It’s no coincidence that when a movie director or advertising executive wants to capture the quintessential musical mood of the 1980’s, there’s one band that instantly comes to mind.
Soundtracks to key movies which reflected that period; Zoolander, Charles’ Angels Full Throttle, Crank, The Pepsi Cola commercial with the drinker dreaming about recapturing his youth by pining for his long-lost shag van, that epic 1990 Saturday Night Live sketch featuring the Chippendales’ dance off between Chris Farley and Patrick Swayze, all had one thing in common – Loverboy .
“Loverboy has become part of people’s DNA,” offered lead singer Mike Reno, taking time out from executing home renovations on White Rock B.C property he is preparing to sub-lease while juggling studio commitments to work on some sports-themed jingles with band guitarist Paul Dean and a pending concert date in Denver later that week. “We are a piece of the tapestry to people who are fans of ours since the 80’s. Our music is built into people, they love our songs so much they virtually own them.”
Under the direction of new manager, Los Angeles-based Jonathan Wolfson, since 2011, Loverboy is enjoying a renaissance of sorts. Back in high demand on the North American festival, state fair and casino circuits, the band has registered their musical intent by releasing a new CD, `Unfinished Business” which reflects their new lease on life.
“The record is a combination of some new tracks and some old songs which hadn’t made previous albums that Paul had discovered so we decided to re-record them,” explained Reno. “Our fans are always asking us to put out stuff but we don’t want to spend $60k recording an album that radio isn’t going to play and no one’s going to buy. We suffered that indignation with our 2007 album “Just Getting Started”. We said to ourselves, how many times do we want to do this, it’s like running into a brick wall with your nose.”
With a title suggested on line by their fans, `Unfinished Business’ allowed the band to re-record songs that “had a special place in our hearts” but also has a sense of being recorded live. “Some of the songs were actually recorded off cassette tapes,” informed Reno.
While it’s a nice diversion to record new material, the band is fully aware that it is virtually impossible to work new songs into their concert set list. “If we don’t play those 14 top ten hits that everyone has come to listen too we’d be run out of town,” laughed Reno. “We do play one track off the new record, “Countin’ The Nights’, which goes over really well, but we know our fans are there for the hits.”
As previously mentioned, Loverboy had tried to record an album of new material in 2009 and they genuinely felt `Just Getting Started’ featured some of the best songs they had ever recorded. But the album was received with stone cold indifference by radio and subsequently didn’t sell at retail.”
“People are always asking why we don’t play any songs from that album because it’s one of their favourites and it’s almost heartbreaking to tell them we played four new tracks for like six months but the album went nowhere,” explained Reno. “We used to sell like 250,000 records ever five days but these days any classic rock band with a new record can’t get arrested and it’s not just us, all our Classic Rock friends are in the same boat, none of them can sell records at retail anymore and it’s all because of the lack of radio interest. I am convinced that any radio format that played new material by classic rock bands would have a great deal of success.”
It’s certainly a different environment than 1980 when Loverboy; comprising of Reno, Dean, keyboardist Doug Johnson, bassist Scott Smith and drummer Matt Frenette, stormed out of Vancouver and set the North American charts on fire with a self-titled debut, that featured two songs; “The Kid Is Hot Tonite” and “Turn Me Loose” which owned radio and the fledgling MTV in the next year, selling 6 million records in the U.S as they criss-crossed the continent opening for the likes of ZZ Top and Kansas before earning their own headline status as the kings of arena rock.
“Loverboy kinda snuck up on everybody,” informed Reno. “We surprised the hell out of our management (Bruce Allen/Lou Blair), we snuck up on our record company. We were the penultimate opening band because we just went out there and set the stage for the headliners.”[quote]“Loverboy kinda snuck up on everybody.”[/quote]
As an example, Reno talked about an opening slot the band played before 100,000 fans in Philadelphia’s J.F.K Stadium when they were booked to open for The Kinks, Foreigner and The Pretenders in 1981. “We were on our tour bus heading west and we get this call asking if we wanted to take this 4 pm. slot on the show,” reflected Reno. “So we turned the bus around and drove 18 hours straight across four States just to make it on time. We arrive at the gig, we’ve all got deadheads, didn’t have time to change into our stage gear, they just doused us in water and we ran on stage.
“So Paul and I immediately split the 100,000 fans in half and had one half yelling “Fuck You” and the other half yelling “Bullshit”,” continued Reno. “We caused such a commotion that I look out to the wings and there’s members of The Kinks, Foreigner and the Pretenders coming out on stage to find out what all the fuss was about. They had no idea who we were.”
Loverboy tattooed their presence on the music business over the next five years with their sophomore `Get Lucky’ album featuring the band’s biggest hit single “Working For The Weekend”. However, record sales began to slide in the late Eighties and with that came the inevitable media backlash targeting subsequent releases, `Keep It Up, `Lovin Every Minute Of It’ and `Wildside’.[youtube width=”600″ height=”400″ video_id=”bohVV_KlSHw”]
“All the critics ran a knife through us, they totally butchered us,” fumed Reno. “I’d be saying to the guys, `How can they do this to us, they couldn’t have been at the show last night. We had 20,000 screaming kids standing on their chairs. I mean there was never anything serious about our music, we weren’t pretending to cure cancer or anything. We were just a party band singing about romance, cars and having a good time. Some of that critical backlash was totally unnecessary.”
Yet although the band took a break from each other in the early nineties, and were then shaken by the loss of bassist Scott Smith who drowned after falling out of his sail boat in San Francisco Bay on November 30th 2000, , their legacy continued to thrive, resulting in renewed demand for live appearances. So with former Streetheart bassist, Ken (Spider) Sinnave replacing Smith, Loverboy began to re-emerge.
Still they were struggling following the failure of `Just Getting Started’, and were operating without a manager when New Yorker Jonathan Wolfson arrived on the scene.
“At that time, I was about to take a break when Jonathan met me and said, `You are the most undervalued band out there. I’ve seen you play three times in the past two months and I think you’re fantastic but Loverboy isn’t getting the credit you deserve,” Reno recalled. “I can get you triple what you are being paid by the promoters, I can get you better gigs but even more important, I can get you respect from the industry.”
“Jonathan has been a genius,” continued Reno. “He puts you in the right position to remind people how good you are and he has the right contacts to make things happen. He was able to get us on The Today Show in front of millions of people; exposure like that is invaluable.”
Wolfson, who began his career as a music publicist in the 90’s before running Death Row Records in 1996 for Marion Suggs Knight while Knight was serving a five-year prison sentence for parole violation, has also revitalized the career of Daryl Hall & John Oates, and his entrepreneurial spin on things, has re-established Loverboy as a major concert attraction.
“Ironically, we wanted to cut back on our activities and spend more time off the road and with our families, so Jonathan decided to raise our price so that our bookings would decrease,” explained Reno. “But his phone has kept ringing even harder. It’s totally insane, instead of slowing down our demanded has actually increased.”
Loverboy snuck three new songs onto their 2012 album `Rock N Roll Revival’ which also featured classic hits that have been reshaped and reformatted after many years of being played live on stage. Other highlights also included being inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the 2009 Juno Awards and performing live at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games ceremonies.
Yet if Reno has one major ambition still to aim for it would be an induction into Cleveland’s Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame, an honour recently bestowed on another Canadian rock band, Rush. “Maybe that is wishful thinking but when you think about it, we’ve sold something like 70 or 80 million records if you include soundtracks, so on sales alone, I think we should be considered but I am not going to hold my breath”.
In the meantime, Loverboy continues to rock. They have a summer full of festivals and fairs in both Canada (which included Sudbury’s Summerfest Festival on Friday August 22nd) and are even developing special events like vacation promotions where fans get to hang out with the band at some tropical location and even private corporate events.
“You’d think the band would hate those gigs were you go play at some rich person’s compound, but they are actually a lot of fun,” allowed Reno. “These people have full scale, professional stages and P.A systems in place, a couple of hundred rich people in attendance and they all get on stage and sing along. Everyone has a great time.”