The Rockin' with Ducats

Pop pioneers to get ECMA's Stompin' Tom Award

Published on February 1, 2008

The Ducats are set to get a few more minutes of fame.

The popular Newfoundland rock pioneers are being honoured with the Stompin' Tom Award at the East Coast Music Awards in Fredericton on Feb. 10.

The award recognizes the unsung heroes of the East Coast music industry.

The Ducats' early members include Jim Crewe and Winston Blackmore of Port aux Basques, Claude Caines of Stephenville and Lewis Skinner, who now lives in St. John's. Bob Battiste, Dave Parsons and Greg O'Blenis are also among Ducat alumni.

The Ducats are set to get a few more minutes of fame.

The popular Newfoundland rock pioneers are being honoured with the Stompin' Tom Award at the East Coast Music Awards in Fredericton on Feb. 10.

The award recognizes the unsung heroes of the East Coast music industry.

The Ducats' early members include Jim Crewe and Winston Blackmore of Port aux Basques, Claude Caines of Stephenville and Lewis Skinner, who now lives in St. John's. Bob Battiste, Dave Parsons and Greg O'Blenis are also among Ducat alumni.

In their heyday of the mid- to late-1960s, the band spent time touring Eastern Canada and the New England area, eventually being offered a couple of record deals. They rejected the offers, the band came home and the members went their separate ways.

In the time since, the group has rubbed shoulders with legends like Little Richard and Bill Haley, and each reunion show has been a treat for local audiences and band members.

Crewe, who rarely plays publicly anymore, said the surviving members of the group are feeling their age now.

He said the group turned down a contract with Smash Records in the 1960s when they were in the flush of youth.

"We didn't pay too much attention to it," Crewe said. "We didn't know the difference, to be honest about it. We were stupid guys - not much common sense. It was all happening quick."

He said the group had a healthy mistrust of the business side of the music industry by the time they played in Massachusetts where the contracts were offered.

"Bill Haley, he didn't even have a cent when we met him," Crewe said. "He wasn't making any money. He was going to come to Newfoundland and spend a summer with us.

"We were planning to come back and spend July and August back here. At that time, he wasn't getting any work in the U.S., so he said he'd come down here and we'd play the theatres. I remember how old he was at the time - 39, going on 40. We thought - he's old!"

Crewe said the group's hallmark was the variety of music they could play, from a good jig to a traditional waltz, plus country or rock.

"If you were being paid to play, you had to play whatever they demanded we play, so we played it all," Crewe said. "Most bands, if they were heavy rock bands, that's all they played from the beginning of the night to the end of the night.

"We were playing in Montreal one night in a rock 'n' roll club, somebody yelled out, 'do Folsom Prison (Blues)' and without hesitation, we banged into 'Folsom Prison' in a rock 'n' roll club. We must have done a full set of country music. The bartender said, 'how can you do such variety?' We said 'you get paid for playing, you play what they want.'"

Skinner, who leads the group in keeping the Ducats' memory alive, said he's pleased with the award.

"It's good that the band is getting a bit of recognition after all these years," he said. "It's great, not only for me personally, but for all the members of the band who are still playing with me and also the people in Port aux Basques and Stephenville who aren't playing, but mentally they're still part of what we're doing."

Jim Crewe's son, Rob, who plays keyboards for the current band, will make the trip to Fredericton for the ceremony. He hopes the award isn't the band's only brush with the ECMAs.

"Corner Brook was one of our favourite places to play and it still is actually," he said. "We always looked forward to coming to Corner Brook with the Ducats show, and there's a possibility we might be coming there next year.

"I got a call from someone about a fundraiser out there and the East Coast Music Awards are going to be there next year. Hopefully, we can play a little part in that, even if it is just playing in one of the nightclubs. We have fond memories of Corner Brook, I'll tell you."

In addition to the Ducats, the 2008 Stompin' Tom recipients are Ivan and Vivian, from New Brunswick, The Tremtones from Prince Edward Island, Oakley, from mainland Nova Scotia, and Aldun MacVicar, from Cape Breton.

cwells@thewesternstar.com