Paul Nelson strikes a forlorn figure as he stands by his stricken Stucco Construction truck, parked on a Vancouver roadway, awaiting the arrival of a much-needed battery boost for his vehicle.
Nelson has been successfully plying his trade as a Stucco construction plasterer for the past 20 years or so, following his dad’s advice that he’d never be stuck for a job if he had a trade. Advice that came in handy once Nelson decided to step away from the microphone and put his recording career on an indefinite hold.
Knowledgeable Canadian music enthusiasts may recognize Nelson by his stage name, Paul Hyde, lead vocalist for Vancouver-based The Payolas who topped the domestic charts with their hit song “Eyes Of A Stranger” winning 1983 Juno Awards for top single and Most Promising New Group.
The Payolas’ punky, reggae-influenced sound came as a breath of fresh air to the Canadian music scene in the early 80’s with guitarist Bob Rock emerging as one of the industry’s top record producers (Metallica, Motley Crue, Loverboy, The Tragically Hip and more recently, Michael Buble and Jan Arden).
Yet despite initial success with the band’s initial three records; their 1981 debut ‘In A Place Like This’, 1982’s breakthrough `No Stranger To Danger’ and their top-selling `Hammer On A Drum’, The Payolas were frustrated by their lack of success outside of Canada.
Opposition to their name by U.S parent A&M Records was cited and when then manager Bruce Allen tried to give the band’s career a boost by bringing in top producer David Foster, the resulting 1985 record, `Here’s The World For Ya’ proved to be disastrous and their U.S label dropped the band before the record was even released.
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“Bob and I gave things another shot with ‘Under A Volcano’ and we had a great time in England recording that record,” reflected Nelson. “We were with a new record company, EMI and were working with Bruce Fairbairn as a co-producer with Bob and things looked positive. We had a decent single in “Dirty Water” but I think Bob lost interest. He was busy at the time with other studio work and his heart just wasn’t in it.”
Hyde soldiered on, releasing two solo records; `Turtle Island’ in 1987 and `Living Off The Radar’ in 1990 but the momentum was lost as he began to target more traditional ways of earning a pay cheque. Hyde and Rock made one final stab at reforming the band when Hyde travelled to Rock’s Hawaii home studio in 2007 to record an EP titled Langford Part One in reference to the Victoria B.C suburb where the pair first met.
Again, nothing came out of those sessions and it took a spark of creativity from Nelson’s twin daughters; Dani and Lizzie to get his creative juices flowing again.
“One of Lizzie’s male friends had died so she and guitarist Jason Traub wrote a song called “Dancing In The Sky” imagining what it would be like in heaven,” said Nelson. “So Lizzie just sang this song a capella into the camera of her computer and next thing you know it’s gone viral and is receiving like a million hits. Some of the comments from people who have lost family members and friends were really heart breaking, it’s like the number one song at funerals.”
Nickelback frontman Chad Krueger’s 604 Records is set to record the song and with the twins also writing other songs, that spate of creativity has got the old man back in the studio. “They are definitely pushing me to raise the bar,” he cracks. “So far I have 12 new songs and I’m about a quarter of the way through the recording process. Direction-wise, they are all over the place, about the only thing I don’t have is a Calypso song – but who knows before I’ve finished. I’ve got an anthemic rocker about former WWE wrestler Davey Boy who used to fight with The British Bulldogs – he was a fan of the Payolas.”
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Nelson vows he will never again set foot on stage. “I’ve given up performing live, it would take a fuck of a lot of money to get me back up on stage.” Yet says his forthcoming record isn’t necessarily a vanity project.
“I have a friend who tries to place my songs in movies and in TV shows,” explained Nelson. “The Aussie actor, Russell Crowe recorded one of my songs for a track on one of his albums.”
In reflecting back on The Payolas’ legacy, Nelson claims that the initial acceptance of their debut single; “China Boys” was a matter of timing. “We were at the right time and the right place, there was just something different about that song, it was very British-sounding because Bob (Rock) and I were into that punk/glam rock thing at the time.”
After an aborted liaison with the Police’s management team, The Payolas’ showed enough promise with their Bob Rock-produced `In A Place Like This’ to warrant a serious budget for their 1982 follow-up with A&M providing a list of possible producers for the project. “Mick Ronson was on that list and as both Bob and I were big fans of David Bowie (Ronson was Bowie’s guitarist in the Spiders From Mars) we picked him and he was in A&M’s Vancouver office the next day.”
With Ronson working with Rock and Hyde, providing a third opinion, The Payolas hit the jackpot with their ‘No Stranger To Danger ‘ release, fuelled by the irresistible “Eyes Of A Stranger”. Ronson also played keyboards for the Payolas when they opened for New Zealand’s Split Enz on a Canadian tour.
[quote]”They are definitely pushing me to raise the bar”[/quote]
Ronson was again in the studio to work with Rock and Hyde on their follow-up `Hammer On A Drum’ release with Nelson finding himself writing a majority of the new music. That record produced a couple of major hits; the graphically haunting “Where Is This Love” and the radio-friendly pop ditty, “Never Said I Love You” duet with Carole Pope. Yet the band continued to struggle stateside and when David Foster was brought in to produce their 1985 “Here’s The World For Ya” the whole project was about to go pear-shaped.
“We had no idea who David Foster was, “ reflected Nelson. “It was like, `Oh he produced the last Kenny Rogers album, a country music producer, this should be interesting!. The whole project was a disaster, Bob and I were going through personal problems, everything was in a shit state and we’re saddled with a producer who wouldn’t know a rock record if it bit him.”
Rebounding with their Rock & Hyde new moniker and a new record label in EMI, they were given carte blanche to record `Under The Volcano’ in England with Bruce Fairbairn. Yet although the end result was promising, the battle to continue proved to be too much for Rock who much preferred to work on other people’s projects.
So the past twenty odd years have been barren for the Payolas’, their band website has been unplugged, no future activity is planned and with Universal, taking over from EMI, it’s still impossible to get their first four albums on CD. Yet the former Harrogate, Yorkshire native still has a creative desire which should result in a new solo project later this year.
One final question. So what prompted Paul Nelson to become Paul Hyde? “That was my idea of rebellion,” he noted. “Want to know how to fuck up the government? Change your name! That really screws them up.”