Me and Jim Kale ► Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used To Be

More than once I’ve been called the Zelig of the innertubes, popping up to witness pivotal moments in history. A night I spent with Jim Kale, of The Guess Who and Scrubbaloe Caine, is one of those times.

Get comfortable, kiddies, because we’re taking the Wayback Machine all the way back to the early ’70s.

Back then I was the station manager of Radio Sheridan, the campus radio station at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. Radio Sheridan was one of the few campus stations in the country respected by the major record companies. They knew that normally records sent to a campus station went into a black hole, never to be seen again. When the Promo Reps visited Radio Sheridan, which they did often because we were on the route between Toronto and Hamilton, they could find every record they ever sent us in the library ready for a DJ to select it.

Not only could we count on the personal touch from the Record Reps, but we were also getting interview offers for Big Deal Rock and Roll artists, concert tickets with occasional backstage passes, free records for our personal collections, and posters for our home walls. We knew these were all perks normally reserved for broadcast radio jocks and the music reviewers from the national press. We felt honoured to be included, but it was also a testament to how well organized Radio Sheridan was in the day.

Long before the night in question, Jim Kale was a member of The Guess Who. It’s easy to forget that The Guess Who was an international hit band back in the days before CanCon radio regulations mandated stations play 33% Canadian Content. Kale stayed with The Guess Who until soon after the 1972 release of release of Live at the Paramount. The reason was ascribed to undefined “health problems,” something cited more than once in biographies about more than one point in Kale’s career. However, it has always been rumoured in Canadian Show Biz, which is a very small pond, that this was a euphemism for alcoholism.

Soon after leaving The Guess Who, Kale hooked up as bass player with Scrubbaloe Caine. As manager of Radio Sheridan I listened to every record that arrived to decide what genre it fell into. There was no genre off limits and it wasn’t unusual to hear Rock and
Roll rubbing shoulders with Jazz, Blues, or Big Band Swing. Then I’d log them into the library alphabetically and let all the DJs know what was new. That’s how I became an early adopter of a lot of different music such as (for the sake of this story) Scrubbaloe Caine.

I fell in love with Scrubbaloe Caine on first listen. There weren’t many Rock and Roll bands with a lead violinist/lead singer. That was Henry Small, who went on to found Small Wonder and later sang with Prism. Also in the band was the double-lead guitar team of Paul Dean, later of Streetheart and Loverboy, and Jim Harmata. Filling out the band was Al Foreman on keys and harmonica and Bill McBeth hitting the skins.

Scrubbaloe Caine should have been HUGE. I thought they were so great that I raved about them to John Murphy, the RCA Promo Rep, the next time he came around. A short time later Murph called to say he was driving up to catch Scrubbaloe Caine live in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, a long way from Oakville. He wanted to know if I was down for a ROAD TRIP!!! I said yes immediately, but made him promise that we’d see the Giant Nickle first, because I had never seen it before.

Road trip music: As always, CRANK IT UP!!!
I lived in Canada for 35 years and this is still the most Canadian thing I did in the entire time I lived there. After a quick trip to the Giant Nickle we headed into the Sudbury Arena, where Scrubbaloe Caine was opening for Crowbar. It doesn’t get more Canadian than that.

This was one of those times I got a backstage pass, not that backstage at a hockey arena is anything to write to ‘Merka about. However, that allowed me to wander at will in all the dressing rooms. That night the Sudbury Arena was Party Central and I was INVITED.

Crowbar and Jim Kale had played on many of the same concert bills over the years and it was like old home week and — boy, oh, boy — did they catch up on old times. I didn’t know Jim Kale had a drinking problem. I was just a wide-eyed kid (in my early 20s, to be honest) amazed that I was partying with Crowbar and a former member of The Guess Who and current member of Scrubbaloe Caine, my favourite new band.

As the night wore on, Kale got drunker and drunker. By the end of the evening Kale was shitfaced and Murphy was tasked with getting him back to Toronto. It’s not all glamour for Promo Reps. Sometimes they have to clean up after the band.

Along the way we also acquired some gal (who I barely remember, other than there being one) that needed a ride back to Toronto. She got in the front and Kale and I poured ourselves into the back seat. We were still wending our way out of Sudbury when Kale made a deliberate fist, with his middle knuckle sticking out, and started punching me in the upper arm. HARD!!!

Looking for trouble? Not me. I just want to sit quietly in the back seat.
“John! He’s hitting me!!!”

“Jim! Stop hitting him!”

Jim kept hitting me. In the same place. With the knuckle. It hurt like hell. I had the bruise for weeks.

“He won’t stop hitting me!”

So John decided we had better stop at a Tim Horton’s and get some coffee into Kale before we get on the highway for the 5 hour drive home. Meanwhile, I scrunched myself into the corner of the backseat behind the driver’s seat, fending off Kale with my feet as he kept trying to land blows. Murph finds the Timmies and I scrambled out of the car as soon as it came to a stop. We all walked around the car to the passenger’s side and watched Kale get out of the car. He stood up fully erect and filled with the dignity only someone who is stinking drunk can approximate.

Then we all watch helplessly as he went down like a tree in the forest. TIMBER!!! With a loud thump his forehead hit the curb.

Now Jim Kale is out cold and bleeding like crazy from a gash on his forehead. We each grabbed a corner, tossed him back into the backseat, and raced off to the hospital. Hospital staff got him out of the car and onto a gurney. After a real quick examination they told us that he’s going to have to have stitches. That’s pretty much when Kale regained consciousness. He was still bleeding, but wouldn’t let anyone treat him. The staff tried to have us hold him down because we’re his friends, yannow. But, he was too strong for all of us as he tried to fight the entire hospital staff, landing a solid blow or two. At some point someone called the police. When they arrived they told us to go home because Kale was going to jail if they ever manage to stitch him up. We were forced to leave him there.

I am told that’s the night Scrubbaloe Caine broke up. But, still, they should have been huge!!! Listen to just one more:

Postscript: Over the years The Guess Who have participated in several reunions, which featured various line-ups and members of the band. After one of these renions Jim Kale discovered that no one had ever bothered to register the name The Guess Who, so he did. He’s owned it ever since, with drummer Garry Peterson, and they continue to perform as The Guess Who.

The Classic Line up

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.

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