BY LAURENT D’ENTREMONT
While reading a country music newsletter, one that caters to older music, I was quite pleased to see Ken Reynolds had recently written a book on his 60 years in Canadian Country music.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, he had been the tour organizer/ manager for Wilf Carter and Don Messer. He had also managed or promoted other big names on the music scene in those days: Doc and Chickie Williams, Marg Osburne, Charlie Chamberlain, Hank Snow, Ward Allen, Graham Townsend, Johnny Cash, Orval and Ronnie Prophet, The Happy Wanderers - and a host of others.
I wanted the book mostly because of his association with Carter and Messer, two entertainers with Nova Scotia connections close to my heart. The newsletter had a phone number, and I placed a call to Ken Reynolds at his home in Ottawa. He was very pleasant in conversation, mentioned some of the places he had visited on his Maritime tours including Yarmouth and Kentville, where Wilf Carter, with his Valley connection, was extremely popular. Reynolds was very pleased, in 2000, the Wilf Carter room had been officially opened in Canning by the Canning Library and Fieldwood Heritage Society. This is mentioned in the book.
Reynolds was a trailblazer in the entertainment world, bringing country music artists with wholesome family shows to over 400 towns and cities on the Canadian scene. This promoter was a one-man operation who organized every detail of the tours. Reynolds was highly respected for his integrity, honesty and easy manners.
The book tells of life on the road with some of the greatest entertainers of those days. One early tour he organized was with Carter (The Family Show with the Folks you know) in the early 1950s. Young Reynolds was 23 when he organized this seven-week tour of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. Carter’s two young daughters - Sheila, nine, and Carol, six - performed on the tour, singing and dancing and playing a few instruments. The non-performing Mrs. Bobbie Carter took care of her daughters.
One sad event on the 1952 tour was, while Carter was performing near his mother’s New Brunswick home, she passed away at an advance age. The country crooner stayed to help his brothers, Lovitt and Cecil, with the funeral arrangements. In a few days, the tour continued to Newfoundland and to a rousing success.
Next summer, the tour drifted out west, across the prairies to Victoria B.C. and then all the way to Whitehorse in the Yukon. I have a hunch the song When the Ice Worms Nest Again was as popular in the Yukon as Apple Blossom Time in Annapolis Valley was in Kentville.
By the 1950s, some of the Canadian musicians like Hank Snow and Wilf Carter were popular in far away Australia, where country music was big and really appreciated. The number one country musician in the land down under was “Slim Dusty,” with songs like When the Rain tumbles down in July and Pub with No Beer. The Australians wanted more and, in 1954, Reynolds organized an Australian tour of the Wilf Carter show. Unfortunately, the tour did not turned out as planned: Wilf caught a "bug,” a throat infection he could not shake off, after performing only three shows. This was a catastrophe, as the star of the show had to return home for treatments. Lots of planning, the band hired, venues rented, money invested, etc, had already been committed.
One of the musicians touring with the Wilf Carter show was an Australian named Reg Lindsay. Although he had some exposure with his records, he was not as popular as Carter (or Slim Dusty). They decided to change the name of the show to the Reg Lindsay show. As it turned out, Lindsay who could sing and yodel with the best of them and was a real showman, saved the day. Carter never returned to complete the Australian tour.
The remainder of the book is dedicated a great deal to Messer, who did the same tours Carter had done a few years earlier. Messer was popular and well received everywhere he played. There are chapters on many of the musicians, especially Charlie Chamberlain and Marge Osburne.
There were dozens of others Reynolds had promoted and had organized tours for, but the Yodeling Wilf Carter was the one with Annapolis Valley connections.