Saturday, December 24, 2011

MY TOP 40 Christmas Albums Plus . . .

OK, so I lied. I said I would give you my top 20. This was a much harder list to make than I thought initially. There is a lot of GREAT Christmas music available and a good deal of it seems timeless in the sense that it is not necessary to have the latest and hippest sounds and production in order for the project to bring joy and meaning to the Christmas season.

So, I offer you my Top 30 with a Bonus 11. My choices are simply that . . . mine. Based on so many things . . . memories from different stages in my life, childhood, teenage years, young adulthood and the present. I am not saying these are the BEST Christmas albums from a critical standpoint. I feel so blessed to count many of the artists and musicians that have contributed so much on this list as friends. The list will probably change for next year as new discoveries are made and old ones are rediscovered.

I had visions of grandeur that I would include a picture of each project as well - maybe next year!
Merry Christmas everyone!

TOP 30

1. BING CROSBY ~ WHITE CHRISTMAS ~ How do you argue with a classic?
2. ANDREA BOCCELI ~ MY CHRISTMAS ~ Some of the duets are stunning ~ the one with Mary J. Blige on "What Child Is This" is particularly great ~ The DVD is a must have as well.
3. KATHY MATTEA ~ GOOD NEWS ~ A grammy award winning album, Kathy's strong vocals and great songs make this a new classic
4. AMY GRANT ~ A CHRISTMAS ALBUM ~The Christmas album that defined the next generation in our family ~ how can you argue with "Tender Tennessee Christmas"?
5. MICHAEL BUBLE ~ CHRISTMAS ~ A "recreation" of when albums were done live off the floor ~ The DVD is great as well!
6. JOSH GROBAN ~ NOEL ~ Beautiful production, great vocals, "Thankful" is a highlight
7. THE CHRISTMAS ALBUM ~ SPARROW COMPILATION ~ Whiteheart's version of Little Drummer Boy kicks some serious butt! ~ Great vocal from Rick Florian ~ and the cover is priceless!
8. OVER THE RHINE ~ SNOW ANGELS ~ One of my favorite all time female vocalists and Linford is pretty cool too!
9. VINCE GILL ~ HOME FOR CHRISTMAS ~ The crystal clear tenor of Vince Gill and some great playing to boot!
10. CARPENTERS ~ CHRISTMAS PORTRAIT ~ Do sibling harmonies get any better that Karen and Richard Carpenter? . . . beautiful!
11. HARRY CONNICK ~ WHEN MY HEART FINDS CHRISTMAS ~ Bringing a little "Nawlins" to a Christmas near you
12. STEVE BELL ~ THE FEAST OF SEASONS ~ An under rated Canadian Singer/Songwriter ~ Mary's Magnificat always brings tears to Cathy's eyes
13. NAT KING COLE ~ CHRISTMAS ALBUM ~ Who better to sing the "Christmas Song" ~ Chestnuts roasting by an open fire . . . classic!
14. PERRY COMO ~ A PERRY COMO CHRISTMAS ~ Another classic from when I was a kid ~ the smooth, soothing vocal sounds and old style Hollywood Arrangements
17. AMY GRANT ~ HOME FOR CHRISTMAS ~ A wonderfully orchestrated project ~ Ronn Huff at his finest!
18. RUSS TAFF ~ A CHRISTMAS SONG ~ One of the best male voices . . . period.
19. TWILA PARIS ~ IT'S THE THOUGHT ~ Another project from when our kids were little that meant a lot.
20. VINCE GILL ~ BREATH OF HEAVEN: A CHRISTMAS COLLECTION ~ rarely does an artist make more than one good Christmas album in their career ~ this follow up does not disappoint!
21. WYNONNA ~ A CLASSIC CHRISTMAS ~ The distinctive vocals of Wynonna served up with some fine songs and production
22. EVIE ~ COME ON RING THOSE BELLS ~ We got this album when I was in High School ~ part of the soundtrack of my life ~ saw her live in Des Moines in November 1979
23. BRUCE COCKBURN ~ CHRISTMAS ~ An eclectic project from another Canadian ~ a new classic in our house
24. TRISHA YEARWOOD ~ THE SWEETEST GIFT ~ One of the finest female voices in country music
25. THE ANDREWS SISTERS ~ CHRISTMAS ~ Another very familiar sound from my childhood ~ takes me right back!
26. LITTLE DRUMMER BOY ~ THE HARRY SIMEONE CHORALE ~ One of the first Christmas LP's that I have a recollection of as a child ~ the record played thousands of times at our house over the years!
27. SUFJAN STEVENS ~ SONGS FOR CHRISTMAS ~ boxed set ~ 5 discs of Christmas goodness ~ if you are looking for something different ~ this is it!
28. JAMES TAYLOR ~ AT CHRISTMAS ~ Sweet Baby James ~ Mellow and warm
29. GLAD ~ THE VOICES OF CHRISTMAS ~ Tight harmonies!
30. ANNE MURRAY WITH THE LONDON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA ~ THE SEASON WILL NEVER GROW OLD ~ the distinctive sounds of one of Canada's best loved female vocalists
31. ENYA ~ AND WINTER CAME ~ If you like ethereal ~ this is for you
32. SARA McLACHLAN ~ WINTERSONG ~ The angelic sounds of another of Canada's great female vocalists puts her unique spin on music for the season
33. DONNA SUMMER ~ CHRISTMAS SPIRIT ~ From Love to Love You Baby to a beautiful Christmas album ~ a very little known Christmas project from a soulful singer ~ great orchestrations!
35. PHIL SPECTOR ~ A CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR YOU ~ Produced for the whopping budget of Fifty Six thousand dollars, Spector offers up his "Wall of Sound" for the Christmas season
36. JULIE ANDREWS ~ CHRISTMAS WITH JULIE ANDREWS ~ From that distinctive voice in Sound of Music comes this Christmas offering
37. SHERYL CROW ~ HOME FOR CHRISTMAS ~ The "Rock Chick" does Christmas ~ quite well actually!
38. BEACH BOYS ~ CHRISTMAS WITH THE BEACH BOYS ~ classic Beach Boy harmonies and arrangements ~ Brian Wilson celebrates the season!
39. WHITNEY HOUSTON ~ ONE WISH: THE HOLIDAY ALBUM ~ no denying that in her day Whitney could SING!!
40. STING ~ ON A WINTERS NIGHT ~ Full points to Sting for ambition ~ This is actually three pieces ~ The Documentary DVD, The Live Concert DVD and the Audio CD ~ The shots of Durham Cathedral are stunning ~ if you get a chance to hear Sting's "Gabriels Message" off of A VERY SPECIAL CHRISTMAS ~ RED ~ it is well worth the trouble finding.
41. CELINE DION ~ THESE ARE SPECIAL TIMES ~ another of Canada's finest singers at her best
42. A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Original Sound Track Recording Of The CBS Television Special





47. MARIAH CAREY ~ MERRY CHRISTMAS - in 2019 Mariah released the 25th anniversary, special edition that includes a bonus disc.

 And NEW for 2012

48. The Blind Boys of Alabama ~ Go Tell It On The Mountain
49. Diana Krall ~ Christmas Songs
50. Lady Antebellum ~ On This Winter's Night 
51. Rod Stewart ~ Mary Christmas, Baby 
52. Sufjan Stevens ~ Silver & Gold
53. Cee Lo Green ~ Cee Lo's Magic Moment
54. Richard Marx ~ Christmas Spirit
55. Annie Lennox ~ A Christmas Cornucopia
56. Shawn Colvin ~ Holiday Songs and Lullabies

And NEW for 2013 - (These are not necessarily all new releases per se, but include some recent discoveries as well.)

57. Carole King ~ A Holiday Carole (Deluxe Edition) - from the iconic voice that brought us one of my top records of all time, (Tapestry) comes a new Christmas project full of some old familiar songs as well as some brand new ones.

58. Joshua Bell ~
Musical Gifts From Joshua Bell and Friends ~ In this brand new celebration of the season, Bell is paired with a variety of special guests including Gloria Estefan, Alison Krauss, Kristin Chenoweth, trumpeter Chris Botti, jazz greats Chick Corea and Branford Marsalis, opera stars Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming, Michael Feinstein and a cappella group Straight No Chaser. Not your everyday violin project!

59. Mary J Blige ~ A Very Mary Christmas -
One of my very favorite female R&B singers in the current roster of singers, Mary J Blige could probably sing the phone book and I would buy a copy. Produced by the uber talented, David Foster, this is exactly the type of singer and production he excels at - you won't be dissapointed.

60. Emmylou Harris ~
Light of the Stable

"First released in 1979, Light of the Stable has survived the passage of time and received much acclaim over the years. Updated in 2004 with three new tunes and insightful liner notes, its light now shines even brighter. A host of well-known voices and players join Harris on Christmas songs both familiar and unexpected. Among her guests are Dolly Parton, Rodney Crowell, Neil Young, Ricky Skaggs, James Burton, and Kate and Anna McGarrigle, the latter of whose lovely arrangements of the traditional "Cherry Tree Carol" and their own "Man Is an Island" are two of the bonus tracks.
Given its history and craft, Light of the Stable is more than just a seasonal collection. In many ways, it's shaped the sound of country Christmas records for the 25 years since its original release--yet the warm glow of its own artistry has never wavered. Consider it a little masterpiece". ~ Martin Keller

61. The Three Tenors ~  The Three Tenors Christmas ~
José Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti deliver 21 songs of traditional sacred music and secular numbers in a remarkable 1999 live recording from the opulent Viennese concert hall (Konzerthaus), with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and a renowned choir. For those who like a taste of the classics done in a traditional classical style.

62. Steve Bell - Keening For The Dawn
~  Steve Bell's first Christmas project, The Feast of Seasons is an all time favorite around our house every year at Christmas. His follow up Christmas project has some delightful songs and production on it as well and could very well work its way to the top of our list. In the Bleak Mid Winter is one of the stand out tracks on this project.

63. Harry Conick Jr. ~ What A Night! ~ This guy has a lot of Christmas projects! Solid production and a sweet duet with his daughter, Sarah Kate, who was 11 at the time. Some great songs and solid production make this a project worth adding to your collection. If you can find a copy of the deluxe edition, it has a nice DVD included about the making of the album.

NEW FOR 2015

64. TRAIN ~ CHRISTMAS IN TAHOE ~ A nice diversion from traditional holiday tunes with some familiar songs included as well. Sung by the umistakable voice of Pat Monahan, this album is sure to please young and old alike.

NEW FOR 2019

An album four years in the making, The Christmas Collection features an all-star cast of collaborators (Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Jason Gray, Buddy Greene, Plumb, Scott Mulvahill, and Ron Block of Alison Krauss & Union Station). Marc has been on a roll of late as he was featured in "Bohemian Rhapsody" as the voice of Freddy Mercury.

Classic harmonies from what we have come to expect from this great vocal group.

Brian releases his first ever Christmas project and it won't disappoint. A combination of some originals as well as some classics, Brian also addresses the fact that Christmas is a tough time for many in his song; Saddest Season.

This gracious and thoughtful man is joined by guest artists including James Taylor, Diana Krall, Alison Krauss, Chris Botti, Ren‚e Fleming, Dave Brubeck and more. This has become an favourite around our house and if you can track down the "making of DVD" it is truly fantastic. Thank you to Cathy's cousin Janna Olson for introducing us to this fine album.

On their third Christmas album, the classic-rock big band Chicago serves up warm, soulful vocals and lush horn arrangements that recall hits like “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and “Saturday in the Park.” Lifers Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, and James Pankow prove their mettle as a hit machine in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s with a batch of swanky original tunes balanced out with a few choice covers. If you are a Chicago fan you will enjoy this album.

On soul and pop legend Dionne Warwick’s new duets album she is joined by the Oak Ridge Boys Michael McDonald, Chloe x Halle, and Wanyna Morris of Boyz II Men among others. Still in fine form, Warwicks' silky voice will not disappoint as she serves up a batch of Christmas classics.

© 2011 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Prairie established a purchasing department sometime in the 1930's. Roy Davidson, along with Ed Kittridge and Fergus Kirk, were some of the early pioneers who started going to Calgary to purchase directly from the wholesalers, saving the school considerable money. In the beginning, Roy would take his own pickup truck until the school was able to purchase one for that purpose.

Every Tuesday evening, the school's truck and semi-trailer would return from Calgary laden with all manner of goods for the school. Office, plumbing, electrical, building and grocery supplies would all be unloaded at the various departments around the campus. The school's purchasing agents would keep their eye out for sales on furniture and other products. Tom Ewing, Walter Honecker, Warren Doud, Sam Gillespie, Buford Marsh, Hank Jaegers and Brian Bates were some of the men I remember from those years. They had a circuit they would follow to find the super deals. These were the real "bargain hunters" long before there was any reality TV show by that name.

A weekly visit to the Staff Store was somewhat akin to spinning a roulette wheel. You just might hit the jackpot! One never knew what awaited. The smell of fresh bread and earthy vegetables along with fresh produce provided a veritable cornucopia of delights for a young boy.

The store sold a great variety of items including baked goods, vegetables, fruit, tin cans of soup and some dry goods like towels, dishes, thread and material of various kinds. Big blocks of cheese were purchased in bulk and divided up into one pound portions. Milk, eggs and meat were supplied by the Institute's own farm.

Possibly the most important fixture in the whole place was the candy counter. Deep inside this glass case were Mars Bars, Hot Tamales, squares of sponge toffee, Sweet Tarts, Nibs, licorice shoe strings, Lifesavers and other delights that were sure to keep the local dentists happy and in business for years to come.

The store also had a whole section that was referred to as damaged freight. This could be anything from tins of beans and soup that had been slightly dented to boxes of cereal. There were also "mystery" cans - unidentified cans that had lost their labels somewhere along the way. You took your chances when you purchased them. The contents wouldn't be revealed until after you had arrived home and they were opened. You might get a can of green beans or cherries.

Prairie staff members were not exactly on the top of the pay scale in those days and these bargains were a real blessing and often helped staff to make ends meet from month to month. A hard working group manned the Staff Store. Goldie Lewis, Max Beam, Leonard Miner, Elizabeth Wilson, Joel Durance, Jack Whitehead, John Krohn, Merv Ratz, David Garwood and Gordon MacDonald were some of the staff and students that worked there. These people had the hearts of servants as they stocked shelves, ran the till and boxed up the groceries. For a while they even ran a door to door delivery service.

Jars of pre-mixed peanut butter and jelly, cases of Nestle's Quik strawberry powder, yule logs, peppermint and spumoni ice cream seemed to be in stock for months. I'm sure you've heard of pumpkin pie ice-cream? One year they had a whole shipment of that . . . I guess it had never really caught on! There were freezer loads of Creamsicles in unusual fruit flavors like blueberry and peach. Boxes of crackers, cereals of all kinds, salad dressings and cans of fruit often lined the shelves of the damaged freight section. Like the early bird getting the worm, those who made the effort to get there as the store opened were sure to find the bargains.

Up the stairs and to the left was the butcher shop. Sawdust covered the old wooden floors. There, Gus Honecker and his wife Ila, butchered and packaged meat and loaded it into the big walk-in freezers for use by the school or for sale in the store. Below the butcher shop was the pasteurizing plant, bottling fresh milk that was delivered to the staff homes, sold in the store and used in the dining hall. Bob Wunsch and Hector Hanna kept the plant humming right along. There always seemed to be a flurry of activity there as bottles were cleaned, refilled and loaded onto the milk truck for distribution.

From the school's bakery came fresh brown and white bread, buns, dinner rolls and desserts. Lloyd Christie, Albert Ehman and Harry Klosse's peanut butter, chocolate chip, oatmeal and raisin cookies and apple turnovers always made a welcome snack. Grandma's standard lunch, when we dropped in to visit after school, was peanut butter sandwiches on brown bread, an apple and a couple of Harry Klosse's cookies.

Japanese oranges or tangerines were a luxury item when I was growing up. It was very special at Christmas to have a box or two of these delicacies. Many a child and family would hope and pray that they would be able to afford at least one box at the Christmas season. In December, 1974 the purchasing department at Prairie received a call from a supplier in Calgary. An entire freight car load of oranges had been misdirected and if Prairie would send their truck and trailer into the city, they were welcome to the entire lot at no charge.

This was an incredible provision and we were able to buy the little wooden crates full of the delicious fruit, each individually wrapped in green tissue paper. The cost . . . 10 cents a box! The modest price was to help cover the cost of freight and handling. Kids and adults alike inhaled oranges for breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks. There were a lot of folk who spent considerably more time on the porcelain throne than they had planned that Christmas! Oranges were frozen, made into juice and used in jello, milkshakes and various forms of baking. A host of other creative ideas were implemented to make the best use of these juicy morsels before they spoiled.

At the staff meeting the next week, one mother stood and thanked God for providing the answer to her little girl's prayer. Another stood and thanked God for the answer to her own prayer. I, for one, will never forget "The Day It Rained Oranges".

Note: I want to thank my own Mother for the title of this story.

© 2012 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


"The Queen of Desserts" may have been an apt title to describe my Mother, although I was fortunate to marry a wife and have a daughter who are both known for their delightful culinary skills in that department as well. Mom put a lot of creativity and work into the fine art of the dessert and its presentation.

My parents entertained frequently and throughout the year Mom would labor in the kitchen turning out Hungarian Crumb Cake, Baked Alaska, Chocolate Crunch, Angel Food Cake with ice cream and strawberries, cobblers of various kinds, Apple, Banana and Rhubarb Custard pies, shortbread, doughnuts and steamed pudding. At Easter she would make her special sunflower coffee cake, resplendent in yellow icing, with brown chocolate sprinkles at the center.

At Christmas the work would start weeks before, making Russian Teacakes, Almond Roca, chocolates, peanut brittle, fudge, divinity, mints, rosettes, nuts and bolts and fruitcake. We kids would help pull taffy, decorate cookies and wrap the candy. Many of these treats were shared with neighbors, friends and relatives, but there was always plenty for our own consumption. Mom took a great deal of pleasure  in finding new recipes and trying them out on our family. I never remember anyone complaining! She would have loved Martha Stewart and  all the cooking shows that are available these days. Back then she was her own "Martha Stewart".

It was the spring of 1974 and I had just turned 13. That time in one's life where you're an expert on just about everything and have no problem letting others know about it. Mom had been carefully crafting a new recipe and it was the day of its debut for our family before she rolled it out for company. After the main course, she brought out a tray of fine looking, elegant goblets. These tall vessels contained a beautiful parfait. Bright colors of layered jello, pudding and custard topped with whipped cream and a cherry rounded out the presentation. We couldn't wait to get started! Mom set the tray down and handed one of the parfaits to each of us. She then asked us if we had noticed the new goblets. I can't say that we had as we were more interested in the contents. Mom was always buying dishes in large quantities as it was not unusual for us to entertain 12 or more people at one time. She had found a sale on a dozen of these tall elegant goblets and was rightly proud of her find.

Paying some attention now to the goblets, I announced that they sure looked like plastic to me. The sides appeared far too thin to be glass. I took my spoon and lightly tapped the side of the goblet. "Steve", Mom said, "You be careful, that's glass". "That can't be glass," I said, as I tapped a little harder. "It sounds like plastic to me". "Please be careful or you'll break it", Mom continued. I insisted that it was plastic. Eager  to prove my point, I tapped with a little more vigor . . . Clink . . . to my surprise, there lay a small chunk of glass on top of what was left of my dessert. Oops! . . . I guess I was wrong. I felt bad, but the damage was done and super glue was not going to fix the problem. Mom was  very disappointed, Dad was upset and I was embarrassed.

Did Dad take me out to the wood shed to teach me a lesson? Did Mom make me buy a new goblet? Did I have to do penance for the next year? None of the above. Mom came up with a very clever punishment and one that may have been more meaningful in the long term than some of the others. She washed out the goblet, complete with the shattered piece and placed it on the dresser in my bedroom. Everyday, when I went to get a pair of socks or underwear, there was a clear reminder that just maybe I didn't know it all and there's a reason that we are given people in our lives for guidance and advice.

How many times in life or in business have we thought we knew it all? Maybe a partner, business colleague or friend has clearly warned us, even numerous times, that the results of our actions could have devastating consequences. We plow forward, tinkling the glass until it's too late. The damage is done.

I still like my desserts but I try to be a little more careful about how much I think I know.

Special Gift just for you from the Rendall Vault:


1 cup margarine
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 tsp of salt
2 cups sifted all purpose flour
Beat margarine until smooth
Sift dry ingredients 4 times
Add to margarine, work with hands until mixture cracks
Roll out to about 1/2 inch and cut in shapes or squares
Bake at 325 for 20 minutes

© 2012 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rosebud Audio

My friends at Rosebud have made a delightful recording of "Elvis Comes To School" you can check it out here:

Friday, July 29, 2011


These days it has become a popular pastime to bash the bankers. In the wake of the credit crisis, mortgage meltdowns and phony derivative markets there are sound reasons why the public are upset and feel betrayed by the banking sector. In being careful to not throw the baby out with the bath water I have to say that I have known some very good bankers in my life. They were even nice people.

For several years we lived across the street from Bill Anderson a former RCMP officer and a no nonsense banker at the TD bank. Bill and I had several adventures over the years which will be the subject of stories in future days. Another gentleman I was pleased to know was Bruce Gilbertson. Bruce was a gentle, soft-spoken man who was the manager at the Alberta Treasury Branch in town. I don't know if this is just urban legend or not, but I have heard that head offices cycle their managers by those who are lenders and those who are collectors. It is uncommon to leave a banker in one place for too long, for fear that they will develop relationships that could possibly compromise their judgment when dealing with clients. My hat is off to all the bankers who tried to understand the machinations of a recording studio and record company being run in a little town on the Prairies and in Canada to boot.

One afternoon I was in Bruce's office at the bank. He had probably summoned me there to discuss any myriad of issues. Inventory levels, accounts payable or receivable, cash flow, etc. - never my favorite conversation! In the course of our meeting he mentioned to me that he had an old Gibson guitar at his house. That got my attention! He told me that he had purchased a fine new foreign built guitar and the old one was now a toy for the grandkids to play with when they came over to visit.

Gibson Guitars was founded by Orville Gibson, a mandolin maker, in Kalamazoo, Michigan in the late 1890s. The Gibson Guitar Corporation went on to manufacture a variety of instruments and revolutionized the development of the acoustic and electric guitars, and along the way have built one of the world's most iconic guitars, the Gibson Les Paul. Many of their instruments continue to increase in value and some Gibsons are among the most collectible guitars in the world. I had no idea what type of guitar Bruce owned, or what condition it was in, but I promised him that one day I would drop in for a visit and see the guitar for myself.

Some time passed and I called Bruce, making arrangements to stop by and have a look at his guitar. When I arrived at the house, Bruce proudly showed me the old instrument. From what we have been able to determine it was built in approximately 1954. What strings were left were all rusty and some of the frets were worn down completely. There were two large cracks on either side of the sound hole where the spruce top had completely caved in. It seemed that Bruce was a bit of a closet picker and had purchased the guitar decades before. He told me that in an earlier life he and his pals would sit around a fire, drink a few brewskies and sing and play until the wee hours of the morning. They would always end their night of revelry with the singing of Amazing Grace. As it happened, one night someone had drunk one too many, tripped and fell right on top of Bruce's guitar, rendering the fine instrument relatively useless. The guitar looked more like a giant spoon. I asked him what he intended to do with the guitar and he said he wasn't sure. Then he said some words that were music to my ears. "Steve, if you can use this guitar for good and positive purposes, you can have it." Humbled, I thanked Bruce for his kindness and bid him good day.

I returned to the studio with the guitar and presented it to my colleague, Eldon Winter. Eldon could make a cigar box guitar sound good and I figured he would be the right guy to make an initial evaluation of the guitar. He tuned up the remaining strings on the guitar and played a chord. There was magic in the room. In that instant we both knew that there was something very special about the guitar. Even in its battered and broken state, there was a musicality about the instrument that was so warm and inviting. We knew we had a keeper, the question now was how could we get the guitar fixed, so we could actually use it in the studio for recording.

A fine luthier friend of mine, Jake Peters, ( was called on to help in the decision. Jake is not only a expert builder of string instruments, but a champion banjo player as well. (you may insert banjo jokes here!) He took the guitar back to his shop to make an assessment and report back to me on his findings. Several weeks later, Jake phoned with the news. To properly restore the guitar to its original look and condition would costs several thousand dollars. I told Jake that I just didn't think that would be possible, but thanked him for his time. He then mentioned if it wasn't really a cosmetic restoration that we wanted, he could do a structural repair, adjust the neck, and give the instrument a new set of frets. He said there would be no difference in the playability or sound of the instrument, it just wouldn't look as pretty. For around eight hundred dollars, he said we could be in business and have a very usable guitar. I told him to go ahead and that I trusted his judgement. "Don't worry about how it looks, just worry about how it sounds", I told him.

The day finally arrived when Jake came to the studio to deliver the guitar. I could tell by the cheshire grin on his face that he knew we had something very special. He handed the guitar to Eldon. The sound that poured out of that guitar was jaw dropping! The guitar still bore the scratches, scuffs and scars of its previous life, but it was now solidly repaired and ready to make beautiful music once again. Sounds from that guitar have graced many of the albums I have been privileged to work on since that day. It has become our "go to" acoustic guitar in the studio. Recordings from Starfield, Jaylene Johnson, Matt Brouwer, Jill Paquette, Jake, Brian Doerksen and many others, bear the imprint of that instrument.

As we begin the New Year, I have reflected on the story of the old Gibson guitar and realized that we are all broken.

Like Bob Dylan sings in his classic song:

"Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties, broken vows
Broken pipes, broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking
Everything is broken"

Each of us has experienced pain, loss, hurt, loneliness, betrayal and the list goes on. Like the old beat up guitar, many of us have suffered some pretty deep wounds and scars. The good news is that there is hope. Hope for healing, forgiveness, restoration and peace. Hope for another day. Every one of us can be patched up and make useful, beautiful music once again.

As I ponder the past year, I am thankful for Mr. Gibson and at least one good banker!
© 2011 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Dear Holly,

I've wished to write this letter to you for a very long time. Years, as a matter of fact. I didn't know where to send it, so I am writing it now. You probably wouldn't recognize me. I guess I have grown up. Some may debate that, but I do have a little less hair, some lines around my eyes and some miles under my belt. This was one of those milestone years for me as I turned 50 and Cathy and I celebrated our 30th anniversary. I'm not sure you would remember Cathy. She was a Kirk, Doug and Audrey's daughter. I guess if I'm 50 that would make you 57; as I recall you were 7 years older than I.

It started when you were very young. I can't even imagine the horror you felt as night after night you would lay in your bed listening for the footsteps in the hallway. The sound of the doorknob turning made your skin crawl. When it was over, the knot in your tummy, lump in your throat, and hole in your heart made you want to scream. You had learned you couldn't do that, because the last time you did you had a bruise as big as a grapefruit on your face. Your Mom told the teachers you had the mumps and wouldn't be in school for the next two weeks. You would softly cry yourself to sleep wondering what you had done to deserve this kind of life. It seemed even more bizarre to you that he was a seemingly upstanding member of the church and community.

Your home was so strict . . . legalism on steroids. A complex labyrinth of rules. There seemed to be regulations for everything. A mind numbing system of do's and dont's. Don't wear make up . . . Do listen only to hymns . . . Don't cut your hair. . . Do always wear a dress, Don't ever wear jeans . . . Don't wear earrings . . . and on and on. Where was the joy, where was the freedom? How many times did you hear, "we don't want to give the devil any foothold in our lives, do we?" That never made any sense to you. You already knew the devil. He lived at your house. Of course, you realized later in life that these were all power moves, designed to intimidate and control and that abuse comes in many forms. I think maybe the saddest part was that your spirit was slowly being crushed.

Whenever I hear the haunting Suzanne Vega song, Luka, I always think of you. The following lines are particularly poignant.

Yes, I think I'm okay
I walked into the door again
If you ask that's what I'll say
And it's not your business anyway
I guess I'd like to be alone
With nothing broken, nothing thrown

You began to hate your Mom. If she really loved you, why didn't she protect you? Why didn't she speak up? Why didn't she tell someone? What you were too young to know, Holly, was that your Mother was a victim as well.

As a proud parent of three beautiful children that I love almost more than life itself, I just can't imagine what goes through a parent's mind that would abuse a child in any way. It is obviously a sickness, but it is an EVIL sickness. One that must not be allowed to be continued. The chains must be broken. No child should have to live that way.

My mother always had a huge place in her heart for the hurting. Her growing up years weren't exactly a picnic. Over the years dozens of woman shared all sorts of tragic events with my Mom. When she met you, Holly, she knew something was wrong, but she didn't know exactly what. She invited you to come over and babysit us boys when she and Dad would go out to various local events. She had hoped to get to know you more. She never got the chance.

We loved you as a babysitter. You knew us then as Stevie and Davie. You always wanted to do such fun things with us. We played ball hockey in the living room and made orange floats in the special tall glasses that Mom kept in the top cupboard. We played you some of our silly records and laughed, danced and sang along with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the top of our lungs. Now as an adult looking back, I can see why, when we let you choose the books to read to us before we crawled into bed, you picked the ones you did. They were always adventure stories or books about faraway lands and and enchanting people. You read us Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island for Kids and you really enjoyed reading us Cinderella, Snow White and Hansel and Gretel. Those were the times we really saw you come alive and those green eyes of yours would flash with moments of hope.

It was a cold, snowy night in November that you picked to leave, just one month before your 16th birthday. A birthday that should have been Sweet Sixteen. You couldn't take it any more. You were dying inside. The pain was just too much. You told your parents that you were going to the friday night youth group at the church and that you needed to leave at 7 to get a good seat. You had saved up 26 dollars from your babysitting money and a birthday gift that had arrived early from your Aunt Cecile in South Dakota. You knew that wouldn't get you very far, so just before you left the house you snuck over to the pantry, opened the door and took 100 dollars out of the jar your Mom kept for emergencies. If this wasn't an emergency, what was? Your Mom never told your Dad about the missing money. It was as if she knew you needed to escape and knowing the money was gone would just send him into another fit of rage.

You had packed one small duffel with some essentials and hidden it inside the garage. You stopped in at the motel washrooms where you quickly changed into the pair of jeans you had bought at the Tilly. You threw the dress straight into the dumpster and knew you would never have to see it again. The Greyhound arrived every night at the Pop Shoppe at 7:30. You got there just on time and bought your ticket. The student fare was 5.50 for a one way trip to Calgary. The clerk never even questioned you or asked for ID. I suppose with all the students coming and going it was normal for kids to take the bus into Calgary. You sat at the very back, your parka pulled up around your face. There was only a handful of people on the bus and no one paid any attention to you.

The bus arrived at the terminal about 10:30 and basically dumped you out on the street. There was no one there to meet you. No one knew you were coming. You were scared and shivering, but you also felt a degree of freedom and excitement. This was your new life. A genuine sense of hope burned in your soul. So many emotions rolled up into one. You asked a man standing on the corner where you could get something to eat. He told you that pretty much everything downtown was closed, but if you walked 2 blocks south and 5 blocks east, you would find The King Edward Hotel and you could get something there. This was all new to you, but the sidewalks looked pretty well lit and so off you went.

In the cold and wind the seven blocks seemed to take forever. You finally arrived and walked in the front door. The King Eddy as it was called, was built in 1906 and by the time you were there in 1969, it had turned into a run-down, seedy dump of a place. Pimps, dealers, prostitutes and all manner of rough characters found refuge in the decrepit building. Of course, you didn't know any of this and as you opened the door and set foot in the lobby all you could think of was how good it was to be warm. You asked the guy at the front desk where you could get something to eat and he pointed you to the side where there was a door leading into the bar. You made your way down the hall and entered the dimly lit room. You were only 15 - you had never been in a bar. Again, no one asked for any ID or even said boo. Through the smoky haze you could see and hear a band belting out some tunes. You were so sheltered you didn't even know it was the blues. You walked in and sat down at the first empty table and put your duffel on the chair beside you. Pretty soon a waitress came over, smiled, offered you a menu and above the din asked what you wanted to drink. She would have brought you anything you would have asked for. You were never allowed to drink coffee at home and so you asked for that. When she poured it and you took your first sip, it felt so warm and reassuring on a cold night. You were pretty tired and as you began to relax you started wondering where you would stay. The waitress came back and you ordered a bowl of chicken noodle soup and a side order of toast. The reality of all these things costing money began to set in. As you watched the lead singer of the band and started listening to the music you thought that this didn't seem nearly as bad as you had been told the "big bad world" would be.

You were just finishing up your food when a huge guy with a black leather jacket walked over to your table and sat down. The first thing you noticed was the ugly scar that went from the tip of his chin all the way up to his ear on one side of his face. The second thing was his eyes. It was if they looked right through you. The waitress called him Slash, which he seemed to acknowledge as a badge of honor. You didn't find out until months later the origins of his name. It seems like Slash had been in a nasty bar fight where he had been cut really bad with a knife. Later that same night, after he had been stitched up, he tracked down the other guy and killed him. He had held his head in a toilet until he drowned. But that night he seemed friendly enough. He asked you your name and when you told him it was Holly, he smiled and said that was a very pretty name. He asked where you were from and you told him a little prairie town and that you hated your parents and you were running away. Slash asked you what your plan was and pretty soon you had to admit that there really wasn't one. "Right", said Slash, "You can stay with us". "Who's us?", you replied, a little bit puzzled. "We have a little club that meets out of here in the winter", he said. "In the summer we ride our motor bikes." Well, that sounded pretty exciting! You had no idea what a motorcycle gang even was. The first night everyone was so accepting. You tried to memorize all the names and faces. There were about 22 guys and about 6 women in the gang. At 2:00, after the bar closed for the night, everyone went up to the rented rooms. The sex was no big deal. You were used to that. You knew how to mentally check out. Your feelings had been numbed long before. This was your new family after all and they had accepted you. Slash had even paid for your coffee and food and given you a place to sleep. You wondered if this is what all families were like as you finally drifted off to sleep. Well, at least you were warm and fed, you thought to yourself. But what you hoped and dreamt would lead to freedom, love and a real life would only get worse. You had no earthly idea.

It seems so tragic that no one reported you missing. No all points bulletins, no amber alerts, no posters up in the bus depots, grocery stores and airports. Not even a prayer request in the church bulletin. Rather, more lies, more cover up.

When my Mom called to see about getting you to come over for some more babysitting, your Mother lied and told her that her sister was very ill in Iowa and that you had moved down there to help out. Again, my Mom's radar wondered what was going on, but there was nothing she could do. It was weird. Your Mom was used to lying. It was her way of protecting herself and her children. If only she could have gotten help. The first big lie your Mom was forced to tell was to hide the fact that she was pregnant with you when she got married. You never knew that did you? You were born just after your Mom turned 16. She was just a child. Your Dad was 24. It seemed like the extra 20 dollars that was passed over during the handshake was all that was needed to grease the wheels and get the necessary documents. At some point, 3 years were added to her age, so things would seem on the up and up. Your parents were married by a Justice of the Peace in Iowa and immediately left for Canada. What better way to start a new life and blend in than to move to a small, highly religious community on the Alberta prairies where people wouldn't ask questions? Your Dad knew all the lingo, knew how to play the part. After you left, your family never spoke of you again. It was like you were never born. When your sisters would ask about you, they were told that you were gone and wouldn't be coming back and never to ask again or they would be punished.

The call came about 11:00 on a Monday night. 3 years had passed since you had left and I was now 11 and you were 18. We boys were in bed, but in our tiny house we could easily hear the phone ring. It was you on the other end of the line. You called collect and I have always been amazed that you remembered our number. Mom answered and accepted the charges. She was so surprised and relieved to hear from you. In less than 5 minutes you blurted out what Mom had suspected all along. In your short time on this earth you had lived more than your nine lives. You were calling from a pay phone outside the bathroom in a bar you thought was in New Mexico, but weren't really sure. You explained to Mom that once you realized you were in over your head with the gang, and were sick and tired of being passed around like a piece of meat, you tried to run away. Several of the guys hunted you down and returned you to the main camp. Branding you with a hot iron with the gang's insignia, you were told that if you ever ran away again things would be worse. You asked Mom if she knew how your two younger sisters were and I am sure it haunted you whether they were going through what you had experienced. We didn't have caller ID in those days and Mom had no idea where you were calling from. By the end of the call you were both crying. You said you couldn't talk anymore as they could be coming to look for you at anytime. Mom was so stunned, all she could think of to say was that she would pray for you. And she did.

She also went to the police. The next day, we bundled up and got in the little red Ford Falcon and drove to the police station. Mom left the car running as she went inside to meet with Sergeant Moller. When she came out she was fighting back the tears. Later that evening, when Dad came home from the office, we heard her telling him that although the Sergeant was understanding, there was little he could do. You were now 18, no one had ever reported you missing and if you were really in the United States when you called, they had no jurisdiction over that country. And besides, where would they even start looking for you? As to any allegations, what proof did she have? No one else had come forward. Mom was absolutely devastated and felt so hopeless. All she could do was pray you would call again. You never did.

Holly, I wish you had been able to tell my Mom what was going on when you first met her. You could have come and stayed at our house. We boys could have used a big sister. Mom and Dad weren't perfect, but there was a ton of love and fun in our house. You would have been safe, nurtured and loved. You could have begun to heal. It seems almost flippant and somewhat disrespectful for me to tell you that I feel so blessed to have had the home I had. Please don't take it that way. I think when someone has something right, it makes it even easier to recognize wrong.

He died 4 years ago. As far as I know, he was able to keep everything hidden until that day. I would like to think he died of a guilty conscience. Up until the day he died, he was still wearing those too tight, polyester suits from the 70's and still using that horrid smelling hair cream that you hated. He was coming home from a prayer meeting and just dropped dead in the driveway.

Your Mom is in the senior's home. She seems happy. She is getting the best of care. The nurses say that she really has no memory. Maybe that's for the best.

Last week, when you passed away, there was no funeral. No one came to say goodbye. I wish we had known; we would have sent flowers. If I could have picked the music, I would have chosen two songs. The first is one of my favorite Vince Gill songs, written when his friend, singer-songwriter Keith Whitley, died at the age of 35. He is joined by Ricky Skaggs and Patty Loveless on background vocals. When they hit the chorus, it never fails to send shivers down my spine. I have taken the liberty of inserting your name in the lyrics.

Vince sings in his clear tenor voice:

I know your life on earth was troubled
And only you could know the pain
You weren't afraid to face the devil
You were no stranger to the rain

Go rest high on that mountain
Holly your work on earth is done
Go to heaven a-shoutin'
Look for the Father and the Son

The other would have been one of my favorite Sarah McLachlan songs:

Arms Of An Angel

Spend all your time waiting for that second chance
For the break that will make it ok
There's always some reason to feel not good enough
And it's hard at the end of the day
I need some distraction, oh beautiful release
Memories seep from my veins
They may be empty and weightless, and maybe
I'll find some peace tonight

In the arms of an Angel, fly away from here
From this dark, cold hotel room, and the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage of your silent reverie
You're in the arms of an Angel; may you find some comfort here

So tired of the straight line, and everywhere you turn
There's vultures and thieves at your back
The storm keeps on twisting, you keep on building the lies
That you make up for all that you lack
It don't make no difference, escaping one last time
It's easier to believe
In this sweet madness, oh this glorious sadness
That brings me to my knees

In the arms of an Angel, far away from here
From this dark, cold hotel room, and the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage of your silent reverie
In the arms of an Angel; may you find some comfort here

Rest In Peace, Holly. I am so, so sorry.

Love, the little brother you never had,


Special Note:

Nobody, children or adult, should have to endure abuse of any kind.
If you or someone you know is being abused either sexually, physically,
mentally or emotionally, please, please speak up. There are people
who are prepared and want to help. Be a part of breaking the silence.
Be the voice of change.

Additional note: The story of "Holly" has haunted me for years. Let me offer a few words of explanation here if I may. Holly is obviously not the girls real name. The core story however is true. In order to protect and honor the real person and give some privacy to her family, I blended in parts of several other true stories that sadly I have become aware of in recent years. "Holly" was NOT a Prairie staff kid, but rather a local girl whom my mother knew. By the nature of my father pastoring at Bethel we were not always in the insulated bubble of Prairie that some were. The reasons I posted the story are multiple. Firstly, I wanted to stand with any and all victims of these horrible atrocities. Secondly, I wanted to do my small part to help create awareness especially in faith communities that these issues must be addressed, and the sooner the better so together we can begin to end this vicious cycle. Thirdly, I also wanted to do my part, however small, in helping victims begin to feel that they are not alone and do whatever I can to help on their journey towards restoration and wholeness. For those of you that think I have an active imagination and just made up an emotionally charged story for effect, you are sadly wrong. I actually left out some of the more horrible parts.

© 2011 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Each year when Christmas came around my mother played the role of part time Santa, part-time Mother Teresa. She took on the monumental task of making sure that, as it seemed to me at the time, half the town had a present under their tree from the Rendalls. These were not particularly exotic, expensive presents, but rather a token of her love. One year, it might have been a candle or decorated soaps which she had made. Another year it may have been a special food item. She would individually wrap hundreds of gifts for neighbors, friends, families, married students, the senior's organization and many others. My brother Dave and I were called on to act as "Santa's helpers" and were enlisted to help make deliveries.

One house I was usually dispatched to was directly across the street. The small house couldn't have been more than 400 square feet and was always neatly kept. I was very fearful of the particular tenants of this house, especially the man. Not because he was part of a gang or the toughest guy in town. He wasn't a particularly big or strong man. Yet I knew he had a weapon. Not a knife or gun, not even a sling shot. The weapon he wielded was a pen . . . a poisonous one.

Tom Brannan and his wife lived in the small house across the street and had moved to Three Hills to enroll their kids in the high school at Prairie. There was some kind of disagreement with the administration over a disciplinary action involving one of his children and Tom really let this get under his skin. Quite frankly he became bitter. This little seed of bitterness grew into an entire root system that choked out life. He began to turn his anger into letter writing. A gifted man and former preacher, he was never at a loss for words. Over the years he wrote dozens and dozens of letters to the local paper and individual leaders at the school. He attacked L.E. Maxwell, my Father and others in his rants. He had not only taken a bitter pill, he had swallowed the whole bottle. Venom and bile spewed from his pen like Mount Vesuvius. Poisonous darts aimed at hurting and causing pain were lobbed in the direction of any and all that he felt had wronged him or his family in some way. He attacked with a vengeance that would have made William Wallace proud. This "cause" absolutely consumed him. He thought of little else and really had no life outside of this obsession. No friends, no real activities, just a very sad life. As is often the case in small towns, the rumors swirled and Tom became a larger than life figure as people went out of their way to avoid him on the streets and in the shops, fearful that he might turn his weapon on them. Looking like something from an aggressive political campaign, even his lawn was dotted with small stakes sporting placards denouncing his great displeasure with Prairie.

So there I was, every Christmas, standing on the step of that tiny house, knocking on the door, gift in hand. Usually it was Mrs. that came to the door, but occasionally "he" would answer. I would hand over the package, wish them a Merry Christmas and scoot back across the street, heart pounding with fear that I might just get shot at any moment. Safely inside, I would take some time to recover before Mom would send me on to the next delivery. Mom and Dad always greeted the Brannans with a cheery hello as they would pass them on the sidewalk or see them out working in their yard. They treated them like neighbors and never shunned them in any way.

Many years passed, the letters continued to be written and at some point, Mrs. Brannan passed away. Well into his eighties, the loss of his wife only made matters worse as it gave Tom more time to focus on the wrongs which he felt had been done. One of our good family friends had also befriended the Brannans and she made a consistent effort to stay in touch with him after his wife died. One day she was over at his house for a visit when he began to break down and lament the horrible things he had written and said about the school over the many years. He said he had been doing a lot of thinking about his life and wondered what he should do. Our friend kindly suggested that they call my Dad and he would know what to do. Dad went over to the house and met with Tom. He sensed a completely different man and so offered a suggestion. "Would you like an opportunity to address the entire church after my sermon on Sunday?", Dad asked him. "You would really allow me to do that?", Tom replied. "Of course", Dad said.

Arrangements were made for Tom to be in church that next Sunday morning. After Dad was done preaching he called Tom up to the pulpit. As he made his way forward every eye focused on the "monster of Three Hills". Dad spoke to the congregation and said, "Mr. Brannan has something he would like to say", and then moved over and stood right beside him. The tears began before he even started speaking. Dad put his arm around his shoulder as he stood there sobbing, his entire frame shaking. With a quavering voice hardly understandable at times, Tom apologized for the hurt he had caused so many for so long. You could have heard a pin drop in that tabernacle. When Tom was done Dad took the microphone and addressed the congregation. He sincerely thanked Tom for having the courage to stand up and say what he had just said. He accepted his apology and then he did what I thought was the most compassionate thing. He invited any of the congregation who wanted to come forward to show their support and forgiveness of Tom to do so. Dozens of people got up out of their seats and came up on the platform. Forming a semi circle around Tom, Dad said a prayer. When he was finished, folk lined up to hug this man and shake his hand. You could see the transformation on Tom's face as the burdens of bitterness, piled up over many, many years, began to slide away.

As I have reflected on this story in recent years, I am struck by three things.

The first is that bitterness not dealt with will grow and destroy. As Rhianna sings in her song, Disturbia:

"It's a thief in the night
To come and grab you
It can creep up inside you
And consume you
A disease of the mind
It can control you"

The second is that it is never too late and we are never too old to say, "I'm sorry", admit our wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness.

The third is that as community we need to be willing to offer up forgiveness and restoration and not let our bitterness and cynicism about someone else's bitterness stand in the way.

From that day on, Tom began attending church and would sit right up at the front. After church, Dad would barely be in the door and get his coat off, when the phone would ring. It would be Tom from across the street with a word of encouragement on how much he enjoyed the sermon that day.

The poison pen had been put away. . . it had run out of ink.
© 2011 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


The tale of the PHS library . . .

Thursday, May 5, 2011


I want to again say a big thank you to each one of you for reading my blog. For those of you who have left comments, sent me emails, and called, I am humbled and truly grateful. What started out to be some storytelling encouraged by my family is turning out to be something that is being used to bring hope, healing and a few laughs to more people than I could ever have imagined. I had no idea that the stories would resonate like they have. I wish I had time to write each of you individually and thank you.

I have identified between 75 to 100 stories I think are worth telling from the first 20 years of my life. I am in the process of putting these into a book form which will include more pictures and some other surprises. If you have ideas or can help jog my memory on a story or two I would be most indebted.

You can contact me at:

For clarity sake there is an index on the right hand side that lists the stories, just click on those and read on!

Blessings - SjR

Sunday, April 24, 2011




Coming soon!


It's not easy raising children at the best of times and having 12 mouths to feed would mean that there would be many sacrifices. These sacrifices were even more significant for the Nicholas Bauman family. Nic was born to German Mennonite parents in Russia, were they had a prosperous farm. His dad died when he was a small boy and his mother moved with some of her children, including Nic, to Canada just before the Russian revolution broke out.

Nic married Susan, born of German Mennonite parents, in Canada, close to where they farmed. It is no small feat to uproot your family and move a great distance from your home but this is exactly what the Bauman family did in 1955. Nic and Susie packed up six of their ten children and moved 400 miles from their farm near Aberdeen, Saskatchewan to Three Hills, AB. The main purpose of the move was for the children to be able to attend the schools at Prairie. Four of the older children had already left home.

The Baumans had been farmers and the move marked a dramatic change in employment for Nic. They joined staff in an associate position, where every winter Nic worked in the carpenter shop and at Prairie's lumber camp out in the foothills of Alberta. Each spring he would return to farm in Saskatchewan. Later they sold the farm and became full time staff members. After an accident in the carpenter shop, in which he lost part of his thumb and badly damaged two fingers, Nic worked at the dining hall in the dish washing room until spring when he would begin his planting.

This time, the planting had a different purpose than growing food. Food for the soul you could call it. Nic started in a couple of tiny greenhouses, later working in a much larger greenhouse which was constructed specifically for that purpose. He brought the heart of a farmer to this calling and embraced his passion with 100% of his being. He spent numerous hours there, lovingly tending hundreds of plants, many of which he later planted all over campus. Others were sold to staff members for their private yards. He also made a significant contribution to the campus by planting dozens of evergreens which not only provided some shelter from the howling north winds, but helped give the grounds a warm inviting atmosphere.

My own Mother believed that we should not only nurture our bodies, but our souls and spirits as well. Because we lived in the middle of the bald prairie and had a rather spartan house and lot, Mom did everything she could to add some beauty to the equation. In every house we lived, she would plant flowers, shrubs and trees, bringing a taste of heaven to the yard. She planted tulips and daffodils close to the sheltered side of the house so they would be the first to bloom in the spring. Lilac bushes, flowering Chinese cherry trees, peonies, sweet peas, bleeding hearts, irises  and rose bushes added to the color and fragrance of the yard.

Each spring she would pile my brother and I into the little red Ford Falcon and off to the greenhouse we would head. As we opened the door, the humid, earthen smell would greet us and so would Nic Bauman. This gentle, soft spoken man would stand amidst thousands of colorful plants and flowers, thrilled to see another customer intent on making their corner of the planet just a little more beautiful. He was surrounded by trays of petunias, marigolds, snap dragons and bachelor buttons. Containers of geraniums stood like quiet sentinels. In the corner were buckets of bushes - catoni astors along with small pine and birch tree saplings all waiting for new homes. Nic would visit with my Mom as my brother and I chased each other up and down the aisles waiting for the signal that we were ready to load the car.

My Mom and Nic became fast friends and one of their shared interests was their passion for roses. Three Hills, Alberta is not exactly the rose capital of the world and a lot of extra care and attention is needed not only to have them bloom, but to ensure their survival through the long cold winters. He gave her tips on fertilizing, mulching, planting and pruning and in time, Mom grew some fantastic roses. She also tried her hand at raising the Alberta Wild Rose, the flower of the province, but it seemed to grow best in it's natural habitat, and so that idea was abandoned.

Nic planted many rose bushes all over the campus. These roses always took extra care, not only in the growing, but preparing them in the fall for winter. Yellow, pink, red and white roses. Tea cup, climbing, dainty, hybrid and English varieties gave the campus the look of a small botanical garden. Up against the walls of buildings holly hocks were planted, adding dimension and vibrant color to the landscaping, all loving planted and cared for by this talented gardener.

Sometimes, seeing my Dad on his way home from work, Nic would give him a rose or two whose stem had been broken in a strong wind storm or by a careless biker who had gotten too close. Dad would bring these roses home to Mom. She would put them in a rose bowl or vase on the table, brightening up the room and bringing a beautiful aroma to the space.

Whenever I see roses, I think of the old Southern Gospel song, Where The Roses Never Fade. The words were written by Janie West Metzgar in 1929 and the music composed by her son Robert Metzgar. This song was made famous by The Cathedral Quartet. The lyrics give hope as well as speak about life. One of the lines from the song says; "I am going to a city, Where the streets of gold are paved, Where the tree of life is blooming, and the roses never fade."

I love spring! The promise of fresh growth, the smell of nutrient rich black dirt, new beginnings, rain on the rooftops, the cry of the meadowlark, the vibrant green of the trees and fields and . . .  roses.

Sadly we lost my Mom in 1993 after a 17 year battle with MS. Nic Bauman passed away on February 9th, 2000 at the age of 102, after a life well lived. I sometimes wonder if  Nic may still be giving my Mom some tips on how to grow better roses.

© 2013 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.  

Friday, March 25, 2011


Don't worry, I am not going over the edge. I am standing on the edge. Tomorrow is a big day for me - half a century old. Hard to believe, but true. I tell you this not to solicit your best wishes (although those are always appreciated) but to share a little of what my thoughts have been leading up to this time.

Years ago, Randy Stonehill had a song called, "Turning 30" which I thought was really quite funny as it seemed so far away! Whoever would have thought those lyrics could now be sung, Turning 50? My kids thought I was "over the hill" when I turned 40!

My whole life I have been a dabbler. This has led to fear, panic, some humor and lots of frustration - mainly at myself. My patient wife deserves a medal!

It's not that I can't finish a project. I have produced or engineered hundreds of album projects, written completed songs, a few scripts and some stories. But for some reason this proclivity has put me firmly in the "jack of all trades, master of none" camp. I just seem to have too many interests. I think in doing some self analysis there are plenty of reasons for this, but the bottom line is what do I do to handle that reality. (a subject for another time perhaps?)

For the last 7 years or so (for reasons too complex to get into here) I have felt like my creative life has left me. Not that I make any aspirations of greatness either as an artist or a producer of art, but I have felt like the creative juices have slowly been sucked out of my soul, leaving me like a dry prune in the desert. I have taken to calling these "the desert years".

The joy that I gleaned from even listening to music seemed to have vanished. For those of you who know me, you will find that hard to believe! I used to get such energy from music. Laying on the living room floor listening to Peter Gabriel's So or Sting's Ten Summoners Tales or many other fine recordings brought me energy, ideas and spiritual refreshment. Even my love of reading seemed to be forced. I haven't drawn a picture, carved anything or painted in years. Not even doodled!

This last year I have seen a glimmer of hope for the creative life once again. At the encouragement of one of our children, I started writing a few stories about growing up in a very conservative environment in the middle of the prairies of Alberta, Canada. This has not been only personally rewarding, but it seems like many of the stories have resonated with the reader judging by the many notes and emails I have received. I am grateful for this and in a funny way, it has maybe been the "jump start" I have needed. I am thankful and humbled by the editors that are giving my little stories another life.

This year two momentous events occur. I turn 50 and Cathy and I will have been married 30 years. We feel blessed. Our lives have been rich and full (maybe too full at times!) As I reflect on the years to come, I have given much thought as to what those years could and should look like. I even obtained the book, FACING 50 by Jim Smoke, to see if there might be some clues contained therein. Another good book I have read is called, HALF TIME by Bob Buford.

The conclusion that I have reached is that I want to continue in a creative capacity and focus more on giving back. Providing resources that will help and encourage others in their creative pursuits. I have come up with a small outline in the hope that by putting it out there, it will give me some structure as well as maybe in a strange way give me some accountability to you the reader who can check up on the progress and kick my butt on occasion.

So here you have it. The plan as it looks now:


The next month or so will see the launch of The blog thing is cool, but it doesn't really allow me to stretch out and paint a bigger picture. My stories aren't really "blog material" in the traditional sense and I would like to be able to blog as well as continue to write stories. The website will allow me to do all of that along with being able to add more content - pictures, articles as well as to be able to focus on other aspects of the business, etc. I get emails and calls from parents of potential musicians and songwriters as well as artists themselves seeking advice on their music or the music business. This will allow me to start small useful articles that I hope will be a help to many. A couple of the first ones will be titled, TEN KEYS TO PRE PRODUCTION, THE NASHVILLE NO, and WHY THE SONG MATTERS. If you know of people who would benefit from this type of information, please direct them to the web site. And it's free!


I never thought I would say this again, but here goes. One of the huge issues in running a small record company is distribution. Having myself, survived the demise of at least six distributors of our music over the last 20 years, it has almost been insurmountable to have sustained many of these financial hits. Along with deep discouragement on the part of artists, employees and myself, it was a continual uphill battle on every front. In some ways, all of that has changed. As most of your know, the music business is in a huge crisis. The old ways aren't working anymore and the control of the business is not the purview of just a few. The playing field gets more level everyday and I strongly feel that in every crisis comes opportunity. There is no real consensus among the "experts" on where this is all heading as the opinions are many. That being said, I will be relaunching the record company this year. Starting off we will release a lot of the old catalog in a digital only format. As to future plans we will just have to wait and see. So, if you have been looking for some of the old HMG catalog, wait no longer, it will be available once more.


Many of you know that I have had a keen interest in radio going back to my grade school days. From my underground station in high school ( ) to my work at KTFC in Sioux City, IA after high school, radio has been near and dear to my heart. With the advent of the internet I have decided to start my own radio network. Don't worry, this time it will all be legal! The first channel will be called - MIXED UP LIFE and will be a very eclectic mix of music in a commercial free environment. I have a sense that many of you are like me and appreciate a format that is not so narrow casted. My vision for this channel is that you may hear an Over The Rhine song, followed by Sting and then maybe the Beatles, Allison Krause, Jars of Clay, Emmylou Harris, Andrea Bocelli, the Eagles and on and on. Perhaps I will sneak in a few of the artists that I have been privileged to work with over the years - Jill Paquette, Jaylene Johnson, Matt Brouwer or Starfield. Just good music with GREAT songs. - could it get any better? I would like to add more channels as we go that would incorporate some other ideas as well, but I'll start with one. I feel as the web becomes more accessible in vehicles, on mobile devices and whatever might be next, the opportunity to build this type of station is now and target a global audience. You will be able to tune in at work, at home or on the go! Stay tuned for more details about - WWHRN - MIXED UP LIFE


My book, MEMOIRS OF A PRAIRIE BOY is slowly coming together. My goal is to try and get it published by next summer. I am very excited about the format as it will have a ton of pictures, quotes and other surprises. It will be available in paper form as well as an ebook. I have listed about 100 stories that I hope to finish and publish in the book relating to my first 20 years on this planet. I am thrilled at the discovery of a picture that I hope to use as the cover. It is a photo of me as a small boy saying goodbye to my Dad when he was leaving on a tour.


For many years I have had an idea for a novel ruminating around in my head. Taking many of my experiences in the music business and threading them together with a good story I think I just may be on to a little something. Many friends and colleagues have encouraged me over the years to get it written so that is another goal for this year. Tentatively titled, SINS OF MY FATHER, the story is about southern gospel, rock 'n roll, the music business, fame, addiction, racism, a little hanky panky, forgiveness, and redemption. More to come . . .


In this new world we are living in, it opens up a world of opportunities. One of those is the ability to publish books economically as well as make them available electronically for the growing amount of e readers. One of the things I hope to do this year as well is to start a publishing company that will get both my Dad and Mom's books back into print. I will be working with my brother and a team to make this a reality. We will start with about 12 books and Dad is as of this writing proofreading the first one. We will be updating them with new covers, some new content, etc., and making them available world wide. As many of you know, Mom had one book with Moody Press that sold over 100,000 copies back in the day and had just finished another one at the time of her passing that was never published. I can think of no better way to honor her than to see that book to fruition.


Hoping to finish the complete Hollywood Heroes project this year ( in addition to other projects, I am excited to be working on a "Mystery Project". I hope to be able to give you more details in coming weeks.


One of my regrets is that I have not done more mentoring and teaching. I have done some and each time, I have found it both rewarding and fulfilling. To that end I have started a youtube channel called: prairieboyTV. This will be a place where I hope to do a lot of teaching about the studio, production tricks and techniques, etc. From how to mic an acoustic guitar to getting a solid drum sound and great vocal, this should prove to be the perfect venue for this type of thing. I also want to provide solid information for those on a budget that will help them save time, increase productivity and save money. I may throw up a few stories on there as well as have some guests that will add their expertise to the proceedings.

So on the eve of turning 50 I know there is a lot to do, so as the saying goes - "Let's get busy!"


Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Along with a stop at the White House, The Capitol, the various monuments and memorials, no visit to Washington, D.C. is complete without a visit to the Smithsonian.

Officially begun in 1836, the Smithsonian is comprised of 19 museums, a zoo and nine research center facilities. These are primarily located in Washington, D.C., but there are other sites in New York, Virginia and Panama as well. The museum has over 136 million items in its collections. A person could, quite literally, spend weeks, if not months, taking in all that these incredible resources have to offer.

Every spring and fall, we had our own mini version of the Smithsonian come to Prairie. Conference, as it was known, was a very big deal, not only because we didn't have to attend school, but relatives and friends would travel many miles to attend and there were always exciting things to see and do. To make room for outside guests, many of the students in the dorm would move out and sleep in the gymnasiums which were lined with dozens of mattresses on the floor. The conference was held in the large auditorium that we called the Tabernacle.

Hundreds of missionaries from around the globe would set up missionary booths in Tab East and Tab West and parts in between. The booths would contain literature, artifacts and pictures from the represented country and most had signup sheets to receive additional newsletters and information from the mission. For years after I left home, Mom and Dad received mail which I had signed up for. In between the main meetings and seminars these displays would be open for our perusal. If dramatic tales from the likes of Dr. Arthur Mouw, Don Richardson and Dr. Helen Roseveare didn't thrill and challenge, you could be sure to find something of interest at the booths.

When I was about 8 years of age, I decided that I was going to learn Swahili. A most kindly retired missionary by the name of Ruth Schaefer, who lived in X dorm, (at that time all of the dormitories on campus were named by letter), would patiently try and teach me every Saturday morning. Mrs. Schaefer had been a missionary in Kenya and had mastered the language. At 9 o'clock I would go to her small room in the dorm with my little notebook and try my best to become a world class linguist. It probably comes as a bit of a shock to you that not much stuck, but I do remember "Hello" - "Jambo" and "Friend" - "Rafiki", so I guess I can at least greet you with . . . "Jambo Rafiki"!

Missionaries from the many countries and organizations would be manning the conference booths. Beautiful Japanese dolls, soapstone carvings from the Inuit, fancy beadwork from native American Indians, intricate ivory carvings from India and tribal masks from Africa were all on display. The dried skins of leopards, cheetahs, tigers and lions along with the mounted heads of exotic African animals took their place alongside anacondas, cobras and python skins that were stretched along the top of the walls. Black adders in big pickle jars along with scorpions, tarantulas and other deadly spiders joined beautiful dried butterflies and beetles, making a veritable cornucopia of color. Most of the missionaries would dress up in authentic native clothing - kimonos, saris and dashikis all added to the authentic flavor of the conference. Among the tribal spears, knives, bows and arrows and indigenous work tools, there was one thing that caught my attention. These were the shrunken heads. Real human heads that had been shrunk down to the size of a softball by a very time consuming and tedious process. When you are six years old, that will get your attention!

As I wandered around these many booths, my mind would be transported to all of the exotic locations that these artifacts represented and I would wonder if someday, I, too, would  be a missionary.

Before the obsession with body modification became de rigueur in western culture, we saw pictures of elaborate tattoos, piercings of all types, scarification, extended ear lobes, elongated necks and lip discs. We seemed to take all of this in stride and I can't remember being that disturbed or traumatized by these sights.

Some of the booths featured slide shows or special viewers where you could get a better overview of the work. Displays from South America and Papua New Guinea featured partially clad or fully naked pictures of the residents. Large groups of people all staring at the camera with nothing on but a smile on their faces. Some of the women were dressed in grass skirts, suckling small infants, proving that Newton's law of gravity is more than just a theory. It would seem that Victoria's Secret had not yet opened a franchise in any of these countries. Many of the men in the pictures evidently had never heard of Calvin Klein either as indicated by their state of undress.

A group of us curious boys were fascinated by some of the pictures of the male members of the tribes. On closer inspection, we could see a very long bamboo looking column sticking straight up from slightly below the waist of the adult men. WHOA! Was there something wrong with us? Could IT really be in there and was it really THAT long? Was it a lotion, a potion perhaps, a special massage technique? We were pretty sure that our local IDA drugstore didn't sell anything of that nature! Remember, this was long before the little blue pill came onto the scene. No one bothered to explain that this was called a koteka or horrid. It is a phallocrypt or phallocarp traditionally worn by native male inhabitants of some (mainly highland) ethnic groups in New Guinea to cover their genitals and is not sexual in nature at all. We didn't need to worry . . . we were just fine!

The days of those types of missionary display booths are over. So, now, if you are wanting to see lion skins, shrunken heads, poisonous snakes or other exotic artifacts, you just may want to take a little visit to the Smithsonian . . . just be careful what you sign up for!

© 2011 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

Friday, January 14, 2011


In August 1965, when Howard Crane packed up his earthly belongings and headed to the western plains of Canada, I'm sure he had no idea what his life would have in store. The Cranes lived in Wellsburg, NY, a small town right on the Pennsylvania border. Together with his wife and four children, Howie traveled in their 1956 Chevy for five solid days to arrive at the school. Big changes awaited the family, but they were able to settle in and slowly assimilate into Prairie life.

Howie had trained as a tool and die maker and upon hearing of the need for another machinist at the school he responded. Having had some previous connection, as his youngest brother had attended Prairie High School and his sister had attended the college, he was somewhat familiar with the school. Later on his mother served on staff, working in the Prairie Bookroom. Prairie President L.E Maxwell had also shared the work of the school in the Crane's church and so it was not a complete culture shock when they arrived on campus.

For the first few years Howie worked with Mr. Zweifel or "Pa" as we knew him. Pa was from Switzerland and was a highly trained machinist in his own right. The Zweifels were our neighbors when we lived on Prairie Crescent and in the winter I would often see Pa on his cross country skis coming home from work. He also loved the mountains and made many trips to Banff and area for hiking and climbing.

You may wonder why Prairie needed two machinists but let me assure you that these "behind the scenes" workers kept the place alive and humming. Parts were machined for literally every department on the campus, from the garage to the electronics department. I remember when I was doing student work in the recording studio and we needed a bearing or some other part to keep the old tube Ampex tape recorders rolling, we would pay a little visit to the machine shop. Many of us wondered if there was anything these two couldn't make!

Prairie had a fascinating potpourri of shops. It was enough to give a young boy ADD. Every time you opened a door you would discover a new piece of machinery or someone hard at work on a project. Many a staff kid was the recipient of this unique gift. I remember times when Mom would have to deliver the little red Ford Falcon to the garage for an oil change or to have the winter tires put on and I would duck into the many shops in that area of campus. John Hamm and later Forest Cummings were right next door, always in the middle of a spark show. They ran the welding shop. We would take our broken bikes to them in the hopes that maybe the front forks could be fixed one more time. We invented "offroading" before it was popular! On some of these trips I would visit the machine shop, home of Howie Crane and Pa Zweifel.

Entering the door to the shop opened up an entire new world. Howie would greet us with a big smile and a twinkle in his eyes. Wearing a blue shop apron and clear eye protectors, he would welcome us to his place of service. Large metal lathes, milling machines and drill presses were strategically placed around the shop. Small tools of a precise nature were also important. Punches, scribers, tap wrenches and micrometers were the instruments with which these two men implemented their craft. But there was one fixture that had nothing to do with machining and everything to do with people . . . measuring people.

On one side of the shop was a dedicated wall where Howie would measure every visitor who was willing to stand against it - heels in, shoulders back, chin out. Howie would get his stainless steel ruler from his desk and placing it on our heads he would carefully mark a small line on the wall and write our names and the date. As the years went by hundreds of staff kids were measured on this wall in many colors of ink and pencil. A real work of art. It was fascinating to watch the growth of not only yourself but also your friends. Howie always engaged us in meaningful conversation as he patiently went about the documenting of our heights. I have often said I wished Prairie had been able to preserve that section of the wall for the museum, because of the enormous human element attached to it.

In a recent note from his oldest daughter Gil, she shared the following memories: "We kids used to hang out at the machine shop when we could. I would sweep the shop for him and clean the sink. With the dime he would give me, I would go to the Staff Store for a box of Smarties to share with him. Dad had a big metal block with different sized holes in it, and a box of various sized screws - a puzzle block. I would try to fill as many holes as I could with screws. A wonderful way to keep a child busy. It was always fascinating to watch him create parts for various machines on the variety of lathes. He taught me how to use vernier calipers. He was amazingly particular, down to thousands of an inch, incredibly precise, always calm and patient. Even as a young child I realized that he was of amazing character."

Sometimes it is the seemingly little things that we do that can have long term impact. Howie's soft spoken demeanor and thoughtful care for people won him friends young and old, many who are still in touch with him to this day. Thanks to Howie we also began a wall at our home when we were kids. Dad would measure us up against the cinder block wall of the Crescent house. When Cathy and I got married and had children we carried on the tradition. From our kids to their friends and visitors, sometimes even pets, all were logged on the wall. When we sold our last house in Three Hills, my Aunt Lois painstakingly transcribed every line off the wall to a long sheet of paper to be copied over to a new wall.

So if you come over for a visit and you see me fetching a pencil and a ruler, you had better measure up!

© 2011 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.