JAIMIE VERNON – Life’s a Canadian Rock: Book 2, Chapter 3

vernon_1997Read Chapter 1 here 

Read Chapter 2 here 

Branko's TicketTURN ON THE RADIO
In early 1985 my band Moving Targetz had become unstoppable overnight. We were invading the most popular clubs in Toronto and environs and had managed to record and self-release an independent 5 song EP called ‘The Wonderful World of Moving Targetz’ on our own Bullseye Records.

I began knocking on the doors of retail and getting them to stock the record. I started with my two local haunts – Star Records in Scarborough and their main store in Oshawa. They suggested I also take it to Record Peddler downtown and Sam The Record Man. Sam’s balked, but Ben Hoffman at Record Peddler was very accommodating and would remain a go-to guy as Bullseye Records grew over time to play with the big kids. I also chased after press. We were reviewed, unfavourably, in Nerve magazine, but did get a positive reception from Lenny Stoute in Music Express. I finally got to thank Lenny personally for giving us some ink when I worked for Cashbox Canada in 2010.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd after stumbling across a new publication called ‘Vinyl Performance’ magazine at Cedarbrae Mall’s Disc Shop in Scarborough, I called one of the writers – Jim Rogers – who I knew from my high school days when we both attended West Hill Collegiate. I impressed upon him the need for his magazine to interview the band and/or review the record (in other words, I begged and grovelled). So we set up a meeting at a bar called Charade’s near the Scarborough Town Centre along with the magazine’s other principle writer, William C. Smith, and CSCR-FM radio host Calvin Reynolds to have food and a chat. They received us well, reviewed the EP, and have been long-time friends ever since.

TokyoRoeThe record sold moderately well considering our lack of promo budget but failed to yield much radio play with the exception of bass player Simon Bedford-James’ song “Tokyo Rose” – eventually landing us a royalty cheque for a whopping $28.00 each from College radio airplay! I still believe the Canadian Performing Rights people at CAPAC sent us the money by mistake because Vancouver act Idle Eyes had a Top40 hit with a similarly titled song at the exact same time. But who am I to question a gift horse? We nearly got a second cheque when Madonna released a similarly titled song as ours called ”Angel”  in 1985 as well but I’m sure radio programmers were a little more vigilant about credits on their play sheets when it came to the Virginal One. Simon and I soon joked about plotting to ride the coattails of rich rock stars by writing songs with cribbed titles. I joked to Idle Eyes’ Tad Campbell many years later that at the very least I owed him dinner. But I wouldn’t kiss him on the mouth until the second date.

brokenpianoShortly after our brush with lame, drummer Dave Tedd decided he wanted to be a keyboard player, what with his ability to actually play keyboards. We were now shifting into a new flurry of writing original tunes and he wanted to do more in contributing to whatever the next phase of the band would be. Part of this came from the depressing climate of our current rehearsal situation at Simon’s older sister’s place where we were held hostage in the basement every rehearsal by her man-eating dog (and her boyfriend…both of whom should have been leashed). We had to endure this, and sweeping up the dog crap on the floor, every time we wanted to work on tunes but all of this came to a head when we arrived one day to find that the dog had been allowed to eat our music equipment. Three mics and associated stands and clips were now mulch; Simon’s bass guitar now featured an additional body modification where we had to move the guitar strap peg to a new location because the corner of the bass was now riddled with teeth marks. And Dave’s drum set was completely destroyed. The kick pedal was chewed through and the bass drum was now missing a post that held up the tom-toms. Only rhythm guitarist Sav Schembri’s amp was unscathed. But it was the last straw. We needed a change of venue.

So in May 1985 former Swindled and early Targetz alumni Jay Clarke dragged his ass out of retirement yet again with bribes of better clubs, paycheques and beer – well, okay, just beer. Dave made the transition to piano and a progressive 5-piece was born. A new and permanent rehearsal space was rented from Certain Circles Studio which was owned by ex-The Tenants member Gary Brown. We then landed “management” through a want ad [mistake number one]. This individual, who’ll remain shameless, thought he’d boost our self-esteem by telling us that Moving Targetz were the worst musical collaboration on the face of the planet; that we should reduce our dependence on original material to become a Top-40 act and hone our skills under his personal guidance (“only $15.00 an hour for my professional consultation, guys”) before making that big leap to stardom [read: before he lined his pockets with our sweat and 15% commission]. Well, this musical and visual make-over plan didn’t include Sav Schembri. In empathy and friendship, Simon sided with Sav and the two left amicably in July 1985. They may have gotten the last laugh as they immediately landed on their feet as Swedish Fish — eventually releasing several singles and an Vetalbum on Bullseye Records. Thankfully, Sav didn’t hold it against me. He ultimately stepped out of the music business and became a veterinarian – much to the benefit of the animal kingdom. My cat doesn’t like him much, but we’re glad he took on this noble profession.

Meanwhile, Targetz was reduced to a three-piece with Jay (drums), Dave (keyboard, vocals) and myself on guitar (vocals). As starry-eyed rockin’ Pavlov’s dogs we were determined to let this “professional” lead us around for no other reason than we were young and eager. Yeah, that’s the ticket [mistake number two]. We just needed a bass player. Management Glimore'spresented us with several contenders in the guise of John Pomerico, Keith Gordon, and Allan Gavigan. Gavigan lasted his promised fifteen minutes, followed in August 1985 by auditions from Rick Kane and Anton Evans (ex-David Quinton Band, future Frankie & The Knockouts), but neither was willing to take on this not-for-profit, two-car garage band. What we needed was a current demo to showcase the new songs we were now writing so we could attract a similar minded bassist.

Certain Circles1Rehearsing in a recording studio had its advantages. We approached Gary Brown to do some recording in Certain Circles’ 16 track facility proper. With engineer Frank Watt (drummer on the Klaatu song “At the End of the Rainbow” from the band’s 1981 album Magentalane), we slapped together an eight song demo over the course of two weekends that included a revamped version of the ‘Wonderful World of Moving Targetz’ EP track “Turn On The Radio” plus three other songs I’d pre-written with Simon before his departure and four songs by Dave.

With demo in hand, bassist Vic Kennedy would win our desperation lottery and we were able to save the remainder of the year with a club tour called A Shot In The Dark ‘85, which was tantamount to playing every pisshole and strip club (with a pisshole) that management could beg for us (“you’ve got to start small, guys”). Alas, after five shows of watching our manager swill beer from the glasses of people who’d mistakenly left their seats to go to the bathroom or the bar, we realized this was as small as we’d like to go. Despite co-singing lead vocals with Dave and being the “front person”, I’d lost a lot of confidence and reluctantly gave up the shared vocal chores to bring in female powerhouse Linda Plese (ex-PLUSHA). This too was unsuccessful. Amid all this, Vic Kennedy heard the letters PhD beckoning him and quit the band holygrailfollowing the Christmas break in search of the Holy Grail…literally! He went to the UK for two years and wrote a thesis on the fabled Jesus chalice. He’s now a University professor and relic hunter. I am proud to say that I know a real-life Indiana Jones.

harveyJay, Dave and I sat down over some greasy Harvey’s hamburgers and decided we should continue as a recording unit only; Jay had developed an allergy to playing stinking dives – and who could blame him? Moving Targetz was going to live on despite itself. In January 1986 we returned to Certain Circles with the intention of fleshing out the demos from our September 1985 sessions. Alas, budget restrictions had forced Gary Brown to sell our original master tape which was wiped and re-used by another band (Arrrrgh!!!); only one tune, Dave Tedd’s “Friends and Lovers”, survived from this lost episode which I have since come to affectionately call The Missing In Action sessions. We had to start from scratch. As compensation, Brown offered us a lucrative recording package – ten songs for $1,500 – unlimited studio time. This arrangement proved fruitful for us and a bad business decision for him.

1987_Trio2January saw the recording of two new tunes under his production eye (my track “Storm Warning” and Dave’s song “Pleasure”). Simultaneously, he began managing another act – 1986 Q107 Homegrown finalists THIEF which fronted by Omar Ales (now a long time rep for Yamaha keyboards internationally); he lost interest in us and handed our tapes over to new engineer Carey Gurden (Spoons, Strange Advance)). In March 1986 we recorded five new tunes including a reworked version of “Private Life” from our demo tape and “Fly To A Flame” (from mine and Jay’s days in Youth In Asia). We brooded and re-worked the bed tracks several times and returned to our rehearsal room to continue writing. I finally decided to switch to bass after old high school friend Garry McDougall, ex-Lone Boney, was asked to assist on lead guitar for three newly written Vernon/Tedd compositions and to possibly augment my existing rhythm guitar tracks.

Then it happened – engineer Carey Gurden and Dave Tedd disappeared. One month passed. Two months passed. Three months passed. They’re outta there!!! Now, without Dave, who co-wrote eight of the ten songs, recording How Can You Sleepground to a halt. In the meantime, I honed my bass chops while subbing in a live version of Simon & Sav’s new and improved Swedish Fish. We toured Toronto from August to November 1986 promoting their second single for Bullseye – “How Can You Sleep At Night” – until a permanent bassist was found. I even recorded three songs with them at a studio where the engineer smoked weed the entire session. I’ve ensured this recording will never be released by buying, and then burying, the master tapes! Swedish Fish would succeed quite well without me, thank you very much.

Jaimie_BrianGagnon1Jay and I decided to persevere with Moving Targetztoo much time and money had already been invested.  By this point Certain Circles had hired Brian Gagnon (ex-Frank Soda & The Imps/The Hunt) as engineer so we grovelled for him to “save” the album [c/f Phil Spector saving The Beatles’ Let It Be]. In April 1987, the bed tracks were stripped down to just drum and keyboard parts. Every tune was renovated with all new vocals, lyrics and melodies courtesy of me; some songs also had their titles changed; Dave Tedd’s “Dreaming of the Night” was scrapped because it was unsalvageable; I stupidly consented to erasing the bedtracks for it to make room for another song…what the hell was I thinking? Did I not learn anything from the Missing In Action sessions? Garry McDougall was called back to re-record his guitar tracks for the three songs we had taped before Dave Tedd went MIA: “No Legacy Remains”, “Timepiece/11th Hour”, and “Whisper In the Wind”. Finally, we recruited friends and associates to augment all the arrangements including a duet with Swedish Fish’s chanteuse, Martha Bouchier, on “Quiet House, Quiet Home”. Of course, with the elimination of “Dreaming of the Night”, the album was one track short. So, I dusted off one of my perennial favourite cover tunes: David Quinton’s “When Lullabyes End” and presto…song #10.

Jaimie_1990With all the bed tracks done I still didn’t have quite enough money to mix the project and cash was tight as I had just switched from my factory office job with Electro Canada to The City of Scarborough’s Works Department. So I began looking in the want-ads for potential paying work for bassists or guitarists. Initially there was a 3-month cruise ship gig doing lounge tunes for three-sets a day. The pay was $40,000 but it would have meant leaving my new job, my new wife and the album that I was attempting to finish. Instead, I answered an ad for a Creedance Clearwater Revival tribute band looking for a bassist. The extent of my bass playing abilities was limited to the yet-to-be completed record and my short stint in late 1986 with Swedish Fish. Abilities be damned. How hard was it going to be to play CCR songs?

Travel-MapAnother agent (who is still in business today and of continued ill-repute), booked us on what musicians like to call an “Agent” tour; it amounts to performing a lot, getting paid really well, but having zero time to get between shows unless you can bend the laws of physics and the space/time continuum. We were scheduled to play Toronto and then two hours east to Kingston but then four hours back west to London then north 6 hours to Sudbury then 17 hours south-east to Connecticut then 10 hours due south to Virginia then back north-west to Ohio then south to Kansas and then even farther south to Alabama, with a bunch of border town performances between ’em all. We had to do three weeks worth of driving in 13 days. That, ladies and gentleman, is an “Agent” tour”.

redneckbarI managed to arrange paid leave from my new job (thank you CUPE union local 545!). Everything went quite well for what would be my first real road trip with a band – or my first test away from home and into a ‘foreign’ country. I got along with the guys pretty well despite my hatred for all things Creedance. Seems everyone was in it for the quick cash. Most of the shows were pretty uneventful. It was the final gig, in Alabama, which would prove to be the most memorable; for all the wrong reasons.
The place was called Jail Gators and this club could be seen from a mile away because the rusted tin roof of the building was garishly adorned with a 40 feet alligator dressed up in jail-striped pajamas. Holy f*ckin’ redneck, Batman! As we pulled into the parking lot the afternoon of the gig we were shocked to see the marquee which read: “Appearing Tonight: Creedance Clearwater Revival“. Someone had conveniently failed to mention that we were a tribute act called Run Through The Jungle. They had us advertised as being the full-meal deal.

The band poured out of our converted mini-school bus and we went inside the club where the dreary day staff were cleaning the place and re-stocking the bar. The band’s leader, Chris, asked for the manager. We were advised that he wasn’t in yet, but the co-owner was in his office. Chris and I thejackmeandered down a dark staircase and into the back of this pre-Civil War era building where we found the co-owner talking on the phone in true Hollywood redneck tradition: leaning back in his chair, with cowboy boots propped up on the desk, chomping a cigar, sporting a finely pressed ten-gallon hat, a red shirt behind a bolero-tie, a shiny black leather vest, blue jeans and facial hair not seen since the days of Wolfman Jack. Chris walked up to the desk while I held the flank by staying near the door. I wanted a quick escape route just in case things went south…in the South.

No sooner had the gentleman finished his phone call then Chris got right in his face, “Listen. We’re the band for tonight. You’ve got Creedance Clearwater Revival written on the marquee outside. I’m assuming you just ran out of space on the sign to put the words ‘Run Through The Jungle: A Tribute to CCR’. So, can we do something about fixing that before the crowd grizzly-adamsgets here tonight? Our contract is pretty specific about the wording…what with lawsuits involving John Fogerty being what they are…”

Maybe it was the fact that this guy was the size of Grizzly Adams or that he couldn’t take the hostility from two Canadians very seriously, but Mr. Co-owner didn’t even break a sweat. He continued looking towards the phone he had just abandoned, squinted one eye, took the cigar out of his mouth and finally acknowledged us by pointing the gooey, wet end of the cigar at Chris, “Sorry, son, can’t do that.”

“What?” Chris and I glanced at each other and then at the cowpoke with our best Canadian incredulity (in other words, we folded our arms and scowled).

He repeated with the same lazy-ass Southern drawl he’d used before, “Can’t do that. We’ve advertised this motherf**kin’ gig for weeks. We could break sales records tonight.” He either chortled or chuckled but either way it was a deep, evil, smoke-filled lung chuckle.

Chris leaned on the desk again and shook his head with disbelief, “You’ll have a riot on your hands if people show up and CCR doesn’t perform.”

38revolverFinally, Mr. Co-owner met Chris’s glare eye-to-eye while to one side he reached down with his hand, opened a drawer, and pulled out a shiny, silver .38 Special handgun and spun it around on the top of his desk while returning to his lean-to position in his chair. Chris and I both took a step back in shock [“Clean up, aisle 3!!!”]

“Seems to me that you are Creedance Clearwater Revival tonight.”

Without so much as a puff of post-Road Runner tail smoke, Chris and I scrambled back to the bus. We debated whether to blow out the gig. We couldn’t get a hold of our agent to see what the best course of action would be. If we wanted to get paid we’d have to sell the lie. The Faux Must Go On!

[Fade scene. Open new scene; later that night with long shot of a band on stage…]

CCRCosmos_FactoryWe played the gig to nearly 1,000 Creedance Clearwater Revival devotees; only one drunken patron figured out who we weren’t. And he was so drunk that he bought the entire band a round of drinks in appreciation for how ‘fuckin’ great’ we were, man! We even signed a few autographs. It was surreal and frightening. If you see copies of ‘Cosmo’s Factory’ popping up on Ebay with my name on it, don’t buy it. I can authenticate the forgery. And that goes for any women’s undergarments sporting the same.

The long and short of that near-death experience was that I made it back to Canada with a pocket full of Benjamins and was able to complete the mixing of the Targetz album. By September ‘87 Bulletproof was complete and I Moving Targetz_Bulletprooftook the album to Barb Kroetcher at Canadian Custom Records to get it manufactured, but due to a tape editing problem in the mastering stage, some artwork revisions due to cost restrictions, and scheduling conflicts with the pressing plant due to Michael Jackson’s new album ‘Bad’ taking up all the available presses in Canada (and the US no doubt), it didn’t get released until March 1988.

Despite unanimous, glowing reviews, brisk trunk-of-the-car sales and College chart action across Canada (including regular airplay for “Private Life” on CFNY-FM in Toronto), neither Jay Clarke nor Garry McDougall was willing to tour live in support of the record (though Garry is currently a fully active live guitarist with Zepology). I was left holding the prize, and was stuck with a closet full of records, at what was supposed to be the new pinnacle of Moving Targetz’ cumbersome career. In the face of it I thought Targetz was finished….the universe had other ideas

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

=JV=      

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

One Response to “JAIMIE VERNON – Life’s a Canadian Rock: Book 2, Chapter 3”

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