Crosstown Bus still riding high

Peninsula band set to celebrate 50 years since they first rocked out.

Crosstown Bus

We all know the fate of the garage bands of our high school years – or just about any collaborative group in music, for that matter.

Bolstered as members may be by initial ambition and encouraging crowd response, the average band has a shelf-life of two to three years.

Bickering, divergent musical tastes, and the conflicts of touring and rehearsing versus the inevitable demands of personal relationships, parenthood and the need for steady, gainful employment all take their toll.

Not so with South Surrey-based Crosstown Bus, which just seems to keep on trucking down the road playing a mix of classics from the Beatles/Woodstock era, along with their own originals.

Next stop is the Columbia Theatre, 530 Columbia St. New Westminster, for the band’s 50th anniversary party, 8 p.m. Oct. 24.

It’s a followup to a successful 50th anniversary party earlier this year in Penticton’s Orchard House, and the indications are they will sell out the larger space in the Columbia quite handily.

Still acknowledged by rock critics as a cornerstone group from Vancouver’s exciting rock scene of the late-’60s and early-’70s – historically the first band for whom legendary promoter Bruce Allen negotiated a record contract – they have weathered changes in style and trends but have still retained a youthful enthusiasm for the music they grew up with, without trying to be a stale recreation of other acts.

“We don’t want to just replicate the songs,” noted bassist Brian Anderson. “We want to make it sound like Crosstown Bus.”

Sure, the wheels have come off a few times, people have got on and off at different stops, and the bus itself was up on blocks for a three-decade spell.

But how many times do three guys who first got together to rehearse some tunes in high school still manage to rock out together – and like it – 50 years afterwards?

While Crosstown Bus isn’t quite 50 yet, the fact remains that Anderson, guitarist Jeff Boyne and drummer Rick Gannon are three-quarters of an original group – then named Mark IV – that got together at their school in Penticton in 1965.

The one ringer in the current group is electric organist-vocalist Deirdre Lacroix, who Anderson met through church connections and who joined the band in 2007.

“She was born the year we first get together, so I guess this is an anniversary for her, too,” Anderson said.

The original trio still have a faded snapshot of the group from 1967, when an organist named Don Siemens was part of the lineup. They stand in front of their band van proudly in Beatles-like suits and haircuts and skinny ties, acknowledging the inspiration they all drew from the ‘British Invasion’ that galvanized the pop scene of the ’60s.

It was an era, Gannon recalled, when the excitement of rock ‘n’ roll was palpable, when new records were coming out every week, when local radio DJs would record and air bands like Mark IV and new acts were regularly highlighted on television by established hosts like Ed Sullivan.

“I’m pretty sure those suits were your idea,” growled Boyne, staring at Gannon, in continuation of what one senses is five-decades-old banter.

There’s another picture showing Crosstown Bus in 1970 – hair grown long, in the billowy-sleeved blouses of that era.

By that time, Gannon had moved on – the original Mark IV wound down in 1968 – but the same year had seen the birth of Crosstown Bus in Nelson.

“Jeff and I hooked up with Crosstown Bus when we went to university in Nelson,” said Anderson. “It seemed like a good thing to do while we were in university.”

“We didn’t think we’d be doing it all these years later,” Boyne added.

The band gigged across the Kootenays and the Okanagan, but the turning point came when they were introduced to Allen at a Penticton gig in the summer of 1969.

By September, they were in Vancouver, on an exclusive development deal with Allen.

“It was a handshake deal, the only way he would do business,” Anderson said.

“He said if it has to be written down, it means you don’t trust me,” Boyne said. “You could trust him implicitly.”

“We developed so much with Bruce – he gave us so many opportunities and was so supportive,” Anderson said.

It was a golden era of such Vancouver venues as the Smilin’ Buddha and Oil Can Harry’s, and such characters as Allen himself, who quickly cornered the music scene in the city. And Anderson and Boyne say they’re proud to have been part of that legendary scene.

“We opened for the first rock show at the Commodore, which was Mitch Ryder in 1971 – which means that we were actually the first rock band to play the Commodore,” Anderson said.

They also worked with David Foster who co-produced their first album High Grass – “the first record he engineered for another band,” Anderson said – although, in retrospect, members feel the music they wrote and recorded for their second album is more representative of the band at its height.

Things inevitably went a little sour business-wise, particularly when Allen began to focus on one or two bands, including Bachman Turner Overdrive, at the expense of other acts on his roster.

“There was more left for us to do on our own, issues with recording contracts and more focus on getting paid,” is how Boyne puts it.

In August 1974, Crosstown Bus played its last gig at The Zodiac Club, after which the members, including Anderson and Boyne, decided to call it quits and pursue other careers.

Although each has enjoyed business success in the non-musical world, they stayed involved in music – but they acknowledge it wasn’t until they got together with Gannon again in 2004 that they felt the “old spark” and decided to work up a set list and return doing live shows.

What does the future have in store for Crosstown Bus?

They’re going to keep on all the while they’re having fun, the members say, and as long as their enjoyment of the music communicates itself to dancers who are quick to return to the floor the moment they hear a favourite intro riff from back when.

“They say ‘you can tell you guys are having the time of your life’ – and it’s the music that does it,” Anderson said, noting that “this time around, we’ve been together twice as long as the first time.”

“Yeah – we’re still waiting for that big break,” Gannon laughed.

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