JAIMIE VERNON – GODS OF THE HAMMER

Jaimie as King George

Gods-of-the-Hammer-Geoff-Pevere-copy

Geoff Pevere was once a co-contributor to this Don’t Believe A Word I Say blog but took a long leave of absence to a) make money and b) write the recently released book “Gods of the Hammer” – the story of Canada’s first pseudo-punk act Teenage Head out of Hamilton, Ontario. I say pseudo-punk because they weren’t really punk in the way we define acts like The Sex Pistols or The Viletones. Seriously. Guitarist Gord Lewis detests being spit on and he still has his long golden hair.
http://www.amazon.ca/Gods-Hammer-Teenage-Head-Story/dp/1552452840

OntarioPlaceRiot-TorontoStar

I think of Teenage Head as what a rockabilly biker gang with Marshall amps cranked up to 11 would have sounded like in 1957; Eddie Cochrane and Gene Vincent beating Elvis Presley about the face and head with a Les Paul on the set of ‘Jailhouse Rock’. The Ramones occasionally suffered the same ignoble comparison to punk because they were, at the core, a pop band on speed. Similarly, Teenage Head defied their label and were undoubtedly denied many opportunities because of the misperception. It didn’t help that the most significant event in their career was a riot breaking out during their performance at the provincially staid theme park Ontario Place in 1980 (our own Bob Segarini opened the show).  It’s an event that even inspired a tribute song by Toronto’s The Items called “Ontario Place Riot”.

FrankieVenomFrom then on the term punk was used derisively to describe both Teenage Head and their fans. The moniker has stuck to this day. Pevere does a great job of getting to the core of Head’s limited success and enduring presence through an Uber-fan’s eyes. I would never go so far as to say they are one of the greatest acts in Canadian music history as Pevere claims, but their contributions cannot go unstated.
What Head did do was put their home town of Hamilton on the musical map. Oh sure, Crowbar got there before them – but Crowbar’s immortality lies in their rough boy reputation and a song that both launched and defined Canadian Content – “Oh! What A Feeling” [a song with one chord and lyrics that go ‘bomp-ba-da-baaaah’].

 

somethin-on-my-mind

Firsts have a way of cementing one’s place in history. While, Crowbar brought the masses to Hamilton, Teenage Head took Hamilton to the masses and left an indelible impression wherever they played. Head also had their own radio earworm – “Let Shake” – a tune so hopped up on kinetic energy that it’s now crossed over into the Canadian Classic Rock pantheon. It also had an AM crossover hit on the B-side called “Something On My Mind” that was more to the liking of Moms and girlfriends of punks and radio station program directors who feared a band with a lead singer named Frankie Venom. One of the few double A-sides in Canadian hit record history.

 

Teenage Head-Frantic City

Despite the gold level album sales of ‘Frantic City’ (their second record) it would all come to a quick and unfortunate end when Gord Lewis broke his back in a van accident – forcing him to take a leave of absence from the band for the better part of 2 years. Teenage Head lost its centre, its momentum and eventually their record deal with Attic following the not-as-great sales of ‘Some Kinda Fun’. America did come calling, but in typical major label A & R assholery, the label insisted that Teenage Head change their name to the PG-rated Teenage HEADS for the EP ‘Tornado’. The songs were there. Alas, MCA Records not so much.

DAVE RAVE 8_x_10_AnthologyCracks in the ranks soon formed on the cusp of the Ahed Music label album ‘Trouble In the Jungle’ and the group split in half. The voice, Frankie Venom, went solo. Head replaced him with long-time vocalist and 2nd guitar sideman Dave “Rave” DesRoches who, along with fellow Hamiltonian (and future million dollar/Grammy winning producer) Daniel Lanois was part of another growing Hammer musical movement altogether.

Dave played in and alongside Teenage Head for 7 years – frequently tag teaming with them in his own English pub-rockabilly combo The Shakers. The group Shakers_singleAfeatured Dave’s cousin Claude DesRoches on drums, Rick Andrew on bass, and lead guitarist Tim Gibbons. They formed their own Warpt Records and released records produced by the very young Daniel Lanois and Guess Who veteran Jack Richardson despite the resistance from Canadian radio. They toured the country a dozen times and made a steady living in tour packages with Teenage Head and another Hamilton act The Florida Razors

 

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Tom Wilson led the Florida Razors and took his cues from both Dave Rave and Teenage Head. He was tall, charismatic and had another spin on the rockabilly genre altogether. With transplanted American Carl Keesee (ex-Lazaarus) in the band as bassist, along with guitarist Jason Avery and drummer Greg Cannon, the Florida Razors drove a Texa-Cali torpedo into their roots rock adaptations.

Dave Rave would eventually leave Teenage Head and Canada and relocate to New York City in 1989 where his band, The Dave Rave Conspiracy – featuring fellow Ontarians Gary Pig Gold and Coyote Shivers plus Television’s Billy Ficca and Washington Squares bassist Lauren Agnelli – would begin creating Nick Lowe styled pub rock. Their debut album ‘Valentino’s Pirates’ – under the less contentious Dave Rave Group moniker – would land them a deal as the first western act signed to Russia’s state-run Melodiya Records and the first western pop act to tour Russia – albeit under KGB scrutiny.  They were paid in bootleg Paul McCartneyBack In the USSR’ albums and bricks of cheese from the same factory where the Melodiya vinyl was pressed. Smuggled film footage of their visit to Red Square was incorporated into the video for their single “Weight of the World”


Conspiracy

Rave has carried on since the late 1990s as a solo artist – recording for both Bullseye Records as a pop act and with BongoBeat as a jazz act. He has also enjoyed a long standing relationship with Canadian rock darlings The Trews – who he has co-written with frequently.

 

Junkhouse

Tom Wilson, meanwhile, would go on to lead the swamp rock grunge act Junkhouse in the 1990s with Ray Farrugia (drums), the late Danny Achen (guitar), Colin Cripps (guitar) and Russ Wilson (bass) – beating the odds and signing to SONY Music where they enjoyed several MuchMusic video hits and constant radio play through the first half of the ‘90s. Witness the song “Out Of My Head” in all its wacked out glory.

BlackieRodeoKings

Following Junkhouse, Wilson went on to team up with guitarists Stephen Fearing and the legendary blues guitarist Colin Linden under the name Blackie & The Rodeo Kings (a name lifted from the Willie P. Bennett song of the same name). They’ve rubbed elbows with folk and country elite –winning a Grammy in 2012 for the Nashville inspired team-up featuring folk and country’s finest female artists entitled ‘Kings And Queens’.

Though Hamilton’s population currently peaks around 500,000 the music talent pool is deep. As a sister rival to the Big Smoke (Toronto) the few miles that separates the two cities by a common highway belies the diversity that Hamilton offers. It is literally a different planet there. As a steel town the blue collar approach to life permeates everything – including its music. It’s raw. It’s visceral. And it’s more honest than the image conscious major label fare coming out of Toronto. And it’s unspoiled by its neighbour to the east.

Harrison_Kennedy

Skip Prokop of Lighthouse was born there. Harrison Kennedy – lead singer of 1960s one-hit wonders The Chairmen of the Board – has called it home for decades.

Before Crowbar and harp player King Biscuit Boy set up shop at Bad Manors (their answer to Big Pink) and fused rock with the blues in the Hammer, Conway Twitty set up his Canadian house gigs at the Flamingo Lounge in Hamilton in 1956 and 1957. He would commute to Toronto and play the Colonial Tavern as well. When his song “It’s Only Make Believe” broke in Ohio Twitty had to run back to the US to promote it and found himself on the Perry Como Show and, soon, a huge country star. Both the Flamingo and the Colonial needed a new house band and he suggested his friend Ronnie Hawkins get his ass to Canada and take his place. That connection would change the face of Canadian music forever when Hawkins headed to Canada and assembled Ronnie Hawkins And The Hawks – musicians that the world would eventually come to know as…The Band.

In recent years the scene has continued with its strong eclectic mix of styles and artists grounded to the reality of making music in a small town that supports its own. I introduce to you the new breed:
jacobmoon

Self-contained multi-instrumentalist Jacob Moon has been at it for sometime. He’s a one-man band and has great originals to showcase his talents. However, his first exposure to the outside world was the live viral video of his rooftop performance of Rush’s “Subdivisions”.

When The Shakers split up and Dave Rave went stateside lead guitarist Tim Gibbons went solo and has been gliding effortlessly through sessions gigs (he’s featured on the Billy Bob Thornton movie soundtrack for ‘Swingblade’) and live performing. His latest offering is under the name TG & The Swampbusters.

 

Tommy Gunn

Finally, Tom Grasley has a boogie rock act called Tommy Gunn and their latest release is the 1970s British Hard Rock homage album ‘Unleash The Hounds’ that reminds one of acts like Status Quo, Budgie, Uriah Heep and even UFO especially on songs like “Life Is Easy!!!” and “Go Go Go” with Jim Morrison delivering the pathos. Their latest single features special guest appearances by the ubiquitous Tom Wilson, Crowbar’s Kelly Jay, and Hammer veteran saxophonist Sonny Del Rio. The song is called “Hounds of Hamilton” and perfectly sums up the people that live there…and rock there.

THIS WEEK’S VIRAL FIND

THIS WEEK’S VIRAL OLDIE

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


3 Responses to “JAIMIE VERNON – GODS OF THE HAMMER”

  1. Great column! 🙂

  2. I enjoyed the information as it relates to Hamilton’s amazing musicians. I have lived here for 5 years and love it!

  3. Jamie, any idea what happened to Nick Stipanitz? I always loved his drumming…

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