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A Pivotal Year

A Pivotal Year

Almost immediately after Bentley (you can read about that adventure here), PolyGram’s Ken Graydon asked me if I wanted to be a guest of the label at Canada’s first disco awards event to be staged in Vancouver, Saturday June 16th 1979, in conjunction with two major concerts at the Pacific Coliseum, Village People on the 16th and The Bee Gees on the 17th. PolyGram owned disco at that time with The Bee Gees, Village People, Donna Summer and even Kiss getting into the act with their `I Was Made For Loving You’ track off their new “Destroyer” album. My itinerary was to attend the Disco Awards in the afternoon, catch the Village People that evening, attend a post-concert party at the Luv Affair and the following night attend the Bee Gees concert followed by a private PolyGram party back at the hotel.

On the afternoon of the 16th, I walked into the Holiday Inn on Pender Street to attend the awards and I had literally just stepped into the hotel foyer when I am approached by a young man, dressed in a sports jacket, wearing a bowtie, glasses and trimmed haircut. “Good to see you could make it Mr. Sharp. Do you remember me, I’m Bryan Guy Adams.” Wow! What a difference. The long pageboy cut was gone, he was dressed smartly, even business like. I quickly found out Bryan was attending to promote his first solo single, `Let Me Take You Dancing’ and was going to present an award to Cheryl and Robbie Rae for their `Que Sera Sera’ track. The event itself was pretty forgettable but I promised Bryan M.E would be there for his album debut and I did talk to Brian Chater who had signed Adams to a publishing contract with A&M and he was confident the label would be onboard for any future activity.

The Village People that night were a sight to behold. They were pushing their “Go West” LP and had a massive hit with `In The Navy’ .I had a backstage pass which was probably a mistake because by standing off to the side of the stage, I watched the six Village People dance through their choreography, with a full band playing behind a screen, hidden from view. Only the lead singer actually performed. These days with the Pussycat Dolls and Brittany Spears, lip-syncing is accepted. But in 1979 it was quite shocking to watch bands in a live concert actually miming.

Following the show, I attended an after-concert party at this gay bar called The Luv Affair. Now I don’t have a problem with gays and from our private booth, it was quite fascinating to watch the activities on the dance floor. But going to the bathroom was something else altogether. There was stuff going on in those cubicles I really didn’t want to know about.

Next night was the Bee Gees and they were on a roll with their “Spirits Having Flown” album and their `Tragedy’ single which was proving to be an ideal follow up to their “Saturday Night Fever” opus. Concert wise the Brothers Gibb were amazing, slickly choreographed, great vocals, tons of hits, totally absorbing. But what happened in the band’s dressing room after the concert wasn’t so diplomatic. PolyGram Canada’s marketing team all had VIP passes and buzzed by the show, were looking forward to meeting the Bee Gees. Yet when they arrived backstage, they were told that only label president Tim Harrold could meet the band. They returned back to their hotel obviously disappointed at the snub and even Harrold admitted he had been given a perfunctory welcome and was quite disappointed at the reception he received. Back at the hotel, the attitude was `Sod the Bee Gees’ and we had a great party anyway.

Trooper
Frank Ludwig’s finale, with Brian Smith

A business trip to Vancouver landed me in the middle of a vicious dispute within the Trooper ranks that eventually broke up their existing line-up. Ever since my first meeting with the band in ’76 when they were first breaking ground opening for BTO, Trooper has always been one of my favourite bands. Their live performances are the epitome of a good time with great hits such as `We’re Here For A Good Time’, ` Raise A Little Hell’ and `Santa Maria’. And both Ra McGuire and Brian Smith were always easy to approach.

In late 1978 they had released their “Thick As Thieves” album which besides featuring `Raise A Little Hell’ also included two songs sung by keyboardist Frank Ludwig titled `Round Round We Go’ and `The Moment That It Takes’, both huge hits. Ludwig had written `Round Round’ and drummer Tommy Stewart and bassist Doni Underhill had co-written `The Moment That It Takes”.

Considering McGuire and Smith had co-written most of the band’s previous tracks, this was seen as a refreshing change with the album going double platinum (200,000 sales). They then followed this by including both tracks on their 1979 “Hot Shots”, greatest hits album which became the first domestic record ever to hit quad platinum (400,000 sales).

“Sam Feldman called us up one day and said we’d just received a cheque for $70,000 from MCA,” remembered McGuire. “Since we’d never received any cheques from MCA at that point, none of us were sure what it was for. Turns out the money were for royalties for “Hot Shots”. Since it didn’t cost much to make, the proceeds from its sales had paid off our accumulated debt from all our previous albums and actually made us a royalty profit. I bought a BMW with my share!”

This should have sparked a great push in momentum for Trooper but the wheels were about to fall off. Pushed to record another studio album in 79, Trooper had quickly recorded “Flying Colors” which resulted in a major conflict between McGuire/Smith and the other three members, much of the dispute evolving around the inclusion of a Kinks’ cover, `All Day And All Of The Night’.

“What Brian and I didn’t know was that Tommy, Doni and Frank had been rehearsing together independently and they brought 17 fully-arranged songs to the first “Flying Colors” production meeting. I think Smitty and I had 10. So we recorded all 27 songs and our first time producer, Howard Steele decided on a voting system that included more than the five band members. End result was that the Kinks cover got more votes than either `3 Dressed Up As A Nine’ and `Janine’ which were the two album singles.”

McGuire believes it was Randy Bachman who talked Frank into leaving to join his Ironhorse band. “Randy had a new studio, wanted a lead vocalist and probably sold him on the opportunity to contribute more songs to his project. But Tommy and Doni stayed on for another three years and we all joined up for a reunion bash in 2000 to re-affirm our brothers in arms status.”

That’s not the way Frank Ludwig remembers things! “It goes back to the “Thick As Thieves” recording session. I was scheduled to have two songs on the album; `Round Round We Go’ and a second track `A Fine Mess’. Brian (Smith) came to me and asked me if we should include `The Moment That It Takes’ which was written by Doni Underhill and Tommy Stewart which we had recorded. I said, `Of course, I think it would be great if they had a song on the album. Brian then went to our producer, Randy Bachman and said “Frank says to add `The Moment That It Takes’ and to drop `A Fine Mess’. `I was stunned by the lie. Nobody told me it was going to be an either-or situation on that song.”

“Anyway, both `Round Round We Go’ and `The Moment That It Takes’ did well and I suggested to Ra and Brian that we execute a five-way split on the song writing to get Tommy and Doni more involved, but Ra and Brian wouldn’t hear of it,” explained Ludwig. “I felt we should get more credit as I contributed a lot to some of the arrangements like the piano intro into `Two For The Show ‘ and significant chord and melody changes to songs like `Pretty Lady’. I also argued regarding the importance of Tommy and Doni’s contributions. In retrospect, like Ra’s song `Go Ahead And Sue Me‟ suggests, maybe I should have.”

With both `Round Round We Go” and `The Moment That It Takes’ featured on the band’s “Hot Shots”, greatest hits compilation, the release  sold over 400,000 units domestically. This prompted MCA Canada to pitch MCA U.S to market “Hot Shots” as a new studio album as their previous three releases had done nothing stateside. MCA U.S was receptive about the idea and wanted `Round Round We Go’ as the album’s debut single. But when Ra, Brian and manager Sam Feldman protested, MCA U.S took it as an affront that they were being undermined, dropped the record and even suggested they should sign Ludwig as a solo artist.

Going into the band’s next studio session, Ludwig struck a deal with Stewart and Underhill that they should write a bunch of songs and split the song writing royalties equally between them. Yet when they presented their songs to McGuire and Smith they ran into resistance. “Song selection used to be a three-person vote with Ra and Brian holding two votes. Suddenly, with Tommy and Doni on my side it was a five-person vote. So Ra and Brian brought in road manager Randy Berswick and manager Sam Feldman so they outvoted us 4-3,” revealed Ludwig.

“On top of this, they decided to cover The Kinks’ `All Day And All Of The Night’ instead of using one of our songs. Van Halen had a huge hit with the Kinks‟ `You Really Got Me‟ so some LA consulting company producer Howard Steele had been talking to, suggested we do likewise. The only problem was Van Halen made that track their own but we didn’t do anything special with our cover.

Heart
Heart – Reluctant headliners

”In the end, although we recording five tracks we only ended up with three tracks on the album but they all got clumped onto the second side. One of them, `Quiet Desperation’ was scheduled to be the album’s leadoff single. But that idea got canned when I decided to leave the band” “The whole song writing thing became so divisive I had to leave,” concluded Ludwig. “I always thought that 5% of something was better than 100% of nothing. When we had our reunion gig at the Commodore in 2000, it went so well Tommy, Doni and I would have probably been willing to tour with them. But it was obvious Ra and Brian was content to just utilize sidemen and take the majority of the money themselves. Nothing had changed”

By midsummer, Conny and I decided if we were to expand ME, we would have to leave Calgary. We still didn’t believe we could make a go of it in Toronto so we set out on a bit of a holiday/road trip to Vancouver to explore whether the West Coast should be out next destination.  Industry response was positive,we had found a potential office on Broadway and were refreshed enough by the mini vacation to take stock of our options and decide to make a move. Still wasn’t sure though whether to go east or west.

Conny and I arrived back in Calgary in time to attend The Edmonton Summer Rock Cirkus being staged Saturday August 26th at Commonwealth Stadium. This event was being promoted by Marty Melhuish and Doug Pringle and featured Heart, Peter Frampton, Streetheart, Eddie Money, The Dixon House Band and Frank Ludwig’s last performance with Trooper. Melhuish and Pringle were both based in Montreal and at that time were airing a weekly, four-hour syndicated radio show titled The Pringle Program (which aired on some 50 radio stations, nationally). An acquaintance of Pringle’s, Lucien Richard had a client who wanted to stage a major concert at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and was prepared to table a six-figure budget. “We had too much respect for Donald Tarelton (DKD Productions) to encroach on his territory,” remembered Penzance, England native Melhuish. “So Doug, who was in Edmonton working on the launch of AOR station K-97 decided a concert at Edmonton Commonwealth Stadium would be a great way to launch the station.”

Conny and I drove up to Edmonton on the Friday, stayed at the Edmonton Plaza both nights, and based on Music Express pre-promoting the concert, we obtained VIP backstage passes for ourselves and photographer Charles Hope. The venue was excellent, the weather was warm and sunny, about 35,000 in attendance and we had a great time watching the bands and hanging out in the VIP lounge. We hung out with Streetheart after their solid early afternoon slot and I made friends with Eddie Money who was happy to hang out with us. At one point he pointed a finger at Heart guitarist Howard Lesse who was wearing a ridiculous pair of purple velour bellbottom trousers and Money shouted at him, “Look at that rock star ponce wearing those pants.” Leese’s reaction was to scurry backstage.”

Garth
Garth (The Bear) Werschler

Running security backstage was our old friend Garth (The Bear) Werschler. Werschler was Dave Horodezky’s head of security at Brimstone. A great guy, but as his nicknamed suggested, a bear of a man who you would be advised not to tangle with. His signature move, especially at Calgary’s Jubilee Auditorium was to hoist any would-be miscreant up off their feet and  carry them head first through the swinging doors, usually leaving behind a significant dent!

Frampton, who had dominated the charts with his “Frampton Comes Alive” LP, performed a superb low-key set. From the VIP lounge, Conny and I watched the stage while also watching MCA President Scott Richards present Trooper with their quad-platinum album for “Hot Shots”. He later repeated this presentation on stage. I introduced myself to Richards and he said he was very aware of Music Express and invited me to drop by his office during my next trip to Toronto. We then moved closer to the stage to witness what I rate as one of Trooper’s best ever live performances. I think they only played about an hour but their onstage energy was electrifying. I remember they did `Summertime Blues’ and had the whole audience on their collective feet clapping and singing along. And then came the moment when Ludwig sang `Round, Round We Go”‘ for the last time and you could see people shedding tears. It really was a poignant moment. Trooper pulled so much energy and emotion out of the crowd that they seemed spent by the time Heart came out to close.

“We only got the gig after The Runaways cancelled,” reflected McGuire who also rated the gig as a career highlight.” Thanks to Frampton insisting on going on earlier, it was like he opened for us. Our short, high-energy set was a rock n roll dream and we were presented with our quadruple Hot Shots record on stage. It was a great way to finish off our two and a half years working with Frank.” A major party ensued in the VIP lounge with Trooper, Streetheart and Eddie Money all involved. The Stampeders’ Ronnie King ( a native Hollander) launched into a Dutch language conversation with Conny and Ludwig made the mistake of asking Conny if she thought he had made a mistake by leaving Trooper for Randy Bachman’s new (and short-lived ) Ironhorse project. “Yes you’ve made a big mistake, you are a f**king idiot,” snapped back Kunz, not one to mince words. Not the response Ludwig was looking for.

Photography by: Charles Hope, and Ian Mark (Garth Werschler)

 

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2 thoughts on “A Pivotal Year

  1. dave

    I was hangin at that show Eddie Money the character that he was callin Hearts Hit What about Love …..What about Lunch LOL

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Last night Keith performed a tribute to some of the great artists that we lost in 2016. Watch it below:

Posted by Keith Urban on Sunday, January 1, 2017