Instrumental rockabilly groups were everywhere in the early 1960s. Blame it on The Shadows, but everybody wanted to play twangy, echo-drenched guitar lines back then. Canada’s most famous contribution to this awesome genre was a band from Edmonton called Wes Dakus and The Rebels. They were an extremely good instrumental rockabilly/surf-style band, and they played with style and muscle.
The group was associated with another Edmonton instrumental group, The Nomads. They formed in the late 1950s, and by 1960 they had signed a record deal with the infamous Quality label (yeah, these guys). They had hit songs back when the only charts which tracked singles in our country were RPM magazine and CHUM. They toured all over the States and Canada, and released albums and singles in both countries; pretty remarkable when you consider how nascent Canada’s music scene was at the time. These guys were so successful that they went all the way to New Mexico to record with Norman Petty, who was the famous producer behind all of Buddy Holly’s breakthrough records.
Although the band had success within their lifetime, they eventually disbanded sometime in the early 1970s, apparently due to changing trends and their music falling out of style (although I’ve been able to find very little information about their later years, and for that reason the details around their breakup remain foggy). There were attempts by various members to become solo singers, although Dakus himself (who was a guitarist) was seemingly never able to outshine his backing group. Occasional member Barry Allen went on to some success as a solo singer, and drummer Stu Mitchell took a few vocals turns, including an attempt to capitalize on the psychedelic trend in the late 60s with this weird tune:
Apparently Wes Dakus eventually retired to Edmonton, Alberta, where he opened a recording studio called Sundown Recorders, and may still be living. Sundown Recorders documented a lot of artists in these years, until closing sometime in the eighties. Archives Canada evidently has a mysterious box of recordings from Sundown Recorders, tantalizingly suggesting there is even more unheard music produced by Wes Dakus.
Their music is nearly impossible to find online nowadays. The only company that seems to remember The Rebels is called Super Oldies: it’s a very small label (staff of one person) based in Minnesota that seems to exist solely for the purpose of reissuing obscure Canadian music from decades past. They have 2 compilation CDs available for mail order (who still does that?), and they note that there are only about 500 copies of each available for sale. Perhaps I will order them in the future, but for now we must content ourselves with a handful of YouTube videos.
Wes Dakus and The Rebels provide definitive evidence that Canada produced top-notch instrumental rock bands on par with those coming out of England (i.e. The Shadows) or America (i.e. The Ventures) in the 1960s. Anyone looking for a Tarantino-style soundtrack for their daily life should learn about this band. Soak your ears in ‘Sidewinder’, the signature tune of Wes Dakus and The Rebels, which served as a theme song for the famous pirate broadcaster Radio Caroline in England in the 1960s.