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.
I knew Len Davis and his small orchestra, from Calgary, was coming to our home town to play for a dance. My older brother, Roy, and I were privileged to perform a couple of numbers with his band, which gave me more incentive and more confidence!
In 1937 or 1938, I packed up my $16 “Palm Beach” special guitar and got myself somehow, to Calgary. Where there I spent a week with my Aunt Becky Wood and for three or four days attended an amateur show on CFCN Radio. This show aired every afternoon and was open to all amateur performers.
The show was called, “The Pelican Hour” and the host was a soft-spoken kindly gentleman who called himself the “Pelican Man” and here again as I marveled at the fact that I was in a radio station studio in Calgary, Alberta, and people living who knew where, were being entertained every day by all us amateurs, I was very confident that I could do it. During the war years I performed very little due to circumstances at the time, and the fact that I had acquired my very first full-time job.
After the war I returned to my home town where I was involved in a hometown dance band with several of my brothers. As a group we ventured to Medicine Hat where we performed on local radio station, CHAT and then played for a local dance in one of the popular dance emporiums. Then in 1946, I was thrilled to marry my high-school sweetheart, and we made our first move to Ontario.
During our time there I joined a country duo and we supplied dance music and entertainment for local organizations and were also fortunate to perform on Woodstock Radio CKOX and Stratford radio CJCS. Radio broadcasting always seemed to give me great satisfaction and confidence.