Dal Richards

1954 Dal at Empire Stadium

ABOVE: 1954, Dal Richards with Arthur Delamont at Empire Stadium during a halftime break

The B.C.Lions FC

“Come on and roar you Lions, roar….”

Over 20,000 people laughed the first time Dal Richards played that song in 1954. They laughed because the Lions were funny in their own futility, a football team which had been freshly moulded out of everyone else’s hand-me-downs and have-nots. That is why Richards, a musician, and football, a sport began their long romance. Don Mckenzie, Stan James, Bill Morgan, and Ken Stauffer were directors of the newest team in the Western Interprovincial Football Union. With Tiny Rader, Jack LaBelle, Art Mercer and others, they had provided the impetus to get the league’s fifth franchise.

In 1954, they had it, but must have wondered what to do with it. When coach Annis Stukus put his first team on the field, McKenzie, James, Morgan and Stauffer were struck with a unanimous, and instantaneous, comment: “Omigawd!” They agreed the novelty of professional football was fine and dandy, but it might be wise to give the public a little entertainment, too. Enter Dal Richards- band leader, song arranger, producer and idea man. A sort of Cecil B. DeMille draped in pigskin. Unprepared and inexperienced with halftime entertainment in 1954, Richards brought in high school bands from Mt. Baker, Bellingham and Seattle. And while teenagers kicked up bare legs and clapped cymbals, crowds of football fans reached back into their old gee-whiz, and became paid-up fanatics. Paid up, apparently, for life.

“That’s what a lion’s roar is for…”

As the team on the field slowly began to mature, so did the half-time entertainment. In the beginning, high school bands sufficed, along with a smattering of model airplane displays, retriever trials and whippet races. Variety, the show business magazine, would have killed itself laughing, and Richards would be inclined to agree. In the realm of showmanship, these shows lacked polish, effort and imagination. Still, the budget amounted to only $4,000 a season.

In 1955, Richards hired his first football band. Union terminology calls it a “house” band, so this was the start of “the house that Richards built.” Some of the instrumentalists were Don Cromie and Jack Hamilton, pioneer trombonists, Roy Johnston trumpet, the “oompah” beat came from Stuart Ross, George Smith was on clarinet and Doug Luff and Floyd Simpson were charter members of the drum section. In all, there were 40 pieces. They made noise before the game started, saluting the Lions’ latest heroes with their college songs. Richards introduced in 1955 his famous fanfare to herald scoring of a Lion’s touchdown (In 1954, there was no incentive; the Lions scored only once all season).

“From the mountains to the sea…”

A guy walks into a complex and completely different business, such as football, and operates under a film of sheer confusion for a while. Before the B.C. Lions, Richards only had to worry about accompanying dancing feet. His largest claim to athletic fame was the red ribbon he won for Magee high school in 1937, in an inter-high track meet. He was second in the 220 yard dash.  He is a native Vancouverite, born January 5, 1919, and raised at 1438 West 73rd Avenue, Richards began playing the clarinet and saxophone for a living 25 years ago. he became a band leader in 1940, initially at the old Alma Academy. On January 8, 1951, he married his singer, Lorraine McAllister. The marriage produced a daughter in 1952, Dallas: but Lorraine still had to sing for her keep. The point is none of these vital statistics pointed toward Richards becoming football’s answer to Ed Sullivan. “I’d say we really got started in 1956,” Richard’s said. “Dick Diespecker was working with me on production then. I got the idea to add a line of cheerleaders to the show. I had just been to New York to see some stage shows. The chorus line seemed to be adaptable to football.” Grace McDonald had produced stage shows in Vancouver. She owned her own dance school. More important, she was intrigued with Richards’ approach, and his idea that dancing girls, and football, could go steady.

“You are the pride of all B.C…..”

Grace McDonald’s dancers joined up in 1956.

Diespecker left in 1957 and that year Gordon Olson brought his Vancouver Junior Band to Empire Stadium. Now Richards had become band-leader, producer and co-ordinator. He had his own 40 piece house band, 30 dancers and Olson’s 50 juniors. The maestro started to develop themes. He saluted such places as Hawaii, spending money on props such as grass skirts, fake palm trees and tom-toms.

Grey Cup 1958, B.C. Lions FC

In 1958, the second Grey Cup year, Dal still didn’t think his musicians and dancers were ready. But he produced the panorama himself, using Bellingham bands and talent as the centrepiece.

“Buckle down and play the game…”

Halftime entertainment was getting so important by 1958 that the Lions were spending $11,000 a season on it. They even appointed a director, Jack Bain, to work with Richards.

Grey Cup 1960, The B.C. Lions FC

1960 was going to be the year of the “really big show.” Entertainment for this performance of the Grey Cup was to be locally produced, directed and enacted. The theme was “Canada, 1960.” Richards created figures, music and costumes to highlight all of the nation’s links – the Maritimes, Ontario, Prairies and Coast. “Variety” quit laughing. The show was a distinct hit. But one success spawns twice as much worry, or did you ever try to follow South Pacific?  Richards set his own standard, and thereby created his own headache. “I watch television shows by the zillion, and try to catch as many American stage musicals as I can.” he explained. “Always I’m looking for new ideas.”

“And lead us on to football fame…”

The job of preparing halftime entertainment for Lions’ fans begins three months before the schedule opens. Bain and Richards, along with Grace McDonald and Gordon Olson, meet with general manager Herb Capozzi, another mean hand with ideas. The plan begins. “Herb always has 10,000 ideas – the bigger the better,” Richards grinned. “One time he wanted to hire a helicopter and drop an elephant from it onto the playing field. We managed to talk him out of it.” It should be a full time job by itself, but it isn’t. Richards also leads two bands at the Hotel Vancouver’s Panorama Roof six nights a week! One is a three-piece combo, the other a five-piece unit. Recently, the hotel asked Richards to handle one more job. Now he’s also chief booker, charged with the additional duty of supplying any and all entertainment for the Georgia Street Inn.

“We love the L – the I – the O – N – S…”

When Chrysler of Canada became stricken with the promotional value of the Lions’ halftime entertainment in 1962, the budget climbed to $22,000 a season. For a Grey Cup game, Richards got $5,000 to play around with. Even in those days of Dinah Shores, Frank Sinatras and Bing Crosbys, that was musical extravagance at its best. And to think it all started with a song, a girl from Edmonton with a talent for writing lyrics, and a band-leader who originally didn’t know Indian Jack from Hiawatha. The song was Sunshine of Your Smile. The new lyrics, which have since become a Lions’ trademark, were written by Peggy Nichol, a script writer for an Edmonton radio station and a friend of the B.C. Lions’ first treasurer, Ned Wigington. The band leader of course, was Dal Richards.