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By 1971, the Vietnam War that had been such a big part of the North American culture and consciousness for so many years was beginning to run its course.  In a U.S. State Department-commissioned paper, Daniel Ellsberg showed that President Johnson knew early on that the war could not be won.  With the bombing of Cambodia, the invasion of Laos, the My Lai massacre and the students killed at Kent State, public opinion had finally swayed to being against the war and President Nixon continued troop withdrawals in earnest.  With the successes of the civil rights and anti- war movements, focus was now on other areas – the women’s rights movement, the Gay Liberation movement, prison conditions and numerous ecological causes.  People had now learned the power of peaceful demonstration and used it to effect in 1971.  The world had grown some since the tumultuous sixties and it was now beginning to use what it had learned. Even though peaceful anti-war protests in Washington and San Fransisco brought out 500,000 and 125,000 respectively, not all protests were peaceful.  In September, prisoners in Attica Prison in New York State took over the prison for four days, citing appalling conditions, leaving 10 guards and 32 prisoners dead.  1971 was also the year of the infamous hijacking of a Northwest Orient Airlines plane by D.B. Cooper.  After collecting $200,000, Mr. Cooper parachuted from 10,000 feet up and at 200 m.p.h into a thunderstorm over Southwestern Washington state.  Nothing is known today of his fate as his story has elevated to folk hero status. In the media, we lost Jim Morrison to an (apparent) heroine overdose in his 27th year.  Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers Band lost his life at age 24 in a motorcycle accident.  Jazz and blues musician, King Curtis was murdered in August and Gene Vincent died of a stomach ulcer in October.  And finally, the world lost the legendary singer/trumpet player Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. In technology, the space race continued with the Mariner launches to orbit Mars.  The Apollo missions to the moon continued with the first use of the Lunar Rover and the first golf ball being hit on the surface of the moon.  And probably what is most important to what you are reading now, 1971 could be considered as the beginning of the age of personal computers with Intel’s patenting of the first microchip processor (the 4004), the first liquid crystal displays, the first pocket calculators by Texas Instruments, the first use of the 8” Floppy disc, the ‘@’ sign in e-mail communication, and the first appearance of internet Chat Rooms.  It was a year of invention and a year of change.  And the local band, Brass Union, was going through some fairly significant changes themselves during 1971.  And these changes would change everything about the band.
Top 40 Singles of 1971 1.   Maggie May/Reason to Believe -- Rod Stewart 2.   It's Too Late/I Feel the Earth Move -- Carole King 3.   Joy to the World -- Three Dog Night 4.   Knock Three Times -- Dawn 5.   How Can You Mend a Broken Heart -- Bee Gees 6.   Brand New Key -- Melanie 7.   Go Away Little Girl -- Donny Osmond 8.   Family Affair -- Sly & the Family Stone 9.   Indian Reservation -- The Raiders 10.  Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)            -- The Temptations 11.  Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves -- Cher 12.  One Bad Apple -- The Osmonds 13.  Me and Bobby Mcgee -- Janis Joplin 14.  Take Me Home, Country Roads -- John Denver 15.  You've Got a Friend -- James Taylor 16.  Treat Her Like a Lady -- Cornelius Brothers           & Sister Rose 17.  Theme From "Shaft" -- Issac Hayes 18.  Uncle Albert-Admiral Halsey           -- Paul and Linda McCartney 19.  Groove Me -- King Floyd 20.  Mr. Big Stuff -- Jean Knight 21.  Superstar -- Carpenters 22.  What's Going On -- Marvin Gaye 23.  She's a Lady -- Tom Jones 24.  Have You Seen Her -- The Chi-Lites 25.  The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down           -- Joan Baez 26.  Want Ads -- The Honey Cone 27.  Ain't No Sunshine -- Bill Withers 28.  Smiling Faces Sometimes           -- The Undisputed Truth 29.  Rose Garden -- Lynn Anderson 30.  Brown Sugar -- The Rolling Stones 31.  Got to Be There -- Michael Jackson 32.  Never Can Say Goodbye -- The Jackson Five 33.  Rainy Days and Mondays -- Carpenters 34.  Tired of Being Alone -- Al Green 35.  Yo-Yo -- The Osmonds 36.  For All We Know -- Carpenters 37.  Black Magic Woman -- Santana 38.  It Don't Come Easy -- Ringo Starr 39.  Spanish Harlem -- Aretha Franklin 40.  Do You Know What I Mean -- Lee Michaels
The big change in 1971 came when Dave Thrasher, the band's front man and singer, decided to leave the band to pursue what would be a very lucrative career as an artist.   This opened the door for the band to recruit another singer and probably just as importantly, another instrument.  Len Blum, the band's guitarist, was friends with a Hammond organ player working out of Toronto, and when Dave Thrasher mentioned that he was going to leave the band, Len recruited Bruce Ley, his Hammond B3 organ (on a travel sled) and matching full-size Leslie cabinet.  When Bruce joined the band, everything about the band seemed to change. --------------------------------------------------------- The picture below is actually from late 1970, taken at the Old Grist Mill on Crook's Hollow Road on Dundas Mountain, and is one of the last pictures taken when Dave Thrasher was still in the band. In the foreground from left to right:  John Hannah, Don Berryman, Terry Bramhall, Dave Thrasher, Darrell Nameth, Len Blum and just visible to the far right, Bruce Wilson. Seated in background centre, John Willett and in the far window opening, Cliff Hunt.
The first thing that was needed was a new truck.  The white Dodge Fargo equipment van was just not big enough for Bruce's Hammond and Leslie, so the band went out and bought a new Dodge truck -- a 'straight truck' with a front cab and 14-foot box on the back.  This truck quickly became known as "The Big Mother".  I talked with Carlo DiBattista recently, another musician from this area who played with another local band, Vehicle:  "I remember when our band played with you guys.  After you finished the show and had the truck all loaded, the whole band would crowd around the back door of the Big Mother, waiting for the "rolling down of the door" ceremony.  It was hilarious."  Obviously, the band's theatrical nature had stayed intact over the years.  With the new truck and the existing 9-passenger black window van, the band was well-equipped for a year which involved a great deal of travel and a lot of playing -- seven-day club dates in Hamilton, Sault Ste Marie, Quebec City, Westland Michigan and Toronto. The band also continued with their outdoor shows -- Gage Park in Hamilton, Central Park in Burlingon, High Schools, Universities and Colleges.  Early 1971 was very busy for the Brass Union. “Another moment that was significant for the band was the addition of Bruce Ley, formerly with The Rising Sons, a Yorkville- based Toronto band", said Cliff Hunt, recently.  "After his arrival, the band became more musically aware and experimental, exploring more obscure music.  With Bruce, we experimented a lot musically.  The band learned to 'groove' and how to jam -- something we really did not do before.  Plus, we rehearsed constantly, even when we were playing. We would play until 1a.m. and we would be rehearsing at noon the next day for three or four hours."  With all this work and travel and practice, waiting in the wings was the band's next big 'thing' -- the Fairytale, something that would change the band forever. There’s no denying that this band combined theatrics with a large amount of comedy.  The band members ranged from hilarious to a more ‘dead-pan’ type of humour from the more serious ones – humour that, in its infrequency, would ‘crack up’ the other members.  Everyone had their own ‘thing’ based on their individuality and personalities in the Brass Union were all very strong.  I can remember one night, the band was walking through an enclosed marketplace in downtown Hamilton – no doubt heading to the trucks at the end of one of the shows.  All the fruit stands and tables were empty as everyone in the marketplace had gone home many hours before.  As we walked through the empty marketplace, at one point, Bruce Wilson, the band’s rhythm guitarist, walked behind one the empty fruit stands and proceeded to give a 5 to 10-minute comedy monologue about marketplaces and selling produce – without props, and long before Second City Productions became famous doing much the same thing.  As a band, we were all used to comedy and theatrics, but we just stood there in amazement, watching Bruce and his impromptu performance. This is what life was like with the band as they traveled from place to place, playing their music, meeting locals, going on their adventures – nothing was sacred, everything was fair game for humour.  It was a world of theatrics and often side-splitting comedy – probably the result of the band’s early roots in that first Hulse’s Heroes production, followed by the importance of stage appearance being drilled into them by their first manager, Dick Citroen.  I remember Dick once telling us:  “When you’re on a large stage, always exaggerate every movement so people in the back will have something to see.”  Outside of the actual music, the band was trained to act and their forte was in humour – two things likely noticed by Bruce Ley when he joined the band and sat down with Len Blum to do some original work to bring to the band.  And this work would be unlike anything else that was being done by bands in the Hamilton/Burlington area of Canada in 1971.
From the 1971 Brass Union songlist
Songlist 1971  1.   The March – instrumental intro 2.   Take It Easy – the Eagles 3.   Blues Medley – various 4.   In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida – Iron Butterfly 5.   I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know           – Blood, Sweat & Tears 6.   I Got You – James Brown 7.   Get Back – the Beatles 8.   To Love Somebody – the BeeGees 9.   Proud Mary – Creedence Clearwater           Revival 10. The Letter – the Box Tops 11. Groovin’ In Easy – Electric Flag 12. Fire – Jim Hendrix 13. A Girl Like You – the Young Rascals 14. 25 Miles – Edwin Starr 15. One Is the Loneliest Number           – Three Dog Night 16. Eli’s Comin’ – Three Dog Night 17. Gospel – original  18. No. 1 (Death Song) – original 19. No. 2 (Hitchhiker) – original 20. No. 3 (Hazel) – original 21. No. 4 (To Old to Work) – original 22. Up On Cripple Creek – the Band 23. Baby It’s You – Smith 24. Reach Out, I’ll Be There – the Four Tops 25. Cold Sweat – James Brown 26. Sunshine Superman – Donovan 27. Knock On Wood – Eddie Floyd 28. Hold On, I’m Comin’ – Sam & Dave 29. Rocky Racoon – the Beatles 30. 99½ (Won’t Do) – Wilson Pickett 31. Traces – Classics IV 32. Chest Fever – the Band 33. Bend Me, Shape Me – Rare Breed 34. You Made Me So Very Happy           – Blood, Sweat & Tears 35. Spinning Wheel – Blood, Sweat & Tears 36. Stand By Me – Ben E. King 37. Sock It To Me – Mitch Ryder & the           Detroit Wheels 38. It’s For You – the Beatles 39. Celebrate – Three Dog Night 40. Evil Woman – Black Sabbath 41. Beatles Medley 42. New World Symphony – Antonνn Dvořαk 43. Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You           – Led Zeppelin 44. No. 5 (Dues Are Paid) – original 45. No. 9 (It Won’t Be Long) – original 46. Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In           – the Fifth Dimension 47. That’s Life – Frank Sinatra 48. No. 10 (Ship With Wings) – original 49. No. 11 (Pollution) – original 50. No. 7 (Wheelchair) – original 51. Yakety Sax – Boots Randolph 52. No Time – Guess Who 53. No. 6 (Restaurant Encounter) – original 54. No. 7 (Wheelchair) – original 55. No. 8 (Tell Me the Truth) – original 56. Mama Told Me – Three Dog Night 57. Chicago Medley – Chicago Transit           Authority 58. Ball of Confusion – the Temptations 59. Keep the Customer Satisfied           – Simon & Garfunkel 60. Little Darlin’ – the Diamonds 61. Sly Medley – Sly & the Family Stone 62. It’s Over – Roy Orbison 63. Get Ready – Rare Earth 64. Down By the River – Neil Young 65. Roll Over Beethoven – the Beatles 66. Sly Medley – Sly & the Family Stone 67. Gimme Some Lovin’ – Spencer Davis 68. Harbour Rescue Mission – original 69. Classical Instrumental 70. Heaven Is in Your Mind – Traffic 71. Da Doo Ron Ron – the Crystals 72. Mississippi Queen – Mountain Four Winds Lounge, Sault Ste Marie, Ontario