Here are some various stories about Stan, as told by those who knew him. These memories give us a greater insight to the generosity and ‘larger than life’ aspect of an artist who touched many lives, and even continues to today.
If you have any anecdotes of your own you’d like to share, send it to us and we’ll consider adding it to this page.
Mining for Words (Mitch Podolak)
Mitch Podolak is perhaps best known as the man who created the now popular Winnipeg Folk Festival. He also played an integral part in Stan’s life, particularly his early career.
For years I bugged Stan to write some songs about mining. Some of my favourite songs are mining songs or are related to the politics of mining. As a young kid I’d learned about how a Harlan County miners wife, Florence Reese, after a raid on her home by company gun thugs looking for her husband, had ripped a page from a calendar off the wall and had penned the words to “Which Side Are You On”. I knew every word of Ewan McColls “Springhill Mine Disaster”. Merle Travis’s classic “Dark as A Dungeon” I still count among my favourite songs of all time.
I was caught up in the romanticism of the union struggle. Mining songs are one of the richest conduits that connect my infatuation with folk music to my political view of the world. Suddenly I was working with one of the best songwriters in the world who just happened to have a bent towards writing songs about the lives of common folks, damn right I began to bug him.
Stan would tell me, “one of these days Mitch, I’m going to write your bloody mining songs” I always believed he would, but I wished he’d get to it. About once a year I would bring it up, crudely at first, “when are you going to write some fucking mining songs ya bald bastard?” As the years rolled along all I would have to say is “hey Stan, I have a great idea for a song”, Stan would finish my sentence. It became a running gag between us.
I was sitting in the folk festival office and Rosalie stuck her head into my office, “there’s a woman on the phone who says she’s a film maker, do you want to talk to her?” Curious I said “why not”. “Hello Mitch” she said, “you don’t know me, I’m a film maker here in Alberta”. She went on ” I was at your festival this summer and I thought you might be able to help me out with a few suggestions”. “What are you up to” I inquired. “I’m making a film about the history of mining in Alberta and I need to hire a songwriter to write some original songs to illustrate pieces of the history” she said.
If I’d found a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow or if I’d won the damn lotto or if socialism was immediately on the agenda, I couldn’t have been more excited. “Are you familiar with Stan Rogers” I gently inquired. “No” she replied, “who is he”. This was even better, she didn’t know him and by leading her to water I was sure I could make her drink. “Why he’s the most skilled historical songwriter in Canada” I replied, “in my view he’s your man”.
We talked for about twenty minutes. I encouraged her to go and buy some of Stan’s albums, I gave her Stan’s home phone number. “There are two things I suggest if you decide to engage Stan in the project” I said, “don’t tell Stan that you want to hire him, tell Stan that you want to commission him”. The use of the word “commission” was a guess on my part, I figured that he had been screwed and tattooed but that he’d never been commissioned. Secondly I said “don’t tell Stan that I suggested him, he needs to feel that you know his work”. I laughed maniacally for the rest of the day.
Ten days later my phone rang. “You’re getting your mining songs, I’ve been commissioned” said Stan. “Oh really” says I, “how very nice”. This call was in March or April of 1983.
Like everyone else in the folk scene Stan’s death left me devastated. Stan died a month before the tenth anniversary of the Winnipeg Folk Festival and I had scheduled him to close on Sunday night. I adjusted the schedule and organized what turned out to be a tear filled memorial concert at the festival. The tenth year festival was a big success but for me it was pretty empty.
About a week after the festival I received a call from our filmmaker. “I don’t know how to tell you this” she said, “Stan called me from Texas, the songs were ready”. Garnet Rogers once told me that sometimes when they were on the road, Stan would be driving and everybody else would be sleeping. They would arrive somewhere and Stan would pull out his guitar and play a new song composed entirely in his head while he was driving. Stan never wrote down the mining songs. He didn’t have time.
Now being a good old time red, I don’t believe in heaven and except for the crap on earth caused by greed or by racism or by misguided religious righteousness, I don’t believe in hell, but somewhere those damn songs are out there, floating in the ether, waiting to land.
Kevin Hall, guitar mechanic Timberline Guitars
Some memories of Kevin’s adventures with Stan, written in September, 2005.
First met Stan in about ’64 or 65 when we were both hanging around the Ebony Knight coffeehouse in Hamilton. Our paths crossed repeatedly over the years as he grew in stature as a performer and writer and I established myself as a guitar builder and restorer. When I came back from a year in Europe in ’71 and started work at Waddingtons’ Music on John St. in Hamilton Stan was one of the regulars when ever he was in town. Seems to me he was playing with a band called ‘Tranquility Base’, or maybe it was ‘Ian, Oliver and Norah’ in those days, with Ian Thomas and a couple of others.
Through the ’60s and ‘ 70s the folk scene in Hamilton was pretty lively with a handful of clubs like the Ebony Knight, Bohemian Consul and later Campbells and the Knight Two providing venues for Stan, Doug McArthur, Gord Lowe, Willie P. and many others.
In ‘ 74 I had moved to Toronto to put the Ruby Banjo company together, and Stan would drop in from time to time, either to Ring Music on Harbord or later to our larger workshop on Dupont St. I had living space next to the shop and Stan would crash there from time to time.
One night we had been on a bit of a pub crawl and were walking down Yonge St. in the very early morning, having done serious harm to a bottle of Bushmills’ Irish Whiskey in the hours leading up to our ramble. We passed by a shoe store and I noticed the front window was broken. Stan kept walking for a few yards not noticing I’d stopped to see what was up with the shop. Inside a couple of guys were grabbing things and attacking the cash register, so I yelled at them and immediately realized that may not have been the smartest thing I ever did. The pair of them started toward me and I braced for a serious punchup. Suddenly the two crooks stopped dead in their tracks and headed for the street well clear of where I was. Stan had realized I was no longer beside him and had come back to see why. While the robbers had been less than impressed by my (then) 125 lb. frame, the sight of Stans’ bulk looming head and shoulders over me was enough to deter the rascals. We chased them off, then realized that if the cops came by at that point, in the absence of the real crooks Stan and I could easily wind up in the crowbar hotel as the most likely suspects. Being relatively ragged, undoubtedly drunk, and having no visible means of support are not qualities that endear one to Torontos’ finest, even if you are the good guys!
In the early ‘ 70s I had kept Stans’ old Guild, which he called ‘ Galatea’ in running order. When his strap came off the endpin during a performance and the guitar fell from Stans’ grasp, missed the edge of the stage and bounced off the concrete floor of the auditorium I managed to put it back together again for him. That guitar sounded lousy in a small room, or being played in the shop etc., but it miked like a champ and recorded very well. Stan loved the thing but eventually he outgrew it musically. He started agitating for me to build him one, but at that point in both our lives Stan couldn’t afford to pay for one and I couldn’t afford to make one without getting paid. Like most people involved in the folk music scene in that era we were both living pretty much hand to mouth at the time.
Like thousands of others I was very pleased when Stan started to get the attention he so justly deserved and when he started to enjoy the first stages of relative prosperity. He could be harsh, quick-tempered, even rude at times but he could also be very thoughtful and kind to those who needed that the most. A man of immense talent and strong opinions he left an indelible impression on all who knew him.
A Stan Moment – by David Essig
Singer/songwriter David Essig recalls a memory which he refers to as a “vehicular” one.
Although Stan and I had a long musical relationship, my strongest memory of our time together is vehicular. It’s true, Stan and I hung around a fair bit on the SW Ontario musical scene and I often joined him onstage to add some mandolin. But where the rubber hit the road for us, figuratively, was right about in the same place, literally.
I suppose it stemmed from his love-hate for his blue van and my purple car. While Stan crossed the continent in the van, I had started working in Europe and developed a taste for the Alfa Romeo – not the most politically correct steed for a folkie back then. We were supposed to, and often did, drive beat up Volvos, preferably inhabited by mice.
We scrimped and saved and ultimately satisfied the Alfa craving with a seriously beat, but cute and shiny, Giuletta 1800. Shortly after we got the car, the Canada Council awarded me a fairly hefty one-year grant to study improvised music. “That damn weird guitar stuff,” Stan called it, had paid for the Alfa – he was certain! No matter what I said to the contrary.
In the months following, Stan would invite me up on stage and, after a glowing musical introduction, rip my face in front of the audience for having bought this cream puff on the backs of the honest taxpayers. I seriously considered planting the mando in his cranium.
But we stayed friends and he was finally mollified when we drove the Alfa to Winnipeg for the festival and a truck backed into the front grill. Two weeks later in Vancouver, another truck did in one of the doors. Then we blew a head gasket coming home around the Lakehead.
Stan never mentioned the car again. In his mind, justice had been done.”
Hugh Johnston, “Uncle Hug”
In 1977, I booked Stan and his brother Garnet to do a series of concerts in northern Manitoba at The Pas. Mitch Podolak helped set it up. My role was to produce a Stage Show for the Trappers Festival at The Pas and I used the name Uncle Hug on stage. A show featuring the best of northern talent in the first half, with Stan to be the headliner and close the show.
Stan was no stranger to me as I had caught him on two occasions at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. However I believe his concert hall performances with us were the first for Stan outside of the true folk festival setting.
An American TV station WCCO, the CBS outlet in Minneapollis had sent up a crew to cover the Trappers Festival. Normally they wouldn’t touch the Stage Show but they discovered Stan the first night and decided they would shoot film of him the second night. He was outraged and refused to let them film him. I tried to explain to him that it would give him some exposure to the United States. ‘Damn Yanks, think they can come up here and steal our culture for nothing no way. Give me a union contract and I will do anything they want. CBS retreated. I also realized what a strong Canadian Stan was.
On stage Stan made reference to the then disco fad, announcing to one and all that ‘Disco Sucks.’ It was Sunday afternoon at the beerfest and he was tired. All of the musicians were drinking beer at one table and taking turns entertaining the crowd who were in a party animal frenzy. Stan grabbed the mike and accompanied by blues man Big Dave McClean and harmonica player Gord Kidder and local drummer Jack Hebert launched into some old time rock songs, leading off with ‘Long Tall Sally. He was wearing a black T shirt that had inscribed on it in green, ‘Disco Sucks.”You like it? You want it? It’s yours,’ said the big burly guy, whipping off the black T shirt with the Disco Sucks inscription in green and handing it to me. I still have it, but have long out grown it. I will never out grow Stan. Two weeks later he sent me a card with the inscription, ‘Thanks for the biggest whip up ever,’ referring the the reputation of the Trappers Festival as being one big long four day party.
Raymond Philippe, folk singer
I traveled back into my good memories and found this great event of my artistic life: recording an album under one of my favourite folk singers, Stan Rogers!
The first time I heard Stan, was in 1977 at Mariposa Folk Festival, I was there with some old members of Les Danseurs du Saint-Laurent as “Kins” of Estell Klein who was the artistic director at that time. I was already a fan of John-Allan Cameron, but I didn’t know this great, should I say powerful, voice of the young and full of promises Stan Rogers. I was nineteen when I bought his first album, and I played it for years before I became the lead singer of ERITAGE, a well-known Quebecois folk group with whom I was going to perform during four years, from 1981 to 1985. In April 1985, the group disbanded, after a great career on the north-American folk scene.
In the spring of 1982 we (Eritage) were looking for a record label who would accept us to sign-up for the fifth album (my first with the band) we wanted to record. The few contacts we had in Quebec were not fruitful, and since I loved Stan’s productions, I suggested that we write to him, sending him a demo tape and asking him for being recorded under his label, Fogarty’s Cove Music. Stan quickly called Marc Benoit (our double-base and guitar player, and our valourous booker at that time!) and told him he had been thinking of Eritage since he saw the group in Owen Sound (!!!) in a previous summer! WOW! I couldn’t tell how happy I was. This great folk singer I’d been religiously listening to for years was offering us a contract on his label!!! We rapidly took the arrangement to write a contract that would have legal course in Quebec and Ontario as well, and we met in Montreal, in a bar of north Saint-Laurent street, and we all signed the famous contract. Very often, my mother who’s now 76 listen to Stan’s album and recalls that day she was so proud to hear Stan’s voice on the phone, calling me to fix the famous rendezvous. Even if she couldn’t understand what he was saying, she could know he was asking for me and was very happy to answer him a very shy “Raymond not here … call later”. She loved his album and still listen to him with great delight even if she doesn’t understand a word of English!
So, the following October, November and December, we were at Grant Avenue Studio (Daniel Lanois’ studio) to record La Ronde des Voyageurs, it was in the same period Brian Eno was recording one of his “ambient” albums (we met him when we quit the studio after our second recording session!!).
Recording with Stan and sound engineer Greg Robert was a big piece of cake! Always taking care of our wishes, always looking at things to make the sessions a great venture for each of us. I remember a special moment, when I was recording one of the songs, the tone was very low and I had a difficulty to reach the lowest note, Stan came quietly, stood right in front of me and sung to me the very low note I had a hard time to adjust. I still remember the powerful vibration of his voice I fell in my chest and on my vocal cord. It was like student receiving the Power by the master!! I could return it right into the microphone! I had gooseflesh when I listened to the tape just after. We were working hard and Stan was not looking at the clock for the time in studio. He and we were all reasonable and he knew when it was time to do and re-do a take when we, individually, were unhappy.
Every night Ariel was cooking a great meal for us all and it was good to sit conformably and talk and laugh with this happy family, especially with the kids who were very young at that time! Ariel was sweetly supporting the venture her man and her new friends were having all together. We laughed so much together. I also remember the visits of mom, dad and brother Garnet during the recording. All of them so proud of what was happening!
Finally, December arrived and we put the finishing touch and worked on the final mix of the album! A very religious moment! One month to listen at the rough mix had been a hard exercise. Having to take note of what’s good to keep and what needed to be changed, our ears were too close to our product and it took Stan to have the final outside “sight” on it! It was December 23, we were all tired because we had been in studio for a whole night and it was around four or five a.m. when we left Hamilton for Montreal, under a freezing rain. Bringing back so many good experiences and souvenirs for…a life time.
I will remember this last time I saw Stan: It was just before we left him on Grant Avenue. He gave me a happy and warm hug, and said “You’re a great little boy!” Later, I re-read a little word he wrote me in a greeting card accompanying the pay I got for the recording sessions, the night before. Stan wrote: “Raymond ca n’est pas Pavarotti, c’est Paul Robeson” (Raymond is not Pavarotti, he is Paul Robeson). I knew it was a compliment, but I didn’t know who was Paul Robeson, until I heard one of his albums during a tour in Massachusetts, a few weeks before the plane crash which had stolen our friend so suddenly. I heard that he had given a whole box of our albums to the public of Dallas during his last appearance. Stan was proud, happy of this great production, the last album he produced, just before he finished his own two last.
Sometime I dream of these great days and thank Life for having brought my road under these blue skies. I sometime think about Stan and fell that I will never meet a greater voice in my life. That is why I still work on mine and wish to use it more and more to give back what I received!
Thank you for reading this short memory It was a great moment to recall it!!
Berts & Pharts, by Bill Usher
I first met Stan back in ’74 when the cream of the Ontario-based singer/songwriters etc. were brought together by Paul Mills to do a concert at Alumnae Hall at Western. I was a coffee house rat at the time — mostly at Smale’s Place in London and Grumbles in Toronto — sitting in with whomever would have me — learning by doing. Paul was putting on this big concert that I remember was quite packed (over a thousand, Paul?) and was being recorded by CBC as a precursor to the upcoming debut of Touch the Earth. The stage was set up like a living room and we all took turns coming up off the sofas, making up impromptu ‘groups’ throughout the night Willie was there with ‘white lines’ David Bradstreet and Steve? [the guy who should be a doctor by now in California and a massive guitar player :)] and Gord Lowe, Frank Wheeler (who I played with again at this past Eaglewood) and the first of many jams with David Essig was Colleen there? Daisy and Allan? It’s all a bit foggy. And Stan.
Out of the euphoria of that night came an invitation from David Essig to a bunch of us to visit him and Caroline (and Peregrine) up in Emsdale for a weekend of singing and recording. You see David had a Revox 2-track and some microphones (cutting edge for the time) and he could do ‘sound on sound’ recording but perhaps, most importantly, he was in the woods up north and adventure beckoned. It was winter and snowing hard on the Friday night I arrived. Over the next few hours Stan and Willie P. and Doug McArthur and Gord Lowe and David Bradstreet and Steve and who else? [help me now :)] arrived with food, beer and other ‘stuff’ hanging snow soaked coats to steam by the wood stove. It was our version of Big Pink. Over the next two days the living room became a recording studio and bunkhouse. Everybody did a song and others would help out. While some recorded, others slept or drank or played cards or went to town or like the young Mr. P found joy in carving angels in the virgin snow. One copy of the tape is around here somewhere in a box: for some reason having to do with a diet of beer and beans I think, the sessions were called ‘Berts and Pharts.’
I remember Willie P. seeming to be the rambunctious teenager yet, when he sangxwiser than his years — and Stan was not yet a God :) but every bit his big and blustery self. When Stan came through the door — full sail with waves crashing upon your beachhead — it always seemed like he had just arrived after 24 hours straight on the road from down east only to remember soon enough that it wasn’t really that far to Hamilton. His was a presence that made the room smaller. It took some of us (mea culpa) quite some time to manoeuver our way past his ‘blow-hard’ image to relax and enjoy the fruits of his incredible talent. Some of us I suspect were jealous. Hats off to Paul for seeing and believing right from the first.
The last time I saw Stan was in ’77. I was on tour with Bruce Cockburn in Edmonton and taking a walk down the pedestrian mall on my way to get to the Jubilee for soundcheck and there coming the other way was Stan and Garnet and David Woodhead. We all said hellos and minutes later we’re back on our way going in opposite directions. I remember thinking something romantic and self-congratulatory like “Wow, look at how far we’ve all come from that cabin in the woods.” Mentions of Stan sometimes bring the memory of that on-the-road casual encounter to mind: perhaps it’s a reminder of how precious the little things in life are [“you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” reminder] or perhaps I just realise again that “I knew him but I didn’t really know him.” My fault not his.
Was Stan a sexist? By today’s standards, you bet. But then so were even us sensitive hippies soon to be known as SNAG’s — and Stan was NOT a hippie!!! :) I think Stan cultivated an image of himself as “the man’s man” — a hardworking carouser who the women would forgive because he was “exciting” and “a good decent, man” at heart. I have no idea if he was like that in the dark when he took his clothes off at night but the ‘image’ he seemed to project reminded me of Alan Bates in Saturday Night Sunday Morning. It was an image that was tailor made for Stan and the songs he had to write. I suspect there were many who again were jealous because that kind of decent ‘working class’ school of hard knocks ‘traditional’ background was not available to most of his songwriting peers to claim as their own. Stan at the time seemed to be a descendant of ‘the folk’ and therefore closer to godliness than those of us who grew up listening to Randy Ferris late at night on CKFH romanticising ‘the folk’ — who we only got to hear on record.
The Umbrella, by Paul Mills
Many of us who have been attending the Summerfolk Festival for years remember the incident which makes the dedication of this stage so appropriate. It was the evening concert at one the Fogarty’s Cove Musics around 1979 or ’80 when Tony Bird was performing. This is before the stage had any covering to speak of. Anyway, it was pissing down with rain and Stan decided that a talent as great as Tony Bird needed some more protection in order to dedicate his entire focus on the delivery of his songs. Stan grabbed an umbrella from backstage and went out on stage and held it over Tony for the remainder of his set. The audience applauded and Tony beamed appreciatively.
Whenever I see the Fogarty’s Cove Music stage and it’s dedication, I think of that moment which so aptly demonstrated Stan’s enormous generousity.
Support for His Luthier, by Grit Laskin
I made 3 instruments for Stan. His 6-string, his 12-string and his tenor mandolin. I think Nathan has Stan’s 6 string (plus a new 6 and and a 12 that he got from me recently). David’s guitar also is one that was built fairly recently, just for him. Stan’s original 12-string was given to Paul Mills by Ariel, and Paul uses it regularly.
I don’t have any anecdotes about the guitars specifically, except to say that he was a wonderful supporter. Once Stan was on your side, he never wavered. I suppose the most unusual thing was that he would show up at my door, after a tour, with actual deposits for guitar orders that he had obtained for me while on the road. He would just be so enthusiastic about the guitars at his gigs that people would want to get one for themselves and he’d offer to convey the deposit cheque. It was really quite special. No other maker I know has had a client that was so thoroughly a fan.
As you may know, I was the first artist he chose to record when he decided to expand Fogarty’s Cove to be more than a vanity label. So, in yet another way, I was the beneficiary of his largesse. Like many, I sure wish he were here.