Kenny Shields & Streetheart – Lead vocalist Kenny Shields had almost forgotten what it was like to enter a recording studio. Having finally emerged with his first, ever solo recording, “Letting Go”, the Saskatchewan native acknowledged it had been exactly 30 years since his band recorded their final studio album for Capitol Records, the 1983 “Dancing With Danger”
A major loss of confidence following the disappointing sales of what was supposed to be the band’s big U.S break, followed by the dissolving of the band after one final live album, their 1983 “Live After Dark” was only the start of a litany of problems which plagued Shields during the late 80’s and early 90’s.
A hereditary heart problem triggered an attack while Shields was jogging in 2000 almost proved to be fatal, resulting in open-heart surgery and a Mitral valve replacement. “I was jogging one day, when suddenly I’m down,” recounted Shields. “I was on my own, I am in an area where no one knows I am and I realized, that while lying on the ground, with my heart feeling like it was about to explode, staring up at the clouds, unable to move, that I might be dying , which is not a very comforting thought. Somehow I stabilized myself to be able to get to a phone for help but that sidelined me for three years.”
With his marriage breaking up and Shields suffering through a total lack of confidence, he found himself in a very dark space. “You’d be very surprised what you think about when you are alone,” revealed Shields. “I had just gone through a marriage break-up; just undergone a major heart operation and you are sitting there alone at home.”
Yet rather than wallow in self-pity, Shields bounced back with a reformed Kenny Shields Band and rebuilt his confidence, playing the local circuit around his Winnipeg home base. Another stimulus came in the form of former lead guitarist Jeff Neill. When the band broke up in 1984, Neill began to cultivate a lucrative career as a Vancouver-based studio session player when in 1986, he received a phone call from Bryan Adams’ manager, Bruce Alllen. He had taken over management of top Australian star Jimmy Barnes who was currently on tour in the United States opening for ZZ Top but was in desperate need of a new lead guitar player.
“Bruce assured me it would just be for three months, but that three months turned into 11 years,” laughed Neill. “So I flew down to Kansas City on the Monday, watched the band play then joined them on stage on the Tuesday in St Louis, didn’t even get a rehearsal.”
Neill enjoyed his stint with Barnes, even though opening for ZZ Top was tough going, and when Barnes decided to dissolve his relationship with Allen, he took Neill back to Australia with him to reform his own band. “Jimmy is a real class act, he’s a superstar in Australia and in 1995 I even got to tour Europe with him.”
Moving back to Vancouver in 1997, Neill arrived just in time to participate in a Streetheart reunion concert at the Minnedosa, Manitoba Music Festival which featured Shields, keyboardist Daryl Guthiel as well as drummer Matt Frenette and bassist Kenny (Spider) Sinnaeve which sparked a Streetheart revival although replacements had to be found for Frenette and Sinnaeve who are still connected to Loverboy.
“Our agent thought Streetheart had a lot more sales appeal than The Kenny Shields Band and with Jeff back with us we did have three/fifths of our final recording act,” agreed Shields. “But it didn’t feel right calling the group Streetheart again so I asked the guys if they had a problem renaming us Kenny Shields And Streetheart and no one seemed to have an issue with that.”
Still it had been 30 years since the band had recorded a studio album and Shields admitted that his creative confidence had been drained by the failure of their 1983 effort “Dancing With Danger.” Coming on the heels of their highly-successful 1982 self-titled record which spawned such hits as `What Kind Of Love Is This’, “Look In Your Eyes’, Snow White’ and `Miss Plaza Suite’ (chalking up double platinum sales in the process), expectations were high when the band and their label Capitol Records secured a U.S recording contract. Spencer Proffer, who had just produced two chart-topping albums for Quiet Riot (“Metal Health” and “Condition Critical) was drafted in to produce their album – yet the results proved disastrous.
“We couldn’t tell him (Proffer) anything because he knew it all,” fumed Shields. “But the album production was horrible. After that, I lost confidence in the label, the band and myself, I was just spent, we all were.” It took the return of Neill to re-spark Shields’ confidence. “I kept telling him, you’ve got a great voice, use it get back in the studio and sing something, anything, just do it,” recalled Neill.
Reflecting on the fact that some of the band’s earlier hits were covers; Them’s `Here Comes The Night’, Small Faces’ `Tin Soldier’ and of course their classic remake of The Rolling Stones’ `Under My Thumb’, Shields and Neill kicked around the idea of Shields recording a solo album of his favourite covers.
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“That was 10 years ago,” laughed Shields, “But we finally started to put the tracks together and I really enjoyed the process of recording a solo album. For the first time I could do something without worrying about time.. It was just me singing songs I had wanted to sing back in the Sixties and Seventies. I had a passionate attachment to these songs, they all mean something to me personally.
With Neill producing,, programming, playing guitar and singing all the background vocals on the record and with Guthiel playing keyboards and also singing, “Letting Go” allowed Shields to add his own unique vocal twist to classics such as The Eagles’ `Best Of My Love’, The Bee Gees’, `To Love Somebody’, Rod Stewart’s `I Don’t Wanna Talk About It’ and John Lennon’s `Julia while still retaining a Streetheart essence. There’s even one old Streetheart song; `Wanna Be With You’, lyrics and music by Shields, with Guthiel supplying the bridge, which first appeared on their 1984 “Buried Treasures” outtakes and B-sides recording.
Los Bravos’s hit `Black Is Black’ was chosen because back in the early Sixties’ , while playing for a band called Witness Inc. , Shields and company found themselves opening for a hot new Winnipeg band called The Guess Who which featured a new kid on the block who played keyboards and sang like a star.” His name is Burton Cummings and Wow! was he ever great, even back then, reflected Shields .”We were a cover band so it was always a contest to see who could cover the latest hit first and we were the first band in Winnipeg to cover `Black Is Black”.
Shields’ selection of 1958 Brenda Lee hit, “I’m Sorry’, in the words of Shields “almost caused Jeff to question my sanity” But that song had special memories for me. I was a broken hearted teenager who had just lost my first girlfriend and there was this cafe in Nokomis Saskatchewan where I lived and a hit song on that jukebox was Brenda Lee’s `I’m Sorry’ and I must have played that song 100 times in the following weeks.”
Yet the ace in the hole on “Letting Go” is a stunning cover of the Rolling Stones’ Angie. It was remixed by multi Juno winner, Saskatchewan natives Kevin Churko and Bart McKay, two Pro Tool masters, working with Shields and Neill, who elevated this album to another level.” We’ve probably been playing that song since 1986,” allowed Shields. “We used to alternate between Angie and Under My Thumb but Under My Thumb was such a huge live number for us that it didn’t seem right to cover two Stones’ songs at the same time.
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Originally performed as an acoustic number, but later developed as a strong rock ballad with Neill’s distinctive guitar solo setting off a stunning lead vocal performance from Shields, `Angie’ would rank as one of Shield’s finest recordings if modern day rock radio actually played new records by established Canadian classic rock bands.
”That’s been the shocking discovery for me, the fact that artists like me can’t get any airplay these days and you can’t just sell your records in the shops anymore – there’s no retail, it’s all iTunes and social media,” remarked Shields. “Still when we play `Angie’ live on stage, that song gets an amazing response.”
Slowly but surely, Kenny Shields and Streetheart are inching their way back into the national spotlight. With a band rounded out by bassist Jake Jacobs and drummer Tim Sutton, they released a 2008 two-disc anthology “Read All About It” that contains hits from both their Warner Music and Capitol releases, have built a strong following on the Western Canadian club and casino circuit and are preparing for an Eastern Canada invasion in March 2014.
The band that hit platinum pay dirt with their debut 1978 “Meanwhile Back In Paris” and 1979 “Under Heaven Over Hell, that won a Juno Award as Most Promising Band in 1980 and went on to tour nationally with international groups such as AC/DC, Rush and Styx as well as headline their own arena tours coast to coast, have found a renewed energy that was never more apparent when they hit the festival stage at Rock And Roar in Spanish Ontario in August and tore up the place with a highly-charged performance that featured both `Under My Thumb’ and `Angie’.
“I am excited, We can deliver a great show if we get the chance to,” concluded Shields. “Jeff and Daryl and I will be up on stage watching everyone singing along to our songs and we’ll nudge each other and say, “who would have thought back in 1982 that we’d still be playing together in 2013! The feeling we get is total magic.”