By Rod Palson
It was the early 1930’s and the scene was a small farmhouse on the southern edge of Riverton. The brilliant evening sun had given way to the darkness of the night. Inside the living room, two coal oil lights burned ever so dimly, as two young boys were being taught how to play the violin…in virtual darkness…because this – their instructor told them – was the perfect condition to learn this precise musical instrument.
The students were Johnny and Kris Johannesson. The instructor was their father, Laugi. Little did Laugi Johanneson know what he was about to start. Little did he know that these moments would evolve into a full-fledged orchestra involving every one of his children. Little did he know that several decades later, the community of Riverton would still be embracing his early vision.
The early years started with Laugi, Johnny and Kris going to peoples’ homes and putting on performances – these often included another violin player by the name of Ben Benedictson. As Johnny and Kris became more skilled players, the early beginnings of the Musical Mates would take shape. Dorothy and Sella began playing in the early 40’s…followed a few years later by Laugi…and a few years after that…Kristine joined in.
Throughout all of this, there were several others who contributed to the success of the orchestra….accordion players Loralee Hirst, Alex Rundle and Larus Bjornson; saxaphone player Clarence Legarry; violin player John Luprypa (when kris was away); piano player Daisy Jonasson (when Dorothy was taking time to have a family); mandolin player Paul Lupyrypa; guitar players Roy McLennan and Axel Melsted; and then finally a young guitar player from Riverton came to a dance at Ledwyn Hall with guitar in hand and asked for an audition. Johnny hired him right on the spot…and he would go on to become a permanent member of the Musical Mates we all knew – the legendary Harold Bjornson.
The Musical Mates were more than an orchestra, more than a name….they became a brand….a household name for more than 7 decades, that people are still very passionate about. A mere mention of the name among those who grew up here in the thirties, forties and fifties, and the stories begin to flow about dances…and romances. The most beautiful thing about it all is that they didn’t think of themselves as musical luminaries. They were just normal, everyday people….who happened to be your friend, neighbour, colleague, classmate or fellow worker.
The only difference was that at the end of their work day or work week, they went to play a dance…and they went off to each and every one of those undertakings with a commitment, sense of pride and a trademark smile that has become legendary.
They inspired music in so many people. Riverton’s reputation as a musical hotbed is largely because of the Mates. They are the ones who got it all started. And within the family, it is a legacy that is as proud as it is deep…resulting in several musical offsprings including Retreat, Fine Country Folk, Fine Country Kids, the Musical Pals, the Musical Gals and Homebrew Line.
They would also serve as the inspiration for everything “music” that would eventually come out of Riverton. Every recording on this website is testament to that.
For me, it was a pleasure and honour to actually know each and every one!