A Cap-Pelé band that rocked New Brunswick in the 1960s is having its music reissued this week.
The Stonemen were a quartet of LeBlanc brothers — Fernand, Norbert, Danny and Eric — who grew their hair long, played all over the Maritimes and wowed audiences with their psychedelic garage rock sound, but never put out a full album, before breaking up in 1967.
They did, however, record a couple of songs on a 45, which evidently left a very lasting impression.
The mid-to-late 60s was an incredibly important time in Canadian music, particularly outside of big cities. Joni Mitchell came out of Saskatchewan. Neil Young was driving his hearse around northern Ontario. In Winnipeg, The Guess Who played school gyms, rec centres and local television before going on to become one of the biggest rock bands in the world by 1970.
The Stonemen started on a similar circuit.
Founder and manager Fernand LeBlanc, now turning 77, said his band got its start in 1964, when he walked into a Moncton music store and picked up a guitar and small amplifier.
"It was great with the kids but … you should have seen the old women when we walked down the street in Moncton." - Fernand Leblanc, of the band The Stonemen, talking about the band's long hair.
Three of his brothers, from a family of 11 siblings, decided to join him, and they started booking gigs around the Cap-Pelé area, mainly at high school gyms and community centres.
Originally they were known as the Wytes, a play on their family name LeBlanc.
They did Buddy Holly covers at first, said LeBlanc, then moved on to the music of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. They bought Vox amplifiers to sound more like their musical heroes.
By 1965, they started getting booked around the province.
Their big break, said LeBlanc, came when a DJ named Ron Bourgeois booked them on his local Saturday afternoon TV show, Top Ten Plus.
After their appearance, the station started getting letters from people in northern New Brunswick who wanted to see them again.
"Ron, he got in touch with me and said, 'Fern, the people want to hear you on TV. You're popular!' said LeBlanc.
"That's when the band really took off."
The gigs kept coming around the Maritimes and the Stonemen started to write their own songs.
Brother Norbert did the writing.
"Half our program was our own material," said LeBlanc. "None of the other bands did that."
Putting music on vinyl
They had a reputation as "the wild band," he recalled, "even though we weren't, deep down."
They were the first band around to have long hair, he said.
"It was great with the kids but … you should have seen the old women when we walked down the street in Moncton."
By the end of 1966, the Stonemen were big enough that they were asked to cut a record.
They convened at the CKCW TV studio to record a seven-inch 45 RPM single, with one song on each side, Faded Colors and In the Evening.
It was issued in 1967 by Maritime Records.
But by the time it came out, the band was breaking up.
What happened, according to LeBlanc, was they'd been travelling and playing so much all around the Maritimes, that he was tired of the grind.
Some of the band members left for Toronto to pursue more musical dreams, but LeBlanc stayed in New Brunswick, moved back to Cap-Pelé and got a job as a general contractor and a bricklayer — an actual stoneman.
That might have been the end of the story, except that the single they had recorded took on a life of its own.
Some copies fetched $2,500 U.S.
A limited number had been pressed, in the 500 to 1000 range, and they became a coveted item for their rarity and their sound.
"I had a call one night from a record store in Moncton," said LeBlanc, "that had two copies of it, the last two copies. And those two copies got sold for $2,000 apiece."
Some copies have gone for $2,500 U.S., he said.
"The record fetches insane prices online," said Joe Chamandy, who used to live in Sackville, and now co-owns a zine and record label based in Montreal, called Celluloid Lunch.
Chamandy was working at a record distribution company when he heard the music and story of the Stonemen.
He thought it was high time others did, too.
"That kind of fetishizing of an object, it just doesn't service the music or the story and I thought it would be a great idea to make this an affordable object for people to own."
With Fernand LeBlanc's blessing, Celluloid Lunch is releasing a new batch of Stonemen singles on Wednesday, with a new cover sleeve and liner notes, written by Mark Gaudet of Eric's Trip, the first Canadian band to be signed to the alternative-music label Sub Pop. The music is being released on vinyl and via digital download.
A lot of buzz was generated about the Stonemen single when members of Eric's Trip rediscovered it in the 1990s.
"The music has stood the test of time," said Chamandy. "It sounds as fresh today as it did when it came out. And now there's an audience for this stuff, and, like international access. So the demand is there because people finally have a chance to hear it."
Fernand LeBlanc said he wishes he could share the moment with his full band. Two of his brothers, including songwriter Norbert, have passed on.