Bob and Nettie Loveng were related to the Kurluks and lived in Vancouver. (Nettie was Ted's cousin.)
Like Ted, the Loveng's son Glenn often wonders what role payola played in limiting Zero Records' ability to promote Loretta's record.
Payola is when record labels pay deejays to feature songs by favored artists. The practice was so rampant in the 1950's that in 1960, the U.S. Congress amended the Federal Communications Act, specifically sections 317 and 507, to outlaw under-the-table payments and require broadcasters to disclose if airplay for a song has been purchased.
Before the hearings, deejay Phil Lind of WAIT in Chicago disclosed that he had taken $22,000 to play a record. He got death threats and had to get police protection. Another legendary deejay, Alan Freed, the man who popularized the term "rock 'n' roll", saw his career end after he testified at the hearings that he, too, had accepted payola. (Robin Cartwright, The Straight Dope)
Did Zero have to pay some deejays to hear Loretta's "Honky Tonk Girl" on the radio?
Or were there other obstacles that stymied Zero?
Glenn Loveng recalls Zero storing records in a rented garage in Bellingham. That suggests that the label had a pretty crude distribution system. In his book, Grashey writes that there was some confusion as orders began to pour in for Loretta's single and for Tom Tall and Ginny Wright's "Are You Mine." "Several distributors were under the misapprenension that since Zero was a Canadian company, our records had to be shipped from Canada. They were advised to order from us and shipments would be made from Hollywood's RCA Record manufacturing plant."
But not all the news was bad for Zero. According to Chuck Williams, the company caught a break with a 1960 musicians' strike. Williams: "We had mailed out records and the thing ['Honky Tonk Girl'] started to move up the charts, but right at that time there was a musicians' strike. … The song kept going up and up, but because of the musicians strike there were no records coming out. We were an independent, so what happened is this new girl comes out, they hear the song and the radio stations get right on it because they need her new material."
Ernest Clare 'Mac' McGregor and his wife Irene (nee Loranger) owned the property in Vancouver's Fraserview neighbourhood where The Chicken Coop was located. Mac's love of music and a good party led the couple to convert the barn to a private party space where they invited friends and family to dance. The hen house renovation also set the stage for Loretta Lynn to be discovered there in the backyard by record executives from Vancouver's tiny Zero label.
Mac was born in 1906 and by age 21 he was homesteading in Whitelaw, Alberta, in the Peace River district. He moved to Vancouver in 1929 and eventually found employment at MacMillan Bloedel's huge Canadian White Pine sawmill where he worked for 28 years.
McGregor married Irene Loranger, a gal from a large family that had moved to Vancouver from Cut Knife, Saskatchewan (home of the world's largest tomahawk). Irene's youngest sibling was Clancy Loranger, the longtime Province newspaper sports columnist.
Clancy recalled that the newlyweds lived in a cramped apartment in downtown Vancouver for a short time before they built themselves a squatter's shack on the banks of the North Arm of the Fraser River in Fraserview. One photo from Clancy's album shows the patio of the shack overlooking the river and a table on the deck adorned with linen and fine china. "They were a pretty sharp couple," said Clancy, referring to their ability to live a decent life on limited incomes. In 1949, Mac built a simple, four-room bungalow on a property across the railway tracks from their squatter's shack and they moved there.
It is possible that the large chicken coop was already on the property when Mac acquired the lot and that the hen house was a relic from an old farm acreage that had been subdivided. Whatever the case, Mac and Irene were not sure what to do with the building at first. One neighbour recalls Mac breeding Airedale Terriers in the barn. The dog business failed and, beginning circa 1950, the Coop became the couple's personal dance hall.
The McGregor's had five cats and no kids. Irene worked as an office manager for a coal and heating company and she could be seen each day dressed in her natty business attire walking to catch the streetcar.
Mac's love of music went hand in hand with his fascination for audio equipment. He had a hi-fi system that was sophisticated for its era. Clancy says Mac had a reel-to-reel tape recorder and he dubbed songs from the radio. Thelma Brown, whose husband Orville grew up near The Coop, recalls Mac having a library of vinyl records in his living room. Others recall custom cabinetry that could slide into the wall and hide his collection from prying eyes. The deejay area of his living room has also been described as "a hidden back room" and "a wall with speakers in it that Mac could walk behind." No traces of this unique configuration exist in the home today.
Elmar Froehle worked with Mac at the Canadian White Pine Mill and remembers that in the 1950's he was invited early one morning, after they had both survived the graveyard shift, to inspect the elaborate sound system. They went to the tiny bungalow and Mac blasted the music so loud that it rattled the windows. "He was showing off his pride and joy," said Froehle, "but he was also half deaf from working in the mill." Elmar was embarassed because he knew that Irene was trying to sleep in the next room, so he politely excused himself.
Froehle never attended any dances at The Coop, but he did man the union phones in the hen house when the barn served as strike headquarters for IWA local 1-217 during labor action at Canadian White Pine. Elmar steadily worked his way up the mill's hierarchy and became Operations Manager by the time he retired in 1991.
Mac and Irene sold their property circa 1970 and moved to the small town of Oliver in B.C.'s interior. His love affair with music continued there and he deejayed some weddings and dances.
Mac passed away in 1983. Irene moved back to Vancouver and passed away in circa 2000
For more details about The Coop itself see SETTING.
Don Grashey and Chuck Williams may never have discovered Loretta Lynn had it not been for a short, teenaged red head they signed to Jury Records in 1959. It was Sandi Loranger who led the music producers to her aunt and uncle's chicken coop in Fraserview.
Sandi was born in 1942 and grew up on Vancouver's blue-collar east side. She sang "Wake The Town And Tell The People" for her performance debut at age 13 on CKNW radio's kid's talent contest. Someone must have woken or told someone, because a short time later, the girl was asked to sing in a Glenburn Dairy radio commercial.
By her mid-teens, Sandi was singing professionally in the city's nightclubs, with her mom as chaperone. People compared her to jukebox darling Teresa Brewer ("Music! Music! Music!"), because she too was a little girl with a big voice, who was perky and relentlessly cheerful. Grashey and Williams met the 17-year-old Sandi at a downtown club and thought she had an amazing voice and excellent stage presence.
They recorded the chanteuse for Jury at the RCA studio in Hollywood. The single consisted of "Tears of Joy Fell In The Chapel" (written by Don) and "My Little Spark Of Love." Don and Chuck promoted Tears of Joy as "the wedding song of the year" and demo'ed it station-to-station across the U.S., but when they finally returned to Vancouver, Jury Records president Vernon Taylor was enraged. He thought the duo had stolen his Volkswagen, the car he had lent them for business purposes. He also accused Chuck of not paying his bills and fired him. Don claims the debts amounted to $100 and went unpaid because the pair had been on the road promoting the single. Grashey and Ray Chamberlin followed Chuck out Jury's door to form Zero Records. Sandi's first record never charted.
She continued to sing at a variety of Vancouver hotspots, such as The Cave Supper Club, Isy's Supper Club, The Arctic Club and The Orpheum Theatre, opening for the likes of The Mills Brothers, The Four Lads, Mitzi Gaynor and Vancouver's swinging legend, Dal Richards.
In 1966, Sandi went back down to Hollywood for Don and Chuck and recorded "I'll Know Better," a song penned by Gary Paxton. The B-side was "Roses And Heartaches" and although neither side did well in the States , the single generated some sales in Canada. Listen for the big, brassy girl-band-sound track "I'll Know Better" on the 2004 Gary Paxton compilation Boy Trouble – Garpax Girls.
Sandi recorded two other singles before she retired from singing in the late 1960's: "Like a Madness" / "Until You're Home Again" and "Keeps My Mind Off Of You" / "Welcome to the Fold." "Like a Madness" received some radio play and the poppy, Petula Clark-sounding number appears on the 1969 compilation Strictly Canadian (Birchmount Records), which has been described as one of the world's first garage band compilation LP's.
Although Sandi was not known as a country musician, she was versatile and recalls singing at some of Johnny Zapp's Legion gigs. And of course country was de rigueur at The Coop, so when she escorted Don and Chuck to her aunt and uncle's party barn, Sandi sang Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight." The irrepressible red head recalls Loretta being there.
Many of Sandi's fine concert clothes were sewn by her Aunt Irene. One neighbour praised her seamtress skills: "She could stare at a garment in a shop window and then go home and reproduce it stitch for stitch."
Sandi's daughter, Julie Wilson, continues in her mother's footsteps as a singer-songwriter and owner of the independent music company 12Notes Music.
Sandi looks forward to recording more songs with Julie.
It should be noted, that were it not for Sandi's cooperation with this story, the history of The Chicken Coop would have been lost in the passage of time.