Bye to the band

Glebe Col­le­giate’s Bruce and the Burg­ers rock out one last time

Ottawa Citizen - - ARTS - BY BRUCE WARD

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.

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