Here Comes Loverboy

It was at a meeting with Fosterchild when I first bumped into Paul Dean, lead guitarist for Streetheart. I had just conducted a phone interview with the band’s keyboardist Daryl Guthiel but I hadn’t extracted much of an insight from him so I welcomed the opportunity to do an in person with Paul. He proved to be a very cordial and colourful subject, the band had just won a gold record for their debut LP, “Meanwhile Back In Paris” and I was preparing to write a major profile on the band.

Dean was in Calgary to write new songs for the next Streetheart album and Refinery Club manager, Lou Blair remembered providing space in Frank’s Automotive garage located adjacent to the venue.. “He had this portable tape machine that he was working with but he was writing some really good stuff that was going to be material on the new album. I never rated Streetheart and I thought he could do better and jokingly asked when he was going to leave the band. He flew out to Winnipeg. Next thing I know, Paul is back on the phone. “Where are you.” I asked. “I’m back in Calgary,” he replied. “Gary Stratychuck (the manager) and Kenny Shields (lead vocalist) just fired me.”

Loverboy’s first ever stage performance – in Vancouver opening for KISS

He followed that call with a call to me. “Hey Keith, I don’t know what you are going to do with that interview but you should know I have just been kicked out of the band.” said the obviously shaken Dean. Still he attended Streetheart’s headline concert at The Corral to receive his gold record for the band’s debut.

In trying to cheer up Dean I suggested he attend Studio City’s talent showcase which they staged annually, in 1979 at SAIT. At this weekend session, bands performed for prospective college and high school bookers and there were always a number of musicians hanging about looking for new gigs.

Dean took my advice and showed up along with Mike Rynowski who had just returned from his one-album stint with Moxy. Dean and Reno, as he was about to call himself, obviously clicked and as we chatted about other members, bassist Craig Blair, formerly of Hammersmith was suggested and I mentioned Doug Johnson, now playing keyboards for Fosterchild.

At this juncture, there are several different stories on how Loverboy was formed. From my end, I definitely remembered suggesting Dean attend the Studio City function and I know I mentioned Johnson’s availability. Bernie Aubin, now owner of Classic Rock Canada booking agency out of Maple Ridge B.C remembered bumping into Dean and Reno at the Refinery nightclub.

“I had just seen Streetheart in concert and I complimented him on the performance when he told me he had been ousted from the band. He also said he and Reno were looking at forming a new band and they were looking for a drummer,” explained Aubin. “I was drumming for a band called 2000 so they dropped by to see me play at the Airliner Hotel and afterwards offered me a gig.”

Aubin invited Reno and Dean to relocate to his Vancouver house where they formulated their new project. “Vern Wills, from Fosterchild joined for a while on bass and they also tried Ab Bryant but that didn’t work out. They also brought in Johnson who was an amazing keyboard player. We started to write songs and I had the original outline for `The Kid Is Hot Tonite’ which got restructured, but I still earned a co-writer credit. We even got as far as recording some demo sessions at Bullfrog Studios and I remember Bruce Allen pulled up in his Excalibur to check us out.”

Mama let him play! Doucette goes to eleven

Aubin eventually left Loverboy to join up with The Headpins. His replacement in Loverboy was former Streetheart drummer Matt Frenette who had joined the original Headpins line-up. “I wasn’t that upset at the time because Loverboy hadn’t done anything yet and I switched positions to joined Brian McLeod and Ab Bryant in The Headpins with Darby Mills,”explained Aubin.” I would kick myself later but that’s the way these things go.”

Greg Thomas, President of Studio City Musical, introduced Dean to Frenette after Dean had left Scrubbaloe Caine in Toronto to link up with Frenette in Great Canadian River Race. The pair then traveled to Regina to join Kenny Shields in Witness which begat Streetheart. When Dean was turfed out of Streetheart (supposedly because Shields and manager Gary Stratychuk questioned his song writing ability) he contacted Thomas to enquire if Thomas knew of any potential song writing partners.

“I suggested Mike Rynoski and they both came down to my office and they obviously hit it off,” noted Thomas. “Lou Blair had managed Paul in a group called Fox so it was natural for Lou to manage them.”

With Dean, Reno, Frenette and Johnson committed to the project the final piece in the Loverboy jigsaw puzzle was finding a bass player. That piece fell into place on Sunday June 3rd 1979 at Blindman Valley Ski Hill in the central Alberta town of Bentley. A vacuum cleaner salesman from Red Deer had this wild idea of staging a rock concert at this ski hill spot which was actually three ski hills that converged into a natural amphitheatre.

None of the industry people I interviewed for this book could remember the name of this concert promoter but Bruce Allen Talent Agency’s Calgary office aided the show by supplying all the talent. Lindsay Shelfontuk was the agent in question and he was embroiled in a turf war with Studio City. So to strengthen his agency’s position he made a cut-rate deal on the talent not for a minute thinking our mystery promoter could actually pull off the gig.

Lisa Dal Bello
Lisa Dal Bello rocks Bentley with soon-to-be Loverboy bassist Scott Smith in the background

Fosterchild, One Horse Blue and Infinity provided local talent. Doucette was brought in from Vancouver, Crowcuss from Winnipeg and Lisa Dal Bello, Goddo. Downchild and The Cooper Brothers were imported from the East. Glace Bay, Nova Scotia’s famous foul mouths, MacLean and MacLean played host.

“We had heard of Scott playing with Lisa Dal Bello and we specifically went to check him out,” explained Reno.

Sunday June 3rd turned into one of those perfect summer days and it seemed all of Alberta decided on a whim to converge on Bentley. Think of the traffic jams that clogged all the roads going to Woodstock and you have a pretty good idea what the traffic conditions were like along Hwy 2 heading into Bentley.

Conny and I had a jump on the traffic as we spent Saturday night in nearby Sylvan Lake and had arrived at the site at about 9 a.m. on the Sunday. We had heard the day before that the RCMP were all over the area and that the Hells Angels motorbike gang was descending on the concert so we had anticipated some kind of delay in getting to the site.

We arrived early enough to clear what passed for security and found PolyGram’s Ken Graydon had positioned a Winnebago in the back stage parking lot facing the stage. From the roof of the Winnebago we had a marvellous panoramic view of the stage and the crowd which had started to stream in. And they kept on coming, and coming and coming. Every single access route into the site was totally clogged. Nobody had tickets so everyone paid $20 cash at the entrance.

Not a bad lineup for twenty bucks! The masses mingle at Bentley
Not a bad lineup for twenty bucks! The masses mingle at Bentley

Frantic calls were coming in that some bands were stuck in traffic so the RCMP helped out by tracking down the musicians and giving them police escorts through the mounting chaos. By mid-afternoon a reported 12,000 spectators were camped on the hillsides. Considering the promoter supposedly only paid about $20,000 for the entire line-up, the guy must have made a killing. He reportedly left the site in a truck full of garbage bags bulging with money – and was never heard from again!

The Blindman Valley Rock festival was an ideal setting to show how much Canadian talent had developed at that time. Such a great blend of country rock in One Horse Blue, Fosterchild (with Doug Johnson on keyboards) and The Cooper Brothers mixed with Downchild’s bluesy kick, Goddo’s hard rock and the sheer brilliance of Jerry Doucette set off by a glorious summer’s day made for an unforgettable experience.

Lisa Dal Bello (who was on the cover of our June issue) was more lightweight pop at the time and her trademark move was to execute this dramatic fainting swoon at the climax of her encore (think of Bette Midler in The Rose!) before being helped off stage where she instantly recovered before heading back to her trailer under her own steam.

Graydon’s Winnebago was party central backstage and all the bands hung out to lap up the atmosphere. A young native girl enlivened the party atmosphere by walking around topless and it was here Smith was recruited to fill the bassist spot in Loverboy.

Bentley was marred only by the late afternoon arrival of the Hells Angels bikers who set fire to the Blindman Valley Ski Lodge and by a car accident on the way out of the site which killed a couple of young kids.

Photography By: Charles Hope


Music Express: The Rise and Fall of a Canadian Music Icon

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