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Remembering The Musical Stylings Of Haulin’ Oats

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During my first year as a Grade 6 teacher at Smith-Jackson School, I often brought my guitar to class and used it as a tool to vary the students' learning process.

Leading singsongs with the Grade 6 students also helped hone my guitar picking skills.

Later that year, our school performed the operetta, Tom Sawyer.

The principal, Nell Shewchuk, asked if my wife Janice and I would sing several songs during intermission. It was the first time that we sang as a duet in public. We covered “Loving Arms” by Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, as well as John Denver's “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

In the ensuing years there were more opportunities to perform and also to meet new musical friends including teaching colleagues George Pongoski and David Juce.

In the mid-1980s, after I started teaching at the DRCSS, one of the high-school students, Joey Adamowski, needed guitar accompaniment for some fiddle tunes at one of the noon-hour Spirit Week activities in the Bear Pit. George and I quickly learned the chords to fiddle classics that included “Maple Sugar” and “Faded Love.”

Prior to the Spirit Week event, I was killing some time doodling on a piece of paper and while listening to a Daryl Hall and John Oates song on the radio came up with a poster of a drawing of a horse with bags of oats heaped on top of its guitar shaped body. The parody of the name, Haulin’ Oats, came to fruition and the poster was used to advertise Joey’s upcoming noon hour fiddling event.

Later that year, the local Manitoba Teachers’ Society Social Committee planned for a corn and chili supper function at Ken and Nadia Yakielashek’s “barn” near Sifton. The committee was looking for entertainment. George and I recruited another guitar picker, David Juce, and we got together to practice in his cousin’s basement.

Our repertoire included songs such as “Rocky Top,” “Folsom Prison” and “Your Cheating Heart.” We also added some “corny” jokes and resurrected the name, Haulin’ Oats, for the occasion.

The corn and chili function was a fun-filled event to participate in. The social committee did a great job of decorating the premises and created the ambiance for the evening with bales of hay, chickens and samples of harvested vegetables. After enjoying some great food and fellowship, we entertained the audience.

A day prior to the event we set up our equipment at the barn and did a sound check. On our way back to Dauphin we stopped at the Sifton Hotel. There were no patrons at the hotel that evening, however, the owner, Les Scheller, invited us bring in our instruments and Haulin’ Oats played a few tunes.

The next year, George, David and I helped to organize the entertainment for the second barn gig. We added several new faces including Clinton Toews, Lou Phaneuf, and Gary and Ina Nicholson. French Immersion teacher Jean Louis Savard accompanied Haulin’ Oats on the spoons and also entertained the crowd with his trade mark bilingual wooden dancing marionette.

Along with playing guitar, the recording process was another favourite pass time associated with playing music.

After purchasing a multi-track Tascam recorder, it was time to test it out by recording with some familiar faces. Joey was interested in recording some fiddle music. He invited banjo player Chris Kaschuk and along with David and George on guitar, I added some bass and we “jammed” in my basement. One of the songs included, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” a lively banjo standard that everyone always requested from Chris when he played at social functions.

Joey and Chris also recorded their individual fiddle and banjo tracks for seven songs. In another session George and Joey recorded two more songs.

Sadly, George passed away several years later. I still listen to the tracks from the basement sessions including George’s guitar solos on “San Antonio Rose” and “Red Haired Boy.”

Practicing picking songs on my guitar brings back many fond memories of playing and recording music just for fun with a group of friends.

“Deep within my heart lies a melody.” (San Antonio Rose)

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