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Country music trailblazer dies at 89 in the Lower Mainland

Elmer Tippe died Wednesday, Sept. 7 at Ridge Meadows Hospital
Elmer Tippe has passed away. Born in 1933, he made a tremendous impact on country music, as a radio DJ and as a musician. He was pictured here in 2011 with his son, Rick, also a musician. (Black Press Media files)

An icon in the British Columbia country music scene has passed away.

Elmer Tippe, 89, the patriarch of the Tippe family of musicians, died just before noon on Wednesday, Sept. 7.

“There was just something about my dad. He wasn’t just an ordinary guy, you know,” said his son Rick Tippe, who broke the news online.

He described his father as an amazing human being. A person who folks could trusted and someone who people listened to.

He had a way of handling things that everyone admired, said Rick.

Rick explained life was easier not only for himself, but for his brother and sister, because their last name was Tippe.

“And that was just because everyone respected my mom and dad with that name,” he said, referring also to his mother Alice.

According to the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame, Elmer was born in Saskatchewan in January 1933 and began playing the banjo and fiddle at the age of eight in Alberta, just before moving to B.C..

At 15 years old, he was entertaining at the professional level with his two older brothers in a band, Ray’s Harmony Five. They played together until 1955, when his brother Clarence was killed by a drunk driver.

Two years later, Elmer formed The Pine Mountain Boys with his other brother and started performing with the Royal Canadian tours.

Although Elmer dropped out of school when he was eight years old, he would eventually become a broadcaster, reading his own news.

“He taught himself how to read, and become the person he was,” said Rick.

Elmer started his career in broadcasting at CJJC, B.C.’s first full-time country music station in Langley, before moving onto CKWX SuperCountry radio in 1975. It was there that he helped give many young, up-and-coming local musicians their real start in country music, playing their songs on air.

He, too, recorded several albums and charted three singles during the 1970s. Some of his hits include: Closed For Repairs/Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained; Don’t Ever Turn Around; and Thinkin Back.

Rick noted that life will not be the same without his father.

“Not having that rock there for you anymore, that’s what you are going to miss, you know. That person who you could always turn to for advice or whatever, in any situation that you found challenging,” he noted.

“He just was so loved by so many people, but rightfully so,” said Rick. “He was the humblest guy,” who helped put Haney and Maple Ridge on the map.

“How can you be such a good person, and such a smart person, and such a humble person, and a giving, caring person, like all these things, and be so talented,” asked his son, who noted that Elmer’s talents propelled him into the B.C. Country Music Hall of Fame.

When Elmer took fiddle lessons as a child, the teacher would often stop and ask him where they were on the music page. But, he learned to play by ear.

“He just learned life his own way. He was just a treasure for everyone who got to know him,” Rick noted about his father who taught all of his children that their family was no better than anyone else, but no lesser either. Elmer lived by the motto that you treat people the way you want to be treated.

“When you talked to my dad, you were on the same level as him. It didn’t matter that he was on the radio, that he recorded music, that he made the odd TV appearance and stood on stage,” he said.

His dad achieved fame despite the fact that there was nobody around during his time who could take his talent and promote it to the world.

That didn’t stop Elmer from becoming a member of the Western Swing Society Hall of Fame in Sacramento Calif., the Western Swing Society Hall of Fame in Washington State, the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, and the British Columbia Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988.

In 1977, its inaugural year, the BCCMA bestowed upon his father the awards for Disc Jockey of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year, recounted Rick.

“The word got out slowly throughout his 50-plus year career as a professional musician,” said Rick.

READ MORE: Tippe, like father like son

“If he had a Brian Epstein, who knows what dad could have done,” said Rick about the man who marketed The Beatles.

Nicole Hyette knew Elmer when she was executive director of the BC Country Music Association. They spearheaded work together resurrecting the BC Country Music Hall of Fame in 2002.

“He was adamant that there were people who needed to be in the hall of fame,” said Hyette.

Elmer, she said, created a love of music in his family, from his son Rick, to his grandsons, who playd together as the Johnson Brothers.

“He had so much passion,” she said. “His love of music was infectious.”

“He just really wanted to keep the tradition of country music, and where it all came from, alive. And that was so inspiring,” added Hyette.

Former Maple Ridge mayor Ernie Daykin said he remembers listening to Elmer on the radio more than 50 years ago.

And, when he ran Windsor Plywood, Daykin recalled how Elmer would come out on location for their Saturday sales (along with the local radio station), and four or five times during the hour Elmer would announce, “Come on down to Windsor Plywood, they’ve got doors on sale,” or whatever the deal was.

ALSO: Johnson Brothers celebrate 10 years

“We were never busier, but I would say half the people came down to see Elmer,” chuckled Daykin. “Not to buy anything.”

Later they would bump into each other around town. Daykin described Tippe as an old-time country gentleman, a classy guy, who passed on his community mindedness to his children and grandchildren.

He remembered bumping into Elmer, Rick, and the Johnson Brothers, who were performing at a conference at the ACT Arts Centre, and admired the family having three generations on the stage.

“When they made Elmer, they threw away the mould,” added Daykin, describing him as a person who would always make time to say hello to somebody and shake a person’s hand.

Maple Ridge country music star Tom McKillip said Elmer was a legend in the British Columbia country music scene.

“When he walked up to a microphone he lit up the room,” said McKillip. “He was one of the trailblazers of B.C. country music.”

Rick said online that sharing the stage with his father was always an honour.

“Rest in peace Dad, you will be forever missed, but not forgotten. I look forward to the day I will be in your presence again,” he wrote.

Elmer passed away at Ridge Meadows Hospital from complications from pneumonia.

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Elmer Tippe played one of the first songs he learned at the 2004 Hall of Fame awards event. (Special to Black Press Media)
Elmer Tippe performs Please Release Me Let Me Go in 1987. (Screen grab)

Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

I got my start with Black Press Media in 2003 as a photojournalist.
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