Heritage Stratford recently honoured the legacy of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Richard Manuel with a presentation at the childhood home of the Stratford-based musician as part of its Blue Plaque recognition program. The program, while not giving actual heritage designation, recognizes properties that are historically significant.
A presentation ceremony was held last month that included family members of Manuel as well as the current occupants Jamie Hewitt and Oliver VonWitzenhausen and representatives of Heritage Stratford, the City of Stratford, Stratford-Perth Museum, and Stratford-Perth Archives.
Born on April 3rd, 1943, in Stratford, Manuel and his three brothers were raised by their parents Ed and Gladys. In 1948, the family moved into 138 Well Street where Manuel spent his formative years learning and honing his musical talents. At nine years old, he began playing piano and within three years, the house was filled with the sounds of Manuel and his friends rehearsing and playing music.
At the age of 15, Manuel helped form a band called the Revols as the piano and lead singer alongside bassist Ken Kamulsky and guitarist John Till. The group later expanded to include Garth Pictot and Doug Rhodes. One year after the groupâ€™s formation, they opened for Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks in Port Dover, a connection that proved very important for the young Manuel.Â
The legendary Hawkins recruited the then 18-year-old Ritchie Manuel to be piano player in The Hawks, which he stayed with until 1964 when that group was recruited to be Bob Dylanâ€™s backing band for a European tour. In 1967, they became The Band and were highly influential in the 1960s and 1970s, resonating strongly thanks to their fusion of rock, rhythm-and-blues and country music. The Band broke up in 1976, their run culminating with the famous show, â€śThe Last Waltzâ€ť.
Nicknamed â€śthe beakâ€ť for his protruding nose, Manuel was a beloved and respected songwriter and vocalist, influencing and collaborating with fellow artists Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, The Beach Boys, and Bonnie Raitt. Manuelâ€™s songs were widely covered by Cass Elliot, Joan Baez, and Blood, Sweat & Tears.
In November 1984, four original members of the Revols - Kalmusky, Manuel, Rhodes and Till - reunited in Stratford as the Revols, opening for the Band at two sold-out performances billed as â€śThe Band/Revols Reunion Shows.â€ť It was a triumph and the last major show before Manuelâ€™s untimely passing just four months later.
In 2004, the City of Stratford honoured Manuel with a sidewalk star on Ontario Street. There is also a memorial bench by the Avon River dedicated in his honour. In 1994, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Band. In 2015, he was inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame.