THUNDER BAY, ON - December 1, 2009 - A new book recently launched about Canadian music icon and trailblazer Don Messer has some interesting connections to Thunder Bay. For starters, the book -- Don Messer: The Man Behind the Music – was written by best-selling author Johanna Bertin, who is married to former Fort William resident Barry Pendrel. They now live in New Brunswick. In the book, Bertin includes an interesting tidbit about Fort William (now Thunder Bay) during a key event in Messer’s life.
Messer is one of Canada’s most famous 20th century musicians and considered Canada’s first radio and TV star, beginning with fiddling for live radio in 1929. Twenty-seven years later, in 1956, he was the first Canadian to sell over 1 million records and the same year, the first whose band performed live on television. He was also the first to use chartered airplanes to travel to gigs.
His popular TV show Don Messer’s Jubilee, first aired on CBC television in September 1959. and became Canada’s most watched television show. When the show was suddenly cancelled 10 years later in April 1969, it caused a huge political storm that swept the nation. Thousands of Canadians protested with petitions, letters, phone calls and even marched on the Parliament Buildings, demanding CBC reinstate the show. It didn’t, but a CTV affiliate (CHCH-TV) picked up the show and Messer was back on television. The show continued until his death in 1973 at age 63.
For many, the book is a nostalgic read, back to the era of an emerging strong vibrant Canadian music scene. People who watched Messer’s shows will recall also Charlie Chamberlain, Marg Osburne, and the talented Buchta Dancers. Their stories are candidly featured as Johanna gives readers a front row seat to the intrigue and drama behind Don Messer and his music.
Today’s bands hire people to take care of travelling road show details, but Messer did it all single-handedly. A perfectionist, he preferred to handle everything himself -- the bookings, contracts, finances and publicity, all travel arrangements plus organizing the programs.
Few people knew Messer personally. Bertin’s book delves deeply into his life and reveals for the first time secrets and stories about Canada’s first radio and television star. The book contains 50 vintage photos of Messer, his family and the various bands and members. Bertin’s extensive research coupled with a wonderful storytelling style of writing has created a first-class biography of Messer.
And the book’s other link to Thunder Bay? Bertin notes in the book that during the CBC “Don’t Take Messer Off the Air” protests of 1969, fans in Fort William got national attention when they sent Messer an 11-metre long personal telegram with 1300 signatures.