miraculous change in my life.
I’m living my life all over again! My recent song, Take Two, is about a second, wonderful life that has suddenly made my first trying life more than worthwhile. It’s a dream come true!
Now, I realize I’ve always wanted to sing. I look back over 67 years and find a spotty record of tiny singing bouts I didn’t realize the significance of.
When I was 6, Mrs. John McKillop, our neighbor across the road in the country, brought me to her piano to sing Mr. Christmas Tree. Why? How did that happen? I don’t know! We practiced for the country school Christmas concert, I performed on stage, and was a hit! They got me to sing at both country schools I had attended, Riverbend and Dauphin Plains near Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada.
The people loved it, laughed, and cheered. The next year Mrs. McKillop got me to sing, Mockin’ Bird Hill. Not a good choice; it flopped.
But the point is, someone was getting me to sing publicly. They weren’t doing that with anyone else that I can recall. Why me? I don’t know.
I recall in the mid and late ‘50’s in my preteens singing my heart out while driving the tractor working our fields on our farm, songs like Jimmy Brown by the Browns and Bells, Young Love by Sonny James, You Are My Special Angel by Bobby Helms, and Roses Are Red by Bobby Vinton.
I recall my cousin Bob coming from Hollywood and singing. His mother had tried to make a movie star of him. “Once he gets in, he’ll get you in, too,” she suggested. I liked his voice and hoped I could sing, yet neither of us ever sang much in those days. I’m told Bob failed because of stage fright.
When in Grade 9 and 10, Ed Koshowski, a church acquaintance who played guitar, wanted me to sing harmony with him. Why? I guess he heard me sing somewhere, somehow, perhaps caroling house-to-house with our church at Christmas. I recall the first song we did, Stewball. But our plans never materialized.
Nancy Kozak, the able and ambitious director of our church choir, happened to hear me practicing with Ed and wanted me to join her choir, so I did.
I was classified as a tenor and soon Mrs. Kozak had me solo-singing Our Father, (“Otche Nash,” in Ukrainian). I had a tough time reaching the high note, somewhere around Ab or A after middle C.
Around that time, Uncle Fred Hafichuk passed on his acoustic guitar to my cousin Ted Hafichuk when he was about 11 or 12 (I was 2 years older). Uncle Fred found him more interested in guitar than I was, I guess. Ted and I soon went away for a year to St. Vladimir’s College, a Catholic minor seminary in Roblin, Manitoba, and there, he taught me a few chords.
I came up with a super simple instrumental tune I enjoyed, but which Ted hated. He also hated eggs, so he called the tune, “Eggs.” I still remember it and wonder if I shouldn’t try to do something with it. His guitar seemed to give the melody a special tone quality other guitars didn’t seem to have.
Returning home after a year, someone invited Ted and me to perform at a youth club meeting at St. Viator’s Roman Catholic Church in Dauphin. Why? How? Nobody knew us; we hadn’t ever performed anywhere or even tried. We went, Ted played, I sang with him, and the people enjoyed us singing songs like Sheila by Tommy Roe and Wake Up, Little Susie by the Everly Brothers.
A guitarist by the name of Bob Barrows was in the audience. He was working for Manitoba Hydro, played a Fender Strat. When we were done, he asked if I would be willing to put together a rock band. I was surprised. “Why me?” I asked. “Why not Ted, too, or him instead of me – he’s a better guitar player.”
No, he wanted me. So we started a 3-man band and called ourselves, “The Rebel Rousers” after an instrumental by Duane Eddy – our drummer Bob Young’s idea. Bob Barrows played lead and taught me rhythm. Soon, they talked me into singing. One of the first songs I sang was House of the Rising Sun and slowly went to others, such as Stand By Me and Rhythm of the Rain.
Bob Barrow soon left us for a girl he got serious about, Myrna, but Bob Young and I wanted to keep a band going. Eventually, we gathered up enough songs and instrumentals to start up again under the same name with two other players, Weldon Jensen on rhythm and Jim Puls on bass. We played for a year or so and held our own dances at the Town Hall. Nice money for us, while enjoying what we were doing.
We also performed for the D.C.T. I. (Dauphin Collegiate Technical Institute) graduation. Curiously, near the end of the evening, people stopped dancing and gathered around the stage just to listen and watch. It was an almost magical experience.
When I arrived in Winnipeg to go to college in 1965, I saw The Sound of Music and was inspired to sing. I found a voice teacher but wasn’t satisfied with her. Besides, traveling and practice were inconvenient, so I quit after a few lessons. Still, while things weren’t coming together, I see with retrospect that there was some desire to sing present all my life.
While taking Business Administration at the Manitoba Institute of Technology from 1965 to 1967, I brought my Stratocaster to school and played at breaks. People would gather, listen, and sing along to Hava Nagila and Ian and Sylvia’s Four Strong Winds.
Why did I do that? How did I manage? Very few others, if any, did things like that. It’s all a mystery to me half a century later. I tried to start a band there, but it didn’t work out. Those seriously interested in music aren’t too common.
While at MIT, somehow an older singer/guitarist, Barry, who led a band in pubs and lounges, asked me to play backup for him, which I did, though it was illegal, being underage. I also recall wanting to sing, but didn’t, thinking I might be stepping on Barry’s toes, biting the hand that fed me.
I paid for the bulk of my education, board, and room that way. But this didn’t go anywhere, either. How did I get involved in the first place? Again, I don’t recall.
I tried doing some recording with Marv Mielke, a fellow MIT Business Administration student and sound buff who had some recording equipment. That didn’t go anywhere. I recall slaving to get down Perfidia on a ‘60’s tape recorder until Marv, his mother, and I got to climbing walls.
Is it ironic that the word means, “faithlessness” and there I was trying hard to do something musically and failing?
I recall taking some guitar lessons but dropped them after a few weeks. I just wasn’t motivated.
After graduating from MIT in 1967, I joined The Hudson’s Bay Company Retail and there tried to put together a “Bay” band. We practiced evenings for a while at a school that was willing to let us do so until one day, we brought a 6-pack of beer. That did it; despite our pleading and promising not to offend again, the janitor banned us, and we didn’t find another place to practice. After that, I only played for fun at parties.
Can I blame circumstances or anyone for not connecting with music? By no means. I see that if I had really been interested, I’d have found some way for music. My point is that music and singing seemed to occasionally pay me a visit in life yet didn’t stay for long.
When I became a believer in Jesus Christ in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan in 1973, people at the Alliance Church persuaded me to join the choir where every Sunday we would sing hymns. I also sang in choir the first couple of weeks at the Alliance when local churches hosted the Ken Campbell/Jim Reese Crusade in March of 1973. Always some music, vocal at that.
When I went to a Southern Baptist Bible school in Saskatoon in 1973, I picked up my acoustic guitar again and casually sang with the youth at the church and other gatherings. I also whistled as I played, which was a curious thing. I don’t know how that happened. I also sang in their choir.
After Marilyn and I were married and baptized in the Holy Spirit, music came in more prominently. In the first year, 1975, while we were headed to New Jersey to work with Operation Mobilization in Europe, God gave me my first song, Walk by Faith.
We also attended tiny Charismatic home gatherings where I sang some of the Scripture songs, and once at another public meeting outside Prince Albert where I was asked by some Lutheran Charismatics to fill in for an evangelist, Charles Enloe; it was a dismal flop for me. I wasn’t Charles.
Thereafter, God gave me songs here and there over the next several years and I occasionally sang and played privately in homes with a few people. I strummed guitar and sang with Mickey and Lynn Patrick in 1976 nearly every evening for several months in Prince Albert, some in Dauphin in 1977, and then some privately in Israel where I received Crossroads for Paul Cohen. The Lord had given me several songs by then, but I wasn’t singing anywhere publicly.
Soon after coming to Moon River in 1988, I lost touch with music, setting the guitar aside and not singing at all, though I do recall singing acapella to my son Jonathan in his early years or so from 1993 to 1995, at which time we bought the market farm we now call Harvest Haven.
I tried recording some songs in the 2000’s but interest soon faded away. It wasn’t a time or atmosphere for singing, not with the people we were with. The years became hard, stressful, and not conducive to music, especially singing.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that I began to think music again, a year after what I refer to as the “Great Fast of 2014,” soon after which several people parted ways with us.
There came a Rachel Gerrard from England via the internet to our spiritual site, ThePathofTruth.com. She was a vocal trainer in England, a good singer with some experience and instructed me on Skype, free of charge for a bit. Before she left, she had connected me with Seth Riggs and Chuck Gilmore. She sent me Riggs’ Singing for the Stars manual and CD. I didn’t do much with them.
In 2016, I had thought of posting my songs on YouTube and our spiritual website, so I looked for a recording method. Our son Jonathan had an acquaintance who suggested I use a Zoom recorder, which I’ve enjoyed and used extensively. Listening back to one’s voice greatly served to learn how to sing.
Ronnie Tanner, brother in the Lord, Jonathan, and I have been recording the songs and posting videos and audios of them at ThePathofTruth and YouTube. What a steep learning curve for a while there – I had to learn the words, get acquainted with the guitar again, toughen my fingers, learn how to sing, to breathe, to form words, and record in front of a mike and camera. Wow. We’d have to do many takes, not just for quality, but just to get a recording without glaring blunders. Tough going.