It was photographer Ted Van Boort who inadvertently came up with this Rockpiles’ column idea when he called me one day to inform me The Bay City Rollers were playing Hamilton Place and was I interested in covering the show. First off, we don’t cover non-Canadian artists, and secondly, who the hell is still playing in the Bay City Rollers???
He responded that it was actually lead vocalist Les McKeown with a new band, performing all the Roller standards, and apparently doing quite well with a full slate of Canadian, British and Japanese dates. At the same time, I was hearing commercials for Journey performing at Orillia’s Casino Rama, using former lead singer Steve Perry’s voice, Foreigner were being plugged at Fallsview Casino at Niagara Falls, Ontario using former lead singer Lou Gramm’s vocals. Obviously both vocalists haven’t been in their respective bands for years, yet that doesn’t stop the venue promoters and agents from plugging the band’s old hits while using their former lead singer’s tracks. Which begs the question, when is a band not really a band?
At a time when nostalgia reins and golden oldies formats dominate classic FM radio it seems that bands from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s are still popular on the concert, festival and casino circuits. Yet how stripped down can a band be yet still retain its original name. In recent weeks, I have talked to a number of artists who have performed in reformed versions of classic rock bands to get their take on what stage does a band lose its authenticity.
Now it’s a given that any band who initially struck it big in the 70’s and 80’s have probably had at least some alterations be it a death in the lineup, sickness, illness or just someone who is too old to hit the road 200 to 250 dates a year. In Canada, there are one or two notable exceptions. Save for a switch from original drummer John Rutsey to Neil Peart after their first album, Rush members Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson have forged an illustrious career going on 39 years, A career which culminated this April in Rush being inducted into Rock N Roll’s Hall Of Fame.
Vancouver’s Loverboy original lineup of Mike Reno, Paul Dean, Matt Frenette and Doug Johnson are still intact after 35 years with the only change being Streetheart bassist Ken (Spider) Sinnaeve replacing bassist Steve Smith who sadly drowned in a boating accident in San Francisco, November 30th 2,000.
Glass Tiger can boast of 27 years in business with the only loss being that of drummer Michael Hanson. Alan Frew, Wayne Parker, Sam Reid and Al Connelly are still going strong with Chris McNeill filling the drummer’s chair.
Of the remaining functional Canadian bands, The Stampeders still boast original trio Rich Dodson, Ronnie King and Kim Berly while Goddo’s Greg Godovitz, Gino Scarpelli and Doug Inglis still perform together occasionally but beyond that, most bands continue around the core of two original members and sometimes even one solo survivor.
Of the Western Canadian artists; Trooper still has lead vocalist Ra McGuire and guitarist Brian Smith with three replacement members who have been with the band for over 15 years. Likewise Streetheart still boasts original lead vocalist Kenny Shields and keyboardist Darryl Guthiel as well as long-serving guitarist Jeff Neil yet the band is billed as Kenny Shields and Streetheart.
Guitarist/vocalist Al Harlow keeps the Prism flame alive with three new members. Interestingly enough, Harlow isn’t an original member of the band, so according to U.S regulations, he cannot call the band Prism in the U.S. In 2008 new legislation was passed which requires an original member to still be in the band to use the original name.
It was called The Mary Wilson Act for the Supremes’ singer who lobbied for a law to prevent exploitation of a name without the founding members. According to former Blood Sweat And Tears lead vocalist, David Clayton-Thomas, “there were a dozen `Supremes’, `Drifters and `Platters’ out there. Whoever, owned the name could sell it and they flogged these names shamelessly. It was a rip-off. The folks buying tickets didn’t know it wasn’t the original Drifters, and for the most part, they didn’t care as long as they heard those great songs that took them back to their youth,” noted Clayton-Thomas in his autobiography Blood Sweat & Tears. “Blood Sweat & Tears came perilously close to falling into that category,” noted Clayton-Thomas “The Mary Wilson Act put an end to that.”
[quote]“Nostalgia is a drug on par with heroin. People come to the gig to see the band now but there’s this dreamy look in their eyes when they hear the old songs – they’re in the back seat of their Chevy again.”[/quote]Of the other touring bands, The Headpins can still boast lead vocalist Darby Mills, bassist Ab Bryant and drummer Bernie Aubin, Lead vocalist George Belanger was the lone surviving member of Harlequin but he has recently welcomed original keyboardist Garry Golden back into the fold while lead vocalist Bill Henderson is the sole original member of Chilliwack. Myles Goodwyn is the lone survivor of the original April Wine lineup but has been together with guitarist Brian Greenway off and on for the past 36 years.
Honeymoon Suite continue to soldier on with lead vocalist Johnny Dee and guitarist Derry Grehan, The Spoons are centered around vocalist Gord Deppe and bassist Sandy Horne, Platinum Blonde have just resurfaced with vocalist Mark Holmes and Sergio Galli while Helix continue to rock behind lead vocalist Brian Vollmer, bassist Daryl Gray and drummer Fritz Hinz. So in all, Canadian fans generally get their money’s worth when they check out their favorites.
Probably, the strangest entity on the domestic scene is the continued survival of The Guess Who with or without founding members Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman. According to Carl Dixon, who is one of several singers to replace Cummings in the Guess Who, bassist Jim Kale and drummer Garry Peterson have been unfairly criticized for touring the Guess Who without Cummings and Bachman.
Dixon, who is on the verge of performing with a reunited Coney Hatch says Kale and Peterson have every right to the name. “When Bachman and Cummings left the Guess Who to pursue other career options, Kale and Peterson were left with nothing, so good for them for keeping the band together. “Personally I made great money fronting the Guess Who, we played in front of great crowds on the U.S festival and casino circuit. Yes some people could see that Burton and Randy weren’t playing but so long as we gave them a good show and performed the songs well, the majority went home happy.”
Ironically Kale was able to register the Guess Who trademark himself when, Cummings and Bachman allowed him, Peterson, Donnie MacDougall and Kurt Winters to perform a one-off CBC special in November 1977 without them. Kale was in Kenora Ontario when he realized neither Cummings nor Bachman had actually ever bothered to register the name Guess Who. He raced back to Winnipeg, registered the name himself and has been reaping the rewards ever since.
Clayton-Thomas knows only too well the value of owning the band’s trademark. As lead vocalist and chief songwriter for New York-based Blood Sweat & Tears, DCT led the band to the top of the US charts in 1969 with his smash hit “Spinning Wheel” and the band’s self-titled second album. However, despite all the band’s touring and chart success, DCT remained a glorified employee because drummer Bobby Colomby owned the band’s trademark and continued to own it well after retiring from active participation with BS&T. This meant any active group representing the name Blood Sweat & Tears had to pay Colomby a royalty every time they stepped on stage – and forget any further recording activity under the BS&T banner. In the end, DCT had enough and quit to record his own material. “But, to this day, there is still a New Blood Sweat & Tears group out there without any original band members,” noted Clayton-Thomas. “At first I was upset they were doing it without me, but now I am quite honored they are keeping my music alive and introducing my songs to a new audience.”
Be it Glee episodes, movie and TV soundtracks or commercials, young people are discovering classic rock and old fans are delighted in still hearing their favourites while introducing their kids to bands that may have previously just heard on their parent’s vinyl or cassette players.
“Obviously, it’s never going to be as good as when these bands were playing in their prime,” explained Clayton-Thomas but there’s a great enduring quality about classic records. Songs like `Spinning Wheel’ are the soundtrack of my life.
[quote]”It’s great to know that the original fans, many of who were like 11 or 12 years old, can finally come out to see me in concert.”[/quote]“Nostalgia is a drug on par with heroin,” notes Harlow, who also owns the band’s Prism trademark and claims his current band is as good as any original lineup. “People come to the gig to see the band now but there’s this dreamy look in their eyes when they hear the old songs – they’re in the back seat of their Chevy again.”
Reviving a name may mean fighting seemingly endless law suits and battling to own the band’s name. But Bay City Rollers’ Les McKeown has won all those battles and says the current state of the band couldn’t be better. “I own the name, I manage the band, I book all our dates, I employee the band and my office staff, I am in total control and loving every minute of it.”
In 1976 Scotland’s Bay City Rollers were the equivalent of today’s One Direction or New Kids on the Block. Promoted as Britain’s next Beatles, the Tartan terrors were scouted by Arista Records’ president Clive Davis who launched them on a Saturday Night Live episode hosted by sports announcer Howard Cosell. This exposure launched the single `Saturday Night’ as a global anthem. Their “Rock And Roll Love Letter” album went to No 1 in Canada and a subsequent Canadian tour was hampered by crowd riots with footage of young injured girls became a nightly occurrence.
Sadly Messer’s McKeown, Stuart Wood, Eric Faulkner and brothers Derek and Alan Longmuir were quickly yesterday’s news. Members left, future albums stiffed and soon the band fell apart with McKeown checked into rehab for alcohol and drug abuse. “I was at an all-time low but I bounced back, regained my creativity and regained control of the band.”
What followed was a series of law suits laid against former manager Tam Paton and the band’s Arista Records label that are being sued for missing royalties said to total millions of dollars.
“It’s the downside of this business but the way I look at it, if we win the lawsuits and regain some of the monies owed to us, then great,” enthuses McKeown. “But if we don’t, I’m still having a great time. It’s great to know that the original fans, many of who were like 11 or 12 years old, can finally come out to see me in concert. Because of the riots and all the bad press coverage, many of them were prevented from seeing us live. Now they can come and the response has been fantastic.”
Photography by: Ted Van Boort (Feature), Charles Hope