Locals of a certain age may remember a rock and roll band named Aspen Snow. Formed in 1973 shortly after the members graduated from Niagara District Secondary School, they played a few gigs at local church halls, then graduated to the bar circuit, playing at a number of haunts that no longer exist: the American Tavern, the Riverside Hotel and the Anchorage.
Their set list included songs from the Rolling Stones, the Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and the Byrds.
Niagara-on-the-Lake native Robin Howe, now 67 years old, remembers those days fondly. He was one of the guitar players, along with George Enns of Virgil. Also from Virgil, Al Evalds played bass, while drummer Mark Pendergast grew up in Queenston. Doug Snider of NOTL took on lead vocal duties.
“We rehearsed for well over a year before we felt good enough to play in front of an audience,” Howe says. “Everybody had jobs so practice time was usually twice a week, on I think Wednesdays and Sundays, in Mark’s parents barn. We were actually getting better and more polished by the time we broke up, but it just wasn’t worth the effort for the little money and gigs locally that we could get.”
Those jobs and eventually marriages started getting in the way, and some of the members left town for post-secondary studies. Howe, for example, studied biology at the University of Guelph, and then Brock. Later, he moved to Toronto to begin a culinary career at some of the city’s top restaurants. In 1982, he came back to Niagara and began his own catering business, which he still operates today.
“We lost touch with each other for about 40 years,” explains Howe. “George moved to the States and married a girl there. Then I got a call from Al to go see some concerts at Brock University about 12 years ago. Then one day George showed up. He had come back to Canada and had been living in Niagara Falls. I said to them, ‘come to my kitchen and let’s just play and sit around, get some pizza and have some beers,’ and that’s what we did.”
The trio connected once again with former drummer Mark Pendergast, and began jamming again in Al’s garage, this time at his home in Chippawa.
In the meantime, Wisconsin-born Dave Rusch had moved to St. Davids. The long-time broadcasting executive and his wife were looking to buy an Angie Strauss painting in 2012. In talking to Angie, Dave mentioned that he was a drummer, and was looking to connect with other musicians in the area. She gave him Al Evalds’ contact information.
Rusch called up Evalds, went to a jam session, and thus was born the Niagara Trophy Husbands Band, featuring four of the original members of Aspen Snow.
“There’s about 12 guys,” Rusch says, “who are in and out of there. Some nights there’s six, some nights seven might show up, but they might be different guys. This band has been playing since 2012. We have a few guitar players, some drummers, lots of singers.”
From playing together in the early 70s, to playing together around their own early 70s, Howe is having a blast. But like it did 40 years ago, sometimes work gets in the way.
“I’m the odd man out,” he says, “because I still run the catering business. All the others are retired, or mostly retired, so they are able to play more of the pub gigs and birthday parties that they’ve booked. They are usually on weekends, and that’s when I am traditionally busy doing weddings. But I make the Tuesday practices as much as I can.”
Soon, Rusch was dragging some of the guys to Dean Malton’s Groundloop Studio in Ridgeway, and after all those years, those four members of Aspen Snow have finally found themselves on some professional recordings.
Rusch’s radio background led him to start a regular podcast called KWW Radio St. Davids. Besides interviews with interesting people from the village, his site also hosts recordings from the Niagara Trophy Husbands Band and other local musicians.
Various members of the 12-strong collective show up on songs such as the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer in the City and Michel Pagliaro’s Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy. Howe takes lead acoustic and electric guitar duties on the Yardbirds’ classic Heart Full of Soul, with Rusch on drums and vocals and Evalds on bass. It’s a polished, well-played version of a classic song updated with modern technology. There is also a take on the Johnny Rivers classic Secret Agent Man, featuring just Howe and Rusch, that has yet to be posted on the site.
The group has had no chance to get together to jam, record or play live over the last 13 months. Like everybody, they are adjusting to the limitations the pandemic has brought.
With few weddings or other events happening, Howe was able to pivot his catering business to preparing meat pies and casseroles for delivery and pickup. Rusch has continued working with his wife Jane’s business Audio Broadcast Canada, selling broadcast technologies, and also hosts a podcast called Home Improvement USA with Steve Leventhal, via SRN Broadcasting.
Howe and the others are itching for a chance to get back to playing, though.
“When you get older, and I was the youngest member (of Aspen Snow) it’s nice to have guys who can just get together,” he raves. “We jam, we argue, and we play music. It’s a wonderful thing.”
“We’re always coming up with new songs,” Howe continues. “Before COVID we were doing some newer stuff, and some CCR. I think the last time we got together was last summer, at my place in St. Catharines when the rules were more relaxed. We’re chomping at the bit to get together again.”
To hear music from the Niagara Trophy Husbands Band, and other segments focusing on St. Davids, visit Rusch’s website at kwwradio.com.