The Stampeders Stay Connected

As the snow recedes into the tundra, Messers Rich Dodson, Ronnie King and Kim Berly scrape the rust off of their collective instruments and prepare to take The Stampeders on tour for another year of dates across the dominion.

Give or take the 15 year hiatus they took from each other between 1977 and 1992, The Stampeders have been on the road since 1968 when a bunch of six young Calgarians, (Dodson, King, Berly, Brendan Lyttle, Race Holiday and Van Louis) fueled by a promise of booking dates from agent Ron Scribner and a management agreement with Music World Creation’s Mel Shaw, headed East to Toronto to find fame and fortune.

A total of 44 years have passed since the Stamps arrived in T.O. They’ve had their ups (Sweet City Woman, three Juno awards, U.S acclaim, No 8 on Billboard), they’ve had their downs ( Lyttle, Holiday and Louis quit the original lineup, Dodson left the band in 1977 – a 15-year gap before their reunion). Yet since 1992, The Stampeders have been regular players on the domestic concert circuit.

“We do about 25 to 30 dates per year, lots of casinos, festivals and theatres,” noted Dodson on the phone from his Toronto-based Marigold Studios. “We’ll probably add a few more dates in July or August. We like to re-connect with the fans, see the country again and I just like being a Stampeder again, it’s a big part of what I am – it reconnects with another side of myself.”

The prime consideration is the health of all three players, “If we feel fine, then no worries. It’s not like we have two 10-ton trucks full of equipment, it’s just us carrying our guitars and carry-on bags, staying in nice hotels and playing venues that already have a sound system. That’s why we like playing casinos, great environment, the audio is good, comfortable accommodation and our fans like it there. Much better than playing in some dumpy arena miles from nowhere,” explained Dodson.

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The band also prefers theatres and festivals to nightclubs. “We play Stage West in Mississauga a lot because we’d rather play there than nightclubs like the El Mocambo or the Horseshoe. We like a controlled environment and we do get enough offers that we don’t have to play Toronto clubs.”

The Stampeders haven’t recorded a new record since the release of their Live At The Mae Wilson Theatre in Moose Jaw in 2008 but say the band isn’t particularly eager to record new material. “The bug isn’t there to record a whole bunch of new stuff and chase radio stations. The urge to record does surface now and again, we’re not ruling future recording out but right now we want to stay connected to our audience.

The live release was recorded for the band to sell some new product off the stage. “Fans had been asking for a new live album so Kim had some friends who had recording equipment so we recorded the Moose Jaw show. I then did a small distribution deal with E1 Entertainment and they sold a bunch at Wal-Mart.”

Recognizing The Stampeders are genuine Canadian icons, Dodson says the band still gets the biggest charge out of playing their legacy of hits to their loyal fan base. “I think everyone has their own Stampeders’ story, about us playing their high school or local arena. On an average we tour the country at least twice each year,” noted Dodson. “And yes, our audience is evolving. We’ve got the kids coming along with their parents and their grandparents. It’s always reassuring to see new faces in the audience. And thanks to the internet, people are discovering our music all the time.”

[quote]“Historically, we’ve always done it ourselves. All our albums were released independently. I am the original Mr D.I.Y.”[/quote]What probably irks Dodson, King and Berly, although they confess not to be bothered, is the band’s lack of recognition by Canada’s music industry. You have to go back to 1971 when they won three Juno awards for their hit single “Sweet City Woman” off their debut `Against The Grain’ plus top band and top producer (Terry Brown). “Sweet City Woman” went to No.1 on Canada’s RPM charts and No 8 on the U.S Billboard charts.

Between 1971 and 1973, the band chalked up four hit albums; `Against The Grain, Carry On, Rubes Dudes And Rowdies’ and `From The Fire’, culminating in a live concert performance “Back Stage Pass” which was recorded before 17,000 fans at Toronto’s Ontario Place.

Unfortunately the United States wanted more “Sweet City Woman” and were not impressed with the heavy guitar sounds of “Wild Eyes” or pop-rock offerings like “Devil You”. “I guess our first record (“Against The Grain”) was more country rock but we did have three distinctive composers and songs like “Wild Eyes” , “Then Came The White Man” and “Oh My Lady” were a part of what we were creatively,” explained Dodson. “Our sound was directionless – which was neat in a way.”

The Stampeders returned to the U.S charts once more in 1976 when they recorded “Hit the Road Jack” with Wolfman Jack but by 1977 Dodson was looking for a change. “We were in the same room of the same hotel that we’d been in three years ago, and I thought, that’s it, I’ve had enough. Music was changing, it was all FM hard rock and I thought we were getting stale.”

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Dodson returned to Toronto to set up Marigold Recording Studios while King and Berly soldiered on, recording two more albums; “Platinum” and “Ballsy” with an expanded seven-piece lineup that featured a horn section and a distinctive R&B direction. Unfortunately the fans didn’t bite and by 1979, Berly was launching a new band The Cry on RCA Records and King was back in Calgary playing clubs with The Availables (which literally meant anyone who was available!)

Fifteen years later, Dini Petty has a `Where Are They Now’ segment on her Toronto TV show. Dodson is reunited with King and Berly, they get together for a jam at a local Toronto club and before you know it, they had accepted an invitation to perform at the 1992 Calgary Stampede.

“Yes it was good that we had that break,” said Dodson in reflection. “I got to do my studio thing, worked with a lot of new musicians, recorded my own songs including an album titled `Secret Hits’, had some success and basically revitalized myself. And I think Ronnie (King) and Kim (Berly) benefitted from the time off also. I think they came back revitalized.”

The band recorded one more studio album “Sure Beats Working” (1998) but besides their Live At the Mae West release, Dodson doesn’t see the point of trying to get back on the radio airwaves with any new tracks. “It’s a closed shop, it would be virtually impossible for us to break into radio with a new song. We’d have to be on a major label and how many of them are there (three)?

“Historically, we’ve always done it ourselves,” added Dodson. “All our albums were released independently. I am the original Mr D.I.Y (do it yourself). We manage ourselves, book ourselves, we own most of our own masters, do our own merchandise, our operation is totally self-contained.

Dodson does agree that the band’s lack of major record company presence has resulted in them being ignored for Canadian Music Hall Of Fame recognition. “We were never part of Canada’s music industry clique, we’ve always been outsiders. It would be nice if the band did get recognized but we are in a number of halls of fame already (SOCAN, Western Canadian Hall Of Fame) but it’s of more concern to me to keep the band out playing and to stay in touch with our fans.”

Keeping it in the family, when the Stampeders tour this year (which kicks off April 20th at the Deerfoot Casino in Calgary), an opening band for some of their dates will be The Parallels, which feature Dodson’s daughter Holly on lead vocals and son Nick on drums.

The Parallels just had one song (“Dry Blood”) included in the soundtrack to The Curfew, which was nominated for an Oscar for short film this year so I’m excited about their future. Nick is such a computer whiz, he does our website and he’s studying at the U of T. I walked in on him and he was composing something and I said that’s a great cross-over metal recording. He responds; “No dad it’s a BMW commercial”.

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