Niagara Falls loses a legend of the local rock scene

By Don Redmond

Published on April 13, 2022 at 10:44 am

Niagara Falls lost a local music legend on Monday when Paul Wheeler succumbed to pancreatic cancer. (Photo by Lorne Tontegode)

Niagara Falls lost prominence on the local music scene on April 11 when Paul Wheeler succumbed to stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

The disease quickly caught the musician since he had just announced the diagnosis to his friends on March 30 via his Facebook page with his usual frankness.

A few weeks earlier, he had posted that he felt exhausted and tired before he heard the bad news.

While he was immensely well known in the Niagara region playing with local bands such as The Rockets and AC/DC cover band Squeeler, his reach extended far beyond the region.

Bob Sherwood, a well-known bassist in Halton Region, fondly recalled his friend hearing the news through the voices of the musicians.

“I met Paul and the Wheeler family in Niagara Falls through a keyboard player I played with in the early 80s,” Sherwood said. “They (his brother and sister – both musicians) lived in an old house full of all kinds of instruments (in various states of repair) from corner to corner.”

“They were, I thought, the hardest working family in showbiz!” Sherwood smiled. “That’s all they did… gig, gig, gig!”

Indeed, born in the Merritton neighborhood of St. Catharines, his entire family was musical from the start. His mother was an opera singer, his father a horn player, so Wheeler and his siblings really only had one direction to go.

And you could always count on him when needed, Sherwood recalls. “Years later, I needed to fill in for a drummer and guitarist for a Jam Nite I hosted at Veranda Beach in Burlington.”

“I knew Paul played drums as well as bass, so I called him to see if he and his brother John could fill the bill,” Sherwood said wistfully. “Indeed, like a rock version of the Beverly Hillbillies, they showed up in a rickety old van FULL of every instrument known to man…much like their home!”

And even for an old salt like Sherwood, Wheeler was not shy about playing the role of teacher. “My fondest memory was how, on the spot, Paul informed me of the chord progression of Procol Harum’s ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. Still one of my absolute favorite tracks.

When Wheeler recently reached out to the outpouring of love he was receiving on social media, the responses were overwhelming.

Says one poster, playing on Wheeler’s AC/DC love, “Yo, Paul! TAKE THE HIGHWAY WELL.

Another said: “You have done so much for so many people over the years. You are only receiving back the love that you have poured out to yourself in this world.

Even to the end, his friends believed that he could beat the disease. One said, “I can’t wait to see you throwing guitars and bellowing the tunes.”

Local artists are now planning a benefit show for him, a fundraiser to support Wheeler’s wife, Lisa Klassen-Chaing.

Noted Sherwood, “His passing is a real disgrace. They just don’t make them like Paul Wheeler anymore!

Paul Wheeler’s musical legacy will not soon be forgotten in the Niagara Falls area. Halton bassist Bob Sherwood, right, dates back to the 1980s with Wheeler and noted, “They just don’t do ’em like Paul Wheeler anymore!” (Wheeler photo by Lorne Tontegode)

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