Utter the word “hillbilly” to just about anybody and they’ll immediately conjure up images of illiterate, inbred, toothless, tobacco chewing, Confederate flag-waving, darkie-lynching pig-fuckers. Some people however will also think of classic string-band country and western music, a genre created and developed by the more musically gifted among the aforementioned stereotypes. If the thought of hearing this kind of music performed live and with authenticity appeals to you, then you absolutely must go to Montreal’s Wheel Club for “Hillbilly Night”, the weekly Monday celebration of classic hillbilly music.
The history of the Wheel Club goes something like this; in the mid-1960s, Winnipeg-born country musician Bob Fuller came to Montreal in search of fame, or at least a few paying gigs. He began fronting a cocktail-lounge-music-type trio at a downtown club called The Blue Angel. Bob was unhappy playing music for which he had little passion in a club named after lighting your farts on fire (yes, a “blue angel” is the technical term for flatulence aflame), and eventually, with very few enthusiastic club-goers catching the trio, the unfortunately named establishment canned the other two musicians, but kept Bob as a solo act. Knowing that Bob was alone onstage with his guitar and a tear in his beer, his musically like-minded pals would bring their fiddles, banjos, and other assorted country music appropriate axes, load up on moonshine and trucker pills and join him onstage for shit-kickin’, hog-callin’, cousin-fuckin’ jam sessions into the wee hours of the morning.
The jams were a rousing success, and a surprisingly large number of folks dug the music that Mr. Fuller and his pals were making. Inspired by this enthusiastic response, in 1966 Bob was inspired to found “The Old Time Country Music Club of Canada” (which is not really a for/non-profit foundation, just a group of people who like the same music) and the weekly “Hillbilly Night” jam sessions. From that point on, anybody with some musical talent and affinity for classic Country music could get up on stage and wail about Arkansas floods, freight train disasters, Kentucky moons and coal mines, or the heartbreak that comes when your wife (sister/daughter/cousin) leaves you for another family member.
Being a connoisseur of old-timey rural hick music and it’s various stylistic off-shoots, Bob decided that a few rules were in order to maintain the musical integrity of the sounds so near and dear to his heart. His vision was one of hillbilly music enthusiasts, adhering to the conventions of the numerous sub-genres under the musical umbrella of C&W. Like the Grand Ole Opry, Bob strictly enforces several rules with regard to instrumentation: musicians can play banjos, mandolins, acoustic guitars, fiddles, string-bass, and auto-harps. There are NO drums allowed, and NO amplified instruments with the notable exception of the lap/pedal steel guitar. And performers may only play songs written before 1966, chosen from a repertoire of Honky Tonk, Bluegrass, Western Swing, and Rockabilly classics. Why are there such strict rules in place, you may wonder? The answer is simple, and if you know the difference between pre-1966 and post 1966 Country music, you know that just about everything that came after is pop-infused saccharin shit.
Since the foundation of “Hillbilly Night”, The Old Time Country Music Club of Canada has moved from downtown to The Wheel Club on Cavendish boulevard in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grâce burrough. The decor, made up of mismatched floor tiles, folding chairs, dart boards and Christmas lights suits the willful musical and cultural time warp in which Bob Fuller, his friends and club patrons have been comfortably nestled since the mid-1960s. So, if you want to catch some genuine old time Country sounds, NOT of the variety that inspires hordes of Japanese people to don Stetson hats and cry out “We ruv Galfa Blooks!”, and if you’re a musician and have the balls to get onstage and sing “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, then drag your hillbilly ass to Hillbilly Night. Just make sure that your repertoire doesn’t include any Randy Travis, or you’ll be lynched from the Christmas lights while fans of REAL C&W throw darts at your corpse.
Every Monday Night from 8PM-1AM
3373, Cavendish Blvd.