Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock – V

If nobody minds I will not be speaking about hair.

Very sorry to hear about the passing of Ronnie Montrose this past week. Glad I mentioned the spectacular debut album from his band a couple of months ago. Segarini wrote a great column earlier this week touching on some of the greats we have recently lost.

The Vibrators

April 9, 1978

Camden Town

Dear Cameron, 

Thanx very much for the letter and copy of “Shades”. It’s a good comic, much better than most of the stuff they pump out over here.

What’s that tart playing with on the cover? Is it a theramin? 

Here are the records you asked for. “Automatic Lover” comes with a picture bag which I designed, but I couldn’t get hold of one. Last Christmas I wrote about 8 letters to friends in Canada but I’ve had no replies, as if they didn’t get there.

I’ve left The Vibrators!! Don’t ask why or what I’m going to do. 

They are doing pretty well. The new single got to 35 in the national chart and the new album (V2) will probably do well. They are currently looking for a new guitar player. 

How’s things in Toronto? It looks like there’s a lot of action. I’d like to get back there some day. If I do I’ll look you up. Say hello to everyone for me.

If you want anymore information about The Vibrators you better write to Eddie, the drummer. 

See ya

John Ellis

Those days are gone, When I was a little fan boy in the late seventies I would have no qualms about writing a letter to one of my favourite bands and surprisingly many would reply and often send nice little treats along. I still have letters from Be-Bop Deluxe, The Records and a host of others. Often when I interviewed a band for The New Music Magazine or Shades I would ask for an address and send them a copy of the finished story. There was nothing like coming home to an air mail package filled with badges, singles, autographed photos and other assorted treasures.

I feel in love with The Vibrators the first time I heard the single “We Vibrate”, featuring the guitar work of Chris Spedding. The band backed up Spedding on his single “Pogo Dancing” and he was returning the favour. The band signed to Epic Records in the U.K. and released their debut album “Pure Mania”  and the single “Baby Baby”.  Here is what an 18 year old Cam had to say about that release in his record review column in Shades Magazine:

“Lastly but not leastly we have those crazee guys from Britain ‘The Vibrators’ who struck it rich with their heart-warming single ‘We Vibrate‘. Now immortalized on an LP , The Vibrators are “Pure Mania”. Toronto has found the Vibrators due to two shows in November and this LP is a credit to their genius. ‘Baby Baby’ , new wave’s first ballad, is breathtaking. The scratchy guitar intro (which I am sure is played through a toaster) is one of the niftiest ever put down on wax. ‘Keep It Clean’ sums up the whole scene and ‘Into The Future’ sounds like The Chipmunks gone punk. I love it, yeah, yeah, yeah”.

Oh, youth. I tend to still agree with most of the sentiments and “Baby Baby” still holds a huge place in my heart. The rest of the album was decent but that song was a classic.

Shades was a music, culture and arts newspaper based in Toronto (and heavy on the OCA Scene) that founded by George Dean Higton. It’s pretty cool to look at the masthead and see the list of contributors from the debut issue. Names like Dean Motter, Ralph Alfonso, Steven Davies, Michaele Jordana, Peter Noble, Rodney Bowes, Doug Pringle and Eedie Steiner all contributed articles or photos. Most of these people are still around almost 35 years later still involved in music and culture. Glad they let a teenage writer grab a by-line.

Frankie Venom 

Boy I miss Frankie. He was the Rowdy Roddy Piper of the local scene. We had some legendary times over the years. One night when my Mom was on vacation our house was overrun with members of Teenage Head, The Diodes, The Segarini Band and a gaggle of Hard Rock Café staff. Hey bars closed at 1:00 AM back then and if someone had booze their place became the new pub. Having a pool table and a decent stereo and record collection didn’t hurt either. When Frankie passed in October of 2008 Darryl Fine asked if I would write something for Gasoline Magazine. Here is what I had to say.

Picture His Face – Frankie Venom 1956-2008

“Let me tell you a story ‘bout a guy I know….”*

He was deceptively agile. He was fast, aggressive and tenacious. He didn’t like to lose and rarely did; Frankie Venom was one of the best table hockey players I ever encountered. He wasn’t too bad on stage either.

The first time I remember seeing Teenage Head was downstairs at the old Colonial Tavern on Yonge Street. It was 1977. The band still had some early New York Dolls in their repertoire and most nights were joined by harp player Slash Booze on stage, and, if memory serves, he broke his ankle jumping from the Colonial balcony one evening. Later that summer they played the infamous (and very short lived) Crash ‘n’ Burn and also represented the local Toronto punk scene, along with The Diodes and Viletones, for three nights at CBGB’s in New York.  The band soon become stalwarts on the local scene playing the legendary Club David (“Locker Room” anyone?), Larry’s Hideaway, and a host of other rock dives. 

With the release of their eponymous debut album things started to pick up for the high school pals from Hamilton. Although they were a part of the punk scene their sound was rooted in rockabilly and the punk all came from Frank. You never knew what he was going to do on stage, on the monitors, in the lighting rig or in the crowd. You also never knew what he was going to wear, style was important. From A Mickey Mouse tee-shirt to a fifties sharkskin suit Frankie covered all the bases. In 1980 the band released their second album “Frantic City” and things were looking up. On Frankie’s 24th birthday (June 2, 1980) the band played the Ontario Place Forum and the ensuing riot caused the cancellation of rock shows at the venue for the rest of the summer. Over 15,000 fans tried to cram in to the 10,000 capacity venue and went to war with the cops. Just a week before a mini-riot has erupted outside the venue after a show by Goddo and Nash The Slash and security was beefed up for the Teenage Head show.

In 1980 I had been fired from Quality Records and took the job of road managing The Models from Edmonton, While playing exotic locations like Weyburn, Castlegar and Lethbridge we would cross paths with “The Best Head In The West Tour” where the boys brought the green monster PA system which was better suited to Maple Gardens rather than the Alec Arms Hotel. In the bigger cities they were feted by their local label reps with parties and free booze and in the smaller towns were fired after the first set of a three-night stand. Seeing them on the road back then always gave me a sense of home. Wish I still had the tee-shirt.

“Frantic City” was going to be the album that broke the band wide open. Although it went gold in Canada and won the group “Album Of The Year” and “Group Of The Year” at the inaugural CASBY Awards it was the van crash which sidelined guitarist Gord Lewis for two years just prior to their showcase of the U.S. that pretty well stopped the band in its tracks. When a U.S. deal was finally offered a few years later MCA forced the band to change their name to Teenage Heads and shelved the band after an EP. When I later worked at MCA I signed a menacing young rock band because they (especially their lead singer) reminded me so much of Teenage Head. Say hello to Hugh Dillon and The Headstones.

After many a troubled time things were looking up for Frankie in 2008. The band had finally released “Teenage Head with Marky Ramone” (a must have one CD history lesson), been chosen to play a show at the 2008 Grey Cup festivities and been honoured with an induction in to the Hamilton Music Hall of Fame.

When I heard of his death from cancer at the age of 52 on October 15th I was stunned. A had just watched a video from a recent performance and although he was no picture of health he was still Frankie. We hung out with a lot of the same people, grew up in the same scene, loved The Honeymooners and Popeye, could argue Ti-Cats versus Argos and knew how to drink and play table hockey, Thanks to Gord and Steve for being there at the start and the end.

Curtain Jumper – Teenage Head


It is going to be a very busy month as the industry descends on Toronto and Ottawa for Canadian Music Fest and The Junos. Hundreds of bands will be jockeying for attention and the Library Bar at the Royal York will be the epicentre for deals, reunions, and my annual five minutes with Bob Leftsetz. I have been warming up by travelling with some of our bands to Montreal, Ottawa, Hamilton, Peterborough, Kingston and a host of other towns. I should be over it by now but I still love crawling in the van and hitting the road with a bunch of eager artists. Cool Planet family members Amos The Transparent, Robyn Dell’Unto, Morgan Cameron Ross, and Gloryhound will all be rockin’ stages across the province this month. Get out there and support live music,

I imagine quite a few meals will be consumed at The Shanghai Cowgirl at 538 Queen Street West, right beside the world famous Bovine. If the weather stays nice we soon should be rocking the patio.

Cam’s column appears every Wednesday

Contact us at

Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener,  The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

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