Founded by musician Bob Fuller in 1966, the Old Time Country Music Club of Canada and its home, The Wheel Club, are now considered by many to be Montreal institutions.
“I went to the Blue Angel… and I said ‘I’m new in town, I just come from Winnipeg.’ It was the major country club in town… I didn’t get the job, but I got in with another band on a Monday night-a girl with a cocktail drum and a guy with an electric bass. They got me to be the front man. Monday was the only night they had no music at the Blue Angel-[but] after three months and no people, they let the two other musicians go and kept me as a single. All my friends found out I was playing as a single, so they’d come down with their fiddles and banjos, and we’d have a big jam session going every Monday. We’ve been going ever since, and it’s getting better all the time” Bob Fuller, as told to Link journalist Tracey Lindeman.
The Wheel Club is a live music venue and watering hole that hosts shows, comedy nights, dinners and special events every night of the week. The Wheel Club is also host to something that pushes its cult status to the next level. Every Monday night, the Wheel Club is host to the legendary ‘Hillbilly Jam,’ which is put together by the Old Time Country Music Club of Canada, its founder, Bob Fuller, and his team of hardworking volunteers.
The space is unique and in many ways plays as much a role in the identity of the night as the music itself. Wood paneled walls, mismatched tile flooring and folding tables adorned with vintage table cloths form the foundation; Christmas lights, seventies kitch and a wagon wheel divider add final touches. The stage boasts the Old Time Country Music Club of Canada banner and rows and rows of candid shots of performers and regulars to the jam.
In 1966, feeling frustrated with the kind of music that was coming out of Nashville, Bob Fuller strove to create an environment committed to the preservation of the music he cherished. He then created The Old Time Country Music Club of Canada and the Hillbilly Night, which was originally housed at the Blue Angel bar in Downtown Montreal.
The Club has a few rules to which it firmly adheres:
-Performers must play songs that were written before 1966, those which qualify must be in some form of Country and Western music, such as Honky-Tonk, Western Swing, Old Time, Rockabilly, Hillbilly, Bluegrass and more. Those who are familiar with country music traditions can identify these types of music easily, newcomers may initially experience some difficulty but will almost always recognize the music as being part of a specific generation of country music and will, with some practice, learn to identify the forms more specifically.
-No electric instruments, with the exception of the steel guitar.
Despite the ways in which the world has changed since 1966, Hillbilly Night at the Wheel remains in many ways a relic of the past. Aside from a few renovations and the loss of many friends, Hillbilly night remains unchanged. This stagnancy, however, is intentional; the Wheel Club prides itself on preserving a space which gives the feeling of stepping back in time to a place that values country and community.