The Geward Coleman Orchestra performing at the Ashby Legion in Sydney in 1948, shortly after Bryant Cann (front centre) started playing drums with some of Cape Breton's best known big bands. Cann, who is now 89, started playing when he was 18 — three days after getting his first drum kit. Also pictured here are, back row from left, Bob MacLeod, Eldrige Morgan, Bob Ferguson, Geward Coleman and Aldun MacVicar.
The Royal Scotians performing at the Ashby Legion in Sydney sometime in the 1950s. Bryant Cann is in the far back, sitting at the drum kit which he never used a stool for. Instead, he'd use the wooden box he carried the drum-kit tools in.
Bryant Cann (back centre, sitting at the drums) in 1965 with The Acadians, a popular big band orchestra throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The band was the resident orchestra at The Silver Rail, a restaurant and dance hall located at the intersection of Grand Lake Road and the old airport road until it was destroyed by fire in 1968. The Acadians played most Saturdays at the Silver Rail and performances were recorded live, to be broadcast on the radio on Sundays. Also pictured here are (front row from left) Howie Pretty, Auldun MacVicar, Blenis Pennell, Bob Ferguson (back row, from left) Bob MacLeod, Wes Pretty, (drums) Bryant Cann and (stand-up base) Alex MacIntosh.
Bryant Cann sits at the drums with fellow The Pioneers bandmates in 1954, six-years into his 50-year musical career. With the then 24-year-old Bryant are (from left) pianist Bob Ferguson, sax and fiddle player Aldun MacVicar and guitarist Ken Davidson.
Bryant Cann (right) looks at old photos with his nephew Todd Cann, who is also a musician. The photos are of him and some of the different big band orchestras he played with from 1948 to the 1970s. Although Bryant retired from the drums in 2001, playing his last gig with the Four Macs, he took up the sticks in 2012 when Todd asked him to make a special appearance at a gig he was playing.
Bryant Cann, centre, with his nephews Everett (left) and Todd in 2017. Both Everett and Todd are musicians, playing in bands since they were teenagers including their father's band - The Everett Cann Orchestra.
Bryant Cann, right, stands with his wife of 66 years Rhoda (McMullin) Cann, inside their daughter's Reserve Mines home where they now live. Playing in the background was a live recording of The Acadians in 1962, one of the many big band orchestras 89-year-old played with over his 60 years on drums.
'They just don’t make music like this anymore'
Bryant Cann’s face lights up when the music on the CD kicks in.
His fingers tap to the beat as the 89-year-old sways slightly back and forth to the rhythm of The Acadians, a popular big band orchestra in Cape Breton in the 1950s and 1960s.
The CD is from a live recording of the band in 1962 from the Steel Rail and Bryant was the drummer.
“I love it,” said the Glace Bay native who lives in Reserve Mines.
“I miss it. I sometimes go for a drive just to put (the CD) on. You don’t hear music like this nowadays … It’s sad to see this music not being played anymore.”
Self-taught, Bryant’s father bought him a drum kit when he was 18 to stop his son from using the family’s piano as a percussion instrument.
“I had the piano marked to hell with the knives (I used as drumsticks),” he said, with a laugh.
The drum kit arrived on a Friday and Bryant immediately set it up in his room. Two days later, the teen was practicing when his father came home from a Sunday night legion meeting. He was dropped off by local musician Billy Hunter, who was drawn to the sound of drumming coming from Bryant’s room.
“(Billy) came in and said, 'I’ve been looking for a drummer for a while,'” Bryant recalled. “He then turned to my father and said, 'I’m going to take him with me tomorrow night (for a gig).' I went and I never looked back.”
Bryant’s first gig, three days after getting his first drum kit, was a success and he became a regular with the Billy Hunter Band. News of Cape Breton’s latest drummer spread fast and Bryant started getting booked to play with other popular orchestras like The Royal Scotians, The Pioneers and the Geward Coleman Orchestra.
“At that time, drums were pretty scarce. When they found out you played, everyone wanted you,” he said, remembering how nervous he was at his first gig.
“The other fellas were drinking, getting ready ... I was shaking like a leaf. But they kept calling me back, so I guess I was alright that night.”
A delivery truck driver by day and orchestra drummer by night, Bryant remembers how people packed the dance floors for every set and how he met his wife Rhoda at his second gig.
“I was just happy to be going out with the drummer,” said Rhoda, smiling, as the couple joked with each other as only people who’ve spent decades together can.
Over his musical career, Bryant played with at least 12 different bands, including The Acadians, which was the Saturday night house band at The Silver Rail — a popular restaurant/dancehall located at the Grand Lake Road and Old Airport Road intersection until it burned down in 1968.
Those performances were often recorded live and broadcast on CJCB radio the following day. Bryant’s nephew, Todd Cann, has taken those old recordings and transferred them to MP3s for the family to keep and for Bryant to listen to on CD.
“Uncle Bryant is definitely gifted on the drums,” said Todd, who is also a musician.
Recruited to play in his father’s band (The Everett Cann Orchestra) as a teen, alongside his brother Everett Jr. and uncle Bryant, Todd still performs today. In 2012, he and his brother convinced Bryant to come out of retirement for one more gig.
“It all came back to him, even after not playing for 11 years,” he said. “I wasn’t nervous a bit. I knew he’d be familiar with the song and when we started playing, it was like he’d never stopped.”
Bryant said when the 1970s hit and rock ‘n’ roll started becoming more popular, demand for big band orchestras started to drop. Less people came to the shows and less got up to dance when they played.
Although he could have chosen to start playing with rock bands, Bryant just shook his head and said he had no interest in that.
“The rock bands sort of killed the crowds. Then the bands got smaller and smaller,” he said. “Then it was mostly rock. That just wasn’t my thing.”
As Bryant listens to The Acadians on the CD his nephew made for him, it easy to see the smooth rhythms and beats of the Big Band sound was and still is his thing.
“They just don’t make music like this anymore,” he said.