Derry Grehan isn’t one to live in the past.
Yes his band, Honeymoon Suite enjoyed a spectacular run of success in the mid 1980’s chalking up platinum sales of their Tom Treumuth produced self-titled first album and follow-up “The Big Prize” (produced by Bruce Fairbairn and Bob Rock).
Yes they dominated the airwaves with a string of hit singles including their break-through `New Girl Now’, `Wave Babies’, `Burning In Love’` Feel It Again’, `Bad Attitute, and `What Does It Take’ just to name a few.
Yes Honeymoon Suite’s music received valuable exposure on the cult hit TV show Miami Vice (`Bad Attitude’ was feature in a season finale) and they chalked up the title song for Mel Gibson’s hit Lethal Weapon movie plus `What Does It Take’ was featured in John Cusack’s “One Crazy Summer’ movie.
Yes they toured the United States with Bryan Adams and Heart, ZZ Top and Journey (just to name a few headliners), completed several Canadian headline tours and supported Saga during a European sojourn.
And yes, all that momentum was lost with one false step release, their 1988 “Racing After Midnight” album which resulted in Warner Bros U.S pulling the plug on their record contract.
What does matter to the Honeymoon Suite guitarist and chief songwriter is that in 2013, he and original band members (vocalist) Johnnie Dee, bassist Gary Lalonde and drummer Dave Betts, along with current keyboardist Peter Nunn, can still pull a crowd of over 10,000 fans during a recent festival appearance at Peterborough Ontario.
“It’s hard to believe that after all these years our music has stood the test of time,” noted Grehan on the phone after the band had just chalked up another successful gig, performing at Toronto’s Sound Academy on a bill with Teenage Head. “Our old hits are still getting heavy airplay, it warms my heart when we get on stage and fans are still yelling for `New Girl Now and `Wave Babies’. It’s awesome to still command that attention.
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For the past three or four years, Grehan has noticed a classic rock retro revival is taking place in Canada. “Our band has been on an upward swing, it’s all been rebuilding for us. People are getting sick of all that down music of the 90’s. They want to hear that melodic, happy rock again and we are giving it to them. We are doing better now than we have in the past 20 years.
Grehan is reluctant to talk about the past. Bring up the subject of “Racing After Midnight” and he will quickly point out the follow up to “The Big Prize” should have been produced by Bruce Fairbairn and Bob Rock instead of eventual producer Ted Templeman. “I loved what Bruce and Bob did on “The Big Prize” (released in 1985), that was an amazing record. But they had moved on to record Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” album and we would have had to wait a year to get him to record our next album. With the momentum we had built up with our success with `Lethal Weapon’, ( and with Rob Preuss replacing Ray Coburn on keyboards) Warner wanted an immediate follow up record and we just didn’t have the songs.”
The band should have known this project was cursed when lead singer Dee, was struck by a car at LAX airport in December 1987 and suffered multiple breaks to his leg, forcing a delay in the album release.
“Bruce would never have allowed us to record that album,” continued Grehan. “If the songs weren’t there, he wouldn’t have gone in the studio with us, even if it had meant that the record was delayed six months. But without Fairbairn, Warner pushed us to do a follow up and the songs just weren’t there! We had some good songs but we didn’t have a `Living On A Prayer’ and at that point we needed a monster single”.
What they did have was a leadoff single “Love Changes Everything”. Unfortunately, a British duo called Climie-Fisher had a European hit with the same title (different song) and of course when that hit was released in North America, Honeymoon Suite’s song died a death at radio (which would never chart two different songs with the same title at the same time!)
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As Racing After Midnight stalled, their label released a “Singles” best of album and then pulled the rug out from under the band. “It was just a bad time for rock bands,”allowed Grehan. “Nirvana had just come out, Grunge was in vogue and 80’s bands like us were dead, we were toast. Our choices were to either tough it out or go under and to our credit, Johnnie and I toughed it out. Even with the failure of their follow up “Monsters Under The Bed” Grehan and Dee continued to fight the battle.
They lost original members;, drummer Dave Betts and bassist Gary Lalonde and replacement keyboardist Rob Preuss. struggled along with a series of sidemen, released another unsuccessful album, the 2002 “Lemon Tongue”before Grehan had what he called an epiphany “It was about five years ago, I just called up Dave, Gary and Ray and said `let’s put the band back together again’. There was just this chemistry between the original guys, it all just came together.”
The original lineup reunited for a new CD titled “Clifton Hill” ( produced by the band’s first producer Tom Treumuth) although keyboardist Coburn departed once again (to join Kim Mitchell’s band), The Kings’ Peter Nunn rejoined the band to form what is the band’s current lineup.
Of course the music industry has changed drastically over the past few years with CD sales almost being redundant. “Clifton Hill” was great to do but I’m not sure if I would ever record a full record again,” explained Grehan. “There was so much work involved, writing, producing, recording for such a minimal return! It’s much better to write three maybe five new songs and test them out on the internet. Yes it’s great to insert new material into your set list, keeps things fresh and gives the band a new challenge. But insert more than three new songs in a set list and you are shooting yourself in the foot. People don’t have the same attention span they used to have. They want to hear the hits and they feel let down when you don’t give them all the songs they want to hear.”
Yet with social media so prevalent, Honeymoon Suite continues to rock and rebuild their momentum. Grehan claims they are a spring/summer festivals’ band with maybe a sprinkling of casinos tossed in which means they don’t do much during the winter months. “We are not big on playing night clubs, everyone has their side projects and I like the time off to spend with my family and to go down to Nashville to network my song writing connections.
Yes the music industry is a roller coaster ride and you have to take the good with the band. Yet the Honeymoon Suite members are survivors and the large crowds they pulled to festivals throughout 2013 is a testament to the band’s continued popularity.
Photography by: Ted Van Boort