Ska in the spotlight

Origin Stories: Greg Crowe

Greg Crowe is a music teacher to many young Winnipeggers. He’s also an important figure in Winnipeg ska history, fronting Whole Lotta Milka, The Wedgewoods and The Scarlet Union.

When Greg Crowe co-founded ska group Whole Lotta Milka in 1992, the band members “didn’t even own an amplifier.” “When we started Whole Lotta Milka, we barely knew how to play our instruments,” Crowe says. “We just had to figure it out on our own.”

He says his seven years with the band hold a special place in his heart as a period of growth and exploration. Crowe fondly remembers when Whole Lotta Milka toured across Canada.

“There’s this immense sense of freedom when you pile eight people into a van and start driving. It’s an adventure. When it’s successful, it’s really fun,” he says.

In 1995, a phone call altered the band’s trajectory. “We got a phone call and were told, ‘Just call Matt (Collyer, frontman for The Planet Smashers) in Montreal. He wants to do an all-Canadian ska compilation CD, and he wants you folks to be on it.’ We called them up, sent a couple of tracks, and they put it on the CD.”

This compilation gave Whole Lotta Milka a valuable recording and connected them with bands across the country. “We knew who they were, and they knew who we were,” Crowe says. These connections later helped the band build shows and tours.

After Whole Lotta Milka’s farewell from the ska scene in 2000, Crowe and his bandmates formed The Wedgewoods. “One of the secrets about being in a band is you have to be buddies first. That really has to work,” he says.

While in The Wedgewoods, Crowe was given a new opportunity. “I was asked to do a solo show, just me and my guitar. It wasn’t something I had considered, but I thought, ‘Let’s give it a try,’” he says.

A friend suggested he find a bass player and a drummer to form a three-piece backing band. Crowe decided to give the idea a try. This led to the birth of The Scarlet Union, a band named for its forward-thinking and vibrant essence.

“We talked about our favorite music and how we’d blend it all into this union. We felt ‘Scarlet’ had a progressive and lively sound, so we went with that name,” Crowe says.

Because The Scarlet Union was a smaller band, Crowe says he had more freedom to explore different sounds and musical territories. The band played at different venues in the city and even performed at the Royal Albert Arms in support of the Winnipeg Ska and Reggae Festival in 2010.

However, as the years rolled on, The Scarlet Union eventually faded away. “People have other lives, so during that time, I had started a family, and my kids were getting a little bit older. I was finding it harder and harder to be out till one in the morning on a Tuesday night in January,” he says.

Today, Crowe brings his wealth of experience performing onstage to his role as a music teacher. He teaches band, jazz band, choir, musical theatre and technical music production at Glenlawn Collegiate Institute.

“Being a teacher has given me a different perspective on music. It’s incredibly rewarding to watch young talent grow and develop,” Crowe says.

Published in Volume 78, Number 08 of The Uniter (November 2, 2023)

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