Editor’s note: The banner image above courtesy of the Norman Petty Recording Studio.
Written by: Jeremy Witten
If you read a cultural history of 1960s Alberta or if you read a cultural history of the people who lived here 13,000 years ago, there is an unusual word you might come across in both contexts: “Clovis.” Between 1962 and 1974, several Albertan bands drove to a small town in New Mexico called Clovis to record with a famous producer who lived there. His name was Norman Petty and prior to recording bands from Alberta, he recorded international stars like Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison. But that town in New Mexico has a deeper connection to the land that people now call Alberta.
Clovis, New Mexico shares the name of the Clovis people, a prehistoric Indigenous group whose artifacts continue to be found not only in New Mexico, but also scattered across Alberta. The archetypical technology of the Clovis people is called a “Clovis point,” which was a finely crafted stone tip that was attached to a wooden shaft to form a highly effective weapon. Interestingly, if one maps the trip that Albertan bands took to Clovis in the 1960s, that route intersects with several important archaeological sites where Clovis points have been found. Despite this, it’s entirely possible those Albertan musicians were unaware of the prehistoric connection between Clovis and the land where they lived as they continued their drive south through forests, plains and deserts.
Who were these Albertan bands? There were at least two dozen of them: Calgary-based acts who recorded in Clovis included Done On Bradstreet, Eddie Canada, Gainsborough Gallery, Jim Aiello, Molly, Sheraton Fountain and the Happy Feeling. The list of Edmonton acts to record with Norman Petty is a bit longer, including Barry Allen, Colored Rain, Dennis Paul, Doug Roberts, Famous Last Words, Happy Cooker, Privilege, Shame Tree, Southbound Freeway, Stu Mitchell, the Brinkman Brothers, the Nomads, the Preachers, Victory Group, Vik Armen, Wes Dakus & the Rebels and Willie & the Walkers.
Several of these bands changed line-ups and even names over time; the Rebels were once known as the Club 93 Rebels. Southbound Freeway and the Happy Feeling also released music under the more concise monikers “Freeway” and “The Feeling.” In the liner notes of the compilation album From Canada to Clovis, Canadian producer and discographer Shawn Nagy shares historical details of some of these recording sessions. Nagy writes that only three members of the Nomads made the initial drive to Clovis in May 1962 and that they drove down in a jam-packed 1955 Buick. Back then, the option for Albertan bands, “was to travel 2,200 miles to Quality Studios in Toronto or 1,750 miles to Clovis.”
In 2020, archaeologist Michael R. Waters published a map of the location of dated Clovis sites in Science Advances, which included sites near Douglas, Wyoming and Milliken, Colorado, both of which would only be a short detour from the major interstate highways that bring you to New Mexico. When imagining Albertan bands like the Nomads driving from Edmonton to Clovis in the early 1960s, it’s important to consider that highways have changed significantly since that time. Today, GPS will advise you to take Alberta Highway 14 east from Edmonton and head south at Highway 36. When members of the Nomads left Edmonton for Clovis in 1962; however, Highway 36 was largely unpaved so it’s unlikely that this would have been their route of choice. Similarly, US Interstate 90 is the suggested route today, though several sections of that highway were still being constructed in the 1960s; bands would have taken US Highway 87 for a long stretch after Billings, Montana.
Before anyone romanticizes the magical connection between Alberta and Clovis too much, there are a couple important qualifications to be made. The reason that the Clovis people were able to live in the land now known as Alberta at the end of the last Ice Age is because a corridor emerged between two melting glacial sheets: the Cordilleran and the Laurentide. The fact that this ice-free corridor would have allowed people to move between Siberia and North America at first led archaeologists to suggest that the Clovis people were the first humans in North America. Although the Clovis people may have been the first people to live in what is now called Alberta, it’s worth clarifying that not all archaeologists agree they were the first people to live in North America.
Archaeologist Paulette Steeves argues the settlement of the Americas may have occurred about 130,000 years ago, and the CBC has written that the Clovis-First hypothesis, “can conflict with the view of many Indigenous people who believe their ancestors have lived here since time immemorial.” Additionally, Clovis points have been found as far east as Pennsylvania, indicating that Clovis technology spread throughout the continent. It’s also important to acknowledge that Clovis people wouldn’t have referred to themselves as Clovis people. “Clovis” is a term of European origin, dating back to a Frankish king named Clovis circa 500 AD. The town in New Mexico was named first and the discovery of projectile points near the town is what led scholars to use the term Clovis to refer to the Indigenous group responsible for the technology.
Still, there’s no denying that those 1960s Albertan bands lived on land once populated by the Clovis people. When those bands travelled to Clovis to record with Norman Petty, they journeyed to the very town that the Clovis people were named after. The route taken by those 1960s musicians brought them through territory that is known for Clovis archaeological sites. And if those bands dropped a few guitar picks in the dirt on their way to Clovis, perhaps a similar archaeological study will be undertaken 13,000 years from now.
Nagy, Shawn. From Canada to Clovis: Norman Petty Recording Studios. USA: Super Oldies Records, 2011. Compact disc.
Waters, Michael R., Thomas W. Stafford, and David L. Carlson. “The age of Clovis—13,050 to 12,750 cal yr B.P.” Science Advances 6 (October 21, 2020): 3-4.
“Highway 36 Group Wants Road Surfaced.” The Calgary Herald, October 24, 1966. p. 28.
“Highway Construction Projects Totalling $4.3 Million Awarded.” The Montana Standard (Butte), November 29, 1962. p. 2.
“Indigenous archaeologist argues humans may have arrived here 130,000 years ago.” CBC News, January 13, 2022. http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/indigenous-archaeologist-argues-humans-may-have-arrived-here-130-000-years-ago-1.6313892