Neville Wells: reluctant ‘legend’ of Canadian traditional music

Written by  Wednesday, 09 August 2017 15:20
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Neville Wells being inducted into the Land O’Lakes Traditional Music Hall of Fame by Don White Saturday at the Flinton Jamboree. Neville Wells being inducted into the Land O’Lakes Traditional Music Hall of Fame by Don White Saturday at the Flinton Jamboree.

It’s clear talking with Neville Wells that he’s uncomfortable with the term legend being applied to him.
“I’m just a kid from Ompah,” he says.
He was born in Newfoundland and moved to Mosque Lake Lodge in Ompah as a child. His musical career began at the Ompah Dance Hall where, for $2 a night, he backed up Neil and Flora Perry.
But when he moved to Ottawa, he hooked up with some guys you may have heard of before in a band called The Children. His bandmates included Bruce Cockburn, David Whiffen, Peter Hodgson (aka Sneezy Waters), Sandy Crawley and Richard Patterson.

“We were terrible,” he says, laughing. “But we were having fun and we did have a following.
“Ricky was extremely talented and Dave should have been a big star (but) we were all prima donnas.
From there he moved on, playing with Crawley a lot.

“Coffee houses were the thing,” he says. “Performing was different then.
“You didn’t have to be a star and the audiences were always respectful.”
Oh, did we mention there was a mid-’60s gig in Ottawa where he opened for the Rolling Stones and one in Toronto opening for The Lovin’ Spoonful?
“We were just there for the sound man to get the levels right,” he said.

OK, how about the Sweetwater years and songs charting and getting airplay? If You Will See Me Through and Please Don’t Mention Her Name come to mind.
“Ah, the Sweetwater years,” he said. “We had a ’77 Chevy van and it was the road — the Pump in Regina, Moose Jaw, Edmonton, Calgary, and a lot of booze.”
Still, being a working musician is something most people will never get to do.
“OK, my career, I consider it a procession of lost opportunities,” he said. “I really don’t have any regrets other than not learning that ‘music business’ is two words.
“I didn’t learn the ‘business’ part of it soon enough.”
But, then there is some reflection.

“I’m a bit of a hack,” he said. “But look around you — most people will never get to do that.
“People who aren’t musicians will never know what it feels like to be on stage, with the band getting in a groove, the audience getting into it . . . they’ll never know.”
At 77, Wells has retired to Perth in a small bungalow on a modest pension with his wife Anne-Lis.
He’s playing more these days than he had been, but he’s not one to live in the past.
“Music is more of a hobby, now,” he said. “The rest, well, I can’t fathom it.
“Life goes on with you or without you.”

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