In Canadian music’s infancy, all mid-Western cities shared one thing in common in the mid to late 50’s. Isolated from the Toronto vibe, they were allowed local media exposure, developing their own styles and nurturing the sound that would become ‘prairie rock’. Calgary was no different, and was filled with a number of upstart groups, all looking to make their mark.
Brothers Tony and Chris Allbury, natives of England, like most budding musicians, bounced around in a number of garage bands, filled with visions of grandeur under the monikor “The Rockin’ Royals’. With Chris on bass and Tony on guitars, the original band was rounded out by drummer Bob Bowman and Cappy Thomson, a native of New Zealand, on sax. A fifteen-years old Roger Vickers on guitars would join soon after in ’57, and soon they were making a name for themselves with one of the most energetic live shows on the circuit, playing a variety of instrumentals, in the vein of some of their contemporaries, including The Ventures (“Hawaii 5-0 Theme”) from Washington State and New Mexico’s group, The Fireballs.
The band was noticed by Mel Shaw, Calgary’s very first performer to have a record, who agreed to be the band’s personal manager after returning from a US tour of his own with Chan Romero in 1960. Under the guise of ‘Babbling Baron,’ Shaw was also the man behind ‘Entertainment Voice Magazine’ that provided information, contests and current events on the music scene in Alberta. His first priority was to give them a makeover, beginning with their name.
Now under the name Tony Mystery and The Masquerades, Shaw took care of promotions, and Errol LeCroix (The Tall Twister) joined on vocals to make it a six-tet. Under Shaw’s tutilage, they began showing up at shows no longer wearing the striped blazers, slacks and grass hats, instead dressing more like they were prepared for a bank heist.
In ’61, with the help of local DJ Howie Levant’s on-air promotions, they recorded their first single in the studios of CFAC Radio on Sotan Records. “Rainmaker,” and the b-side “One Step Beyond” got respectable play across the area. Incidentally, “Rainmaker” didn’t feature Thomson, but instead Ray Greff on the piano. Their second release was done at CHCT TV in the summer of 1962. “Southern Tradewinds” and “Riverside Twist” helped make The Masquerades one of Alberta’s top groups at the time.
“We wore (the hoods) for one year, then took them off on Halloween Night at The Gardens Ballroom,” Vickers remembered. “People were lined up for a block just to get in the door. Mel’s idea was to not disclose us yet, and we entered the stage wearing masks like the ‘Lone Ranger’,” he added. For the next year or so the band became regulars on the local TV circuit, including the teen dance variety show, “Guys & Dolls.” One of the band’s highlights was opening for Bill Haley & The Comets when they came to Calgary in 1962.
More personnel changes were in store for The Masquerades, and saw Don Camadge join early in ’62. Under Shaw’s guidance, the band continually evolved their sound and image. The band carried on until the middle of the decade, where individiual interests caused the band’s demise, with the core of the band breaking off one by one. “Tony was also getting us into ‘skiffles’ with songs like “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It’s Flavour (On The Bedpost Overnight),” Vickers said. “We were a rock ‘n roll – R & B band; not Lonnie Donagen.” Vickers and Chris Allbury would both see greater success later. Vickers joined Buddy Knox (“Party Doll”), while Allbury would go on to work with Roy Orbison.
The Masquerades were pivotal in the emerging music scene in Calgary, one of the very first groups there to record. Shaw meanwhile would find a new group of proteges, in The Stampeders, showing again his uncanny ability to nurture a basic raw talent, and why he’ll be remembered as the pinnacle to Alberta’s contribution to the formation of Canadian rock.