by Sheldon Birnie
I was over at my pal JP’s place the other night, interviewing him about his show, “Destination Moon,” on CKUW for the upcoming issue of Stylus. After going over the process he uses to assemble his shows from his extensive LP collection, he dug into some country music for me as we enjoyed the last of our beverages. It has to be said, during the 1970s and early 1980s, with the proximity of K-Tel records and other pressing plants in Winnipeg, that a lot of pure gold was pumped out into the world, the bulk of which has either been destroyed, is sitting in peoples’ basements or thrift stores, or assembled piecemeal into collections like JP’s.
The first platter he pulled out was an oldie by Stew Clayton, pride of Manitou, Manitoba. I got to see Stew at the Times Change(d) just before Canada Day this year, and it was one of the most Canadian things I could have done. Stew is an original for sure.
We spun a couple other thrift store gems before JP busted out a piece of pure Manitoba gold: Uncle Smoky sings Fun Songs for the Summer Crowd. The album cover alone is worth its weight in gold, but Uncle Smoky delivers big time on both sides of this album. Clearly designed to be sung around campfires and on decks during Manitoba’s beautiful summer season with liberal amounts of Five Star Rye and endless cases of Standard, this album is a must have. In that I must find a copy for myself.
I posted a photo of the cover to the Interweb the next day, and was immediately hit by a response from a pal out in Clear Lake. “I was raised on this album,” he said. I believe it.
This album is truly a gem. With songs like “Oh Boy Do I Love Bears,” “A Song About a Stripper,” and “Have You Ever Been Drunk as a Skunk and Met One?” Uncle Smoky really speaks to the good people of Manitoba who long through the cold winters for nothing more than a long weekend at a lake with some pals.
Thrift stores are full of such pure Manitoba gold. From Uncle Smoky to the Altona Orchestra to the Ukrainian Polka Kings, Small Time Manitoban players have been pumping out tunes up and down the Hillbilly Highways of our province since before they invented the Victrola.