Les Vogt - The Story
|I was a tall, shy kid that became interested in music at the age of 13 when my older brother (Ed) took me to a few "live" concerts... Louis Armstrong and Wilf Carter were the most memorable. And, after seeing a Wilf Carter concert in 1951, I took my older brother's hand-me-down guitar and learned to play and yodel in the confines of my bedroom.|
I was very shy and becoming interested in girls... but I really
wasn't bold enough to approach them. I remember going to bed with my
radio, listening to songs by current recording artists and dreaming it was me singing in front of the
whole school in the auditorium. And the girls were all coming around
wanting to get to know me... I really looked forward to bedtime. Today,
I firmly believe that you can dream your way into reality...that is,
if you dream long enough and hard enough, you can somehow find the
passion to make it really happen.
The first band members were Les Vogt - vocals and guitar, Larry Tillyer - guitar,
|group hits like "Sh-Boom" by the Crew Cuts and "Down By The Riverside" and "Three Coins In The Fountain" by the Four Lads.|
back in Nova Scotia. We were very lucky to come upon Fred... he knew (or quickly learned) all the lead guitar licks for current hits and taught us the right chord structure to play along with him. The band's very first recording was a remake of an old Hank Thompson country song called "Most Of All".
When Elvis' music first hit the Canadian charts in 1956, the direction of the group took a sharp turn in the same direction. We were the very first rock'n'roll "Elvis-style" band in Vancouver. The term "impersonator" wasn't heard of as yet and didn't really apply anyway because all the singers of that era were trying to sound like Elvis. Gene Vincent, Conway Twitty, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly, etc... they were all trying to look and sound as much like Elvis as they possibly could." One of the Elvis songs the band would always include in their repertoire was an early Elvis hit called "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry Over You."
The band's big break came from a fluke telephone call to DJ Jack
Cullen's radio program. Cullen's "Owl Prowl" was Vancouver's
most popular radio program at the time and pretty much all the teenagers
in the city listened to it. One of the girls attending a basement
rehearsal for the band took it upon herself to phone Jack Cullen (on the
air) and asked him to listen to the band over the phone. He not only
listened to the band... he patched the call over the airwaves and all of
Vancouver was talking about the band the next day. Cullen received so
many phone calls that he brought the band into his small broadcast studio
(in the rear of his record store) and
he recorded several songs (rough demos) which he proceeded to play regularly
on the air. This connection resulted in the band calling ourelves
"The Prowlers" since their popularity came from Jack Cullen's Owl Prowl radio show. These primitive recordings were
discovered in 2003 by DJ Red Robinson and rockabilly collector Gary
Olsen while appraising the record collection of the late Jack Cullen.
This discovery formed the basis for a 2003 CD
release of all the music of Les Vogt and the Prowlers. Jack Cullen
was the hot DJ in Vancouver at the time and he did his part to launch
the band. He included us on a show with Bill Haley &
the Comets at Vancouver's Kerrisdale Arena on June 27th, 1956. This was
Vancouver's very first "big-time" rock & roll concert. The Prowlers
also opened for other Cullen shows such as Ivory Joe Hunter at the PNE
Gardens and were the backing band for Gene Vincent at the Silver Moon Ballroom in White Rock, B.C.
Jack Cullen died April 27,
2002 at the age of 80.
were now dominated by a young superstar DJ by the name of Red Robinson
at CKWX Radio where management deemed The Prowlers competition (as their
name represented a competitive radio station) and the disk was buried
without any exposure to speak of... CJOR Radio with an upstart teen
jock, Frosty Forst, was the only support the record received. With all
the kids listening to Red Robinson... the record died before it had any life at
"Get A Move On" was conceived in a dream... in the dream
myself and guitar
player (Fred Bennett) were driving to a Prowlers gig with none other than Elvis
Presley seated between the two two of us in the front seat of Fred's
old Packard straight eight. At one point Elvis turns up the volume on
the car radio and says "They're playing my new new record" which was a
new song that the we had never heard before. I woke up and jotted
down the lyrics immediately (in about 5 minutes) We
recorded the song (Get A Move On) a short time later. I was trying to
write a song similar to "Don't Be Cruel" which was a big hit at the
time. I think I had been challenging myself to find a similar sounding
guitar intro for a song idea I already had in my head. Sometimes, when
you go to bed with a challenge, the answer comes to you in a dream. I
was amazed to be able to receive an entire song... and from Elvis no
less. I probably could have developed into a decent song writer had I
continued down the path of becoming a serious performer. However,
shyness and lack of confidence seemed to get in the way.
In 1958 Red Robinson had an "Elvis Contest"
at the Orpheum Theatre to discover Vancouver's own Elvis which he would
promote via his radio station promotions, etc. I, of course, entered the
contest... I lost... or at least I didn't win. Jimmy Morrison (of the
Stripes) was the winner. I always thought I was the better singer and it
became a spirited competition for a couple of years. When Red Robinson
left Vancouver to work in the US, Jimmy Morrison became the forgotten
|Vancouver songwriter Allen Parker (aka Sipson P.Kloop) was a milkman at Dairyland where I also worked my "day job" as a milkman. Al (Parker) often hired local bands to record demos (sample recordings) for some of his original songs and in 1958, when we met at work, we arranged for the Prowlers to record "The Blamers" and "Moon Rocketin" (two Parker penned tunes) at Aragon Studios. Lead guitarist, Fred Bennett, was working out of town (as a pipefitter) and couldn't perform on the session. His replacement, Johnny Faas, turned out to be an important part of making the recording unique enough to attract international interest. Johnny's creative introduction and backing guitar fills gave the record an identity and were, I believe, the main reason the song would ultimately become a hit. But, the recording sat on the shelf and did not resurface for a few years...|
|After the disappointment of no air-play for "Get A Move On"... and emerging wives and kids, the band members would all spend more time raising their families (the rock'n'roll music business wasn't a profitable job at the time) and the band members just seemed to drift apart. Irene Buttner (AKA Irene Butler (female singer with the Prowlers) and I were married and began performing solo with other bands on weekends. One such band was with our Burnaby neighbour, Gordy Cowan, who was the leader of a band called the "Originals" and it developed into a regular part-time job for both Irene and I.|
|Allen Parker (Sipson P.Kloop) would shop his demo tapes to anyone that would listen. In late 1958, when the DeCastro Sisters were performing at the Cave in Vancouver, their manager Jack LeGras agreed to listen to Parker's songs and took them with him. He later decided to pursue a record deal and in 1960 "The .|
|Blamers" was released on a small
independent LA record label (Iona Records) in the USA and on Sparton
Records in Canada. The record was released under the name of Les Vogt
since the band was no longer together and to avoid any further political
between radio stations.
Red Robinson was now working at KGW Radio in Portland, Oregon and the top Vancouver teen disk jockey was Dave "Big Daddy" McCormick. I had a good relationship with Dave and there was no problem receiving maximum air-play on the record this time around.
This period was undoubtedly my finest hour as a performer... "The Blamers" quickly rose to the top of Vancouver's C-FUN Top 40 Record Chart. On August 6th, 1960 it knocked off Elvis' "It's Now Or Never" to become #1... Elvis was now #2 and "Only The Lonely by Roy Orbison was #3. The Blamers remained #1 in Vancouver for a record 11 weeks. Apparently, Big Daddy (DJ Dave McCormick) would later admit that they had forced the record off the charts or it may have been #1 for another 11 weeks. The record was later picked up by ABC Paramount Records and received full release status in the U.S. I completely lost track of where it went from there... there were scattered reports that the record was charted here and there but no royalties were forthcoming. Inexperience and family responsibilities did not allow for full pursuit of a musical career and virtually no follow-up promotion was done. I recorded two more Allen Parker tunes during this period... "Preacher Boy" (which was wasn't one of my' favourites) was cut in a private residence with the Winmen (a folk-style group) as back-up. And, finally my favourite recording of all "Teenager's Dream" was recorded in Seattle, WA using Seattle based studio musicians. It was the same studio where The Ventures recorded their hits. The studio owner, Joe Boles, asked me if I would come back to Seattle and record a demo he thought suited my vocal style. I was still shy and lacking confidence, so I politely refused and returned to Canada. I later learned that the song Joe wanted me to record was "Come Softly To Me" which was recorded by a couple of new singers (they would ultimately become known as The Fleetwoods) and the song became a huge hit. I am still kicking myself for not recording that song... because it truly was a perfect fit for me. I now advise all young performers to follow every opportunity life presents... because you never know which opportunity will lead to success and/or open another door.
For whatever reason "Teenager's Dream" never received the acclaim that "The Blamers had received." It went to #3 on the Vancouver charts but was gone completely after only a few weeks.
came a new member to the Vogt household. On February 14th, 1961, a
little girl Leslie Marlene Vogt was born and thoughts of a more
secure job were on my mind. The music business wasn't a great business
for a new husband and father. So, I became a milkman for several years,
while working part-time in the music business. A second daughter Lisa Yvonne Vogt would
come along later on February 26th, 1965. For the record, both daughters
have changed their names ( I believe it is a numerology thing) Leslie is
now Jaromey and Lisa is Rae Tanner.
|After "The Originals", who became known as Les Vogt and the
"The Blamers," went their separate ways and the singing
opportunities as a freelance "singer with a hit" had finally faded,
I began to think of what else I could do than working as a milkman.
I began using my celebrity status from "The Blamers" to promote shows and
dances part-time using other artists. I was very creative and always good
at "art" in school and so preparing high impact posters and newspaper ads
came easy to me. I connected with agent/promoter TB Skarning (Minneapolis)
and agent Pat Mason (Portland) who were booking recording acts. I booked
additional dates for popular recording acts that were ending their tours
in Seattle, Wa. Some of the early groups I booked were The Fireballs, The
Cascades and The Wailers.
|In 1961 when DJ Red Robinson returned to Vancouver (he worked at
KGW in Portland during 1959-1960) he instantly picked up where he left
off... the most popular teen DJ in town. At this point, I was the reigning
"Boy Promoter" running dances and shows with
various bands and dabbling with the booking of US recording acts such as Gene
Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Knox and
Ike & Tina Turner... bringing them into
the Vancouver area as an extension of their tour dates ending in
Seattle. The Edmonds Rollerway (Burnaby) and Danceland (Vancouver) or
Silver Moon Ballroom (White Rock) were a few of the venues rented for
rock'n'roll dances during this period. I later formed a partnership with Charles Sullivan (US R&B Promoter)
to bring in a few of the big R&B acts
of the day. It was only a matter of time before DJ Red Robinson and I would hook up
and become partners in the concert promotion business.
|In 1962 Red and I formed Jaguar Enterprises Ltd. We were 50/50 partners in the business which promoted teen-age concerts and dances. It was a very successful business. To be honest, it was a promoter's dream... Your partner (Red) being the most popular DJ in town telling the kids where and when the shows would be playing. I would do all the leg work, set-up, etc. and Red would MC the events. It was a little goldmine until competition sprung up and station management had to terminate the "free" radio promotion for their star DJ attraction. It was unfair competition and major advertisers with heavy clout were beginning to complain. Little did they know that we would then get fully produced spots at a super wholesale rate... for awhile anyway. It wasn't long before all the station's DJ's wanted similar "extras" and management had no choice but to level the playing field.|
|Our first and most successful
show in 1962 was originally scheduled to be a dance in the Garden Auditorium
(at the PNE) in Vancouver, B.C. featuring
Roy Orbison and his band.
However, it was discovered that an old city ordinance did not permit
anyone under the age of 18 to attend a dance within the city limits.
This law was left over from the dance hall/cabaret days when people
(over 18) could bring their own bottle and keep it on a shelf under
their table. The house would provide glasses and sell ice and mix
(set-ups) for additional revenues. Even though those days were long
gone... when that devil music rock & roll came along, the city
decided to exercise the old law (still on the books) to prevent those
troublesome teen-age dances happening within the city limits. Of course,
Red and I simply promoted the dances in areas outside the city
limits. The kids would drive for miles to get to those "devil
promoted" dances. However,
back to the Roy Orbison show... it was pretty much sold out when it was
discovered that the city would not issue a license for the dance. So,
we brought in rows of chairs and the dance became a concert. Together with
the permanent bleachers we had over 2000 seats and the concert was completely sold out.
Since there was no stage manager or tour managers in those days (Roy and I were both just learning the business) I dealt directly with Roy on all matters. So, there I was... alone back stage with Roy waiting to show him the way to the stage. He was pacing nervously back and forth and I asked him " Are you always nervous before you go on stage?" and I will never forget his reply. He said "Well, Les, sometimes they laugh at me when I first come on stage." Noticing my shocked response, he grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye and continued " But, don't worry... by the end of the first song, I'll have them in the palm of my hand."
The audience certainly didn't laugh... in fact, there was a rousing ovation right from his introduction through the dum-dum-dum-dumdy-doo-wah opening chorus of Only The Lonely. But, it was the back stage event that said a lot about the man and his humble, shy demeanor... something we both had in common.
Considered homely by rock'n'roll standards at the time, Roy was a loner who simply wrote heart warming songs about his feelings and insecurities. "Only The Loney" was written when he saw his girlfriend walking with another guy. I would also ultimately learn that Crying... "In Dreams" (I walk with you)... "Love Hurts" and "It's Over" were other Orbison songs inspired by Roy's heart-breaking romantic encounters and their ultimate break-ups.
There were two additional Show & Dance events on Vancouver Island on that mini-tour. One of the events was a dance held at Midnight on the Sunday (12am Monday) at the old Athletic Hall in Port Alberni. It was against the law to stage dances on Sundays in Canada at the time. So, it was not uncommon to schedule events that began at 12:01am midnight on Sundays especially when the next day was a holiday. Roy was deeply concerned that this show would be a total flop since he had never heard of such a thing. And, when we pulled into town the streets were totally bare without a soul to be seen anywhere. Roy became even more certain that this was not a good idea... commenting... "Les... I don't think this is going to end well" Then, we rounded the corner toward the Athletic Hall and the kids were lined up around the whole block as far as the eye could see. We would wind up with over 1000 paid attendance.
I have never forgotten that "Roy Orbison bought Red and I our first houses" What I means is, that Red and I made enough money on that weekend to place down payments on our first homes. Roy's fee at the time was $800 per night for him and his whole band. We gave Roy a $1,000 bonus from the profits... a gesture that Roy would later confirm had never happened to him before or since that weekend. Roy would never forget the only promoters to ever give him more than the performance contract had called for. Whenever Roy toured in Canada he insisted that Red and I be the promoters of any Roy Orbison shows that came near the Vancouver area. Roy Orbison and I would later become involved in a show business partnership that would change both of our lives.
During the early sixties Red and I regularly promoted many "teen-age" dances in the Vancouver area. And, since it was against the law to stage teenage dances within the Vancouver city limits, we would go to Cloverdale, Chilliwack, Mission and to Vancouver Island. Some of the acts included Jerry Lee Lewis, Dick & Dee Dee, Dorsey & Johnny Burnette, Donnie Brooks, Buddy Knox and others.
1962... Another one of our successful early endeavors was with a new young Canadian entertainer by the name of Bobby Curtola... his early records were getting a lot of air-play in Vancouver when his then manager, Basil Hurdon, was contacting radio stations across Canada looking for booking opportunities for his young star. Red arranged for a promotional outdoor performance at the Kitsilano Showboat at Kits Beach in Vancouver. I arranged several other dance events in the area. They were a huge success.
Basil would sell promo photos of Bobby during the shows and afterward Bobby would autograph them. I took note of this and would prepare souvenirs... records, photos, t-shirts and even photo books for some of my other tours. We called them souvenir sales which much later became known as merchandising in the industry.
I would ultimately promote a Bobby Curtola Show & Dance tour throughout BC in 1963. A full-blown western Canada tour was arranged in 1964. We would tour during the summer when the kids were out of school... the Lakeside Pavilions were popular hang-outs for the kids and we played plenty of them. One of the highlight dates was at the Edmonton Exhibition for a radio station event. Bobby Curtola was so popular in Alberta he eventually moved his base of operations to the Edmonton area. I continued an amicable relationship thru the years and would pair him with Roy Orbison at the 1986 World's Fair (Expo '86) when he appeared on the Labatt's Legends of Rock'n'Roll series at Expo Theatre in Vancouver. I produced a Legends show every Sunday during the Fair. When I next hooked up with Bobby in 1998, he had partnered with an Asian promoter (Robert Hubbard) and our relationship became strained and, unfortunately, would ultimately come to an end in early 1999. Hubbard and I had unfixable differences. Bobby Curtola passed away in his sleep on June 5th, 2016.
My partnership with Red Robinson was probably the singular most important reason why I was able to become as successful as I did. I think the credibility that my association with Red brought to me was invaluable. I shall be forever thankful for his insight and friendship which continues today.
In 1964 I convinced the PNE to provide the Garden Auditorium for a teen-age "Dance-Party" that would become the place to be if you were a teenager in Vancouver. I created "The C-FUN Classics" who were formed to become the radio station band (for promotional purposes) and, in return, I would get free radio publicity for the shows and dances I promoted with them. It was a sweet deal... much like my association with Red Robinson previously. They would be the featured band for the '64 PNE and would also provide backing for the Canadian heart-throb Bobby Curtola. In 1965, The Nocturnals would be featured with a rising US recording star Glen Campbell. In 1966 I would manage the much larger "Teenage Fair"... a fair within a fair that featured bands and teen entertainment all day long. This was an excellent venue to showcase all the Jaguar Bands for future booking opportunities.
Now, since the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition) was allowed to run the Garden Auditorium as a huge dance hall for 17 days, I was able to negotiate the opportunity to stage further dances within the city limits. Well, it wasn't exactly a cut and dry deal... Sgt. Don Bellamy of the "Youth Detachment" used to chase me around the city (like Elliot Ness chasing the 1920's bootleggers) when I was promoting teen-age dances using only posters and direct mail advertising. He wouldn't find out about them until after they happened... always two steps behind. I talked to him several times when confronted by him after the fact. I told him (lied) that it wasn't me promoting the dances and that I was just the band's agent and I didn't think it was right to blow the whistle on those responsible. Anyway, he seemed to see thru it all and gave me several warnings about the consequences if he ever caught me in the act. So, after I promoted the PNE Garden dances during the Fair (which came under special Fair and Exhibition jurisdiction) without incident, I thought I had set a precedent that could not be refuted. So, shortly after this, I promoted a big public dance at the Garden with Ike & Tina Turner which drew a sell-out crowd of about 2500 many of which were underage. Not long after the dance began, Bellamy and 8 police officers stormed in looking for me. When Bellamy spotted me he shouted "Vogt... I want to talk to you!" I took him into a back room shaking like a leaf. I thought I was going to be taken out in hand-cuffs. Anyway, once we were alone in the back he says "About this under 18 thing... I would much rather have all the trouble makers in one place where I can keep an eye on them." He then added "Don't take this as a license to do anything you please... just keep your nose clean and choose your projects carefully."
However, I did take it as a green light and proceeded with many more dance events throughout the city without any sign of trouble from Sgt. Don Bellamy.
At this point, Red's other business activities included forming a very
successful advertising agency which began to take up most of his time.
And, in the meantime, I was expanding my activities forming a booking
agency (Jaguar Entertainment) which ultimately became the biggest booking
agency for teenage bands in western Canada. At one point, I was handling
the bookings for pretty well all the popular bands in Vancouver. But, the
agency business was boring and I was looking for other entertainment
opportunities beyond the status quo.
|In 1965 I converted the old Hollywood
Bowl (759 Carnavon Street in New Westminster) into the most popular teen
hang-out in the lower mainland... "The
Grooveyard" which featured "live" bands every Friday
& Saturday night. All the bands that were anybody played The Grooveyard and were booked by
my Jaguar Booking Agency. Some of the
Vancouver bands included the Night Train Revue, The Nocturnals, The
Epics, The Soul Unlimited, The Stags, The Shockers and The Shantelles.
Ike & Tina Turner were featured one weekend when the group was
cancelled at the last minute in Seattle. Bo Diddley, Paul Revere &
the Raiders, The Sonics. The Frantics and the Kingsmen were just a few
of the US bands to be featured there. A Vinyl Album featuring all the old
bands "Live at the Grooveyard" was recorded back then and has since been
made available on CD
The Grooveyard allowed me to assemble a stable of all the best local bands which were exclusively represented by my Jaguar Booking Agency. Using the popularity of the Grooveyard, I was able to maintain the agency and establish a circuit of other venues (Civic Centres, Arenas and Community Centres) throughout the Province. I would book the bands in the Grooveyard and then the next weekend promote dances in Victoria and Nanaimo... then the Okanagan... then Kamloops and Prince George... and Terrace & Pr Rupert, etc.
Vancouver DJ at the time (Douglas Miller) was hired to manage the Grooveyard and oversee the Jaguar Booking Agency to allow me to focus on growing other entertainment projects. This eventually spelled the end of my agency business. Doug did not have the passion required to keep the ball rolling and became more focused on becoming a television host... and became the long-time weatherman on CTV News. Other hired agents were unable to sustain the agency without my full-time supervision. However, it was an easy decision to let the booking agency go since I had so many other exciting new projects on the horizon.
| Buddy Knox would eventually move to Canada
and become my partner in a country music night club called the
"Purple Steer"... the club opened in October, 1969 and became one of
the most popular night spots in Vancouver until it was sold for a profit
in 1972. Some of the entertainers I brought in to perform at the club
included Charlie Rich, Bob Luman, The
Coasters, Bobby Freeman, Dorsey Burnett, Jerry Wallace and many more.
Charlie was one of the all-time favourite acts to play the Purple Steer
club. The staff and customers alike all loved this down-home southern
gentleman with the soulful voice. What a talent! ... I remember Charlie's
second appearance at the "Steer" in 1970, he called me at home from San
Franciso to tell me his flight to Vancouver was delayed due to a
mechanical malfunction. He said the flight would be late and they should be
leaving in about 15 minutes. He phoned me again about 45 minutes later,
just as I was getting ready to leave for the airport to pick him up. He
told me he was still in San Francisco and I said
"What do you mean... I just called the airline and they said that the
plane left 30 minutes ago."
Charlie, who was known to take a drink every now and then, had been in
the bar during the delay, and he said (slurring his words a little)...
"Yeah, the plane left
alright... but I don't think I'm on it"
Charlie's after hours jam-sessions at the "Steer" with local musicians have become legendary, often lasting until the sun came up the next morning. Rich was a superb musician (piano) and a bluesy vocalist with jazz and R&B influences. One night, he was laying on the stage totally drunk with his head on the lap of one of our waitresses who was holding the microphone near his mouth... Charlie never missed a beat... inebriated as he was, his timing was perfect. I asked him once, why he jammed so often with musicians that weren't even near his caliber of musicianship. He said "These young guys have new ideas they bring to the stage. They can't always perform the unique lick they're trying to play... but I can. I learn a lot from them. It's a process that benefits me in the end." And, I applied this process to my own business practices wherever possible.
Charlie's luck changed shortly after his Purple Steer days... He had those huge hits and was booked at the Coliseum in Vancouver. I was in attendance. When I came into the building, the Coliseum manager called me over and said "Charlie wants to see you" and took me down to the underbelly of the venue where the dressing rooms were. There were about 100 press people waiting outside Charlie's dressing room door. I knew many of them personally and it was embarrassing to be escorted in to see Charlie right in front of them all. I immediately suggested to Charlie that we could visit afterward if he needed to talk with the press. He looked at me and said simply "Fuck 'em... where were they when we needed them?" We reminisced about the "Purple Steer" days and hugged for the last time. He never did talk with any of the press people on that day. And from the stage during his show he mentioned me and his gigs at the Purple Steer... as well as suggesting some of the old band members (he mentioned them by name) get together and jam later that night... he was joking of course. I felt extremely privileged to be his friend. Charlie Rich passed away on July 25th, 1995.
At one point, I was operating the Jaguar Booking Agency, Purple Steer night club, the Grooveyard dance hall and various concert promotions all at the same time. It was necessary to make changes in order for me to maintain my sanity. The Grooveyard was sold for a small profit in 1970 and the Purple Steer was sold in 1972. This allowed me to concentrate on concert promotions which had gained momentum with James Brown, Ike & Tina Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard concerts all being promoted by my Jaguar Entertainment company in Vancouver.
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