Flipper Flanagan crew to celebrate 50th anniversary tonight at Magnus Theatre

From left to right, Flipper Flanagan’s Flat-Footed Four members Jack Wall, Bob Balabuck, Jamie Gerow and Brian Thompson will hit the stage at Magnus Theatre tonight to celebrate their 50th anniversary as a band.

At the time, Canada was only about to celebrate their 100th anniversary. These guys made that anniversary and are ready for more.

Flipper Flanagan's Flat-Footed Four — yeah, you know them Thunder Bay if you’re holding this hard copy print version in your hands —will mark their 50th anniversary as a band tonight at the Magnus Theatre.

Originated in 1967, founding members Bob Balabuck and Brian Thompson put together a Celtic/Bluegrass/Folk/Throw-Everything-In-Including-The-Kitchen-Sink-Which-They-Played band that is the fibre of Thunder Bay.

Sure, the name’s unique. Sprung on some guy named Paul Shaffer and Samba Squad virtuoso Rick Lazar, they came up with the moniker when Shaffer blurted out, ‘That’s really flipped!’ and Lazar matched the two when the original name could have started with Father Flanagan.

Balabuck, Thompson, Jamie Gerow and Jack Wall will take to the stage tonight in concert, but it’s more of an honourarium to these four talented musicians.

“I never thought it was going to endure this long,” said the bango-playing Balabuck, a former teacher who also plays in the bands Martin, Gibson and I and The Grumpy Grandpas. “When we first joined the group, we were products of the folk boom in the 1960s. We took captivity of that genre of music.

“Fifty years, I'm just saying ‘Wow’. It's just a tremendous honour to do it this long.”

“It’s a melding of personalties that complement one another. We are our own support group. Practices are more of a support kind of thing where we joke around. It’s a great venting tool or mechanism. It just seems as the years went on we got closer together, not only as musicians, but as friends.”

Flipper’s crew flipped the script. As we all know, it doesn’t always happen that way, but these guys have found a way to make it work for half a century.

These cats, as Shaffer would say, have been around. When they weren’t playing music festivals, they had standing gigs at Lakehead University, the former Lakeview Lodge and the Neebing Roadhouse.

But some of their best memories came from playing in front of the bands they looked up to.

“I think getting to work with and open with some of our heroes was important,” said Gerow, a former elementary school principal. “We opened for the Irish Rovers, we worked with John Allen Cameron in a show. We backed up Sean Dunphy whose an Irish singer that came over here. Those were the highlights.

“As well as play some places across the north like Sudbury and Red Rock for the festivals there. Those were all good times together.”

Added Balabuck about the memories, “We were just getting off the stage at the Neebing in 1978 and (Thompson) threw his hat — I don’t know why he did it — into the audience and it caught the ceiling fan. The ceiling fan returned the hat right back on top of his head perfectly. I’ll never forget that. Try doing that again. It wasn’t a musical moment, but it was one of those in-between-the-songs, going off the stage after the end of a set kind of things . . . It was the joke of the night.”

The band has a long history with the Neebing Roadhouse, taking residency for a five-year period where their first album It’s Alive was recorded.

Approximately 1,700 copies of It’s Alive were stored in the bowels of the Neebing for decades and with tonight’s anniversary concert coming up, the band had aspirations of giving away those long-stored albums to fans that showed up at the Magnus tonight.

Blame spring cleaning for not getting your vinyl tonight. The albums were brought — ironically — to where the band said they were recording their initial hard-copy offering.

“I phoned (Neebing Roadhouse former owner John Beals) and said (the anniversary) would be a really good event where we would take charge of the albums that existed,” said Balabuck. “We knew there was about 1,500 albums in the basement of the Neebing, so I phoned him and he said he’d get back to me. and see how many were there still.

“I phoned him the next day and (Beals) said ‘This is so ironic’. When we first promoted the album, we did a video ‘Live At The John Street Dump’. We actually programmed a video to promote the album at the dump amongst the seagulls, the bears and the eagles.

“(Beals) said my son had the Neebing cleaned out in the basement and got rid of alot of garbage and took 1,700 albums and brought them to the John Street dump. When (Beals) found out about it, he tried to claim them, but because it was classified as garbage, (the city) doesn’t release garbage. It came full circle from the video’s promote to getting rid of it.”

You might want to sift through that garbage. Besides playing pieces off It’s Alive at the Magnus Theatre tonight, the band will delve into numbers from Damn Big Lake, Damn Good Party and their most recent endeavour Where The Rainbow Ends.

Here’s to another 50 years, boys! Hell, since we’re living longer, this good-natured group will acknowledge anything’s possible.

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