The Ramblers

1960 L-R: John Smith, Russ Strathdee, Charlie Coughlan, Ron Mongeon, Peter Campolin
This group’s claim to fame: We played the Zanzibar Tavern on Toronto’s Yonge Street strip in 1959 and 1960. Our theme song was “Peter Gunn”. We were in good company with the likes of Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins, Ray Smith, Bill Hayley & The Comets, Joe King’s Zaniacks, Tommy Danton and the Echos, Ray Hutchinson, Gordon Lightfoot, Jackie Shane, Etc. Etc.
– It was a fabulous era.
1960 The Ramblers L-R: Charlie Caughlin, John Smith, Russ Strathdee, Ron Mongeon, Peter Campolin (Photo taken on stage of St. Basils Church hall)

The Ramblers wanted to hit the “big time” and they finally landed a gig playing at Toronto’s Zanzibar Tavern.

At the Zanzibar we played 6 nights a week plus a Saturday afternoon matinee. This went on for 6 months from about March to September of 1960. When I think back on it now, I wonder how I ever did it.

Some of the tunes we played back then included “Honky Tonk”, “Raunchy” and “Harlem Nocturn”. I can remember singing a song called “Linda Lu”. To open each set we did our theme tune, Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn” featuring me on sax.

As the “front man” for the group, I had to sign two (2) contracts with Dave Cooper, the Zanzibar’s entertainment manager: one for the Toronto Musicians Union and another “under the table” for the club, which had a much lower rate of pay.

I remember one Saturday afternoon during a break in our Zanzibar matinee, I was walking down Yonge Street and Ronnie Hawkins was standing on the sidewalk out in front of Le Coq d’Or tavern having a cigarette. He was a really big name entertainer; probably one of the most successful entertainers on the Yonge Street strip.

Ronnie called out to me in his Southern drawl as I was walking by, “Hey boy, I like the way you play – would you like to be in my band?” Now, I was a bit surprised because he was a really big time entertainer; probably one of the most successful acts on the Yonge Street strip. But with no hesitation I said “No, thank you“. I was already committed to a few other things and have never regretted this decision, but sometimes wonder about it.

On another occasion, one evening when the Ramblers were on a break,  I walked down the street to see Rompin’ Ronnie’s group. As I walked in, guitarist Robbie Robertson waved at me from the stage with a big smile. Funny, some of the little things you remember about people.


Robbie Robertson

There was a popular story going on back then that might even have been put out there by Robbie himself – about how he was able to bend his notes on the guitar. The legend goes that he said: “… by soaking his strings in turpentine. ” Now this could have been a joke, I’m not sure, but I know a few guys actually tried it.

Ronnie Hawkins, in his book, stated that the best musicians he ever found were on Yonge Street in the early sixties. Nice.

How I First Got Involved

One day back in 1959 I got a call from a man named Howard Jones to come out to a rehearsal for a new group. Howard was a kindly gentleman who had part time connections with entertainment as a casting director.

The band was looking for a sax player and somehow, my name came to their attention. A lot of groups back in those days were naming themselves after cars, and this group called themselves “The Ramblers“.

I attended a few rehearsals and we got a list of tunes together and began playing at places such as Merton Hall, the Odd Fellows Hall, and CYO dances at St. Basils Church in Toronto.


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