Nick Gilder – Keeping Sweeney Todd Rolling

The mystery band on the “Come Rock And Roar” concert festival lineup August 16/17th at Spanish Ontario was Vancouver’s Nick Gilder & Sweeney Todd. Yes I was acutely aware of the original Sweeney Todd and how they had vaulted to No. 1 on the Canadian charts in 1975 with their Juno-award winning hit Roxy Roller from their self-titled debut album.

How lead vocalist Nick Gilder and guitarist cohort Jim McCulloch then bolted for a seemingly lucrative U.S contract with Chrysalis in 1977, leaving Sweeney Todd to fumble for a vocalist replacement, first inserting Clark Perry into the lineup and then recruiting a 15-year old kid called Bryan Guy Adams who sang vocals and co-wrote two songs on the band’s follow-up relealse “If Wishes Were Horses”.

By this time, Gilder and McCulloch were enjoying a No.1 hit record in both the U.S and Canada with `Hot Child In The City’ and six years later, Gilder enjoyed further success when he teamed with ace songwriter Holly Knight to pen `The Warrior’ for Patty Smyth’s Scandal band.

But it was about that time Nick Gilder fell off the Music Express radar. He re-emerged back in Vancouver in 1994, tried to re-start Sweeney Todd with various original members (who didn’t want to work together again) before settling on a final lineup which has been touring Canada and the United States for the past 13 years or so.

Through the magic of Facebook, Nick and I had linked up with each other, my Calgary media crew Brian Stanko and photographer Charles Hope, had caught a Sweeney Todd gig at the city’s Deerfoot Casino venue earlier this year and had raved about Gilder’s performance. But on that sunny night August 16th in Spanish, Ontario I had no idea what to expect, yet I was not to be disappointed.

Live on stage, Gilder is every bit a seasoned performer, he jumped down into the crowd and had the crowd singing along to the radio hits, the band is top notch with lead guitarist Joey Wowk’s antics worth the price of admission alone and keyboardist Michael Russell, bassist Mark Kenny and drummer Frank Baker all melding together into a tight unit.

What is amazing though is how many hit songs Gilder has actually created. Yes there’s `Roxy Roller’ which is guaranteed to light up the audience, especially the re-worked version which is a lot tougher than the lightweight original. And of course everyone recognized `Hot Child In The City’ which again had been revamped. But the set also includes `Rated X’, a song made famous by Pat Benatar, `She’s A Star’, Gilder’s first hit as a solo artist, `Footsteps’ that was featured in the “Youngblood” movie and other great tracks like `Here Comes The Night’ and `You Really Rock Me, . Lob in a few great covers like Deep Purple’s `Highway Star’ and Billy Idol’s `Rebel Yell’ and you have a dynamic live set which caught even me by surprise.

On the phone from his Port Moody, B.C residence, Gilder noted that it has not been an easy road back. He admits his recording career went off the rails in the mid-Eighties when he fell into a song writing vein which saw him not only pen Patty Smyth’s chart-topping `The Warrior’ but also wrote songs for the likes of Joe Cocker, Bette Midler and Pat Benatar.
“I should have paid more attention to Canada,” he reflected. “I was oblivious to Canada in the Eighties. I fell into a writing mode thing that was successful, it paid the bills but I began working in a direction that took me away from performing live.”

Emerging from Vancouver’s hot nightspots like The Cave and Oil Can Harry’s in the late 1970’s, Sweeney Todd (a name suggested by Gilder’s mother) were an instant sensation with their Glam Rock image a reflection of bands like The Sweet, Slade and Suzi Quatro who were all huge in England at the time.

Unfortunately band members; Gilder, guitarist Jim McCulloch, along with bassist Bud Marr, keyboardist Dan Gaudin and drummer John Booth were at odds with producer Martin Shaer’s production efforts.

“Especially with `Roxy Roller’, my idea was to toughen up the arrangement, kind of like Metallica doing a pop tune,” explained Gilder. “ The song was all there on the tape. It was just that the mix didn’t capture that song live, it should have been much more aggressive.”

Following an impasse with Shaer, Gilder and McCulloch shocked the band by pulling the plug and opted for solo contract with Terry Ellis’s British-based Chrysalis Records, quickly departing for Los Angeles where they released their debut “You Know Who You Are” album.

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“We had released one single `She’s A Star’ and the resulting album, featured one song `Rated X’ that Pat Benatar turned into a hit on her debut record “A Night On The Town” but not much was happening to our record”.

Gilder and McCulloch also included the original version of Roxy Roller on their solo debut after the original went to Chrysalis as part of their new agreement with the label.
“We should have just let it go but we were aware `Roxy Roller’ was being played on stations all along the border states and all Shaer did was add new vocals over the original track. So there were multiple versions of the song showing up on radio in America , all claiming to be the original. Roxy was also covered by Suzi Quatro.”

Gilder and McCulloch hit the jackpot when their 1978 Follow-up “City Nights” record spawned `Hot Child In The City’ a song that soared to Number 1 on both U.S and Canadian charts, earning Gilder Juno Awards for both single of the year and most promising male artist categories. This followed Gilder’s 1977 Juno win for `Roxy Roller’ as song of the year.

“We hit the jackpot with that song, the timing was just right,” agreed Gilder. “That song got us on all the U.S and Canadian television shows and got us touring with all the big bands. To have the #1 song in North America was totally amazing!

Unfortunately, Gilder’s scheduled triumphant return to Vancouver was marred when an on-stage accident blew out their sound system in mid-performance while opening for The Cars. “Someone had put some full Coke cups on one of our guitar amps and with all the vibrations, the liquid poured into the amps forcing them to blow. So the bass player plugged into Jim (McCulloch)’ s amp to keep going but then Jim’s amp became overloaded and that blew”. “We couldn’t continue,” reflected Gilder. “Half way into our set and both amps are down. So we had no option but to walk off.

Topping the success of `Hot Child In The City’ proved to be a challenge for Gilder. His 1979 record release, “Frequency” sold over 400,000 units but didn’t come close to matching his `City Nights’ sales figures. In the end, Gilder left the label when Casablanca decided to buy out his contract. However, future releases; 1980’s “Rock America” and 1981’s “Body Talk Muzik” failed to ignite chart interest.

A liaison with top song writer Holly Knight in 1984 produced a new song `The Warrior’ which Gilder thought would re-ignite his career the way `Hot Child In The City’ had done “Roy Thomas Baker, who had produced all Queen’s top albums heard the song and said `that song is going to be a monster hit, I guarantee it – let me record it’,” informed Gilder. “But then Mike Chapman (who had produced Gilder’s “City Nights” record) called me and said he needed `The Warrior’ for Patty Smyth and Scandal’s record saying he promised to make it a hit. Which he did – for Patty Smyth! But as much as I benefited from the song writing royalties, it would have changed things drastically for my recording career if I had recorded that track.”

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As Gilder’s recording career began to slip he found himself writing songs for the comeback albums by Joe Cocker and Bette Midler. Two songs off his self-titled 1985 RCA release; `Footsteps’ and `Scream Of Angels’ were subsequently featured on movie soundtracks. `Footsteps’ appeared on “Young Blood” featuring Rob Lowe and ‘Screams Of Angels’ was inserted into the Charlie Sheen movie, `The Wraith’.”

Better late than never, Gilder moved back to Vancouver in 1994 and he hooked up with former bassist, Bud Marr. “He was in a country band playing at Boone County so he invited me along to the gig and I got up and sang “Roxy Roller’ and the place went crazy,” reflected Gilder. “So I tried to get Sweeney Todd going again but the guys had a nasty split years before, So I took the guys out on the road with me individually over the next few years.

Yes Gilder benefits from the constant exposure of `Roxy Roller’ and `Hot Child in the City’ to get festival and casino dates yet he does wish a radio format existed that would play new material by classic rock bands as well as their old hits.

“When that Jack-F.M format came out, I thought that’s great!, they are mixing new material with established hits, however I think we need a new format that promotes new material by established bands.”

Gilder’s last record was in 1999 when he released “Long Time Coming” and yes Gilder is still writing and is preparing new material for release next year.

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