russian blue

#715: The Lost Chapters – “The First Year”

These paragraphs were chopped from Record Store Tales Part 6:  The Record Store, Year 1.  I dunno why.

 

GETTING MORE TALE #715: The Lost Chapters – “The First Year”

Ever seen High Fidelity with John Cusack?  When Cusack says, “I hired these guys to come in three days a week, and they started coming in every day.  There’s nothing I can do to stop it.”  That was us.  That me and T-Rev.  The boss man hired on Trev in the fall, two months after I started.  We worked opposite nights and opposite weekends.  We were like ships passing in the night.  We never would have gotten to be such tight friends if we didn’t keep coming into the store every freaking day!

See, as used CD store, we got in new inventory every day.  We were getting in cool shit.  I was just beginning to transfer my music collection over from cassette to CD, so I just started to upgrade and buy up old back catalogue.  I snagged You Can’t Stop Rock And Roll by Twisted Sister that year, which was a big deal to me because it was deleted at the time.  I got some Dio CDs that I never had before.  I began collecting Rush in earnest.  We had rarities too.  I got a split King’s X / Faith No More live bootleg called Kings of the Absurb which is pretty damn good.  I really got quite a few CD singles at that time too.  A few previously unknown Faith No More singles dropped into my lap.  It was crucial to come in frequently.  If you didn’t, you might miss something you were looking for.  Or something you didn’t know you were looking for.

After two months of shadowing the owner, I was working solo and loving it.  I got to pick my own music every night, within reason.  There were obscure rules.  Judas Priest was out, but Soundgarden was OK.  Anything that was a new charting release was considered OK for store play.  We were allowed to open anything to play it, as long as we didn’t abuse that.  For the first while we were even allowed to bring music from home.

That ended when I brought in a bunch of recent purchases to listen to one morning.  They included an indi band from Toronto, called Feel, formerly known as Russian Blue.  The sound was vital, and the early 90s buzz was that Toronto was going to be the next Seattle.  I was all over these bands, like Slash Puppet, Russian Blue, Attitude (later Jesus Chris), Gypsy Jayne, and the rest.

[An aside:  I caught a little flak when I took in a used copy of Slash Puppet.  “This is an indi band,” the boss complained.  “It’ll sell,” I defended myself.  “Trust me I know this band.”  I knew half a dozen customers by name that I could recommend it to.  I sold it to the first of those guys to come in, this insurance guy named Tony who loved 80s rock.  He bought it after one listen.]

The day I had my personal Feel This CD in the store player, a customer noticed it.  He thought it was cool, wanted it, and asked how much.  I had to tell him it was my own personal copy, and no I couldn’t order it in because it was an indi band.  He would have to write to the band to get a copy, and I wrote down the information inside the CD for him.

The boss thought this was kind of a silly situation, and rightfully so.  Why play music we weren’t selling and were not able to sell?  This was a store.  So that ended.  No more bringing music from home.  I guess I’m the guy who ruined it for generations of Record Store employees to come.

 

REVIEW: Raw M.E.A.T 3 – Various Artists (1992)

RAW M.E.A.T 3 (1992 M.E.A.T Magazine)

Raw M.E.A.T 1 and 2 were released simultaneously, but I stupidly didn’t buy 2 because it was all thrash, and I hadn’t grown into metal that heavy just yet.   I missed out on an early Varga track and who knows what else.  Raw M.E.A.T. 3, released a couple years later, had a bit of all metal styles.  Even a Christian metal band!  15 new groups (and one repeat) put their money on the line to prove that Canada had world class rock bands.

Unfortunately this CD will simply not play (or rip) correctly in any computer.  Try it yourself and good luck with that.

Russian Blue were the lone band who also appeared on Raw M.E.A.T 1; an excellent band who easily could have been the next superstars.  From their second self-titled demo tape is “Mama’s Love”, a brilliant groove that explodes on the chorus.  Russian Blue were just a little ahead of the times, and “Mama’s Love” eschews any trappings of outdated hair metal.

Another established indi band on the CD was Deadline, second up in the running order.  A new version of “Friction Addiction”, originally from their self-titled CD, was slickly produced and blew away the original.  Singer Tim Wood was certainly versatile, here doing his best Mike Patton circa The Real Thing.

As usual, Raw M.E.A.T CDs boast plenty of highlights.  Raw Trixx, from Calgary Alberta, had the glam rock chops and impeccable harmonies.  They were just a little behind the times, or just sticking to their guns!  Similarly with Slam Glory who clearly had a Skid Row thing going on.  Another goodie is the Cult-like “Blackhearted Man” by No Morals.  Lead singer Beau appeared on Raw M.E.A.T 1 with his previous band Trouble In Mind.  With No Morals, there was a darker edge involved.  He just sounded too much like Ian Astbury to avoid comparisons.  Then there’s Hamilton’s Overlord, with a very cool track called “Never Enough” that could have been a breakout song.  Solid groove, no compromises, and yet could have been played on the air in the grunge era.

There’s only one female member in any of the Raw M.E.A.T bands.  Tryton’s Nina Zzo had a Lee Aaron vibe, and their song “Burning the Cradle” absolutely kills.  World class indeed, with groove and hooks.  What happened to all these talented people?

The most impressive song clocks in at almost seven minutes.  It’s a very 90s, somewhat progressive epic called “Illusion” by Justin Sane.  This mysterious quartet recorded their track at the legendary Metalworks in Mississauga.  This is the kind of rock and roll that really hit the spot for me at the time.  It combined the trappings of the old with the style of the new.  Blazing hot solos are mixed with groove, key changes, melody, and complexity in a potent whole.  If there was only one winner on Raw M.E.A.T 3, it was Justin Sane.

But there are lots of winners actually, and so if you like hard rock and heavy metal, you’d do well to seek it out.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Raw M.E.A.T 1 – Various Artists (1990)

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RAW M.E.A.T 1 (1990 M.E.A.T Magazine)

Drew Masters’ legendary metal magazine M.E.A.T took a lot of pride in promoting Canadian talent.  The next logical step was putting out a CD featuring the best of the best in unsigned Canadian rock and metal.  The flagship band was Toronto’s Slash Puppet.  On this first volume, only groups from the province of Ontario signed up.   Even though the talent all came from a small region in and around Toronto (with one exception), it’s a surprisingly diverse selection of styles.

I look at Raw M.E.A.T as a first tapping of an oil reserve.  It was a gusher.  So much untapped raw talent, unheard in suburbs.

“Slow Down” by Slash Puppet was previously issued on their indi tape, but Raw M.E.A.T 1 was its first issue on CD.  The track has been described as Motorhead meets Faster Pussycat and that still fits the bill.  Lead singer Anthony J. Mifsud was the sandpaper throat to go with the rough and tumble music.  You can hear why there was such a buzz around Slash Puppet.  They had pro-level tunes and performance. All they needed was a break.

Most Raw M.E.A.T buyers knew what they were getting with Slash Puppet. The rest of the tunes were uncharted territory.

Eiffel Power, from Taranna, knocked it out with “City Action”.  Singer Lionel Lois  had ample range and lung capacity for this fun metal shuffle, very current for the time.  Think of Extreme’s first album but with more muscle.  Then there’s the instantly likeable “Feel Me Sweet” by Brampton’s own Ragadee Anne.  Yes, it’s true:  coming up with names for bands isn’t always easy, but “Feel Me Sweet” kicks.  One reason they sound so professional is due to the production by Tom Treumuth (Triumph), surely an advantage in the studio.  Glam rock with bite and youthful innocence sure sounds good.

Blackglama (Toronto) take it to the streets with the rock/rap hybrid of “Playin’ Hardball (With the Big Boys)”.  This was just a year or two ahead of its time, though director Bruce McDonald used it in his 1991 film Highway 61  (but not the soundtrack CD).  The next group, Washington Wives, bring it to immaculately composed AOR rock.  “Memoirs, Etc.” has backing vocals from Phil Naro, from just across the border in Buffalo.  Naro is best known for Talas and his work with Kiss’ Peter Criss.  “Memoirs, Etc.” is vaguely familiar, as if you’ve heard its like on the radio before (Journey? Night Ranger?), but there’s no question this track was hit-ready.  Zero fat content, this is all meat of the most melodic variety.

Short Avenue has another “name” attached, that being “Scarpelli”.  Guitarist Gene Scarpelli is the son of Gino, of Toronto’s Goddo.  Short Avenue sounds nothing like Goddo, rather more like some tough street punks ready to mix it up.  With hindsight, they sound like precursors to The Four Horsemen.  “Push Comes to Shove” is right in the same vein as the Horsemen’s “Rockin’ is Ma Business”.  From the Horsemen to the Cult:  The Cult have always been big in Canada.  First impressions are that Trouble In Mind (Toronto) were very inspired by Ian Astbury.  Regardless, their track “Sweet Addictions” is album quality.  Lead singer Beau (just “Beau”) turned up on a later instalment of the Raw M.E.A.T series, but that’s another story.

We depart Toronto momentarily for a trip to the nation’s capitol.  Ottawa’s Antix had been self-releasing vinyl since 1986, and “Kick It Up” was a new track.  With a Van Halen shuffle, their track hits the right spots, but suffers from inadequate production.   It’s unfortunate that the most experienced band has one of the poorest sounding tracks on the CD.

Russian Blue received their first major exposure via Raw M.E.A.T, and thanks to their incredible song “Once a Madman”, they gained a cult following.  They were a double threat:  a magnificent singer and a terrific guitar player.   Vocalist Jo E. Donner found himself compared to a young Robert Plant.  Richard Gauci backed that up with memorable guitar hooks.  “Once a Madman” gets the job done in just 3:15, leaving behind an unforgettable and unique rocker that begs for repeat listens.  One reason it sounds so good?  Produced by a pre-fame Harry Hess of Harem Scarem.

The next band, Zyle, sound like they were going for a traditional metal sound.  The Scorpions come to mind immediately, as does fellow Canadian rockers White Wolf.  They needed a bit more originality.  The guitar solo directly quotes Randy Rhoads, too close for comfort.  But then it’s The Remains with something a little more street punk.  A variation of the classic Peter Gunn riff, “Too Much” is actually never enough.  It’s the right mixture of middle finger and middle eight.

Hanging out just down the QEW are Hamilton and Oakville, from which come the last two groups.  Cathouse prove that you can never have enough permutations of the classic Van Halen shuffle.  “In For the Kill” nails it, with a vocalist who seems like equal parts Skid Roper and Rob Halford.  Finally, Oakville’s Johannes Linstead is best known today for his flamenco guitar albums.  He didn’t start there!  Wildside (later to become Gypsy Jayne) are about that sleaze rock.  You can hear that the guitarist is something special, though you wouldn’t predict the future from this one track.

It’s difficult to be objective, even though so many years have passed since Raw M.E.A.T 1.   Many (if not most) of these bands had potential.  Toronto in the early 90s was ready to explode as “the next Seattle”, but there was no “next Seattle”.  12 of these 13 songs are really fondly remembered, with one just needing a little more originality.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Feel – This (1994)

FEEL – This (1994 Feel)

Russian Blue followed their critically acclaimed demo tapes with a full length CD, but perhaps it was the long wait that killed their chances.  Between 1991 and 1994, the entire musical landscape had turned itself upside down.  A name change was in order to suit the new climate, and after using the name Deadmoon for a little while, they settled on Feel.  Simple: one word, one syllable, and trendy.  Would they be able to maintain a level of quality over a full-length CD?

Almost.  There is very little dead weight on Feel This.

“I Become You” is brutalizing, menacing, grooving detuned grunge.  The presence of the bass is felt on this heavy recording.  What Feel had that was different from other bands was the Axl-like screech of frontman Jo E. Donner.  Indeed, when Donner multi-tracks his high voice with his lower register, the overall feeling is very Axl.  Donner bellows forcefully, blowing out the speakers but not without help.  Guitarist Richard Gauci and drummer Mike Willerding were capable of playing challenging rock.  The drum patterns are busy and and Gauci is able to both shred like a hero, and also create the kind of noise that you needed to do in the 90’s.  The band were between bassists.  Robo was no longer in the band, so there are a couple session players on the CD.

Several smouldering tracks in a row occupy the first half of the album.  “What You Made of Me”, “Wild Eye” and the lengthy “Brotherhood” all boast heavy guitar and vocal hooks.  Wimps need not apply; Feel go for the throat even with a slower tempo.  The songs sound well thought out, with attention given to every shriek and guitar noise manipulation.  The bass grooves are absolutely key to all of this.  Rumbling and shaking like a good Soundgarden line, they deliver the bass chills that fans of such sounds love.  But was it all too similar to the chilly winds that had blown in from Seattle?  Feel had been growing heavier and groovier on the demo tapes already, so I believe this to be a natural evolution that happened independently from the Seattle scene.  Witness other Canadian bands such as I Mother Earth, who also evolved on their own into something that fit into that 90’s box.

Scan_20151014 (6)

The centerpiece of the album has to be “I Am Your Mind”.  Long with a droning, irresistible chorus and cool lyrics — what’s not to like?  This tune takes only one listen to bore its way deep into your medial temporal lobe. Building dramatically, every guitar hook will sink in hard, only for Donner to hit everything home with his powerful larynx. Everything is perfect — a song of this quality could easily have been on Badmotorfinger or Superunknown. Hyperbole? I don’t think so.

The second half of the CD has fewer highlights. After being slammed in the face with so much heaviness, Feel were wise to put on an acoustic number next. “Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong” is good, and shows off the band’s Zeppelin influences especially in the vocals. It’s just that Feel unplugged doesn’t have the kick that Feel does fully electrified. On the other hand, another listener might say it’s the best track. The first skipper is “Under My Wing”, too slow and boring. Not enough Sabbathy slow, just stuck in the wrong gear. Back to the groove is the killer “Drip Sweet Blood”. Making use of trendy 90’s vocal distortion, Donner blows the speakers especially around the 3:15 mark with another hair-raising bellow — just awesome. “Stand on Walls” sounds something like a Skid Row outtake. It’s nothing outstanding, but it’s only 3:38. Closing the disc is “All”, which was formerly known as “Black” on the second Russian Blue demo. The psychedelic intro from the demo was axed, tightening up the song and amplifying its power. Alternating from soft to loud, “All” kind of does have it all, at least for 1994.

Feel could have got themselves off to a great career with This as a debut album. Unfortunately I think by 1994 it was already too late.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEWS: Russian Blue – Demo #1 and #2 (1990-91)

RUSSIAN BLUE – Russian Blue demo #1 (1990), demo #2 (1991)

Russian Blue were a Toronto hard rock act fronted by the talented Jo E. Donner who, in a perfect world, would have been signed to a major label deal had not the roof caved in when grunge arrived.  They first rose to national awareness as part of the legendary Raw M.E.A.T Vol 1 compilation of Canadian indi rockers.  Upon hearing that first song, “Once a Madman”, I was immediately hooked on this band!  Donner had the pipes (often compared to a young Robert Plant) and the looks (also Plant), and the band clearly had the writing chops to crank out at least one world class rock song.  Its slow build was unusual in hard rock at the time, as was the lack of an actual chorus.  I had to hear more, so I wrote the band and ordered a tape.

RUSSIAN BLUE_0004Demo #1 (1990)

The first self-titled tape came in a professionally printed three colour J-card, with printed stickers on a white cassette.  Pretty pro for the time.  The J-card itself is a three panel fold out, with a black and white photo of the band and lyrics too.  Four songs, same both sides.  Let’s give’r.

The familiar tamborine and guitar licks of “Once a Madman” open the first tape.  M.E.A.T editor Drew Masters always advised bands submitting demo tapes to keep it short (three to five songs), professional looking, and top-loaded with the best songs.  Someone listening to a tape was likely to hit eject after the first half of the first song if they weren’t feeling it.  Russian Blue must have been paying attention because they hit all three marks.  (Masters’ other major beef with bands was not listing the song titles, the name of the band, or any contact info on a demo tape!)  The second strongest song “Likkin’ Dog” (ugh, come on, spelling) is suitably next in line.  Digging into a heavy groove and solid riff, I’m reminded of early Skid Row or Guns N’ Roses.  Donner truly had the voice of a rock star.  The other members (guitarist Richard Gauci, drummer Mike Willerding and bassist “Robo”) are also up to the task.  Gauci in particular boasts an impressive arsenal of tricks and licks for a guy you’ve never heard of before.

“Miss Precocious” enters with the same drum drum hook as “Dirty Weapons” by Killer Dwarfs which came out earlier that year.  Coincidence or inspiration aside, it’s a demo so it’s not a big deal.  “Miss Precocious” is an OK sleaze rocker that David Coverdale would have been comfortable taking a spin with.  This could have been on Slip of the Tongue as one of David’s randy odes to young ladies.  The generic “Had Enough” is the weakest of the four tracks, and is last on the tape for that reason.


A brief history of M.E.A.T Magazine

RUSSIAN BLUE_0005Demo #2 (1991)

Russian Blue added me to their mailing list and sent updates as to their current goings-on.  A second demo tape with four all-new songs was put up for sale and I ordered mine forthwith.  I was disappointed that the second demo didn’t come as professionally packaged as the first, but I suspect that the band spent all their money on that first tape and the spot on Raw M.E.A.T Vol 1.  The second tape came in a hand-made J-card with a photocopied band photo on the front and a sticker with the song titles inside.  Unfortunately the second song is misspelled “Balck” (“Black”) and this carried over to the sticker on the cassette shell as well.  The tape, a TDK D50 (50 minutes was a specialized length) was of good quality and has the same songs on both sides.  The tape also came with a little Russian Blue paper logo.  At least they tried.

The second demo showed the creeping influence of darker alternative tendencies.  “Mama’s Love” was different from anything on the first demo, taking a swampy minimalist approach to the verses.  When Donner rips out some rock shrieks, things kick up on a notch or two on the chorus.  The song is almost equal to “Once a Madman” in terms of quality, but traversing a different more menacing direction.  Keeping the stronger tunes up front, “Balck”…err, I mean “Black” is second in quality.  It opens with a psychedelic lullaby-like opening, before creeping into another swampy groove.  The vibe is nastier, including the first “F-bomb” of the album: “Nothing lasts forever, except the words to this fuckin’ song.”  It’s a good track and though it didn’t really last forever, it did get re-worked into “All”, a song on Russian Blue’s only full length CD, after they changed their name to Feel.  The album was called This (1994).

sam_1568“Child of the Ocean” has a drony, spare riff and a cool exotic sounding guitar solo by Richard Gauci.  It continues Russian Blue’s journey into less mainstream sounds, as this is a dreamy rocker.  The final song, which is the F-bomb  laden “Bleed”, is the most old school.  This one is basically a Guns N’ Roses B-side wannabe, but who gives an F-bomb?  Russian Blue had ability to pull of a ballsy song like “Bleed”, false ending and all, without sounding like douchebags.  Good on them.

In closing

A few years back, I posted a chapter of Record Store Tales (Part 146) about my cassette collection called Cassettes Part II – The Indi Years.  I showed off these old Russian Blue tapes, and less than a month later, a fellow enthusiast found the post and contacted me.  He was really excited about this second demo, because he had never seen it nor even heard of it before.  He didn’t know that Russian Blue had anything out between the first demo tape, and Raw M.E.A.T Vol 3 (1992), to which they contributed “Mama’s Love”.  It’s always a pleasure to be able to bring content like this to the internet, finally shedding light on the dark crevasses of rock and roll that were previously obscure.  The reader told me, “I was really into these guys back in high school. I pretty much bought a cowbell because of ‘Once A Madman'”.  How awesome is that?

Given that you have to allow for certain deficiencies in demos, especially from the cassette era, I am giving Russian Blue a grade based on the reasonable expectations from the period.  That considered, the Russian Blue demos come in at:

4/5 stars each.

#356: Cassingles

Aaron at the KMA and I have coordinated posts today about cassette singles!  If you can’t get enough, click here for his!  Geoff at the 1001 has also thrown his hat into the ring, and you can see his cassettes here!

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale #356: Cassingles

Cassingle (noun): “cassette single”, a musical single release, usually consisting of two songs, on the cassette format.

A couple years ago, my parents found in their basement something I had lost and presumed would never see again: an old shoebox full of my old cassette singles!  This was especially valuable to me, because a couple of those cassettes have exclusive tracks on them that have never been released on any other format.  Helix’s “Good to the Last Drop” is one such single.  Van Halen’s “Right Now” is another.

The shoebox also contained my prized cassette copy of the Sonic Temple Collection by The Cult.  Buy cassette one (“Fire Woman”) and you can send away for the box.  Buy cassette two (“Edie”) and you get three Cult cards.  Buy cassette three (“Sweet Soul Sister”), and you can send away for a Sonic Temple pin.  (Which I still have, just not handy for a picture.)

There are some tapes that I know I’m missing.  They include three by Warrant:  “Cherry Pie”, “I Saw Red”, and the horrid “We Will Rock You”, which I probably sold at garage sales when I temporarily disowned Warrant in the 1990’s!  I could also swear that I owned Extreme’s “More Than Words”, but I don’t know what happened to that one.  I’m not worried about it since the B-side remix track is being reissued on the deluxe edition of the Pornograffitti album.  Maybe I gave it to Crazy Thunder Bay Girl!

Check out what remains of my cassingle collection below.

REVIEW: Slash Puppet – Slash Puppet (EP, 1993)

I found much to my horror that my original Amazon.ca Slash Puppet review had been taken and credited to some defunct site called “bandfocus.net”!  I thought it would be wise to re-claim it for myself.  Here it is in slightly revised form.

SAM_2116

SLASH PUPPET – Slash Puppet (Fringe EP, 1993)

A short while ago, I reviewed the debut release by the legendary Toronto glam metal band, Slash Puppet. For a while there, it looked like Slash Puppet was destined to be the “next big thing”.  They were winning awards, had national video play, and a stunning collection of hard rock material to draw from for their well-reviewed gigs.

Well, you know what happened next. Grunge took over, and the Toronto metal scene never exploded the way it was hoped. If it had, Slash Puppet would have been the band leading the charge. (With Winter Rose, I Mother Earth, Sven Gali, Russian Blue, Slik Toxik, Attitude, and so many others right behind…ahh, but I digress.)

This 1993 EP was their second release (the afformentioned debut is now available on CD as No Strings Attached, on Sun City Records).  It is solid from start to finish. The singer, Mif (better known as Anthony J. Mifsud; you’ve seen him acting in the Norm McDonald comedy Dirty Work!) has a soulful, gritty, and gravelly voice that has elements of Brian Johnson and Lemmy, but really sounds like neither. Really, Mif sounds like Mif, and you have to hear the voice to get it. The band were tight, emphasizing tough riffs, killer choruses, and street-smart lyrics. No wimpy songs here. Even the sole ballad “Eyes Of A Child” isn’t a wimp-out. Not with lyrics like those, and a soulful delivery from Mif.

The lead track from No Strings Attached, “Slow Down”, reappears here, now parsed as “Slowdown”. (I believe this song is a remix with a new bass part, based on the credits. Peet Dove played bass on the original demo version but is not credited here, which leads me to believe the bass was re-recorded by new bassist Dave Carreiro. Otherwise, the song sounds almost identical to the demo version.)

SLASH PUPPET GLOSSY

Every song smokes.  Slash Puppet down-shifted on speed for these songs, but traded that in for a slightly bluesier, soulful vibe.  Their songwriting abilities grew by leaps and bounds between releases, no doubt enhanced by their live experience.  When their debut was recorded, the band had not even played a gig yet!  Slash Puppet is much more melodic than No Strings Attached, but still tough as nails.

If you’re into tough, glammy rock n’ roll with great musicianship and songwriting, Slash Puppet are the band to check out. This EP just shines.  If you’re into collecting obscure albums from the era, or Canadian bands, this CD is an absolute must, although I saw one guy on ‘net claiming to have sold his copy for almost $200!  I’m not sure I’d be willing to pay that much.  Check thrift shops and used CD stores.  I used to sell this in my store for $5.99.

This EP was mixed by Rich Chycki, probably best known for his 5.1 work with Rush!

Here’s hoping Mif and the surviving members reunite for a few more songs or shows. I’ll be there.

5/5 stars

Part 146: Cassettes Part II – The Indi Years


Above:  A brief history of M.E.A.T Magazine…

RECORD STORE TALES Part 146:  Cassettes Part II – The Indi Years

Back in the days of the record store and M.E.A.T Magazine, I was into every indi band I could get my hands on.  M.E.A.T released a series of discs, four volumes total, called Raw M.E.A.T, showcasing the best in up and coming unsigned Canadian bands.  In addition, their magazine featured numerous ads from dozens of bands hawking their demo tapes.  Harem Scarem, who later went on to get signed by WEA and had great success in Japan, was one.  Unfortunately I never got their demo tape.  Just missed it.

One band that I was heavily into was called Russian Blue, from Toronto.  They were edgy hard rock.  1/4 Guns N’ Roses, 1/4 Zeppelin, 1/4 Coverdale, and 1/4 their own style.  Digging their two demo tapes up (both dated 1991) I was surprised how good this band was.  Not only were they good musicians with a truly great singer in Jo E. Donner, but some of the songs were exceptional.  They later changed their name to Deadmoon and finally Feel, before finally releasing their own alterna-rock CD called This.  (Feel This, get it?)  I was seriously into this CD during my first year at the store, as it combined the hard rock vocals that I loved from the past with a current grungier sound.  I gave it significant store play, since it was a current hip sound.

Two of their songs that made it onto the Raw M.E.A.T discs were standouts:  “Once A Madman” and “Mama’s Love”.  But ripping these tapes to disc, I re-discovered two more.  The unfortunately titled “Likkin’ Dog” was a great hard rock groover.  By the second tape, they were incorporating more experimental alternative sounds (ahead of their game back in 1991) and a track like “Bleed” showcases an angry riffy side.

Donner later formed a band called Ledgend with ex-Slik Toxik drummer Neal Busby, but I don’t know what happened to them after that.

Attitude were a glam rock band from Toronto who scored some video play with their song “Break The Walls Down”.  Their cassette looked pro all the way, printed on heavy card stock and even featuring a separate lyric sheet.  Their weakness was in the lead vocals department.  By 1994 they had abandoned the hard rock stylings and gone for a thrash alternative hybrid and changed their named to Jesus Christ.  Probably not a smart move.  The CD (released on the major label A&M) looked terribly low budget with awful indi cover art.  I recall trying to sell this in our store for 99 cents.  (I unfortunately paid $20 for it brand new when it was first released in 1994!  Little did I know that we would later see dozens of copies thanks liquidators.  They were impossible to sell, even though it boasted a throat-wrenching cover of “Ace of Spades”.)

Lastly, Gypsy Jayne were a very talented group from Oakville Ontario.  They released a song under the generic name Wildside on a Raw M.E.A.T  CD first.  Then they changed their name and put out a cassette.  This cassette got a lot of car play back in the record store days, and when we had a tape deck in the store I even gave it some store play.  Gypsy Jayne were very much in the mold of Illusions-era Guns N’ Roses. Not terribly original, but their ace in the hole was their classically trained guitarist Johannes Linstead. His talent speaks for itself today, as a nominee for a Juno award and winner of several other prestigious awards.  He has several flamenco albums out today, but to me I’ll always remember him as the shredder in Gypsy Jayne, playing alongside the Axl Rose clone Andy Law.  (The Gypsy Jayne cassette, Alive and Wandering, has an early flamenco piece called “Romanza”!)

The songwriting on this cassette is really excellent for what it is.  Every song is different, but memorable, catchy, and with a distinct direction.  If they had come out a year or two earlier, they could have been as big as L.A. Guns, Cinderella, or any of those bands.

Unfortunately, this cassette was well loved and well worn, and is barely listenable today.  Hey Johannes…any chance of a reissue?

Part 12: The Pepsi Power Hour

RECORD STORE TALES Part 12:  The Pepsi Power Hour

I’m going to take you back in time a bit.  Back to a time before the record store….

I remember back to the 80’s and early 90’s when MuchMusic was king. Back when there was no Jersey Shore and they played actual music videos.  There was no internet at that time, so you had to go to the store to buy your music (more often than not, on cassette). To hear new bands, you watched videos on Much and listened to the radio. There was no YouTube.

There was this frickin’ awesome show on Much back in the day — you remember it. It was originally only on once a week (Thursdays at 4 if I recall) and was hosted by one John “J.D.” Roberts. Yeah, the CNN guy. After he left, the hosting slot rotated between Michael Williams, Steve Anthony, Erica Ehm and Laurie Brown and then finally the late Dan Gallagher. Despite his long hair, Dan didn’t know a lot about metal — he didn’t know how to pronounce “Anthrax” and had never heard of Ratt. But that show was by far the best way to hear new metal back in the day.

That show was THE POWER HOUR.

It was so popular that they eventually had two a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4, which was awesome for me since by 1989 I was working every Thursday at Zehrs.  I could still catch one a week, usually.

I remember tuning in, VCR at the ready to check out all the new videos and catch onto the newest bands. There was this band called Leatherwolf that I found via Hit Parader magazine and first heard on the Power Hour. I loved that band. There was another band called Sword from Montreal. Psycho Circus. Faith No More. Skid Row. Armored Saint. Testament. You could always count on the Power Hour to have Helix on. That show rocked.

They had some of the best interviews as well.  Usually they’d have someone come in and co-host for an hour.  They had everybody from Gene Simmons to Brian Vollmer to Lemmy.  In depth stuff too, at times.

Then in 1990 something else cool happened. I discovered a magazine called M.E.A.T (the periods were for no reason at all, just to look cool like W.A.S.P. but eventually they decided it stood for “Metal Events Around Toronto”). M.E.A.T was awesome because it was monthly, free, and had in depth articles clearly written by knowledgable fans. There was no magazine with that kind of deep coverage. Even Slash loved M.E.A.T, at a time when Guns hated rock magazines! I loved M.E.A.T so much I eventually sent them $10 to subscribe to a free magazine.  I did this on a yearly basis.

I discovered a whole bunch of great bands via that magazine. I Mother Earth, Slash Puppet, Russian Blue, Jesus Christ, not to mention they were way ahead of the curve on alternative. They had a Nirvana concert review back in 1989. They got behind Soundgarden way before they were cool. And you could count on them hanging onto the oldies. They’d put an indi band from Toronto on the cover one month, and put Black Sabbath on the cover the next month.  Next issue they’d have an in-depth interview with Kim Mitchell.  They’d talk about bands that nobody else did.

Their CD reviews were my bible! My music hunting was probably 90% based on their reviews, especially since by then the Power Hour had changed into the 5 day weekly Power 30 hosted by Teresa Roncon, and sucked.  The started playing too much thrash and grunge and never gave the old bands a shot anymore.

Things have changed so much now. I never get into new bands anymore, back then I used to just eat them up. I guess new bands just don’t interest me anymore. I like my old time rock and roll. I did buy the new Sheepdogs, twice.  The last new band I got totally and 100% excited about was The Darkness, and that was, what…2003?

Yet I can’t get into these new metal bands. The music sounds so sterile to my aging ears. The rock has lost its balls. The album I have been most excited about in 2012 was the new Van Halen — a band that is approaching 40 years old. But my God does it rock.  Kiss and Black Sabbath both have new records coming out, and I’m excited about them, but I could two shits about the new Nickelback.

In a lot of ways, it’s a better time for music now.  With eBay and Amazon I’ve managed to fill nearly every gap in my music collection.  There are some bands that I now have complete sets of, and others that I am achingly close.  I’m missing 4 Maiden EP’s and 1 Deep Purple import, for example.  Back in the 80’s you didn’t have access to this.  You didn’t even have access to an accurate and complete discography.  It wasn’t until the internet that this kind of information was even available.

Aside from that, today kind of sucks for music.  Sure, it’s easier to find new bands now, but we did OK in the 80’s.  M.E.A.T turned me on to lots of bands, and they were always giving away sampler cassettes.  Much played all the new videos by all the  metal bands at least once, basically.  You had to work a little harder, but we only appreciated the music more.  It wasn’t disposable.

And there were a lot more new bands around that just plain rocked!