Getting There - The Sceptres

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The vehicles - Tim Hewlings
The comic Craig Ferguson said it best:
“They were literally garage bands, and they had the trademarks of all fledging rock outfits, the one kid crowbarred into the group despite playing a hopelessly inappropriate instrument … because his father had a car and was willing to ferry our instruments to practice.  You never heard "Anarchy in the U.K." butchered until you hear it with a clarinet solo!” Ferguson, Craig,  American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot, Harper, 2009

When it comes to bands in the ‘60s, you can’t underestimate the importance of the automobile.  Guys who had a car were cool.  Guys who played in bands were very cool.  If you played in a band you Had to have a car, so you were supremely cool.  

In 1960 getting your driver’s license was the ultimate rite of passage.  Everybody desperately wanted to get their driver’s license, and a car.  No such thing as Driver Ed then.  My dad started teaching me to drive in the country when I was 12.  On my 16th birthday, I went and took my driving test and got my license.
Unless you were a folkie with an acoustic guitar, you needed to get guitars, amps, keyboards and drums to the gig – not to mention a sound system and lights.  Your car was almost as important as your instrument.  If you couldn’t get your gear to the gig, you couldn’t do it. Pure and simple.  

Bands were even named after car models: The Stingrays, The Montereys, The Firebirds, The Thunderbirds, The Fleetwoods, The Lincolns. The list goes on and on.  We were no exception.  Our name was derived from Bill’s father’s car - a 1960 Monarch Sceptre with every bell and whistle available.  Bill, “It had more chrome than you can imagine. It was black and a beauty.”  Only 65 were ever manufactured.
’59 Monarch Sceptre (
Needless to say, when we started in in bands in High School, none of us was allowed to drive.  At the beginning, we had to rely on parents to get us to gigs.  For the Sceptres, our first big job was in the summer of ’61, an hour away from the city at the Rockcliffe Inn in Morin Heights, QC.  We relied on our drummer of the time, Gerry Wood, who was older than the rest of us and had a regular day job and a car – a Morris Oxford.  
60s era Morris Oxford like Jerry Wood’s
That fall, after Gerry left the band, our friend Fred Laflamme, who had a ’58 Hillman sedan was co-opted to transport some of the gear.  
1958 Hillman
Fred Laflamme: “Many of the band’s gigs were fairly local to Montreal and environs but nonetheless, more than one vehicle was required to transport equipment.  I was fortunate enough to have a 1958 Hillman sedan.  Not pretty but an effective vehicle to transport drums, amps, mics, cables etc.  
I was kept busy most weekends shepherding equipment and often Ian or Ron to places like St Lambert (George Morris of CKGM was the DJ), Hemingford, Eaton’s, to tapings of Like Young with June Mack and Jim McKenna at CFCF-TV, to  The Eastern Townships (parties for Bishop’s University), the Laurentians, Rawdon (The Pines?), Place des Arts, various school dances, including one at the Bonaventure Curling Club featuring Petula Clark who sang Downtown, only to have Ron tell her while still on stage immediately after her song that her slip was showing.”

As I recall, Bill and I got our drivers’ licenses around the same time, in the spring of 1962.  Bill was allowed to drive his father’s Sceptre, and I began to drive my parents’ second car, a Ford Anglia.  So now we had a grand total of three vehicles to go to gigs.

Some of the gigs were farther away.
Fred Laflamme: “The Jet Bar comes to mind readily. It was in Buckingham, Quebec, about 180 km from Montreal.  In the spring of ’63, The Sceptres played The Jet for several weekends (Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights as well as the odd Sunday matinee it seems to me).  Quite a dive noted for hard drinking, brawling, tattoo laden, foul-mouthed patrons…and that was just the girls!  Great gig which must have been for Tim, Bill, Ian and Ron what the Cavern was for John, Paul, George and Ringo.  Those weekends where the band played Sunday, meant driving back to Montreal in the dark, sometimes snow-covered back roads through Lachute and down Autoroute 15 and arriving home about 2 AM.  A few close calls that fortunately didn’t come to fruition as actual collisions, kept those car insurance premiums in check.
The approaching winter of 1964 - 65 however was threatening to force me to put the car away for the winter due to a shortage of cash to pay the insurance premiums.  That is until Bill suggested the band hire me to transport gear, equipment and personnel if need be.  Problem solved – the band paid my insurance premiums and expenses to keep the car on the road.”

Bill bought a brand-new Austin-Healy Sprite in 1963 that he drove to gigs from time to time.  It wasn’t very practical though because it couldn’t carry an equipment.  Besides you could freeze to death in it during the winter the heater was so bad.
Bill’s ’63 Austin-Healey Sprite
We began renting trailers to carry the equipment around.  Before we invested in an electric piano, we used to transport a real upright which we carried up from Bill’s basement regularly.
Ian Bernard, Bill and Tim with piano
We used rented trailers for a while and played every small town in Eastern ON.  This is the band setting up in Embrun, ON. No such thing as roadies then.
Bill’s dad had replaced the Sceptre with silver’63 Pontiac Parisienne.  The band eventually bought the car from him and we put over 100,000 miles on it.  I also had a Ford Anglia that we used to transport some of the equipment.  I removed the rear seat and we replaced it with a plywood floor.
Tim’s Anglia and our Pontiac in background
We eventually got a covered trailer that we had painted and put the band logo on the side.
Band Trailer
All texts prepared by Tim Hewlings, Bill Ott and Tyler
Website created by: T. G. Hewlings using WebSite X5
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