What do a shotgun, a double lung transplant, and concert musicians have in common? They are now all part of the growing history of Vernon’s popular Backyard Band which recently celebrated 35 years of continuous music-making in Vernon.
In 1984 the band came into being as a means of bringing seniors together to make music and boasted 34 members. The fun name was chosen and it has stuck. In 1994 the Backyard Band’s number had decreased to 14 members and the band started playing for dances in the valley as well as entertaining.
The band currently has seven musicians with various histories and stories, shared here:
Don Hanson learned to play violin while at school. Later on, he traded his first violin for a shotgun and didn’t play again for 53 years.
“Getting back into music was one of the best things I have ever done,” said Hanson, who has a very quick ear for music and has played with the Old Time Fiddlers, the Happy Music Makers and has completed 17 years with Vernon’s Backyard Band.
Alma Heller’s father was a concert violinist and introduced her to classical music when she was seven years old. When she stopped playing at 15, her father took away her violin. At age 30, Heller bought a violin and decided to play different styles of music. She played with the Old Time Fiddlers for eight years and has enjoyed playing with the Backyard Band for 15 years. When asked what is her favorite kind of music she replied “playing with other people.”
Yvonne Leduc was raised in a musical family in Vancouver where she took accordion lessons at age 12 to learn to read music.
“I was introduced to the Vernon scene by old-time fiddler George Drabiuk and have played locally with a country-rock band, the Chilly Creakers, and the Smokey Mountain Band, an entertainment group which I choreographed,” said Leduc, who joined the Backyard Band in 1996 and became the coordinator of the band in 2002.
Len Leduc was born into a non-musical family in Armstrong. Always eager to learn something new, he acquired an electric bass and took lessons for three years.
“Playing music gives another dimension to my life and I always enjoy a challenge,” he said. Len joined the band in 2007 and immediately assumed responsibility for the band’s sound system. He married the accordion player in 2010.
Bob Montgomery taught himself to play the guitar when he was 17 and played rock and roll music for more than three years before switching to country music. He has played with numerous bands, including two years with the Old Time Fiddlers and nine years with the Backyard Band. “You are always learning something new with the Backyard Band which keeps it interesting,” he said.
Hailing from Terrace, another player was destined for music, and her parents made sure of it, signing her up for piano lessons at age five and ensuring practice was not missed.
“My name is Ruth Melody (who knew?) DuMont. My clever mother decreed that access to our local ski hill was dependent on the amount I practiced.”
This kept DuMont fairly motivated until she left for university to study piano performance.
“The realization that playing for fun was more interesting than aspiring to be a concert pianist altered my course. Working many interesting jobs in the Burnaby School District held my interest until retiring to my husband’s hometown of Vernon. I reunited with Yvonne at a family birthday in 2017 and, as they say, the rest is history.”
Stewy Stuart has been playing drums since he was 12. After 20 years on the road he spent 20 years running an ad agency before retiring to the Okanagan and resuming his musical career. He has played with Wilf Carter, the Rhythm Pals, Herb Ellis, Bobby Curtola among others and has survived a double lung transplant. He has been with the band for three years.
Although none of the original members of 1984 are still playing with the band, the original spirit of fun and love of music has remained. Many very talented musicians have played with the Backyard Band over the years and they have imprinted their own playing style on the band. Some have gone on to start their own bands but, best of all, the friendships established through these associations are still very much in evidence today.
The Backyard Band’s music spans the ’20s to the ’70s, country, Latin, and light rock. Since 1996 the band members have continued to donate all money received for performances to local charities of their choice. While a formal celebration planned for 2020 was halted by COVID-19, the legacy of the band plays on.