Bishop was a happening street in the 1980s. That was when George Bowser and I were putting in our requisite 10,000 hours.
And to this day, 30-year-olds come up to us and say: “You’re the reason I’m here. My mom and dad met at Déjà Vu.”
Yes, it was a mating ground, of that there was no doubt. There was just the right amount of wildness and safety to give everyone the licence to try out their moves. Girls came there because they liked our music and felt secure. The guys came because it was a non-stop party.
Déjà Vu had a fiendishly clever layout. So clever that I am sure that it was completely accidental. But it worked. You see, the worse thing that can happen when would-be clients were carousing on the streets of Montreal was to look into a bar and see that it’s empty. That was the kiss of death. But this little basement establishment had a long bar in the middle as well as all along one side as well as tables along the other side. So that all it needed was 20or so people in there to make it appear full.
Also the staff were party animals who had been hand picked by the infamous co-owner Bill Foster, a man I always liked to think of as “Bacchus”. They knew how to kick start a party. Two words – free shots.
The clientele were cross section of the population. There were students and businessmen, labourers and tourists. It was a pub crowd, a group I like to refer to as people-with-jobs.
And our music reflected that eclecticism. We played every style possible to play with two guitars and a harmonica. We took songs from all musical eras. We had fun, too.
Because the place became so popular it always stayed open until closing time – 3 a.m. Other not so well attended bars closed much earlier and their staff would come to ours to wind down, or up, after an evening’s toil.
After midnight was when it really became more decadent, and I mean that in a good way, and when most liaisons would occur. I used to enjoy watching the action on the dance floor in front of us as couples met, fell in love, and broke up in a matter of weeks.
Requests would go from “Play our song; you know what it is” to “Never play that god-damned song again!”
One night a group of pilots with Federal Express were there. Déjà Vu had become their go-to place for a night out in Montreal. So we had gotten to know them quite well. This night a new recruit was with them. His name was Dwayne.
Did I mention that Fed-Ex has its head office in Memphis?
Anyway Dwayne’s main claim to fame was that he had once slept with a girl who had once slept with Elvis. And he felt that this act had destined him for greatness.
And indeed it had, for he was also the champion hog caller of the State of Tennessee.
I had never heard a real hog caller. All I knew about it was that it sounded something like Soo-ee. When I said as much, he was highly insulted. “It’s not like that at all,” he said.
It was late, the last set of the night. The bar was full. People were talking loudly through their haze of alcohol and other intoxicating substances. So I called Dwayne up to the stage. I introduced him to the crowd. No one was listening.
“They are all too busy meeting and mating,” I said.
“Let me show you what mating is all about,” he answered.
Then Dwayne gave us an example of what a champion hog call sounds like.
The sound Dwayne made was unlike anything I had ever heard before, or since for that matter. No words of mine could ever do it justice. It was an eerie high-pitched cry of atavistic thirst that seemed to come from the very beginnings of time. And it went on for about 30 seconds.
The bar went completely silent. Faces looked up at us in shock and awe. There was only one thing to do.
“Can you do that again, Dwayne?” I asked.
And sure enough he launched into a longer more elaborate version of that first call. Into our microphone and amplified over the PA system it filled the room and made everyone shiver. And we didn’t know why.
I don’t know if Dwayne got lucky that night. But I like to think that he did.