Born in Altona and described as a farm boy by his son Dennis Kehler, Ben Kehler was exposed to the guitar by a teacher at the age of ten and it led to the life of music and musical influence on many musicians from Manitoba from the Pembina Valley. Recently, Ben passed away at the age of 88.
Dennis shared the story of his dad's unique style of playing the guitar.
"The teacher was using a little technique and using a right-hand technique, which was also a little unusual for the day and he wasn't just a strummer. Dad thought that was really cool. So, his obsession started pretty much right there. He went out and he hoed beets to buy himself a guitar which he bought from Simpson Sears for $12.00. He immediately set to teaching himself."
Kehler's uncle noticed his passion and the two shared the purchase of an $8 guitar lesson book which Kehler studied and became a Country and Western guitarist. Later, he studied music in Banff and then went to Toronto to study music at the Royal Conservatory, studying classical guitar.
"He honed his skills, and he became very proficient. He was doing a lot of teaching in schools. There he was teaching in classrooms, and he became quite active, so much so that he chose to quit his day job and pursue it full time. With Mum's help they kind of built it into a business, I guess. There came a point where one of the schoolteachers pointed out that dad didn't have any teaching credentials and that really didn't qualify him for teaching in the schools, and that upset him."
He bore down and studied and passed his ARCT (Associate Diploma) and pedagogy component making him not only qualified to teach music, but he was one of the most qualified teachers in Manitoba, according to his son.
One of his many accomplishments, recalled Kehler, was recording his first album.
"His first album was an actual vinyl album called 'Christmas at Home,' and he recorded that the best place to record anything, at CFAM radio, on a reel-to-reel tape player they had over there. He knew some of the people over there, I think a cousin of his was an on-air personality, and so he sat down, and I think it was over the course of a couple of weekends, he laid down the tracks for that album. It was actually a very good quality recording by today's standards."
Ben Kehler leaves a legacy of music in the Pembina Valley; Dennis said it was great to see his dad do something unique in the area and the support he received.
"He had more students than he could handle most of the time. They were great people, they were traipsing through the house, when he first started teaching in the basement. Later on, as he played more, he played a lot in the churches, and he got out. I think the community really supported what he did very, very well too. That was quite evident. There's no doubt that he raised the level of awareness for proper musicianship and proper guitar playing. I think that he had a great environment to do it in. This is a great region to support musicians who want to make a difference."
Kehler 's celebration of life is today.
Former student Tim Elias had this to say about his guitar teacher, "I began learning guitar with your dad the same year as my father died, so guitar lessons were also combined with life lessons, learned by observation. He was gentle, kind and often hilarious. He taught me a lot more than music. He gave me a living example of being truly committed to music and fatherhood, lessons that directly impacted me throughout my life. A great artist and a great man."
Tim was well known for a long and accomplished musical career. He was the Elias in Elias Schritt and Bell, a powerful vocal trio including fellow Winklerite John Schritt and Canadian singer/songwriter Steve Bell.
This video shares more tributes and thoughts on the legacy of Musician Ben Kehler. To listen to some of his recorded music click here.