We acknowledge that we live and work on unceded Indigenous territories and we thank the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations for their hospitality.
Local icon Dal Richards passed away on New Year’s Eve 2015. In the tributes that followed and at his memorial, many noted the auspiciousness of his passing. For years, his New Year’s Eve concerts were legendary; throughout his lifetime, he had led his big band through seventy-nine of them. The title of his memoir One More Time!, published in 2009, seems even more apt now.
Walking the sometimes-thin line between memoir and autobiography, One More Time! runs more or less chronologically, beginning with Richards recounting his childhood (including a serious accident which impacted the rest of his life), continuing through his first band gigs with the Kitsilano Boys Band, and detailing the formation of his own orchestra in the late 1930s. Richards also breaks up the chronology many times by adding more recent anecdotes and reminiscences (including the death of his first wife, Lorraine, in 1984), as well as examples of worldly wisdom: “It [the old days of show business] was a time for schemers, dreamers and entrepreneurs -- which by now I’d learned was a French word meaning ‘I’ve got an idea if you’ve got the money.’ Some made it, most didn’t but everybody tried -- which, come to think of it, is a pretty good definition of the life we all loved and chose to live. Still is” (112).
Richards’ anecdotes are fascinating for anyone who is a fan of Vancouver history and ephemera. One More Time! is populated with now long-gone venues and late night jazz haunts as well as radio and television music and variety shows long since forgotten, even in the YouTube era. Legendary haunts included the Cave, the Commodore, and the Penthouse; those now lost in the mists of time included the Arctic Club, the Narrows Supper Club, the Marco Polo, the Club 5, W.K. Gardens in Chinatown -- “which in its glory days in the 30s had floor shows and an orchestra” (98) -- and Love’s Café, an all-night restaurant in the 700 block of Granville Street. The Hotels Vancouver (the current one as well as its ornate predecessor), Georgia, and Devonshire (where the Pacific Centre Mall now sits) also make appearances as do an all-star cast of local and international celebrities. The former include Red Robinson, Jimmy Pattison, Diana Krall, Bria Skonberg, Michael Bublé, and a whole host of jazz musicians, bandleaders, and vocalists. Among the international greats are Mel Tormé, Ginger Rogers, Benny Goodman, Bob Hope, Artie Johnson, and Jack Benny.
Over the years, Richards’ life had many unexpected detours. In the jazz heyday of the 1930s and 1940s, who would have foreseen the decline in jazz popularity of the 1960s and 1970s? Richards left music for a time and went into hotel management, graduating from the British Columbia Institute of Technology in 1968. Eventually, however, he found his way back, once again becoming a fixture at Pacific National Exhibition every summer. Releasing albums and CDs from the 1980s onwards, Richards’ orchestra only benefitted from the swing revival of recent decades.
As for the tone of the book, reading One More Time! is like being with Dal Richard’s in-person listening to the many stories of an entertainment industry veteran. His wish for the afterlife, he wrote in the last chapter, was to sit in the “real balcony” and enjoy all the great bands that had already passed. He would be giving them the thumbs up, as he did to this reviewer’s dance steps once at an afternoon tea dance at the Hotel Vancouver. Now, we can enjoy the orchestra of his memoir and return the favour.
One More Time! The Dal Richards Story
Dal Richards with Jim Taylor
Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 2009. 288 pp. $32.95 paper