Celebrating the life of Gord Wheaton

A Wininpeg blues tradition will be held again this year – but with a very special theme.

Gord Wheaton, long ago and more recently.

On Nov. 11, the Riverview Blues Social at Riverview Community Centre will be in honour of Gordon Stancliffe Wheaton, a blues lover extraordinaire and a true blue friend to many.

Gordon passed away on Sep. 25, 2017, and he is greatly missed.

The social in Gord’s honour will feature Chicago Blues legend and two-time Grammy Award nominee John Primer. Primer has played or recorded with the best of the blues greats, as well as the Rolling Stones and Johnny Winter. It will be quite a night!

But an hour before the doors open for the social, a celebration of Gord’s life will take place at the centre. (For arrangements contact cynthiafaulkner1@gmail.com)

John Primer will perform at social in honour of Gord Wheaton.

Cindy Faulkner, who is the promoter of the show, is happy to honour her long time friend this way.

Her late husband, Wayne Faulkner, met Gord about 15 years ago when they both stood directly in front of the stage at the Fargo Blues Festival. Afterward, they both went backstage to celebrate and schmooze with the artists and staff.

They became good friends, and traveled yearly to the Fargo show along with a group of ardent Winnipeg blues fans. They took road trips to other shows as well.

L-R: Gord Wheaton and Wayne Faulkner on a trip to Davenport, Iowa.

Gord was a regular at the Riverview Blues Social since its inception when Cindy and Wayne arranged the first show in the mid – 1990’s. Wayne Faulkner passed away three years ago.

“I feel the November 11 show will be a celebration of both their lives and passion,” says Cindy.

“It keeps the love alive and keeps the memory of their passion alive. As long as I’m doing it, Wayne is right beside me sharing our love of blues with others. And I feel the same of Gordie.”

She adds, “To me doing this is continuing to celebrate them.”

What once began as a fund raiser to repair the Riverview Community Club in the couple’s neighbourhood has now become a Winnipeg phenomenon.

The social brings the best of North American blues artists right here to Winnipeg, usually twice a year.

Cindy and Wayne thought a blues social was needed in the dead of a Winnipeg winter when the bills were due.

“We started it in February, back when Autopac was payable, which I am sure brought the blues to many,” Cindy recalls fondly.

Since then, the Riverview Blues Social has hosted names like Ronnie Baker Brooks, (five times over the years), Wayne Baker Brooks, Kinsey Report, Gary Primich, Super Chicken, Kilborn Alley, Li’l Ed and the Blues Imperials, Eddie Shaw, and more. Local opening acts are often included.

Cindy has carried on the tradition by herself after the passing of her husband in 2014. The social has not always turned a profit, but to Cindy and Wayne it was always worth it.

“It is like one big party with all your friends there. And it’s cheaper than going to another blues show somewhere in the States,” she adds, although they still did that over the years.

It was a sad disappointment for both Cindy and Gord this year when Gord couldn’t make the coveted trip to Fargo since he was in the hospital.

Every summer prior, Gord never missed it. Upon his return, he would recount the exciting time they all had, including the late evenings when some festival musicians turned up to play in the bars after their show.

On those nights, blues legends would often walk through the crowd, playing or singing. Spotting Gord’s video camera, they would perform their way over to his table and linger before the lens.

Gord would also tape the festival shows and document by video the backstage celebrations with his all-access VIP pass.

Gord Wheaton with his camera in front of the stage at blues festival in Fargo, ND.

Over the years, I would often pick up my telephone to hear a torrent of blues music. At the end of the particular selection, I would hear Gord laughing with delight. I knew he was feeling the rush of a particular favourite song, and he wanted to share it.

Visiting him at his office in Portage Place (where he was the maintenance supervisor), he would always prop up his computer tablet on his desk and play a live blues performance as we chatted. It was usually one he video recorded himself.

We once argued at length about his assertion that all my favourite rock tunes were rooted in the blues, as he deconstructed their rhythms and melodic frameworks. (That was a long conversation!)

I wondered why Gord so loved the blues – whether it was the many passions of the human condition that the music so aptly captured, or if it was its soul sound that so intrigued him.

Gord went to see each and every one of the blues greats that passed through Winnipeg – performers like Buddy Guy, Little Ed, and many, many more.

I became a fan of blues legend Solomon Burke after we saw him (and his throne – like “King Solomon” chair) at the Winnipeg Folk Fest.

Gord introduced me to the “Nothing but the Blues” Windsor Hotel and the Times Changed High and Lonesome Club on a few occasions when a particularly good blues band was playing. Last fall, we attended one of Cindy’s blues socials to see Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Alterboys. It was fabulous.

On a clear, calm evening in late September, while visiting Gord at the St. Boniface Hospital, a friend played a series of blues selections to Gord from his phone.

Gord wasn’t speaking too much by that time, but after every song, Gord mustered the strength to tell us the name of the tune and the artist, true to his love and encyclopedic knowledge of the art form.

Gord was memorialized in the Winnipeg Free Press by Bruce Greske (an early and long time friend). He described Gord as a consistently working, blues loving, friendship-garnering person who could be “trusted and counted upon”.

Bruce facetiously described him as someone who “died from the complications of listening to too much blues… and basically doing things his way”.

A 16-yr-old Gord Wheaton at a “love in” during the 1960’s, place unknown. He loved music and his famous hats even back then!

To me, Gord was a true-blue friend who was smart, interesting, held great conversations and was always there.

He was tenacious in his love of life. Gord worked at Portage Place up until the very last minute, and was even brought back from a flat cardiac line way back in January.

As emergency room doctors, with paddles in hand, watched the beat of his heart on the monitor start up again in its rhythm, Gord verbalized some sequitur to doctors and support staff clustered on the fringes of his curtained room.

I couldn’t believe my eyes – but then again, of course I could. (It was Gord, after all!)

Gord, we love you and we miss you. We will see you in spirit on the 11th, my dear friend.

Shirley Kowalchuk

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Shirley Kowalchuk is a Winnipeg writer.

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