1972 & 1973

Back Cover Liner Notes
For Bill and Sue-On Hillman, 1966 was a memorable year. It marked the beginning of a partnership in marriage as well as in music. This musical partnership led to the formation of the Western Union, which in turn, led to scores of dance dates, television and radio appearances, and stage shows across Canada.

Sue-On, born in China, moved to the small prairie town of Newdale, Manitoba, at age ten. Here she became involved in choir work and completed seven years of classical training in piano. It was also here that she met future husband Bill Hillman of nearby Strathclair who encouraged her to take up guitar and drums and to start singing professionally. The third member of the Western Union group is the well-known bassist-fiddler, Barry Forman of Rivers, Manitoba. On tour, this popular trio is augmented by two more Strathclair musicians -- Kerry Morris and Kevin Pahl.

Both Sue-On and Bill are also qualified high school teachers with degrees in Science, Arts and Education. They share a wide range of other interests which include travelling, photography, and song-writing (Bill wrote four of the songs on this album). Sue-On's special interests are cooking exotic dishes, spinning, gardening and movies. Bill is a 'notorious' collector of books, records, musical instruments and just about anything that comes his way. He has, in fact, compiled one of Canada's largest tape and disc collections of old radio programs from the 1930s, '40s and '50s. 

This variety of interests coupled with their love for all kinds of music has resulted in an exciting style which has combined elements of country, rock, folk and pop music.

Bill Hillman ~ All Guitars
Sue-On Hillman ~ Percussion
Barry Forman ~ Bass
Larry Clark ~ Piano, Organ and Vibes
Ted Paley ~ Drums
All lead and back-up vocals by Sue-On and Bill
Arranged and Produced by Bill and Sue-On Hillman
Additional arrangements by Larry Clark
Photos by Bill Hillman

Engineered by Harry Hildebrand
Recorded at Century 21 Studios ~ Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

For further information concerning Western Union albums and bookings, contact:
(Old album address)
Bill and Sue-On Hillman
Box 280 
Strathclair, Manitoba 
R7A 6M4

1. Blue Shallow River (Bill Hillman) Duet
2. Let It Be Me (Curtis -Becaud)  Duet
3. Mama Tried(Merle Haggard)  Duet
4. Help Me Make It Through The Night (Kris Kristofferson) Sue-On Solo
5. Down In The Boondocks (Joe South)  Duet
6. In Sadness (Bill Hillman)  Sue-On Solo

1. Blues 'Round My Door (Bill Hillman)  Duet
2. Green, Green Grass of Home (C. Putnam)  Duet
3. Somewhere My Love (Maurice Jarre)  Sue-On Solo
4. 24 Hour From Tulsa (B. Bacharach - H. David)  Duet
5. Two Lovin' Arms (Bill Hillman)  Sue-On Solo
6. The French Song (Pease - Vincent)  Sue-On Solo

Not long after the release of our second album, singer/rhythm guitarist Jake Kroeger left the group and we were again a trio. Over the next three decades a number of friends have filled the third man spot, but we have remained a trio to this day. In the fall of '71 we moved from Brandon and back to our Maple Grove home where I resumed my teaching job at Strathclair Collegiate. Despite our busy schedule of TV and dance work, preparing new curricula, remodelling our country home, and commuting (Sue-On was finishing her Bachelor of Education degree at Brandon University), I worked at writing original material for the next recording session -- a session for which we had already started setting money aside. The first song I wrote was for my beloved grandmother, Katie Campbell -- Nannie, who had always been so supportive of our music. She died on Christmas day, 1971. This song seemed far too personal to share with the world, so I moved on to more commercial themes. A metaphor used in a Nancy Wilson song had fired my imagination: the comparison of a flowing river to a woman... or a man... with wanderlust. It was a theme I developed for the song, Blue Shallow River.
by Bill Hillman
Blue shallow river
Why must you race
Blue shallow river
Why not slow your pace

Take it slow in your wandrin'
Must you keep drifting free
Why be always searchin'
For a distant land or a never reaching sea

Blue shallow river
Stand your own ground
Blue shallow river
Get yourself unwound

You know love's never going to find you
In your dance to a distance hill
You can let your dreams unravel
Only if you take it in your mind to lie still

by Bill Hillman
Baby sittin' on the West Coast
I got the blues sittin' on the East Coast
And there's 5000 lonely walkin' miles sittin' in between
If I could leave today I know
I'd reach my baby, I miss her so
And the blues hangin' 'round my door
Would drive the clouds to a distant shore

Baby sittin' on the West Coast
Blues sittin' on the East Coast
Baby's runnin' free
Blues are killing me

There's sunny skies over my baby
Rain and cloud in New York City
And there's 5000 wakin' tears running in between
If I could see her one more time
I'd give my baby a piece of my mind
And the blues hanging 'round my door
Would drive the clouds to a distant shore

It was, and is, common for us to try to put our own touch on songs we learn, rather than to just imitate arrangements found on record. As a result we come up with intros, breaks, rhythms that, although unusual, and sometimes 'against the grain', often worked for us. Sometimes these hooks, beats, or riffs are strong enough to inspire me to write whole songs around them. The next song I wrote is an example of such a song. We had been using this choppy driving rhythm on a number of our stage songs and one day, while fooling around with it, I came up with a verse and chorus for what turned out to be Blues 'Round My Door.

The first two originals were basically duets, so now I tried my hand at some ballads for Sue-On: Two Loving Arms and the oriental flavoured
In SadnessOnce Sue-On and I had our first four originals sort of polished and worked out there was nothing that could hold us back from booking studio time.

January 1971 CanCon (Canadian Content) rules came into effect.
It started as 25% of music during daytime hours had to be Canadian. 
It was later raised to 30 and 35%. It was brought in as an economic measure as much as a flag-waving effort.
To qualify as Canadian content a musical selection must generally fulfill at least two of the following conditions:
M (music) the music is composed entirely by a Canadian
A (artist) the music is, or the lyrics are, performed principally by a Canadian
P (performance) the musical selection consists of a performance that is:
Recorded wholly in Canada, or
Performed wholly in Canada and broadcast live in Canada.
L (lyrics) the lyrics are written entirely by a Canadian
by Bill Hillman
I'll surround you
With love so warm
That you'll never 
Find your way out to the cold
For as long as you want me
And these two loving arms
Then I'll promise 
That our sweet love will never grow old

The soft breeze caressing
The moments so rare
The chill of the night wind 
Together we'll share
If you'll take my loving
All I have to give
Then there'll always 
Be some reason for me to live

And I'll live just for you
With each breath I hold
And together we'll find memories 
Much richer than gold

by Bill Hillman
Trade winds blow across the sea of my memory
To a time when cares were few and life had meaning
Visions of a smiling face framed by willows
Reflections that played on waters gleaming

This heart of mine
It cries while I am waiting here
In sadness

This heart of mine
It longs and yearns each night
For his caress

Hand in hand we'd walk alone under starlight
Gentle breezes kissed a love that seemed for ever
Now I sit alone and dream of a lost love
This pain in my heart a burning ember



Since we were financing the sessions and the planned album that was to come from them, we picked out eight of our favourite cover tunes to round out a whole album. For her solo spots, Sue-On chose Kristofferson's Help Me Make It Through The Night, Lara's Theme (Somewhere My Love) from the movie Dr. Zhivago, and the Lucille Starr hit, The French Song, which she sang in French. On all of these songs she worked out her own voice-over double-tracked harmonies.

I have been a fan of the Everly Brothers since we opened for them in a concert back in 1965 (See The Early Rockin' Years). Their thrilling harmonies have influenced just about every rock and country group that relies on harmony, including the Beatles. Since many of our best duet numbers are Everly inspired, it seemed natural that we try our hand at one of their biggest hits: Let It Be Me - a song we have done countless times since in concerts, at weddings and on television. The next duet was a driving version of the Merle Haggard country hit: Mama Tried. While trying to adapt it to a danceable duet version and fooling around with the Hag's original intro, I found myself jokingly playing the riff from the Monkee's Last Train to Clarksville. It stuck, and that's what we ended up using on the record. We also adapted two more fairly recent hits to our duet style: Down In The Boondocks and 24 Hours From Tulsa. The final song on the session was a favourite back in our pub-playing days: The Green, Green Grass of Home. Sue-On soloed on most of this but I tried my hand at harmony on the chorus, and did a melodramatic narration that would have done Walter Brennan proud.

A few years earlier, while we were still going to Brandon University and living with Sue-On's brother, Kenny Choy and his wife, Rebecca, they had brought back a Pentax camera for us from one of their trips to Hong Kong. This started me on a photography kick that continues to this day. It seemed natural then, that we do our own photography for the album jacket. The front cover was taken in front of the stone fence and spruce trees at the entrance to our Maple Grove country home where my family has lived since 1878. These trees were planted by my grandfather sometime after the turn of the century (See John Campbell, Pioneer). The black and white photo on the back of the album was taken in the ruins of a stone barn built by my great grandfather in the late 19th century.  Creating our own photos involved my setting the timer on the camera and then scrambling up a stone wall to fall into an heroic eagle-like pose with my much more photogenic partner.

As with any photo shoot, there is a bit of a story behind the chosen costumes. Sue-On's flowery dress was made by our sister-in-law, Rebecca, while my black shirt was sewn by my Grandmother, Jane Hillman. The yellow shawl and weird medallion made of horseshoe nails we had recently picked up in Mexico on a trip taken at the end of one of our annual Federal Grain summer tours across Western Canada. The system of  haggling we used at the Mexican market involved our making an offer in English, listening to the Mexicans confer in Spanish, and then discussing their return offer in Chinese - a language which I pretended to know fluently. This technique never ceased to bewilder the salespeople and usually resulted in our coming away with a pretty good deal. Sue-On wore a gold chain that was presented to her by her grandfather when she left Hong Kong at age ten. The specs of course were my best Buddy Holly horn rims.

We took our photos and liner notes into a Winnipeg graphics shop that specialized in colour separations and album covers. The master 1/4 inch stereo tapes were sent to Toronto for mastering. While this was going on we set plans for a 45 rpm release in motion. To get maximum value for our money we had our four originals pressed on an Extended Play album for which we had the local Leech Printing run off slipcover jackets. Before we could release the original material I had to form a publishing company, Maple Grove Music, and register the four songs with BMI.  The original "single" got some good airplay and recognition but one of the most gratifying bits of encouragement came from the BMI magazine, Music Scene, which gave In Sadness a rave review.

4 Original Songs Composed by Bill Hillman:
Blues 'Round My Door ~ In Sadness
Blue Shallow River ~ Two Lovin' Arms
Bill & Sue-On Hillman 
Western Union ~ Extended Play Album ~ Volume OneUnion IV Records ~ WUS-1003-EP-1

This "Big-Little Album" features four selections from the LP "Bill and Sue-On Hillman - Western Union Volume 3." all selections here are written, arranged, produced and performed by Bill and Sue-On who are certainly no strangers to the prairie music scene. They have done hundreds of club and dance dates, TV and radio appearances, as well a scores of stage shows across western Canada.  (Their group, The Western Union, along with country artist Russ Gurr, is known to thousands of fair and rodeo fans as headliners of the Federal Grain Train Show).

The Western Union group is unique in that it features Chinese-born Sue-On Hillman as drummer and lead vocalist. Husband Bill does the groups writing and is featured on lead guitar and vocals. A popular feature of this album as well as of their live appearances is the distinctive vocal duets by Bill and Sue-On. An integral part of the groups sound is provided by the third member of the band -- Barry Forman -- who supplies solid backing on electric bass as well a soloing on cajun, old-time, or electric rock fiddle.

Also featured on this album are the fine talents of Larry Clark, a leading Brandon jazz musician and Ted Paley, one of Winnipeg's top session musicians.

41 Valleybrook Drive, Don Mills, Ontario  M3B 2S6
Telex 06-966634 ~ Cable: Canmus Toronto, Telephone (416) 445-8700
September 5, 1973

Mr. Bill Hillman
Box 280, Strathclair, Manitoba

Dear Bill:

I have been playing your recent album and single today and must say, I'm very impressed!

I especially liked your own compositions, and of the four my favourite is most certainly "In Sadness," Sue-on has, indeed, a lovely voice, and this she does to perfection!

I wonder if you'd be kind enough to forward a glossy photo of the two of you for use in our magazine, THE MUSIC SCENE,  we'd like to publish a brief item in the November/December issue.

(Mrs.) Nancy Gyokeres
Editor, The Music Scene

Album Regrets
There is audible hiss on some of the tracks, much of it from my noisy Echoplex echo unit. This $800 unit was my pride and joy as it was an effect used by some of my favourite guitar players, including Hank Marvin of the Shadows and Randy Bachman of Chad Allan and the Reflections (The Guess Who?). When we first started playing Brandon pubs we had incorporated it into our PA system... much to the bewilderment of many of the inebriated regulars: "War's duh eko comin' frum?" Sadly, the unit never worked right after a trailer rolling incident during the Federal Grain Train Troupe's first tour of the West. One of the first things I looked for when we came upon the wreckage was my German-made, metal-cased, echo unit. We finally found it under the demolished trailer where it had been driven half-way into the ground by the full weight of the trailer. I lovingly dug it out, cleaned the dirt out of it, pushed the tubes back into their sockets, pounded out the metal housing, and plugged it in: it worked! . . . but it was never quite the same.

My echo, B-bender, Bigsby and volume pedal were prominently featured on Somewhere My Love. It was only after we had completed the bed tracks and instrument solo tracks that I discovered a quite noticeable "sproing" in the middle of this solo. This was bewildering until I realized that the spring on the Bigsby unit had caught and slipped during the solo. Since we were working under a tight budget, we didn't have time to redo it.

The four originals were done in an earlier session and the EQ mix was for a 45 rpm single release. As a result the sound is much hotter than the rest of the songs on the album.

Using a method that what would become the routine for most of our future albums, we did all the bed tracks in one session, in one day, and took a dub of these backing tracks home to listen to for a week before we returned the next weekend to do the vocals and mix. Naturally, when we had more time to study the day's work, we found a few flaws. A few of the songs were far too fast. By this time I was really into tape recording. For years I had been trading with other collectors of radio shows from the Golden Days of Radio - '30s through the '50s - and had amassed a collection of over 20,000 programs: Shadow, Fibber McGee & Molly, Jack Benny, Suspense, Lux Theatre, Lone Ranger, etc. One of the tape machines I used to correct the pitch on some of these old programmes was a Revox recorder with a pitch control.  When we discovered that some of the tracks we had laid down were bounding along a pace that made them hard to sing, I experimented with slowing them down. Another serious problem arose with the song 24 Hours From Tulsa. We had left out a few beats in the spot where the song goes "She said... beat... beat... OK... beat... beat." Panic time! Finally, rather than redo the whole song we decided to shorten it to "She said OK... beat... beat." No one ever seemed to notice . . . until now : )


EP Album with first 4 Hillman Originals

The Musicians

Bill and Sue-On recording session at original Century 21 Studios
Bill and Sue-On Hillman
Vocals | Guitars | Percussion
Sue-On and Barry Forman in studio
Barry Forman
Larry Clark
Larry Clark
Piano | Organ | Vibes

Ted Paley | Barry Forman
Drums | Fiddle

Century 21 Studios

Bill in Century 21 control room
Bill preparing for the mix-down
Sue-On and Engineer John Hildebrand
Sue-On and studio engineer John Hildebrand
Sue-On filling in as Century 21 receptionist
Sue-On filling in as Century 21 receptionist

Click for full-size collage

1970 Business Card

See and Hear All the Hillman Albums




1. Gig Notes: 1-10
2. Album Notes
3. Guitar Tales
4. Prairie Saga
5. Roots
6. Photos
7. Media
8. 100 Songs

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