Bill Henderson says Chilliwack ripped off its name for the First Nations vibe



By Steve Newton

It’s a bit weird coming from a small town that has the same name as a popular ’70s rock band. When you admit to having been born and bred in Chilliwack, there’s always some joker who’ll wonder aloud, “Hey, isn’t that where that ‘Crazy Talk’ band is from?”

I’ve never been able to answer that question with any degree of certainty, and it’s always bugged me. So when Chilliwack cofounder Bill Henderson takes my call at his home on Salt Spring Island, I’m keen on discovering how he named his group in the first place. I mean, why go for a moniker like Chilliwack when any map of B.C. offers up such wild options as Skookumchuck, Chilcotin, and Coquitlam?

“Well, we just went ahead and ripped it off!” exclaims the 55-year-old rocker with a hearty chuckle. “We didn’t have any right to that name at all. None of us are from Chilliwack or anything like that. What happened was, the Collectors were disbanding—our lead singer left the band—and we were going in a new direction. We were really getting into the improvisation thing, and it involved a lot of toms on the drums, and we would do chants—it sounded a bit like First Nations music, you know.

“And when we were looking for a new name, we were looking for something that would reflect this kind of music, and someone came up with the name Chilliwack. We all kind of looked at each other and went, ‘Huh? Well, it’s got a really good sound!’”

Fortunately for the newly christened guitar band, it had a good sound too—at least, that’s what the thousands of fans who scooped up mid-’70s albums like Riding High and Dreams, Dreams, Dreams seemed to think. A couple of years ago, Chilliwack received two Classics awards from SOCAN—the Society of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers of Canada—acknowledging more than 100,000 radio plays in Canada of “Crazy Talk” and “California Girl”, the respective singles from those two albums. The former song also got the “twisted tune” treatment from CFMI DJs Bob and Dean in the guise of “Chrétien Talk”, which poked fun at the Canadian PM’s incessant garbling of the English language.

“I was amazed at how well they had done the recording,” notes Henderson of the satirical ditty. “It was pretty damned close to the sounds and the feel of the original. As far as the subject matter goes, I wasn’t all that thrilled, you know. Not that I’m a huge fan of Chrétien or anything like that—I wasn’t personally miffed that they had insulted this man—but I just didn’t really feel I had any control about being a part of it, and I’m not sure that I would have done that myself, you know.”

Die-hard fans of ’70s rock who prefer to hear “Crazy Talk” without overdubbed Chrétien sound bites should be in attendance at the Commodore Ballroom on Saturday (January 8), when Henderson—who, after a 10-year hiatus, revived the Chilliwack name with concerts in ’97—will be joined by a band that includes his brother Ed Henderson on guitar and backup vocals, bassist Doug Edwards, and drummer Jerry Adolphe.

As well as carrying on Chilliwack’s rock legacy, the two Hendersons are finishing choral arrangements for half a dozen old Chilliwack songs, which will be performed by massed children’s and youth choirs at the University of Victoria Auditorium on March 4. There won’t be much guitar jamming going on during that gig, of course, so Henderson wants to get a few extended solos out of his system before then.

“It’s kind of a ’70s-oriented band,” says Henderson of today’s Chilliwack incarnation, “where we feature a bit of the jamming stuff that was happening in the ’70s more. The band in the ’80s basically just played the records, but we’ll do ‘17th Summer’, for instance, which was actually from the second Collectors album, and was also on the first Chilliwack album. It’s a jammer.

“The most incredibly high times I ever had playing music happened when we were jamming,” he adds. “You know, it was in the early ’70s or late ’60s when we were doin’ that stuff, but we’ve had some jams in the last three years that have been incredible too. It’s great because it’s one of those things where you don’t know what’s gonna happen next, and there’s always the possibility that you could fail miserably. I’ve done that, and it’s not very pleasant—it’s quite scary—but the thing is, when it goes the other way it’s amazing, because it’s invention, you know, and it’s a very exciting discovery process.”


To hear the full audio of my 1999 interview with Bill Henderson of Chilliwack subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on nearly 300 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

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2 thoughts on “Bill Henderson says Chilliwack ripped off its name for the First Nations vibe

  1. Believe it was original drummer Ross Turney who proposed “Chilliwack” as a name. It translated to something like “going up the valley” in old native dialects. The band was eager to move on from the eclectic, multi-style sounds of The Collectors. So Chilliwack fit like a glove. I saw the original Chilliwack pull off that First Nations-tinged improvisation several times during ‘70-71 concerts in Vancouver. It worked every time, partly because Vancouver rock fans largely knew who these guys were and had open ears to the new approach. In other Canadian cities, results were more mixed. And Bill perfectly describes the high risk nature of improv in the above article.The Collectors were much better known along the US and BC Coast than in the rest of Canada. So eastern concert goers, not knowing the back story, sometimes just rudely wanted this newfangled Chilliwack to hand things over quickly to a headliner.

  2. Chilliwack played at one of my high school dances in Montreal back in 1970-71. Me and my buddy were in that little crowd at the front of the stage that wanted to dig the jamming and we had a great time. They also were part of a bill with Lighthouse in the summer of 71 and that was classic. The last time I saw them was about two years after this show you saw Steve, and it was much like your show. Jammin’ and chanting!

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