Bye to the band
Glebe Collegiate’s Bruce and the Burgers rock out one last time
It began like this: In 1985, Bruce MacGregor, an English teacher, put together a little band to perform at a staff party in the cafeteria of Glebe Collegiate High School.
MacGregor and three fellow teachers at Glebe learned a bunch of early rock ‘n’ roll songs they loved as teenagers. They called themselves Bruce and the Burgers.
“I have to say it was pretty dreadful,” MacGregor, the band’s lead singer, says of that first show. “ We had one rehearsal and we played 10 songs. It was kind of a silly name. We never thought it would go beyond one night.”
Then their students found out about the band.
“ They said, ‘ We want to hear you,’” MacGregor, 64, recalls. “So we had to get a bit better.”
The band added some new members, others quit, and eventually the students rented part of the Civic Centre to catch their teachers in concert.
“And it kind of went from there,” says MacGregor.
Now, after 25 years, MacGregor and his mates are hanging up their rock and roll shoes. Bruce and the Burgers’ final performance will be held Nov. 6. All proceeds go to the Y.
As a band, the Burgers had one mission — to fill the dance floor. “We don’t make any pretence of being recording artists. We just want people to dance,” says MacGregor. And dance they did. In the early years, the band played elementary schools — Hopewell, First Avenue, Broadview — often raising money for charity. “ Parents and kids would dance together, and it was so much fun,” says MacGregor, now retired from teaching.
One memorable performance came in 1989 when the band played an Ottawa Board of Education celebration attended by 1,500 teachers at the Civic Centre. This time, the Burgers set up on the main stage and plugged into a huge sound system. “ I remember walking in from the Bank Street entrance. It was table after table after table. It was so intimidating.”
The band played their usual set list — Elvis, the Stones, the Beatles and the Beach Boys, with a few numbers by Del Shannon and Chuck Berry. And they stuck to their usual formula — three fast songs, followed by a slow one, no mid-tempo stuff. Result: Teachers danced until their boogaloo got tired.
Some shows stand out in MacGregor’s mind because things went so badly wrong — like the infamous gig on Dows Lake, part of the fundraising for the Jerry Lewis telethon several years ago.
“We were put on a raft out on Dows Lake. All the cords were plugged in underwater. I don’t even believe this now that I’m telling it. The sound carried across the lake and the people who lived near all complained. We were shut down after three songs. We were obliterated,” he laughs.
There are sad memories, too. Glen Porteous, who played guitar with the Burgers for 23 years, died of cancer about 18 months ago.
“Glen wasn’t the greatest guitarist, he was good, but he really knew the music. He had this kind of irritating habit. I’d be doing something on the mic and he’d start playing Pipeline or Walk, Don’t Run in the background. He couldn’t stop, he loved the stuff. I now see it as endearing. He was a character. We really miss him.”
No question MacGregor’s favourite gig was the show the band played for the 25th annicversary reunion of the class of 1969 at Carleton University.
Dan Aykroyd, a ’69 Carleton grad as is MacGregor, was in town for a Blues Brothers show the following night at the NAC.
Through an intermediary, MacGregor had sent a letter to Aykroyd inviting him to jam with the Burgers on Jailhouse Rock and some Wilson Pickett numbers. “ Sure enough, we heard all these motorcycles out back. I went out and there was Dan Aykroyd taking off his helmet.”
As MacGregor hurried back on stage, his mind was on presenting Aykroyd with a Burgers’ T-shirt. He didn’t realize that both Blues Brothers had turned up. Then Aykroyd was at the mic, saying “I’d like you to meet James Belushi.”
MacGregor knew what he had to do. “I hit the deck and did a ‘We’re not worthy’ at his feet,” he laughs.
At their peak in the early 1990s, Bruce and the Burgers were playing 30to 35 shows a year. “It got crazy for a while. We’d play on week nights, get home about 2 a.m. and have to teach the next day. It was pretty insane,” MacGregor says.
Like most rockers, MacGregor has no formal training as a singer.
“I always had this little fantasy about singing in a band. I used to walk up and down the street singing to my self, imitating Elvis. I drove people crazy.
“ Then at age 39, this thing just fell into my lap. We made a little money and I think we provided a lot of joy to people.”
MacGregor is certain his decision to fold the band is the right one. “It’s just not as much fun anymore.”
The Burgers will crank it up one last time for the Tudor Hall farewell show. Expect jive contests, lots of shout-outs to friends and fans, and plenty of that good old rock ’n’ roll.
Bruce MacGregor’s band Bruce and the Burgers hangs up its rock ’n’ roll shoes after 25 years of playing shows to raise money for charity.