Once again the best perk of working at the Trail Times – meeting our readers – surfaced a few weeks ago when Frank Konken made a visit to the newspaper’s Cedar Avenue office.
Frank was reminiscing about days gone by so he decided to share a photo of K-Kountry – a band he and his wife Ruby, alongside their two sons Frank Jr. and Jamie, formed back in the 1980s.
Born in Columbia Gardens in 1927, Frank is now living with Ruby in a senior’s complex in Trail.
After playing 12-string guitar most of his life, at the age of 94, Frank no longer plays due to sensitive finger tips.
But he has many fond memories of performing countless country music gigs in Trail at the Eagles Club and a number of New Year’s Eve shows at the Trail Elks Club. Ruby was lead singer and the boys accompanied mom and dad on bass guitar and electric piano.
“I started [music] with the choir about 1951,” Frank recalled. “We started as The Konkens just the two of us [Ruby and Frank]. One boy grew up, and then we were three. Then the other boy grew up and then we were four ,” Frank said.
“And that’s when we switched from The Konkens to K-Kountry.”
A quick search on the internet yielded the Times an interesting result. It turns out The Konkens are instrumental players in the world of recorded Doukhobor music in Canada.
Which melds into what Frank and Ruby told the Times, sharing that their all-time favourite song to perform is a Russian tune called “Cheekee Cheekee.”
Always humble, Frank negated to reveal the pair recorded the song in Nashville in 1979. They also professionally recorded several long-play albums of Russian songs.
According to a website called Doukhobormusic.ca, in 1948, a small group of Doukhobors from Grand Forks went to Vancouver’s Aragon Studios. From there, the Canadian Doukhobor recording phenomenon began.
The website goes on to say that while the recording era started on the Aragon label, “without a doubt the leaders in the independent [and musical accompaniment] field were three young fellows – Frank Konken, Bill Saliken and Fred Zibin – who in 1954 started the Tovarischi label.”
The Tovarischi label gave rise to a new ‘sound’ to Doukhobors – singing with musical instruments.
After Ruby married Frank in 1955, together they released records on the Tovarischi label, and they gained remarkable popularity.
The first recordings in the 1950s were in Spokane, subsequent recordings were made in Vancouver, and later even at the legendary Tom T. Hall’s studio in Nashville.
Frank and Ruby’s impressive career boasts both single and long-play album releases, including recordings with their children. They also had a jam-packed performing roster.
By the 70’s, the Konkens had firmly established their artistic credibility, touring and playing such events as the Calgary Stampede, Expo, and a myriad of in-between venues.
Not many Doukhobor families didn’t own at least one record, and the website notes, “the Konkens were one of the few Doukhobor recording artists that actually received considerable airplay with their Russian lyrics and singing.”
To hear Frank and Ruby perform “Cheekee Cheekee,” visit Doukhobormusic.ca.
It was a family thing, Frank shares.
“We performed together because we all love music.”
– with files from DoukhoborMusic.ca