Les Vogt - The Story
This is a work in progress... there will be continual additions & changes...
Jack Cullen was the popular "teen" DJ during the mid fifties in Vancouver, B.C. Canada. He was a "big band" enthusiast and a crooner of sorts... singing a song or two during his emcee appearances around town.. One such appearance was in 1956 during a sock hop at John Oliver High School. In the audience on that day was a young student by the name of Les Vogt. Les introduced himself to the popular DJ and told Cullen that he was a member of a basement band that would someday be playing at high school dances just like him. It was a "sure kid... good luck and stay in touch" kind of meeting that would pay off big time down the road.
|Les was a tall, shy kid that became interested in music at the age of 13 when his older brother (Ed) took him to a few "live" concerts... Louis Armstrong and Wilf Carter were the most memorable. After seeing a Wilf Carter concert in 1951, Les took his older brother's hand-me-down guitar and learned to play and yodel in the confines of his bedroom.|
|Les relates "I was very shy and becoming
interested in girls... but I really wasn't bold enough to go after them.
I remember going to bed with my radio, listening to songs and dreaming
it was me singing in front of the whole school in the auditorium. And
the girls were all coming around wanting to get to know me... I really
looked forward to bedtime. Today, I firmly believe that you can dream
your way into reality...that is, if you dream long enough and hard
enough, it can really happen."
At this point, Les began playing and singing along with the current songs of the day. Frankie Laine... Vaughn Monroe... Patti Paige... Johnny Ray... Guy Mitchell and the Crew Cuts were all popular recording acts at the time. Coming out of the bedroom and singing in front of people was a difficult transition. His best friend at the time, Larry Tillyer, was the catalyst that brought things out in the open. Their common interest in music developed into basement sessions at Larry's house where the two would sing and play the latest hit recordings. Others would often join in and "jam" with them as well. It wasn't long before the loose makings of a band was developed. Various combinations of musicians (musically inclined neighborhood friends) took the stage at the local Fraserview Community Centre and played for teen dances. The band, first known as the "Fraserview Drifters" played mostly country music because it was pretty much the only alternative to the orchestra arrangements of the popular music at the time.
The first band members were Les Vogt - vocals and guitar, Larry Tillyer - guitar,
|group hits like "Sh-Boom" by the Crew Cuts and "Down By The Riverside" and "Three Coins In The Fountain" by the Four Lads.|
|back in Nova Scotia. Les relates "We were
very lucky to come upon Fred... he knew (or quickly learned) all the
lead guitar licks for current hits and taught us the right chord
structure to play along with him. The band's very first recording was
a remake of a Hank Thompson country tune called
"Most Of All".
When Elvis' music first hit the Canadian charts in 1956, the direction of the group took a sharp turn in the same direction. Les acknowledges that the Prowlers were the very first rock'n'roll "Elvis-style" band in Vancouver. The term "impersonator" wasn't heard of as yet and didn't really apply anyway. As Les says " All the singers of that era were trying to be like Elvis. Gene Vincent, Conway Twitty, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly, etc... they were all trying to look and sound as much like Elvis as they possibly could." One of the Elvis songs the Prowlers always included in their repertoire was "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry Over You."
The band's big break came from a fluke telephone call to DJ Jack Cullen's radio program. Cullen's "Owl Prowl" was Vancouver's most popular radio program at the time and pretty much all the teenagers in the city listened to it. One of the girls attending a basement rehearsal for the band took it upon herself to phone Jack Cullen (on the air) and asked him to listen to the band over the phone. He not only listened to the band... he patched the call over the airwaves and all of Vancouver was talking about the band the next day. Cullen received so many phone calls that he brought the band into his small radio studio and recorded several songs which he proceeded to play regularly on the air. This connection resulted in the band calling themselves "The Prowlers" since their popularity came from Jack Cullen's Owl Prowl radio show. These primitive recordings were discovered in 2003 by DJ Red Robinson and rockabilly collector Gary Olsen while appraising the record collection of the late Jack Cullen. This discovery formed the basis for a 2003 CD release of all the music of Les Vogt and the Prowlers. Jack Cullen was the hot DJ in Vancouver at the time and he did his part to launch the band. He included them on a show with Bill Haley & the Comets at Vancouver's Kerrisdale Arena on June 27th, 1956. This was Vancouver's very first rock & roll concert. The band also opened for other Cullen shows such as Ivory Joe Hunter at the PNE Gardens and Gene Vincent at the Silver Moon Ballroom in White Rock, B.C. Jack Cullen died April 27, 2002 at the age of 80. ***
|deserved. The teen-age airwaves were now dominated by a young superstar DJ by the name of Red Robinson at CKWX Radio where management deemed The Prowlers competition (as their name represented a competitive radio station) and the disk was buried without any exposure to speak of... CJOR Radio with an upstart teen jock, Frosty Forst, was the only support the record received. With all the kids listening to Red Robinson... the record died before any life at all.|
|"Get A Move On" was conceived in a dream...
in the dream Les and guitar player (Fred Bennett) were driving to a gig
with none other than Elvis Presley seated between the two band members
in the front seat of Fred's old Packard straight eight. At one point
Elvis turns up the volume on the car radio and says "They're playing my
new new record" which was a new song that the two men had never heard
before. Les woke up and jotted down the lyrics immediately (in about 5
minutes) He and the band recorded the song (Get A Move On) a short time
later. Les' explained "I was trying to write a song similar to "Don't Be
Cruel" which was a big hit at the time. I think I had been challenging
myself to find a similar sounding guitar intro for a song idea I already
had in my head. Sometimes, when you go to bed with a challenge, the
answer comes to you in a dream. I was amazed to be able to receive an
entire song... and from Elvis no less."
|Vancouver songwriter Allen Parker (aka Sipson P.Kloop) was a milkman at Dairyland where Les also worked his "day job" as a milkman. Al (Parker) often hired local bands to record demos for some of his original songs and in 1958, when the two men met at work, The Prowlers would record "The Blamers" and "Moon Rocketin" (two Parker penned tunes) at Aragon Studios. Lead guitarist, Fred Bennett, was working out of town (as a pipefitter) and couldn't perform on the session. His replacement, Johnny Faas, turned out to be an important part of making the recording unique enough to attract international interest. Johnny's creative introduction and backing guitar fills gave the record character and were, Les believes, the main reason the song would ultimately become the hit it became. But, the recording sat on the shelf and did not resurface for a few years...|
|After the disappointment of no air-play for "Get A Move On"... and emerging wives and kids, the band members would all spend more time raising their families (the music business wasn't a profitable job at the time) and the band members just seemed to drift apart. Les and Irene Buttner (AKA Irene Butler - female singer with the Prowlers) were married and began performing solo with other bands on weekends. One such band was with their neighbour, Gordy Cowan, who was the leader of a band called the "Originals" and it developed into a regular part-time job for both Irene and Les.|
|Allen Parker (Sipson P.Kloop) would shop his demo tapes to anyone that would listen. In late 1958, when the DeCastro Sisters were performing at the Cave in Vancouver, their manager Jack LeGras agreed to listen to Parker's songs and took them with him. He later decided to pursue a record deal for the two milkmen.|
| In 1960, "The Blamers" was released on a
small independent LA record label (Iona Records) in the USA and on
Sparton Records in Canada. The record was released under the name of Les
Vogt since the band was no longer together and to avoid any further
political problems between radio stations.
This period was undoubtedly Les Vogt's finest hour as a performer... "The Blamers" quickly rose to the top of Vancouver's C-FUN Top 40 Record Chart. On August 6th, 1960 Les knocked off Elvis' "It's Now Or Never" to become #1... Elvis was now #2 and "Only The Lonely by Roy Orbison was #3. The Blamers remained #1 in Vancouver for a record 11 weeks. Apparently, Big Daddy (Dave McCormick) would later admit that they had forced the record off the charts or it may have been #1 for another 11 weeks. The record was later picked up by ABC Paramount Records and received full release status in the U.S. The two milkmen lost track of where it went from there... there were scattered reports that the record was charted here and there but no royalties were forthcoming. Inexperience and family responsibilities did not allow for full pursuit of a musical career and virtually no follow-up promotion was done. Two more Allen Parker tunes would be recorded by Les Vogt during this period... "Preacher Boy" (which was wasn't one of Les' favourites) was cut in a private residence with the Winmen (a folk-style group) as back-up. And, finally Les' favourite recording of all "Teenager's Dream" was recorded in Seattle, WA using Seattle based musicians. It was the same studio where The Ventures recorded their hits. The studio owner, Joe Boles, asked Les if he would come back to Seattle and record a demo he thought suited Les' vocal style. The still shy, young singer politely refused and returned to Canada. Les later learned that the song Joe wanted him to sing was "Come Softly To Me" which was recorded by a couple of new singers (they would ultimately become known as The Fleetwoods) and the song became a huge hit. Les is still kicking himself for not recording that song... because it truly was a perfect fit.
|After "The Originals", who became known as
Les Vogt and the "The Blamers," went their separate ways and Les'
singing opportunities as a freelance "singer with a hit" faded , along
came a new member to the Vogt household. On February 14th, 1961, a
little girl Leslie Marlene Vogt was born and thoughts of a more secure
job were on Les' mind. The music business wasn't a great business for a
new husband and father. A second daughter Lisa Yvonne Vogt would come
along on February 26th, 1965.
|In 1961 when DJ Red Robinson returned to
Vancouver (he worked at KGW in Portland during 1959-1960) he instantly
picked up where he left off... the most popular teen DJ in town. At this
point, Les Vogt, was the reigning rock & roll promoter running dances
and shows with his own band and dabbling with the booking of US
recording acts such as
Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran,
Knox and Ike & Tina Turner... bringing them into the Vancouver area
as an extension of their tour dates ending in Seattle. The Edmonds
Rollerway (Burnaby) and Danceland (Vancouver) or Silver Moon Ballroom
(White Rock) were a few of the venues rented for rock'n'roll dances
during this period. Charles Sullivan (US R&B Promoter) would later form
a partnership with Les to bring in all the big R&B acts of the day. It
was only a matter of time before Les and Red would hook up and become
partners in the concert promotion business.
|"It was a promoter's dream" relates Les... "Your partner (Red) being the most popular DJ in town telling the kids where and when the shows would be playing. I would do all the leg work, set-up, etc. and Red would MC the events. It was a little goldmine until competition sprung up and station management had to terminate the "free" radio promotion for their star attraction. It was unfair competition and major advertisers with heavy clout were beginning to complain. Little did they know that we would then get fully produced spots at a super wholesale rate... for awhile anyway. It wasn't long before all the station's DJ's wanted similar "extras" and management had no choice but to level the playing field."|
|In 1962 Les and Red formed Jaguar
Enterprises Ltd. They were 50/50 partners in the business which promoted
teen-age concerts and dances. It was a very successful business. One of
their first and most successful concerts was originally scheduled to be
a dance at the Garden Auditorium (at the PNE) in Vancouver, B.C.
Roy Orbison and his band. However, it was discovered that an old
city ordinance did not permit anyone under the age of 18 to attend a
dance within the city limits. This law was left over from the dance
hall/cabaret days when people (over 18) could bring their own bottle and
keep it on a shelf under their table. The house would provide glasses
and sell ice and mix (set-ups) for additional revenues. Even though
those days were long gone... when that devil music rock & roll came
along, the city decided to exercise the old law (still on the books) to
prevent those troublesome teen-age dances happening within the city
limits. Of course, Les and Red simply promoted their dances in areas
outside the city limits. The kids would drive for miles to get to those
"devil promoted" dances. However, back to the Roy Orbison show... it
was pretty much sold out when it was discovered that the city would not
issue a license for the dance. So, the dance became a concert and was
completely sold out.
Since there was no stage manager or tour manager (Roy and Les were both just learning the business) Les dealt directly with Roy on all matters. Les relates "So, there I was... alone back stage with Roy waiting to show him the way to the stage. He was pacing nervously back and forth. I asked him "Are you always this nervous before you go on stage? and I will never forget his reply." He said "Well, sometimes they laugh at me when I first come on stage." Noticing my shocked response, he grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye and continued " But, don't worry... by the end of the first song, I'll have them in the palm of my hand."
They didn't laugh... there was a rousing audience ovation right from his introduction through the dum-dum-dum-dumdy-doo-wah opening chorus of Only The Lonely. But, it was the back stage event that said a lot about the man and his humble, shy demeanor. Considered homely by rock'n'roll standards at the time, Roy was a loner who simply wrote heart breaking songs about his feelings and insecurities. "Crying" was written when he saw his girlfriend walking with another guy. "Only The Loney"... "In Dreams" (I walk with you)... "Love Hurts" and "It's Over" were songs also inspired from Roy's heartaches and ultimate break-ups.
There were two additional out of town dances and the Vancouver concert on that trip. Les always says " Roy Orbison bought Red and I our first houses" What he means is that he and Red made enough money on that weekend to place down payments on their first homes. Roy's fee at the time was $800 per night for him and the whole band. Roy received a $1,000 bonus from the young promoters... a gesture that Roy would later say had never happened to him before or since that weekend. Roy would never forget the only promoters to ever give him more than the performance contract had called for. Whenever Roy toured in Canada he insisted that Les and Red be the promoters of any Roy Orbison shows that came near the Vancouver area. Les and Roy would later become involved in a show business partnership that would change the lives of both men.
During the early sixties Red promoted "teen-age" shows in the Vancouver area on a regular basis. Some of the acts included Jerry Lee Lewis, Dick & Dee Dee, Dorsey & Johnny Burnette, Donnie Brooks, Buddy Knox and many others. Jaguar Enterprises also became the biggest booking agency for teenage bands in western Canada. At one point, Les was handling the bookings for all the popular bands in the city.
In 1963 and again in1967 Les accompanied the Roy Orbison entourage to England just to hang out with the band and look for promotional opportunities. The Beatles were the opening act for Roy in 1963 as Roy was a major recording star while the Beatles were still up and coming. Les remembers "Brian Epstein (Beatles Manager) asking Roy if he would mind letting the Beatles close the show because they played Rock & Roll while Roy played mostly ballads. What a mistake... Roy Orbison had 14 encores that night. By the time the Beatles came on the crowd was ready to go home. Roy closed the show for the remainder of the tour. At a chance meeting with Brian Epstein, I was offered the Beatles for bookings in Canada for $300 per show plus expenses. I refused because they looked weird and were unknown in America at the time. Their appearance on Ed Sullivan changed all that. And so, I missed the opportunity of being the first promoter to book the Beatles in North America. When I returned to England with Roy in 1967, Roy and the band (me included) were invited to an entertainers club in the Soho/London area called "The Bag O' Nails" which was quite exciting. Tom Jones was there and joined our table. I didn't know them at the time but The Jimi Hendrix Experience was the house band at the club. John Lennon was also there at another table.The band were not the same guys that were on the '63 tour when the Beatles opened for Roy, so they were anxious to meet him. They were self-conscious about going over to his table so they followed him into the men's room to pretend bumping into him... when they said hello and told him they were with the Roy Orbison show, Lennon said "So what" and when they asked him to come over and say hi to Roy, he said "Why?" Anyway, befuddled by what just happened, they came back to the table and said "What an asshole John Lennon was."
In 1964 Les convinced the PNE to provide the Garden Auditorium for a teen-age "Dance-Party" that would become the place to be if you were a teenager in Vancouver. The C-FUN Classics were formed to become the radio station band and they would be the featured band in '64 and would provide backing for the Canadian heart-throb Bobby Curtola. In 1965, The Nocturnals would be featured with a rising US recording star Glen Campbell. In 1966 Les would manage the much larger "Teenage Fair"... a fair within a fair that featured bands and teen entertainment all day long. The Gardens would become one of Les' favorite venues for teenage events because of the permanent stage and large dance area with bleacher seating all around. It was also convenient for public transit and had unlimited parking facilities. Some of the performers Les promoted at the Gardens were Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ike & Tina Turner, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Dusty Springfield, Billy J Kramer and many more.
|In 1965 Les would convert the old Hollywood Bowl (759 Carnavon Street in New Westminster) into the most popular teen hang-out in the lower mainland... "The Grooveyard" which featured "live" bands every Friday & Saturday night. All the bands that were anybody played The Grooveyard and were booked by Les' Jaguar Booking Agency. Some of the Vancouver bands included the Night Train Revue, The Nocturnals, The Epics, The Soul Unlimited, The Stags, The Shockers and The Shantelles. Ike & Tina Turner were featured one weekend when the group were cancelled at the last minute in Seattle. Bo Diddley, Paul Revere & the Raiders, The Sonics. The Frantics and the Kingsmen were just a few of the US bands to be featured there.|
|Buddy Knox would eventually move to Canada
and become Les' partner in a country music night club called the
"Purple Steer"... the club opened in October, 1969 and became one of
the most popular night spots in Vancouver until it was sold for a profit
in 1972. Some of the entertainers Les brought in to perform at the club
Buddy Knox (regularly),
Charlie Rich, Bob Luman, The Coasters, Bobby Freeman, Dorsey
Burnett, Jerry Wallace and many more. Charlie was one of the all-time
favourite acts to play Les' Purple Steer club. The staff and customers
alike all loved this down-home southern gentleman with the soulful
voice. "What a talent" recalls Vogt. "I remember Charlie's second
appearance at the "Steer" in 1970, he called from San Franciso to tell
me his arrival in Vancouver was delayed due to a mechanical
malfunction... "He said the flight would be late and they would be
leaving in 15 minutes. He phoned me again about 45 minutes later, just
as I was leaving for the airport to pick him up, and told me he was
still in San Francisco." I said "What do you mean, I thought you said
the plane was leaving 30 minutes ago." Charlie, who was known to take a
drink every now and then, had been in the bar, and he says to me...
"Yeah, the plane left alright... but I don't think I'm on it."
Charlie's after hours jam-sessions at the "Steer" with local musicians have become legendary, often lasting until the sun came up the next morning. Rich was a superb musician (piano) and a bluesy vocalist with jazz and R&B influences. One night, Les says, "He was laying on the stage drunk with his head on the lap of one of our waitresses who was holding the microphone near his mouth... Charlie never missed a beat... inebriated as he was, his timing was perfect. I asked him once, why he jammed so often with musicians that weren't even near his caliber of musicianship. He said "These young guys have new ideas they bring to the stage. They can't always perform the unique lick they're trying to play... but I can. I learn a lot from them. It's a process that benefits me in the end."
"Charlie's luck changed shortly after his Purple Steer days" continues Vogt, "He had those huge hits and was booked at the Coliseum in Vancouver. Les was in attendance. "When I came in," Les says, "The Coliseum manager called me over and said Charlie wants to see you and took me down to the underbelly of the venue where the dressing rooms were. There were about 100 press people waiting outside Charlie's door. I knew many of them and it was embarrassing to be escorted in to see Charlie right in front of them all. I immediately suggested to Charlie that we could visit afterward if he needed to talk with the press. He looked at me and said simply "Fuck 'em... where were they when we needed them?" We reminisced about the "Steer" days and hugged for the last time. He never did talk with any of the press people on that day. I felt extremely privileged." Charlie Rich died on July 25, 1995.
Buddy Knox (Les' partner at the Purple Steer) was very well liked... always polite and kind to everyone. His performance was always happy and filled with hit songs. "He was a good friend" Remembers Vogt. "He lived with me when in Vancouver to play the Steer and again later in Kelowna (where I had moved) during a couple of bad times in his life. But, during the Steer days we enjoyed life and had a lot of fun. I went to England and hung out with him on a UK tour in 1971. The UK promoter took us to the very first Hard Rock Cafe in London which featured loud music and American-style hamburgers. We met the owner (can't remember his name) and talked show biz with him. He seemed keen to know more about our Purple Steer success and thought the purple coloured promo was very unique. He said he was going to include purple in his Hard Rock Cafe theme as well. I think he did eventually. But I don't know for sure."
Buddy Knox died of cancer on February 14, 1999 in Bremerton, WA.
At this point, Les was managing the Jaguar Booking Agency, Purple Steer night club, Grooveyard dance hall and his Concert Promotions all at the same time. It was necessary to make changes in order for Les to maintain his sanity. The Grooveyard was sold for a small profit in 1969 and the Purple Steer was sold for a dollar in 1972. All the while concert promotions had gained momentum with James Brown, Ike & Tina Turner and Little Richard concerts all being promoted by Les' Jaguar Entertainment company in Vancouver.
Concert promotion was where Les' greatest success would be. In 1976, while browsing thru an entertainment magazine, he discovered an item that advertised Roy Orbison and his band performing in a bar in Thunder Bay, Ontario. This was unbelievable Les relates "I knew he belonged in the concert theatres and so I tracked him down and offered him a cross-Canada concert tour. We filled up the concert halls everywhere and Roy asked me to move to Nashville and manage his tour schedule on the same partnership basis... 80% for Roy and 20% for me after expenses. We made a ton of money in Canada and he and I both thought we would fill up the concert halls all over the U.S."
Roy's success wasn't quite as good in the US. The Americans have a tendency to place their former hit makers in the "has been" category fairly soon after the hits are no longer coming. "There were serious hot beds of popularity" says Vogt. "But one in three events would be a failure." he added.
Roy had always told Les not to book him in Los Angeles or New York as he thought they were all crooks and plastic people... that's why he lived in Nashville. But, one time while Roy was touring in Australia, in 1977, Les had the opportunity to book Roy into the Santa Monica Civic Centre with the giant "oldies" station there presenting the show with unlimited ads for free. It was too good to pass up and the booking was made. When Roy returned home he wasn't thrilled but agreed to do it for fear that cancellation would harm his reputation.
The Santa Monica (Los Angeles) performance was the starting point of Roy's resurgence into the upper echelon of the music business once again. Anyone who was anyone in the LA Music Biz was in attendance... The Beach Boys, The Eagles, Huey Lewis, Bruce Springsteen, Linda Ronstadt, Boz Skaggs, George Harrison and Jeff Lynne among others. All were backstage offering opportunities to write songs and perform together... they were all telling him of their admiration for him and wanted to be his friend. Les' assessment was... "Roy... you have to get an LA manager and start working with this current bunch of LA recording stars." It took a while, but Roy eventually not only got an LA manager, he moved to Malibu and began co-writing songs with the top recording acts in the business. This formed the beginning from which the Traveling Wilburys were born."
The rest is history... Roy never stopped thanking his friend and former business partner / defacto manager (Les Vogt) for going against his wishes when he booked him into Los Angeles. "I get a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that that I played a small part in getting Roy Orbison back to his rightful place in music history" relates Vogt. "Roy Orbison also played a part in the creation of my most successful and long-running concert show "ELVIS ELVIS ELVIS." In 1978 Roy was required to undergo triple by-pass heart surgery and would be laid up for an undetermined period. I had arranged a working holiday in Hawaii where Roy and the band were to break in a new musician and basically rehearse for a Canadian tour scheduled to start shortly afterward. The gig was a month-long engagement at the Boom Boom Club in Waikiki. Our show would follow a nightly Polynesian Dinner Show starting at 9pm. I was able to cancel the tour in Canada which was far enough away... But tickets were already on sale for the Hawaii gig and selling well. As it happened, Dick Clark had featured the latest phenomenon - eight different Elvis Impersonators on his weekly TV show. I called Dick Clark and booked the best Elvis from that show. Bobby Greer from Portland, OR was accepted as a replacement act for Roy Orbison in Hawaii. Amazingly, the show sold-out for the entire month and the club owner continued booking various Elvis acts continually for many years. It was during that experience that I learned the power of Elvis and decided to produce a tribute show featuring three different Elvis performers each performing a different era of his career. In thinking about a name for the new show, a movie playing in Hawaii at the time "Tora! Tora! Tora!" gave me the idea to call the show "Elvis Elvis Elvis."
"After Roy's recovery period, doctors advised him to work but not to go on a strenuous tour right away. So, I booked a 10 day sit-down run at the Cave Supper Club in Vancouver and later booked a 10 day sit-down run at the former Seaway Beverly Hills Hotel in Toronto. Both events were very successful. Shortly after-ward, Roy moved to LA... and rejuvenated his career to it's highest point ever."
This is the point where the two men basically separated company...
Les devoted full-time to promoting "Elvis Elvis Elvis", which ultimately
would have three different casts touring somewhere in the world at the
same time. And, Roy Orbison would reach his maximum potential with the
"The Travelling Wilburys" and eventual hit solo album "Mystery Girl."
Les would promote his last concert with Roy Orbison at the Expo Theatre
in Vancouver in 1986. Roy Orbison died December 6, 1988.