PEI’s “first rock and roll band” receives Stompin’ Tom Award
by Stephen Pate
After waiting 51 years to receive acknowledgment of their music The Tremtones walked away from the 2008 East Coast Music Awards (ECMAs) with a major piece of prize hardware.
“It feels terrific to win the Award,” said Billy Roy Murnaghan Tremtones founder. “It took a long time. We didn’t expect it. It came out of nowhere.” Murnaghan, who now lives in Barrie, Ontario, travelled back to PEI for the awards ceremony.
“There were two Doug’s at the Awards, Doug MacEwen, Doug Carmody, Niall MacKay and I,” said Murnaghan. Fellow band member Niall MacKay of Montague said the Award “was humbling to think we deserve it after all those years.”
The Tremtones, PEI’s first rock and roll band, were awarded the Stompin’ Tom Award at ECMAs in Fredericton. The Tremtones were formed in 1957 and played in and around PEI and Atlantic Canada for the next ten years.
The Stompin’ Tom Awards are given annually to the unsung heroes of the East Coast Music industry. “These well-deserving recipients have all made significant contributions to East Coast music…” says Wade Pinhorn, of the East Coast Music Association.
Murnaghan who had been playing in country bands recalled how the Tremtones started. “The band started in the footings of Birchwood High School,” said Murnaghan. “Gordie Ferguson and I were working digging the footings. We sat down next to each other one day at lunch. We got talking about music and Gordie said ‘I just got a new guitar, one of those Sears Harmony Silvertone guitars.’”
“I decided to work with him,” Murnaghan continued. “At age 17, I’d been playing guitar for 4 years. Next in was Gordie MacEwen the keyboard player and Dave Mills on drums. After that we were the Tremtones.”
“There weren’t many basses back then,” recalled Murnaghan. “The first bass was made from an old jukebox guts. We drove over to Moncton and bought an old jukebox from the distributor. We made a bass amplifier from the guts and the big speaker.”
Playing around Charlottetown, the Tremtones covered rockabilly, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Gene Vincent, and Eddie Cochrane among other popular artists of the day.
“We did a lot of Elvis,” said Murnaghan. “I still do a lot of Elvis in the old folk’s homes. Elvis is popular. When I sing ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ I get the audience to sing the ‘Oooh oooh oooh’ to make it fun.”
“We did Jerry Lee Lewis ‘Great Balls of Fire’ and that became the theme of our reunion at the Rollaway,” said Murnaghan. “That was an historic club for us and PEI. Don Messer and the Islanders played there along with lots of other musicians.”
“Our favourite fast songs were ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ and the Jerry Lee Lewis ‘Whole Lot of Shaking’. The crowds loved Ricky Nelson’s ‘Lonesome Town’ for a slow song,” said Murnaghan.
“’Oh Donna’ was a big favourite for snuggling,” added Niall MacKay who variously sang, played bass and drums with the Tremtones. “We made a lot of people happy, made them smile. We played one end of the Island to the other, sometimes 6 nights a week. CJRW Radio would broadcast our dances at the Cahill Stadium.”
“My biggest regret at the ECMA’s was not having a chance to pay tribute to our fallen members, Gordie Ferguson, Dave Mills and George Halliwell,” said Murnaghan.
In their 60s, Billy Roy Murnaghan, Niall MacKay, Doug Carmody and Doug MacEwen are still performing in public. MacKay has been dubbed the ‘Grandfather of Rock and Roll’, a title he likes.
Old rock and rollers don’t fade away. They just rock on, their music still popular at dances and parties across PEI.