The song begins and it immediately registers in your head. The first few notes play and the next three minutes of your life is now booked. You have no choice as you’ll be humming along with a tune that’s been ingrained in your hockey soul.
That’s what “Brass Bonanza” means to a hockey fan, young or old. Maybe you’re old enough to remember hearing the tune during a Whalers game in their WHA or NHL days. Perhaps you’re too young for that but wore out your controller playing NHL ’94 with Jacques Ysaye’s creation playing in the background.
Ysaye, the man who created “Brass Bonanza,” and was also known under the pseudonym of Jack Say, died last week at the age of 94.
Just like its creator, “Brass Bonanza” was known to some under a different name. When Ysaye arranged the tune back in late 1960s it was titled “Evening Beat,” but became what we know today because of an editor, he told Jeff Jacobs of the Hartford Courant in 2010.
So how did this tune arranged by a Belgian composer end up as the anthem of the Whalers?
From Jacobs’ 2010 piece:
After Say sold the song to a musical library, [George] Ducharme, then involved in marketing with the Whalers, was looking for something to liven up the Civic Center. Announcers Bill Rasmussen and Bob Neumeier did an LP of the 1975-76 season highlights and used a musical bridge they got from D&K Sound in Wethersfield. One Sunday Ducharme had a bunch of people over his place. The record was played. And, voila, Ducharme knew he had something.
“Three notes and everybody knows what is,” Ducharme, who still serves as special assistant to [Howard] Baldwin, has told me. “It’s a marketing dream. Three notes …”
“Brass Bonanza” had a solid 15-year run with the Whalers before Brian Burke was hired as the team’s new general manager in 1992. Because the song probably didn’t elicit enough truculence, he had the team stop playing it during games.
“I did because there were players who were embarrassed by it,” Burke told NHL.com in 2008. “An NHL team with a fight song, they were embarrassed by it. As soon as I went to the NHL they put it back in. No big deal.”
Four years later, after Peter Karmanos worked a deal to move the franchise to Carolina, the Whalers played their final game on April 13, 1997. As the players and fans said goodbye inside the Hartford Civic Center, “Brass Bonanza” played on.
From college and minor league teams using it during games to Carmen Electra’s dance on Craig Kilborn’s show to it being used for a father/daughter wedding dance, the song has touched many lives over many years, and we have Jacques Ysaye to thank for that.
While we endure without The Whale, “Brass Bonanza” will live forever.
– – – – – – –