Origin: Winnipeg, Manitoba
On August 6, 1964, Winnipeg band The Squires played their final gig with it's long running lineup - Neil Young and Allan Bates on guitars, bassist Ken Koblun and drummer Ken Smyth - breaking up following a gig at Winnipeg supperclub/nightclub The Town 'n' Country on Kennedy Street north of Portage Avenue downtown. Downstairs, the Gold Coach Lounge had become a popular spot for the University of Winnipeg hipsters to congregate. The Shondels had recently completed a successful two year residency at the lounge and it was booking other groups in an attempt to recapture the excitement. The Squires were thrilled to be sharing the bill with their mentors, Chad Allan & the Reflections.
Excerpt from Neil Young: Don't Be Denied - The Canadian Years:
The four members of The Squires, still in their teens and in high school, had become close friends. "We did everything together," offers Ken Smyth, "hung out together, double-dated together. After a gig we'd all meet at the Pembina Sal's restaurant or cruise over to the A & W drive-in restaurant." But by the summer of 1964, a rift was developing. The four were beginning to see music from different perspectives. "Neil was serious about a musical career early," reflects Allan, "so he quit school after grade eleven on the advice of the principal who told him to go out and be a musician. He knew what he was good at and he went for it. We wanted to finish grade twelve." That August, Neil, Jack Harper, and assorted friends drove out to Falcon Lake to camp for a few days. While there, Neil convinced the hotel manager to hire The Squires to play at the resort and phoned the other band members to come up to join him. Ken Koblun, always ready to follow his buddy, agreed. Ken Smyth and Allan Bates, however, had other plans and said no. "It didn't seem like a big deal to us but to Neil it was," cites Ken Smyth. "Neil came back and broke up the band." The four fulfilled some commitments then went their separate ways.
Looking back, Ken Smyth harbors only one regret. "It's too bad that it ended on a sour note. Neil was definitely upset when we broke up. Up to then The Squires were a solid foursome. We had a lot of good times together. To Allan and me it was just fun. For Neil and Ken it was their career."
After one month of school in the fall of 1964, Neil decided that his future was not to be found in the hallowed halls of Kelvin High but as a full-time musician. There was nothing else that he wanted to do in life. Since junior high he had considered no other vocation than music. He respected Allan Bates' and Ken Smyth's decision to finish school but he couldn't relate to it. They had such a good thing going in The Squires. He thought it strange that the two didn't want the dream the way he did.
Rassy put up little resistance to Neil's decision to turn professional. "You only get one shot at it," she reflected, "and you had to do it when you were young." Nola Halter adds, "Rassy did want Neil to finish school but if that was what Neil wanted then she supported him all the way." Scott Young, on the other hand, was not in favor of his son's decision. Neil had failed grade eleven, the result, his father reasoned, of too much time spent playing in the band. Scott believed there was nothing else for Neil to do but knuckle under and do the year over. But he had little influence over his son and Neil went ahead and quit. In fact the principal of Kelvin was supportive of Neil's decision, if perhaps for different reasons. He knew that Neil had no interest in school and only wanted to be a musician. "Go and give it a try," he told Neil, feeling confident that once out in the real world the young lad would quickly learn the value of a high school education and come running back. Neil never did return though among the photographs of illustrious alumni adorning the walls of the school is a picture of Neil. "He's Kelvin's most famous dropout," scoffed Rassy. Ken Koblun quit Churchill around the same time that Neil bid farewell to Kelvin.
With that decision under his belt, Neil now needed to find replacements for Allan Bates and Ken Smyth in The Squires. He didn't have to look far. Bill Edmondson lived across the street from Neil and had attended Kelvin as well. The two were already friends before the split in The Squires. Bill had begun playing drums in Montreal before his parents divorced and Bill came to live with his grandparents in Winnipeg. As he recalls, "We were really good buddies before I even joined the band. The band had folded and Neil was moping around. He came over one day and said 'I've fired everybody in the band. I need a new drummer, do you want to join?'" Bill accepted and promptly quit school. It was his first band. "When we went with Edmondson we were really serious about making music our lives," comments Neil.
The next recruit was piano player Jeff Wuckert. A native of St. James in west Winnipeg, Jeff became the only piano player ever to be a Squire. "I was playing with The Concepts," he states, "which was the first band I ever played with. There weren't many piano players with bands around Winnipeg other than Mike Hanford of The Shondels and Bob Ashley from The Reflections. We were playing a community club and Neil came to see us. Neil had heard of me and came to watch the band. He came up to the stage after and asked me to join them. Everyone had heard of The Squires." At the tender age of sixteen, Jeff had already developed a reputation around the city for having backed Canadian teen idol Bobby Curtola. The move to incorporate piano represented a shift for Neil towards a more rhythm and blues sound. That style was Jeff's specialty and his piano playing added a new dimension to The Squires, if briefly. Certainly some of the songs The Squires had recorded that spring illustrated the bluesy style in Neil's writing. "By then I was listening to blues stuff like Jimmy Reed and getting into the harmonica," recalls Neil. Indeed, Neil became one of the first musicians in the city to use harmonica in a band. Glenn MacRae of The Crescendos remembers Neil teaching him how to play the harmonica during breaks at the Twilight Zone, a popular St. Vital teen club where Neil often hung out with other musicians. A January 1964 Winnipeg Free Press story by reporter Mike Maunder celebrating the opening of The Twilight Zone club quoted Neil stating, “The music we play was written for this type of audience. This is the only place in Winnipeg where we can hear this music.”
Although this lineup - Young, Koblun, Edmondson and Wuckert lasted barely three months, it is forever preserved in the only professional photo of the band ever taken. Photographer Barney Charach took this photo at his Paramount Studios. A fire later gutted his studio destroying all his negatives which included multiple shots of The Squires.
Photo: back row - Young, Edmondson; front row - Wuckert and Koblun.