The Chicken Coop

Fraserview was a fringe community in the 1950s. Tucked in the southeast corner of Vancouver, the hillside neighbourhood still had large tracts of undeveloped land, orchards, creeks and smoky industry, while the rest of Vancouver had been neatly tamed by a grid of paved streets and sidewalks. This wild edge of the city still had a large chicken coop in a backyard down by the river. The property’s owner converted the barn to a private party space where he hosted dances and live music jam sessions. He never dreamed that the future queen of country music would be discovered in his bird house.

Plaque

Country music legend Loretta Lynn was discovered in 1959 by record executives from the small Vancouver label, Zero, when they heard her sing at a backyard jam session in the 2500-block East Kent Avenue. The musicians’ gathering was held in a large chicken coop that the property owners Ernest Clare ‘Mac’ McGregor and his wife Irene Loranger had converted to a dance hall. A local promoter named Johnny ‘Zapp’ Zaplotynsky invited Loretta, who was living across the border in Custer, Washington, to attend. Zero president Don Grashey and his business partner Chuck Williams thought the gal had potential and by the summer of 1960, Loretta’s first single, I’m a Honky Tonk Girl, was climbing the charts.

Sponsored by the Stradiotti Family & Northern Building Supply Ltd

History

The Coop

 The owners of the chicken coop were Mac and Irene (nee Loranger) McGregor. They lived in a squatter’s shack on the North Arm of the Fraser River until 1949 when they built a small house on East Kent Avenue, near the foot of Elliott Street. It is believed that the chicken coop in their backyard came with the property and was a leftover from a sub-divided farm acreage. The coop was bigger than their home. Mac cleaned out the barn and wired it for sound. Irene’s brother, Clancy Loranger, a longtime sports reporter for the Province newspaper, recalls attending dances there where the floorboards bounced during frenetic polkas and the music blasted from Mac’s robust sound system.

Mac worked just up river at the Canadian White Pine sawmill and he spent every spare penny on his audio equipment. When the dances got rockin’ the neighbours knew it. The Stradiotti family, who own the tug boat operation across the railway tracks from where the coop stood, used to live across the lane from Mac. They remember parties breaking up late at night. Ambulances responding. Cars grinding their gears as they struggled to climb the hill to Marine Drive.

Sunday Afternoon Jam Sessions

In the late 1950s, a crazy drummer turned concert promoter named Johnny ‘Zapp’ Zaplotynsky asked Mac if he could hold Sunday afternoon jam sessions in the coop. Mac agreed and the area’s tight knit country music scene converged on his backyard. ‘Cousin’ Ernie Straiton was a guitarist with Richmond’s Hank the Hobo and the Sons of the Delta. He recalls trying to find a place in the barn to hide his gear so that it would not get stolen. Ernie also remembers the foul odour of chicken guano, but maybe he was detecting the crude washroom facilities, which Zapp’s ex-wife Appy said consisted of a bucket in a closet. Either way, the Coop was no Grand Ole Opry, yet word of these musicians’ gatherings spread.

Irene McGregor’s niece, Sandi Loranger was a teen with a powerful voice. Her mom chaperoned her to night spots around town, such as The Cave Supper Club and The Palomar. That was how she met two record producers from Thunder Bay who had come to Vancouver to start a record label. Don Grashey and Chuck Williams were the president and vice-president of Zero Records. Previously they had been with Jury Records, where they helped Sandi record a couple pop songs under the name Sandi Shore. She told the producers about her aunt and uncle’s chicken coop jam sessions and they dropped by to check out the talent.

Loretta Lynn at the Chicken Coop

The Zero executives saw a young woman named Loretta Lynn who had come up from her home in Custer, Washington to perform. She was 27 and had four kids. Eager to break into the music business, Loretta taught herself guitar, wrote some songs, sewed a little Annie Oakley outfit and tuned her voice to the tremolo of Kitty Wells. That was her act when Don and Chuck saw her at the coop in 1959. They thought she was raw, but intriguing. Don Grashey signed her to Zero on February 1st, 1960. With money from a retired sawmill owner named Norm Burley and a few other investors, including future Vancouver mayor, Art Phillips, Don recorded Loretta at a major studio in Los Angeles. The resulting single, I’m A Honky Tonk Girl, climbed the charts.

Today, Loretta Lynn is regarded as the First Lady of Country Music.

Related PTM Music Sites

Sources

On September 16th, 2012, VHF celebrated  the story of the Chicken Coop and Loretta Lynn at a plaque presentation down by the banks of the Fraser River. We were treated to the music of Viper Central who wrote the song “Thump and Howl” inspired by the Coop research that Mike Harling and Rob Howatson did about the Loretta Lynn story. Listen closely to those lyrics…

Media & Photos

Address

2500 block E Kent Ave N
Fraserview

Coordinates

49.20591696159285, -123.05875571031186

Please Share Your Places That Matter Stories With Us.

Why does this place matter to you? We want to hear all about it. Share your connection to one, two or more of our Places That Matter. If you've visited a site, or have old photos of it, please send it to us!

Submit a story to add to the project or send us a question or comment. We'll be in touch about adding your story to the webpage. Thank you!