Rick Keene Music Scene – Bowser and Blue ; The ‘Tips’ of A Musical Iceberg

If you are from Montreal, Quebec or Canada – the names Bowser and Blue immediately bring a smile to your face (even if you are wearing a mask).

Bowser and Blue

George Bowser and Rick Blue were both born In England. Both of these gentlemen existed musically and humanly before they started performing together in 1978. Common and different sounds brought them together and have kept them entertaining audiences for over fifty years.

“My Mother’s family was from Liverpool”. Says Rick from his home in Beaconsfield, Qc. “The Liverpool element was more definitive in my upbringing. My mother sang along to everything and my Aunt used to sing in clubs. My Grandfather used to give speeches and was known as a ‘raconteur’.

Liverpool was that type of place with theaters and clubs and people used to go out a lot. There were pianos playing, people singing and giving speeches –Rick’s creativity came from from that background.

“Liverpool also had a wide variety of musical styles’. Rick explains. “Aside from the English ‘Music Hall’ – type stuff, there was a lot of Irish music. American music came across the Cunard Lines from the States and that music influenced all the Liverpool groups which eventually became the British Invasion.”

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The Beatles made Rick fall in love with so many different genres as the eclectic nature of The Fab Four was the blueprint for the type of diverse material Rick and George would play later on. Pop, Folk, Country and Rock n Roll – The Beatles could play it all and so would Bowser and Blue. Playing everything is something Rick admits is a lot easier with two people rather than a group; “Within a band – there is more chance of someone saying ‘I don’t feel like playing that …

Rick Blue moved from the States to Montreal when he was thirteen. It was in High School when Rick started getting into music listening to the radio and all the hits being played. It was at boarding school where Rick’s roommate played the banjo and taught Rick chords on the guitar so the two could play songs together.

“We started doing Folk kind of stuff’. Says Rick. “The Kingston Trio, and Peter, Paul and Mary’.  I loved singing harmony so I also joined the choir in high school.”

Rick Blue

After graduation – the Folk scene started to go Rock – it became electrified. As a solo act Rick would play at Café Andre across from McGill.

 “I would play the off nights during the week. I had an old Goya guitar with nylon strings which I did not like that much because I always wanted a steel string guitar so I could sound like Bob Dylan. I used to get so nervous that I would throw up before each set. Of course – George once said ‘then when you got on stage and played the audience would throw up’. “

Rick attended Sir George Williams – he met a bunch of guys from the Dorval (West Island) area who were also interested in playing ‘electric’ in a band. According to Rick; they wanted to write songs – that was the whole point.

‘We wrote an entire album of songs and rehearsed them in this basement. The guy who lived next door was this guy Bob Harn (sic) who was in the music business in Montreal for many years. He used to write commercials for radio and TV. Bob managed to get that band I had called The British American Act to record an album. It was recorded in Andre Perry’s studio who later became famous for being the guy who recorded John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance at The Queen Elizabeth Hotel. “

Rick and his band recorded the album and played the British Pavilion at Expo 67. Rick believes it was because of the band’s name they got that gig. Following bands such as Jefferson Airplane – the band then went hippy. Rick went full hippy because;’ everyone else was doing it”. Rick recalls that he and his lead guitarist once got kicked out of Toe Blake’s Tavern for having long hair. In those days; a definitive cultural divide took place between the ‘short’ hairs and the ‘long’ hairs. Hippies were on the streets and in bars while Fedoras, suits and dresses filled Le Forum de Montreal to cheer on Les Canadiens.

The British American Act (the band) did not go anywhere but the album is now considered rare. According to Rick, it is worth $1200.00 a copy if the record is in pristine condition. Rick finds this ironic since a ‘rare’ record is not something people usually want – a record which sells one million copies, to him – a ‘valuable’ record.

Rick Blue then joined a band called Mantis. It was a Prog Rock outfit that ‘holed’ up in the Laurentians and the jams went on forever. One chord pattern and one harmony led to another with solos coming and going. Each member of Mantis were all convinced of their ‘genius’ and they – like Rick’s previous band, also signed a record contract.

“We came close to a distribution deal with A&M Records ‘. Says Rick. “That would have put us in the big time but a business problem did not let that happen. We played clubs like The Moustache and The Edgewater.

 Since the early seventies, Rick Blue has been fortunate enough to make a living playing music no matter how meager it was at times. Says Rick. “It seems I was destined to become what you hear now …’

Meanwhile – from the same side of the pond …

George Bowser was born in Sussex, England and educated at Tonbridge School, Kent.  His Mom was a good pianist and there was always a piano in the house, with sheet music open on it.  George would sit down and play – untutored, from an early age. This encouraged his parents to arrange for lessons. The idea of lessons put an end to George’s interest in piano.

“We attended church services on Sundays, and my father sang with great enthusiasm”. States George. “I learned not to be shy about singing. Since my Dad sang the bass parts, I was always attracted to the bass. Dad also liked musical comedy and I listened to his LP collection repeatedly.”

George borrowed guitars and made some out of boxes and string. At fourteen, his Father bought a guitar for him but George really wanted to play bass. A year later he bought his first bass guitar – a Hofner. Paul McCartney, Bill Wyman – whatever song was playing, George listened for the bass. He could not afford an amplifier so he would borrow one and press the bottom of the bass against a cupboard so that he could hear it.

It was a Tonbridge where George joined the choir – a boy soprano and later as a bass player. He played trombone in the cadet corps marching band and joined the theatre society.

George Bowser

Bill Bruford (King Crimson) had the study room next to mine, but we only played music together once.” Says George. “He didn’t think much of my taste in music, insisting that I should listen to the blues, rather than the Top Twenty. Bill played his favorite songs very loud, so I and the other boys were obliged to listen to it too.”

 George left school and joined up with Christopher Tookey and Mark Henshall to form a pop group. They required a guitar player and preferably someone who could sing high. An ad was placed in Melody Maker and one of the respondents was Roger Hodgson (Supertramp).

‘Roger impressed us by playing the intro to Pinball Wizard correctly on the guitar and his vocal range was astonishing”. George recalls. “He had written some very good original songs. He was clearly a gifted musician, singer and songwriter. Chris, Roger and I had a good vocal blend and we made a demo recording at RG Jones studios. Decca Records offered us a recording contract and Island Records were also interested but only in Roger. I was due to go to University in September, so the group disbanded and Roger signed with Island records.”

George arrived in Canada in 1970. That began a musical career playing with names that would become familiar to music fans. One of those names was Mike Driscoll (who later would play drums for The Rolling Stones’ guitarist Mick Taylor). Driscoll, Harry Marks and George formed a trio called Wizard and recorded one single Come Away. The song was later re-recorded by April WIne on the Forever For Now LP.

“Wizard was managed by Ben Kaye, who later became Celine Dion’s publisher”. Says George. , “When our record company (MCA Canada) didn’t want to do an LP with us, we assumed a personnel change was in order. At Mike Driscoll’s insistence, we hired Walter Rossi who is not known for his vocal chops. He is a guitarist, so I was kicked out.”

George then joined The Vegetable Band (Gary Moffet of April Wine fame was a member), the Saint Marc Street Band and Don Graham’s Graham County which eventually got a recording contract with Aquarius Records and released two singles. Nothing came of it and George returned to the UK.

“I was met by my cousin Alex Cooper, who had a band called Waves featuring guitarist Kimberly Rew. When I arrived, Kimberley had just re-joined The Soft Boys so I stepped in. We made some recordings and played a few shows. Prior to leaving Canada I had recorded a demo with Kimball Lee. The demo attracted the attention of somebody from CBS Canada and Kimball asked if I would come back and put a band together to audition for a contract. Foolishly, I did. I abandoned the UK for a second time leaving Alex to re-constitute the Waves with a singer named Katrina. Walking on Sunshine was huge and Katrina and The Waves took off.  (Bowser and Blue became their opening act when they toured the United States and Canada).”

George Bowser at one point in his life, received a visit from a guy named Ricky Blue while in England. Rick stayed in George’s flat and the duo drank a lot of beer and played songs together. Their voices blended well and Rick’s rhythm was strong. The pair seemed to have a natural sound and similar –complementary musical tastes.

Upon returning to Canada – George called Rick, who agreed to join George at the Lancer Pub. The rest, as they say, is history. Bowser and Blue continue to bring smiles to faces everywhere (even if you are wearing a mask).

Bowser and Blue will be performing March 18th at Mayfair Tavern in Pte Claire. Tickets  25.00 available on Eventbrite and Mayfair Tavern – 24 Valois Bay Pte Claire. Info 438 820 6936

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