Chilliwack: 40+ Years of Making Music

As one of Canada’s longest running bands, Chilliwack have earned their place in Canadian music history. With a string of Top 40 hits to their credit including “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)”, “I Believe” and “Whatcha Gonna Do (When I’m Gone)”, the group, fronted by vocalist-guitarist Bill Henderson performs at Casino New Brunswick on Thursday evening. The show starts at 7:00 p.m.

Of course, every group has its beginnings. For Chilliwack, those roots were planted in Vancouver in 1964 when they performed under the name The Classics. Two short years later, the group changed their name to the Collectors, becoming Chilliwack in 1969 when Collectors vocalist Howie Vickers left the band.

Chilliwack spent the ‘70’s commanding themselves a respectable audience with their 1976 record Dreams Dreams Dreams and their 1978 album Lights From The Valley each attaining Platinum status.

In 1978, Brian MacLeod would join the group. In the years following his arrival, Chilliwack enjoyed an even greater level of success than what they had seen in the past with their singles “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” and “Whatcha Gonna Do (When I’m Gone)” becoming hits on both sides of the 49th parallel. The songs respectively charted at the Number One and Number Nine positions in Canada while in the United States, they charted at the Number 22 and Number 41 positions on the singles charts there. Further recognition would come the group’s way when Henderson and MacLeod were awarded the 1983 Juno Award for Producer of the Year for “Whatcha Gonna Do (When I’m Gone)”.

Brian MacLeod, who had earned the nickname of “Too Loud” MacLeod would eventually leave Chilliwack, choosing to focus his energy upon the harder-edged group The Headpins of whom he also performed with. In April 1992, after a battle with cancer, MacLeod lost his battle with the disease at the relatively young age of 39 years old.

Recalling his former band mate, Henderson says that despite the musical differences that would eventually cause MacLeod leave the Chilliwack ranks for The Headpins, they remained good friends until the very end.

“Brian’s talent had such great depth. We had reached a point where Chilliwack and The Headpins were running down parallel tracks and because he was always musically harder edged than I was, The Headpins was where he felt like he needed to go.

“Brian really was a force to behold though,” Henderson continues. “He was really coming into his own and I think that his time with Chilliwack helped him to find that footing in the world of commercial music.”

Not surprisingly, the music business has evolved rather rapidly and in ways that could never have been anticipated as recently as 20 years ago. Looking back even further than that though, Henderson insists that the process of making records as well as the touring of decades past was vastly different than the sometimes year or two-year long tours that bands routinely undertake these days.

“Back then, we would do six weeks on the road, playing almost every night. And by the time the end of those six weeks came, it was almost like a breaking point. You weren’t grounded anymore and certainly weren’t connected to your family.

“If you weren’t touring, you were intensively writing or preparing for the studio or else you were in the studio,” he says. “Record contracts back then stipulated that they required a new record every year or every 18 months. It was crucial that you were writing music that got a response in those days. Labels wanted bands to create stuff that would sell; all bands were writing to the best of their ability back then. You’d write a pile of songs and only very few would end up coming to the surface.”

Luckily for Chilliwack, they were fortunate to have more than a few songs bubble up to the surface. And while the day of playing 200-plus shows per year may be long behind them, the group maintains a schedule of 20 to 25 shows per year. Quality, not quantity, is what matters to Henderson and his cohorts in Chilliwack.

“The pace is good for us,” Henderson says. “I wouldn’t mind being up in the 25 to 30 shows per year range but things aren’t bad the way they are now. I think there are a lot of ways to look at it. Since 1968, I have probably written 600 to 700 songs and only a handful of those saw the light of day on recordings. By maintaining the annual show schedule that we do, you can play those songs that are the cream of the crop and can continue to enjoy them, focus on them and stay in the music 100% of the time.

“Stevie Ray Vaughn was always an inspiration to me because if you look at any video footage of him playing, he was always 100% into his music and gave his all on stage, every show. I like to think we do the same. It’s amazing to be able to do what you want to do and get paid for it.”

What: Chilliwack

When: Thursday Oct. 4, 7:00 p.m.

Where: Casino New Brunswick, 21 Casino Drive, Moncton

Tickets start at $19.99 plus taxes and service charges. Advance tickets are available at the Casino Gift Shop, by phone at 1-866-943-8849 and online at www.ticketbreak.com/casinonb

Article published in the October 2, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript