By Keith Sharp
Toque: A close-fitting knitted or crocheted cap having no brim or a brim that is folded up to create an extra layer of fabric for warmth. A rock band consisting of four Canadian musicians destined to celebrate the best in Canadian music.
Two of those Toque band members; lead vocalist/guitarist Todd Kerns and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Brent Fitz are on the phone from their respective Las Vegas residences to discuss their on-going commitment to promoting classic Canadian rock having just released a note-perfect cover of Sheriff’s Billboard Magazine topping “When I’m With You”.
Those of you in the know will recognize that both musicians are also members of the Slash/Myles Kennedy Conspiracy band. That Kerns is also lead vocalist/guitarist for Age Of Electric and that the band’s other two players; Cory Churko (guitarist) and drummer Shane Gaalaas have also established musicians (Churko who still performs with Shania Twain and Kelly Clarkson) while Gaalaas performed in bands with the likes of Michael Shenker, Ynigwe Malmsteen, The B’z and Paul Dean’s solo album.
“It’s like we are four Prairie guys having a blast with songs we grew up on,” enthused Kerns in describing their two previous releases; “Give R” released in 2016 and “Never Enough” in 2019 which feature covers of key tracks by the likes of Loverboy, Streetheart, Harlequin, Kim Mitchell, Prism, April Wine, Aldo Nova and The Headpins just to name a few. “We treat this band like a project, we use it to raise money for charities or appear at New Year’s Eve functions or corporate events. It’s just so much fun that we can make this concept work.”
The genesis for Toque goes back to the mid-Nineteen Eighties with Kerns and Fitz constantly bumping into each other while never actually performing in the same bands.
“Todd and I have done several circles around the sun,” laughed Fitz. “We are from small towns in Western Canada and the apple never fell far from the tree. We were always bumping into each other. We all just loved classic rock music and we didn’t know the difference between Streetheart and AC/DC. To us, they were both big bands at the same level.”
The idea for performing songs by other Canadian bands came at a Gibson Guitar Lounge in 2008 when Kerns and Fritz joined together with a number of other celebrities to jam out Canadian covers.
They enjoyed the experience so much that, even though the pair had other commitments with Slash’s band and Kern’s involvement in an Age Of Electric national tour to promote the twentieth anniversary of the band’s “Make A Pest A Pet” album, the pair linked up with Churko and Gaalaas to perform a charity concert at Winnipeg’s Club Palomino in 2012, again performing Canadian classic songs.
“It started out as a tribute to Canadian music and the set went down so well, we thought, why don’t we record some of those songs,” Kerns explained. “We weren’t called Toque at that time but when we did start to record that first LP, we decided to stamp the name Toque on the project.”
“So we decided amongst ourselves what 10 songs we would like to record,” he added. “And then when we recorded the second album, we wrote an original song; “Never Enough For You” which is a reflection of all the bands we grew up with.”
With the international appeal and awareness generated by Slash’s Band, Kerns and Fitz agree that they have an opportunity to present those great Canadian bands’ music, which may have been previously unknown, to an extended global audience.
“We love these bands and we realize that many people never got to see them or listen to their music,” mused Fitz. “So we get to expose their music to a new audience.”
A case in point is Sheriff’s “When I’m With You”, originally released by Capitol in 1982 on the band’s self-titled debut which reached No 8 in the Canadian charts and 61 on the U.S charts. But then the band broke up and songwriter Arnold Lanni and bassist Wolf Hassel went on to launch Frozen Ghost. Time shift six years into the future when a KRXY Las Vegas DJ Jay Taylor stumbled upon the track and started to play it. The radio chain reaction to that song was so strong, it eventually went to No 1 on Billboard which created numerous problems as the band didn’t exist, there was no album and no record company?
So in 2020, Toque has recreated that song with Kerns tackling lead vocals and that daunting task of holding that final high note for 30 seconds, a feat which earned original lead vocalist Freddie Curci a position in The Guinness Book Of World Records. The track has been recorded to raise funds for a Winnipeg- based charity which is helping people who find themselves in trouble due to the COVID-19 virus.
“It’s mind-blowing when you hear a song all of your life and you step to the microphone to sing it. You don’t realize until you get into it that maybe you don’t know how to swim so what am I doing in the deep end of the pool,” Kerns laughed. “When I asked Freddie about holding that note, he told me he did it because he didn’t know how they were going to end that song! he wasn’t flexing his muscles or showing off what he could do vocally. But now, anyone else singing that song has to hold that crazy high note for 30 seconds.”
Both agree that in covering all of these former classics, they are not trying to show up the original artists or improve on their recordings. “We are just adding a fresh coat of paint to the songs,” allowed Fitz. “Kim Mitchell heard our version of “Go For Soda” and said we recorded a better version than he did.”
With all the downtime due to the virus, Toque has been writing new material that could be worked into their existing set and have also launched – Toque Talk a weekly YouTube Live discussion that has allowed fans to better understand the band and mainly Canadian musicians of all facets. From Sébastien Bach to Jann Arden. Along with all kinds of other musical friends.
Ultimately, Toque’s goal is to write and record original material that can be folded into their Classic Rock set. “It’s the same as what happened when we first started working with Slash and Myles. Originally, that was all covers but eventually, we added original material as the band developed,” Kerns explained.
“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your touring plans for 2021,” cracked Kerns. “Really, who knows? All the dates we had planned for 2020 are still in place for this year, but all we can do is keep writing and releasing videos and hope for the best, that’s about all we can do.”