Origin: Winnipeg, Manitoba
It's a little blurry exactly when I first knew I wanted to be in a band, or had the ability even to consider it, but one certain incident may have cemented my ultimate fate. Grade Eight...Luxton School...music class with Miss Milgrom. Edd Smith and I were just about best friends, hanging out together almost constantly. He already had a cheap electric guitar and amp. We had auditioned for the Amateur Show, a local Winnipeg television deal, dreaming of winning and being asked back to perform another time on tv. Our work toward the audition had deemed that we spend a large amount of time together. During those early "rehearsals" we worked up duet versions of several numbers. Edd and I, having learned these several numbers ANYWAY, privately approached Miss Milgrom, our Luxton Grade 8 music teacher, and asked her if we could perform something in front of the whole room during our next music class.
We ended up performing "This Time" by Troy Shondell and "What'd I Say" by Ray Charles in front of the kids in our home room class. I played piano and sang, and Edd played along on electric guitar. Members of the whole class, particularly the girls, were seemingly impressed..and it seemed like a damned cool thing to do?
Edd was constantly turning me on to "all things rock and roll" that I otherwise might not have come across. I must give Edd Smith a HUGE amount of credit and gratitude concerning what he did for me during the most malleable period of my adolescent life. I might never have heard "Silver City" by the Ventures were it not for Edd. I might never have been interested enough to send money orders to England for Shadows albums on vinyl in '62,'63,and '64 were it not for Edd. Even in Grade nine (our last year at Luxton) his knowledge of and enthusiasm for all things rock and roll hit me square in the face.
Shortly after Winnipeg had first gotten "Channel Twelve" (KCND Pembina North Dakota), Edd and our friend Tom Laszlo started talking about the coming D day...I had no idea what they meant, nor that they were referring to "DEE" day...they were talking about the imminent appearance of Joey Dee and the Starliters on American Bandstand to lip sync something on Channel Twelve at four thirty on a Friday afternoon.
All week long at school, I looked forward to that few minutes of black and white television history. Since the single of Peppermint Twist peaked on the Billboard chart in January of 1962, this magic "week of anticipation leading up to DEE day" must have occured during the winter of 1961/1962. Edd Smith nurtured the seeds that radio had already planted in the head of a North End kid, several years earlier.
Edd and I did another Amateur Show appearance several months after the first one. This time we had a drummer with us, a school friend named Francis Kostiuk, who lived on Atlantic Ave, down near Scotia. He had a great set of drums and somehow we ended up on television, just the three of us, doing Dion Di Mucci's "The Wanderer". As memory serves me, we rocked pretty good this time. I was still delivering the Winnipeg Tribune six days a week at this point, and I remember some of the younger girls who lived with their parents on my paper route commenting and giggling about my singing "The Wanderer". The Wanderer came out in the first part of 1961, so I would have been thirteen at this time, and VERY shy of girls. I found out quickly what power there lurked in the ability to get up and sing a few tunes...even stuff you hadn't written yourself. The Beatles hadn't happened yet, but I was already thinking how cool it would be to be one of those guys makin' records?and guys like Bobby Rydell and Bobby Darin and Carl Dobkins and Brian Hyland and a million others were all just about the same age as me, maybe just a tad older...
Nowadays when I talk to many of my old friends and other people who are approximately my age, they tend to forget anything musical which occurred before the Beatles. There was a very healthy rock and roll scene prior to the British Invasion. During the 62/63 school year, I managed to weasel my way into the Deverons, a band I would eventually end up kind of leading. During our earliest lineups we had a rather larger repertoire composed ENTIRELY of pre Beatles music. In retrospect I realize those were the best days of my life in show business. We in the Deverons were all still living under our parents' roofs, yet we were treated as local royalty...all the trappings of success in life without having to take any of the risks involved to attain it.
I've only ever been in two bands in my life...the Deverons and the Guess Who. Edd Smith, Derek Blake, Boris Pawluk and John Gach all went to St. John's High when I did. Those four started rehearsing in John Gach's parents' basement, a beautiful rumpus room with really good acoustics. It was one of those older houses dripping with personality and vibe, directly across the street from the beautiful St. John's Park?pretty cushy, actually. During the days at school, Edd would casually mention what numbers they were currently working on...I would always drool with jealousy...I wanted so much to be in the band. They played instrumentals only...none of them sang. I guess their "repertoire" consisted of numbers by the Ventures, Fireballs, Chantays, Surfaris, Duane Eddy, and any other guitar-based instrumental acts of the day. After a few weeks of hearing about the Deverons second hand through Edd, I asked him if I could come to a practice and listen. That week I found myself in the Gachs' basement at a Deveron practice. I asked them if I could sing something...would they play along...
I sang Donna, Come On Let's Go, and Bonie Moronie from the Ritchie Valens album. Every guy in every band in Winnipeg at that time knew those numbers. I sang my heart out. They immediately liked having a singer. We may have tried Baby What's Wrong by Lonnie Mack and Shortnin' Bread by Paul Chaplin and the Emeralds that day too...probably some others, I think "Walk Right In" by the Rooftop Singers, cause I'd figured out the changes on piano at home... I honestly can't remember. Before I knew it I was singing with the Deverons. I didn't stay on the stage all night...they remained primarily an instrumental band, and several times during the evening, I would come out and sing a tune then disappear quickly.
Derek and his dad had put some serious money into Derek's guitars, amp and mikes. The Deverons would never have gotten off the ground so early without all that gear. Peter, Derek's dad, had bought two mikes, cables, a huge Fender amp for Derek and whoever else, and a Fender Jazzmaster for Derek. For a long time I sang all my vocals through one of Derek's amps. Later, when I began playing the available upright pianos at all of the community clubs, churches, and schools, it too went through one of Derek's amps.
I'm not sure exactly when the Deverons w/yours truly first played publicly, but the first lineup was John Gach on drums, Edd Smith on guitar, Boris Pawluk on guitar, Derek Blake on guitar, and Burton Cummings on perhaps six vocals throughout the evening. We played for a long time without ever getting paid. My mother got us five matching rainbow striped shirts from Eaton's...those shirts were the first band uniforms I ever remember wearing. Shortly thereafter I purchased a Buescher C Melody sax from a guy named Barry Lank in West Kildonan. I paid him the sum total of twenty-five dollars for this instrument. In my small bedroom on Bannerman I listened over and over again to the solo in Country Boy by Fats Domino and to anything at all by Johnny and the Hurricanes. A couple of weeks later, the boys let me start playing a few sax instrumentals on stage with the Deverons. Now with both the singing AND the sax playing, I was having to leave the stage less and less throughout the evening. Things were getting better for me in this thing called the Deverons.
The name Deverons is a direct rip-off from an American group called the Devrons. I know nothing of this group, except that they had one minor, regional hit with a guitar instrumental called Brand X. I have checked Joel Whitburn's books on Billboard's charts, and according to him, this Brand X record never charted for even one week at a high number on Billboard's top 100. Derek had heard and learned the instrumental and I suppose he became enamoured with the name...probably kept saying it over and over in his head like a mantra, falling prey to its sonic spell...Derek had subtly added an extra E to the spelling, and this band from St. Joh'n High School came to be known as the DEVERONS. This was all during 1962.
I still hated having to leave the stage at all during the Deveron shows, but I had nothing to do when I wasn't singing or playing sax. Then one night in the early winter months of 1962 we played at St. Martin's In the Field Church Parish Hall?not Smithfield Ave?this was the church I had attended for all my childhood...off to the right side of the stage stood a beautiful old upright piano...the boys started off the first set that evening with a couple of guitar instrumentals...I came out afterward and sang a couple of tunes...then at the point when I would ordinarily have left the stage again, I calmly walked over to the old upright and pounded along with the ensuing instrumental. It wasn't even miked or amplified in any way whatsoever, but I felt like I'd never skulk off the stage again to wait my turn in the wings. I think Derek felt threatened that night...that may have been the point at which he began losing hold of the reins of the band to me...but Hell, I wasn't even miked yet !
No one had a real electric bass yet in the Deverons. Edd Smith was playing a black and white electric Silvertone guitar, tuning the four bottom strings down and playing what amounted to his versions of bass lines for the arrangements. We would do Sheila by Tommy Roe, Only Love Can Break A Heart by Gene Pitney, Wild Weekend by the Rebels, Minnesota Fats by Johnny and the Hurricanes, Donna and Bonie Moronie by Ritchie Valens, Wonderful World by Sam Cooke, Walk Don't Run by the Ventures and a host of other ditties of the day.
This particular lineup went on for a while. When I say "a while", I probably mean only a few months. Boris was the first problem. He and Edd and I had been in the same home room for years at St. John's...the three of us knew each other fairly well. Boris and I had both been in each other's homes. He seemed to get bored with it all very quickly. He probably didn't even play with the Deverons more than two months after I had come along.
I think Don Gunter replaced Boris for a short while...then it seems we became disenchanted with John Gach's drumming...Ken Birdini was there for what now seems like thirty seconds...then suddenly Craig Hamblin was drumming for the Deverons. Or was Craig there when Boris was still there...have to take pentathol to figure that out...as if anybody cares...
The lineup that was really to be the Deverons finally cemented itself early in 1964. It was Ronn Savoie on drums, Edd Smith on bass, Derek Blake on lead guitar, Bruce Decker on rhythym guitar, and yours truly on piano and vocals.
By this time I was using a Di Armond violin pickup to amplify every available upright piano at the gigs. Once this particular five piece lineup was in place, things went on to a much more serious level.
Edd Smith was now using a real Fender Bass. Everyone but Ronn behind the drums was singing. Oh yeah, by the way...the British Invasion had just happened...
-Burton Cummings, 2015