With the release of three titles from the vaults of Mushroom Records, Vancouver’s Bill Henderson finally has most of his band Chilliwack’s key releases out on compact disc. His 1977 record “Dreams Dreams Dreams (containing such killer tracks as `Fly At Night’, `California Girl’ and Rain-O’), the 1978 release “Lights From The Valley” (featuring `Arms Of Mary’) and the until now lost 1979 third record `Breakdown In Paradise’, now available on line and disc format from Mississauga-based Linus Entertainment which has built a cottage industry of buying and resurrecting classic Canadian record labels such as True North, Solid Gold and now Mushroom.
“With these three plus the two records from Solid Gold (1981’s “Wanna Be A Star” and 1982’s “Opus X”), most of the well-known stuff is now available,” notes Henderson who laughs when it is suggested that “Dreams, Dreams Dreams” was the band’s first real record of note.
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“Recent, yeah, well I guess it was our most commercially successful record to that date but we had been going for at least 10 years before that record which I believe was our sixth release,” explained Henderson. “We were struggling at the time we found (Mushroom Records’ founder Shelly Siegel). But he had faith in us and got us kick started again with ‘Dreams Dreams Dreams’. It was a major shock when he died suddenly of a brain aneurism, the label died with him.”
At the time of Siegel’s death in January 1979, Chilliwack was about to release a new record “Breakdown In Paradise” which was co-produced by Henderson with guitarist Brian MacLeod, who later formed a new band The Headpins.
“I’m glad “Breakdown In Paradise” has finally come out because people can now hear what an important first step it was for MacLeod in the recording studio. He was very innovative in doubling up tracks, he was doing things in the studio which had never been done before,” marvelled Henderson. “Our engineer Rolf Hennemann would look at me and ask “what the hell is he doing?” MacLeod’ approach was so innovative, he was such a perfectionist.”
“Unfortunately, when Shelly died, that left our band and our new record totally in limbo,” continued Henderson. “We had no tour support for the record so I had to extract the band from that company which meant before Chilliwack could do anything else, I had to spend countless hours in lawyers offices. Unfortunately, Brian and Ab (bassist Ab Bryant) couldn’t wait any longer, they got bored and were running out of money, so they went off and formed The Headpins.”
“They then cultivated this sound (with lead vocalist Darby Mills) that they enjoyed but it built a wedge between us,” explained Henderson. “After I got freed up from Mushroom and signed with Toronto’s Solid Gold , I managed to work things out with Brian and Ab and they helped me record two very successful records for Solid Gold (“Wanna Be A Star” and “Opus X”) but they had also got the ball rolling with The Headpins so in the end their loyalty was with their new band.
And it didn’t help either that Solid Gold went bankrupt so at that point Henderson decided to take a 10-year hiatus from the band. “I worked on the CARAS board, I worked for SOCAN – which I found very interesting and I also started touring with a new acoustic group called UHF with former Hometown Band lead vocalist Shari Uhlrich and Roy (Bim) Forbes.
Henderson also reformed Chilliwack with a lineup comprising of drummer Jerry Adolphe, bassist Doug Edwards (who co-wrote the classic hit, `Wildflower’) and brother Ed Henderson on guitar. “This band has been together for almost 17 years but I still find people surprised that we are still performing,” laughs Henderson, “When you go off the charts, It’s like you’ve disappeared, you don’t exist anymore. And when you come back, it’s like `Wow you’re back- did you guys get back together again! “
“My response is, `no we’ve never been away, we’ve been together all this time, playing, writing songs,” explained Henderson. “But if you’re not seen, people think you are invisible.”
No, Henderson and Chilliwack are not invisible but they are pretty selective about where they play and how many nights they are out on the road.
“We released a new CD in 2003, “There And Back”, it’s a deluxed live greatest hits CD that we sell off the stage so if you like CD’s you’re going to want to be this package, it’s a collection of live performances from 25 shows,” informed Henderson. “So we cherry pick our shows, go out may be one night or two nights, but we do tour around the country and we sell the CD to our fans. This is the new retail environment. The fans are so excited about the live show, they want to buy the CD which is a souvenir of the show they have just experienced.”
As someone who has worked the industry side on the boards of CARAS and SOCAN, Henderson is only too painfully aware of the current state of the record industry. “There are few major labels who have that list of pop stars and who are still boosting it like crazy to have a music industry, but it’s siloes off from what people are actually recording – it’s like two different worlds.
Responding to the lack of current product by Canadian artists this year (good luck Juno nominating committee!), Henderson agrees that the lack of product is still a major concern. “I go out and teach song writing and I can only look at it one way because I don’t know what they are doing out there,” he shrugs. “There are some basics with song writing and that’s what I’m dealing with. I’m not talking about record production or any of that stuff, I’m just talking about how the songs work and how do you get magic and that still is the thing. Like some little lyric or piece of melody that hooks people and it’s usually something the writer doesn’t even know how it happened.”
Henderson has been sharpening his writing chops by writing material for two musicals; “Beyond Eden” which as been performed in Vancouver and Calgary and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” which has debuted in Victoria BC but Henderson has high hopes the both productions will receive national exposure.
He has also recorded one new Chilliwack song; `Patent On The Wind’ that is featured on the band’s website and hopes that maybe he’ll be able to knock together enough songs for another CD. “These days, who knows? I might want to record another CD or I might just post a couple of new songs on ITunes, that seems to be the way to go these days.”
Henderson agrees that without the pressures of creating albums for record company deadlines or having to embark on coast-to-coast tours, it’s a lot easier to function as a classic rock artist. “Radio is still playing the old tunes, you can certainly make more money selling your own records and as I said, we can cherry pick our own itineraries, make sure the dough is good and that there’s a proper P.A and just get out and play when and where we want,” Henderson notes. “When we play, we have fun with our audience, everything is about the moment. I’ve been playing songs like `Rain-O’ for about 43 years and I enjoy playing them every night.
“When we go on stage,” concludes Henderson. “We are going to rock our faces off and have a great time doing it.”
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Photo: Charles Hope