Metal On Ice – A book review

As we saw in the last two posts, hard rock and heavy metal were a driving force behind the success of Canadian bands beyond the national border. While some bands fared better than others, the world – meaning mostly Western Europe, parts of the United States, and Japan – were becoming acquainted with hard and heavy sounds from Canada.

Canada’s love for heavy music was surely obvious by the eighties as several bands paid homage to heavy rock fever. Anvil’s anthem “Metal on Metal, Helix’s party rock hit “Heavy Metal Love”, Kick Axe’s “Heavy Metal Shuffle”, Killer Dwarfs’ “Heavy Metal Breakdown”, White Wolf’s “Metal Thunder” and Lee Aaron’s “Metal Queen” all offered different takes on what heavy metal meant and sounded like to them and nearly all of these songs reached the radio waves and late night video programs. Add to that the debut album by Sword, “Metalized”, and there’s no doubt that Canadians loved their metal.

In spite of the fact that Canadian rock had made great headway through the seventies and into the early eighties, there were still great hurdles for bands to overcome. As many bands discovered, deals with record labels didn’t guarantee their albums would make them superstars. And as the nineties began, a lot of bands who had fought hard to achieve some degree of international success and play in the big arenas found themselves back in the bars as grunge made metal subgenres like thrash and glam passé almost overnight.

The story of the Canadian heavy metal band in the eighties has been wonderfully retold in a book by musician Sean Kelly (Crash Kelly, Helix, Nelly Futardo). Metal On Ice: Tales from Canada’s Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Heroes takes the reader on a journey from fandom to budding musician, to bar band to debut album, to arena band to canned band wondering what to do next. Kelly interviews over a dozen Canadian hard rock and heavy metal musicians about their early days in their respective bands, their experiences in making their way to the peak of their success and what happened after the grunge explosion hit plus where they are at now and how they look back on the eighties and early nineties. There are stories of harrowing winter road travels packed in a small touring van and the wild lifestyle that evolved around glam metal in particular. While the book doesn’t expound upon episodes of gratuitous debauchery, certain suggestions of youth-gone-wild are mentioned where artists are willing to offer a little insight. More importantly are the common trials shared by Canadian bands trying to make the big time.

For this book – remarkable for its subject matter (how many other books can you name that deal with the subject of Canadian hard rock and metal?) – Kelly interviews members of Coney Hatch, Helix, Headpins, Haywire, Harem Scarem, Slik Toxik, Sven Gali, Voivod, Sword, Lee Aaron, Sacrifice, Killer Dwarfs, Razor and more. Plus he recounts his own experiences as a youth first exposed to heavy metal, learning to play the guitar, the life on Younge Street, Toronto, and his own pursuit of heavy metal-dom into the nineties. It makes for a very entertaining read if you were/are a fan of Canadian hard rock and metal. That last point – the Canadian one – is very important because there is a strong sense of Canadian identity running throughout the book. Near the end, musicians are asked if being Canadian had any influence on their lives on the international scene and how they were regarded or treated as Canadian musicians abroad.

Finally, the book ties in the heavy metal arena with the hockey arena; musicians share their thoughts on how hockey and heavy metal are related in Canada and how the relationship is reflected in the life of a Canadian rocker.

If there are any cautionary points to make about this book, then there are three that I noticed. The first is that this is a very Canadian book and perhaps Europeans will be sympathetic but I suspect some Americans might be less so. As a Canadian who is proud of his country’s hard rock, heavy metal, and progressive rock output, I felt a glow of pride often while reading the book. But Canadian pride is often and personal thing and not something we shout about to the rest of the world. So I felt it would be a little humbling to sit next to an American reading this book. The second point is that this book is very Ontario/Toronto-centric. I felt most bands mentioned were from Ontario or on the periphery but western bands in particular received less mention. Not something to really complain about however as there was plenty for me to learn about from a Torontonian’s perspective. And it’s thanks to this book that I learned muscleman Thor was from Vancouver! Furthermore, Mr. Kelly’s life experiences as a metal head in the eighties are not so far from mine (we are only a year apart in age), and as Toronto’s Younge Street became like the Sunset Strip of the North, it was interesting to read about.

My biggest warning to any potential reader, however, is that you may feel tempted to go add some Canadian metal albums to your collections, and finding some of these like Sven Gali and Slik Toxik means tracking down expensive collector’s copies or finding used CDs in excellent condition. This means it can be a little expensive to satisfy the craving for Canuck metal that this book encourages.

“Metal On Ice” is published by Dundurn and is available on Amazon.ca for $14.98. It’s 208 pages and includes several pages of B&W images.

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Canadian Hard Rock Invasion

The British Invasion of the sixties is well documented and regarded as a pivotal and defining moment in pop music history. The music of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, The Animals, and several others reached the American airwaves and music stores and had a tremendous influence on the development of Rock and Roll not only in the United States but across the world.

Much less documented and by no means famous or even well-known was the so-called Canadian Invasion of the 1970’s. Several Canadian rock bands found audiences south of the border and were supported and promoted in the States. Other bands were less successful southward but nevertheless a part of the burgeoning rock music scene in Canada.

Naturally, Rock and Roll became popular in Canada almost simultaneously with the U.S., and a few Canadians, most famously Paul Anka, found success in the American market. But there was a real struggle back home for bands to get noticed. Canadian radio stations favoured American or British artists and local promotion on the air was not always easy to come by. Furthermore, there were few record companies in Canada and they were much more cautious about what bands they signed. A lot of great Canadian talent went south where there was a better chance of finding stardom.

The Guess Who was probably the first Canadian-based band to hit the American charts big time. Their 1970 #9 hit “American Woman” opened doors for them both stateside and at home in Canada. With proof that home grown talent could be successful, Canadian bands became regarded with less scepticism at home.

Two important developments were to take place in the early 1970’s. One was the establishment of CanCon (Canadian Content), which refers to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission requirements that radio and television broadcasters include a specified amount of Canadian material (content that was at least partly written, produced, presented or contributed to by Canadians). In 1971, this percentage was set at 25%. To acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of Canadian artists, the Juno Award was created by Stan Klees. Thus by the early seventies, Canadian music was on the rise at home, and with more bands getting their music on disc there was material to promote down south.

As the hard rock scene flourished in the nineteen seventies, so did many bands from the Great White North. Here are some of the (mostly) hard rock outfits that hit the charts at home and to varying degrees made themselves known stateside.

april wineApril Wine formed in Nova Scotia in 1969 but soon relocated to Montreal. Their eponymous debut album in 1971 scored a domestic hit for the band. Over the next two albums, the brothers Henman and their cousin would depart as the band’s sound moved toward the arena rock style that they became famous for. Their success mounted in the mid-seventies and by the end of the decade, their album “Harder… Faster…” had peaked at spot #64 in the Billboard charts and reached Gold in the U.S. Back home in Canada, however, they had three Platinum albums and two Gold, plus a string of hits. Their international success continued into the early 80’s.

btoBachman Turner Overdrive was Canada’s biggest success story in the 70’s. It has been said that if The Guess Who had introduced Canadian rock to the States, then BTO had introduced it to the world. Formed by former Guess Who guitarist Randy Bachman, the band emerged from the collapse of Bachman’s first project, a country rock band named Brave Belt. Encouraged to play more of a heavy rock style, Bachman’s new band with Fred Turner (bass/vocals) spent a few years on the top of the charts, hitting the number one spot with “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” on November 9, 1974. The song went to number 1 in 21 countries! During their run of hits, BTO had 10 singles reach the Billboard Top 100.

chilliwackChilliwack’s success south of the border actually came in the early 80’s, even though they raked up six songs in the charts in Canada. Part of the problem was that the band kept changing labels, their first five albums being released by four different labels. When they finally found some stability with Mushroom Records and released three albums, the label went bankrupt. By the end of the seventies, only Bill Henderson from the original line-up remained, but with the addition of Brian McLeod (who would later form Headpins) the band’s chart fortunes began to look up. Their music throughout the seventies was an array of styles including country rock, progressive rock, experimental music, hard rock, and lighter pop rock.

A Foot in ColdwaterA Foot in Cold Water are perhaps known for their Canadian classic rock radio staple “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want)“, a sweet ballad with strings that was later covered by the Canadian hard rock/glam metal band Helix in the 80’s. The band released four albums in the 70’s, starting out with a very hard, heavy and gritty sound on their debut, and then gradually spreading out to include a more mainstream sound, light rock, and somewhat progressive directions. Though the debut is an excellent heavy rock album and the band continued to write quality material, they weren’t able to reach the heights of some of their contemporaries.

mahogany-rush-20150527024849Mahogany Rush was a trio led by guitarist Frank Marino. The band name later changed to Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush and then just Frank Marino. Their style was like a heavy rock version of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, especially thanks to Marino’s guitar playing style which on early albums had an uncanny similarity to the famous deceased musician’s, so much in fact that there were rumours that Marino’s body had become occupied by the sprit of Hendrix. The band’s albums “Child of the Novelty” and “Strange Universe” made it to the Billboard Top 100 and “IV” to the top 200.

max websterMax Webster was a hard rock/rock outfit that added some progressive flourishes. They were well known in Canada for touring with Rush and had a few singles in the charts in the seventies. “Paradise Skies” from their fourth album became a hit in the U.K. reaching the #43 spot. After five albums, the band’s guitarist/vocalist Kim Mitchell established a solo career and scored international hits in the eighties with “Go For Soda” and “Patio Lanterns”.

moxyMoxy was a solid hard rock band from Toronto that formed in 1974. Thanks to support from KISS-FM in San Antonio, the band received American airplay early in their career. They toured frequently in the U.S. and opened for AC/DC in 1977. Due to disagreements between the producer and guitarist Earl Johnson, Johnson was kicked out of the studio and American guitarist Tommy Bolin, who was about to embark on a solo career and eventually take over for Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple, was in the studio next door and asked to play the solos on the debut album. By their second album, the band were getting comparisons to Aerosmith, Rush, and Deep Purple, and U.K. music journalist Geoff Barton would call Moxy the Canadian Led Zeppelin.

prismphotoPrism was meant to be a vehicle for the music of Bruce Fairbairn. He put together a band comprising members of two other Vancouver bands and called it Sunshyne. Jim Vallance wrote some of the songs and a recording contract was pursued. The debut album was released in 1977 and produced the Canadian hit “Spaceship Superstar”. Two more albums were released in the seventies and were successful in Canada, but it was not until 1981 that Prism would get a hit in America. The band split up in 1984 but later re-formed with some new members. On March 6, 2011, “Spaceship Superstar” was the wake-up song for the crew members of the International Space Station.

rushRush probably needs no introduction but no list of Canadian music from the seventies would be complete without mentioning the band. Their fourth album “2112” was revolutionary for some and how they blended heavy rock with progressive rock has sometimes earned them the title of fathers of prog metal. Their biggest success was still ahead in 1981, but before then, Rush was already touring the U.S. and Europe.

thundermugThundermug shares a similar history to A Foot in Cold Water. A hard rock outfit from Ontario, they scored a couple of hits with their debut in 1971, “Africa” and a cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”. They released two more albums, each one less heavy and more commercial than the previous, before finally coming to an end. Their first two albums were released in the U.S. as a single compilation album and their third Canadian album was released with a different cover in the U.S. as their second album. An excellent hard rock act in the beginning, it’s a wonder they never had more success.

triumphTriumph is, after The Guess Who, BTO, and Rush, perhaps one of the most successful Canadian hard rock acts to tour the States. Three albums were released in Canada in the seventies, their debut and sophomore made into a single compilation album for the American market. Rik Emmett’s classical and electric guitar abilities gave the band both hard rock cred and a twist of prog. Their third album “Just a Game” scored two hits, “Lay It on the Line” and “Hold On” where the latter reached spot #40 in the U.S. charts. The album peaked on Billboard at #38, while “Hold On” reached number #1 in St. Louis. The band found even greater success in the early eighties and did a commercial for Pepsi.

Trooper-Harry-KalenskyTrooper is Canada’s band, so it has been said. Always drawing crowds at home but never really breaking the U.S., Trooper continues to perform today. Their big Canadian hits include “Raise a Little Hell“, “We’re Here for a Good Time (Not a Long Time)”, “The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car”, “General Hand Grenade”, “3 Dressed Up as a 9”, “Janine”, “Two for the Show”, “Oh, Pretty Lady”, and “Santa Maria”. From the release of their debut in 1975, Trooper began touring in the U.S. Though their albums second through fifth went gold, platinum, double-platinum, and quadruple platinum (a compilation album) in Canada, they only achieved one hit single in the U.S. with “Raise a Little Hell” which reached #59 in 1978.

There are plenty of other exciting bands from Canada who produced quality music in the 1970’s and we will take a look a little later on at the Canadian progressive rock scene during this incredible decade.

For more reading check out this site and this one.