The Rebels shared a bill with Bobby Curtola at Lethbridge’s Henderson Lake Dance Hall the week following the assassination of U.S. president John F. Kennedy. By 1966, display advertisements in the Lethbridge Herald needed only five curt words to announce an upcoming Rebels show: “Wes Dakus, Lake, This Friday.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Dakus launched a bespoke clothing firm with Jim Hand, an Edmonton radio station disc jockey. Hand-Dakus Fashions produced smart suits designed by the leader for his group. The Rebels became a house band for the station, which billed them as the CJCA Rebels, or the Club 93 Rebels.
Through the station, the band connected with Quality Records. The group’s early recordings included a succession of instrumental singles, notably the rockabilly El Ringo in 1960 and the Latin-flavoured Las Vegas Scene written by lead guitarist Bob Clarke.
The Rebels toured Canada with other acts as part of a rock extravaganza show. On one of those tours, the band was paired with the Fireballs, a group from New Mexico who had a No. 1 Billboard hit in 1963 with Sugar Shack. The Fireballs told Mr. Dakus to get in touch with producer Norman Petty, who operated a studio in Clovis, N.M., best known as the site where the late Buddy Holly recorded hit songs.
Instrumental group of the year
The Rebels made the first of several overland treks to Clovis in 1964, recording several singles and two albums of material in succeeding visits. Mr. Petty’s connections led to a contract with Capitol Records, which released a 1965 long-playing record titled The Wes Dakus Album with the Rebels. Although the Rebels placed songs on the Canadian charts, including Hoochi Coochi Coo, they never enjoyed a breakout hit.
Mr. Petty encouraged Mr. Allen, a guitarist and backup singer, to take a turn as lead vocalist on a recording of an obscure B-side originally released by the rhythm-and-blues duo Mickey & Sylvia. In 1966, Mr. Allen had a Top 10 hit in Canada with Lovedrops, with the Rebels providing uncredited instrumentation.
The weekly music trade magazine RPM named the Rebels the Canadian instrumental group of the year for three consecutive years from 1964 to 1966. Mr. Allen also received recognition as most promising vocalist in 1965 and as top vocalist in 1966. Those honours are regarded as forerunners to today’s Juno awards.
The band’s exciting sound also found an audience overseas when radio disc jockey Keith Hampshire, known as Keefers, adopted the Rebels’ Side Winder as a theme song for a show airing on Radio Caroline South, a pirate station broadcast off the coast of England. (The British-born jock later had several hits of his own in Canada, including The First Cut is the Deepest.)
In the United States, an album of material from two sessions in the Petty studios was released on the Kapp label. The LP features cover art of a motorcyclist roaring through a ring of fire and liner notes best described as trippy: “They can turn you on before you know it. They happen. Tune in. There’s a whole thing going on with Wes Dakus’ Rebels. They’re very much.”
A four-star rating (out of five) from Billboard failed to boost the album’s fortunes though.
Kapp also issued a single with drummer Stu Mitchell taking a turn on vocals and the Rebels providing backup. Acid is one of the odder artifacts of the birth of psychedelia, a haunting, spoken-word recital of misfortune to the backdrop of funereal church bells in which the narrator confesses, “I live in a house on Nowhere Street in a town called (pause) LSD.”
In 1968, Mr. Dakus fulfilled a contractual obligation with Capitol by recording a single in which the Rebels were replaced by session musicians in an act described as the New Sound of Wes Dakus. It received little notice.
Moving to the other side of the glass