THE CELLAR

(originally posted April 30th, 2015)

The Cellar…best example to describe it is “Winnipeg’s Cavern”…you had to go to Fort Street near Portage and Main, and then go down a back alley to the bright red door with “C-E-L-L-A-R” painted on it in Black and White flowing lines…open that big door, go down one flight of stairs, and there you were..in The Cellar…
The oldest existing picture of a very early Deverons lineup (it was four of us…Derek, Edd, Ronn, and yours truly…we hadn’t even gotten Bruce yet) is from the Cellar…the Deverons played there several times…I actually saw Chad Allan and the Expressions there, right up close. I think Edd came with me. They were so so good…I watched Bob Ashley play “Telstar” on an old beat up upright acoustic piano…Telstar by the Tornadoes was a #1 instrumental, and the melody had been played on some kind of early stage mellotron…Ashely was so good, he played the melody in double octaves with the sustain pedal right down, and it was tremendous…just tremendous. I was about 15 watching all this…
So…
After the Deverons had played about three gigs there, I get a phone call about seven o’clock one dark Winter Wednesday evening…it’s Jimmy D. one of the three brothers who run the Cellar…he asks me if I can get the band down there RIGHT AWAY…I tell him “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy…it’s impossible…it’s a school night and I think Edd’s got some choir practice thing goin’…” no band tonight…
Dead silence on his end…then he says…”Can you come down yourself and just sing a few tunes…?”
WHAT THE &^#@!!! I’m thinkin’…I’m about 14 or 15 and it’s a freezing cold winter Wednesday…a school night…I tell him to phone me back in about five miinutes…And I go to “have a serious talk” with my Mom…
Now one has to remember how sheltered my world was…raised by my Mother and Grandmother, no male influence around, and the rules were very strict. Almost to “go through the motions” I tell her that Jimmy D. has asked me to come down and “help him out with the crowd”…a lot of bikers used to like the Cellar, cause it was kinda tough, and these were guys who didn’t go to school anyway, so any night was okay for fun…to my surprise, after a few questions which I answered as “innocently” as I possibly could, my Mom decided to let me go and sing for the rough crowd all by myself.
Jimmy D. phoned back and I told him I was leaving to catch the bus at Cathedral and Main and get off at Portage and Main.
I got to the cellar about half an hour later, maybe about eight or shortly after…
No band…no amp…no sound system, not a speaker box or a mike or ANYTHING to be found…
An old, beat up upright piano, the one I’d played several times before, on the Deverons gigs we’d done there…
I immediately launched into “Kansas City”, pounding those keys as hard as I could and screaming as loud as I could. To my surprise, people started dancing…that was a huge thing back then…everybody danced almost every number…
So the first number worked, and I started the wheels goin’ inside my memory bank of tunes…sang Whole Lotta Shakin’ in a sort of shuffle beat style…well, that worked…thought I’d really “go legitt”, so I sang Ritchie’s “Donna”…wow…the tough guys slow danced with their hands and arms all over their girls…
Without boring you to tears, I somehow did three “sets” that evening and kept some sort of show biz order to the place on a Winter Wednesday…
Sang till after midnight…on a school night…in the Cellar…
End of the night, crowd gone, I’m standin’ with Jimmy D. and one of his older brothers…they give me “my cut” of the night…
I got $2.20 that night…two singles and two dimes…and I was prouder than hell…
Then I caught what was probably the last North Main bus heading to McAdam that night. I was the only person on the bus. Sat up front with the driver, who was taking the bus to the car barns for the night…I was so “inflated” that I openly bragged to him about what I’d just done…right out of the blue, I’m yammerin’ away about how I just made two bucks…all by myself…
It might sound trivial to you the reader here in 2017, but considering what paths the world has taken me down, I recall that night as standing out above many others…very early age, no mike, no amp, no sound system…just a kid and an upright piano, yet the crowd stayed till midnight…
I can still almost feel what it was like that night…
Peace and calm…BLC

About Burton Cummings

Recipient, Order of Canada & Order of Manitoba. Voice & Songwriter: American Woman (6m+ plays), These Eyes, (5m+ plays) & Stand Tall.

Comments

  1. Sharon Pilkington says

    The oldest existing picture of a very early Deverons lineup (it was four of us…Derek, Edd, Ronn, and yours truly…we hadn’t even gotten Bruce yet) is from the Cellar…

    If we could post pictures here I would post it for ya.

    • Barry Freeman says

      Ask Burton when Barry F. came down and his set alone. There was a knee knocker in the corner. He played a couple of bars of ” here comes the bride”. Classey place.

      Barry

  2. Margaret Black says

    I love this! You have such vivid memories and are such a great storyteller. Your words almost conjure up the feeling of being there that night.

    So glad you’re back online, Burton!

    Peace…
    m.

  3. Toni Hernandez says

    Wow, great story and what an experience for you! I love the respect for your mom and grandmother. How I would have loved to see your performance way back then!❤️😍🎶

  4. K. Street says

    What a confidence builder for you, probably inspired you to work for the career you managed. Great memory too.

  5. Marion haourt says

    So happy to hear your stories again. Just love being able to share your life experiences. A true dedicated artist .keep rockin!💕

  6. Janis Sephton says

    Can only imagine how proud your mom and grandma were of you!! $2.20 sure wasn’t very much but I’ll bet you felt like a millionaire!!❤

    • Charmaine Marie says

      Thanks For Sharing This Wonderful Story. I Enjoy The High Points Of Ones Lifestyle Then And Now So Sweet Innocent And Honest. How It All Began. Blessings Good Health Peace and Happiness To You Burton

  7. Glenn Willson says

    I really enjoy your stories Burton …You give your fans so much more then just sharing your incredible vocals and songs !!! .Nice to see you back on line . Thanks,Have a great night .Keep Rock n Burton !!! 🙂 Glenn

  8. Dorothy Thurn says

    Burton, we would so love to have you come again to Grande Prairie, Alberta, it’s been too long since you were here!

  9. Russell says

    Like many here I have missed your stories. Can’t thank you enough for coming back online but appreciate why you left.

    Take care.

  10. Lynette Taylor says

    Destiny did come rolling into your life at an early age, for sure. Thanks for sharing this story. It would be interesting to know how you spent your 1961 $2.20. That would have been almost nine hours of babysitting time for me.

  11. Chris Ranicl says

    Awesome narrative, it took me right back to that time in my life, I am just one tear older than you, Burton.

  12. Liz says

    The thing that amazes me is the confidence, talent, and street smarts you possessed from such an early age. You were destined to go places, and your Mother and Grandmother must have known this. A great memory, thank you for sharing.

  13. mary says

    Telstar by the Tornadoes – wow! That is the first song I remember as not being one of my parents songs that we listened to. Thanks for the memory.

  14. Kelly says

    Dear Mr. Cummings: Thank you so very much for all of the wonderful music that you’ve created. My all time favourite song is Sour Suite. The orchestral accompaniment is phenomenal. By the way, I too am from Winnipeg. I grew-up in the West Kildonan area on Rupertsland & then Enniskillen. Best wishes to you & yours.

  15. Evan Geissler says

    This is awesome! Love hearing stories like this of artists. Reminds me of Coldplay’s first show; them not actually having a bass drum but instead stomping the floor.

    Goes to show that big bands/names can come from anywhere 🙂

  16. James white says

    Good afternoon. My name is james white(sinclair). As a young boy I had heard stories of my uncle, Doug Sinclair playing music and even doing a record with Mr Cummings. My family has all moved on, so I dont really know the truth but I was wondering if Mr Cummings would remember my uncle or has any stories in this regards. Very much appreciate any news. James

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