Crosstown Bus: 50 years of rock ‘n’ roll

Fifty years is a long time by any estimation. By rock ‘n’ roll standards, it’s almost unfathomably long, and yet, in the last few years, many iconic bands, albums, and songs have celebrated the big 5-0. The 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ performance on The Ed Sullivan Show was last February. The 50th anniversary of “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones was this past summer. Fifty years ago last week, The Who recorded “My Generation”.

Not to be outdone, a BC rock ‘n’ roll band has joined those titans of the genre with a 50th anniversary of their own. In 1965, inspired by groups like the Beatles and the Stones, as well as the Kinks and the Rascals, four young lads from Penticton began playing garage rock ‘n’ roll under the name the Mark IV. They toured throughout BC, Alberta, and Washington State in the mid-1960s, later becoming Crosstown Bus. This Saturday night, the band celebrates their golden anniversary at the Columbia Theatre in New Westminster.

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Much like many North American garage bands, like the Golliwogs (who became Creedence Clearwater Revival) and the Warlocks (who became the Grateful Dead), the Mark IV rolled with the changing times in the late 1960s, morphing into Crosstown Bus after a move to Nelson, a draft dodger hippie haven. In 1969, Crosstown Bus met a young and up and coming manager named Bruce Allen, who convinced the band to move to Vancouver to take advantage of the dozens of nightclubs booking live music.

The move paid off with constant gigs at joints like the Marco Polo, Oil Can Harry’s, and the Cave. A record deal with MCA followed, which resulted in a debut album produced by Vancouver rock ‘n’ roll icon Tom Northcott, and engineered by future super producer David Foster. In July 1971, Crosstown Bus made Vancouver music history, becoming the first-ever rock band to play the venerable Commodore Ballroom, opening for Detroit rocker Mitch Ryder.

Drummer Rick Gannon remembers it was Bruce Allen who landed them the gig. “Bruce specifically asked [Commodore booker and impresario] Drew Burns to let Crosstown Bus open for Mitch Ryder, thinking that a local band could help with attendance. The audience was an interesting mix of hippies from West 4th Avenue and an older Motown/rock crowd who wanted to hear Mitch. Neither band disappointed and Mitch even joined Crosstown Bus on tambourine.”

In Aaron Chapman’s award-winning 2014 book “Live at the Commodore”, Crosstown Bus lead singer Jeff Boyne remembers that the Commodore’s first rock show was “absolutely packed, and there were all these hippies sitting on the floor. We came out and started to play … people really got into it”. Forty-three years after that gig, Crosstown Bus played Aaron Chapman’s book launch at the Commodore, where this scribe saw them, live and on fire, and awesome.

Gannon has been loving the rock ‘n’ roll ride arguably even more now than he did in the original era. “We celebrated a 50th anniversary gig in Penticton a few weeks ago and we were inundated with people thanking us for allowing them to feel 16 again, which is what the music does for us, and why we still play it!”

That reminds me of something sage my music-loving mom once told me when I asked her why, in her late 60s, she wanted to brave BC Place to see the Rolling Stones: “rock ‘n’ roll isn’t for the young, it’s what keeps you young.”

It must be true: the Crosstown Bus 50th Anniversary Party, on Saturday, Oct. 24 at the Columbia Theatre in New Westminster is already sold out.

Happy 50th, boys!

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