By Keith Sharp
Outrageous negligence will finally be corrected Thursday, May 18th, when Vancouver’s Trooper is inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at Calgary’s Studio Bell Centre. They, along with Country Artist Terri Clark, Francophone star Diane Dufresne and noted jazz pianist Oliver Jones will join Nickelback, who have already been inducted into the hall during this year’s JUNO Awards in Edmonton.
That May 18th induction represents a successful climax to a concerted lobbying effort by Music Express and other Trooper-related associations to get founding lead vocalist Ra McGuire and guitarist Brian Smith plus the other members of the band, into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
It would be an understatement to say Trooper had come a long way since the band changed their original name from Applejack to Trooper when they released their debut album in 1975 on Randy Bachman’s Legend label.
Trooper’s list of accomplishments includes being crowned Juno Awards’ Band Of The Year in 1980, the first Canadian band/group to reach 4x Platinum (400,000) units sold for their ‘Hot Shots’ record (which has since surpassed 600,000), winning seven SOCAN songwriting awards, a SOCAN lifetime achievement award in 1992 and is cited as one of Universal/MCA’s top five selling bands of all-time with 10 studio albums to their credit, including two double platinum, two platinum and one gold album plus their 6x Platinum ‘Hot Shots’ release.
CBC personality Rick Mercer claimed the band’s hit track “Raise A Little Hell” should be recognized as “Canada’s unofficial national anthem.” Yet, for all these accomplishments, Trooper had not been inducted into Canada’s Music Hall Of Fame, even though virtually all of their 70’s brethren like The Guess Who, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Rush, Bryan Adams, Triumph, Corey Hart, Chilliwack and April Wine had all been previously inducted.
Music Express has been citing this oversight for the past decade. CARAS president Allan Reid received an annual prompt to induct Trooper, and we have even had the band’s fan club bombard CARAS with requests after posting on the CARAS website. Yet, it seemed we were getting nowhere. When Deborah Cox (2022) and Nickelback (2023) were named award recipients, it appeared as though Trooper had been passed over again, especially when McGuire and Smith decided to retire from the band following a two-year COVID-induced layoff which has seen vocalist David Steele and guitarist Steve Crane drafted in as replacements, making for an all-new Trooper lineup.
Fortunately, CARAS has reverted back to a 2019 position where they announced three more inductees (Chilliwack, The Cowboy Junkies and Bobby Curtola) to join original recipient Jann Arden, and in taking that stance again, have added three more inductees, including Trooper, to join Nickelback in the class of 2023 – finally!
Trooper’s history with Music Express goes back to August 6th, 1976, when this writer and lead vocalist Ra McGuire chatted about the band’s second album release `Two For The Show” by the side of a Calgary Holiday Inn outdoor swimming pool prior to the band’s opening slot for Bachman-Turner Overdrive at the Calgary Corral venue. That feature was included in the debut issue of (Alberta) Music Express, published in October of that year.
Since that time, the Music Express was present at that disastrous Alice Cooper performance on June 26th at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium, where after Trooper performed an opening set-in glorious sunshine, a monsoon-like rainstorm swept through the venue, blowing the entire backline off stage during Atlanta Rhythm Section’s abbreviated set. After the rainstorm subsided, it took promoters almost two hours to convince Cooper to go on stage for a short 20-minute appearance which alleviated what could have been a fan riot from a large component of the 15,000 sopping-wet attendees.
A major triumphant event occurred Sunday, August 26th, 1979, when Trooper appeared in the Edmonton Cirkus concert lineup at the Commonwealth Stadium event also featuring headliners Heart, Peter Frampton, Eddie Money and Streetheart. Trooper received their 4x Platinum award on stage from MCA President Scott Richards and performed a blistering set marked by the final performance by keyboardist Frank Ludwig who had enjoyed major success performing (and writing) the band’s hit single “Round Round” but was about to depart to become the lead vocalist for Randy Bachman’s new Ironhorse project.
When he asked Music Express publisher Conny Kunz if she thought he was making the right decision, she snapped back, “No, you are a fucking idiot,” not the response he wanted to hear.
Yet, although Trooper would go on to win the Juno Band of the Year award in 1980, they never really cracked the major gigs in Toronto, playing venues like Ontario Place and Rock And Roll Heaven, where on Saturday, September 3rd, 1978, my wife Karen, having had a few too many drinks at the bar, invited McGuire and Smith, over for Sunday dinner (we lived right across the street from the venue on Asquith Avenue). The phone rings late Sunday morning, we are both in bed nursing major hangovers, and it’s Ra on the phone asking if that Sunday dinner invite was still a go! So, we had them over for dinner and later followed them back to the adjacent Park Plaza Hotel for drinks in their suite.
Our most important meeting was on Tuesday, Sept 25, 2012. The trooper was headlining at Toronto’s CNE bandshell, Music Express. Its follow-up magazine, ACCESS, had fallen victim to the whole digital streaming era. I had folded the magazine to write my book, Music Express, The Life, Death and Rebirth Of Canada’s Music Express Magazine (Dundurn Press).
I was working security at the venue and standing in front of the stage with McGuire and Smith, occasionally giving me a strange look, “What the hell are you doing there.” After that gig, they both met me back at their merchandise tent, asked me what I was doing and encouraged me to re-launch ME as a digital magazine. On the way home on the GO Train that night, I decided to follow their advice and re-start Music Express as a digital magazine (themusicexpress.ca), and it’s been going ever since.
My final connection with the McGuire-Smith-led Trooper was in August 2019 when they headlined the final day of the Rock The Rock festival at Little Current Manitoulin Island with Toronto, Lee Aaron and The Box also on the bill and “Canada’s Party Band” still in great form rattling off their litany of hits including “Raise A Little Hell,” “We’re Here For A Good Time (Not A Long Time),” “Two For The Show,” “Janine” plus many other classics.
Sadly, McGuire and Smith have passed the performance baton to a new version of Trooper to sustain their legacy, but at least they will finally get the recognition they so richly deserve. However, it could get a little crowded on that stage during the presentation.
McGuire and Smith have declined all requests for interviews because they would be inundated with such requests, but Ra did send me a personal message which appears below.
I remember that poolside hang like it was yesterday!
“We feel humbled and grateful. Thanks to you, Keith, and all the incredible fans of the band for supporting us for these many years. We can all share this great honour.”