The newspaper column I write these days is supposed to be about tourism. Sometimes I have a tough time holding myself to this broad theme, though I always try to at least give it a nod as I pass by…
First published in THE NORTHERN VIEW, August 26, 2009.
The CBC documentary “This Beat Goes On” premieres tomorrow night. This follow-up to 2006’s “Shakin’ All Over” swings the spotlight onto Canadian rock ‘n’ roll in the 1970s, when a Vancouver band with Prince Rupert connections proved their knack for iconic hit records.
The band Applejack played the Prince Rupert Hotel in 1972. They were wildly popular, a cover band with original songs such as “Pretty Lady” and “Raise A Little Hell” already sprinkled through their set.
Prince Rupert was a booming northern town. A place called “Function Junction” still grooved out its existence along the waterfront, and there were thriving hippie communities scattered through the trees at Grassy Bay and Salt Lakes. Shoreworkers, mill workers, fishermen and loggers worked hard and played hard. Applejack was part of Prince Rupert’s private soundtrack to the cash-fueled early ‘70s. At the end of a performance at the Prince Rupert Hotel, drinks bought for the band lined the front of the stage several bottles deep.
Prince Rupert was one big party, so it is no surprise that the band was invited along for what proved to be a bleary trip to Tugwell Island aboard Paddy Greene’s Lucky Star. It was, to say the least, not the sort of familiarization tour that the Visitors’ Bureau of the day would have conducted.
These hijinks may have been typical of the time, but for a band bursting with ambition and enthusiasm it was grist for the mill. When Paddy cast off, saying, “Okay, there’s only fear and good judgment holding us back,” lead singer Ra McGuire wrote down the words in his notebook. The trip aboard the Lucky Star, run through the Smith/McGuire songwriting machine, became “Santa Maria.” And after Applejack became Trooper, and the song was released on the album Two For The Show in 1976, that trip to Tugwell Island became part of the Canadian psyche.
What does this really mean for Prince Rupert? Sure, it’s local legend. (Well, actually, the legend is sometimes mixed up with “We’re Here For A Good Time” being inspired by Prince Rupert. As if “this rainy city” could refer to anywhere but Vancouver.) But “Santa Maria” is linked to this place. Look up “Prince Rupert” on Wikipedia, and you will find the story of Trooper being inspired here to write this song.
“At this point in our career, Trooper is as well known for being a ‘party band’ as we are for the hit records we’ve made,” Ra told me. “In the case of ‘Santa Maria’ the two come nicely together in one place. That place happens to be Prince Rupert. As the direct result of an excellent afternoon on Tugwell Island, Prince Rupert has become inextricably woven into to the Trooper party legend. The story’s been told thousands of times from coast to coast, and on the Internet, and Trooper has benefited as much from it’s association with Rupert as Rupert has from it’s association with us!”
I’ve increasingly used this column to talk about new marketing. Instead of eventually tossing the photos in a box, today’s visitors are more likely to blog real-time, to a large audience, about their experience here. We don’t ultimately control that message with marketing campaigns. We control that with customer service, by ensuring that visitors enjoy their time here. The song “Santa Maria” proves that if a visitor has an authentic experience, and enjoys it, we ultimately don’t have to worry about how it will be reported.
This is a hospitable place. We don’t always need to rely on a calculated marketing approach. We need to show visitors a good time. Almost 40 years ago Paddy Greene did just that, and the result was a legendary song that joined the canon of what Joel Rubinoff called “a band as ubiquitous on this side of the border as maple syrup and Mounties.” Prince Rupert is an unlikely place to have a niche carved out of the history of Canadian rock ‘n’ roll. But, thanks to Trooper and Paddy Greene, we do.