'50s Vancouver rock reprised

NOSTALGIA COMPILATION I Anyone remember Les Vogt, the Prowlers, Patty Surbey or Sipson P. Kloop?

John Mackie
Vancouver Sun

Saturday, January 31, 2004



A German record company has just issued a compilation of rare rockabilly and rock 'n' roll records from the 1950s and 1960s. The catch: It's rare Vancouver rockabilly and rock and roll.

Real Gone Aragon is a 28-song CD featuring tracks recorded for Vancouver's first record label, Aragon, by long-forgotten artists like Les Vogt and the Prowlers, Rudy Hayden and the Country Boys and Patty Surbey and the Canadian V.I.P.'s.

It was released by Bear Family records of Hambergen, one of the most acclaimed specialist labels in the world. Bear Family is known for its lavish, impeccably produced multi-disc collections of rock and country stalwarts like Jerry Lee Lewis, Wanda Jackson and Lefty Frisell. Where else can you find a 17-CD collection called Jim Reeves, The Complete Studio Recordings?

Anyway, somebody at Bear Family must really dig Vancouver 's '50s rockabilly sound because the label recently issued a second Vancouver CD, The Prowlers with Les Vogt. There seems to be quite a market for Vogt: his original 45s are listed in collectors' guides for $250 to $450 US.

This is all rather bizarre to Vogt, who's now 65 and is somewhat amused that his recording career is hot four decades after it ended. "It's kind of fun to see that part of my life encapsulated," says Vogt, who has reconnected with old bandmates like bassist Larry Tillyer and piano player Jim O'Hara because of the reissue.

"It's really something for the grandkids. The family and all the relatives are just ecstatic because nine-tenths of them didn't know anything about it. The releases we had never went anywhere to speak of, even in Canada ."

He's being modest. In fact, the Prowlers were the first local act to score a No. 1 hit in Vancouver . The Blamers topped the CFUN charts for 11 weeks in 1960 and sold 3,000 to 5,000 copies in the Lower Mainland, which was a fair bit at the time.

The Blamers and its B-side, Moon Rocketin', are the highlights of both the Prowlers and Aragon compilations. Vogt was something of a Vancouver Elvis, able to sell the oddest lyric with his smooth delivery. And both The Blamers and Moon Rocketin' are rather odd. They were written by a local jazz musician and milkman named Al Parker under the pseudonym Sipson P. Kloop.

Musically, The Blamers is a straightforward late-50s early '60s pop-rock ballad in the Don't Be Cruel mould; lyrically, it's a teenage love song with religious undertones. "It was sort of a protest song before protest songs even had that title," says Vogt. "There was a little bit of a religion thing in there that I thought was a little square at the time. But it was sure popular and did well."

Vogt much prefers Moon Rocketin', a slightly wacky slice of space-age rock that could have been written by the great British producer Joe Meek (of Telstar fame.)

Neither The Blamers or Moon Rocketin' were intended for release. Kloop was simply looking for a group to record The Blamers as a publishing demo so he could flog it to somebody famous. Kloop contacted the Prowlers, and they went into Aragon recording studio on West Hastings to cut the demo.

Recording conditions were rather primitive: everything had to be recorded live, on one microphone. To keep the drums from overwhelming the recording, the drummer was stationed in the hallway outside the studio. There was a bit of time left after the band finished The Blamers, so the band cut Moon Rocketin' off the cuff -- only Vogt really knew the song. Then they packed up and left.

Two years later, Kloop pitched his song (using the Vogt recording) to Peggy De Castro of the De Castro singers, a girl group that was playing The Cave nightclub. De Castro's husband owned a record company and took the demo back to Los Angeles , where he decided to release it, as is. In the U.S. , it came out on on Iona Records; in Canada , it came out on Sparton.

The problem was, by the time the 45 came out, the original Prowlers had broken up. So it was released as a Les Vogt solo record. "Boom, they had it out," says Vogt. "I have no idea how well it did [outside Vancouver ] other than I heard the rumours about it being on the charts here and there."

Vogt never saw any money from the recording, which was pretty much standard practice in the early rock 'n' roll days. "Everybody got screwed, really," he says. "Roy Orbison told me one time if he had to do it over, he'd take a flat guarantee and never mind this royalty crap. That's pretty much what it amounts to."

But they did have a sizable local following for their live shows. In the summer, they were regulars at a hall in Boundary Bay that straddled the border between Canada and the States. "We were actually playing in Canada , on Canadian property, but to get into this place you had to be on the American side," he says with a laugh.

The Prowlers CD has 26 songs, including two rockin' Prowlers releases from 1958 (Rock Me Baby and Get a Move On) and a spirited 1961 version of My Blue Heaven, done in a rollicking Fats Domino-goes-rockabilly style.

Six songs on the disc were recently discovered in the archives of the late, great disc jockey Jack Cullen. Vogt was a big Cullen fan in the '50s -- the Prowlers were named after Cullen's Owl Prowl radio show, and Cullen played a big part in the band's local fame at the time.

"One of our girlfriends called Jack Cullen's radio program," explains Vogt, who became one of Vancouver 's biggest concert promoters after he gave up singing (he used to run theGrooveyard and Purple Steer clubs in the 1960s.) "We didn't even know she did this. She phoned from the rec room phone in the house we were playing in, and he put it on the air.

"The phone was just being held up in the room -- the sound must have been completely awful. We were rehearsing Elvis tunes, and I was trying to sound as much like Elvis as I could, as everybody did at the time. He got so many calls on it, he called us in the studio and he recorded six songs.

"Those six songs were not uncovered until very recently. Red Robinson found them. This collector guy [Gary Olson] that Red knew said 'these rockabilly freaks are gonna love this.'

"The Prowlers are already known out there to a degree. They've ripped off a lot of whatever we did in the past, whatever was released -- even rehearsal tapes got put on disc of some kind in Europe . So they send these six songs over and whoever runs Bear Family said 'Oh yes, Les Vogt, ve know him, ve know who he is. Ve put out a CD now.' "

Another local collector, Ed Lasko, convinced Bear Family to do the Aragon collection, which is basically taken from Lasko's collection of hundreds of Aragon 78s, 45s and LPs.

"The Europeans are voracious [collectors,]" said Lasko. "The very first time I saw a Prowlers record for sale was in London , England . I got in touch with a dealer from London and he had a little blurb on a 78: ' Vancouver B.C. Canada rock 'n' roll, the Prowlers.' I went 'Holy s---t, I think I remember them.' "

Lasko has most any early Vancouver record you can think of, be it rock, rockabilly, country, psychedelia or garage punk. He collected the cream of them for the Aragon collection, which is filled with forgotten wonders like the offbeat country-billy number Vibratin' by Keray Regan (a native of Pouce Coupe, B.C. who changed his name from Melvin Oscar Fredrickson for numerological reasons), and Too Much Monkey Business, an R&B tune by Little Daddie and the Bachelors that featured Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong on guitar.

The real dazzler is I Want a Beatle For Christmas, a Brenda Lee-style rocker by Patty Surbey and the Canadian VIPs that features one of the greatest female yelps ever committed to vinyl. Surbey is surely one of the great lost singers in Canadian rock -- no one seems to know whatever happened to her. But on Real Gone Aragon, her flame burns again.

Both Real Gone Aragon and The Prowlers with Les Vogt are German imports on Bear Family records, so they might be hard to find. Try collectors' record stores like Neptoon on Main and Zulu on West Fourth in Vancouver , or the the Bear Family Internet site: