By Keith Sharp
One thing you cannot say is that The Stampeders take themselves seriously. On stage on April 8th at Oshawa’s Regent Theatre, guitarist, vocalist Rich Dodson, drummer, vocalist Kim Berly, and bassist/vocalist Ronnie King cheerily announced themselves as being “Seventy From The Seventies” about their ages. During their entire 90-minute set, the former Calgary trio poked fun at their durability, which was well received by their mainly Zoomer audience.
Time and time again, the Stampeders have proved that they can still deliver powerful musical performances. With Berly’s strong voice, especially on their power ballads like “Minstrel Gypsy” and “Oh My Lady,” and Dodson’s guitar work on tracks like “Marigold” and “Wild Eyes” losing nothing of their original energy.
The only casualty was King, who, because of various health ailments, had to perform seated, with arthritis in his fingers preventing him from exchanging guitars with Dodson, on his trademark tracks; “Then Came The White Man” and “Playing In The Band” However, it didn’t stop him from performing his ever-popular “Hit The Road Jack.”
The band even turned his infirmary into a joke, with Dodson pointing out that “you’ll notice Ronnie nodding along with the songs and as the songs get more energetic, his nodding with getting more frantic!“
“Considering the band had planned this massive national tour two years ago to celebrate their 50th anniversary,” Dodson notes, “it was the persistence of Shantero promoter Terry McRae in reorganizing the tour on three different occasions due to the pandemic which disrupted all touring activities over the past two years.
“It was a real hassle for Terry,” noted Dodson. “He had to cancel stuff, reorganize stuff, do they want refunds or not, that kind of thing. Some of the venues we originally booked have closed down permanently.”
But, almost magically, McRae was able to reorganize an ambitious 47-date national tour which kicked off in Guelph on March 24th and took them through Sudbury on May 1st. The Stampeders will then take a break before starting their Western Canada leg on June 10th in Trail B.C before completing their itinerary with a brief Maritimes stint starting October 11th in St John’s N.B, a tour which is being filmed for a documentary by noted L.A producer, Brad Kinnan.
When asked if this could be their final tour, Dodson responds that every tour now feels like some kind of anniversary. “It’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves for the past ten years, whether to keep going. It’s something we always talk about, but if there’s a niche audience that wants to see us, then that inspires us to keep touring.”
The band admits they haven’t recorded a new studio album since their 1998 ‘Sure Beats Working’ release. They even turned this into an on-stage joke, with Berly announcing that their next song, ‘Hometown Boy,’ appeared on their last album, which was they recorded in 1998! “The truth is that we do have new material,” allowed Dodson. “It’s just that by the time we get to rehearse our old material for the next tour, we don’t have time to record any new material. And I don’t think our fans particularly want to hear anything new.”
Indeed, their 90-minute set is tailored to their audience, with two 45-minute sets separated by an intermission so they can autograph merchandise for their fans instead of engaging in an after-show meet and greet.
“Back in the day, we used to party on after the show. We couldn’t wait to get out to the after-party and be out until 3 or 4 A.M., get up and do it all over again. But now it’s please, let’s go to bed,” allowed King as he and Berly met at Dodson’s residence the following day. “Now, we are begging the opening band if we can go on first…so we can get to bed early,” he laughed.
During the set, King asks the Oshawa crowd why the stage isn’t covered in ladies’ underwear? Dodson shouts back, “Don’t worry, Oshawa, it’s just Ronnie having a flashback!” These are the comments typical of the humour running through the band’s set. “This all started with our first ever concert, opening for Anne Murray at Massey Hall,” informed Berly. “We were all nervous, so Ronnie started saying some really silly things, and so I called him on it, and the audience laughed, so we’ve been doing that for 50 years.“
“We’ve always had fun on stage that way.” Cramming in their long list of hits into two 90-minute sets is a nightly challenge, but The Stampeders’ do present a fair representation of their golden oldies, with of course, “Sweet City Woman” being a highlight. Still, other standouts do include “Devil You” their first hit “Carry Me,” “Ramona,” “Minstrel Gypsy” and “Oh My Lady,” but also some more obscure tracks like “Sure Beats Working,” “Running Wild,” “Marigold,” “Johnny Lightning,” and “Stand Up.”
Over the phone the following day, we talked about the invaluable role of manager/producer/record company mogul Mel Shaw. Shaw discovered what was then a five-piece band called The Rebounds in 1964, playing around in Calgary clubs at that time. He convinced the band to change their name to The Stampeders in 1965. After the unsuccessful release of their first single, “House Of Shake,” later that year, Shaw convinced the band to head to Toronto to continue building their career.
The Stampeders recorded three more singles in Toronto, but it wasn’t until the band was whittled down to three members, Dodson, Berly, and King before they finally cracked the charts with “Carry Me” in 1971.
“It was all about Mel, we never had the big Deane Cameron Capitol Records’ contract,” said Dodson of Shaw, who sadly passed away this January. This was before CRTC legislation was introduced Canadian radio had to play at least 30% domestic content. It was Mel who got us airplay on CHUM FM. We did all the promotion ourselves. And then came Sweet City Woman with that trademark banjo intro later in 1971. Suddenly, The Stampeders and their debut “Against The Grain” album were national favourites.
Sweet City Woman won the best single at the 1972 Junos and Best Group, Best Composer (Dodson) and Best Producer (Shaw), with the single reaching No. 1 on Canada’s RPM charts and No. 8 on the U.S. Billboard charts. It charted on Billboard for 16 weeks and sold one million copies by September 1971.
Their second album `Carryin On” was equally successful while showing the band’s diversity, with “Monday Morning Choo Choo” balanced against more rockers like “Wild Eyes” and the topical “Then Came The White Man.” This led to a Polyygram U.S. contract and extensive touring in the U.S and Europe in 1975. When they released their third album, ‘Rubes, Dudes And Rowdies’ in 1973 and ‘New Day’ in 1974, cracks began to appear in their lineup, resulting in Dodson leaving the band after the release of their eighth album, “Hit The Road” in 1976. By this point, the band had added a second drummer and a horn section to supplement the Stampeders’ three-man lineup, which didn’t work for Dodson.
“I always liked the trio thing. I wasn’t big on all of the horns,” Dodson noted after leaving in 1977. “After 13 years, I wanted to try something else.” Next to go was drummer Berly who had enjoyed singing lead vocals like “Wild Eyes,” “Minstrel Gypsy,” and “Oh My Lady.” “I liked the idea of Gary Scrutton being a second drummer so I could step in front of the mic and be a rock star,” he laughed. “And Ronnie wanted the band to be funkier, so it was time for me to make a change.” Resulting in Berly also leaving to briefly join The Cry in 1980.
But in 1992, the Stampeders reunited to play at the annual Calgary Stampede. The trio has been together ever since, with King now residing in Calgary and Berly commuting from Vernon, B.C., with Dodson setting up the band’s Marigold operation in Toronto.
When asked how he would summarize the band’s legacy, Dodson continued the band’s self-deprecating attitude. “I don’t think we have any legacy,” he deadpanned. “We are just a band; we have survived as a trio for all of these years and continue to survive because our fans continue to support us.”
Berly’s response was a little less flippant. “Our music is our legacy, it will always be available for people to listen to our cover.”