Continued from Album 6 - Part I
All songs written by Bill Hillman
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6. HIGHWAY 354
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This album was a transitional and trans-Atlantic venture - hence the name Prairie to Soho on side one. Some of the songs were written while Barry was still with the group. As a result much of the material was written to feature his fiddle. The songs from the first sessions were recorded at Winnipeg's Century 21 Studios and to these we added four songs recorded in London's Gooseberry Studios at the end of our first tour of England. On this tour Sue-On and I were joined by bandmate, Kevin Pahl on keys and our longtime friend, Alan Jones, who had made the first contact with the UK agents who hired us for the tour. Alan joined us on organ in the clubs which had a Hammond on stage. 

Front Cover: We posed for these photos wearing the patched chamois leather outfits we bought in London and had worn for much of our tour of clubs in the North East. We had recently imported grass-thatch wallpaper from Asia to cover our dining room walls and it was a remnant from this on which we pasted our photos -- laid out in the shape of an "H", and framed with stray pieces of bamboo-like grass. The centre photo featured our new Ovation acoustic guitar. Sue-On created the Indian-style beaded jewelry that we both wore. 

Back Cover: Since we had written all of the songs on the album, we displayed the lyrics on the cover. The Hillman Express locomotive logo is an old woodcut we had come across. Again we used a filmstrip to feature some of our recent candid shots. The railway caboose and handcar photos were taken at Minnedosa's riverside park. The strip also features promo shots with outgoing band member, Barry Forman and incoming member, Kevin Pahl. There are two shots taken on the Thames at London - Westminster and London Bridges - with Tower Bridge and the Tower of London in the background. Our Great Pyrenees dog, Mya, had just presented us with a litter of 12 puppies, so of course, Sue-On had to get one of the pups into the act. She is holding her favourite, Beau, who soon after was bitten to death by a some sort of marauding carnivore that invaded our grounds. The shot of the two of us by the Yamaha grand piano was taken in our new basement studio.


The First 5 Albums
Album 6
Songs were written with Fender Malibu acoustic guitar, wherever I could track down the always-busy Sue-On to act as a sounding board: kitchen, backstage, van, on the road, bedroom, garden, etc. Many songs written on our new Yamaha Grand Piano in our new music rehearsal and recording studio at Maple Grove and a few were even written while supervising high school study hall.
Eclectic mix of songs - covers and originals All-original concept album of 15 songs: Prairie to Soho and autobiographical Prairie Saga
All songs recorded in Winnipeg studios. High-priced, state of the art design and equipment. Four songs recorded in London, England studio. Under the streets of Soho in converted coal cellar. Clients included Sex Pistols and Hot Chocolate. Later in Newcastle and Durham.
Canadian recording engineers: Colin Bennet formerly with RCMP Musical Ride troupe. John Hildebrand: Century 21 founder, Calgary Stampede production, etc. Move to using British engineers. John Smith who had worked on Beatles White Album. Mark Lusardi of London's Gooseberry Studios.
Little reliance on session players - along with Larry Clark we did all instruments: Sue-On on drums, Barry on bass and fiddle, and Bill on rhythm and lead guitars. Gradual move to more session people and reliance on Kevin's keyboards and session drums: Mark LaFrance, Gord Osland,  Lloyd Ryan. Osland had been in LA the day before he worked with us,  on a Burton Cummings session... but demanding producer replaced him with a favourite studio drummer Keltner?
Many songs emphasized Barry's fiddle and country feel. More reliance on incoming member, Kevin Pahl and pop sounds as Barry was leaving the group to spend more time with family and business.
Fender Telecaster and Malibu acoustic main guitars Move to new Fender Thinline Tele and Ovation Legend acoustic
All creative energies went into producing Hillman albums Called on to write, play and produce for Alan Jones' Free Spirit sessions. We started to provide drums & guitars for two of Barry's solo fiddle albums. Work on soundtracks & commercials.
The night before we left on our first England tour we had played Sault St.Marie, Ontario - actually we had played across three provinces in three days before we flew to England. We then drove to Middlesbrough where we played that night.  We spent the last night of the tour in London. On the next night we were back in Manitoba where we played an outdoor dance in the rain and mud - on an Indian Reservation near Rossburn.



Before moving on to work as professors at Brandon University, Sue-On and I taught high school geography and English for many years. One reason for the creation of Massacre was to show students how native Indian place names have enriched our North American landscape. In addition to serving as a tribute to those who came here generations before my ancestors, I felt that the writing and recording of a song using colourful Indian names was an excellent way to enhance my teaching. As you can hear in the lyrics, I tried to string together the fascinating names of Indian tribes in a lyrical and rhythmic way.

Coincidentally, nearly everyone playing on this session was some sort of teacher by profession. Besides Sue-On, Barry and myself who have all taught high school, there was Kevin Pahl - a flying instructor, Kerry Morris - a computer instructor - and Larry Clark - a former university lecturer.

We enjoy doing this song on stage - and I guess the performances which stand out most in our memory where the times we sang it in the back-to-nature setting of the Boggy Creek Call of the Wild Country and Bluegrass Festival. We were quite involved in the event for many years, both as performers and organizers and it was quite a shock when it all came to an abrupt end following the sudden death of Lewis Kaselitz. Lewis, his wife Linda and their kids had emigrated to Canada from Tennessee with the dream of starting a southern-style music festival in Manitoba. Finding a suitably scenic area south of Swan River, near Boggy Creek, they cleared land and used some of the logs to build a lodge. Next, they levelled an airstrip and then went about realizing their dream of bringing in the best country and bluegrass acts on the continent. It was a real treat working with artists such as Doc and Merle Watson, the Whites, the Kendalls, John Anderson, Little Jimmie Dickens, the Family Brown, Kitty Wells, Wayne Rostadt, and many Grand Ole Opry stars, bluegrass bands and Canadian country artists. Each year saw an even more impressive roster. The dream died, however, when Lewis succumbed to a massive heart attack.


My great grandfather came west in 1878 with his family and possessions to homestead a tract of land south of the Little Saskatchewan River Bend settlement - near the present location of Strathclair. We still maintain a home on this homestead site. This song was written as a tribute to those early pioneers. Besides trying to express our love for this area where my ancestors sank roots so long ago, I was also trying to show how much I feel we owe to our heritage.

Any fiddle you hear on our songs has been done by our favourite fiddler - Barry Forman. Barry and I met in University and we have shared many a stage and travelled many a mile together. When Barry finally got around to recording some fiddle albums, Sue-On and I were honoured to be asked to play drums and guitars on his sessions. One of these albums featured his nine-year-old son Kent, who later went on to play violin in symphony orchestras all over the world. Barry doesn't play as much now - he devotes 25 hours a day to his family, aircraft, and car dealerships - but it's always a pleasure when he is able to find the time to join us on stage.
(NOTE: Barry Forman passed away in 2011)


I was raised on a 3/4 section farm in South Western Manitoba -- NW 24-16-22 -- and most of my boyhood memories involve life on the farm and visits to the village of Strathclair, 1 1/2 miles north. Memory Take Me Back is a reflection of those nostalgic days. More recently I was asked by the Brandon University Geography Department to write a chapter for a textbook on Manitoba geography that would be published by the University of Manitoba as a university level textbook. My topic was to be centered on rural prairie settlements and I chose my hometown, Strathclair  -- using the title Strathclair: A Prairie Town with a Past, Present & Future or Evolution of the Strathclair District. Previously, as part of a Masters Degree project, I had transcribed the journals ('20s-'60s) of my maternal grandmother, Katie Campbell and these first-hand accounts were a great resource for instilling a bit of human warmth into what started as a more academic project. I also turned to Memory Take Me Back for inspiration and the following excerpt is really just an expanded version of the song:

The glory years of Strathclair and many other similar prairie communities reached their zenith in mid-twentieth century -- the '50s decade. The excitement and spirit generated by these towns was perhaps best epitomized by the Saturday Night "event." Following the Saturday evening supper hour, families would prepare to "go to town." The first cars to arrive would get the best seats. This meant finding a diagonal parking spot along the north side of main street (North Railway Street) in the well-lit, high-traffic area extending from the pool room at Minnedosa Street to the modern 'self-serve' department store at Campbell Street (Figure 3) '50s Town Map. 

Between these termini, people of all ages walked a jostling gauntlet along a strip of thriving businesses. Three favourite spots were the drugstore with its soda fountain and magazine rack, the Chinese cafe‚ with its booths for socializing, and a rival eatery which featured a jukebox, pinball machine and lunch counter with stools. Many of the men gathered in one of the two male bastions -- the beer parlour and the pool room; while a favourite routine for the women was to peruse the line of parked Fords, Chevies and Dodges -- each vehicle demanding a nod, wave or a detour off the sidewalk for a chat. 

When the week's discussion lagged out on the street, there seemed to be no end of open doors to shops to provide diversion: bakery, grocery, dry goods store, newspaper office, garages, butcher shop, hardware store, restroom, shoemaker, and tinsmith. In the winter there was always skating, curling and hockey at the rink. 

The routine for some was to go to the 7 o'clock movie at the Bend Theatre, delaying the sidewalk promenade for later. From a thirty-five cent allowance, kids could eke out a full night's entertainment which included a movie (complete with newsreel, Three Stooges short, cartoon, serial, previews, and draws for prizes), popcorn, "coke" or popsicle, double bubble gum, jawbreakers, and a fifty-two page comic book.

Later in the decade, many people gathered outside the electric shop which provided an outdoor speaker connected to the twenty-one inch television in the window, few realizing that this box with its flickering black and white pictures was a harbinger of drastic change to this weekly social phenonemon that everyone took for granted.

Geography of Manitoba: Its Land and Its People
Read the entire chapter:
Strathclair: A Prairie Town with a Past, Present &Future 
William G. Hillman, B.Sc.(Hons), B.Ed., M.Ed. 
from the book:
Geography of Manitoba: Its Lands and Its People
Edited by John Welsted, John Everitt and Christoph Stadel 
University of Manitoba Press

The lyrics pretty well tell the whole story of this song. We were trying to create, on record, a bitter-sweet feel akin to the moods of Autumn. If we succeeded in this I believe we owe it to Sue-On's wistful interpretation and also to the piano effects achieved by Kevin Pahl. Kevin joined us while he was in my grade 9 class at Strathclair Collegiate. We were amazed at his singing and playing abilities, even at that early age. Later, he also excelled in a flying career. At one time he was working part time in his family businesses, giving flying lessons at the Brandon Airport in afternoons, playing one-nighters with us, and crop dusting in the early mornings and evenings. Many times we would arrive back home around sunrise and shake him awake so he could make his way to his plane to work at spraying a grain field all morning.


Here's another one from our concept album, Prairie Saga. We assembled our regular Canadian cast of characters to record this one at Century 21 Studios - a very up-to-date facility housed in a converted synagogue in Winnipeg's North End. This entourage was made up of musician friends we have worked with for many years: Alan Jones - Blinded as a child in wartime England physiotherapist, songwriter - trying to get some kind of an oriental sound out of the massive Yamaha studio organ . . . Kevin Pahl - daredevil cropduster and musician extraordinaire - striving to get a vibes/celeste-like sound out of the Fender Rhodes . . . Barry Forman - fiddler, car dealer and former teacher - thumping away on bass . . . Sue-On and I were singing while playing drums and guitar. Meanwhile, engineer John Smith - who had worked with the Beatles at Abbey Road and had received a credit on their double White Album - tried to pull it all together in the control room. Also sitting in at the console for this session was another musician friend - Kerry Morris - pilot, hang glider, computer systems analyst - who joined us a few years later as our regular bassist and drummer.

China Lady may not have much to do with traditional Chinese music but we had a lot of fun with it. Normally our relationship with oriental culture is much more serious. We have a deep respect for oriental art, music, traditions and martial arts. Our living, recreation, and work areas are all adorned with Chinese art and furnishings, of which the Chinese moon door on the cover of the CD is a good example. This appreciation of 'the East' has carried over into other areas as well. As a family sport and discipline we study Wado Kai Karate - a style developed by Supreme Instructor Masaru Shintani, 8th Dan - and under the instruction of Sensei Bruce Dunning, we have both achieved the rank of 1st Degree Black Belt.


We have spent a lifetime juxtaposing our love of music and performing with our other day-job careers. For most of our lives we lived on the farm that was first homesteaded by my great grandfather. Wherever our travels took us, the journey always started on Highway 354 which runs north-south past Maple Grove. This song was an attempt to show how this gravel road was really our gateway to whatever dreams (both real and beyond reach) and journeys (far and near) we pursued over the years.


The covering title of this album of 15 original songs was the Hillman Express: Track 15. For this closing theme song to the Prairie Saga side,  we just carried on with the train analogy: Get on board, we'll make you more than satisfied. Whistle blowing, wheels a-rolling, come on and ride. Don't need no ticket, there ain't no wicket, there ain't no fee. Our magic potion is locomotion and ridin's free. Ride, Ride, Ride, on through the night. Rolling on outa sight. Rockin' Express speedin' through the west. Ride, Ride, Ride, on the Hillman Express. From prairie sidings to those exciting bright city lights. The music's hummin', as we keep runnin' on through the night. Don't need no baggage, we're gonna manage to get it on. To every station, 'cross the nation, come ride along.




Throughout our first decade of recording, I wrote many cajun- flavoured songs. One reason for this was to feature our bassist, Barry Forman, who was also a champion fiddler. Another reason, however, was that such tunes lent themselves to an exciting stage presentation in which we could feature Sue-On's driving backbeat on drums. All this was done about 10 years before this southern-style music really caught on - maybe we should have hung in there a little longer. The song did win some money for us though, in the American Song Festival contest out of California.

(Plus the songs: Down, Down, Down ~ Walkin' Wreck ~ Farther Away)

I have the good fortune to be able to write love songs for my wife - after which I can hear her sing them to me every night . . .  nice work if you can get it. This was such a song BUT the setting for the creation of the recorded version of this ballad could hardly be called romantic.

After finishing our first tour of 30 one-nighters in the Northeast of England, our English musician friend Mick Sandbrook drove us down to London which was experiencing the worst heat wave and drought of this century. What was normally lush greenery had been scorched brown and wilted and buildings which held a standing boast that they needed no air conditioning had become unbearably stagnant.

We picked Gooseberry Recording Studios from an advert in the British rock paper Melody Maker. The ensuing telephone conversation clinched the deal as they swore that their studio was always cool and their previous cliental included such clean-cut groups as the Sex Pistols. On the first day of the session we lugged our gear down to Bromley Station in Kent and boarded a train that took us to Charing Cross, London. We sweated across to Trafalgar Square where we hailed a cabbie who mistakenly drove us half-way across London because he couldn't cut through our 'Canajun' accents.

Eventually, we found the Soho studio... it was an underground studio - literally and figuratively. In stunned amazement we dragged our equipment through a sidewalk manhole and down a ladder into a dark, damp...but cool...converted cellar and coal bin. The advertised 16-track recording console had only 13 working tracks and most of these were usable only with the help of chewing gum, rubber bands and constant spraying and banging. I squeezed into a tiny closet with my acoustic guitar and a studio mike to isolate my playing from the sounds that our keyboardists Kevin Pahl and Alan Jones were able to eke out of the beat-up piano. The session drummer and bassist were good - in fact, I have since seen their names on many movie and concert credits out of England - but our session was constantly interrupted as they had to climb up the manhole ladder to confer with other clients. We closed the session at 10 PM because we had to run through the streets to Charing Cross to catch the last train home to Bromley. Our engineer suggested that we might want to stay underground a little longer because there had been Tong wars and Chinese unrest on the streets above all evening. I called the song Shelter - we needed it.
Hear the whole story in the song, Reelin' In Soho on Hillman Album No. 7.


I wrote this one under pressure. One of the sponsors for our first tour of England was the Traynor Sound Equipment Company of Toronto, who were trying to promote their sound equipment in England. Upon our arrival at Heathrow Airport we were directed to pick up the gear at a music shop in Bromley, Kent. Here we found a grand old house near the station which offered overnight bed and breakfast lodging. We were so fond of these digs that, after our six week tour in the North, we returned to this B&B for RandR. 

Since we could commute easily to London by train, I impulsively booked studio time in Soho . . . the only problem was a lack of material to record. Shortly before we left Canada we had recorded enough original songs for Album 6 and all I had left were scraps of unpolished song ideas in my head. Our room opened onto a gorgeous English garden where I immediately started to bounce song ideas off Sue-On. After we came up with something akin to music, the four of us - Kevin, Alan, Sue-On and myself - threw together some hurried arrangements which we hoped would cut down on studio time. We eventually recorded our of my songs and one of Al's at the session.





There's really not much I remember about this one, other than we had just pushed and pulled - shoved and slid - huffed and puffed a Yamaha Grand down into the basement location of our Maple Grove Studio. My first exposure to music came from listening to my mom and dad having jam sessions around the Heinzman - the thrill of hearing, and later making this homemade live music has never left me. Not surprisingly then, I was glued to this new toy for days and Stranger Please is one of the songs that came out of my internment.

Because our recording career goes all the way back to 1970, I would like nothing better than to go into a '90s digital studio, complete with banks of synthesizers and improved production techniques to re-record songs such as this one.


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