Midway music teacher had rock 'n' roll history

The music teacher at Midway Public School who died suddenly and unexpectedly over the weekend, had a history of success at the top of rock 'n' roll four decades ago as a drummer. But Gary Hall had found his real vocation in teaching school childr...

Gary Hall

The music teacher at Midway Public School who died suddenly and unexpectedly over the weekend, had a history of success at the top of rock 'n' roll four decades ago as a drummer. But Gary Hall had found his real vocation in teaching school children in North Dakota, said his friend, Steve Simonson.

Hall, 64, died Saturday while shoveling snow at his home in Lakota, N.D., said Simonson, an attorney in Lakota, N.D. Among his family and friends he left is his son, Colin, 13, who has been a student in Midway school.

Hall's funeral will be at 11 a.m. today in Lakota Lutheran Church, about 55 miles west of Grand Forks.

Born in Toronto, Canada, the oldest of eight children to Paul and Anne Hall, Gary Hall was "a world-class musician," Simonson said.

He toured and recorded as the drummer with the infamous Rick James, before the artist became "Super Freak," and with Melanie, whose plaintive song hits included "Lay It Down (Candles in the Rain)," "Brand New Key" and "Look What They've Done to My Song, Ma."


In October 1969, Hall -- known as "Coffi" for his caffeine habit -- joined with James and Chris Sarnes, former road manager for Buffalo Springfield, to form Salt and Pepper, which helped launch James, Simonson said.

Hall was teaching percussion at the Toronto Conservatory when he joined Jimmy Livingston, former singer with the Mynah Birds, and bass player Neil Merryweather, keyboardist Ed Roth and guitarist Dave Burt to form the band "Heather Merryweather." The band recorded an album with Steve Miller and Dave Mason as guest artists.

Soon, Hall was in Los Angeles, hanging out with Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young, said Simonson, who, for the past three years, would sit each week at his kitchen table in Lakota with Hall and a good bottle of wine.

"He talked about performing with Jimi Hendrix sitting in the front row," Simonson said.

Hall's best friend in the music world on the West Coast was Dave Bellamy, of the Bellamy Brothers, Simonson said.

Simonson said that after some other recording and touring, in the early '70s, Hall reunited with Merryweather and Burt, actress/singer Lynn Carey and James Newton Howard in forming the band Mama Lion. They toured the world and recorded two albums.

His work with Mama Lion can be seen at .

"Gary's 1972 percussion solo on the song 'Miracles of Pure Device' has been credited as being within the top 100 drum solos in rock 'n' roll history," said Simonson, a musician himself.


In 1978, Hall traveled with Melanie, including a performance at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1978.

Despite being in the maelstrom of the wild and woolly era of rock, Hall never got too wild, Simonson said.

After Hall's marriage to Andy Williams' secretary failed, he married a woman in Los Angeles with roots in New Town, N.D., and they soon moved north.

In the mid-1980s, Simonson walked into a Saturday afternoon jam session in Rick's Bar on Main Avenue in Fargo and was blown away "by this professor-looking guy playing these huge chords on the keyboard."

It was Hall, who was teaching percussion at Concordia College in Moorhead.

Several years later in Minot, Simonson ran into Hall again, and they began playing in a band together. Hall was getting a music education degree at Minot State University.

He taught in schools in the state in Butte, near Minot, Hankinson and Fort Totten, moving down to Texas for a time and, a few years ago, back to Canada.

Simonson kept in touch, and Hall told him he wanted to come back to North Dakota. Simonson noticed an ad for the teaching job in Midway.


Hall began in 2008 and was half-way through his third year.

They formed a band that played local bars and summer town events.

Hall was accomplished on keyboards and guitar as well as drums, Simonson said.

He would ask Hall at times how he made the move from rock 'n' roll to teaching North Dakota school kids, Simonson said.

"I said, 'You had it all.' He said he would never trade (teaching) to go back to what he did before. He absolutely loved teaching music."

"He had just bought a house in Lakota. He wanted to retire here."

Hall was good at his job and had a unique style, Midway Superintendent Roger Abbe said.

"He did get some really good percussion players. He took the Midway band to the Potato Bowl in Grand Forks for the first time in about 10 years, and that was largely because there was such an excellent percussion section," Abbe said. "He also played keyboard along with the choir and band in concerts."


Besides his son, Colin, "his inspiration and true best friend," Hall's survivors include three sisters and three brothers in Ontario, Simonson said.

Midway school is raising money to help with Hall's funeral expenses and other related needs, Abbe said. The phone number is (701) 869-2432.

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to .

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