Flipper Flanagan’s Flat Footed Four, members of Local 591 (Thunder Bay, ON), will celebrate their 50th anniversary with concerts and events across the region beginning June 15 at the Magnus Theatre in Thunder Bay, Ontario. According to band member and guitarist Jamie Gerow, the concerts are retrospective of all the songs their audience has enjoyed over the years.
Bob Balabuck and founder Brian Thompson, are the original members. Gerow and Jack Wall joined about five years later. Thompson and Balabuck formed several folk groups in the mid-1960s. Among the distinctive genres, the one that eventually stuck was Irish music. Their drummer at the time, Rick Lazar of Local 149 (Toronto, ON) and founder of Samba Squad, suggested “Father Flanagan’s,” and later added “Flat Footed Four.”
Back in the day, the band was known for their raucous performances, and they were even banned from one university because audience members destroyed some furniture. No subject off limits, Gerow says, they were also kicked out of a high school assembly for performing a song called “The Pill.”
They’ve long since redeemed themselves. In 1983, the band was presented with an achievement award for their contribution to the City of Thunder Bay and they have been recognized twice by the city as distinguished citizens.
Gerow is a former school principal, Balabuck a retired special education teacher, Thompson is a social worker, and Wall is a sound engineer (who graduated in the first class of Radio and Television Arts from Confederation College in 1969).
They cheekily refer to their style as progressive pub. Gerow says, “We start with rock songs and do them as bluegrass and do bluegrass as Irish tunes, stealing the progressive name from jazz musicians. In the bluegrass world, they say, ‘If you make the same mistake twice, call it jazz.’”
Gerow credits the group’s harmony on stage and off for their longtime partnership. He says, “It’s been years of friendship unequaled. We’ve enjoyed each other, centered around music, and that’s what the music scene should be.” He jokes, “Hatches, matches, and dispatches.”
Two of the members are cancer survivors. When Balabuck developed focal dystonia, he was told he’d never play the banjo again. “So, he learned to play with his left hand and now does both. To our knowledge, he’s the only five-string banjo player playing both left and right handed banjo in the world,” says Gerow.
The band still holds rehearsals at Balabuck’s house, which, Gerow says, is not more than 300 meters away from his. “I can hear Bob practice his banjo on his front porch—and he practices all the time!”