Joe MacDonald was born on January 2, 1931 at Bay Side, Northumberland County, NB. He played for his first dance in 1940 at the only Vocational High School in NB at the time. He fell asleep several times while playing, as a dance was to go from dusk to dawn, lucky to get paid one dollar for the night. He played with his father, Mont MacDonald. In fact, the whole family played. He played with anyone that could play a tune. His brother Elmer is a great fiddler and guitar player. Joe himself plays any instrument that has strings. His favourites are the banjo and guitar. The late Maurice Beaulieu showed him how to play the banjo at the old Ferry Road Hall.
While in the army, stationed at Petawawa, Ontario, he played with Matilda Murdock’s late brother K.D. Kelly and the Ottawa Valley Boys. They played Chalk River, Petawawa, Pembroke, etc. K.D. was one of the best in his time. Joe played with the Irving Orchestra under Jack Irving. In 1960, Joe formed his own band and called it the BJ’s. It got its name from all the Bobs and Joes in the band.
Joe played with many artists that came and went at CFB Chatham. Everyone wanted to play in Joe MacDonald’s band. In 1975, he renamed the band “Black Diamond”, and it remained as Black Diamond until he retired from the band. He has done sound for many events including the Irish Festival for 10 years.
Joe has been very active in community projects. Along with the late Bob Murdock, they are responsible for the founding of the Miramichi Fiddlers, Maritime Fiddlers Doos in Douglastown, The Seamans Hospital Project by Miramichi Heritage Inc. and was one of the founding members of Miramichi Sanatoria Club. Like his father used to say: “I played for everyone that built a barn or had a fire, from the head of the time to Escuminac.”
Jimmy Chapman’s musical career first started in his hometown of Minto, New Brunswick. He was a popular fiddler throughout the Maritimes during the 50’s and 60’s. This versatile musician played fiddle as well as lead guitar and vocals and some impressions of country stars.
He first played with the Rhythm Rascals and went on to become a regular on the Fredericton Jamboree. During his career he played radio and television shows throughout New Brunswick as well as in Barrie, Ontario and Bangor, Maine.
In the late 50’s he toured with Charlie Bailey and his Happy Valley Boys, a well-known bluegrass group out of Knoxville, Tennessee and later appeared many times with the Bunkhouse Boys, a popular Moncton-based band who hosted their own radio and TV shows for many years.
Among some of Jimmy’s fondest memories in country music was the occasion to play behind Charlie Pride and Dave Rowlands (of Dave & Sugar fame) when they guested at the Prince Edward Lounge in Charlottetown, PEI.
Although his forte is the traditional style country music, he enjoys playing a variety of music styles from gospel and bluegrass to country rock. He also had one of his early fiddle albums re-released by Rodeo Records under the title of “The Best Darn Fiddling in the World.”
He enjoyed music very much and did personal appearances around New Brunswick for many years until his death.
June was born at Union Settlement, Queen’s County where my musical career began at a very early age. There was always music at home and the sound of my dad and brother Gordon playing seemed to draw me to music.
At the age of 8 years old, I began playing piano with the Stilwell Family Band in local halls around Cambridge Narrows and Waterborough. We played about twice a week and people would often comment, “Look! Her feet don’t even touch the floor!” In later years, I played for dances with country music Hall of Famer, Harold O’Donnell.
In 1947-48, I came to Saint John and was introduced to Ned Landry by my brother Gordon who had served with Ned in the army. Shortly after I began playing with Ned on the CHSJ early morning show. The 1950’s saw me playing numerous dates around the Maritimes. Following this, I gained a spot with the great Lionel Poirier Band and remained with them for about five years.
From 1963-67, I played with the Art Marr Band for dances and show dates. It was during this time that I became acquainted with well-known fiddler Perry Craft, and a man who was to become a legend in Maritime country music – George Hector. At the invitation of George, I joined his band, playing with them periodically over the next three years.
In 1970, music took a back seat to family life but still found time to do a weekly show on Cable 10. In recent years I have played with Allison Inch for monthly square dances at Queenstown Hall. In the early 90’s I was selected as “official house piano accompanist” for the Woodstock Old Home Week and have played there ever since. The “Allan Cluff Trophy” was presented to me in 1992 for most closely representing the old time piano playing style.
During this time I also became as part of the Rick Gerrior and the Saint John Oldtime Fiddlers Group, playing along with Antique Ernie and the Hardwood Ramblers. It was while playing for the above groups that I became more closely acquainted with Ernie Blanchard. He is now my fiancé and my dearest friend. Presently I remain active in both groups and played accompaniment for them on their recently released tapes. It was also such a privilege to play back-up for long-time friends such as Perry Craft, Pat Boulanger and Debbie MacMillan.
I have made many wonderful friends through my music and music continues to be an important part of my life.
For the past four decades Gene has been entertaining audiences with his own brand of home grown country music.
The Gene O’Connor show has opened for artists such as Ray Price, Charlie Pride and Dave & Sugar during the late seventies and early eighties. In June 1993, Gene and his new band “Legend” back new Warner Brothers artist Chris Cummings for three sold out shows in New Brunswick. In July 1993 Gene O’Connor and Legend opened a sold out show for country music outlaw Waylon Jennings. Gene and the band received rave reviews from the fans and Waylon Jennings himself. In 1994 he opened for Tanya Tucker and Brooks & Dunn. Also on the card was Doug Stone, Charlie Major, Irish Descendants and more.
The Early Years
Gene hails from a farming community of the South Eastern New Brunswick town of Sussex. At the age of 5, Gene took a liking to the guitar and singing. He also sang and yodeled on the Lone Pine and Betty Cody Talent Show and won top final. By age 10, Gene was singing at parties with his brothers who were also musical. Gene was considered one of the fastest yodelers around the age of 13; a title he still has today. After leaving Sussex, Gene sang and played at the Fredericton Jamboree.
At age 20, Gene left New Brunswick and played the London, Hamilton and Toronto circuit for ten years before returning to New Brunswick. He then formed a new band and played the Maritime circuit. He also joined the Art Marr Jamboree and became a feature artist every week. During the seventies Gene wrote songs and put music to many songs where he performed in many bars. At the end of the seventies Gene recorded many of his own compositions. One of these songs, “She My Very Own” was picked as Canada’s up and coming country single in 1979. Gene also played on the Curly O’Brien Show.
In the eighties, Gene cut back on touring and played the Saint John area. A new business venture kept him from the music scene for a few years. In the 90’s he was back writing new songs himself and collaborated with friends on others. He and his band Legend are releasing a new CD featuring his new songs which he will promote now that he is going back touring. Gene is also one of three founders and directors of the New Brunswick Music Association.
So, if you or your patrons long to hear a good tight country dance band, Gene O’Connor and Legend are ready to entertain.
From earliest memory, music has been an important and pleasant part of my life. Early childhood was spent singing old hymns of the church and in later years to choir singing. My first introduction to country music was from hearing one of the neighbors playing harmonica cranking out some of Jimmy Rodgers classics which totally fascinated this 6 or 7 year old lad who vowed to learn to play the harmonica. We moved to Saint John when I was 9 and at 11 I met a boy my age that loved to sing Wilf Carter songs. We could both yodel in harmony and we were soon performing at several functions around the city.
At 13 I signed up for a course at the Hawaii School of Music. The fee was $1.00 per week which covered the cost of the instrument which was yours to keep at the end of the course. Three of us graduated with certificates and now added another instrument to our trio performances.
In the late thirties, we were asked to play for round and square dances at the Musquash Hall. We had 2 guitars and a harmonica and could play in the keys of C, D and G for variety.
In 1940, I got a call from George Hector asking me to join the Maritime Farmers Radio Show and Dance Band. To get an opportunity to play with George Hector, Frank Adamson, and Normie Hamilton was a dream come true. By this time I had an SS Stewart Arch Top Guitar and I would also play the Hawaiian while Ned accompanied me on the flat top on radio shows. We had a live show on CHSJ on Church Street, 7:00 to 7:30 Friday night. The station would record the session and play it Saturday morning for those fans who missed it.
In the early forties we had regular dances at the New Moon at Lakewood on Tuesday and Thursday and at the One Mile House on Monday and Friday. On Saturday I would pick up the gang and head to Dipper Harbour to play for a dance there, where I met my future wife Doreen. During these years we also managed a number of tours through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
I played with the Farmers until the early Fifties when a new job required a lot of road travel but I carried my guitar and jammed when the opportunity arrived
The years have passed quickly and many of my musical friends are no longer with us. It is an honour and a privilege to have been selected to join my old friends with the New Brunswick Country Music Hall of Fame. My thanks to the committee.