JAIMIE VERNON – Life’s A Canadian Rock: Book 2 (cont’d)

1985_Brankos4Read Chapter One here 

CHAPTER 2 – The Wonderful World of Moving Targetz
After struggling for two entire years to get the band Moving Targetz up and running full-time, myself (lead guitar) and Simon Bedford-James (bass) had finally found a permanent rhythm guitarist in Saverio Schembri and drummer Dave Tedd in the Fall of 1984.

MOVING TARGETZ Mach CCMMXXIV played its second, ever, live show in Toronto on January 3, 1985 at the late-but-great Cabana Room in the Spadina Hotel. When I booked the show – utilizing my past performances there with punk band Swindled as a reference point – the room’s manager, Jimmy The Greek, was quite clear about his expectations, “If I yell at you while you’re on stage that you are too loud, that means your people aren’t drinking enough. If I do not complain, then I am happy.”

Me: “What happens if we are actually too loud?”
Jimmy: “Then I throw your drummer’s drum set down the fire escape.”

1985_CabanaRoom6We peppered the audience with our hometown (i.e. Scarborough) crowd and went on to receive two encores. Jimmy didn’t yell at us, and didn’t throw the drummer down the fire-escape – though, we would drop an amp down it while loading the gear out. All the preparation of constant rehearsing in Simon’s parent’s basement had paid off as, years later, the live board mix from the show confirms that we actually kicked ass. Well, 63 asses…cause that’s all the room could hold. And we’d made some money to boot. It appeared that the formula created and implemented by Swindled all those years before still worked like a charm.

It was the boost we needed after so many heart-breaking, though mostly bank-account emptying, false starts.

I was the band’s defacto ‘manager’ – carrying on the role I self-designated back in 1983 when I picked up a rag-tag band calling itself Appalling Taste from acrimonious neglect, dusted it off and then pulled all the pieces apart to rebuild it into the prêt à porter of a band we had now become. The Cabana Room offered us a return show in February. It was a good start but we needed to play more and at other venues. We needed to know that the first gig wasn’t a one-off fluke. We needed to play in front of audiences that we hadn’t bribed into being there (or in the case of our girlfriends…seduced). Like my old band Swindled, it was time to blow the doors off this town and make a name for ourselves. Famous or infamous – we didn’t care which.

1985_DMZ7I answered a newspaper ad in late January for a new venue called The DMZ that had just opened. It was being “run” by notorious punk act Bunchofuckingoofs. Singer/leader/driving force Crazy Steve answered the phone. I told him I had been in Swindled during the second generation punk movement in Toronto. He knew who I was immediately, having travelled in musical circles with our old bassist Tim James. Steve invited me down to Fort Goof in Kensington Market to pick up tickets for our show. I drove downtown in my late Grandfather’s refurbished 1977 Cordoba and parked it in front of what appeared to be a burnt out shell of a three-storey house in the heart of the Market. There was one light on – glowing eerily in the farthest depths of the ground floor. The bottom of the front door was at chest level. Someone had neglected to build front steps though, more than likely, they were probably stolen/broken/burned by the occupants. I knocked on the door as far up as I could reach.

BFGsGodzilla answered. Well, that was his name; 275 lbs. of black leather, dog collar and three foot Mohawk hairdo. Okay, so he resembled the American Godzilla. I told him who I was and hoped Steve was still around to take a ‘meeting’. He offered me a hand climbing up and into the foyer of the house and told me to mind the dogs. As I oriented myself I could see straight down the hallway to the back of the house where the dim light bulb was breathing its last incandescent gasp and tic-tocked back and forth casting four-legged shadows on each wall from two gargantuan black Labrador Retrievers (though they may have been another breed – fear has blocked this detail from my memory). I wasn’t too concerned about them getting me…yet. I was still at the front door as Godzilla led the way toward the kitchen. It soon became apparent in the dark hallway that all was not as it seemed. In fact, I was sensing a rather strong feeling of déjà vu.

NigelThere is an episode in the 1972 theatrical horror anthology flick ‘Tales From The Crypt’ called “Blind Alleys” whereupon Major William Rogers (played by wonderful British character actor Nigel Patrick) is the new director of a wayward home for the blind and who treats the residents like dirt by rationing their food, cutting off the heat and other nastiness, while he goes about his daily proclivities living in luxury with his German Shepherd companion. As is the way with ‘Tales From The Crypt’, the blind residents eventually plot revenge and construct a rather elaborate basement maze of narrow corridors lined with razor blades. Over time, they starve the dog, and place the Major in the blind alleysmaze. The last scene we see is the dog being released and the basement lights going off – while the Major screams.

Fort Goof was this maze.

As Godzilla hit the kitchen floor he turned on his boot heel and gestured me to come forward, “Stay in the middle”. The middle of what? Then I looked down at my feet. Sure enough, down below me was a discernible lack of floor. I was standing on a plank no more than six inches wide connecting the front hallway to the kitchen door frame. And I had cowboy boots on with no treads. And it had been snowing out so my boots were wet. One slip and I would have gone into the, apparently, bottomless abyss that was the Fort Goof basement. “If you’re going to fall, do it closer to me. There’s beer cans down there to break your fall. Or your back if you do it wrong.”

Sure enough, as I shuffled slowly across the planks (suspended on nothing more than rotting floor joists), I was relieved – but not comforted – by the site of a million siphoned beer cans reflected back from the underworld below me. I made it safely to the solid kitchen floor as the dogs greeted my first step with snarling, gritted teeth and growls. Godzilla yanked the collars of both simultaneously and they reared up while he pulled them aside where someone else took them out through another doorway farther back in the house.

Fort GoofThe room was a picture perfect freeze frame of 1950s pastel blue and brown decor. There were two people sitting at a makeshift kitchen table. There was little else in the room to indicate that it was a kitchen as the refrigerator appeared to be unhinged and the sink & cupboards were merely ghosts of their former selves. Interior decorating was not the BFG’s forte. Godzilla motioned me around a corner and indicated that I was to go up the stairs to the very top floor and to the master bedroom back toward the front of the house. Steve would be in there. Wearing a bustier? Toting a shot gun? The mind reeled.

I followed his instructions, wending my way up a dark, narrow staircase. The house had obviously been built pre-WWII. It reminded me of my Mom’s childhood home on Seymour Street in Toronto. The whole structure was slanted. I walked sideways up the creaking, holey staircase and passed a large bay window where light from Spadina rose up out of the shadows of the backyard rooftops. Down below where there once stood a back porch or veranda was a dumpster. In it, were the remnants of masonry, broken furniture and more beer cans. The house could have burned to the ground and it would still have been worth a fortune in recycled aluminum.

GuyI finally made it to the third floor and followed the soft glow of red light near the front of the house. As I stepped into the room I noticed that the light wasn’t red. The room was. And the windows were painted black. Steve sat on a swivel leather dining room chair from a 1970s Sears catalog. The room was otherwise empty except for the ceiling light. Oh, and a full-sized ‘Planet of The Apes’ styled black cage that went from floor to ceiling and had a massive lock and chains on it. Inside was a bed covered in red velvet sheets and pillows (or maybe satin…I wasn’t paying THAT close attention). Now, I was nervous.

Steve looked me up and down and then stood up. He was easily over 6 feet tall and thin. Not in an unhealthy way, just much more streamlined than Godzilla. He was the model from which Mad Max could have been chiselled. He was a black leather-clad warrior with a skull-hugging brushed Mohawk. The only colour to augment the wardrobe was a well-worn sleeveless jean jacket over his leather coat adorned with chains, patches and slogans. We locked arms and shook our greeting. He smirked, “Fuck, man. Have you gone Corporate on me?”

Jaimie workI had just come from my day job as an assistant office manager at Electro Canada. I was in dress pants, cowboy boots, a button up long-sleeved shirt and a silk tie with a wool trench coat overtop of the whole ensemble. And I was carrying a leather briefcase. I laughed nervously, “Hey, a guy’s gotta make a living. I still slash and burn where it counts. And that’s on stage.” He nodded.

“What’s in the case?”

There was no table in the room. So I did a Captain Morgan and lifted one leg, balancing the beast on my knee, clicked the locks and pulled out a Moving Targetz press kit…and posters for the show. He clutched them in his fist and pulled a package out of his back pocket and tossed it in the case.

“Tickets for the show. Give ‘em away. We’ll pay you $2.50 for whatever comes through the door. The other $2.50 is ours. Got it?” The rhetorical answer to a guy named  Crazy Steve was “Yes, of course, whatever you say, BFGs singlesir.”

I closed the case without blinking. Had anyone else witnessed the scene it would have appeared that a drug transaction had gone down. To the Goofs’ credit, they were a drug free operation. I’ve always respected that about Steve. These boys were always too hyper to need stimulants (well, beer notwithstanding). Anger was their driving force and made for some wicked music. “Alcoholiday Turned Alcoholocaust” was their theme song.

The deal I struck with Steve would give Targetz a headlining spot every other Tuesday if we wanted as long as we made an effort to get people to come out. 1985_DMZ8It was going to be tough to fulfil the obligation consistently, but I figured we could do one or two shows as a warm-up for the next Cabana Room show and bow out of future DMZ shows while, hopefully, not getting fired or killed by members of The BFG’s. We could expect our loved ones and some of former Swindled bassist Tim James’s crowd to make the effort as they all lived in the downtown core. The club itself was mere blocks away from The Cabana Room on Spadina in an old liquor store. Ironically, The Goofs were denied a permit for booze what with their lack of credibility with the Establishment (something Steve attempted to correct when he ran for City Councillor in the Spadina riding during a future municipal election). Of course, The Goofs never let permission get in the way of anything. Needless to say, there was beer to be had at the DMZ gigs.

1985_Brankos1It was in February 1985 that Moving Targetz officially launched itself as a jangly-guitar fixture on Toronto’s Queen Street circuit alternating gigs between the DMZ, The Cabana Room and, later, a dinner theatre-turned-night club called Branko’s under the banner of The Bang Bang 1985 Tour.

Our “show” was a mixture of barely rehearsed, or even passable, obscure cover material from New York rockers like Lou Reed and the New York Dolls alongside David Bowie, The Who, The Kinks, Alice Cooper and other glam acts set to a dozen and a half original tunes verging on pre-Hüsker Dü/Replacements. It was a very odd collision of musical styles to say the least. We decided to confuse the audience into submission – playing three entire sets that included an interactive version of the Gong Show while drummer Dave Tedd astounded the masses with his vibraphone playing. It was the garage band equivalent to ‘America’s Got Talent’.

1985_Rehearsal1With a pocket full of paying gigs behind us, I called up my old pal Rick Winkle of Vital Sines in early March, and booked recording time at his Rhythms In Dark Studio on Fulton Avenue. A long debate within the band ensued over what songs we should record. We had been demoing continuously since nailing down the existing permanent line-up. All of us had a song-writing stake and everyone wanted representation on what would become our first commercial output. We listened through the Cabana Room tape and decided on a long list and a short list depending on how many songs we could polish up in pre-production and what our budget would allow us to get done. The short list included my “Turn on the Radio” and “Man Machines”, Simon’s “Angel” and “Tokyo Rose” and the full-band collaboration “Fear of Dancing”. If time and money allowed us, we would also add Sav’s “Wonderful World of William”, Simon’s “Crystal” and “Speed of Life”, Dave’s “Friends and Lovers” and my own “Art of Conversation” and “New Error”.

As we approached the recording date in mid-March, it appeared only the short list would be financially possible. I nearly got cold feet at the last minute because I was getting married in July that year and didn’t want to spend all our wedding cash, but my fiancé talked me into following through as she felt I would regret it one day if we didn’t immortalize this new band on vinyl like we’d done with my punk act Swindled before it. In the 1980s the recording of a record was a badge of honour and proof to the world that what you were doing was ‘real’. And few musicians ever got a shot at it twice.

1985_Studio5So, we laid down five songs over a two-day weekend at Rick’s studio (after partying way too much the night before where two very drunk young ladies tried to get me to forget that I was getting married). We were green and the studio was laid out with the control room on one floor and the live room in the basement. The talkback was done via headphones but we couldn’t see Rick to get a sense of whether we were even doing things correctly. And we were dealing with only eight audio tracks to record onto so overdubs would be limited. As it was, Dave wasn’t happy with the power of his drumming and he attempted to overdub his own drum parts. After wasting a few hours and the meter ticking away on my bank account, we settled for sax and keyboard additions by Sav and beautiful vibraphone padding on Simon’s song “Angel”. The guitars and bass were pretty much left intact other than the intermittent guitar line punch-in. Listening to it now…it was a sonic melange. Rick begged us to scrap the whole thing and rack it up to experience. It cost us too much money, too much aggravation and too much stubborn attitude to ditch the whole thing. We went back and had him mix it as best he could.

1985_LacquerChannelUsing a copy of The Canadian Musician’s Music Guide I found a manufacturing company called Precision Records (an offshoot of Ahed Music) who were located in Markham. The account manager there was Val Shearman – widow of Moxy frontman Buzz Shearman. I was overwhelmed and intimidated when I walked into her office which was adorned with gold records and album sleeves from many of the acts the company had represented: Moxy, Teenage Head, Forgotten Rebels, to name a few. But, she didn’t talk over my head and was patient enough to walk my naïve ass through the manufacturing process and connected me with a graphic designer for the 12” EP cover art we needed and a mastering facility in George Graves’ Lacquer Channel. She even took me out to the pressing plant offsite and had them show me how a master became a mother and a plate to press the actual vinyl. OUR vinyl.

Moving Targetz_Wonderful WorldSo, with much fanfare on April 20, 1985, Moving Targetz had finally made it to vinyl with the release of the 12″ EP The Wonderful World Of… on mine and Simon’s newly formed, and oh so cleverly named, Bullseye Records. Our motto was wishful enthusiasm:”If it’s a Bullseye, It’s got to be a hit”. We held a record release party at Branko’s and invited all of our neighbourhood and high school friends from days of yore. The place was packed but, no sooner had we taken the stage for our second set of the night than a buddy of mine who was in the crowd jumped on stage, wrestled my microphone away and announced that he was having an all-night party at his house back in Scarborough. Needless to say…part of our audience followed him out the door and we were left to celebrate amongst the faithful.

Despite this disappointing launch, the EP was the beginning of a successful 9 year run by Moving Targetz. And the adventure was about to get better…

Send your CDs to: Jaimie Vernon, 180 Station Street, Suite 53, Ajax, ON L1S 1R9 CANADA


Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 35 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 17 of those years. He is also the author of the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ both of which are available at Amazon.com or http://www.bullseyecanada.com

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