JAIMIE VERNON – Life’s a Canadian Rock: Book 2, Chapter 4

vernon_1997Read Chapter 1 here: 

Read Chapter 2 here:

Read Chapter 3 here:

PHASE II, MACH III – PHOENIX RISING

Having spent the better part of 5 years taking my band Moving Targetz from a suburban Scarborough, Ontario basement (a trend later to be repeated by the Barenaked Ladies), burning up the Queen Street circuit, forming a record label and releasing not one, but two, 12” slabs of polyvinyl chloride only to have the band self-destruct on the eve of global domination, I did some soul searching and decided that I really didn’t want the musical ideology of Targetz to die.

Logo_1991

By the summer of 1988 I called up old pal Ivan Judd (ex-Swindled, Youth In Asia, Was Ist Los?) who had done back-ups on the Moving Targetz’ 1990_Rehearsal_IvanBulletproof album – as well co-write our song “Fly To A Flame”. I asked him if he’d like to take over lead vocals; I had single handedly written, co-produced, played and sang on the album and I just wasn’t up to the task of replicating all that stress on stage. He wanted to pursue a solo path but needed a band to visualize it. I figured we would be stronger teaming up and reinventing Moving Targetz to allow room for his material and mine as we had done years before in Swindled. He agreed and I opted to play guitar again (having been on bass since subbing in with Swedish Fish in 1986) while Ivan translated our combined slant on reality.

Gord GiblinThe challenge was to assemble a new line-up. Ivan and I had coaxed former Youth In Asia band-mate and bassist Gord Giblin out of a suburban marital stupor while Ivan brought in Chris Walmsley on drums to rehearse at my old stomping ground, Certain Circles studio, and to record two new songs: “Drugstore Roulette”, from our salad days together in Youth In Asia, and Ivan’s “School of Fear” (our twist on ‘stranger danger’). The recording, under the unhelpful production of a new owner, was rough and sloppy and pretty much unusable – but, hey, it was close enough for rock and roll!  Of course, like all Targetz incarnations, this second phase of the story was not without its set-backs, namely in the unpredictable Chris Walmsley. Long absences from rehearsals – and from a photo session for a cover story about us in the Scarborough Mirror newspaper – led us to replace him with old Pearson Collegiate school pal Marc Worne. This time we weren’t taking any chances and decided to get back into the studio immediately.

Moving Targetz_BulletproofBrian Gagnon who had helped me co-produce and complete Bulletproof at Certain Circles had moved to a rival studio, Mysonics, directly across the street. We took Ivan’s newest tune, “Do You Believe In The Fantastic?”, and opted to use a drum machine as the rhythm track in case we became drummerless again. Marc Worne understood and played tambourine on the track (a la Ringo on “Love Me Do”), continuing as our drummer in the hopes of building a new live repertoire. But as summer grew longer and cottage country and a fishing boat called to him, he too, soon left.

Barr_JohnnyEnter Holly Rose drummer John Barr from Pearson Collegiate (isn’t everybody in this convoluted saga?) who agreed to audition for the band on the condition that his old guitarist Glenn Belcher join in. We agreed and Sharon Judd, Ivan’s wife, who sang back-ups on the recording of “Do You Believe?”, also sat in. Afterward, Barr & Belcher showed interest in the band, but they felt that we lacked a good bass player. Ivan and I talked and realized that we had a chance to bring two of the best musicians we’d ever met into the fold to take Targetz to a pro level.

So, like I had done during Youth In Asia before, I let Gord go. I still regret having to make that choice between my music and my oldest friend, but Gord understood how hard I had Judd_Sharon1990worked for the dream (que John Williams soundtrack here) and graciously stepped down as bassist – much to the relief of his wife; John Barr, Glenn Belcher and Sharon Judd joined Moving Targetz in October 1988 and I switched back to bass permanently ever after.

Our auspicious debut was at the world famous El Mocambo January 25, 1989. On Tuesday. In a brutal ice-storm. It featured former Targetz/Swedish Fish members Simon Bedford-James and Sav Schembri in their newest incarnation Simon Truth & The Last Band (which it turned out to be). The new material and the selections adapted from Bulletproof – the only time Targetz ever played them live – went over well. Not long after came a return trip to Mysonics Studio to record three more songs 1989_ELMO1with Brian Gagnon  – “Creation” (by Sharon and Ivan Judd), and remakes of “School Of Fear” and “Drugstore Roulette”.  We also a re-mixed the track “Do You Believe In The Fantastic?”. The whole thing was released on my Bullseye Records as the Not Just For Those Who Believe In God EP.

But, and there’s always a ‘BUT’ with this band, John Barr wasn’t really interested in our progressing musical direction – sighting complete Moving Targetz_Not Just For Thosedisinterest in a new U2-esque composition we were developing called “Here As Now”. He also had no desire to attract bigger record labels so, in March 1989, bailed. Targetz pressed on using the momentum from good reviews; mind you, CBS records rejected the material outright after one glance at the cover saying only “we’re not signing any Christian Rock acts”. We laughed and laughed. It gave us an idea though. The questionably ambiguous spiritual content of “Creation” and “Do You Believe” led Ivan to get his cousin, a minister, to use the messages in sermons for two parishes in Indiana. Marc Worne sat in for us once more throughout June and July including an appearance at Toronto’s heavy metal fortress The Gasworks. Not long after, “Do You Believe” began a modest rotation on radio and the first of several royalty cheques for Ivan.

Moving Targetz_Take ManhattanDuring mid-July Ivan and I went to New York City with a 4-song EP called Moving Targetz Take Manhattan (Not Just For Those Who Believe In God? repackaged to avoid that pesky ‘Christian Rock’ tag) to the New Music Seminar. “Do You Believe?” was already in circulation on the NMS Indie-Can ‘89 CD and interest had begun brewing weeks before from places like Germany’s Bellaphon Records. While in New York, Ivan and I took in the giant seminar/conference and made connections with dozens of world-wide contacts never mind getting stupidly drunk/lost three nights running. One of these contacts, Jerry Love of Famous Music Publishing (Living Color/Daisy Chainsaw), fell over himself gushing about “Do You Believe?” and the EP. He suggested we set up a showcase in Toronto where he could fly in and catch us in action. If the live act was up to snuff we would discuss a publishing/development deal.

Thorne_Mike1989We were pumped and still drummerless. The summer of 1989 was spent auditioning drummer after unreliable drummer. However, one – Mike Thorne– managed to click, but by then Glenn Belcher had lost his enthusiasm for the band. Ivan, Sharon and I stuck with it; though I nearly launched a Paul McCartney tribute band with Paul Myers (Gravelberrys) just to ride Macca’s comeback coat-tails that fall.

Instead, we continued writing and contacted video producer Dave Straiton to help develop a visual concept and storyboard for “Do You Believe?” He submitted the treatment to VideoFACT (a government funded music video program). Unfortunately, they chose some higher profile production companies and their acts. Though Dave Straiton lost the bid, VideoFACT thought the song had potential – “You can use [it] as a radio jingle to sell soda!!” – and that Targetz should resubmit the treatment at a later date. “I want to believe in Godly Cola – chugaluga – chugaluga”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ib-Qiyklq-Q

Ivan and I then attended a demo listening seminar at a club in Toronto held by The Songwriter’s Association of Canada. ChristopherWardhttp://www.songwriters.ca)  The MC of the event was former MuchMusic VJ and recording artist Christopher Ward. The panellists, chosen to critique demos by those in attendance, consisted of Rich Dodson (The Stampeders), Moe Berg (Pursuit of Happiness), Rik Emmett (Triumph) and Eddie “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” Schwartz. It was incredibly intimidating listening to these “masters” give 30 seconds of advice on improving one’s songwriting especially publicly with the authors of the demos being put on the spot before hundreds of other would-be Dylans and Lennons. Ivan and I submitted a song each. They were both blasted over the P.A. while the celebrity judges weighed in. “Drugstore Roulette” came up first and everyone liked the production (thank you, Brian Gagnon!). Christopher Ward thought it very unambiguous as it dealt with the horror of the 1982 Tylenol mass murders. Moe Berg then said he liked the tune for what he called ‘Jackie Collins-like purple prose’ – in other words ‘a shocking ripped-from-the-headlines immediacy’ now grossly out of date.

Then came Ivan’s faith questioning ballad “Do You Believe In the Fantastic?” As the song ran on much past the time allotted for each demo – EVERYONE spoke up. All the panellists thought it amazing.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v162J-R099o

Everyone except Eddie Schwartz who thought the simplicity of the ambiguous Christian theme would be anathema to radio programmers.
EddieSchwartzRik Emmett was incensed, “Not all songs are earmarked for radio, Eddie.”
Schwartz held fast, “Then it is doomed to fail as an obscure Sunday school nursery rhyme about God.”
Emmett laughed uproariously, “Did you read the lyrics?” as he waved our lyric sheet in the air. “It’s a hymn for an agnostic!”

Ivan would later re-name the song “Hymn For An Agnostic” when he recorded it on his 2002 Cheaper Than Therapy album project “Terminal Adolescence”.

Jaimie_BrianGagnon1Meanwhile, to bide our time, it was back to Mysonics Studio with Brian Gagnon in September 1989 for pre-production on a follow-up album to Bulletproof. Mike Thorne laid down some sequenced drum tracks alongside my bass groove on the songs “Nothin’ In Particular”, “So Fed Up”, and the fully realized “Here As Now” while Ivan Judd roughed in some vocals. We also experimented with a vehicle for Sharon Judd to showcase her voice utilizing the original multi-track master tapes of a song from long dead band Swedish Fish entitled “Profit”.

1989_Promo2Despite jamming with Nick Clarke (ex-Youth In Asia), there was still no guitar prospects and Mike Thorne bid adieu to tour with Beach Boys tribute act Endless Summer [he is currently drumming for SAGA]. We were devastated, but not beaten, and placed advertisements in local papers for a guitarist and drummer. A response came immediately from former Blindside/Deal Me In, and vertically challenged, drummer Duanne Welsh. One audition later and he soon became an M.T. Head. Days later a friend of the band’s suggested her boyfriend, Sean Hovington (who ironically was the Judd’s babysitter years before), as a possible guitarist. He was inexperienced but energetic and a quick study and within a few weeks we had rehearsed a 45-minute live set.

1989_LeesPalaceMach CCMMVII of Moving Targetz played its first gig at Lee’s Palace on December 1, 1989 and then returned on January 8, 1990 with full intention of recording a live record, but Hovington’s playing had been tentative at best (he had gone full Stu Sutcliffe on stage) and the idea was scrapped. Former member Glenn Belcher joined the band onstage for one song, after plenty o’beggin’, and before you could say ‘Hasta la bye, bye’, Hovington had quit the band to become a drug trafficker.

BrianGagnon1Nevertheless, our recording of “Creation” was released on CIRPA’s Canada: Tune Into the Future CD for release in Midem, France at their annual conference. With the diversions and shake-ups smoothed out we finally started the next album. The first session was February 28, 1990 with Brian Gagnon and I recording an ode to the previous Moving Targetz incarnations of the past called “Return On the Radio”. Then the whole band returned to Mysonics Studio with Gagnon at the controls on March 4 and spent the entire day recording bed tracks for 12 songs.

1990_Brule_HotelTo finish the recordings we needed money and so began the Bigger Than Bowling Tour ‘90 which scraped the bottom of the southern Ontario club scene from March to October. With help from our new  “agent” – and I use that term loosely – we suffered frostbite at The Spectrum, went deaf at The Gasworks (again),  alternated weekends with upcoming hair-metal superstars Harem Scarem at the Flying Squirrel in Oshawa, did an opening slot for The Kings (“This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ To Glide”) at The Bedrock in Scarborough, were treated like crap but got fed buffet meals at The Marquee (all three appearances), played a three-nighter in Penetanguishene in Northern Ontario (making $2100 which was a million bucks back then), got fired by The Agency for being “too Queen Street sounding” in Brantford, Ontario at the Coach House) and lost a battle of the bands to a Boy Band called Tara Tuma at the old Diamond Club in Toronto.

1990_Recording1We spent our downtime working on the album with Gagnon at Mort Ross’ jingle house called Player’s Studios in Toronto. Our fan base was growing via our homegrown newsletter, The M.T. Head Express,  and to satisfy anticipation for the next album  we released the teaser EP Cocked & Loaded – Live: Bigger Than Bowling Tour complete with a free condom attached (given to us by former B-Girls bassist turned public health nurse Cynthia Ross – Mort’s daughter)!. The five songs were just studio tracks, including a remake of SWindleD’s “Nazi Dog” and The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” dressed up to sound “live” with little or no overdubs and some cheesy crowd noises for ambience from the jingle houses library of cheap parlour tricks. I believe we utilized Sound Design’s TM ‘small hall’ applause tracks #10 and #11.

1990_Promo_Outdoor4I returned to New York for the NMS11 in July 1990 with another EP called Takes Manhattan Too featuring “Here As Now (Edit)”, “Nothin’ In Particular”, “How Does It Feel?” and a studio outtake of  “The Lion Sleeps To Night” featuring Gagnon on lead vocal (okay, so now we were truly  desperate). The trip, however, turned up zero interest despite the inclusion of another track called “Guns Are Cocked” on Intrepid Records’ Indie-Can ‘91 CD compilation.  Regardless, the actual live act was starting to progress away from its recorded sound anyway which give Duanne Welsh angst in his pants climaxing in unsightly “musical differences”. This time, a drummer was found before we lost Duanne and his replacement, Stacey Washington, came on board for our last “Bigger Than Bowling” show at the Marquee Club in December 1990. Soon, Phase III would prove to be a wickedly serious rock and rollercoaster ride.

Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 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

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