A&E » Arts

One More Time with Dal Richards

Legendary Vancouver bandleader to sign copies of his biography at Armchair Books




What: Dal Richards book signing

When: Saturday, Nov. 28, noon to 2 p.m.

Where: Armchair Books

At almost 92 years of age, musician Dal Richards still doesn't miss a beat. In fact, his schedule is probably more jam-packed today than it was when he first started out in the business almost 75 years ago.

Born and raised in Vancouver, the bandleader was introduced to the world of music after a childhood accident left him blind in one eye and locked in a dark room to recover.

"I fell into a deep depression. I had to know where my mother was every minute. I had to talk to her because if I couldn't do that it might mean I was alone."

His doctor suggested that taking up music might help bring the young Richards out of the depression he was sinking into, and he was right. Oh, how right he was.

"When I got high school aged... in those days, dance bands were broadcasting from the ballrooms of hotels - radio was coming into its own in the mid-30s - and all this live music and live dance orchestras intrigued me," he recalled.

Richards and his band managed to make quite a name for themselves in Vancouver.

"We had been at the Hotel Vancouver for an unprecedented 25 years, playing in the Panorama Roof... at the top of the hotel and in 1965, taste in music and entertainment changed. The Beatles were on the charts... and I couldn't find work for the big band, so I looked around and wondered what was the next step."

There, they broadcasted live and on location every Saturday night.

"They'd start with, 'It's Saturday night and CBC is pleased to present the music of Dal Richards from the Panorama Roof high atop the Hotel Vancouver, overlooking the twinkling harbour lights of Canada's gateway to the Pacific. Music by the band at the top of the town,'" Richards said without missing a breath.

But the swing business hasn't always been steady. As the genre's popularity fell and rose over the years, Richards actually went on to pursue other interests, including a stint in hotel management. He returned to school at the age of 48 and graduated the program two years later, going on to work in the hotel business for almost 10 years, before eventually returning to his first true love, music.

Today, he has created a remarkable name for himself on the swing scene, both locally and abroad. Among his many, many awards, honours and accolades, he has been recognized with his own street art mosaic from the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, named the Honorary Doorman of 2005 by the Vancouver Doorman's Association, awarded the Order of British Columbia and the Queen's Jubilee Award, and was inducted into the B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame.

He certainly never expected such recognition when he went into the business. And while these days, the goal of most musicians seems to be achieving fame and fortune, that wasn't the name of the game when Richards was getting his start.

"When I went into it, first of all, it was Depression times," he pointed out. "We were all struggling. Just to make a living was an achievement in those days."

Many people would be contemplating retirement at Richards's age, especially with so many accomplishments under their belts. But Richards doesn't show any signs of slowing down. On top of training to run in the Olympic torch relay on Feb. 11, Richards has been busy working on his most recent project, an autobiography.

So why finally put pen to paper now? He was inspired (nay, eventually persuaded) by his good friend and co-author Jim Taylor to create a permanent record of his life.

"He gave me a tape recorder to talk into and tell my stories, but I did one better; I went and saw a lot of my old friends who had stories, too," Richards said.

And though he's very happy with the final product, this isn't the final chapter for this musician.

"I suppose like any author you wish you could do it again," adding that he would like to have been able to push the project back a year to include all of his upcoming Olympic gigs.

On Saturday, Richards is coming to Whistler to sign copies of his autobiography at Armchair Books during the day, and then taking the stage with his band for a performance at the Indulge Gala at The Westin later that evening.