Lightning strikes again for Loudness

Japan's metal legends return with 'Eve to Dawn'
By Peter Lindblad
Loudness in 2012
Unaccustomed to the – shall we say – “enthusiasm” of American audiences, Loudness singer Minoru Niihara was greatly taken aback by the uninhibited behavior of rowdy crowds they encountered in the U.S. As the support act for Motley Crue on their 1985 American tour, Japan’s biggest heavy-metal export experienced all the insanity the road has to offer, and then some.
“They were crazy,” laughs Niihara, referring to the U.S. concertgoers they encountered back then. “I remember one night, we opened for Motley Crue and it was some big arena and there was underwear flying at us. I was surprised by that.”
Coming off the unparalleled – at least by Japanese metal standards – success of their initial introduction to the world at large, Thunder in the East, Niihara and Loudness had already established a beachhead on these shores. Put out in January of’85, the LP had scratched and clawed its way to No. 74 on the American Billboard album charts and fought like hell to stay there 19 weeks, a feat no Japanese act has ever accomplished. They’d even played Madison Square Garden, another first for a Japanese rock band, on Aug. 14, 1985.
A far cry from the wilder and less polished work of Loudness’s early Japan-only releases, Thunder in the East was the product of Los Angeles studio sessions with Ozzy Osbourne producer Max Norman and it kicked down doors that may never have opened for them had they done it any other way. Having signed to an international record label in 1984, becoming the first Japanese metal band to do so, Loudness had been slowly building momentum, and Thunder in the East was an attempt to harness it and propel the band forward.
“We thought it sounded different from our older albums,” says Niihara, “and we really enjoyed it. It was the sound we were going for, and we were happy about that. I love ‘Crazy Nights’ and I like ‘Run for Your Life’ and ‘Like Hell.’ They are very great pieces of the album.”
Loudness - Eve to Dawn 2012
Still beloved in their homeland, Loudness would be hard pressed to duplicate those sales these days, but with their scorching new album, Eve to Daw – their 26th LP overall, amazingly enough – kicking and screaming violently against those who would doubt them, the band and its country of origin had bigger issues to grapple with during the making of it – namely, trying to deal with unimaginable destruction, human loss and even nuclear danger.
“I was trying to make songs to help the people of Japan, because when we recorded this album, it was right after the earthquakes [in 2011], so I wanted to help those people,” said Niihara.
With defiant, life-affirming tracks like “Come Alive Again,” “Survivor,” “Hang Tough” and “Comes the Dawn,” Loudness certainly has given their countrymen hope for a better tomorrow. And for the rest of the world, Eve to Dawn offers Niihara’s demonic, live-wire vocals, furious, bone-crushing rhythms, and the maniacal fretwork of guitar savant Akira Takasaki. Niihara says Eve to Dawn combines the raw energy and reckless abandon of Loudness’s early creations with the intense focus of 2010’s King of Pain, the follow-up to 2009’s The Everlasting, which wound up being the final recording of the classic Loudness lineup. Drummer Munetaka Higuchi, one of the founding members, died of liver cancer in 2008
“The music did remind me of our older music and how it felt, and some of it reminded me of the last album, but it is very loud,” said Niihara. “The album is very loud.”
No one could ever accuse Loudness of being too quiet or soft. From the start, Loudness intended to push their amplifiers to the limits. Together in the more pop-oriented rock band Lazy, Higuchi and Takasaki broke off to form Loudness in 1981. Niihara, formerly of Earthshaker, gravitated to the newly created outfit, even though soul was his mistress back then, and a childhood friend of Takasaki’s, Masayoshi Yamashita, joined up on bass. Assuming a bunker mentality in August of that year, Loudness hunkered down and spent three months creating their debut, The Birthday Eve – a riotous showcase for the dazzling guitar shredding of Takasaki.
As it turned out, The Birthday Eve would become an important record in the history of Japanese rock and roll, especially in light of Loudness’s first concert. Held at Asakusa International Theater, the show drew around 2,700 people, a number that stunned the country’s music industry.
Of that gig, Niihara said, “I was extremely nervous. Actually, I don’t remember it, but I remember there were many people and they went crazy. Yeah, that was scary.”
The match was struck, and word of Loudness spread like wildfire. Feverishly, audiences in Japan waited for another Loudness record, and in July, 1982, they delivered Devil Soldier, another step up on the band’s evolutionary ladder. Hot on the heels of that effort, Loudness detonated The Law of the Devil’s Land in January, 1983. By that time, with the help of American Daniel McClendon, Loudness had won over Japan with a triumvirate of high-quality, high-impact recordings, but they had grander ambitions.
Since there was a dearth of experienced heavy-metal studio hands in Japan, Loudness’s wanted desperately to record with an English producer. Their 1983 tours of the U.S. and Europe had attracted a great deal of attention, and they were able to go outside Japan for help, securing Julian Mendelsohn – in demand due to his work on Yes’s 90125 – as sound engineer for their fourth album, Disillusion. For the first time, Loudness left Japan to make an album.
“We had a name producer, who was English,” said Niihara. “I thought it wouldn’t be that different, but the recording was very different from Japanese studios. I thought we were good in Japan, but I was surprised. I was shocked by how clean [Disillusion] sounded and how heavy sounding they made it. We were very happy with it, and we had a good time, but we didn’t like the food,” he laughed.
Culinary disappointments aside, Britain offered Loudness a plethora of options when it came to producers and recording engineers. With an international record deal under their belts courtesy of Atlantic Records, Loudness headed into the studio with Norman to create Thunder in the East. Released in January 1985, Thunder in the East rose all the way to #4 in Japan, and it made significant inroads in the U.S. While the iron was hot, Loudness decided to strike, returning to the studio to tear through Shadows of War, again with Norman. Released in March 1986, the American version of the LP, titled Lightning Strikes, outdid Thunder in the East, vaulting all the way to #64 on the Billboard charts.
With the help of Norman, and then the legendary producer Eddie Kramer for 1987’s Hurricane Eyes, Loudness had refined their sound to gain broader appeal. Some felt that Loudness had lost some of the aggression and fury that powered their early work. That was by design.
Asked if there were pressures from the label to make more accessible recordings, Niihara replied, “We wanted to make our albums more commercial than they used to be, but we played what we wanted to, and we liked it.”
So did their countrymen. In Japan, Loudness was revered, as tourists would return from America with glowing reports from U.S. heavy metal fans of the band’s growing fandom. As a way of rewarding the loyalty of their Japanese audiences that had supported them through thick and thin, Loudness put out the 1988 mini-album Jealousy in Japan only – this after recording every album since Thunder in the East with lyrics in English.
From an outsider’s perspective, it seemed everything was going swimmingly for Loudness, but all was not well within the Loudness camp, and by December 1988, Niihara was out of the band. There are varying reports as to what led to Niihara’s departure, with some saying he left of his own volition. Niihara has a different point of view.
“I knew something was very wrong in the band,” said Niihara. “Then, one day, Akira said I was leaving because they wanted another singer who could be very good with English lyrics. I was shocked, and I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t understand, but I just realized it was time to go.”
To fill Niihara’s shoes, after a lengthy period of frustrating auditions, Loudness picked former Obsession vocalist Mike Vescera in 1989, who debuted on the Soldier of Fortune album. He remained with Loudness through the 1991 LP Slap in the Face, after which Vescera left. Loudness carried on through the 1990s, establishing itself as one of the biggest bands in Japan with a flood of albums despite various lineup changes.
Around the time of the dawn of the new millennium, Takasaki started thinking seriously about getting the old band back together. With designs on reforming the original Loudness lineup, Niihara was approached about re-enlisting. Letting bygones be bygones, Niihara accepted, and a new chapter in the life of Loudness began. “Time heals everything, and I was happy to be with Loudness again,” said Niihara. “When the band reformed, we wanted to play again, we wanted to make whatever we wanted, and we wanted to play outside Japan.”
Rejoicing at the return of their heroes, Japan welcomed Loudness’s comeback LP Spiritual Canoe with open arms. A live DVD, “The Soldiers Just Came Back 2001,” spoke volumes of the band’s massive popularity in the country, and in September, Loudness blazed while on tour with Annihilator. Feeling their creative juices flowing, Loudness released Pandemonium in November 2001.
Working harder than ever, Loudness hit the road for the “20th Anniversary Pandemonium Tour,” some of which was documented in another live DVD released in February 2002. Later that year, Loudness let Biosphere off the chain, again followed by a live DVD, “Live Biosphere.” Slowing down wasn’t an option for Loudness, as they produced the “Loud Fest” concert, featuring many of the bands they’d influenced. 2004 saw the release of Terror, the band’s 18th album, and a performance at the annual “Sonic Mania” in Osaka and Tokyo, where they shared the stage with newer acts like Korn and Evanescence.
More live DVDs, records and tours were to come, including the albums Rockshocks and the Japanese version of Racing. All this led up to the Japanese release of the Loudness Box Set in 2007 – including the remastered albums The Birthday Eve, Devil Soldier, The Law of the Devil’s Land, Disillusion, Thunder in the East, plus Takasaki’s solo LP Tusk of Jaguar, Higuchi’s solo record Haiki Gaisen Roku, a pair of DVDs , and a singles compilation with unreleased tracks.
In 2008, however, joy over the reunion turned to sadness as liver cancer took the life of Higuchi. Before he passed, though, Loudness finished a new record called The Everlasting. Even after such a devastating blow, Loudness had no intention of going away, and after hiring new drummer Masayuki Suzuki, they returned with King of Pain in 2010. European festivals and a tour followed, setting the stage for Eve to Dawn, Loudness’s newest slab of molten metal – a prime example of the kind of serious rock ‘n’ roll firepower Loudness has at its command, and a showcase for Takasaki’s sublime fretwork, a mix of Eddie Van Halen’s dazzling speed and the more tortured artistry of an old master.
“He’s great. He’s like Jimi Hendrix. He’s very fast, very technical, and he can sometimes be an asshole,” laughs Niihara, who believes that Takasaki is a bit easier to deal with nowadays. “But, you have to be sometimes. He’s got lots of ideas, but you know, he’s 50 years old now, so he’s very different.”
It helps to have a little distance from each other. Niihara says does vocals at his house and then sends tapes of his work to the others. So, Loudness’s writing and recording processes have changed somewhat. As for Eve to Dawn, Loudness has high expectations for this beast of a record.
“I hope people like it,” said Niihara, now 51 years of age. “We have come a long way.”

Strange tales from Saga's 'Worlds Apart'

On the farm with Canadian prog-rockers' singer Michael Sadler
By Peter Lindblad
Saga - Worlds Apart 1981
A bit of an odd duck, famed producer Rupert Hine has a well-deserved reputation for going to extremes to gather the sounds he wants. One of the artists most affected in the past by Hine’s unorthodox recording methods was Saga vocalist Michael Sadler.
While working on Saga’s 1981 magnum opus, Worlds Apart, Hine put Sadler through the ringer. The man, whose producing credits include The Fixx’s Reach the Beach, Phantoms and Shuttered Room, Thompson Twins’ Close to the Bone, Rush’s Presto and Roll The Bones, and Tina Turner’s Break Every Rule, among others, was keen on having the singer express a wide range of emotions and moods in songs like the AOR radio staple “On the Loose” or “Wind Him Up.”
To accomplish this, Hine placed him in situations designed to capture exactly what he was looking for from Sadler – even if they were somewhat dangerous, or at the very least, completely unexpected.
“He was so eccentric in terms of … I don’t know if you’ve ever heard his solo records, but my gosh, it’s pretty much whatever it takes to get what he’s hearing in his head,” said Sadler.
Worlds Apart, Saga’s most commercially successful LP, was birthed at The Farmyard studio in Little Chalfont, Buckinghamshire, England. Hine made good use of the environment.
“Oh, I’ll tell you a number of things Rupert did,” laughed Sadler. “There were two stories regarding the vocals. One was related to ‘On the Loose,’ and the studio itself, Farmyard Studios. The old barn is the live room – with the beams and it’s great for drum sounds obviously, and for any ambient sounds, it’s fantastic. But, it had the beams and the roof and he wanted a sense of angst in that song, which you can put on like an actor does, when they play a role or whatever – ‘Sing this with angst,’ fine. But, you know what? To really get it right I want to put you in a precarious position, so he had me balanced on one of the beams, and they rigged the microphone up there. And you can see the picture on the inside of the vinyl sleeve – me in my beard and hanging onto a beam and singing ‘On the Loose’ from up there.”
That’s the story most people know about, as Sadler related it on the Saga DVD “Silhouette.” But, Hine didn’t stop there.
“The other thing he did on the complete reverse of that was in the middle of ‘Wind Him Up,’ when the song breaks down and it gets very, very quiet, and there’s some very quiet singing, signing the chorus in a very low key,” explains Sadler. “It just knocks it down, but it’s sung very low-key in terms of delivery. He wanted a very intimate, ‘just woke up,’ smoky … whatever kind of voice, where you’re not even thinking about it either – almost like humming to yourself but you’re singing the words. He wanted to get that effect across, so we did a few. It was getting near the end of the day, and we tried a few, and then he said, ‘Okay, that’ll do for today. We’ll review it in the morning.’ So, I went to bed, and the living quarters were across from the driveway – I guess they were the old stables, for the horses – but across the driveway I’d say a good 50, 60 yards from the main building. And in the morning, I heard this slight tapping on the door, the kind where you’re not even sure someone is there or not. I didn’t say anything, and the door creaked open a tiny bit and in came the tape operator with a mic stand and boom. And he just looked at me and said, ‘Don’t move.’ And down came the microphone to my face, head still on the pillow, he put the headphones on my head, closed the door, and immediately upon the door closing, I heard, ‘Good morning, Michael.’”
As unsettling as it is to be woken up in such a manner, Sadler, groggy and barely cognizant of what was going on, went along with it.
“So, I tried coming up and he said, ‘Just sing when you know where you are. Here we go,’” recalls Sadler. “And I went, ‘Uh.’ So it was like an eight-bar lead up, and then the tape op came in and I sang it, and then he said, ‘Thanks very much. See you in a minute.’ And I went, ‘Uh, huh.’ And then the tape op came back in, took the headphones off, took the microphone away, closed the door, and I went, ‘What just happened?’”
Still in a fog, Sadler went to try to make sense of it all.
“Put my housecoat on, walked across to the studio, and there was Steve [Tayler], the engineer, and Rupert, and he said, ‘Morning, Michael. Listen to this,’” said Sadler. “And he played it back, and I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s exactly what you wanted, isn’t it?’ And he said, ‘Yep.’ And of course, preparing for it is not the same. That’s why they said absolutely nothing to me. That’s exactly what they wanted, and that’s exactly what they got. In fact, it was one take.”
For Saga’s latest record, 20/20, due out Tuesday on Eagle Records, Sadler’s experience was much more mundane. Still, it wasn’t business as usual for Sadler, who left the band when Saga’s tour ended in 2007 and then returned in January of 2011.
“When it was decided that I was coming back, and when we decided to make the announcement, I was basically handed pretty much a finished record, which was odd for me because I’d always been, since the beginning, a fairly integral part of the writing,” said Sadler. “For me to be handed music that I couldn’t touch was, ‘Oh, really …’ (laughs) Every once in a while, I’d go, ‘Oh, I think that part should have been six bars instead of four,’ or ‘maybe that should have been …’ So, on one hand it was slightly frustrating; on the other, as a singer, being handed a blank slate like that and just being able to do whatever I wanted on top of it, it was very inspiring actually, because I was hearing the record like someone in the audience would hear it or one of the fans would hear it for the first time.”
We’ll have more from Sadler in the coming days.

CD Review: Saga - 20/20

CD Review: Saga – 20/20
Eagle Rock Entertainment/earMusic (edel)
All Access Review: A-
Saga - 20/20 2012
A signifier of perfect eyesight, the designation “20/20” holds special meaning for the long-running Canadian progressive-rock institution Saga. For one thing, 20/20 just happens to be their 20th album, and for another, it also refers to the eye operation keyboardist/vocalist Jim Gilmour had that has restored his vision to – you guessed it – 20/20.
More than that, however, the title is emblematic of Saga’s ability to visualize so clearly and with such detailed definition what it is they want to accomplish every time they step foot in a studio. Nothing, it seems, is ever left to chance for a group that has always been meticulous about sound clarity, even as they designed some of the most grandiose sonic architecture in the realm of prog-rock with Worlds Apart and other marvels. Cleanliness is next to godliness for Saga, and with the successful Lasik surgery conducted on 20/20, due to be released by Eagle Rock Entertainment, it appears there is nothing clouding their focus.
With Michael Sadler, one of the most distinctive and crystalline vocalists in all of prog, back in the fold, Saga seems re-energized on the futuristic 20/20, even if the music was almost entirely finished before his return. Between the breathless urgency and racing pulse of 20/20’s opener “Six Feet Under,” the wah-wah radiation burns of “Anywhere You Wanna Go” and the crunching, switchback guitar grooves of a particularly metallic “Spin It Again,” so reminiscent of early King’s X, 20/20 finds Saga adding some edginess and heft to what are often airy melodic passages – the likes of which are found in the breezy mix of light acoustic guitar strum and gently ruffling synthesizers that is “Ellery,” which checks in on the psychopathic main character of fan favorite “The Perfectionist.”
A defiant optimism pervades 20/20, as the pain and frustration of a life of unrealized potential vented in the chorus of sharp vocals and angry riffs in “One of These Days” give way to dizzying whirls of synthesizer and inspiring lyrical self-affirmations. Fighting against the erosion of imagination, “Till the Well Runs Dry” – featuring a deceivingly simple, but wonderfully executed Ian Crichton guitar solo and touches of jazz fusion – is swept up in a gushing geyser of a chorus of soaring, faith-healing keyboard swells and arpeggios and Sadler’s almost evangelical fervor for the subject matter. Tested again in the gorgeous ballad “Lost for Words,” Sadler’s expansive range and rare gift for expertly navigating melodies swim through an ocean of lovely piano figures, crystals of synth and acoustic guitar gold, before the surging electric rock – blanketed in dreamy vocals and pinwheel keyboards – of “Show and Tell” crash the reverie.
One of the most emotionally powerful and heartfelt records of the band’s history, 20/20 is, nevertheless, pretty typical of Saga the easy marriage of synthesizers and keyboards with diverse guitar forays allowing each entity enough room to make their mark.Though more muscular than past efforts, the utterly transcendent 20/20 is full of altered moods, dynamic shifts in tempos and guided tours of epic, byzantine instrumental citadels. In much the same way that countrymen Rush combine their adventurous inclinations with a grounding in solid rock riffing, Saga forges strong song structures and flowing, shapely melodies that can withstand experimentation and the occasional odd time signature. There is nothing wrong with Saga’s vision, even after all these years.
-            Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Loverboy - Rock 'N' Roll Revival

CD Review: Loverboy - Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival
Fontiers Records
All Access Review: B-
Loverboy - Rock 'N' Roll Revival 2012
The critics are going to have a field day with this one –not that Loverboy has ever been a real favorite of theirs. So often in their history the multi-platinum Canadian rockers have been blithely dismissed as “middle of the road,” “lacking substance” … blah, blah, blah. Their legions of fans, of course, have a much different opinion. This time around, their detractors are going to be merciless – quite possibly for all the wrong reasons.
Predictably, they will characterize Rock ‘N’ Revival as a pointless exercise, 75 percent of the record being unnecessary live versions of Loverboy’s greatest hits. After all, what does anyone need of another Loverboy concert album when there’s Live, Loud and Loose (1982-1986) to turn to when only balls-out, karate-kicking, pump-action rock and roll shot full of adrenaline will make everything all right? Evidently, Loverboy felt everyone needed a refresher course on how to kick ass onstage.
An odd album, though, Rock ‘N’ Revival consists of three new original tracks and nine live cuts – a strange juxtaposition of Loverboy again flogging its past glories while offering just a tiny glimpse of where they’re at today. It’s those in-concert recordings that had many scratching their heads. For whatever reason, Loverboy chose to remove all traces of crowd noise, leaving some to wonder whether they were songs the band reworked live in the studio or played out in front of actual people. The answer: they are concert recordings. Some might ask, “What’s the difference?” Well, in the end, nothing really, except that once you hear them, you want some context, some explanation of just what in God’s name it is you’re listening to. Or, to put a finer point on it, there must discernible reasons why Loverboy felt the need to put this out.
Forgive the confusion, because ultimately the Bob Rock-produced Rock ‘N’ Revival sets out to do what its title demands of the record. Heard in their naked form, live versions of beloved tracks like “Turn Me Loose,” with its increasingly gnarled guitars, Mike Reno’s primal screams and delicious slow-burning build-up, are transformed, even if the difference is only slight and they do seem occasionally ponderous. “The Kid is Hot Tonite” grows more potent as an anthem, the unexpectedly wild guitars and soaring synthesizers charged with electricity, as they are on the high-flying anthems “Working for the Weekend” and “Lovin’ Every Minute of It,” both of which have a nastier edge than they ever did before. The same goes for “Lucky Ones,” which is unexpectedly heavy and caught up in snarls of razor-wire guitar riffs and leads, even if the intro seems awkward and a bit out of tune. The excitement fades a little down the stretch, though, with Loverboy playing the more pop-minded “Always on My Mind” and “Queen of the Broken Hearts” almost strictly by the book.
So what about the new stuff? Does any of it contain that same spark of hot-blooded, hormonal drive and hard-working ethos that powered a younger, hungrier Loverboy to the top? Well, one out of three isn’t … great. A stirring reminder of how Loverboy could rally the masses, the title track is a stomping, rousing call-to-arms that takes aim at the current state of the music industry and pulls the trigger, with Mike Reno passionately advocating for a return to rock and roll values and those irresistible Loverboy hooks grabbing you by the shirt. More of a transcendent ballad, the melodic “No Tomorrow” wouldn’t be a fish out of water in modern-day Nashville, and that’s both a blessing and a curse for Loverboy in that it sounds exactly like what’s on the radio these days, which flies directly in the face of their thesis statement for Rock ‘N’ Revival. And although “Heartbreaker” is undeniably catchy, it also feels as lightweight as aluminum, even if there are moments in the choruses when it grows hair on its chest.
Loverboy has the right idea. Rock and roll needs to take a good look in the mirror and remember what made it fun and exciting in the first place. If only Loverboy would heed its own advice, they might just be able to start that Rock ‘N’ Revival they so desperately want to see.

-            Peter Lindblad

News: Deep Purple 'Machine Head' tribute LP gets release date

September 25 is the drop date for ‘Re-Machined’
'Re-Machined' Deep Purple Tribute 2012
In the wake of Jon Lord’s sad passing comes news of a September 25 release date for the much-anticipated Re-Machined – A Tribute to Deep Purple’s Machine Head.
Compiled to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the one of the truly groundbreaking albums in rock history, Re-Machined has taken on special meaning in light of Lord’s death, the virtuoso keyboardist having contributed greatly to the influential sound of Deep Purple.
Among the more interesting tracks on Re-Machined is a version of “Space Truckin’” by Iron Maiden that was actually recorded in 2006. It’s been on the shelf gathering dust ever since.
“Initially we didn’t think we’d be able to contribute anything due to our touring commitments,” explained Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson in a press release related to Re-Machined. “Then we remembered ‘Space Truckin’ which we’d recorded as a single B-side during our A Matter of Life and Death album session, but never used. However now, thanks to Kevin Shirley’s remixing skills, we’re able to include it on Re-Machined.”
Of course, “Smoke on the Water” is represented – two different re-imagined versions being put forth, one by indie-rock favorites Flaming Lips and the other a collaboration between Carlos Santana and Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix. And what Deep Purple tribute album would be complete without participation from Metallica, who rework “When A Blind Man Cries,” a song Deep Purple recorded during the Machine Head sessions but which actually appeared on the B-side to “Never Before.”
Due out on Eagle Records, Re-Machined: A Tribute to Deep Purple’s Machine Head will be included initially as a limited edition Classic Rock “fanpack” on September 3.
Track Listing
1) Smoke On the Water - Carlos Santana & Jacoby Shaddix
2) Highway Star - Chickenfoot
3) Maybe I'm a Leo - Glenn Hughes & Chad Smith
4) Pictures of Home - Black Label Society
5) Never Before - Kings of Chaos (Joe Elliott, Steve Stevens, Duff McKagen, Matt Sorum)
6) Smoke on the Water - The Flaming Lips
7) Lazy - Jimmy Barnes with Joe Bonamassa
8) Space Truckin' - Iron Maiden
9) When a Blind Man Cries - Metallica
10) Highway Star - Glenn Hughes/Steve Vai/Chad Smith

CD Review: Loudness - Eve to Dawn

CD Review: Loudness – Eve to Dawn
FrostByte Media
All Access Review: B+
Loudness - Eve to Dawn 2012
Unlike their English counterparts, Loudness did not have the benefit of riding any “New Wave of Japanese Heavy Metal” to glory overseas. Until high-voltage guitarist Akira Takasaki and drummer Munetaka Higuchi left their old band Lazy and unleashed Loudness in the East – the Far East that is – in 1981, relatively few Japanese music observers gave hard rock and heavy metal a second thought. To them, such noxious noise held little potential for commercial gain. If the scene wasn’t dead, it was at the very least comatose and in dire need of resuscitation.
Into this power vacuum stepped Loudness, not cautiously but rather with all the smoldering, pent-up intensity and commanding authority of a deposed emperor looking to avenge a palace coup. By way of introduction, Loudness’s sizzling debut album, The Birthday Eve, rained down torrents of Takasaki’s sulfuric riffs and molten solos down upon a nation that didn’t know it was thirsting for the hard stuff. Like a shot of grain alcohol, it didn’t go down smoothly, but it did pack quite a wallop. On top of that, Loudness’s first live appearance was a sellout, and each succeeding record brought increasing sales – leading some to think that Loudness, despite the obvious obstacles of language, cultural differences and an ocean of distance, could repeat that success in America.
And they did – to some extent. Thunder in the East, the band’s initial U.S. release, crawled its way onto the Billboard charts and camped out for 19 straight weeks, topping out at No. 74. Loudness then went on the attack with Lightning Strikes, which surged as high as No. 64 before hitting a plateau; by that time, so had Loudness. The American invasion that held so much promise had fizzled. In the aftermath, there was a sense that Loudness could have been bigger worldwide, that for some reason they’d succumbed to commercial pressure and pulled their punches on their U.S. recordings.
Free of such crass concerns today, Loudness holds nothing back on the hot-wired new FrostByte Media LP Eve to Dawn, an album that toggles between furious thrash, melodic power metal and traditional chrome-plated metal – see the Judas Priest-like charge of “Hang Tough” – with wild abandon. It’s not garage rock, but Eve to Dawn, so full of vitality, feels as if it was birthed in one, brought into this world kicking and screaming from the top of its lungs. Far from polished, it would be unduly harsh to call Eve to Dawn sloppy, but it is an untidy recording. Still, warts and all, Eve to Dawn is compelling, zapping “Come Alive Again” with a TASER full of electricity and landing a flurry of devastatingly heavy, teeth-rattling haymakers like the stampeding “Survivor,” the grinding “Pandra” and “The Power of Truth,” an absolute wrecking ball of a song caught in a hurricane of drums. Going for the knockout every time, singer Minoru Niihara – that raw, banshee-like wail of his raising the hair on the back of necks from Tokyo to Tallahassee – goes looking for a fight on the bruising rumble “Gonna Do It My Way” and defiantly scratches out a list of society’s ills on the nasty, hook-happy closer “Crazy! Crazy! Crazy!”
But the man everybody pays to hear is Takasaki, and he is in rare form. A supremely skilled craftsman, Takasaki specializes in the kind of flashy, spectacularly frenzied and diverse shredding heard everywhere on Eve to Dawn, with special consideration given to the dazzling solos in “Keep You Burning,” “Pandra” and the ambitious “Comes the Dawn,” mostly a seven-minute riff orgy with cutting violins and sinister bass lines that bow to Takasaki’s fleet-fingered fretwork. The thunder in the East is louder than ever.   
-            Peter Lindblad

DVD Review: Peter Gabriel - Secret World Live

DVD Review: Peter Gabriel – Secret World Live
Eagle Vision/Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Review: B+
Peter Gabriel - Secret World Live 2012
Shaken to the very core of his being by a gut-wrenching divorce, Peter Gabriel tried to figure out what it all meant on 1992’s somewhat glum and dispirited Us, the deeply introspective and long-awaited follow-up to Gabriel’s vibrant, sexually expressive solo breakthrough album So. Six years in the making, Us meticulously explored the emotional jungles of human relationships with naked honesty and a confused, exposed vulnerability, and Gabriel, searching for answers that were probably never there to begin with, came out the other end none the wiser.
Frustrated perhaps by his inability to find resolution, Gabriel seems to retreat into the secret sound world and experimental bubble of Us, living amongst its layers and layers of exotic textural sediment and its rich, immersive tonal environments as a reclusive artist who has broken off communication with outsiders. At the same time, Gabriel is an open book on Us, unabashedly baring his soul in descriptive lyrics so uncomfortably personal that they read like the notes of therapy sessions, Gabriel having apparently waived any invocation of doctor-patient privilege. Given all this, it’s understandable then that Us – despite the propulsive funk of “Steam” and the organic throbbing of “Digging in the Dirt” – couldn’t possibly rise to the mega-smash hit status of So. Us required too much of its audience – too much of an investment of time and patience, and even too much of their own damaged hearts
Out of this miasma of pain, guilt and intense self-reflection emerged Gabriel, somewhat healed and ready to face the world again with his ambitious “Secret World Live” tour. A spectacular staging of Gabriel’s hard-won perspective on gender relations – with two stages symbolizing male and female sensibilities and a visual bombardment of multi-media adventures – “Secret World Live” set up shop in Modena, Italy for two nights in November 1993, and the arty, uplifting performances were captured for a much-beloved 1996 Grammy Award-winning film. All gussied up for the new millennium, “Secret World Live” is being re-released this summer on Eagle Vision, and it looks as if it hasn’t aged a day, which is both a blessing and a curse.
Visually, this new and improved version is magnificent, revitalizing the multi-camera shoot and enhancing the already vivid imagery of the original film with gorgeous color and a well-rounded sonic remastering that adds power and energy to the sound. Bulging with extras, the newly-packaged “Secret World Live” includes a time-lapse movie of the elaborate stage set-up process, a revealing making-of featurette with exclusive period interviews – Gabriel doing most of the talking – and interesting behind-the-scenes footage, a beautiful still photo gallery from the tour set to an unsettlingly quiet version of “Steam” and a captivating 2011 performance of “The Rhythm of the Heat” featuring Gabriel and the New Blood Orchestra at the Hammersmith Apollo in London.
Truly a transcendent concert experience, the mostly joyful and celebratory “Secret World Live” finds Gabriel’s theatricality taking on more meaning and metaphorical significance. As the sensual, slow-moving melodic currents of “Across the River” and “Slow Marimbas” gently drift, Gabriel paddles an imaginary skiff up river on the conveyer belt that connects the two stages, with his band in tow, all gazing upward in wonderment. A makeshift oasis – complete with a tree of life – provides the setting for a wounded, yearning version of “Blood of Eden,” a song of disconnection, suspicion, self-loathing and rebirth beautifully rendered by Gabriel and singer Paula Cole. Needing no stage props, Gabriel and his team of handpicked musicians dance with a relaxed, whimsical choreography as they strut their way through the sweaty push of “Steam” and the chunky, dynamic grooves of “Sledgehammer,” before skipping and hopping around the life-affirming, uplifting cheeriness of “Solsbury Hill,” “Shaking the Tree” and “In Your Eyes” like carefree children in a playground.
That bounce in Gabriel’s step is nowhere to be found on the “Come Talk to Me,” where Gabriel, stuck in one of those typically British red phone booths, pleads with Cole to reopen negotiations to salvage whatever the song’s characters once had together. Heavy-handed and interminably drawn out, this particular scene, which opens the movie, is a wet blanket and lacks the subtle, if obscure, drama Gabriel once employed to jarring effect, like when he famously donned the old fox head and dress in concert for Genesis. Worse yet are the distracting and off-putting close-ups from the small camera mounted on Gabriel’s head for “Digging in the Dirt.” The self-indulgent stagecraft used in both instances seems uninspired and hopelessly dated as if Gabriel didn’t care that the expiration date on such hackneyed devices had long since passed.
All is forgiven, however, when “Secret World” arrives, with upside-down camera shots and flashing lights heightening the tension and excitement of its more aggressive parts and Gabriel handling the tender, more meditative spots with warm humanity. As a bonus, the new edition of “Secret World Live” features the cascading “Red Rain,” not included on the original version. And, of course, this dark waterfall of emotions and melody is as affecting as ever, its mood penitent and heartfelt.
An orgy for the senses, if a tad melodramatic in spots, “Secret World Live” – accompanied by a booklet packed with gorgeous photography – is a spiritual awakening of sorts, with Gabriel’s charisma and refreshing openness bonding audience and cast in ways that language cannot explain. Helping Gabriel make this stirring journey is a backing band that is without peer, as Tony Levin’s agile, sinewy bass movements, David Rhodes’ unassuming guitar figures, and Manu Katche’s splashy drumming – not to mention the flood of keyboards, Shankar’s violins and other strange instrumentation that washes over it all – craft a sublime vehicle for Gabriel’s meditations. Even though his musings have an insular quality on Us, there is a universality to Gabriel’s lyrics that connects with people of all creeds and colors. Never has that been more apparent than on “Secret World Live.”

-            Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Testament - Dark Roots of the Earth

CD Review: Testament - Dark Roots of the Earth
Nuclear Blast
All Access Review: A-
Testament - Dark Roots of the Earth 2012
Forget the kerfuffle over Testament’s use of blast beats on Dark Roots of the Earth. Such concerns are small potatoes when measured against the enormity of the Bay Area bashers’ latest sonic blitzkrieg on a metal community still dazed by the fire-bombing wrought by Formation of Damnation, unleashed by Testament in 2008. Utilizing a drumming technique associated more with death metal than thrash on “Native Blood” and the unremittingly hostile “True American Hate” – both of these clean-running machines riddled by head-spinning fusillade of fiery riffs and saber-rattling twin-guitar leads – Testament willingly violates a long-held taboo to forge steely, sharp broadswords of battle-scarred aural barbarism that could cut through armor as if it were butter.
Recorded and engineered by Andy Sneap, who seemingly can do no wrong lately, Dark Roots of the Earth, out now on Nuclear Blast, is a somewhat less ferocious animal than its predecessor, despite its full-bodied, high-impact sound. That’s only because Testament chooses to occasionally indulge its more refined progressive inclinations on such complex, tempo-shifting pieces as the tightly-woven, seven-minute descent into madness that is “Throne of Thrones.” The lengthy melodic ballad in “Cold Embrace” – veering cringingly close to power-balladry – cycles through a hoary underworld of intricate acoustic passages and gentle tendrils of electric-guitar arpeggios before periods of crushing heaviness swoop in to lay waste to anything resembling song structure, while the title track initiates a deliciously slow, tantalizing burn that eventually becomes a bonfire.
Not to worry, Testament hasn’t turned into Rush, as the clawing, growling riffage and monstrous brutality of “Rise Up” so violently attests. As defiant as ever, powerhouse singer Chuck Billy seems to detonate land mines every time he opens that raging mouth of his to speak gruffly of war, freedom, death and the end of days – not to mention the oppressed Native American experience that Billy confronts head on in the explosive, deliriously infectious “Native Blood.” Always mindful of maintaining an exhilarating pace and planting hooks with the teeth of bear traps – always biting right through the bone – guitarists Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson fluidly wield their axes with impressive precision, rich tonality and diabolically diverse dynamics on such rugged earth-movers as “A Day in the Death” and “Man Kills Mankind.” Sneap and Testament take all of those elements, including the blizzard of beats pouring out of Gene Hoglan’s drums and the thick, gripping bass undertow of Greg Christian, and shape tracks into chugging, monolithic thrash-metal war ships.
This is not your father’s thrash, the raw and sometimes hairy character of old-school recordings sanded smooth on Dark Roots of the Earth. Incredibly detailed, the album’s rigorous attention paid to raising dark melodies and the complex, artistic soloing of Skolnick and Peterson – apparently born of jazz and King Crimson studies – out of the usual Testament tumult strengthens and boosts the force with which Testament attacks. Experiencing almost every song on Dark Roots of the Earth is like getting gored by a bull and then shot by a hunting rifle. Physically, it slams into the body and boggles the senses. Having medical personnel nearby ready to lend aid might not be a bad idea.

-            Peter Lindblad

Loverboy out to start a 'Rock 'N' Roll Revival'

Canadian rockers took the world by storm in the '80s
By Peter Lindblad
Loverboy in 2012
To this day, amassing a boatload of Juno Awards, as Loverboy did in the ‘80s, certainly gives Mike Reno a great sense of achievement. And seeing all those gold and platinum record awards that line the walls of his home studio has to be incredibly gratifying.
But there is another trophy sitting in his office from the good old days that Reno treasures above the rest, and the singer swells with pride every time it catches his eye.
“It’s a crystal piece made by Tiffany’s, and it comes in a leather case that opens. It’s a handmade leather case, and it’s about the size of a bottle of Crown Royal … you know, in the box,” explains Reno. “And inside is a Crystal Globe Award [from Columbia Records]. It was given to us on the top floor of the penthouse apartment at the Chrysler Building in Manhattan years ago, when Loverboy sold multi-millions of records outside of its own country.”
Not many people can claim they have one, but Reno does, and Loverboy was the first Canadian act to ever receive one. “There was only three or four of them ever given for people that sold international stuff,” continued Reno. “So we were a Canadian band that sold so many records outside of Canada that we were given the Crystal Globe Award for selling over five million [copies] of one record outside of our own country. That was a huge honor, the highest on the totem pole.”
While it’s highly unlikely Loverboy will ever move such an enormous number of units again, given the state of the music industry and radio’s aversion to playing new music from classic rock bands, Reno and company aren’t throwing in the towel just yet.
On Aug. 14, Loverboy’s new album, Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival, will drop via Frontiers Records. An invigorating blast of recently recorded live versions of Loverboy classics – minus the crowd noise but still bristling youthful energy – and three infectious new recordings boasting the kind of big, juicy hooks and irresistible melodies that made them arena-rock heroes, Rock ‘N’ Revival finds Loverboy feeling a bit nostalgic.
Anxious to revisit past triumphs with an old friend, producer Bob Rock, Loverboy turns “No Tomorrow” and “Heartbreaker” loose on curmudgeonly critics who’ve already written them off as dinosaurs lost in a world that’s passed them by. Reno isn’t conceding anything, and it’s Loverboy’s adherence to its tried-and-true recording process that’s going to win the day for them.
“When we record, we don’t do a whole lot of overdubs. When you hear the keyboards, it’s a part,” says Reno. “The keyboards played a counterpart to the guitar, so the ‘na na na na na nu nah,’ keyboard, keyboard, keyboard, beat … ‘na na na na na nu nah,’ keyboard, keyboard … it’s kind of what we started doing years ago, and it’s kind of what we do. So when Doug (Johnson) gets done on keyboards, he’s going to play that, and then Paul’s going to write a part to fit where the hole is, and the bass is going to chug along really, really cool with the drums, and our drummer [Matt Frenette] is insane. He can play the most insane, high-energy stuff, and then I kind of do this piercing tenor, and I just stay right in this pocket.”
Rock, it seems, is as happy as can be to be working with Loverboy again. Though he’s known for his production work with the likes of Metallica, Aerosmith, The Cult and … (gulp!) Michael Buble, among others, Rock made his bones as an engineer working alongside the band and Bruce Fairbairn on blockbuster Loverboy albums like Get Lucky, Keep it Up and Lovin’ Every Minute of It.
Of Loverboy’s latest studio efforts, Reno says of Rock, “He was so into it, he left the control room, and came out where we were doing the track and he put on the headphones and he was like one of the band,” said Reno. “He was rockin’. He put a guitar on, and he’s just standing there rockin’ and he’s looking around. And then after we ran through it a few times, he went, ‘We’ve got it. That’s it. That’s the energy I was looking for.’ And he said, ‘I don’t get that anymore. Everybody records one track at a time nowadays.’ He said, ‘It’s such a pleasure to work with Loverboy again ‘cause I remember how you guys record originally.’”   
Recapturing the studio magic of the past is one thing. It remains to be seen whether or not that translates into the kind of mind-blowing album sales Loverboy once experienced.

Ground Zero
Recently, Loverboy went back to where it all began, the Refinery Night Club in Calgary, Alberta, to perform for a gas and oil company. Being so close to ground zero, the memories came flooding back to Reno.
“They put us in a hotel that was a half a block from where the Refinery used to be, and I went down there and I stood there, and I went, ‘Holy sh*t. This is where it all started,’” said Reno.
One frigid night in 1979, Reno found himself at the Refinery, a venue that played host to numerous international rock acts back then. Owned by Paul Blair, future manager of Loverboy, the Refinery was a place where starving rock hopefuls like Reno used to go to “get in on a free dinner.” Sated by the meal and the show he’d seen, Reno left through the back door. Outside, he heard sounds coming from an abandoned bus repair shop nearby and with some trepidation, Reno decided to investigate. It was Paul Dean playing guitar into a tape recorder.
After introducing themselves, Reno and Dean talked. As it turned out, Dean had just been let go from his band Streetheart. “They’d canned him for asking too many questions about where all the money was going and why can’t we get paid every once in a while, so the band canned him over the phone,” recalls Reno.
As the conversation continued, Reno could see that Dean “was at a low point in his life.” As for Reno, he’d just quit a band in Ontario. “I was coming across Canada to drop my girlfriend off in Calgary to finish her master’s degree at the university there,” he added, “and I was going to go visit my brother in California. So, it was one of those kinds of times in our lives where our paths just crossed. I was looking for something to do. He was obviously looking for something to do, and we were both in that mood where, ‘I don’t want to get involved with another band, but I’ll sit here and write some songs if you want.’ That’s how we did it for a while. We didn’t make any commitments to each other. We just said, ‘Let’s write some songs, and let’s see what happens.’ And that’s how it started right there. And it was on the way home from the Refinery that night, and Lou Blair was one of Paul Dean’s best friends, and he was kind of a business guy, and Paul was a rock ‘n’ roll guitar player and songwriter. And so was I, so the three of us got things started as a little team. Lou was going to manage us, and we were going to write songs, and then we kind of met guys. We met Doug Johnson. He was in Calgary. And then everything kind of started from there. So that’s really how it started.”
Almost immediately, Dean and Reno – who chose the name Loverboy while looking at the fashion magazines their girlfriends were reading when they were all gathered together to watch movies, with Reno thinking it would get “kind of a rise” out of people – discovered they had a songwriting chemistry that would take them far. In fact, one of their early jam sessions bore fruit in the form of “Turn Me Loose,” one of those fist-pumping, powerhouse anthems Loverboy seemed to produce at will in the’80s.
“I started off writing that song on a bass actually,” admits Reno. “I’m actually a drummer, and drummers and bass guitarists kind of go hand-in-hand. They work the bottom end of the groove. So, we had some people drop by. It was kind of a good time for music in Canada – everybody was playing music. There were concerts and clubs everywhere, and bar bands. So music was everywhere, and there were bands playing everywhere. We used to snag a guy if he was on his way home … ‘cause we’d stay up late. If a band would finish playing let’s say at the Refinery, a couple guys would walk over and we’d say, ‘Can you sit on the drums for a couple minutes? Mike wants to play this lick.’ So I went and started playing a drum pattern for the guy, just a basic drum pattern and it kind of goes like this. He goes, ‘Okay.’ And then I would hop on the bass, and Paul was doing something, and I’d be going, ‘Doo da, doo da.’ And finally, he looks over at me and goes, ‘If you keep playing that goddamn riff, I’d better start thinking about writing some guitar for it to wrap around it,’ because I just kept playing it all the time. I was driving him crazy. I’d play “doo da, doo da” on bass, and it kept driving him crazy until he said, ‘Let’s do something with that riff and then maybe you’ll stop playing the f**king thing.’ It was really quite simple. I was just bugging him, just playing that riff over and over, ‘cause I’m not a great bass player. That riff was just in my head, and we just decided to finish it off.”
That hooky little ear wig would worm its way into the heads of millions of record buyers, and yet, initially, none of the U.S. record labels wanted anything to do with Loverboy. So, they eventually went with Columbia/CBS Records Canada.
“We got a record contract finally after everybody had turned us down,” said Reno. “Jeff Burns [the man who signed Loverboy] saw some potential and got us a record deal – barely. So we had to work within the confines of the small amount of money we were given.”
Though Loverboy wasn’t blessed with unlimited financial resources for their self-titled debut album, which they began work on in March of 1980, they were fortunate to have, in studio, a dream team that nurtured their “all for one and one for all” recording process.
“So, we had a producer, Bruce [Fairbairn],” relates Reno. “It was one of his first projects [to break through in the U.S.], and we just started kicking ass. We just went into the studio, and there was a young guy [Bob Rock] there from another band, playing in a [Vancouver new wave] group called The Payolas. And he was a guitar player, and he was mixing, and the sixth guy was running around, changing tapes, getting coffee and making sure everything was good, moving carts around. His name was Mike Frazier, and you look up Mike Frazier and you realize he’s worked with everyone from AC/DC to … I don’t know, Metallica or something. Bob Rock worked with Metallica. You look up Mike Frazier, and you’ll see what I mean. He’s a big producer. So, we started with Bruce Fairbairn at the helm, and the whole thing about Bruce is, he let us record right off the floor. He didn’t boss us around like some producers do, and some producers try to change the way you play and make everything different and sterile. Bruce got off on the fact that when we played together – we sounded better than when we played separately. So he insisted on us playing everything together at the same time – we’d set up and just play. And so basically, that’s what we did. And he let us do it.”
That first Loverboy album turned out to be a valuable learning experience for two men who would go on to do great things in the music industry.
“Bob Rock was basically cutting his teeth,” said Reno. “He was the engineer, and Bruce Fairbairn gave Bob a chance and Bob Rock gave Mike Frazier a chance, and Jeff Burns gave Loverboy a chance. And Bruce Allen said, ‘This is kind of cool.’ So, Bruce Allen, who’s managed Michel Buble and Bryan Adams and Anne Murray, and all these great people … he managed BTO for all these years. BTO had just finished, so Bruce Allen was looking for something to do and he took us on. And the whole thing just gelled from there.”
Released in November, 1980, Loverboy’s first album yielded not only “Turn Me Loose,” but also “The Kid is Hot Tonite,” both of which actually came out in 1981. Behind the scenes, the promotional machinery established by Allen and Blair was working overtime. And on the strength of those hit singles, two million copies of the LP were sold in the U.S., where evidently nobody cared one whit whether Loverboy was from Canada or Bora Bora.
“I don’t think anybody even knew we were Canadian back then,” said Reno. “It was the weirdest thing. Some people still don’t know we’re Canadian. When we started doing really well and the record started selling, America took over. New York … the record company was in New York, and they just started pumping us everywhere. We were on tour with Kansas, and then right after that, we were on tour with ZZ Top. And after that, we went on tour with Journey. And then after that, we went on tour by ourselves, taking with us Joan Jett and Huey Lewis, and different groups like that. And we were always in the States, so people thought we were American. It’s not that we said we were American. They just assumed. And we told everybody we were Canadian, but they still didn’t get it. They thought we were American, and they still do to this day.”
It wasn’t just the music that set Loverboy apart, but the clothes as well. A woman who worked in Bruce Allen’s office had a husband who owned a leather shop just down the street. She said he’d give the upstart band a big discount on anything they wanted. Reno said he tried on “… a million pairs [of leather pants]. I took a black pair and a red pair, and the red pair just fit really great. And I started wearing them around, and people kind of started saying, ‘Look at the red leather pants.’ So when they started shooting videos, I wore the red leather pants and then one thing led to another.” The thing is Dean wore them just as much as Reno did … at least according to Reno he did. As for the headbands that completed the look, Reno says they were there to simply soak up sweat “… so my hair wouldn’t look so sh*tty.”

Lucky Strike
Wanting to strike while the iron was hot, Loverboy couldn't just rest on their laurels. On the road, in support of their breakout debut LP, Loverboy was searching somewhat to find their identity. They soon figured it out, and when they got off the road, they quickly raced back into the studio to knock out another set of tunes for the wildly successful Get Lucky, which dropped in October of 1981.
“On the first album, you’ve got songs you’ve been cultivating your whole life,” said Reno. “And there were four different styles in addition to our rock thing – we had new wave, we had a little reggae, we had some heavy stuff, we had the pop stuff. That was kind of an experimental record, the first record. Then, when we played live, we realized that we were more like a high-energy rock band. And, we’d just come off a tour. We had a chance to play songs off the second album in front of people and see their reactions, and maybe we’d change a few things and rewrite some things. So we came home and we had the five weeks off and we went in the studio, between tours, and during the five-week break, I mean we cut the stuff right off the floor – just recorded it and finished it. Then we managed to squeeze another week of holiday in, and then it was back on the road. So the first record was all the things we’d come up with through our whole lives and the second album was all the things we ran off through the recording in five weeks in that break. So they were very different, but it was a really cool way to do a record. We didn’t have a lot of time to over-think it. We just cut the stuff and went back out on the road.”
Get Lucky [for more on how the cover was created, see our previous Loverboy post from July] came out while Loverboy was on tour with Journey, and it caught fire almost immediately, with the deliriously catchy smash-hit “Working for the Weekend” and the painful ballad “When it’s Over” propelling the LP to incredible heights. “’When it’s Over’ was a very personal song for me,” said Reno. “It was about break-up I had, where I just realized it was over. And it was kind of a tough song to sing. I almost cried singing it. Those things you never forget, right?”
Love hurts, but having a hit record is a soothing salve for any kind of wound. At its apex, Get Lucky, with that iconic cover of somebody’s backside – not Reno’s, but actually, that of a teenage girl – clad in red leather pants and fingers crossed in a very naughty manner, indeed – surged to #7 on the U.S. Billboard charts. In all, the album garnered Loverboy a record six Juno Awards. Nobody’s ever topped that.
“It was a fun record to do, and every time we play songs off that record, [fans] jump up and down,” said Reno. “I think it was our best-seller. So, yeah, [Get Lucky is] probably my favorite.”
Another factor in Loverboy’s meteoric rise was the explosion of MTV. Blissfully unaware of the potential power of this emerging medium, Loverboy was directed by management to shoot a few videos while of concerts staged in Albany, New York, while the band was on one of its earliest tours. “Loverboy sent them two or three videos for the first week they opened, because they didn’t have enough to play 24 hours a day,” said Reno. “Remember, it was rock videos 24 hours a day on MTV. Well, they didn’t have enough to play, so they played us like 10 times a day and it made us hugely famous.”
Those indelible onscreen images of Loverboy giving everything it could possibly give while sweating through a vigorous, turbo-charged workout of “Working for the Weekend” are burned into the collective memories of those children of the ‘80s, whose workaday lives still leave them pining for happy hours and rowdy Saturday nights. That song has already lived an incredible life, having appeared in movies, television shows, at sporting events and in video games. Permanently woven into the colorful fabric of pop culture, “Working for the Weekend” – a working-class anthem if there ever was one – shows few signs of aging. Reno is amazed at the song’s longevity, as well as that of the band.
“They say you can foresee things. I didn’t foresee me being 60 years old, or being 57. I didn’t foresee myself being 57, never mind being 57 and still playing a hundred shows a year,” said Reno. “I never even thought about it. We just wrote songs and had fun, and went on the road and tried to earn a living. That’s what we did. We didn’t expect it to go long or short. We had no idea what was going to happen. I don’t think the Rolling Stones had an idea they’d be going all these years. It’s kind of the same for us or at least me anyway. I’m kind of digging it. I didn’t know I’d be playing a hundred shows a year, and just loving what I do. I just love being in a rock band.”
That wasn’t always the case, however, for Reno.

On Top of the World
Between 1980 and 1984, it seemed Loverboy could do no wrong. Everything they touched seemed to turn to gold, or even platinum. With Get Lucky flying off the shelves, selling an obscene four million copies in the U.S., Loverboy was on top of the world. And with Keep it Up, the band’s 1983 LP, the band kept on rolling.
Almost dizzy with sexual desire and red-blooded riffs, the lusty “Hot Girls in Love” rose all the way to #11 on the U.S. singles charts, becoming their biggest-selling song to date. “Queen of the Broken Hearts” followed, and it took off, too, with MTV’s omniscient support. Out on the road again, Loverboy got its name on top of the marquee, as the band barnstormed its way through its first headlining tour. A year after Keep it Up did exactly what the title said it would for Loverboy, the band recorded the stirring U.S. theme for the 1984 Summer Olympics, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop You Now.”
It seemed nothing could slow Loverboy’s momentum. But, for 1985’s Lovin’ Every Minute of It, Loverboy wanted to try something different. Opting for a heavier, edgier sound, Loverboy ultimately settled on veteran metal producer Tom Allom, of Judas Priest and Black Sabbath fame – although he wasn’t their first choice.
“We wanted to record that album wet. We wanted to get a cool, big sound, like Def Leppard and Foreigner, and so we looked at who was doing those records, and it was Mutt Lange,” said Reno. “But he was too busy. So we used Mutt Lange’s engineer … I can’t remember his name. Mutt Lange’s engineer, Mike [Shipley] … and then we stayed in this house. It kind of drove us crazy all of us staying in this house. We weren’t that kind of band. And we had a chef, and then we just cut it after three weeks, it just wasn’t working for us, so we said, ‘Let’s just drop it and forget about it.’”
Then, along came Allom.
“We tried to get an English kind of a guy again, so we got Tom Allom, who had done Judas Priest, and we thought, ‘That’s cool. Judas Priest sounds like good sh*t,’” said Reno. “So we thought we’d give it a try. We kind of liked the English sensibilities, because one of his favorite quotes was [affects an English dialect], ‘Change nothing, immediately!’ And after you think about that for a second, it really makes perfect sense. So, he also liked the way we recorded in the room, and not a lot of bands do that. They try to do it, but it doesn’t happen with them. We just kept with people we could get along with, and we had a lot of fun with that record.”
In particular, Loverboy enjoyed their first U.S. Billboard Top 10 hits, the stomping, ballsy title track – written, actually, by Lange – and the romantic charmer “This Could be the Night,” written with Journey’s Jonathan Cain. In 1986, Loverboy again caught the record-buying public’s ear with “Heaven in Your Eyes,” one of the many shiny trinkets the Top Gun soundtrack offered. Doug Johnson balked at participating, however, due to the film’s glorification of war.
By now, however, Loverboy was growing weary of that familiar cycle of nonstop touring and recording that had broken so many of the greats over the years. And when the band went to work on making 1987’s Wildside, Reno admits his enthusiasm was waning.
“I kind of lost a bit of interest, and I just said, ‘Let’s just pick some songs, and I don’t care who writes them. Let’s just do this and get it over with,’” said Reno, with perfect candor. “And it kind of shows, and then I started to write songs with other people, and the guys said, ‘We don’t like those,’ and I said, ‘Well, I don’t like those.’ And everybody went … we all kind of went, ‘Swallow it.’ And kind of around the same time music was … with the record companies getting pissy and radio was changing, I didn’t know what to do. So, we were experimenting, trying to get a new sound. And it was … after a while, I just went, ‘Who gives a sh*t? I just don’t care. Let’s just record it and move on.’ And that’s kind of basically how it went to be honest with you.”
Not surprisingly, Wildside stiffed, despite the minor flare-up caused by the single “Notorious.” Disagreements over the direction of the band intensified, and a sea change was occurring within the music and radio industry that would finally derail the hit-making juggernaut that was Loverboy. Around 1990, Reno said, the band needed a break.
“It was a mixture of things. It was an equal mixture of … we’d recorded some things and had sent them to the record company, and they would say, ‘That sounds too much like your other stuff. Can you record some different stuff with a different flavor?’” remembered Reno. “So we recorded some stuff and we sent it to them, and they said, ‘That doesn’t sound anything like you guys.’ And we said, ‘Well, Christ. Make up your minds.’ And then they started saying, ‘Well, we don’t think we want another record right now. So just hang out and do whatever you want.’ At the same time, radio changed. They just started to play stuff like the Culture Club and Pet Shop Boys, and there was no room for rock ‘n’ roll like Journey, Cheap Trick, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon … you know, that stuff they just stopped playing on the radio. So the record company didn’t want anything because of that, radio wasn’t playing anything, they dropped us off. And so we just basically sat around and said, ‘Let’s just stick this out for a while.’ The record company is not interested. Radio’s changed, they’re not playing anything … what are we going to do? So we just decided to raise our kids for a few years.”

‘We’ve been sitting around for too long’
Out of the public eye, Loverboy tended to matters on the home front. On indefinite hiatus, Reno and company were in no hurry to get back to business. Then, tragedy struck, as good friend Brian MacLeod of the Canadian band Chilliwack took ill. A concert was organized in 1991 to raise funds for MacLeod’s medical care.
“A friend of ours was suffering from a really rare form of cancer, and he needed special drugs that weren’t available unless you bought them yourself,” said Reno. “Because in Canada, we have socialized medicine thing where if you get sick, they’ll take care of you, but they only take care of you with medicines that are approved at the time. And the medicines he wanted to try were going to cost like 60 grand. So we all got together to try to raise money for them. And his name was Brian McCloud, he was playing in a band called Chiliwack that did very well, and then he formed another band the Head Pins. And him and I were great friends.”
It was a shared interest in boating brought Reno, Frenette and MacLeod together.
“We both had boats. He lived on a boat. We recorded songs on his boat. We went on trips on his boat and my boat, and our drummer Matty had a boat,” said Reno. “We became the Royal Vancouver Rock ‘N’ Roll Yacht Club, and we went away, did things and had fun, and we were always cutting up. He was just one of those guys who lived in the studio every day, and I ended up writing a lot of songs with him and hanging out. When he got sick, we were all pretty much devastated. We would do anything to help him, ‘cause we were taking a bit of a break at the time.”
Some of the biggest stars in rock at the time gathered together to do what they could for MacLeod.
“I think it was Bryan Adams who said, ‘Let’s raise some money for the guy,’” said Reno. “And in town that month were The Cult, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, Bryan was home … Bryan Adams, all the guys from Chiliwack. We just said, ‘Let’s get our groups together, do one set each. Offer the tickets for whatever … $40,’ and even the bar went to the guy. So we raised all this money for him, but what we’d done is we kicked open his guitar case – it was a sellout – put it up on the monitor, and we played the set list, and the audience response to our show was so enlightening that both our managers and us … as we walked past the audience, we said to our managers, ‘Book us some shows. We’ve been sitting around for too long.’ And that’s how it started. That’s how we got back at it. We’d had our break, and we’d been forced out of it by doing this benefit, and then we were back at it.”
Various greatest-hits packages and live albums – including 2001’s Live, Loud and Loose – have satisfied fans’ desire for new recordings, but where Loverboy – who have carried on with Ken Sinnaeve (Guess Who, Red Rider, Steelheart] after bassist Scott Smith was declared dead in 2000 after being lost at sea – really shines is in a concert setting, where their exuberance and unbridled excitement always carries the day, just as did one particular time in a football stadium where they shared the bill with a host of rock ‘n’ roll heavyweights.
“We were in Denver or something and we were playing JFK Stadium in Philadelphia,” Reno recalls. “We got kind of invited at the last moment, and it was a three-day drive. And you had to drive constantly to get there, and we finally got in this tour bus … we’re driving as fast as can, basically hanging out there and kind of getting directions. And we get into the JFK Stadium, pull the bus up, we’re on in less than an hour … basically, all we had time to do was run a hose over our hair, slick it back, throw on some rock and roll clothes and jump on stage, having the crew set up equipment and stuff. We went up onstage and started playing and got in front of the audience and there were 90,000 people at JFK Stadium rocking to Loverboy. And we did this thing where we split the audience in half, and one half said ‘bullshit’ and the other half said, ‘F- you.’ Paul and I were doing this thing and we were getting into it so much, and we had 45,000 people saying ‘F- you’ and the other 45,000 people saying ‘bullshit.’ And everybody was psyched and getting louder, and we’d just had this whole routine worked out. We’d just gotten off the bus after a three-day drive and had wet our hair down with a hose backstage, threw on some leather pants, and we looked from the side of the stage and there were all these people from the Kinks to the Pretenders and Foreigner, and they’re all watching us because they couldn’t believe how we’d gotten the audience going. They came out of the dressing room going, ‘What the f**k is going on with these guys, right?’ That was very memorable.”
Loverboy hopes to create more unforgettable moments on tour in 2012 with their old friends Pat Benatar and Journey. “You know what it’s going to be like? It’s like going to a high school reunion,” said Reno. “We know all the guys in their bands, and they know us. We’ve got big hits and they’ve got big hits, it’s just going to be a hit fest, really. We’ll play like seven songs that were all in the top Hit Parade, then Pat Benatar’s going to play seven or eight songs that were all on the Hit Parade, and then Journey’s going to come out and play 14 or 15 songs – ‘cause they’re the headliners – and they’re all going to be from the Hit Parade. You know, it’s going to be like a family reunion. It’s going to be a total riot to go to that concert. It’s going to be nothing but hits.”
And for the most part, so is their upcoming LP release. Whether any of their newest creations cause the kind of sensation that “Working for the Weekend” did years ago remains to be seen. About the first single, the stirring title track that kicks things into high-gear on the record, Reno explains, “It wasn’t [written in] anger. It was angst. I had a little angst because I didn’t hear anything I liked on the radio. You know, chances are, they won’t play it, because we’re a classic rock band and nobody plays any new classic rock songs anymore, which is another frustrating problem. But, at least I gave it a shot.”
That’s all anybody can ask of them at this point.