R.I.P. Wally Cobb: Though the Tapes are Erased, the Memories Live on
While the video tapes holding much of the late Wally Cobb’s career as the decade-long bassist in the backdrop of Newfoundland televised variety shows were erased to accommodate tight budgets at the CBC many years ago, the memories he left behind as a hardworking blue collar musician can never be wiped away.
Wally Cobb was a Newfoundland instrumentalist who spent much of his career on stage sides, in backgrounds and behind curtains. Though never in the forefront, Cobb was the Newfoundland bass player for hire in the 1960’s and 70’s, and he provided the low-end backbone to some monumental recording sessions.
On September 16th, 2016, Wally Cobb passed away at the age of 74. Nearly fifteen years of illness prevented Cobb from being active in the Newfoundland music community, however it was in his younger years that his fine tuned musicianship flourished. Though Cobb’s musical impression within the province is undeniable, it is hidden within the liner-notes of albums and credits of television shows.
Besides studio sessions with the likes of legendary Newfoundland voices such as John White, and off-camera bass duties on the Ryan’s Fancy television show, Wally Cobb’s main body of work was as the in-house bass player for over a decade on the Newfoundland CBC variety show All Around The Circle.
According to Blaine Allan’s Complete Television Listings of the CBC (1952-1982), “All Around The Circle was a half- hour musical variety series, produced in St. John’s, and occasionally other parts of Newfoundland. The production was well received for its perceived spontaneity and authenticity.”
All Around The Circle featured a regular cast of giants from the Newfoundland music community such as Ray Walsh, Carol Brothers and John White, as well as a rotating who’s who of weekly guest performers. Wally Cobb would back each and every performance on the show by holding down the rhythm along side drummer Ray Kerrivan, who also passed away in 2015 at the age of 70.
After reading of Cobb’s passing, we immediately began digging for some video of his heyday on All Around The Circle. Though we had high hopes of stumbling upon a salvaged clip floating around cyberspace, we instead discovered something a little more disheartening. The tragic truths to the lost status of such cherished video content is an all too familiar feeling for anyone who has researched the history of Newfoundland television.
“Almost all episodes of the classic CBC TV series All Around the Circle have been lost forever, erased over the years because of financial constraints,” wrote journalist Geoff Meeker in a Sunday Express article in September 1990 titled “CBC erased irreplaceable local shows to avoid cost of preservation: official“.
All Around the Circle was one of many local treasures to be expunged during this era.
“‘It’s true to say most of them have been erased. Most of them have been wiped, eliminated – all the old black and white stuff,’” CBC director Jim Byrd told Meeker in the 1990 interview. Byrd cited the high costs of preserving tape during the networks transition to colour broadcasting as the main culprit for the lost material.
While older generations still have those fuzzy memories of homely Newfoundland broadcasting to reminisce about, it is us youngsters who have been robbed of the historically significant back catalogue of local productions that are forever missing from the cradles of our archives.
Thankfully, some of the surviving work of Wally Cobb can be found on the Ryan’s Fancy compilation album Songs From The Shows which features Cobb’s bass work on a variety of the live songs taken from Ryan’s Fancy’s 1972 eponymous syndicated television show on the CBC. Fortunately, the archival video of the Ryan’s Fancy show fared a far better fate than its televised predecessors such as All Around the Circle.
In the end, the warm and happy memories shared by those who had a chance to enjoy the subtle musical spirit of Wally Cobb, and many others others like him, are far more important than any physical media they could have ever left behind.
R.I.P Wally Cobb
Though he doesn’t appear on camera, you can hear some of Wally Cobb’s work on the bass in segments from the Ryan’s Fancy show.