This column is by Mike W. Bryant, the former managing editor of Northern News Services and one-time bass cadet for Small Town Rhino.
In the spring of 1994, a scraggly, 23-year-old musician returned to Yellowknife to lick his wounds and live with his parents for a while so he could raise enough money to buy a new bass amplifier and maybe a microphone or two.
He had no intention of staying any longer than he needed to. Get a job at the Wildcat Café making bannock and salads for the summer and then back to Vancouver to start another band. But the plan went awry somewhat. The musician/salad chef grew bored, being that it was a long summer and, upon the recommendation of fellow Yellowknife musician Indio Saravanja, he answered a hand-printed billboard seeking a “bass cadet” for an “insane” funk/punk band in Yellowknife.
The newly consolidated group would be known as Small Town Rhino. The bass cadet was me. The other members of the group were Dave Milligan, guitarist/vocalist and older half-brother to actor Dustin Milligan in case anyone was wondering, and Marc Lacharite, a really good drummer but an eccentric fellow with a penchant for skronk jazz, gonzo art and tweed fedoras.
Last week I learned from Dave that Marc had died in Quebec, Nov. 1 at age 55. I wasn’t particularly close to Marc these last couple of decades but for a brief period in the mid-1990s we went all in and bet the farm on each other. And so, to tell my story of Marc is to tell the story of Small Town Rhino – the weirdest band I’d ever been in, probably the weirdest to ever arise out of the North but also my favourite.
The band lasted about 22 months. In that time, we squeezed in more than 100 live performances and produced one EP and one full-length album, including a single – Betty – that received play on national radio.
Our shows included the local headlining spot at the 1995 Folk on the Rocks, a seedy punk rock bar in Seattle, Washington, and as ill-cast openers for April Wine at the Yellowknife Community Arena.
Our first summer together was pure joy. We debuted in Yellowknife to a completely vacated music scene that, as far as I could tell, had never endured a musical act that played only self-composed tunes. Back then, the only live rock music to be found was at the Gallery bar, where bands from Saskatchewan and Alberta did two-weeks stints as part of a Northern Canadian circuit that included every dive bar from Fort St. John to Prince Albert.
We were altogether different and thus, entirely untrustworthy. The Floatbase, which preceded Harley’s Hardrock Saloon at its old location on Franklin Avenue, gave us a shot but we were too loud, too strange and we were never invited back.
Vic MacIntosh, owner of the NWT Brew Pub, reluctantly offered us a gig. He was worried we’d scare away his regulars so he slotted us in for a Monday night. Much as we did at the Floatbase, we absolutely stacked the joint and more or less became the house band after that.
Much of our success with live audiences in Yellowknife was owed to Marc’s connections to the local Francophone community who fanatically supported us and turned out for just about every show. Our rehearsals, where Marc lived at the infamous and now demolished Brown House next door to NUP, often turned into raucous parties where we sketched out new songs and new ideas in front of an exuberant audience.
In early 1995, at my suggestion, we decided to move to Vancouver in hopes of securing a record contract and an easier home base to tour from. Dave and I didn’t have much to lose. A “job” for me was a means to an end – to pay the rent and buy groceries. Marc, though, was a school teacher with a salary and a pension.
He was not daunted. Marc quit his job after spring break, got into the driver’s seat of the van we purchased using gig money from shows performed in Yellowknife and drove us to our new home in B.C. He had a “rock ‘n’ roll dream” – a point he subsequently made to an incredulous income support worker – and he intended to fulfill it.
Alas, the band pretty much went downhill after that. Warner Music Canada began courting us after receiving an enthusiastic endorsement from Finny McConnell of The Mahones but it was too late. Apart from our support base and increasingly crippled by our own personal demons, we simply fell apart. Our final performance was in early 1996 in front of a wild crowd of about 200 kids at an all-ages show in Prince George, B.C.
I stopped pursuing a career in music after Small Town Rhino, as did Dave. Marc got back into teaching and spent the next 25 years periodically trying to convince Dave and I to re-group. A 20th anniversary show, he suggested. Last year, a 25th anniversary passed unfilled.
Sorry, old friend. I wish we could’ve made it work but I’m happy we tried when we did. Salute et bon fete mon ami.
To hear Small Town Rhino music visit smalltownrhino.com. Also available on Apple Music, Spotify and YouTube. Marc’s solo work can be found at http://marclachariteetsesmeandrescolorifiques.com.