January, 2006

Famed guitarist Randy Bachman's high school days were both rockin' and rocky.

“My early school years in West Kildonan were a breeze. I was an A student till the ninth grade.

"It was at that time that I saw Elvis Presley on TV and quit playing the violin and started playing the guitar. I was obsessed with learning this new instrument and the new music called rock and roll. School became secondary in my life. I attended because I had to, but I really wasn’t there. I was daydreaming of playing on stage, going through songs in my head, and couldn’t wait to get home to pick up the guitar and play to my records.

"I made it through Grade 9 at Edmund Partridge Junior High School, but when I got to West Kildonan Collegiate my Grade 10 suffered. I failed the year. However, I learned so much guitar theory in that time from the great Lenny Breau that I didn’t care. Repeating Grade 10 was a breeze because I knew almost 45 per cent of the work already and only had to learn 10 per cent more. I barely passed, but I did pass. You can see where I was at.

"G'rade 11 was a different story. I continued my focus on guitar, learning from Lenny Breau and, true to the pattern, I flunked Grade 11.

"When it came time to repeat Grade 11, I was put in a class with a bunch of other “losers.” We were mainly all guys who had either flunked or dropped out and came back. There were almost 40 of us in that class. We were a hard-to-handle, wild bunch. Our teacher was hand picked for us.

"Ted Holdaway was previously the captain of the Australian water polo team who had just played in the Commonwealth Games in Winnipeg, loved it, immigrated and became a high school teacher. He got us -- the wild bunch.

"I remember the first day of school in Grade 11 too well.  Rowdy was a good word for the classroom. Ted Holdaway called me up to the front of the classroom and said,  ‘OK, you rowdy bunch of blokes, it’s time to pick your class president.’ He looked me in the eye and said, ‘I’ve read your records which say you’re hard to handle and don’t care about school. I think they’re wrong. If you’ve been playing violin since you were five years old, you’ve got discipline and determination.  I think you should lead this class and make something of yourself.’ He then announced that I would run for class president, and did everyone agree? The answer was yes.

"From that moment on, I felt the responsibility of others watching me and to be a leader. I did my best, but I led them nowhere.  I was so fixated on rock and roll guitar. I couldn’t lead them to some great scholastic or athletic vision as I didn’t even want to go there myself. But I remember Holdaway and what he said.

"Half way through my repeat of Grade 11, I got thrown out of West Kildonan Collegiate by the principal, who had had enough of me and my lack of studiousness. I went to a new school, Garden City Collegiate. The principal, Robert Bend, and vice-principal, R.R. Bailey, gave me the same talk that Ted Holdaway gave me. They said they’d give me a chance, one last chance, to get my act together. I took that chance. Guitar still had a big place in my life, but getting through school had a new priority. After Grade 12, I went to what is now Red River College and studied business administration. Although I never graduated (I left to go on a rock- and-roll tour in the United States), I still draw on that knowledge to this day.

"Now, decades later, I feel like I have made some of those teachers proud.  When I was given an honorary doctorate in music from the University of Brandon a few years ago, I looked out into the front row to see the beaming face, with tears running down it, of R.R. Bailey, my vice-principal from Garden City Collegiate. We had a great chat later. I told him that I also had a congratulations letter from Ted Holdaway, who was now retired and living in Edmonton.

"They told me how proud they were with what I had done with my life. I, in turn, told them how important they were to my life and how being given the proper encouragement and guidance to meet every challenge was so important to me. It proves the adage 'one kind word of encouragement is worth more than a dozen harsh words of criticism.'

"I truly believe that school teachers fulfill one of the most important roles in our society. They spend more time with children than parents do after a certain age and their effect is remembered for a lifetime.”

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