Charles McNary

REVIEW: Kick Axe – “Weekend Ride” (1981 single) – Kick Axe series Part Two

Part Two of a series on classic KICK AXE!

KICK AXE – “Weekend Ride” / “One More Time” (1981 Swyne Song single)

When we last met Kick Axe, it was on the surprisingly great live track “Reality is the Nightmare“, from a very obscure compilation by Playboy magazine.  It seems the guys at Playboy thought they should get into the music business too.  They put out an album featuring recordings by unsigned bands, and among them was Kick Axe.  At roughly the same time the live track was recorded, Kick Axe were also working independently on a single.

This early Kick Axe lineup still featured Charles McNary on lead vocals, a capable singer.  The rest of the classic band was set:  Victor Langen (bass), brothers Larry (guitar) and Brian (drums) Gillstrom, and guitarist Raymond Harvey.  Recording in Vancouver, they managed to get the late Brian “Too Loud” MacLeod to co-produce, he of Headpins and Chilliwack fame.

“Weekend Ride” was the A-side, a slick track that already had the trademark Kick Axe rhythm.  It’s largely based on Victor Langen’s thrumming bass.  Solid chorus, interesting guitar hooks, and a screamin’ lead vocal — the essential stuff — are all present.  There’s even some wild, prototypical metal soloing.  The band were also fortunate enough to have capable backing vocalists, not fully exploited until their major label debut.  On “Weekend Ride”, you can hear the start of that.

The interesting thing is the B-side, “One More Time”, a song written by Ray Harvey.  This sounds like a different singer from the A-side, and it’s probably Harvey.  It also features extensive keyboard solos, something they never did again.  It sounds like a different band.  Suffice to say, Kick Axe pursued the sound of the A-side when they made an album.  “One More Time” sounds like a poor man’s Styx!

A few more years of hard work and a critical lineup change would prove to be the key for Kick Axe.  Spencer Proffer of Pasha records was about to change their fortunes in a big way.

If not for this small handful of early Kick Axe recordings, we’d have no record of what they sounded like before Spencer stepped in and added his own ingredients to the stew.  As it turns out, they were already good.  They didn’t need a big namer to write good songs.  They even had a good singer, before the lineup change that would bring George Criston’s golden pipes to the fore.  They were on their way…for a “Weekend Ride”.

3.5/5 stars

 

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REVIEW: Kick Axe – “Reality is the Nightmate” (1981) – Kick Axe series Part One

Part One of a series on classic KICK AXE!

KICK AXE – “Reality is the Nightmare” (1981, from Playboy Street Rock on Nightlife Records)

They were originally called Hobbit.  Formed in Regina Saskatchewan, the core was Larry Gillstrom and the Langen brothers, Victor and Gary.  They were playing mostly covers, but by mid-1976 they changed their name to Kick Axe.  What is a “Kick Axe”?  The name represented rock band instruments – kick drums and axes.  Members came and went, including Gary Langen, until they settled on a five member lineup:  Larry Gillstrom (guitar), his brother Brian (drums), Victor Langen (bass), Raymond Harvey (guitar) and Charles McNary (vocals).

It was this lineup that recorded the first Kick Axe releases.  (Though not the very first Kick Axe recordings — an earlier album was scrapped and has never been heard.)  The first two records that were available were a single called “Weekend Ride” (to be reviewed next time) and a live song called “Reality is the Nightmare”.  This was recorded in Vancouver and released in April 1981 on a most peculiar LP.

Street Rock was a compilation by Playboy Magazine of new, unsigned bands.  Kick Axe were one of two Canadian bands to make the cut, the other being a group called The Remedials.  According to the back cover, which prominently features the “rabbit head” logo, these are the bands that won a Playboy “music poll talent search”.  It appears Kick Axe were the only group here who went on to bigger things.  I’ve never heard of Snake Rock.  Have you?  The singer’s name was Snake Rock (no relation to Kid or The), and he had a snake tattoo and a snakeskin vest.

Kick Axe clearly had talent even back in 1981.  “Reality is the Nightmare” boasts a solid riff and accompanying groove.  Charles McNary was a decent singer, too.  Kick Axe got lucky later on when they landed the golden pipes of George Criston, but McNary could hold his own.  He could scream and carry a melody.  The guitar soloing and drumming on this track is quite exceptional.  The track was written by McNary and Larry Gillstrom, and whadayaknow? — they could write a good song!  It’s a well constructed heavy rock song, not breaking any new ground, but doesn’t have to.  Listening to the individual instruments, it’s clear that Kick Axe could always play and always write melodically.  Victor Langen is a melodic bassist and combined with Brian Gillstrom’s almost tribal drums, you get a song that is more than the sum of its parts.  That’s pretty impressive for such early material.

With a quality track like this right from the start, Kick Axe were off to the races.

4/5 stars