The pride of rural Alberta when the province was still finding its country roots in the early ’70s, Buck Swan’s music mirrored his life, with a small town atmosphere that rang true in his songs like a cool night breeze during harvest season.
A livingroom crooner at night, he was a regular at most every Opry Night from Marwayne to Riverhurst, often with The Ward Family, another early influence on future generations in the Lakeland.
Swan assembled a backup band that he took on the road, and soon became favourites throughout the rural Alberta belt, making new homes in just about every country tavern and community hall the province had to offer. His persistence led to him being one of the most re-booked entertainers on the circuit, and his performances soon also became revered in Saskatchewan and eastern BC, as well.
He rewarded the faithful following by recording a 1970 show at the Bonnyville Legion Hall. From it came a 45 of his own composition “Goose Down Pillow.” Initially it was given out at his shows, but soon it also became a staple on tavern jukeboxes from Vermilion to Provost.
With music always a second passion to his ‘other’ life, he eventually settled the Desperados down with Provost guitarist Tim McNalley, Glassland, Saskatchewan native Fred Ducharme on drums, and Jeff Turner, originally from Princeton, BC, on bass. They continued playing every honky tonk and two-bit saloon across the province, and eventually began laying down tracks that would become his only full album. His friendship with fellow budding musician Robert Ward led to Swan recording at his studio in Bonnyville.
Downtown didn’t exist far beyond Main Street, but nestled in the middle of it was Wild Rose Studio. Also serving for rural produced TV and radio ads, it was one of the few full recording suites north of Edmonton until it burned down in the early ’80s. Swan and his boys found time in between haying seasons and trips around the province with their gear in tow to sit down and record their only album, 1976’s SONGS OF THE STARS.
With Ward producing, the album captured the stripped down, no frills essence in Swan’s three original tracks – “Old & Grey,” the yodling title track, and a re-recording of “Goose Down Pillow.” Also included were many of the western standards the boys played to packed dance halls across the province for so long, showcasing the band’s tightness – including “Amanda,” “Jack to a King,” and “Crystal Chandeliers.”
Although no actual singles were released, times were different in radio back then. With many fewer stations to choose from, most rural stations across the province were country or MOR (middle of the road), and DJs found several tracks handy when needing to fill CanCon requirements, and even got some airplay on the biggest radio station in the province – CFCW.
His next album not only parlayed his penchant for capturing the essence of the sound of original country, but also his sense of humour and stage presence. IT’S PARTY TIME! was released in ’82, recorded in front of a live audience in Bonnyville, and with a back-up band that consisted of Fred Ducharme on guitars, and Darrel McAlfie on bass and percussion. Along with Swan’s originals “New Shopping Spree” and “Little Pedro,” it also included a rendition of Mel Tillis’ “Brand New Saddle” and “Mexico” (featuring Ducharme on lead vocals). Three of Swan’s many alter-egos also showed up for the party to captivate the audience and keep it in stitches – Uncle Mort, Brother Snoodley, and Cousin Pedro.
Buck carried on playing the Oprys, hotels, and community halls for another few years, but eventually moved to Vermilion and opened up a taxi service, but still played occasionally. The Desperados followed him into the sunset, occasionally playing together now and again, but eventually were all out of the business and headed out of town, as well.