Norman Junior Rice
"He gets very homesick anytime he hears water running. . . even the bathtub"
Norman Junior Rice was born to Walter and Gladys Rice in Hampden, Whitebay, a small coastal village in Newfoundland. He was the third of six children in a family of four boys and twin sisters.
Life as a youngster in Newfoundland was wonderful. In the summer months, time would be spent trouting in the ponds or the brook that flowed into the bay. There were great swimming holes and fishing spots. The bay was filled with cod fish, salmon, capelin, mackerel, herring, and sea trout as well as squid, mussels and clams. The whales and tuna would follow the large schools of smaller fish into the Whitebay and feed on them. Sounds of inboard motors on the boats could be heard – put-put-putting across the bay. Many different types of boats could also be seen there in the water – inboard and outboard motor boats, dories, rowboats and fishing boats called long liners. The cries of seagulls and other seabirds could be heard echoing across the water. Many times there would be outings in the boats ending up with delicious “cook-ups” right on whatever cove, inlet or beach where they would find themselves.
The Rice family lived right on the edge of the water. They could look out their windows and see the harbor teeming with fish. Looking into the distance across the bay they would be able to “see the wind coming in”. Sometimes the water would be like glass while at other times the grey Atlantic storms would whip everything up into a frothing frenzy. At times it was a wonder that the whole village wasn’t swept away by those vicious storms.
In the fall of the year it was berry picking time. There were blueberries, raspberries, partridge berries, bakeapples, dogberries, strawberries, and cranberries which would be bottled or canned and would fill freezers and eventually turn into delicious pies and jams and baking for the winter. And, of course, the moose hunts and seabird hunts were a big thing at this time of year too. This was a huge meat provision for the families in this little village.
The winter brought a whole other dimension of fun. Folks would skate as well as play hockey on the frozen harbor and the ponds. They would go sledding and tobogganing and skiing on the hillsides. Christmas, of course, was highly anticipated by everyone. Most gifts were handmade – such as woolen mittens, sweaters, scarves and hats. There were, however, some things that were especially ordered from the Eaton’s or Sear’s catalogues…. These items were greatly treasured! People would visit each other’s homes – sometimes dressed up in the traditional mummer outfits. What a lot of fun these times were!
Social gatherings in the village were certainly looked forward to. These were called the “Times”. The expression was, “So, are you going to the Time tonight?” The ladies would all cook up a huge meal called a ‘scoff’. Walter (Norm’s dad) and others would play music for the dancing. Norm’s dad played the button accordion. There would be the accordions, fiddles, guitars and harmonicas and spoons playing all the old favorites. There would be singing and dancing until the wee hours of the morning. There was a fair share of moonshine consumed too.
Music was a very important part of Norm’s life growing up. He could, as a young boy of six or seven, be found hanging onto his dad’s coattails – going up around the harbor – down to the Time - to watch his Dad play music. Then in the early hours again he would be hanging onto his dad on the way back home. Often times Norm would hear his Dad whistle as he worked around his boat or whatever he might be doing. Walter would be whistling the old hymns like “Abide With Me” as he worked. Norm’s mother, Gladys, had a wonderful singing voice. He loved to hear her sing.
As a young fella Norm heard Harry Hibbs play the button accordion and sing. He absolutely loved him. He pestered his dad to get him a few of Harry’s records and would play them over and over again on his little portable record player. Then on a little 4-stop accordion that his dad bought for him from the Eaton’s catalogue Norm would practice and practice until he got to sound just like Harry! When Norm’s friends would come to his house to get him to come play with them he couldn’t be found. He would be up on the hillside practicing the accordion. When he heard that Harry Hibbs was going to be in Deer Lake, Norm got his Dad to take him to meet him and to get Harry to sign his albums.
All the while growing up Norm was conscious of God and His speaking to his heart about his need for Him. It wasn’t until year later, however, that Norm accepted the Lord as his Saviour.
As a young man Norm loved the people of his hometown, especially the seniors. He loved doing chores for them – painting, shoveling their walkways, bringing in clothes for them in the wintertime. He didn’t make a lot of money, but the treats, oh, the treats were something else! The memories of these dear folks and all the joy of those times were eventually expressed in a song that Norm wrote years later. “Eastward Wind” shares Norm’s feelings of homesickness and love for those people who made such an impression on him as he was growing up. This song could actually sum up the emotions of anyone who has left home and is far away from family and friends of schooldays. At an early age Norm wrote several songs expressing his love of “The Rock”. One of those songs, “My Newfoundland Home” became the #1 song on the Island for 2 years!
After high school Norm went on to Memorial University in St. John’s. There he joined a live theatre group. The troupe toured the island of Newfoundland. During this time Norm was a stage hand and bus driver as well as an actor and musician for the plays.
Then, as many young people from Newfoundland did, Norm made his way to Toronto with the goal of playing music. He supported himself by working in various factories. Norm cut a vinyl LP record during his time in Toronto. It is called “Fisherman’s Boy”. Norm had the privilege of being one of 10 entertainers on a tour group (10 buses) going to Nashville, Tennessee. While there, he and the other entertainers got the chance to play live on the Grand Old Opry (the old one, not the current one)!
One day he auditioned for a music spot in a new Newfoundland club called the “Molly and Me”. That was the beginning of his circuit of playing in the Toronto nightclubs. It was a very special time for Norm, as he got the chance to play along with his idol, Harry Hibbs, who was also playing music in Toronto. During these years Norm also got to play alongside of some great musicians such as Wilf Carter, Hank Snow, Conway Twitty, Little Jimmy Dickens, Carol Baker, and Joan Morrissey, to name a few. He played with the house band of the Molly and Me – “Thunder Country”. He also did a tour of Newfoundland with this fun band. From the Molly and Me Norm went on to play at the Caribou Club with Johnny Burke and the Caribou Show Band as well as other groups.
All the time while playing at the nightclubs Norm could hear his mother’s voice saying to him, “Junior, (everyone called him Junior) surely the Lord must have something better for you than playing in the nightclubs.” That, more than anything, was the reason that he quit playing the clubs. He knew that there wasn’t anything lasting or of eternal value in that lifestyle. Later, when he accepted the Lord into his life, he knew that God had a different plan for his life.
During the last few years Norm has recorded several CD’s – both Gospel and Newfoundland Folk music. He is very thankful to be able to be a blessing to others and to share his gifts and talents. Norm now lives in Edmonton to be near his four sons – Andrew, Aaron, Adam and Alex (who are also very musical) and three grandchildren. He still longs to spend time on ‘his’ island and goes back as often as he can. (He gets very homesick anytime he hears water running – even the bathtub)
The message that Norm would like to share with everyone is found in John 3:16
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him
should not perish, but have everlasting life”.