A Musical Odyssey

by Randy Reichardt

Part 1

What follows is my attempt to document my life as a musician, from the time I started guitar lessons in 1966 to the present day. It is incomplete, and given my memory lapses, in all likelihood it also contains a number of errors. I guess I've tried to capture the details and the memories, as much for myself as for those of you who are interested enough to read it.

Please let me know what you think, and what might be missing. To those of you that I've played with, it's been a blast. It's been my good fortune to have made music with you. I hope we can do it again sometime soon.

My thanks my brother Chris Reichardt and my friend Steve Fahnestalk, who have taken the time to provide input and correct errors during this process, which is far from over.

1966-1970: The "Learning" Years

In October 1996, I celebrated (or at least acknowledged) 30 years as a musician. As a small boy, I remember the day a man came to our house - it might have been 1959 or 1960. Using an old, blue guitar with lariats and cowboy hats drawn on it, he tried to teach me how to play. Either because I was too young, or because he was a lousy teacher, nothing happened. (I think my parents opted for the latter explanation.)

My brother Chris, offers a different take: "My recollection of your very early stab at guitar playing goes like this: M and Da bought you guitar lessons from some guy. He came to our house on Gareau once or twice and then never came back. I think Mother and Dad paid this guy for several lessons up front, and he scammed them. I believe your first guitar was black, not blue. This guy taught you "Catch a Falling Star" by Perry Como."

What's interesting of course, is that Chris is almost three years younger than me, so how he can remember these details amazes me. Nonetheless, it's probably true.

A few years later, in October of 1966, I started guitar lessons in St Boniface, Manitoba, at Siwik Music Centre. I remember that up until that point in time, I had never asked my parents if I could learn the guitar, it just happened - it wasn't something I had any indentifiable interest in at the time. However, my father loved the instrument, and thought I might like to learn it. I still remember him stopping the car on Marion Street, and taking me into Siwik's to register me for guitar lessons. A few weeks into my lessons, it was obvious to my teacher that I had a natural talent for the guitar. To me, it was just another subject along with my other homework to study each night.

23 years later, in 1989, I learned from my parents that after one year of lessons, they were thinking of pulling me out so that I could try something different. The staff at the music centre suggested to them that I continue studying guitar, and I did so for another three years. Eventually, while still taking lessons (which I did until 1970), I would begin teaching at the Centre as well, until I quit to start university in the fall of 1971.

1970-1976: The First Bands: Ram , Conversation and beyond...

While in Grade 12, in 1970, a new band was forming among friends in my high school, called Ram. It had 11 - count 'em - 11 members. With two lead guitars, electric bass, organ, two lead singers, drums and four horns, we packed quite a sound.. I saved all the money I could to buy myself a new Fender Telecaster, which then cost $440!! I joined the band and played with them for the school year. It was my first musical collaboration. Ram played cover tunes by bands like The Ides of March, Electric Flag, Led Zeppelin, Chicago, and so on.

In 1972 I met a woman named Kathy Charter, and she and her friend Susan Gfellner and I formed a folk trio called Conversation, after the Joni Mitchell song on the Ladies of the Canyon album. The girls sang and I played guitar. Kathy would give me the only nickname I ever approved of, "Roon". Conversation lasted for about a year as well. As with Ram, we played only cover tunes, mostly by James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Carly Simon - you get the picture. We learned tunes like "Conversation" (Mitchell), "You Can Close Your Eyes" (Taylor), "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" (King), "Anticipation" (Simon), etc. Around this time, I was also playing in the folk group at church, and met Bill Gange. I joined up with him, and played with him until 1976. Unlike the first two bands I was in, we played primarily Bill's original tunes.

One time Bill and I were playing live on a local artist show on the Winnipeg station CHIQ-FM, hosted by John Robertson. At the show's end I would be called Randy Raycraft by the announcer. Sometime later we would play live at the U of M, and I would be introduced as Rudy Reichardt. I couldn't win! Friends of mine latched onto "Raycraft", and still use it occasionally to this day.

The last time Bill and I played together was in the late summer of 1976, at the Manitoba Planetarium Theatre, together with my good friend Ted Parnell. A few weeks later I would move to Edmonton to study librarianship at the University of Alberta..

1976-1986: The Dry Spell

Between 1976 and 1986 was a long, dry period for me musically. By now my Tele was collecting dust in its case, and I was hacking away on an old 1975 Martin D-18 I had picked up just before moving from Winnipeg to Edmonton. What musical activity I did allow myself consisted of either jamming with friends I met in residence or at sf conventions or playing in the folk group at St Joseph's College at the University of Alberta.

I spent a large chunk of time (and way too much money) attending a number of science fiction conventions, beginning in the mid-70s and continuing on throughout the 80s. At many of these conventions I jammed with some great musicians, and pushed and prodded by Steve Fahnestalk, I continued to attend and play during periods of my life when I felt little to no inspiration. Perhaps the most memorable musical evening happened in Winnipeg in May of 1988, at a convention called Keycon. Steve and I hosted a party that turned into an amazing musical event, featuring ourselves, Emma Bull, Steven Brust, and others, and carried on for hours. It was magical.

There were many others, too many to remember. As recently as 1994, again in Winnipeg, at the World Science Fiction Convention, sf author Spider Robinson hosted a musical evening at a pub in St Boniface, a few blocks from the house my grandparents lived in for decades. Steve and I were on the program that night, and we played a number of Beatles tunes. Suffice it to say that it felt very strange to be playing there, a few blocks from where I'd attended junior high school. At the same convention, Spider hosted an open jam that, as usual, lasted long after I quit playing. I don't have the stamina to play guitar until my fingers bleed!

I played guitar in the folk group at St Joseph's College on the University of Alberta campus during two distinct periods: 1979-80, and 1986-88. Again, I note that this activity at the least kept me playing, and introduced me to some people who became special friends for different reasons. Previously, I had played guitar in folk groups in Winnipeg in the early-mid 70s. When I finished playing in 1988, it was an activity that no longer felt "right", and spelled the end, so far, of my involvement in a music ministry of any sort.

1986: The Year of Amelia

Things started changing in the summer of 1986. While visiting Expo 86 in Vancouver, I saw a two-piece band called Les Bucherons (The Lumberjacks) perform at the Canadian pavilion. In particular, I was interested in the music being played by the brilliant fiddler in the band. Despite having played "popular" folk music (so-called) as defined by the artists I mentioned previously, I had never played with a musician who knew "traditional" folk music.

A few weeks later, at the annual Heritage Days Festival in Edmonton, I happened to notice that I was standing behind said fiddle player, so I tapped her on the shoulder and introduced myself to her. Her name was (and still is) Amelia Kaminski, the best damned fiddler I know. I told her I had seen her at Expo, and was wondering if she would be interested in getting together for a jam session. Well, we got together some time later and began a musical friendship that continues to this day. We may go through periods longer than a year when we don't play, but when we get together, it's great fun. Amelia plays traditional fiddle tunes, including French-Canadian, Acadian, celtic, and so on. And since I came into her musical life, she even knows a Zeppelin lick or two! Together with one of the best musicians I've *ever* played with, Mr John Towill, Master of the Fretless Bass, the three of us play together whenever the opportunity arises.

1989: The Year of Bernice

In the fall of 1989, I looked up an old friend, Bernice Pelletier. I had no idea at the time that a phone call would eventually lead to 4 1/2 years of intensive musical activity. I hadn't seen Bernice for a few years, and found her phone number. When we got together, she told me that she was expecting a baby, and despite having recently joined the local band Jr Gone Wild, would, for obvious reasons, be leaving the band to have her baby. Nonetheless, we remained in contact, and soon afterwards she gave birth to the amazing and wonderful Justine! What I didn't realize at the time was that by getting back in contact with Bernice, I would begin a 4.5 year period of relatively intense musical activity!

1990: The Flicks

I remember Bernice inviting me over to meet with members of a band she was working with, known as The Flicks. That night, at her and her husband's home (Anthony Pavlic, who was also in the band), I joined in a long jam session. While the exact sequence of events subsequent to that night escapes me, suffice it to say sometime later, I blew the dust off my Telecaster, and joined the band. At 37, I was realizing a dream to be back playing in a good rock band again! For the next few months I had a blast, playing with a great group of creative and driven musicians. I was astonished at how much fun I was having, and feeling very fulfilled to be contributing to such a creative process. I was very impressed with the quality of songs various band members were contributing to the process.

After many weeks of intense practice, the band ventured out into the wilds of Edmonton to begin playing to the public. After a few gigs, we were hired to play at RATT (Room At The Top) on the U of A campus. We were the first band to play at RATT for years, and the second night we played, we were recorded live. Seven songs made their way onto the band's only release, Triballoons: Popped Live! The band continued its torrid pace of playing, which our drummer referred to as "surgical gigging". The cassette release party was held at the City Media Club, with a great turnout and solid press coverage.

We sent the cassette to various radio stations, and I made a point of firing one to David Wisdom at Nightlines in Vancouver. A few weeks later he phoned me at home to tell me he would be playing one of the songs, "Minus 25", on his show. A few days later, dozens of us and our friends and family listened intensely as the song made its first (and last!) national debut! Bernice and Anthony, as cowriters of the song, received royalty cheques about a year later ($4 each, or something...)

Highlight gigs included opening for 54-40 at the U of Alberta (even though they ignored up completely). I remember that it was all they could do to acknowledge our existence, and I swore to myself that if I ever ended up in a situation where a band I was in was big enough to play with opening acts, I would always treat the opening act with respect. The Flicks were also selected for Project Discovery, sponsored at the time by Shaw Cable. We spent a day recording 3 or 4 tunes that were showcased on local cable stations throughout Shaw's television empire in Canada. The band played its last gig on the U of A campus as well, which in retrospect, was probably appropriate.

I had great fun with The Flicks. The night the band dissolved , in 1992, is not one of my favorite memories. I really enjoyed playing with the members of this band: Bernice Pelletier (vocals and percussion), Andrea Rabinovitch (percussion and vocals), Anthony Pavlic (lead guitar and vocals), Jeff Steudel (guitar and vocals), James Wakefield (bass), and Lyndon Schiewe (drums and vocals). It was great fun to be back on stage in a rock band after a 20-year absence. It was something I thought I'd never do again. And to boot, these people were great songwriters. I can't emphasize enough what a pure pleasure it was to develop a sound based on the original tunes crafted by members of The Flicks. Many of the songs remain with me, and from time to time, I'll pick up the guitar and play some of the ones I still remember. Do I sound nostalgic? It's a real feeling. I still miss The Flicks, and the "serious fun" we had together.

1991: Mark Holmgren and Early Warning

Before I jointed up with with The Flicks, I was still playing with Amelia, as mentioned earlier. One night, Amelia, John Towill and I played a gig at the Full Moon Folk Club. It was an open stage evening, if memory serves. That night, Mark Holmgren, a tall (and I mean tall - 6'7") man with a deep voice and a gaggle of fascinating instruments (xylirical, autoharp, dulcimer) also performed. When the night was over, Mark asked if I was interested in getting together for a jam. At the time, it wasn't anything I was interested in doing. But some months later, at the same time I was playing with The Flicks, I visited Mark, and we began to learn a number of his tunes. At the same time, he had contacted John, and John was interested in playing as well. Eventually, together with Dorothy Henneveld on vocals, we formed the group Early Warning, supporting Mark and his heartfelt songs.

The music that Mark Holmgren and Early Warning created was described by Mark as "Roots music on the edge of tradition". For every story Mark told about someone down and out on his luck, or in passionate, intoxicating love, he would also write songs about his own life. On the album we recorded and released in 1992, called As If, 6 of the 13 songs were stories about some event or person in Mark's life. As with The Flicks' songwriters, I found myself blown away with Mark's incredible ability to weave brilliant songs around these stories.

It was in this band that I first really became aware of my abilities to arrange music. Together with John, we would often take one of Mark's songs, and turn it upside down until it didn't even remotely resemble its original form. We arranged one song so that the result was we literally took the instrument out of Mark's hands so that he could just sing the damn thing around the form John and I found for it. It was this kind of collaboration that I found so rewarding, and one of many reasons that I enjoyed my time in this band as well.

Mark's voice and songwriting lent itself to blues, folk, roots (I still don't know whatinhell roots music is, actually), ballads, and so on. Subquent to The Flicks' dissolution, Mark asked Andrea Rabinovitch to join us, and we played as a 5-piece band until the fall of 1992. In addition, we would occasionally be joined by another bass-player, Curtish Ruptash, who would sub for John when he had other gigs to attend.

In June of 1991, Terry Wickham asked Mark to play at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. I had never performed at a folkfest, so was very excited. We were given a 45-minute concert on one stage, and Mark also performed in two workshops, one of which I was also invited to play. It was at this workshop that I got to experience one of my "golden moments" as a musician.

The workshop featured Mark and I, Bob Bossin and Steven Fearing. Mark, Bob and Steven each played two songs, before we surrendered the stage to the Oyster Band for the second half of the workshop, during which near the end we would all join on stage for one song. Scanning the crowd before we began, I estimated anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 people may have been watching us.

By the time the Oyster Band took the stage, the sky had grown dark with thunderclouds, and of course, with about 15 minutes left, a massive downpour began. But that didn't stop us for joining them on stage for the last tune, "I Fought The Law", and even though I really couldn't hear my guitar, I played my heart out for 10 minutes on stage with Mark, Fearing and the Oyster Band, lost somewhere behind John Jones and Ian Telfer, connecting with the drummer and having the Time of My Life - Part One.

In the spring of 1992 Mark Holmgren and Early Warning recorded its album, As If, and Mark released 100 copies on cassette. While most of the work was done in two-days, it was the first complete studio experience for me, recording with a full band in this way. All things considered, we were justifiably proud of the product. I still listen to this album and feel good about it. When I listen to it, it makes me, yes, nostalgic for those times as well. And I'll often play along with my guitar, and get personally embarrassed when I find that I've forgotten the lead guitar parts that I composed for some of the tunes.

If my (failing) memory serves again, our last major gig was North Country Fair, in June of 1992. It would be the only time I ever travelled out of town to play a gig. North Country Fair takes place near Joussard, in northern Alberta, on the shores of Slave Lake, on the weekend closest to the summer solstice. And it takes place outside. So we had to camp. I hadn't camped for decades. Dorothy wasn't able to attend with us, as she had gone to Europe, so she lent me her tent. While we were all setting up our equipment, another damn thunderstorm hit, and we were soaked to the bones. Suffice it to say that the weekend, while fun musically, wasn't something I wanted to relive in the not-too-distant future.

We continued to practice and learn new tunes, but Mark developed a problem with his singing voice that was never resolved, and eventually, Mark Holmgren and Early Warning ceased to be. From time to time, Mark and John and I get together to jam, just not often enough. Mark's music has the character and depth of writers like Stan Rogers and Richard Thompson, and I still believe that his music deserves to be heard by a much, much larger audience. I hope this can happen someday soon.

1992: Maria Dunn and The Invisible Jug Band

Continuing on with a habit that began with The Flicks - joining one band while still in another - while I was still playing with Mark Holmgren, I began talking with Maria Dunn about getting together to jam and learn some of her tunes. At the time Maria had been in a band called Greasy Lake (named for the story Greasy Lake by T Corraghesen Boyle, who borrowed the title for his story from the Bruce Springsteen song - or so the story goes...) I ended up at Maria's house one night, and she taught me a couple of her original tunes, "The Bus Song", and "Willow Wood (In The Dark)". Together with an old Patsy Cline song, about an hour later we marched over to the City Media Club, and with trusty friend Georges Giguere at the soundboard, we were introduced to the crowd at the monthly Folk Open Stage as The Invisible Jug Band.

Shortly thereafter, Maria asked her friend Dawn Anderson to join the band. Dawn had played with Maria in Greasy Lake, and had also sung lead vocals in the band The Nowhere Blossoms. Dawn became known as The Goddess of Rhythm. We continued to learn many of Maria's crafty tunes, and - shock of shocks - the girls encouraged me to actually SING a bit, to the point where I was - wait for it - singing LEAD on a few tunes. Even I was in shock. I often felt intimidated somewhat, singing with the golden-throated ones, but at the same time it was great fun.

One of my favorite cover tunes, a song I'd known for decades, is called "Remember Then", by Gallagher and Lyle. I played it for Maria and Dawn, and much to my amazement, they suggested we add it to the repertoire, with me singing lead. We tastefully arranged it, but I confess that every time we played the song, I was nervous. Dawn, whose voice still moves me, sang a gentle harmony, and Maria added a gentle layer of accordion that quietly appeared at the beginning of the second chorus, giving the song a richness that was almost chilling. What made me nervous were two things: the first two verses of this song I sang ALONE. I mean, no harmony, no other instruments, just me and my guitar. On the first chorus, Dawn would sing harmony, and my nervousness would subside somewhat. I remember that every time we played this wonderful song, I would give thanks when Maria joined me with her accordion. And I always worried that I would screw up the guitar arrangement while I concentrated on singing. In the end, to be honest, I was proud to play this tune with Dawn and Maria supporting and encouraging me.

A few months into playing with Maria and Dawn, I decided to buy a mandolin, even though I really didn't know how to play one. But I knew that I could probably learn the basics quickly. In other words, be a brilliant faker. At the very least, I had "played" one at Amelia's house, and discovered that I could adapt my guitarist skills to the mandolin without too much effort. So in August of 1992, I bought a Washburn mandolin.

I recall that after agreeing to the purchase, I picked it up on a weekday, and that night, spent a couple of hours learning a few chords and some picking patterns. The next night we incorporated it into a traditional Scottish tune called "Leezy Lindsay". The following Saturday we played a gig at the Media Club with two other bands, including The Earthtones from Calgary. During our sound check, I suggested that we check "Leezy Lindsay" because we had never used the mandolin before. The sound check ensued, and we were satistfied with the mandolin's voice. After the sound check, one of the Earthtones approached me and said, "Hi, I just wanted to tell you that I really enjoyed your mandolin playing". I couldn't resist. Nonplussed, I looked at him and responded, "Well, thanks, I should tell you though that I've been playing since Tuesday."

He looked at me incredulously, and I laughed and explained to him that in truth, I had bought the damn thing five days earlier, and, aware that I could "transfer" my basic guitar-playing skills to the mandolin, learned a few chords, established a comfortable playing style, and took it from there. We laughed about it, and I again thanked him for the compliment. Subsequent to that night, we began using the mandolin more and more, until I was playing it on about 10-12 tunes in the band.

Some months into the life of The Invisible Jug Band, we sought a percussionist. And in fact, a number of musicians joined us on occasion, including Dawn's sister Kara, a bass player, and a cellist. In the end, we were joined by the amazing Paul Paetz, aka Duke Bronfman, late of Jerry Jerry and the Sons of Rhythm Orchestra and Jr Gone Wild and numerous other musical associations. Duke is a brilliant drummer, and until 1997 could be found pounding skins in the Mike McDonald Band. (In 2004, Duke is busier than ever.) Duke added a number of things to the band, including a backbeat, harmony, ideas for arranging tunes, and a great Pee Wee Herman impression.

In the spring of 1993 we recorded four tunes, including two of Maria's originals, and a song that I still can't get out of my head, a traditional tune called The Crafty Maid's Policy. This song featured Dawn and Maria trading vocals with each new verse, and was (and still is) one of those songs that just *feels* good to play. I still slap the capo on the second fret from time to time and crank out a verse to remind myself of the pleasure of playing this song.

In the fall of 1993, for reasons that have never been clear to me, and to be sure, had nothing to do with the cliched reasons given for members quitting bands, I felt I had to leave The Invisible Jug Band. I knew that the energy and drive just wasn't there. I played my last gigs with them before Christmas, the highlight being a great gig at Dinwoodie's on the U of Alberta campus, where we opened for The Skydiggers (who, I should mention, DID treat us with respect, paying us a brief visit before and after our opening set, to encourage us and tell us they enjoyed what they heard. Man, was I impressed!). I knew that I still liked Maria and Dawn and Duke, so it had nothing to do with any of them.

After I left, Chris Smith joined for a time, and fast forwarding to the present, Maria's career continues to build, having released her first solo album in 1998, and a fine album it is.

The Story Continues

Last update: 20 april 2000

Last updated on October 09, 2002