Ironic to most is how vibrant the music scene was in Winnipeg in the 1960s. Garage bands sprung up on every street, some achieving nominal success, yet more than most. A select few would become the roots of some of Canada’s most endearing groups. This was the case with The Deverons, not to be confused with a mid 80s US punk group with the same name.. Their name came from an American band called The Devrons, who had a very minor hit in 1962 called “Brand X.”
Formed by four St. John’s High School students, guitarists and friends Boris Pawluk and Derek Blake, Edd Smith on bass and drummer John Gach began rehearsing in Gach’s basement rumpus room in the spring of ’62. Smith didn’t really have an actual bass guitar, but instead simply tuned the bottom four strings on his old Silvertone and pretending that was a bass. Because none of them sang, their limited repetoire consisted of covering The Ventures, The Fireballs, The Chantays, The Surfaris, Duane Eddy, and any other guitar-based instrumental acts of the day. Burton Cummings talked the guys into letting him sing a few songs with them, and soon their repetoire wasn’t so limited anymore. Now they were throwing some Ritchie Valens songs into the equation.
While Cummings was only 14, they landed a few shows where they were happy to play for free, just for the experience, playing churches and community halls. The first was at the Herzlia Academy, then an orthodox shul in the city’s south end. Their first real uniforms were some gold vests and matching rainbow striped shirts from Eatons Cummings‘ mother had purchased for the boys. At first, he didn’t even stay on stage throughout the entire show, only singing five or six songs intermittently throughout the shows. Within a couple of months he was also playing saxophone on a few other numbers. It was around that time that Pawluk was replaced by Don Gunter, then Gach was briefly replaced by Ken Birdini, who was replaced by Craig Hamblin. Then one night late that year the band was doing a show at a church, and at a point when he would normally have walked off stage, he instead turned to an old upright piano and just began playing along.
Over the next year or so the lineup became solidified with Cummings, Smith, Bruce Decker and Blake on guitars and Ron Savoie on drums. Lorne Saifer, a friend of Cummings, became their bookign agent, and their playlist now included Tommy Roe, Gene Pitney, The Rebels, Johnny and The Hurricanes, Ritchie Valens, Same Cooke and The Ventures, among whatever else was hot on the airwaves at the time. They’d also talked Daryl Burlingham, CKY’s music director, into being their official manager. By this time the band had become one of the hottest commodities in Winnipeg, and had toured sporadically throughout Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and into Minnesota, even though they were all still 17. Burlingham snuck them into the station’s studio late one night and banged off four cuts before staff came in the next morning. They shopped the tapes around and scored a deal with Reo Records.
Unconvinced of the band’s own writing abilities, the label execs took the boys into a Minneapolis studio and had them record some songs written by ‘professional’ session writers. By the end of the year “Lost Love” and “Feel All Right” was released, followed shortly thereafter by another pair of covers, “She” and “Farmer John.” “She’s My Lover” was the next single, the first that was written by Cummings. The song was an organ-driven psychadelic powerful tune that highlighted the future power of his microphone magnetism about his first teen love. It was backed with a cover of Al Esposito’s soulful, liliting number “Blue Is The Night.” The band was growing in popularity when “Yes I Do” and “Leave Her Alone” was released next before the end of ’65, both written by Cummings.
The band’s regional success continued, but the air was let out of The Deverons’ tires late in 1965. The Guess Who had approached Cummings to replace their recently departed keyboardist, and the following January, now barely 18, he accepted, and went on to head arguably Canada’s most influential rock groups ever, then an incredibly successful solo career.
The other members drifted off out of the business together, except Decker. He formed The Electric Jug & Blues Band, then briefly joined Cummings in The Guess Who in 1969. The only reunion of The Deverons occurred in 1980 during a CBC special Cummings hosted, called “Portage and Main,” eminating from Winnipeg. That show also featured a reunion of the original Guess Who members. Decker died in a car crash in 1987 at the age of 40.