Origin: Gimli, Manitoba
One of Winnipeg’s hottest acts throughout the late sixties really wasn’t from Winnipeg at all. Its roots lay in the town of Winnipeg Beach. In 1900, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) purchased 32 acres of undeveloped shoreline 65 kilometres north of Winnipeg on the southwestern shore of Lake Winnipeg and commenced construction of what would become one of western Canada's premiere resort facilities. Back in the early part of the 1900’s, the only way to get to Winnipeg Beach was by train. The railroad built a dance pavilion on the waterfront, and the "Moonlight Special" trains ferried city dwellers out to the fledgling resort for an evening of dance and revelry. By the 1950’s, it was a booming retreat. Short, hot summers on the boardwalk were followed by long months of isolation in the deep of winter. Such was the backdrop for the genesis of The Fifth.
The ensemble evolved as a result of the failure of another band. Bassist Richard Gwizdak moved to Winnipeg in 1965, long before The Fifth became a band. He was rehearsing with another collection of musicians, but they never got to the point of actually playing any dates. When they drifted apart, Richard contacted The Saints, a group comprised of his friends from Winnipeg Beach who had only played the tiny resort and surrounding area, convincing them all to make the move to “big city”. And The Fifth came into being. The original members were Richard Gwizdak on bass, Melvyn Ksionzek on guitar, Jimmy Grabowski on guitar (and later, organ), Barry Zdbiak on drums, with Ron Schmidt as their vocalist. By 1968, The Fifth had become one of the most successful groups on the Winnipeg music scene.
1968 also saw several personnel changes within the band. Vance was recruited to fill the empty drum chair, and Ron Rene replaced the original singer. Kurt Winter joined in on guitar, and for collectors, Sunshine People is the only Fifth record that Kurt played on. With his first child on the way, Vance jumped at the chance to earn a steady, reliable income again. The Fifth released several records for the London label, which also landed them on tours with Sonny & Cher, The Byrds, Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Seeds, and The McCoys. They spent so much time on the road, and in so many different places in a short period of time, that on one occasion when questioned by the U.S./Canada border crossing guards as to where they were going, each member of the band answered at the same time … but with a different city!
The Fifth were somewhat pioneers within the recording industry, due primarily to Melvyn Ksionzek. Melvyn’s role in the band went through various incarnations, starting first as the drummer, then moving onto guitar, and finally ending up as their bass player when Richard Gwizdak left the band. Throughout it all, he also spent a substantial portion of his time learning the skill sets being used within the recording industry. So advanced had he become in the various methods, that it was now commonplace for him to introduce audio engineers on their recording sessions to techniques the engineers hadn’t used before. On one session in Minneapolis, the band was dismayed to discover the engineer thought phasing was something that could be reproduced by placing a microphone in front of a an empty box (with a hole cut out of it) on a spinning turntable. They often employed the talents of guest artists such as Canadian Jazz legends Moe Kaufman and Guido Basso to add the finishing touches to their arrangements.
The success of the band, however, came with a high price ticket, and shortly after the birth of Vance’s daughter, Krista, his first marriage dissolved. He retained custody of Krista, which led to a curtailment of his performing schedule while he tended to the needs of his infant daughter. During this period, the idea for Brother began to take shape.
Post-Script: March 28, 2003
For weeks prior to the show, about the only buzz around town was the JACK SKELLY TRIBUTE - ANOTHER TEEN DANCE PARTY and The Fifth made frequent appearances, both individually and as a group, on Winnipeg's KY-58 Radio to promote the event. The bands on the schedule were a veritable who’s who from the 60’s with Mystery Train, The Pallbearers, The Shondels, Wayne Walker and The All-Stars, and the much-anticipated reunion of the original members of The Fifth. And the audience was not disappointed.
The Fifth took the stage as though the 35 years between performances had just melted away, much to the delight of their fans from the old days, many of who crowded around the stage to get a close up view of the one-time teen idols that dominated the late 60’s music scene in Winnipeg. Playing a mix of their hit records, interspersed with cover tunes of major groups from that era, they launched their set with a medley starting with a Monkee’s song, re-writing the lyrics to change the name to The Fifth. 45 minutes later, The Fifth finished their show with a Beatle’s classic, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Clubs Band to thunderous applause which continued until the band was coaxed back on stage for an encore. To those in attendance, it was as if they had been magically transported back to a time when things were so much simpler and music could indeed, at least for a short while, make you forget all the other things happening in the world.