Part One of a series on classic KICK AXE!
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.