Chilliwack (band)

The Vancouver rock band Chilliwack produced some of the most enduring Canadian rock songs of the 1970s and early 1980s, including “Lonesome Mary,” “Fly at Night,” and “My Girl (Gone Gone Gone).” Their catchy, easygoing hooks and bright, melodic style were distinguished by the soaring falsetto and tasteful guitar playing of lead singer and principal songwriter Bill Henderson. In 18 years (1970–88), Chilliwack released 11 albums, four of which were certified platinum in Canada. They also had 19 Canadian singles. The band moved in an increasingly commercial direction through varying styles — from psychedelic, progressive and country rock to adult contemporary and pop rock. They endured multiple changes in labels and band members before achieving success in the United States. The band was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2019.

Chilliwack

Bill Henderson and Chilliwack perform at a concert in Merritt, BC, 10 July 2009.

Early Incarnations: The Classics and The Collectors

Chilliwack began as the C-FUN Classics (1961–66), the house band for Vancouver’s CFUN Radio. They changed their name to The Classics when they became the house band on the Vancouver version of the CBC TV musical/variety program “Let’s Go” (1964–68). Henderson, who had worked as a musician since high school, joined the band in 1966 when they reconstituted themselves as the psychedelic rock band The Collectors (1966–69).

The Collectors were comprised of Howie Vickers (lead vocals), Henderson (guitar, vocals), Claire Lawrence (saxophone, keyboards), Glenn Miller (bass guitar) and Ross Turney (drums). They were the first high-profile rock band out of Vancouver and had a string of minor hits in the late 1960s. The band’s first single, “Looking at a Baby” (1967), reached No. 23 on the Canadian singles chart. Their self-titled 1968 debut album produced the folky, psychedelic single “Lydia Purple.” Their soundtrack-album for the George Ryga play Grass and Wild Strawberries (1969) yielded the single “Early Morning.” They also composed and performed the music for the  NFB feature Don't Let the Angels Fall (1969), as well as the NFB short film The Land (1969), which was presented at the Canadian pavilion at Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan.

Vickers hosted “Let’s Go” in 1967. He left the band in 1969 to work as a broadcaster at Vancouver’s Studio 3. Henderson then took over as lead singer. The group renamed itself Chilliwack, after the town in the Fraser Valley east of Vancouver. They choose the name because they liked the sound of the word and the way one of its Indigenous meanings, “valley of many streams,” reflected their musical diversity.


1970–78

Henderson (lead guitar, vocals), Turney (drums), Miller (bass guitar), and, as of 1973, Howard Froese (guitar) were principal members of the early version of the band, active until 1978. Their first two albums were characterized by the extended, experimental improvisation typical of psychedelic and progressive rock. The band’s big break came in 1973 when “Lonesome Mary” — a single from their second record — broke into the Top 10 in Canada and reached No. 75 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US. Their fourth album, Riding High (1974), was co-produced by Terry Jacks and released on his label, Goldfish Records. It received regular radio rotation with “Come On Over,” “There’s Something I Like About That” and the Top-10 single “Crazy Talk,” which cracked the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Dreams, Dreams, Dreams (1977) was Chilliwack’s first platinum album. It solidified their smooth, dreamy sound and marked the beginning of their most successful period of North American popularity with the hits “Baby Blue,” “California Girl,” and “Fly at Night.” Lights from the Valley (1978), with additional guitarist Brian “Too Loud” MacLeod, went platinum on the strength of their cover (the only non-original song of their career) of Iain Sutherland’s “Arms of Mary.” It reached No. 67 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was a Top 40 hit in Canada.


1979–83

Miller (bass), Turney (drums), and Froese (guitar) left the band in 1979. They were replaced by guitarist John Roles, drummer Rick Taylor and former Prism bassist Ab Bryant. The album that followed, Breakdown in Paradise (1979), produced the minor hit “Communication Breakdown.” However, the bankruptcy of their label, Mushroom Records, left the record’s promotion in limbo. Taylor and Roles departed and McLeod and Bryant started the Headpins as a side project.

Henderson and McLeod continued collaborating. In 1981, the band — now a trio of Henderson, McLeod, and Bryant — achieved major international success with the platinum-selling Wanna Be a Star (1981) and the hit singles “I Believe” and “My Girl (Gone Gone Gone).” The latter reached No. 1 in Canada and No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100. Their following album, Opus X (1982), went platinum in Canada. The single “Whatcha Gonna Do (When I’m Gone)” was a Top 10 hit in Canada and Top 40 in the US. It earned Henderson and MacLeod a Juno Award for Producer of the Year.


1984–88

After touring in support of Opus X, McLeod and Bryant left the band in 1983 to pursue the Headpins full-time. Henderson recorded the LP Look In Look Out (1984) with studio musicians. He then toured from 1984–88 with other players, including original member Claire Lawrence. A greatest hits compilation, Segue (1983), attained gold status.

After Chilliwack

MacLeod (guitar, keyboard, drums) and Bryant (bass) toured and recorded with the Headpins until disbanding in 1986. Henderson and MacLeod continued to collaborate, co-producing records by the Irish Rovers, Junior Gone Wild, and The Nylons. MacLeod also worked as a producer for several punk and heavy metal bands, including D.O.A., and wrote songs with Bryan AdamsLoverboy and Chicago. He died from cancer in 1992.

Henderson produced records by Long John Baldry, the Good Brothers, and Toronto. In 1989, he began touring in the contemporary folk trio UHF, completed by Roy Forbes and Shari Ulrich. In 1990, Henderson won a Genie Award for Best Original Song for “When I Sing,” from the feature film Bye Bye Blues. He was the musical director for the Canadian edition of Sesame Street from 1989 to 1995. He also served as director of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS), president of the Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC), and president of SOCAN. He reformed Chilliwack in 1998 to tour the summer concert circuit, where the band remains a popular draw.


Honours

In 2014, Henderson received the Special Achievement Award from SOCAN for “his prodigious contributions to Canada’s music industry.” He was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2015 “for his contributions to the Canadian music industry as a musician, singer, songwriter and copyright advocate.” Chilliwack was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2019.

A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.

Awards

  • Producer of the Year (Bill Henderson, Brian McLeod), "Watcha Gonna Do" / "Secret Information," Juno Awards (1983)
  • Best Original Song (Bill Henderson, “When I Sing”), Genie Awards (1990)
  • Special Achievement Award (Bill Henderson), SOCAN (2014)
  • Member (Bill Henderson), Order of Canada (2015)
  • Inductee (Chilliwack), Canadian Music Hall of Fame (2019)

Music of
Chilliwack (band)

Further Reading

  • Jeani Read, “Chilliwack Ridin’ High with West Coast Rock,” The Province, January 9, 1975.

    Don Stanley, “Coming Down the Road with Chilliwack,” Vancouver Sun, January 24, 1975.

    Jeani Read, “The Character of the West Reflected in Chilliwack's Music,” MSc, 282, March/April 1975.

    Neal Hall, “Chilliwack’s Leader of the Band,” Vancouver Sun, November 2, 1982.

    John Twigg, “Music Business Can be Tough in Canada,” Leader-Post, December 13, 1982.

    “Interview: Bill Henderson,” Hook, Line & Singer, November/December 1988.