In a few weeks’ time, Oshawa’s Killer Dwarfs will be packing their collective bags and pointing their vehicle southwards, final destination, Miami, Florida where they will board the MSC Divina cruise ship to participate in what is now an annual event called The Monsters Of Rock Cruise.
Between March 29th and April 2nd, a ship full of well-heeled passengers will mingle and be entertained by about 40 of their favourite heavy metal bands as the ship cruises between Florida and Nassau Bahamas. Joining Killer Dwarfs on the performance lineup are such hair-band luminaries as Tesla, Cinderella, Faster Pussycat, Winger, Ratt, Y&T and even Emerson Lake & Palmer drummer Carl Palmer.
“It’s a fabulous event, like a casino on water with 40 rock bands,” enthused Killer Dwarfs, lead vocalist Russell Graham, obviously eager to trade the snow banks and sub-zero temperatures of this torturous Canadian winter for the relief of Florida sunshine. “The Monsters Of Rock event creates such a positive vibe. People fly in from all over the world, they bring all their stuff for you to sign and its great when everyone hangs out together. And there are so many shows going on, you couldn’t possibly catch every one of them.”
The Dwarfs, who will be warming up for the event with a concert, Saturday night at Toronto’s Rockpile East have successfully staged a second reunion, motivated by the release of their ‘lost’ “Start@One” record.
“After we were dropped by Epic in 1993, we responded by starting another record, and we had gotten it to the stage of a glorified demo when the band fell apart,” reported Russell. “We tried a first comeback in 2001, that lasted five years, but we were ahead of our time and the environment wasn’t right so I went off and did solo dates and even sang lead vocals for Moxy.”
“Then I recorded an acoustic version of Killer Dwarf songs titled “Wireless” which was a lot of fun, but (drummer) Darrell Millar and I talk on a weekly basis, I was doing some dates by myself, one thing led to another and we just decided to get back together again. Next thing you know we had former member Gerry Finn and one new player John Fenton and we were back out playing again,” explained Graham.
Alerted by his business manager about the ‘lost’ demo, the band decided to release the record in its original form rather than remix it. “There were discussions about remixing it, we weren’t sure if anyone would want to hear it but we thought, if we do remix it , that would defeat the purpose of the record – this is basically a time capsule of how we sounded at the time.”
As far as the reunion goes, “So far, so good,” reports Graham who has tapped into the band’s numerous U.S contacts to perform a series of shows both north and south of the 49th parallel. “It’s a new vibe completely. People still want to hear our music and that’s a good thing. The pressure of performing is off, we are all having fun and we have nothing to prove. We are drawing people who remember us from the past, people who have heard the name in the past and parents who are bringing their kids along to check us out.”
Critics didn’t take the band seriously when they launched out of Oshawa Ontario in 1981, just as the hard rock movement, spearheaded by Rush, Triumph and to a lesser extent, Helix and Kickaxe was gaining momentum in the Great White North. Trying to come up with a gimmicky name, band manager, Bob Connolly, (the same guy who put a TV set on Frank Soda’s head and convinced Lee Aaron to pose topless for Oui Magazine) came up with the idea of Killer Dwarfs where every band members’ surname would be Dwarf as in Russ Dwarf.
“Nah, it had nothing to do with The Ramones, it was just us trying to be different and capture people’s attention,” explained Graham. “Bryce (Trewin) and I were short but our drummer, Darrell is like six foot two so it wasn’t like we were vertically challenged or anything. It was just us having a sense of humour and if you didn’t get the joke then ‘fuck off’”.
Although their 1983 self-titled record didn’t make much of an impression, one song `Heavy Metal Breakdown’ did connect with the metal crowd, and their 1986 follow-up “Stand Tall”, released on Maze Records made serious inroads, especially in the states where the video for `Stand Tall (Stick To Your Guns)’ was one of the most requested indie videos on the fledgling MTV Network. This lead to a series of U.S tours, an appearance on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball (hosted by Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford) and eventually a recording contract with Epic Records in New York.
Their 1988 “Big Deal” debut for Epic,, sparked by the success of `We Stand Alone’ was strong enough to draw the attention of British metal giants, Iron Maiden who personally invited the Dwarfs to open for them during the British leg of their 1990 Seventh Tour Of A Seven Tour. “We did two nights at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, two nights at Wembley, then two nights back at Hammersmith. For a bunch of kids from Oshawa, this was a dream, and to open for Maiden, that’s a tough crowd. If they don’t like you, they’ll kill you, but we won them over every night.”
Unfortunately, things started to unravel Stateside. the band’s subsequent two releases; their 1990 `Dirty Weapons’ and 1992 `Method To The Madness’ failed to connect, with Hall, the band’s guitarist leaving the band before “Method To The Madness” was released. “I can’t say I was impressed with Epic,” noted Graham. “We would go to the `Black Rock’ building’ in New York and we’d see all these suits in their oval offices who might as well have been selling toilet paper.”
Dropped in 1993, just as the Grunge movement was gaining strength, The Dwarfs tried to respond by recording a new album, but realizing the momentum, was lost they disbanded until 2001. A five-year reunion resulted in the release of “Reunion Of The Scribes Live 2001”, but as Graham noted, the current classic rock renaissance had yet to kick in.
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Eleven years later, with Coney Hatch back after a 28-year hiatus, Brighton Rock recording a new album and even Triumph talking about a reunion, the environment seems right for The Killer Dwarfs to reassert themselves.
“It’s not like the past, the money certainly isn’t there, but we have something booked every month until November so that is encouraging,” concluded Graham. “Everything is positive within the band. There is no pressure, just us having a lot of fun, reconnecting with our audience. And at the end of the day, nothing changes but the haircuts!”