Rik Emmett doesn’t do things by half measures.
The former Triumph guitarist utilized a series of local concerts which culminated with a performance December 15th at the intimate Hugh’s Room in Toronto to launch two new Cd releases. The first an acoustic selection of Triumph hits titled “Then Again…” and the second an ambitious concept piece titled “Marco’s Secret Songbook”
It’s hardly surprising that Emmett’s output is so prolific when you consider that in the 24-year period since Emmett initially left Triumph, he has recorded 16 albums and two DVD’s.
“I find it funny when people come up to me, tell me they’re my biggest fans, then ask me what I’ve been doing for the past 24 years,” cracks Emmett over the phone from his Mississauga residence. “They can’t be that great a fan if they didn’t buy any of my solo albums.
[quote]We were always somewhere in the middle. Not pop enough to be Journey but not hard rock enough to be Black Sabbath.[/quote]The Then Again…release was spawned by the continuous acoustic gigs he and guitar partner Dave Dunlop perform together as the Strung Out Troubadors. “Playing together, Dave and I re-arrange and perform all sorts of covers and my Triumph songs lend themselves so well to an acoustic interpretation,” noted Emmett. “So we’d be playing these songs at our shows and people would be asking if we had recorded any of them, so we thought it was silly not to have something for the merchandise tables.
The resulting “Then Again…” CD features all of Emmett’s major Triumph hits including `Magic Power’, `Never Surrender’, `Fight The Good Fight’, `Lay It On The Line’ and `Hold On’ as well as `Suitcase Blues’, `Ordinary Man’ and a trio of classical instrumentals including `Midsummer Dream’, `Fantasy Serenade’ and `Petit Etude’
Anyone familiar with Emmett’s hits will recognize there is a strong melodic element to the structure of his songs before band mates bassist Mike Levine and drummer Gil Moore `Triumphized ‘ them as Levine used to joke.
“I’d write these songs and present them to the band in demo form and they’d joke that they sound just like Neil Young or Gordon Lightfoot,” laughed Emmett. “With Triumph having the reputation as being a hard rock band, we had to transform these songs into something hard rock to present them live, but really Triumph was never a hard rock band in the sense of an Iron Maiden or a Black Sabbath”.
“Initially we were able to tour on the strength of `Rocky Mountain Way’ which had a driving beat but was melodic enough to catch on with Canadian radio,” noted Emmett. “Our four-minute version was more acceptable than Joe Walsh’s original eight-minute version, so there we were touring on the strength of a cover song.”
Having caught on with radio, Triumph had to keep on producing songs that were acceptable so Emmett says it was no accident that their key tracks had a radio-friendly, melodic element. “At that time it was all Journey, Loverboy and Foreigner and that was the direction we had to follow. I’m sure Gil and Mike thought of us being more hard rock than we really were but I was more into The Who or Deep Purple than Led Zeppelin.”
“Ultimately, that’s why we never had that seven times platinum album in the States that Journey recorded,” assessed Emmett. “We were always somewhere in the middle. Not pop enough to be Journey but not hard rock enough to be Black Sabbath.”
After Emmett’s original acrimonious departure from Triumph, he reinvented himself as a solo performer recording a string of albums showcasing his instrumental and songwriting talents. He hooked up with Dave Dunlop 12 years ago, and they have recorded four cd’s together including a live record at Hugh’s Room and a CD of covers titled Recovery Room 9 which sees the pair tackle Don Henley’s `Boys Of Summer’ and Stevie Wonder’s `Superstition.
Emmett credits Eric Clapton’s rework of Layla on the MTV Unplugged series for revolutionizing acoustic music. “He took a heavy rock song and turned it into something almost unrecognizable, from its original version into a lovely, legitimate tune.”
Emmett’s other new project is a conceptual piece titled “Marco’s Secret Songbook” which is a project which has finally come to fruition. “It’s something I just had to get out of my system,” said Emmett of the CD which tells the story of Marco, an Italian troubadour who goes on a musical odyssey hoping to find himself and returns to restore his faith in love.
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I was at Mike Shotton’s studio one day and I composed this little acoustic piece,” allowed Emmett. “Next time I went back, Mike had added all this grandiose strings and horns arrangements and it kind of took off from there, but it took ages to record, something like four years off and on.”
Emmett is aware that critics may toss the CD off as a “stupid vanity project. But at some point you say `Damn The Torpedoes, it is what it is. It’s something I had to get out of my system regardless of what the reaction is.”
The DVD release of Triumph’s 2009 Swedish Festival concert appearance, their first appearance together in 22 years, sparked rumours that the band would reunited. These rumours were further fanned by Levine who told Music Express that the band had been ready to accept concert dates by Live Nation but were held back by economic conditions in the States.
Emmett agrees in part, saying never say never, but feels drummer and Triumph quarterback, Gil Moore, isn’t motivated to make the physical effort to get back in shape to perform for the band on any extended tour. “Gil says `is the carrot big enough, is it golden enough’. It would have to be extremely financially lucrative to get Gil away from Metalworks (the Mississauga recording studio Moore owns).
“Live Nation keeps coming to us with offers for us to be part of a three-band package with like Journey headlining, Whitesnake opening and us in the middle and they want us to play casinos and outdoor venues in the summer, “explained Emmett. “But that’s not what we want to do. Gil and Mike in particular want it to be a Triumph show with our own production. But I think they realize that’s all in the past and that we’re not really motivated to make that kind of effort. When we did that show in Sweden, I think Gil got closure in that he finally got all three of us back on the same stage. And when we played Oklahoma City, Gil had his whole family down there and his kids got to see what their dad used to do. I think that brought Gil closure and he’s quite happy with that.”
But again Rik says “Never say never. “If it was some special reason like a SARS event, I could see it or we could reinvent Triumph and do some acoustic show where we all got together in some theatre. Dave and I wanted Gil and Mike to play acoustically on `Suitcase Blues’ on this album but we just didn’t have the time to pull it off.”