Ernest Despres was born at Cocagne in 1928. His father bought him a Marine Band harmonica when he was eight and by his early teens he was playing it and other harmonicas, given him as Christmas presents, at house parties and square dances. But it was the fiddling of a neighbour, Alyre Belliveau, and concerts by the Bunkhouse Boys who were on Moncton radio and played Cocagne frequently that soon became his inspiration, so he borrowed a mandolin and guitar, learned to play them as well; then did the same with a borrowed fiddle.
In 1949, he moved to Moncton and, motivated by fiddlers he met in that city, studied violin with Professor Phillipe Arsenault.
In 1955 he married Jeanine Arsenault, a Cathedral organist and choir director. They formed a band in 1957 called Les Gais Mariniers specializing in old time favourites and Latin American tunes to play dance halls and other venues.
Then in 1960, Ernest formed another band, the Ercolle Catalli. Other music alliances followed in which Ernest played drums and percussion, as well as fiddle. These included the Crescendos from 1962-1977 and Strings and Keys from 1990-1996.
After retiring from his day job in 1983, he opened a studio to teach violin, note reading and tablature, and mandolin and guitar, as well.
In 1991, he founded the Greater Moncton Fiddlers, an ensemble of 12 musicians, which has evolved over the years into a group of over 70 who meet weekly, September to June each year. Ernest often hosts parties for them serving his famous ‘secret family recipe’ lobster rolls and demonstrating his other musical abilities: those of wildly animated spoon player and acrobatic step dance master.
A composer of several great fiddle tunes, as well, Ernest’s recent honours have included the Curtis Hicks Memorial, the Tara Lynne Touesnard and NB Old Time Fiddle Orchestra Awards.
In 1990, Strings and Keys recorded a cassette at Prime Time Studio in Sussex so as to leave a legacy of their work together.
Ernest continues to teach and play benefits, senior citizen facilities and nursing homes and spends hours each day preparing material for students.
Although only 40 when he died, Kenneth Hubbard left an indelible imprint on the Miramichi Community in which he lived. There’s a fiddle carved on his headstone with an inscription "His Music Was Loved By All".
An extraordinarily talented fiddler, Ken was the eighth of ten children born to Jack and Elizabeth (Peters) Hubbard of South Nelson. That was 1927 and from the time he could talk and move to music it was obvious Ken was born to fiddle. In fact, when he was only seven he made one from a long handled dipper covered by moleskin and a crude alder bow strung with horsehair. Ken’s oldest brother, Norman, soon bought him a real one and by age 10 he was performing at his family’s lumber camp. When he was 13, Ken and two brothers, Sterling and Burton, began playing for barn and house raisings, wedding and graduation dances. At 17 he formed a band, Ken Hubbard & The Hubbardaires, with his brothers, Sterling on guitar, Burton vocals and Ken’s future mother-in-law Irene Estey on piano, himself on fiddle, to play dance halls and do radio broadcasts.
It’s claimed that during the era of Don Messer on radio, Ken Hubbard was as well known locally as Messer was at that time. Many other Miramichi musicians played with the Hubbardaires in those years as well, backing such famous acts as Kidd Baker and Paul Parent and raised thousands of dollars to help build a new wing on Newcastle’s Miramichi Hospital. In the 1950’s, they were the first country act to play live on CKMR Radio and had a regular Saturday night program for years afterwards. During those years they cut a few records locally while busy with regular bookings and fund-raisers.
In 1956 Ken was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. His positive attitude kept his spirits up and he continued to play venues as long as his health permitted. When he was unable to, fans came to his home to listen.
He passed away in 1968 at the age of 40 but he is still fondly remembered not only for his fiddling but for his infectious sense of humour.
The five Gaston Brothers…William (Billy), Morrissey (Moe), Ronald (Ronnie), Wilfred (Wilf) and Beverley (Bev)…have played country music together and apart, solo and in different combinations, since their teens. Billy, the oldest, learned to pick guitar and fiddle and taught his brothers to play instruments as well.
Recognition on the provincial music scene came finally in 1955 when Ronnie (now deceased) and Wilf entered a Capital Co-Op Jamboree and won a Gibson J-50 guitar which led to frequent appearances of the four older brothers on that show.
Ronnie and Moe played Miramichi River venues throughout the 1950’s and, with Wilf, appeared on CHSJ-TV with Kidd Baker, Fred McKenna, Ned Landry, Aubrey Hanson and others. Wilf also played with the Miramichi’s Brandon Hall Band and Moe was an original member of George Knickle & The Arrows, a band that reunited a few years ago to play summer events. Moe is still a bassist employed by studios for frequent recording sessions.
Bev, the youngest, joined his brothers in 1993.
Billie has been a member of a number of well-known bands in various NB localities and his distinctive voice has contributed greatly to their popularity.
For over a decade, Moe, Ronnie, Wilf and Bev played and sang gospel and country with Paul and Wanda Lyons, Russ Wheeler, Alice Long and a number of other river acts. They were also guests at Miramichi Folk Song Festivals several times and played other concerts with its director, Susan Butler.
The four surviving brothers play Bill Mullin’s Miramichi Opry every Friday night and have been regulars at Ritchie’s Wharf once a month in summer.
Ronnie wrote many songs considered ‘river treasures’ by local country performers and he recorded a number of them on CDs and cassettes The Gaston Brothers, solo and together, also continue to entertain at many live concerts, fundraisers, hospitals, Legions, senior citizen and nursing homes.
Most recently, they were the opening act at the 2007 Pre-Miramichi Folk Song Festival Gospel Concert.
William "Bill" H. Mullin
Bill was born in 1947 at Red Bank and has lived most of his life in that area. Although a singer and guitar picker since his teens, Bill always had to earn a living at construction and woods-work. Then, for a number of years, he headed his own heavy equipment company on the Miramichi often taking men and machines to assist on construction projects as far away as the Rothesay and Saint John areas.
For seven years, following closure of that business, he operated a vehicle repair and inspection station at Red Bank, using its office at night as a practice facility for a band, the Miramichi Valley Boys, he formed to play fundraisers, benefits and nursing homes, clubs and other music venues. Gradually the practices became long jam sessions with other local musicians and singers joining them and, as word spread, fans came to listen.
When Bill had to close his vehicle repair facility for health reasons the jams continued, still growing and eventually he turned the entire building into Bill Mullin’s Country Music Opry and booked outside acts to perform with his band and regular weekly singers and musicians. These mushroomed into Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday happenings.
In the meantime, Bill began hosting a country gospel radio show on 99.3 FM. (The River) Sundays at 7:05 a.m. on which he interviews NB and touring acts that perform live and he plays tapes and CDs by other N.B. artists. Bill has featured acts from across Canada as well as the US, Germany and Switzerland. Local legends and music personalities such as Ned Landry, Eldon and Ruth Barton, Jim and Audrey Chamberlain have also joined him.
Two years ago, Bill founded The Miramichi Traditional Country Music Hall Of Fame and its inductee plaques and memorabilia are displayed in the spacious Opry building where Bill and his wife Betty are the hosts. It’s wheelchair accessible and its interior is alcohol, smoke and drug free.
Bill has written many songs and has recorded them along with country and gospel favourites on seven cassettes and CDs. He, also, has appeared on Miramichi Folksong Festivals.
Winston Rees grew up on the banks of the Grand Lake in Cumberland Bay and was influenced at an early age by his uncles, the Phillips Brothers and their sister, his aunt Lorraine, who were early Rodeo label bluegrass recording stars.
Musically gifted, he taught himself to play banjo and joined his uncles and aunt on tours, playing concerts from N.B. to Ontario and into the US.
After a serious back injury, resulting from a fall, ended his daytime job as a carpenter, teaching music and playing with country, old-time, bluegrass and gospel bands became his main source of income.
Over the years he has played countless concerts, dances, festivals, benefits and community events. Sometimes solo or with small groups of his own and stretches with such elite international radio and TV favourites as the Gospelaires with whom, as a former member, he was inducted into the New Brunswick Gospel Hall of Fame in 2005.
He was also an original member of the Valley Jamboree cast playing banjo, mandolin and guitar and for 12 years backed such stars as Ivan Hicks, Allison Inch and Gordon Stobbe and sat in as a studio musician on many Prime Time Sound Studio recording sessions. During that time he formed his own concert act, The Winston Rees Family, with his songwriting, harmony singing wife, Helen and their daughters, Sherry and Heather, who sang and played guitar and bass. They recorded an exceptionally beautiful cassette You Sing For Me and appeared at festivals, concerts, fairs, wedding parties and were featured on ATV’s Up Home Tonight on their Maritime network.
Winston has taught guitar, banjo, dobro to hundreds of students, and does acoustic instrument repairs for three music stores. He has built dobro guitars for several years that many East Coast musicians now play with pride.
Winston uses his own unique no-note method of teaching guitar, banjo, dobro and mandolin and has written his own guitar instruction book. He is also part of the Southern Flavour Bluegrass Band, that has a devoted and ever growing following of fans.