The newly formed top-40 cover band hired to play its first gig Saturday, Oct. 3, 1981, at the Enderby Drill Hall, had a dilemma.
Tickets were being printed and the band that would call itself MACE –– and do so, off and on, for the next 30 years –– didn’t have a name.
“We had a rehearsal and we said ‘let’s each bring four or five band names and pick.’ I wanted Four on the Floor but Gary (bass player Moore) said ‘what about MACE?’” recalled Jackson Mace, the band’s co-founder.
The top-40 cover band had been hired by the Enderby Merchants hockey club to play a dance to raise funds for the Terry Fox Run.
“We had just enough songs to get by,” said Mace, who believes The Doobie Brothers’ Listen To The Music was the first song the band played. “A lot of people came up afterwards and said what a great band we were. We didn’t feel like a great band yet. We were a new band, and I hope a good band, but certainly not a great band.”
Fast-forward 30 years, and three-quarters of that original MACE lineup –– Jackson Mace, lead vocals/guitar, Jeff Gamble, lead guitar/vocals, and Gary Moore, bass/vocals –– still have people up dancing and “listening to the music.”
Joined now on drums by Don Redgwell, MACE is preparing to play their Halloween Howl dance at their new home base, the Elks Hall, Friday night.
Sitting in a local pub after nine holes of golf, Mace, a retired elementary school teacher, reflected about the beginnings of the popular dance band.
He had moved to Vernon in the summer of 1981 from Fraser Lake, 40 minutes west of Vanderhoof, in B.C.‘s central Interior, where he spent three years in his first job, teaching Grade 5 at Fraser Lake Elementary-Secondary School and coaching Grade 8 boys basketball. He had also played in a four-piece band, Tarkheena, named after the drummer’s Husky dog. The bass player was a high school student and both the drummer and other guitar player worked at the local Shop Easy grocery store.
With no job yet with the Vernon school district, Mace rehearsed a solo act with his guitar and small amplifier in his room at the Tel-A-Frend Motel, “for something to fall back on in case I didn’t get a teaching job.” He also put an ad up on the wall of Terry Dyck’s Music Store in downtown Vernon: “Singer/guitar player looking for like-minded guys to form top-40 band.”
Moore answered the ad.
“He phoned and said it sounds like we could put something together,” said Mace.
Moore and drummer Steve Johnstone were coming out of playing with another popular local group, Shakewood Annie, and Moore was certain he could recruit a man in Gamble who he called “the best guitar player in Vernon.”
“Gary called Jeff and he came to our next rehearsal,” said Mace. “I had about a half-dozen songs that I could sing and Gary had a few. It gelled pretty nicely. We realized we had three guys who could sing and Jeff was a terrific guitar player. It just seemed to work.”
MACE would end up as regulars at The Green pub in the Village Green Hotel, playing six nights a week once a month or so in front of large crowds. They would play what is now Club 29/29, numerous dances for a variety of clubs and organizations, and were the original Funtastic band before the slo-pitch event became a huge tournament and music festival.
The crowds were large and they loved dancing.
In 1983, Mace left the band.
“I had a job, a wife and I wanted to settle down. They wanted to give the road a shot,” said Mace.
Life on the road didn’t work out and Moore and Gamble returned to the North Okanagan to form another successful band called OTC.
Mace had settled down and, in life’s little twists of irony, moved in beside Redgwell, a drummer and fellow teacher. It was Redgwell who Mace edged out for his first teaching job in Vernon at Coldstream Elementary.
“And he never lets me forget that,” laughed Mace.
Redgwell and Mace talked music. Redgwell had played in a very popular group called Starship and had a guitar playing friend, Greg Woodbury, from California. So with Mace in tow, they formed a trio called The Labels, and they played parties and venues at Silver Star and Big White.
OTC had broken up and, again, Mace received a phone call from Moore and Gamble about reviving MACE.
Now involved with the Powerhouse Theatre on a regular basis, Mace would get back together off and on with his original band mates and new drummer Gordie Mitchell to play some gigs.
In 2007, they reunited once more for a 40th birthday party for Paul Moore (Gary’s son). Paul had grown up with the band and sat in on some gigs playing saxophone.
The day after the party, Gary was back on the phone to Mace. “Wanna get back together?”
MACE played a reunion show at Sneakers Pub in the Village Green, their former unofficial home, which drew a crowd so large people had to walk sideways to get around.
Redgwell joined MACE a couple of years ago and since then the popular North Okanagan foursome has revived the idea of the community dance at their new home, the Elks Hall.
Besides the Halloween Howl this week, MACE will play several fundraising events and private functions throughout the year, including their new Winter Carnival event “Canucks Rock!”
As they celebrate their 30-year anniversary this month, Mace takes a moment to ponder the band’s history and all of the times they stopped and started again.
“It’s amazing to me that the three of us, and now Don, have gotten along as well as we have for all these years,” said Mace. “I can’t remember any significant fights or arguments. Bands often deal with egos but that’s never been a problem. It’s also been a blessing that our wives have always been super supporters of our band lives.
“When everything’s clicking and the crowd is really into it, there’s no better feeling,” added Mace who with the band will perform an original song entitled Where I Belong, written in praise of living and playing music in the Okanagan.
The title will ring true when MACE plays the Halloween Howl Friday at the Elks Hall.
The dance starts at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance at The Bean Scene coffee house, or $15 at the door.