The Brand New Mac Beattie CD
released February, 2004
See Albums Below for more information
Jim Beattie, a harmonica and bugle player, ventriloquist and jokester, would spend his winters in the shanty camps of the Gatineau Hills in Pontiac County, Quebec. It was at these camps that Jimmie would hear the songs and stories of shantymen from all over the valley. They'd sing Irish songs, Scottish songs, French songs and songs of the shanty life. They'd dance the reels and entertain themselves to pass the monotony of daily life in the winter camps.
When Jimmie came home each spring, he'd bring back those songs and stories that would fascinate his family. It was in this atmosphere that Mac grew up. It was in this folklore of the valley that he would dedicate his life. His love of the stories, the lives of the people, of the gentle times, the hard times, it all hit home by the time he was a teen-ager. Mac Beattie utilized these spiritual forces to forge ahead during those very interesting times.
Listening to Mac Beattie's lyrics now, you could not fail to notice his frequent mention of the people and places of the Ottawa Valley. You would also probably notice the strange way he used his voice to enunciate his words, the old-style inflections he utilized in his poetic ballads. I have not heard anyone else sing like this, and even now in the Valley with its distinct Irish/Scotts accent, Mac's accent remains unique.
Mac Beattie never played a melodic instrument other than a bit of harmonica. Instead, he chose the washboard to accompany his songs. Along with friends Gaetan Fairfield and Garnie Scheel, he formed a band called the Melodiers in the early 1930s to mimic the sounds of the big dance bands of that era.
It is probably because his songs were either learned or composed without the accompaniment of a melodic instrument that Mac's vocal patterns remained in theold traditional style. He didn't have a wonderful voice, but what he had he used well. He sang a cappella, using the syllables of words in the traditional way of Celtic melodies. He'd teach these songs to his friends who would then work out arrangements to fit around his singing style.
In time, Mac Beattie would go on to become Mr. Ottawa Valley with his Melodiers, riding the ups and downs of the music business for over 5 decades. During that time he would be heard and seen on national television and radio; he would associate his show with step-dancing great Don Gilchrist; he would make lifelong friends with important cultural leaders of both sides of the Ottawa River. And lastly, he would be inducted into the Ottawa Valley Country Music Hall of Fame as its second inductee (at Mac's insistance, his late fiddler, Reg Hill, received the honour of being the first to be inducted). He would also leave us with 90 tracks of music spanning 9 LPs recorded between the years of 1960 to 1975.
And Now there is great news! Peter Beattie has just released The Best of Mac Beattie and the Ottawas Valley Melodiers CD - this means that you can now purchase Mac's wonderful music for the first time in years. Contact Peter at firstname.lastname@example.org
"There were great 'old tyme' fiddlers, Mr. Robertson and his
son Tommy, and the boy could whistle any breakdown you might want
to mention. Gaetan Fairfield sometimes sat in as did Stewarty Smith, who
played a good banjo. Del Hudson and his Cornhuskers
kept us stomping our feet as well. Delly Sang and played the old tyme fiddle,
with Alec Staye and Colin Glen on the guitar. I can still
hear Delly singing 'The Old Spinning Wheel' and 'Lamplighting
Time In The Valley'."
Hockey was just as important to Mac as music. He was a pretty good goal tender and played for the Braeside team. He was later recruited to play for the Arnprior Greenshirts and the Carleton Place Red Wings. His platooning with the Melodiers lasted until he was asked to play for the brand new team on the west coast: The Nanaimo Clippers on Vancouver Island in 1940.
It was in Nanaimo that Mac got to play with future Maple Leaf great Red Carr. The team went on to the western finals where they were beaten by the Swift Current Indians. This was unheard of for an expansion team in its first year and after a summer back home in the Valley, Mac returned to play for the Clippers again. This time his stint only lasted till December when he decided to enlist for military service.
The war would have a devastating effect on Mac Beattie. Besides the fact that he would be away from home in Canada for a few years, it broke up a marriage to a Vancouver Island girl, and basically ruined his hockey career. He returned home a lost soul. He suffered depression, that post-war syndrome, not knowing what he should do with his life.
In 1948 Mac returned to the valley just in time to catch the Renfrew Lions in the Allen Cup playoffs. It was then that he chanced to run into his old pal Garnie Scheel who was also just visiting from his new home in Kitchener, Ontario. It wasn't long before they settled down to reforming the old Melodiers.
They recruited their old pal Gaetan Fairfield, fiddler Horace Blanchette, and were soon playing gigs again. Garnie purchased a beat up old jalopy and this would serve as their mode of transport. They approached radio station CHOV in Pembroke about doing a live radio show to be aired every Saturday night; they thought that this way they could promote their gigs. The program was so successful, the audience response so great that the Melodiers would continue doing this for 25 more years.
1948 was also the year that they impressed Frank Ryan, owner of the Ottawa radio station CFRA which is still on the air. Ryan, who was born near Arnprior, would hire the Melodiers on numerous occasions during the 1950s. In fact, when they played such gigs they would call themselves the CFRA Melodiers combining live on-air radio broadcasts and Friday night dances in Ottawa.
It wasn't until October of '48 that the Melodiers would make the most important deal of their career with Frank Martin of Lake Dore (pronounced doree) just north of Eganville. Martin had just erected a dance hall on his farm called Sunnydale Acres, on the eastern shore of the lake. The Melodiers would play weekly shows there every summer until 1959.
Things improved for the Melodiers and their association with Sunnydale Acres until the winter of 1950. With their mix of country songs, square dance tunes and general entertainment, the crowds began packing into the hall. The CHOV shows were as popular as ever and the Melodiers were fast rising to the status of number one local heroes.
With the quiet of winter, jobs were needed to support the various families of band members. The Melodiers disbanded and it wasn't until late summer of '51 that they would be reunited.
Mac was working on the Hydro dam at Portage du Fort when a phone call came from Frank Ryan in Ottawa. Ryan wanted Mac to perform in Ottawa and that lead to a weekly radio broadcast at his station to promote those Friday night gigs. The Martins also wanted the Melodiers back at Lake Dore so they resumed their CHOV broadcasts to support those Saturday night gigs as well.
The band grew bigger and better than before. Complete with MC, caller, step-dancers, and special guest Little Maisie Billings in her cowgirl gear, Mac fashioned his nine piece orchestra in the way of the Bob Wills band.
These were the years before the Ontario Government changed the liquor laws permitting dancing at licensed bars. At the dance hall pavilions, liquor wasn't allowed but that didn't stop the drinking in the bushes. The halls were big with amplified stages, springy floor boards and waxed surface. These were the years of Hank Williams, the Opry, the CKNX Barndance from Wingham, Ontario, and the big dance bands of the ball room era.
In his book, 'This Ottawa Valley of Mine', Mac reports on the way the era of the dance halls ended:
"As the 50s ended, so did an era. Things were never to be the same again. Country music was being crowded and found itself forced to share the stage with a new sound called rock and roll which was sweeping the continent. Ontario was retreating from the blue laws and would soon allow dancing and entertainment in the province's hotels. The end of the dance halls was assured and one by one they faded like ghosts from the past."
From his song 'Deserted Dance Hall':
Deserted dance hall
Faded posters on your door
Old faded posters -
Of the bands that play no more
You were the host of
A thousand country jamborees
Now you're the ghost of
Deserted dance hall memories
All over Ontario the dance halls closed up down. They could no longer compete with the drinking halls of town where liquor ran from the taps and the bands played to seated customers.
One of he first dance halls in the Valley was built just near Arnprior on the Mississippi River. Others like the Rustic Inn in Carleton Place, The Cedars in Almonte, featured the hottest performing bands in the area. This was the true world of Mac Beattie and the Ottawa Valley Melodiers.
With the death of Frank Martin in 1959 (his wife Lillian died the year before) Sunnydale Acres, on the shores of Lake Dore, closed its doors for good. The hall stood testament to the Martins, Mac Beattie and the great dance hall era until it was demolished in 1994.
Don Messer first heard the Melodiers on the CBC and was very impressed with their sound. He hired them to perform on his new TV show, "The Don Messer Jubilee". Mac had to make his own way to Halifax and decided to take only the core of his band: Reg Hill on fiddle and Gaetan Fairfield on guitar. When Bill Langstroth - then producer of the show and now Anne Murray's husband - first saw them he cringed. (Mac is sure that it was the washboard that did it but it might have been their red lumber shirts.) But the show was such an overwhelming success that it would ensure the Melodiers many more appearances on the program in future years.
One important friend that they made that year was the legendary Charlie Chamberlain who thought that the Melodiers were 'my kind of people'. The well loved Chamberlain would make trips to the Valley and look them up whenever he was around.
Meanwhile CHOH-TV in Pembroke started to broadcast and hired the Melodiers for a weekly TV show. This would be a variety show which would showcase Valley talent. Mac and Donnie Gilchrist were in charge of providing the very best in Valley entertainment. Charlie Chamberlain guested on the show as well.
Things lead to a guest-hosting spot on the new CTV television network's 'Cross-Canada Barndance'. The show would be recorded in Halifax, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa using local hosts: Mac was to be their Ottawa man. The other local hosts, just to give an indication of this stature, were country great Evan Kemp from Vancouver; bandleader Gaby Haas from Edmonton and Vic Mullen from the Messer band in Halifax. Frank Ryan, in Ottawa, signed the band up for a 13 week TV show on his new TV station as well.
Peter Jennings was working for CHOH at the time and of course is now known as the anchorman for the ABC television news out of New York City. (Mac Beattie's son John works for him now as special assignment producer although he commutes to work weekly from his home in Arnprior.) Jennings loved to step-dance and spread the word of the Melodiers around. Great to have friends in high places.
So the Melodiers were doing 5 TV shows and 3 weekly radio broadcasts in the early sixties! But what goes up has got to come down and sometimes with a mighty crash.
With the death of Frank Ryan in 1961 came the end of country music on CFRA. CTV blew a wad on Cross-Canada Barndance and didn't renew it for 62. Live radio shows were going the way of the great dance hall, quickly becoming a thing of the past. Mac Beattie and the Ottawa Valley Melodiers were suddenly left without a radio or TV show.
Times got rough for the Melodiers. Marie, Mac's wife, was working in Renfrew for RCA Victor and shortly after the family moved there she was laid off. Without the weekly dance hall shows it was hard to get gigs for a large dance band so members were let go.
In the spring of 63 Mac got back on track with CHOV and CHOH in Pembroke. Their television show was called 'The North Star Jamboree'. The show would run for the next 5 years.
While continuing to record and promote themselves, the Melodiers were able to keep one step ahead of the grave. While others bands of their era were dying off, The Melodiers just kept on going. Mac had to pull out all his cards; his friendships of the past started to pay off big time. Charlie Chamberlain and Marg Osborne along with Catherine MacKinnon - 'Farewell to Nova Scotia' and Singalong Jubilee fame - guested on his show. So did step-dancing great Buster Brown, Donnie Gilchrist and his child protégé Donnie Poirier. Things like this ensured more appearances for the Melodiers on the Messer show.
The band was still very popular in the valley and packed them into hotels. Labine's Hotel at Fort Coulonge was a big Mac Beattie place. So were the Chapeau Hotel and Gavin's Hotel at Quyon, Quebec.
As I said, when trouble strikes...
The year 1968 was unkind to the Melodiers. Just when things were going great at the Hotel Renfrew, fire struck and burned the place to the ground. Along with the destruction of the hotel was the band's gear. Without insurance, they were screwed. It would not be possible to continue without a recess of sorts so Mac took a job with the LCBO (liquor store).
They seemed to be making it back again, having made contracts to perform regularly, this time at the Madawaska Hotel in Arnprior. Now just a quartet consisting of Gaetan Fairfield, Reg Hill, and young pianist Jimmy Mayhew, they found it tough to keep things together. Hotels weren't paying big bucks for entertainment so musicians had to take what choice jobs they could get. But in 1970 it happened again: fire destroyed the Madawaska and with it all their uninsured instruments.
"I guess you could say we were a really hot band, too hot for the likes of most hotel keepers," said Reg Hill in a later interview aired over the CBO Ottawa station.
Mac Beattie last performed with Lennox Gavan in 1981. By the month of June of the following year he was dead, the victim of cancer. The Ottawa Valley was in shock and mourning. According to his wife, Marie, he remained joyful 'til the end. A community man, a youthful man who spent a lot of his time working with younger people, a patriotic citizen, a Valley man first and foremost, his loss was felt by an entire generation of people.
With the loss of greats like Mac Beattie, Don Messer, Charlie Chamberlain, Marg Osborne, Frank Ryan and others, a void was left that could only be filled with the recordings and memories of those fondest of times. Truly, these are treasures that can bring back a bit of the past, if only for brief minutes while the record albums play.
When I first heard Mac Beattie sing it was the gentle simplicity of
his songs, of his fervent feelings in their lyrics, and of his age-old
connection to the Valley tradition that grabbed me. I never met him but
I wish I had. Being friends with Marie Beattie, I visit with her and listen
to her talk of Mac as if he were listening to her every word. Her grandchildren
run around the room, the legacy of Jimmie Beattie the lumberjack. Bonnie
works at the Home Hardware in Arnprior and I can't help but feel their
loss of the good old days. Nothing can replace Mac Beattie because he represented
a time that died long before he did. Since his death, others have joined
him: Donnie Gilchrist, Donnie Poirier, Lennox and Loy Gavan, Helen Meilleur,
Garney Scheel, Gaetan Fairfield and many, many others. Jimmy Mayhew, the
last of the Melodiers, performs at a Piano Bar in Pembroke.
This Ottawa Valley of Mine -
Vol. No. 1 - Mac Beattie Music - P04-01-06
This Ottawa Valley of MineTo Order: Email email@example.com
My Renfrew County Home
Maple sugar Blues
Fiddle, Guitar and Washboard
Log Driver's Song
Northern Ontario Blues
A Canadian Song of Thanks
Lake Dore Waltz
Swinging At The Hotel Renfrew
Bank Robbery at Cobden
Saturday Night Up The Gatineau
Take Me Back To The Madawaska Valley
Train Wreck at Almonte
Back in the Pakenham Hills
The earliest Melodiers albums were also released on the London label but the catalogue was sold to smaller Canadian labels towards the end of the 1950s. Rodeo Records which featured Country and Western artists with the emphasis on 'Western' purchased the catalogues of several of these labels: Aragon in western Canada; Banff as their folk and Country label; Celtic which looked after the Celtic artists, mainly from Cape Breton.
The Liner Notes that follow are not very accurate, especially when it comes to dates, but I have included them as they appeared on the various albums. Only spelling mistakes are corrected here. Otherwise, I have left what was said as is.
(All Songs By Mac Beattie unless otherwise indicated)
(Canadian Cavalcade was a re-issue label owned by Rodeo Records. Other artists released on this project were: Omar Blondahl (Famous Songs of Newfoundland), Winston (Scotty) Fitzgerald (The Music of Cape Breton), The Don Messer Family (Down East), Waldo Munro (Honky Tonk - Down East), The Early Stu Phillips (Folk Songs (From Unreleased Masters)), Paul Gurry (Country Gospel), Country Canada (Various Artists), Terry Parker (Yodelling Favourites), Canadian Pipe Bands, Graham Townsend (Fiddling Favourites), Diane Oxner (Sings traditional Folk Songs of Nova Scotia - From The Helen Creighton Collection), Wilf Doyle & His Orchestra (The Music Of Newfoundland), Olaf Sveen (Plays Western Canadian Polkas).
Marie Beattie persued this matter after Mac's death and partly due to the inclusion of The Log Driver's Song on the above compilation album, won total control over the publishing rights. It seems that the Beattie's never gave permission to Taylor to use this song and thus never received any royalties.
The Saga of Canadian Country and Folk Music - Late 1940s through the Fifties, is a fantastic collection nonetheless. It was conceived of by Taylor, utilizing recordings in the London, Aragon, Celtic, Banff and Rodeo collections. They used the services of Sunshine Sean Eyre of CHEX Radio in Peterborough, Ontario as commentator. Some of the artists included on the double LP collection are: Don Messer, Charlie MacKinnon, Jim Magil, Omar Blondahl, Juliette & The Rhythm Pals, Ed McCurdy, Winston Fitzgerald, Hal Lone Pine, Andy De Jarlis and Don Murphy.
The album was used to pay tribute to industry personalities such as Harold Moon of BMI Canada, Walt Grealis (RPM Magazine and originator of the Juno Awards), Ray Sonin (CFRB's Calling All Britons show), and others.
According to Taylor, Marie Beattie claims that this album was never
meant to be sold commercially. (I purchased mine at Sam The RecordMan's
main store, downtown Toronto.)
This was the last album The Melodiers recorded. Daughter Bonnie Beattie was all of 15 years of age when it was recorded. She became a regular part of the Mac Beattie Show for the next several years. After the passing of Reg Hill, Peter Dawson joined the band until its end in 1981.
While this album is certainly not a gem, it does have a couple of fine songs. It was always Mac's dream to do an album with one of his offspring, and while 15 year old Bonnie wasn't a bad singer, it certainly detracted from the usual Mac Beattie fare. Still, it was something that he was proud to have done.
Father & Daughter (SBS 5419) - January 22, 1975 Bonnie Beattie, vocals; Mac Beattie, vocals; Garney Scheel, steel guitar; Reg Hill, fiddle & bass; Merv Wilson, flat top guitar; Jimmy Mayhew, piano; Bob Whitney, clarinet; Peter Clements, drums. Hi there friends - Greetings from the Ottawa Valley. It's been two years since I recorded an Album and it's great to be back with this one - our ninth. I want you to meet my daughter "Bonnie" who is seventeen years of age and has been singing with the group since she was a wee thing. Besides singing Bonnie has a talent for composing and her first two efforts are included on this album. They are - "What Is Love" and "It's only Girls Like Me". She joins me on three other songs and goes solo on "Tonight At My Table All Alone". We are very proud of her and hope you will be too. As for me - well I've composed six new numbers for this album and re-arranged two of my old ones. The new ones are "We'll Remember Don Messer's Jubilee", our tribute for two very dear friends, the late Don Messer and Charlie Chamberlain. Bob Whitney assists me with the vocal parts and adds Clarinet background along with the great fiddling of Reg Hill in "Pizza Polka" for our polka loving fans. "A Dog Called Billy Joe" is a true story of a little canine friend of the family. The title song "Dad and Daughter" and "Don't Go Near The Water, Dear" is for bonnie and I, because we like to sing together. "Wear A Little Sunshine" for everyone and we hope we will bring a wee bit into your life with this album. Bonnie and I live at 86 Daniel Street N., Arnprior, Ont. and would love to hear from you. A special hello to you from all the Group who supplied the great backup music for us. Garney Scheel on steel guitar, Reg Hill on fiddle and bass, Merv Wilson on flat top guitar, Jimmy Mayhew at the piano, Bob Whitney on Clarinet and Peter Clements on drums. I give special praise to my good friend Ralph Carlson who recorded and produced this album. Best wishes to you All, Sincerely Mac Beattie P.S. Bonnie sends her love.
- Dad and Daughter
What Is Love (Bonnie Beattie)
Tonight At My Table All Alone
Wear a Little Sunshine
We'll Remember Don Messer's Jubilee
It's Only Girls Like Me
Sing A Song
A Dog Called Billy Joe
Don't Go Near The Water Dear (Bonnie Beattie)
Now there's snow upon the ground
Young and limber, riding timber
Peavey, pike pole, axe and saw
Got my boyhood education
On the banks of the Ottawa
The Log Driver's Song
There's a valley I know
Keep the logs on the go
Keep them rolling and twisting
And send the spray high
Through the rapids below
Where the Ottawa River flows by
My Renfrew Valley Home
Through the little town of Renfrew
With its old brick textile mills
In my Renfrew County home where I was born
Lake Dore Waltz
they were only a couple of strangers
Dancing, forgetting all faults
But a friendship was made
When the orchestra played
The beautiful Lake Dore Waltz
Founding Melodiers 1931: Mac Beattie, Gaetan Fairfield, Mervyn Leitch, Harold Mosley, Lloyd Mosley
Melodiers in the 30s: Mac Beattie, Gaetan Fairfield, Garnie Scheels, Harold Mosley, Louis Cheal, Fred Robillard, Horace Blanchette, Johnny Lavoie.
1950s Melodiers: Mac Beattie, Gaetan Fairfield, Garnie Scheel, Horace Blanchette, Karen Shaw, Joe Watson, Harold McClinton, Rene Desormeaux, Maisy Billings, Bill Loney, Les Lye, Hal Horsey, Maurice Charron, Billy Shepherd, Long John Corrigan, Reg Hill, Ernie Levesque, Bill Inglis, Champ Johnson.
Melodiers of the 60s & 70s: Mac Beattie, Gaetan
Fairfield, Pat Leonard, Gordie Sommer, Bob Whitney, Reg Hill, Bob Price,
Charlie McVeigh, Mary Dick, Tony Miseferi, Jim Mayhew, Al Utronki, Johnny
Price, Jim Spence, Bonnie Beattie & Peter Dawson.
Donnie Gilchrist, Fort Coulonge, Quebec: Premier step dancer of the Ottawa Valley. Teacher to Buster Brown and Donnie Poirier.
Max Keeping, Ottawa: Newscaster
Peter Jennings, New York: ABC News Anchorman from Ottawa (Mac's son John currently works for him)
Frank Martin, Lake Dore: Owner of Sunnydale Acres Dance Hall
Frank Ryan, Ottawa: Owner of CFRA
Charlie Chamberlain, New Brunswick: King of the Lumberjacks, longtime accomplice of Don Messer; one of the original New Brunswick Lumberjacks with Messer, Duke Neilson and Ned Landry.
the blackflies: Northern Ontario Blues - 'Poutine' CD - 1997; other songs in repertoire: Little Shack Up The Pontiac, On The Banks of the Ottawa
Board of Directors of Sudbury's Northern Lights Festival Boréal: Northern Ontario Blues - sung to open up their annual event.
Carlton Showband: Log Driver (sp) - Any Dream Will Do - RCA 1975
Freddy Dixon: Log Driver's Song - Legends & Tales of the Ottawa Valley - Rodeo - 1995
Flapjack (formerlyGarrison Creek): Little Shack Up the Pontiac - Flapjack - Independent release - 2001
Gail Gavan: Blue Laurentians, Log Driver's Song, True North Polka, Saturday Night Up The Gatineau & Gavan's Hotel at Quyon, Quebec - on her two cassettes: For the Love of the Valley Vols 1 and 2
Grievous Angels: Saturday Night Up The Gatineau (unrecorded)
Heartwood: Log Driver's Song - Heartwood - Ind. HWCD - 2000
Max Keeping: Recites two poems of Mac Beattie - Legends & Tales of the Ottawa Valley - Rodeo - 1995
Barry Luft & Tim Rogers: Train Wreck at Almonte - Songs of the Iron Rail - 1983
Barney McCaffery of Wilno: Lake Dore Waltz, Madawaska Valley, My Renfrew County Home, Michael Patrick from the Mountain, Mary Ellen FromThe Bay on cassette tour of the Opeongo Line
Glen Reid: Log Driver's Song & Little Shack Up The Pontiac - Heritage River CD - 1996
Tamarack: Saturday Night Up The Gatineau,
Anniversary Concert CD - 1994
(Note: if you know of any other recordings or performers who play Mac Beattie songs, please feel free to contact me for inclusion on this list)
Mac Beattie's music and songs are published by Mac Beattie Music 1982. For further information regarding publishing rights contact: Peter Beattie, 7 Old Orchard Lane, Arnprior, Ontario K7S 3T5
producer / host of
Back To The Sugar Camp
CIUT-FM 89.5 Toronto
Originally published Nov 8, 1995
Revised May, 2004
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