Lorraine Phillips was best known in New Brunswick as an important member of the early pioneer bluegrass act, ‘The Phillips Brothers’, although she has had an exciting musical career of her own.
Born into the large musical Phillips Family of Cumberland Bay on the banks of Grand Lake, she began singing as a pre-teen with her brothers Erdie and Ray and at the tender age of 13 won a recording contract with Rodeo Records by placing first at a Fredericton Western Jamboree competition. She recorded a single with that label, then a historic album with Erdie and Ray, ‘Church In The Wildwood’, the first bluegrass album produced in Canada.. This led to a radio show series of their own on CHSJ, Saint John, live concerts throughout NB and NS and many TV appearances.
Lorraine moved to the West Coast in 1962, married shortly afterwards and had three children before resuming her music career in the early 1970’s with a very talented and high profile all-girl band. They played leading venues throughout British Columbia on a circuit that included the prestigious Hyatt Regency in Vancouver and the world renowned Harrison Hot Springs Hotel.
After the act broke up, she added diversity to her musical interests becoming an ‘Abbotsford Jazz Society’ vocalist and worked as a sought after back-up singer at several Vancouver recording studios. She, also, did guest appearances with a touring jazz group, ‘Mr. Crow’, from Australia.
In 1978, Lorraine returned to Fredericton, joining many of her friends on the cast of the Capital City Jamboree, performing as a regular on their weekly Saturday night shows.
Although country music has always been her first love she couldn’t resist the opportunity to spread her wings once more and for a year was, also, lead vocalist for the Royal Canadian Regiment dance band which, as well as playing weekly dances at Canadian Forces Camp Gagetown, performed occasional area concerts.
But eventually her three children and five grand children lured her back to the West Coast and she settled again in Abbotsford, BC. Soon she was performing again, welcomed back by her many fans and continuing to win accolades with her exceptionally beautiful voice. She is still very active.
Gordon Stilwell was born in Union Settlement, November 12, 1920. His father was an old-time fiddler and so Gordon grew up hearing the old time tunes, jigs and reels from infancy and loving them. While still very young he tried making a fiddle with a wooden fish box strung with twine but recalls being dismayed when it didn’t produce any sound let alone the sweet strains he’d expected to hear. His trial fiddle so impressed his father, however, that he acquired an old one and fixed it up for him. He remembers his mother’s joy when at eight he played the first tune he learned, ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’, for her, even though years later she confessed not having recognized the tune at all. Gradually, however, he became a good enough fiddler by watching his father and others, that in 1940 while stationed in Gaspé with the Canadian Armed Forces, Ned Landry, a barrack mate for a time, asked Gordon to play base dances with him, playing fiddle while Ned demonstrated his multi-instrumental talents on piano, guitar and fiddle.
Later, in Germany, while serving over-seas Gordon came into possession of a very fine fiddle which he sent home. It’s the one he’s played since War’s end when he returned to NB to form The ‘Stillwell Band’ with other musical family members. They played local dances and concerts for eight years until Gordon moved to Saint John to work in 1953 and formed a band called. ‘The Grand Lake Ramblers’ to play dances and variety shows nights and week-ends.
At the same time he began appearing weekly on TV with the ‘Maritime Folk’ and won several NB fiddling contests. After retirement in 1991, he moved back to Union Settlement and played with the ‘Down Home Boys’ at benefits, dances and jams until his eyesight failed two years ago.
Now he spends hours weekly helping young fiddlers, composing tunes and working on recordings with a group of friends.
Francis and David Gogan grew up in the Randolph area of Saint John. David, the older, taught Francis to play a guitar he’d built himself and while still in their pre-teens, they formed a group ‘The Randolph Ramblers’ which played jamborees and made appearances on ‘Uncle Bill’s’ popular CHSJ Radio show.
Over the next 45 years the Gogan Brothers were the nucleus of several other bands. ‘The Country Rhythmaires’, which they formed in 1952, featured David as lead singer and his Elvis Act in the mid-50’s, after Presley became such a sensation, gained them an enthusiastic new audience.
A weekly show on CFBC Radio featuring the band ended when the act split up in 1959. Francis then began playing with Lionel Poirier and in 1960 David joined their band, ‘The Country Pals’, as lead singer. With the brothers reunited the band was soon being hailed as ‘one of the best in the province.’
In the late 60’s ‘The Country Pals’ became a featured act of Art Marr’s Lily Lake Jamborees backing many US stars, among them Doc Williams, Tommy Cash and leading Canadian performers such as Tommy Common, Ned Landry and George Hector.
After Lionel retired , The Country Pals changed its name to ‘Dave Gogan & The Sidemen’ and in the 1970’s David adopted the up-tempo Cajun hit Diggy, Diggy Lo as their signature song. Francis semi-retired from music at that time but in 1973 formed a group ‘The Get Togethers’ to play clubs and Legions. After the Sidemen disbanded in 1984, Dave and Frances joined their musical talents again to form what came to be known as the “justly infamous” ‘Country Rhythm Band’ which entertained Saint John, Norton and Sussex audiences for 13 years.
Both David and Francis agree, however, that one of their greatest honours was backing the great Maine born Nashville star Dick Curless, The Baron of Country Music, in 1990 and 1991 during his last two Saint John concerts. Both brothers retired from the country music scene in 1997. Although neither recorded, their long active careers were very influential.
Ronald "Butch" Roy
Born March 5, 1936, the late Ronald Joseph Roy, soon become known simply as ‘Butch’ Roy to family, friends and later, his large following of loyal fans.
Surrounded by music and musicians from birth, he developed a great love of old time music at a very early age. Taught his first chords on guitar by a childhood friend, Lionel Poirier, who young himself, soon told Butch in exasperation “you’ll never make a guitar player”. But in a few years, as his wife Margaret relates: “Boy, did Butch prove him wrong!”. In fact, by his mid-teens Butch was so well-known as a lead guitarist, bass player and banjo picker, that Ned Landry and Rick Russell in 1951 invited him to join them playing dances at popular Daly’s Hall on Saint John’s outskirts.
Shortly after that Butch and Rick teamed to play as the ‘R & B Ranch Gang’ with another local act ‘The Harmony Sisters’ weekly over CFBC Radio. Butch, also, became a regular on CHSJ’s famous ‘Maritime Farmers’ weekly TV and radio shows for over a decade.
Inventive in finding ways to improve and modify the instruments he played, Butch, during those very active years, designed a double necked guitar-banjo which became his trademark. The top half was a banjo with resonator, the bottom a regular six string guitar eliminating the time lapse required to shift from one instrument to another.
Later, he rejoined his boyhood friend Lionel Poirier to form the nucleus of a backing band for Nashville stars ‘Grandpa Jones’, ‘Stonewall Jackson’, ‘Carl and Pearl Butler’ during an extended Maritime tour by the three act show, a highlight of their careers for both musicians.
In later years, Butch would play with the talented ‘Gogan Brothers’, Francis and David, in both their ‘Country Rhythm’ and ‘Country Pals’ bands.
A dedicated and very popular entertainer, Butch’s death in 1987 at the age of 51 shocked his family and many fans. He is survived by his wife, Margaret and two sons, Michael and Scott, both very versatile musicians.
George "Kingfish" Stevens
The late George Stephens was born in Middleton, NS in 1915; he departed this life February 18, 1986 but, in the 71 years between, did much to enhance the image of country music here in his adopted province, New Brunswick.
George showed musical tendencies at an early age and a particular fondness for the sound of button accordion, an instrument he quickly mastered when he was eventually able to acquire one.
By the mid-30s his fame was so wide-spread as an accordion player that he was asked by Don Messer to join him and his ‘New Brunswick Lumberjacks’ at Rollingdam, the first of several concerts he played with them.
Through the late 30’s and the next four decades he worked with almost every well-known musical group in the province. That included dances at Saint John Legion Halls and such popular night spots such as the ‘One Mile House’ and ‘Daly’s’ on Golden Grove Road forging alliances with famous area musicians, Butch Roy, Kenny Steeves, Art Marr, Vance Patterson and others.
Eventually he joined ‘Joe Hachey and The New Brunswick Ramblers’ for a CFBC Radio show series that aired weekly for ten years. During that time he, also, toured the Maritimes with RCA recording stars Hal Lone Pine and Betty Cody.
In the late sixties he joined Art Marr’s Orchestra to play the famous Lily Lake Jamborees, Morrisdale Square dances and do month long tours. Somewhere in those years he acquired the nick-name ‘Kingfish’ from the Amos ‘n Andy radio show character of the same name. In the 70’s he played ‘Club XL’ with Art Marr’s entourage backing such artists as Dick Curless, Ernie Ashworth, David Rogers, Lefty Frizzell, Tommy Cash and Doc Williams.
In later years he played the ‘Carleton-York Club’, weekly Saint John City Market senior citizen dances, many benefits and fundraisers.