By Jessica Messerer-Trosin
Claude Richmond is the last original member of The Kamloops Rube Band which formed in 1949. He started when he was just 14 years old.
The band began as a promotional tool for a blood donor clinic being organized by the Junior Chamber of Commerce.
One chamber member, Gordon (Ginger) Clow, wanted to get a “clown band” together to raise awareness for the blood drive.
“We thought we’d dress funny, like idiots,” Richmond said.
Clow managed to assemble a group of about 12 to parade and play music which helped to create a successful event.
The group had fun playing music and decided to keep the band together. Although he didn’t play any instruments himself, Clow singlehandedly kept The Rube Band together in the early years, said Richmond.
The Kamloops Rube Band’s name came from another band that played on Canada Day in Kamloops the same year: The Hayseed Band, the Rubes from Williams Lake.
“‘Rube’ is an old circus term. The carnival people called the locals rubes,” explained Richmond.
Serving as bandmaster from the beginning until about three years ago, Richmond noted that the band has changed since its inaugural year.
“We were kind of a rag-tag bunch for a long time, not much leadership and a small group when we started out,” he said.
Despite playing several local performances year-round and making annual trips to the Calgary Stampede and the PNE Parade, it wasn’t until the group decided to go to Expo ‘67 in Montreal for Canada’s 100th birthday that things dramatically changed in the band.
“When we decided to do shows and travel more, that was a big change in the band — become a bit better musically, and do some funny acts and play more difficult music. That was a big change,” Richmond said.
In addition to now being on the world stage, the band had to adjust their set for the expo.
Until this point, they had been only a marching band, but in Montreal their performance would be on a stage.
They put together a show and tried it out for different audiences around town to figure out what would work and what wouldn’t. They had guns shooting, rubber chickens, water flying and breakable cymbals.
“By the time it was time to go to Expo ‘67, we were ready!” Richmond said.
The performance was a huge success, thanks in part to some unplanned humour.
Every show at the expo had to be announced in English and in French. Initially this was a problem for the band, but ended up being part of the comedic element of their set.
Myrt Wilson, the wife of one of the drummers, was French Canadian. She translated the MC’s words into French. However, instead of translating conversationally, like someone would speak in French, she translated everything literally.
One of the songs the band performed, “Tijuana Taxi,” was translated to “Le Taxi de Tijuana,” although the title should have remained the same title regardless of the language. The literal translation was hilarious to the francophones in the expo audience.
The band maintained this routine for every song title after realizing why the audience was laughing hysterically.
“We’ve had a lot of fun. It’s been a fun band,” said Richmond.
Since Montreal, The Kamloops Rube Band has tried to plan a large trip every two or three years, taking them to places like Osaka, Japan in 1970 and Nijmegen, Netherlands in 1980.
Richmond’s favourite trip with the band was to New Orleans for Mardi Gras in 1974.
The Rube Band walked in the parade for almost 20 kilometres and was the only group to play Dixieland Jazz, which originated in the Louisiana city.
That night the band went to see Pete Fountain, a famous clarinet player, perform at his club.
According to Richmond, Fountain told the audience that it was amazing that a band had to travel 5000 miles from ‘Kamloop’ to show how to play Dixieland Jazz in New Orleans.
“That made us all feel good,” Richmond said.
From the beginning the motto of the band has been to look funny and act funny, but sound good.
“If the music isn’t good, it loses everything because anyone can look funny and act funny and sound bad. That doesn’t take any talent,” Richmond said.
“We always work very hard to keep the music at as high a level as we can.”
When The Rube Band was formed, Richmond’s instrument was the tuba, which he played in his high school band at the time.
He has also played the bass and tenor saxophones. During a stint in the Air Force and a member of the Air Force Band, Richmond played euphonium, which resembles a small tuba.
Upon his return to The Kamloops Rube Band, he began playing trumpet because the band was missing a trumpet player. He’s been playing that ever since.
“The trumpet is the boss horn. There’s no question,” he said.
Richmond also played trumpet in the first few performances of the Kamloops Symphony, was a member of the Shriners Band and had his own dance band for about eight years.
These days, The Kamloops Rube Band plays about 35-40 performances per year, many of them charity jobs throughout the city.
As an amateur group, it’s never certain how many people will be able to attend a performance. Usually it’s 18-24 people, which provides a good balance of instruments.
Throughout his various careers, music has served as a way for Richmond to take a break from his responsibilities.
“Music is therapy,” he said.
“When you’re playing there is nothing else on your mind, because it takes all of your mind to play the music, which is great. Everything else is just gone. You don’t even think about it because you’re reading or you’re improvising. Music is great therapy. It’s good for the soul.”
Music has brought many positive things to his life, but Richmond is still considering walking away from the band soon.
“I can still play as good as anybody in the band, but I can feel that I have to work harder at it because to keep your embouchure in shape you have to play more. It’s all muscles in the face,” he said.
“The older you get the tougher it is to keep it so you can play properly because the muscles just aren’t how they were when you’re in your 20’s. I keep wondering if it’s time to retire or not, to go out when I can still play well instead of fading away.”
The group is always looking for young people to join, said Richmond.
“We encourage young people to come play in the band, because if they don’t, the band will die out.”
There are about 32 members now, the youngest being 22 years old.
For now, the band has made some adjustments. They don’t march anymore, and instead sit on a lowbed trailer for parades.
“Marching and playing an instrument is not easy. Especially a trumpet where the mouthpiece is small. You step in a rut or something and the mouthpiece slips and almost takes your nose off,” Richmond said.
“It also gets a little rough when they put you behind the horses and you’re trying not to step in anything.”