Monday, February 10, 2014


Rare photo courtesy of Brumbolt
I met Wally Aspell when I was a young girl working at Metropolitan News, my family's international newspaper store on Peel Street in Montreal. He was always nice to me, friendly, cheerful. Even though he was a professional entertainer and I was just a kid behind the counter, he never ignored me or talked down to me. I was thrilled when he gave me an 8X10 studio portrait of his fresh and handsome face. I still cherish that photograph more than half a century later.
Wally was a star on Montreal's entertainment scene. He appeared on  radio on Cross-Country Hit Parade on March 28, 1956 along with Guy Mitchell. He also appeared in at least one movie that I know of - The Hotel New Hampshire - 1983/84 - with Jodie Foster, Beau Bridges, Rob Lowe and Walter Massey. But most of all, he was known as a showman, a vocalist who was sure to provide a delightful evening of music to his audience, many of whom were musicians and movie stars.
Wally knew all the music and lyrics to hundreds of show tunes, all the words, all the verses, and he knew who produced, directed and appeared in the shows, and he knew the behind-the-scenes stories. He was a cornucopia, an encyclopedia of Broadway and movie musical lore.
Wally was gay, and sometimes that made his life very difficult for him starting from the time he was a boy of about twelve. He was openly gay and he could not hide it. One evening at La Roma - a fine restaurant and piano lounge on Peel Street near the Mount Royal Hotel - my husband Cliff and I ran into Wally when we went there to hear singer-pianist George Taylor.
George Taylor was a very handsome, elegant gentleman. One sunny afternoon I saw George walking toward me when I was strolling on Peel Street near La Roma and the sight of him took my breath away. He was dressed in a black suit, a white turtle neck shirt and black leather gloves and he was carrying a black leather brief case. He was just stunning.
George Taylor was a genuine class act. He treated Cliff as if he were his own father and indeed, they had qualities in common. We were shocked and very sad when this lovely, talented gentleman suddenly died at a much too young age. What a loss !
Back to Wally. That evening at La Roma, Cliff and I sat listening with pleasure to George Taylor singing "Georgia on my Mind" and I saw Wally at a table nearby with Liberace's chauffeur. Wally was really enjoying himself. In fact, he was celebrating with a flourish. All that was missing was a pink feather boa.
I hadn't seen Wally in a long time, but I always felt a personal bond with him. Once, when I was very young, I had even visited Wally's home which he shared with his mother. We were not intimate friends, but we had more than a business relationship. We had touched each others lives many times over the years in a warm and friendly way. So when I saw the way Wally was carrying on, I felt an acute  pang. I was afraid people would ridicule him. I went to his table and very discretely and gently asked him to tone it down.
I was stunned and hurt when Wally rebuked me. It was quite some time after that before we spoke again. But when we did, it was as if it had never happened. Wally was a kind man, not one to hold a grudge.
Wally was almost always mild-mannered. A musician named Billy Georgette came to Wally's place one day asking to borrow some of his sheet music. Wally had stacks of sheet music in his closet. They were his stock-in-trade and his treasures. He would never lend them out. But Georgette was known in the community to be a self-centered individual and that day he was really persistent.
Finally Wally gave in and told Georgette he could select a few pieces if he promised to return them soon. Georgette loaded up his arms and walked out the door quickly with a big stack of Wally's song sheets. Several times over the years, Wally asked Georgette to return his music, but he refused - until a couple of Wally's brawny fans took it upon themselves to pay Georgette a visit. They just knocked on Georgette's door and stood there. I do believe the music was finally returned. All these decades later, I have not forgotten. In my book the name of Bully Georgette is mud.
In the 1980's, Wally held court at Bellamy's Lounge in Le Manoir LeMoyne in downtown Montreal. He owned the audience there and musicians, movie stars and all sorts of celebrities came to sit in.  Late at night, after Cliff closed his own piano for the night, we often went to Bellamy's to jam with Wally and his company. We never knew who we might find there on any given night. It was Christmas every time.
Whenever Cliff came into the room, Wally's face would light up and he would invite Cliff to take his place at the piano. Wally called him "Cliffy".
With guests like Cyndi Lauper and Gordon Pinsent in the room, Cliff would  take his turn at the piano and charm the audience. One evening, Cliff, Wally, Johnny Gilbert, Jamie Gelfand and one other musician - I think Michel Donato - all played an impromptu jazz concert on Wally's piano at the same time - three on the bench and two standing - five great musicians having a ball and the audience witnessing a unique musical event. A Montreal columnist reported the event in the newspaper the next day. I have that clipping in one of my many scrapbooks.
I love to sing. Since I was a young girl, I dreamed of being a movie actress and a singer. I took opera  lessons with Mme. Pauline Donalda. My dream was to sing, one day, with Cliff Carter. It took decades for that dream to come true. Starting in the early 1970's, I was singing in clubs with Cliff, but I was mike shy. I would not - could not dare to use a microphone. Wally changed my life.
One evening at Le Manoir LeMoyne, Wally took me by the hand and sat me down beside him at the piano and insisted that I use the mike. Nudging me with his knee when it was my turn to sing the next line, he turned me from an amateur to a professional singer with that one song. From that pivotal moment on, I was able to sing with Cliff on mike in public - in supper clubs and lounges and occasionally on radio. I am forever indebted to Wally and so grateful.
Wally had a huge heart. Years later, when Cliff was sick in hospital, Wally, who was himself at the time seriously ill at home, got all bundled up - it wasn't winter, but he was that sick - and he walked to Brisson and Brisson, a fine men's store on Sherbrooke Street West in downtown Montreal - to buy Cliff a beautiful tie for his birthday. At that time, all Wally could eat was Campbell's soup. That is how sick he was, and still, he cared so much for Cliff that he had to go and buy him a fine birthday present.

Cliff never wore that tie. I still have it in it's original box and I cherish it as a treasure of the friendship Wally had for us. When Wally died, much too young, we lost an important musician, a charming entertainer and a very special friend. I offer this memoir in his honour.
Phyllis Carter
The Sheba
See Mr. Nostalgia, Cliff Carter at


Phyllis Carter said...

See Mr. Nostalgia, Cliff Carter at for photos of Brumbolt's celebrity wall, now including a photo of Mr. Nostalgia and The Sheba.

Phyllis Carter said...

May 10, 2015 - When I forget the lyrics to a song I love, I remember that Wally knew them all. Every word, every song. The world lost a lovely talent when we lost Wally Aspell.