Willie Thrasher and the Cordells.

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

You can barely make him out, but that's a teenaged Willie Thrasher on drums in this 1969 (circa) photo of one of the first Inuit led rock and roll bands, The Cordells, in Inuvik, Northwest Territories. They were a group of teenagers from the two residential schools in Inuvik; the catholic run Grollier Hall, and the protestant run Stringer Hall. Legendary Northern musician, Louie Goose was their front man on vocals, Larry Gordon (left) on an electric guitar. And they were mentored by Jerome Tocher (far right.)

Up to that point, people had only heard traditional country and western music coming out of CHAK radio Inuvik. No one, for example, had ever heard or felt a Bo Diddly beat, or heard anyone hit more than two octaves. The Cordells woke up an entire generation of teenagers who'd been raised by strict church run residential schools. The hypnotic pulse coming from Willie Thrasher's kick drum gave them license to express their pent up anger toward authority and dogma. Some say there was a spike in newborns nine months after the Cordells' first gig at the Sir Alexander Mackenzie School.

In April, 1969, I was eight years old. I begged my mother for the twenty-five cents admission fee to go to the spring talent show. They shooed all us kids on the floor, directly under the stage. I remember watching Willie Thrasher walk on stage. Then a dapper looking Larry Gordon walked out and strapped on an electric guitar, the first I had ever seen. Jerome Tocher adjusted the knobs on his amplifier. Louie Goose loosened his neck tie and counted in the Rolling Stones' song, Satisfaction. Larry turned up the volume knob on his guitar and started playing the classic guitar riff, "da dum, da da dum, dum dum, da da." I looked over to another kid. We smiled at one another, then began to play air guitar together. By the end of the song, all us kids were up on feet dancing, playing air guitar, or banging on a set of drums that only we could see and feel. It was like a revolution; the kids took over for one song.

A few years ago, Willie Thrasher, along with other unknown Inuit and First Nation songwriters, were part of a compilation album which was nominated for a Grammy Award. I drove up to Nanaimo to congratulate Willie. He pulled out this poster and asked me to give it to Louie Goose. When I got home, I placed in some odd place that I was never able to remember. I was cleaning out my basement and this fell out of an old guitar case. So there you go, The Cordells.

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