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L.A. Beat

Floyd Sillito's Music History Beat

Chapter #3— Warm memories of playing with the CFCN Old Timers

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I have many warm and vivid memories of my time with CFCN Old Timers. First off, maybe I should tell you a bit of history of the broadcast.

As I mentioned before, the program hit the air in 1924, and of course the musicians changed and the program identity changed, but the broadcast never missed one week in 57 years of broadcasts. Until it went off the air in 1981 it was recognized as the longest continuous radio broadcast in North America.

I feel totally justified in being very personal, and yes, somewhat emotional, writing about my time with CFCN Old Timers. I’m sure from the very first the entertainers were very sincere and dedicated to bringing to their listeners and to their live audience, the type of music that would endure for so many years.

I will not attempt to name all the musicians who were part of the broadcast over the years but I feel inclined to present some of them to you and of course those who were members during my time. I guess proper protocol is Ladies First.

Pianist Nan Tingle was a regular member of the band before it became known as CFCN Old Timers. Nan was delightful, always happy and positive and her father, Tom Smith, played violin in the band for some time.

George Fitzsimmons, violinist— I go to George next as he was a member of the group(s) who played before Tony became the leader. George was a very well educated violinist who read music very well but also had a trained ear for playing without music.  If my information is correct, George played on that program more years than any other musician. George was always eager to perform — more about George later.

Tony Niedermayer was the accordionist leader and arranger of the CFCN Old Timers band. Tony arrived in Calgary in early 1940 from Lethbridge, where he had given accordion lessons to a well known accordion player, Joe Horhozer, whom a lot of people remember and whom I enjoyed playing with on many occasions.

When Tony arrived at CFCN Radio and shortly thereafter, he had written arrangements for well over 500 musical numbers. For every broadcast each musician had a written arrangement for the instrument he or she played.  And each member of the band knew that if you wanted to play his music, you played it the way it was written. The name of the band was officially called CFCN Old Timers or Tony and the Old Timers.

Len Taylor played the bass fiddle and was about six foot four inches tall. It seemed like we were always “looking up to him.”  Len was a good guy — very quiet, was very capable at doing what he did. There were a few occasions when he was unable to make the broadcast at which time we could count on previous members, Lint Ladler or Pete Loewen to fill in for him. On a couple of occasions I recall Louis Ogaad filled in.  Louis was the number one bass violin player for the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.  What a thrill when he drew that bow across those strings with great authority.

 I want to mention here, Ernie Yardley, who played banjo on the broadcast for over 30 years. Because he left the band, I was asked by Tony to become guitarist and the band’s first full-time vocalist.

So after a couple of rehearsals with Tony at his house, I was invited to join the Old Timers.  Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, I was thrilled!
  My previous radio experience helped me to realize how fortunate I was. Some of Tony’s musical arrangements were very foreign to me and had some very difficult chord structures, but Tony was very patient and helpful.


Chapter #2 — Sillito plays live on CFCN

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We returned to Alberta in the late 1940’s where I found my first office job in Brooks at the Ford-Mercury Auto dealership. It was while we were living in Brooks that our first son, Morgan, was born, and about six weeks after his arrival my wife and I talked it over and decided to go back to Ontario.
Changing diapers, heating formula, etc, on a train with an infant baby was quite an experience that we often talked about, and they there were good memories there. We eventually returned to Calgary where I was given my first opportunity to become a full-time entertainer.
We were visiting friends near Brooks and were fortunate to take in a local stage show and “Red Head Jamboree” performance at the Elks Hall, featuring “Ray Little and His Radio Cowboy Show”. Ray, his wife Ann and Jimmie Daughtry came to Alberta from the Eastern U.S.A. and settled in Calgary.
Every day they had a radio show on CFCN and then would travel to a rural community where they would have a live evening performance.
It was on one of these evening shows in Brooks that I was invited to perform. And as a result, I was asked to become a full-time member of the “Ray Little Radio Cowboy Show”. As I mentioned, my first chance to do full-time, what I wanted most to do. And I’m sure you’ve heard these words, recently taken from a popular song.
“It’s a measure of people who don’t understand the pleasures of life in a hillbilly band.”.
As a performing group working together six days of the week, I remember many pleasant, enjoyable times together. We hit most of the small rural communities and met a number of very fine people. However, I must relate an experience we had which illustrates that harsh times are necessary to really make you appreciate the good times.
Ray became very good friends with a pilot in Calgary and they arranged an airplane trip to B.C. To entertain there. We loaded up the aircraft at the Calgary airport on a Sunday morning as we were scheduled to perform at Vanderhoof B.C.
On Tuesday night, Prince George on Wednesday night, (which was my birthday) and Williams Lake B.C on Thursday night and then return to Calgary for our Saturday radio show, “The Red Head Jamboree”.  
By this time, “Tex” Emery was a regular member, so with the aircraft loaded with five passengers, the pilot and all the gear we left the Calgary airport.
 And though weather conditions were not the best for flying, we were confident the pilot was very much aware of this.
All was well until we were approaching Jasper, Alberta, where the weather conditions took a turn for the worse. I well remember the pilot making this statement, “If I were by myself, I would take the chance, but no way will I take that chance under these conditions.” And with those words he was on his radio and found good landing conditions for us at Grand Prairie, Alberta. 

Chapter #1 — Floyd Sillito explores early influences

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Editor’s Note — L.A. Beat is pleased to welcome aboard new columnist  Floyd Sillito. Floyd is a Lethbridge treasure who was a touring musician in the 50s and ’60s who has played with some of the biggest country musicians of the day including Faron Young and Slim Whitman. He has been keeping traditional country music alive for many years and  recorded a CD of some of his favourite old country songs. He  plays regularly around Lethbridge at the Lethbridge Public Library and at numerous seniors centres In his regular column, he will be sharing  some of his experiences in the music business in the  early days. I am very pleased he has decided to write this column and am sure  his insights will be both entertaining and informative.
 Thank you Floyd.
 Richard Amery, L.A Beat Editor

I feel privileged to have this opportunity to share the highlights of my musical career with my many friends. Richard has opened up the way for me to do so and I appreciate that very much.
I was number 11 in a large musical family, so you could say I was exposed to music at a very early age. My parents were involved in music at our church and my older brothers played guitar and banjo so there was always music about the house.
When I was in my early teens I was fortunate enough to find local, rural employment and earn enough money to purchase my very own guitar.  By this time I had been tutored and had learned enough about the guitar that I could perform in public.  However, I can say, also with much trepidation, and I’m sure even some fear!
Those of us who remember the 1930’s and yes, the 1940’s, will recall that entertainment in rural Alberta was very localized and unprofessional. Our situation improved, however, when an older brother introduced our household to our first battery operated radio. And though there seemed to be constant interference from other radio signals, I somehow remember, very clearly, being exposed to professional entertainers. And though I could not comprehend how it was possible for these entertainers to bring their music and drama from wherever they were into our living room, I was also convinced that if they could do it, I could do it too!
Entertainers like Wilf Carter, Gene Autry, CFCN Old Timers and even music by the big modern bands had a great impact on my life and my determination to become a professional entertainer. I knew at the time, and under the circumstances, that it would be difficult, but I also believed very strongly that I would persist.

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