By JUSTIN RUBIA
Special to Wreckhouse Press
Kevin MacNeil has always been guided by a passion for music. He grew up watching his older brother practice drums at home, before becoming an active drummer himself, performing in bands in Stephenville, St. John’s and around the island. Most notably, he is known for drumming with The Wonderful Grand Band.
MacNeil was born into a big family of fifteen, and spent most of his life in Stephenville.
“We were very blessed, you know, very fortunate to be growing up at that time,” says MacNeil.
Stephenville had a more prominent music scene when he was a kid growing up in the early 70s. MacNeil says there were bands everywhere.
“It was pretty wild,” MacNeil said. “You’d go downtown, and the place would be crawling with people. It’s like a ghost town compared to what it used to be.”
Every artist draws their inspiration from somewhere, and MacNeil found his close to home.
“I was inspired by my brother,” says MacNeil. “He was like my personal hero. I picked up drums because he was a drummer.”
MacNeil also drew inspiration from his surroundings, but that source of inspiration has since changed. What is now an autobody shop used to be a pool with a fenced off area in the back where dances were held and his brother would perform. He and his cousin once snuck in, underaged, to go see his brother’s band perform.
“We got into the dance and it was amazing. I was awestruck by it all. That’s kind of what lit the fire for me.”
His brother offered him a glimpse of what a career in music might be like, and he became motivated to match his brother’s skills.
“He used to practice. I used to just be watching him,” says MacNeil. “He would show me something and I’d go work on it.”
MacNeil ended up playing in several bands throughout his music career. His tastes trend towards classic rock bands like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. These bands in turn influenced the style of drumming that he brought to the bands that he played in.
The first was a band called Flint. MacNeil played along the current mayor of Stephenville, Tom Rose, and one of his best friends, Allan Doody.
“Tom is a very positive and enthusiastic guy and he always been that way,” says MacNeil.
While Flint did not have a studio, a friend’s mom would let them clear the furniture out of the living room and set up their gear to jam. Once when the band was practicing at his friend’s house, they literally almost brought the roof down.
“We were playing something in his basement, and that house wasn’t a concrete basement, it was just a dug out basement,” says MacNeil. “Anyway we’re playing and then the house dropped about two or three inches. It went ‘Pop’!”
The vibration from the loud music moved one of the support pillars holding up the house. Fortunately, his friend’s mother was not fazed and continued to allow them to practice at her house. MacNeil’s love of music continued into his university years, and he played with various St. John’s bands.
“It was a good time to be a young musician. It is kind of a novelty these days to hear a band you know. They are kind of like relics from the past.”
When MacNeil was in his early twenties he was given an opportunity to fill in for Paul ‘Boomer’ Stamp, who was a drummer of the Wonderful Grand Band, so that they could finish their tour. At first the band had approached his brother for an audition, who instead directed the band to Kevin.
“For me it was like joining the Beatles or something. You went places and everyone recognized the band and kids would chase the bus.”
The Wonderful Grand Band was at the height of their popularity in Newfoundland in the early 80s, with most televisions regularly tuned into the CBC to watch their show. MacNeil continued to play with them for about six months.
“Everywhere else they were like, whatever, but on the island, there was this mania around the band. It was insane,” recalls MacNeil.
“I loved it. It was quite the experience. They didn’t know who the hell I was,” says MacNeil. “I got up there and played and did my thing.”
After his time with the Wonderful Grand Band, MacNeil formed a band called The Business, with former bandmates Glenn and Ian.
“It was really popular at the time.”
His collaborations with other musicians continued, and he recorded with other artists, notably a live album with St. John’s Blues artist Scott Goudie.
MacNeil still plays his drums and he still practices every single day.
“Music is such an enriching thing to do. You can escape and get into your playing, learn a song, and time can pass. It’s very absorbing. Music should never be a chore. Music is a self fulfilling reward system. It just feels great to play music. I don’t care what you play, and it doesn’t matter what style of music you’re into – Blues, or country,” says MacNeil. “It doesn’t matter. It’s all legit.”
These daily practices are more for the sheer joy of playing
MacNeil has a day job but still performs around the West coast. He can often be found playing drums in a Stephenville-based band with Leon Aucoin and Nelson White called Three of a Kind.
“I still have my drums down the basement. I am sure every day I must spend five minutes at it. I gotta go play a little bit. If I don’t for a few days I get a bit antsy.”