The bygone era of Prince Rupert’s thriving music scene, with nightly live acts, and plenty of venues, is a cherished memory of one musician who continues to rock and roll — surfing style — to anyone who will listen.
The guitar-playing member of the Surfin Dudes, Tedd (Teddy) Keehn is a resident rock star who played saxophone in his first band — The Conquistadors — when he was 14 years old. He recalls playing for 700 kids in front of Booth Memorial School.
“I remember the teacher coming out of the school going, ‘Britain has the Beatles, Prince Rupert has the Conquistadors’,” he said.
The teenage rock and roll band had humble beginnings. They weren’t paid for their performances, but they played for Brownie pack parties and teen dances. At the time, Beatles mania was spreading across the world, and the city boasted a lively band scene.
Born and raised in Prince Rupert, Keehn’s parents moved to Victoria in 1965, and much to his dismay, he moved with them. But at 17 years, he moved back to the North Coast on his own.
“I missed home, so I came back to Rupert by myself, finished school here and got a job at the pulp mill, did the usual Rupert kid thing,” Keehn said.
Straight from high school to working overnight shifts at the pulp mill, Keehn said he experienced another world, where he worked with his friends’ parents, and made good money.
He described working next to a chipper that would consume a telephone pole in 20 seconds. “The sound was unbelievable, it was like being in a war zone. No wonder I’m half-deaf.” Although, he admitted that standing in front of amplifiers over the years has also contributed to a bit of hearing loss.
After working a midnight shift, he would see students on their way to school, and he remembers thinking — do they know how good they have it?
It took him a year-and-a-half of industrial work to follow the beat beat of his heart to pursue a life-long career in the music industry. In 1969, he packed up and tried life in Victoria once again. He reckons there were at least more than 100 rock and roll bands in the city when he got there.
For the next five years, he based himself in the capital city, but toured the province working as a musician. He switched from playing the saxophone to the bass guitar.
Then in 1976, he played at the Empress Hotel in Victoria just before moving back to Prince Rupert permanently, where he became a regular act at the north’s modest Empress Hotel.
Although he enjoyed the free high tea leftovers handed to the musicians at Victoria’s Empress Hotel, he had more fun at Rupert’s Empress Hotel.
“I was there for a long time. I played a lot of weekends there and the people were really great,” Keehn said.
To support his evening performances, Keehn opened a record store in 1983 with two partners, John Glencross and Jim Mclaughlin. They called it Teddy’s Records and Tapes, and had two locations at one point.
The business wasn’t lucrative, but it was low stress, and they kept it running for close to 30 years.
“We all got along good, it was great. If I could stay married as long as I was in business I’d have it made. But I guess I was born to be a bachelor,” he said with a laugh.
But the Internet changed the business. With Napster, and other downloading sites, Keehn said they watched the business fall through the floor. In 2014, they shut down the shop and retired from the retail world.
Keehn is still part and parcel to the Rupert music scene. He teaches guitar to youths and he plays ‘60s rock and roll in the Surfin Dudes.
“I think the music we play is so old it’s new again,” he said.
They play at conferences, fundraisers and festivals. They cover early Beatles tunes and Chuck Berry and the surfing instrumental “Pipeline” is often a hit. Last Friday, the band became the “Groovin Dudes” at the Fillmore North Sixties themed show at the Tom Rooney Playhouse.
As well as playing the sax, bass, piano and guitar, Keehn wrote a play called the “Ditto Sisters” about a female group in the Sixties. The lead was played by Lauren Armstrong, who is also the singer in Surfin Dudes.
The play was a sold out hit at the Tom Rooney in 2006 and Keehn considers it one of his major achievements.
From the Empress to the Empress, Keehn said he’s never planned too far into the future and he’s keen to continue cruising day to day doing what he loves.