Music of Manitoba

Music of Manitoba
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Manitoba has been well known for producing some of Canada's most famous music ever since the early 1960s.


Traditional music

Manitoba is a center for the old-time fiddling of the Métis people, and the popular tune "Whiskey Before Breakfast" was popularized by the Métis fiddler Andy DeJarlis (1914–1975), who was from the Red River region.

In the early 1990s Susan Aglukark, born in Churchill, emerged as a nationally successful adult contemporary singer.

Popular music

1960s – mid 1970s

The Canadian 1960s supergroup "Chad Allen and the Expressions" (later known as The Guess Who) became the first rock musicians to be recognized outside Canada. Their 1965 hit "Shakin' All Over" gave them instant success in Canada and Great Britain. The band was renamed the Guess Who in 1966, and with Chad Allen gone and new keyboardist Burton Cummings on vocals, they began to realize their full potential as rock superstars. Their hits "American Woman", "No Time", "Clap for the Wolfman", "These Eyes", and "No Sugar Tonight" made them one of the most successful rock bands to ever come from Canada. A version of the band featuring original members Jim Kale and Garry Peterson continue to perform as the Guess Who, but the band as most fans know it broke up in the early 1970s.

Neil Young was also a product of the 1960s Winnipeg music scene, and has deep family roots in Western Manitoba. Neil played in community clubs in Winnipeg with his band, the Squires, during the mid 1960s. These days are recounted in the song "Prairie Town" recording in 1992 with Randy Bachman. Early in Neil’s career he played with Stephen Stills in the band Buffalo Springfield, and again with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Neil Young is best known as a solo artist, producing landmark albums like Harvest and a considerable string of hits over more than four decades of writing, recording and performing. He is referred to by some as the Godfather of Grunge, having inspired grunge pioneers like Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder; and he remains one of the most influential Canadian musicians of all time.[1]

Former Guess Who guitarist Randy Bachman started up a band called Brave Belt not long after he left the Guess Who. Brave Belt was later renamed to Bachman–Turner Overdrive (BTO for short). Bachman–Turner Overdrive became hugely popular worldwide with such hits as "Takin' Care of Business", "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet", and "Let it Ride". Burton Cummings, who had been lead singer of the Guess Who, had a successful solo career with softer hits including "Stand Tall", "Scared", and "Break it to Them Gently". In spite of the breakup of the Guess Who, several of Cummings’ solo songs featured Bachman on guitar. Bachman and Cummings continue to perform together on occasion under banner Bachman-Cummings.

Mid 1970s – mid 1990s

Tom Cochrane, a rocker originally from the town of Lynn Lake in Northern Manitoba, rose to fame with his band Red Rider, producing such hits as "Lunatic Fringe", "Boy Inside the Man" and "Big League". As a solo artist Cochrane recorded five albums, producing the hit "Life Is a Highway", a song later covered by country band Rascal Flatts, among others.

The late 70s and early-to-mid 80s brought a new arena rock vibe to the local music scene, featuring made-in-Manitoba rockers Harlequin, and the Chris Burke-Gaffney-lead bands The Pumps, Orphan and later the Deadbeat Honeymooners. Harlequin was arguably the most popular band to come out of Manitoba in the early 80s, producing several radio-friendly hits including "Sweet Things in Life", "Innocence", and "Superstitious Feeling". Winnipeg was also a second home and regular stop for Regina-based Streetheart -- a band with several linkages to Winnipeg including original member Ken “Spider” Sinnaeve.

In the late 1980s, a soft rock band from Winnipeg/Selkirk was formed featuring a man named Brad Roberts and a woman named Ellen Reid. The band was called Crash Test Dummies. In 1991 Crash Test Dummies had success in Canada with their first album The Ghosts that Haunt Me which included the single “Superman's Song”. They found mainstream success in the US, UK and Australia with their second album, featuring the hit single "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm", as well as their third album and the single "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" which was featured on the movie Dumb & Dumber.

The Watchmen formed in Winnipeg in 1988, releasing their first album in 1992: McLaren Furnace Room, named after a room in Winnipeg’s McLaren hotel where they used to rehearse. They released seven albums and are known for Daniel Greaves’ unique vocals and hits like "Boneyard Tree", "Incarnate" and "Stereo" among others.

Recent rock and pop music

Born in India, and currently stationed in Vancouver, Bif Naked spent her years as a teen and young adult in Winnipeg where she developed into the unique artist that she is today. The heavily tattooed Naked has earned a loyal following with her unique and personal brand of rock music and poetry. Several of her songs received significant air play over the years including “Spaceman”, “I Love Myself Today”, and “Tango Shoes”. Bif Naked has continued recording through her recent battle with breast cancer, releasing her latest album The Promise in 2009.

Juno Award-winning artist Chantal Kreviazuk released her first album in 1997 and recorded several hits, but is perhaps most successful as a songwriter. Kreviazuk has co-written songs for and with many other artists including Avril Lavigne, Gwen Stefani, Kelly Clarkson, and her husband Raine Maida of Our Lady Peace fame.

Brent Fitz a multi-instrumentalist born in Winnipeg, and currently resides in Las Vegas, has recorded and toured with a vast array of Canadian and International artists including Guns 'N Roses guitarist Slash, Alice Cooper, Motley Crue vocalist Vince Neil, Theory Of A Deadman, Streetheart, Harlequin and The Guess Who.

Hard Rock band Jet Set Satellite secured a record deal and burst on to the Canadian music scene in 2000 with two hits: "Best Way to Die" and "Baby, Cool Your Jets". They left their label after only one album but continue to record as an indy band. Also in 2000, dance-pop duo McMaster & James made the leap from playing gigs at the Bank Cabaret in downtown Winnipeg to fleeting stardom with their one and only album (self-titled).

Remy Shand also had a brief career, but a successful one. His 2002 debut album, The Way I Feel, earned him a Juno Award for Best R&B/Soul Recording, and four Grammy nominations.

Propagandhi is a punk rock band from Winnipeg (originally from Portage la Prairie, Manitoba) with a tendency to incorporate political and ethical statements in their music and their performances. Though not heavily played on the radio, they parlayed the renewed interest in punk music in the late 90s into a successful touring career, and won the 2006 ECHO songwriting award for their song "A Speculative Fiction".

Juno-nominated indy-rockers The Weakerthans formed in 1997. Critical recognition soon followed, as did a solid local fan base, although they are best known to many for their tongue-in-cheek salute to their home town “One Great City!” which features the line “I hate Winnipeg”.

Other recent and up-and-coming artists and bands in the rock and pop genres include The Waking Eyes, Tin Foil Phoenix, Steeple Chaser, SitDownTracy, Effect and Cause, and Inward Eye.

Other genres

Manitoba also has made significant contributions in other areas of music besides pop. There is a huge choral tradition that goes back to the beginnings of the 20th century. Manitoba has an opera tradition, a vaudville tradition and a classical music tradition. Manitoba's multi-cultural make up is influenced by the cultures of the world.

Jazz legend Lenny Breau, also a Winnipegger, had a profound impact on the music of Randy Bachman. He is generally regarded as one of the best jazz guitarists ever and certainly the best to come from Canada. His amazing rapid finger picking and ability to sound like three guitars at once gained him respect in the jazz community.


  1. ^ Kyle Grace, "Top 10: Influential Canadian Musicians"

See also

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