As a teenager, Wes Dakus was excited by the raucous cacophony of early rock ’n’ roll. Born into a musical family in rural Alberta, he put aside country rhythms to become frontman for one of the most influential Canadian rock groups of his era.
Mr. Dakus, who died of a brain tumour on Aug. 18 at the age of 75, wore his hair in the pompadour style favoured by rockabilly artists. He formed a band, including an older brother, called Wes Dakus and the Rebels – though they were not particularly menacing in their matching suits and skinny ties.
The band became a well-known and popular act in Edmonton, their lineup changing considerably over the years as they played countless dances and sock hops while also appearing regularly on television.
By the mid-1960s, they were making annual summertime pilgrimages to Ontario’s cottage country, playing such venues as Peggy’s Pavilion on Lake Simcoe and another in Huntsville that boasted a triple-deck palladium billed as “the biggest dance floor in Vacationland.” A successful gig at the Canadian National Exhibition ended abruptly when the Toronto musicians’ union complained about the out-of-town act.
“They’re really a fine bunch of boys and they’ve been averaging pretty well sellouts,” an Exhibition spokesman said at the time.
Wes Dakus and the Rebels released two albums and several singles in the 1960s, regularly journeying to a famed recording studio in the American Southwest. While some of their numbers shuffled onto the Canadian charts, the group never found the one hit song to catapult them to widespread fame.
Their most successful record – Lovedrops by rhythm guitarist and backup vocalist Barry Allen – was credited on the label to the singer alone. Over time, the Rebels’ exuberant instrumentals were swept aside as teens became enamoured with Beatlesque harmonies and the sounds of the British Invasion.
Mr. Dakus later moved to the other side of the glass as the owner of his own recording studio. He also had a successful stint as a booking agent.
On his death, more than a half-century after he first broke out on the Alberta capital’s music scene, the pioneering band leader is considered by fans – then teenagers, now pensioners – as Edmonton’s answer to Elvis and the city’s original Mr. Cool.
Crisscrossing the Prairies
Wesley Raymond Dakus was born on April 2, 1938, in Mannville, Alta., a village about 170 kilometres east of Edmonton, to Anne (née Woywitka) and Peter, a construction foreman. His father played several instruments, and family gatherings invariably included impromptu living-room concerts.
Young Wes played football and hockey, though a gridiron injury limited his effectiveness at a junior hockey tryout. Away from the sporting arena, he played steel guitar for a country outfit called the Mohawk Mountain Boys. The energetic beat of Bill Haley and His Comets inspired him to form a band of his own in 1957. It was a nine-piece outfit, including horn players, which was promoted as a rock ’n’ roll orchestra. The frontman played bass guitar.
The new group was performing at a teen dance when Mr. Dakus came up with a name. “The Rebels motorcycle club were watching the door, taking tickets and being security for the place,” he once told the musician Shawn Nagy. “We appreciated having them help, so as a nod to them, I took the band name Rebels.”
Mr. Dakus was a popular though demanding leader, replacing band members if their commitment to the music did not match his own. The group pursued a relentless work schedule, performing as the top-billed attraction at the Platter Party held Saturday afternoons at Edmonton’s Starland Ballroom. When not in their hometown, the Rebels crisscrossed the Prairies to appear at agricultural fairs and weekend dances, opening for the likes of Buddy Knox.
“Wes arranged the car and the trailer, booked motels, booked gigs, provided per diems, organized rehearsals,” Mr. Allen said. “For all that, we tormented him all to hell.” A favourite practical joke on their leader involved a paper cup of water precariously perched atop a partially opened door.