ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, NOV. 4, 1993
“The music you listen to becomes the soundtrack of your life.”
Ah, the ’70s—what a great decade for rock. I don’t care what anybody says, because, disco aside, the ’70s ruled, man. Back then I could easily name 50 bands that I was crazy about; nowadays it’s tough to get up into the double digits. And the happy memories surrounding those bands are still vivid, forever embedded in my teenage consciousness.
Like racing over to a fellow Chilliwack Senior Secondary School student’s place at lunch to crank Foghat’s Energized and the J. Geils Band’s Full House up to ear-splitting level on his beautifully tinny, shitbox stereo. Or cruising the main drag in another pal’s jacked-up, mag-wheeled Valiant while Sammy Hagar howled about rocking the nation on an 8-track Craig Power Play system. Or wondering what to do with the pink paper panties that came with the miniature foldout school desk that was Alice Cooper’s School’s Out. Or frantically navigating the buses-only Granville Mall in search of the Commodore, where a new group called Kiss would soon be spewing fake blood and fire.
Yeah, those were the days, all right. Back then all my hard-earned cash went to the folks at Chilliwack’s Kelly’s Stereo Mart—unless it was time to make a big-city excursion to A&B Sound, that glorious haven for $3.99 LPs.
My friends had nice cars; I had nice records.
Rock bands meant damn near everything to me back then, and when I proudly slid a new addition into my alphabetized album collection, I honestly believed that I’d be listening to it for the rest of my life. What I didn’t plan on was still being able to see those bands in concert some 20-odd years later, but no less than four of those faves will play the Commodore this Friday and Saturday (November 5 and 6) at a ’70s rock feast billed as Total Recall.
In celebration of being able to see Nazareth, Blue Oyster Cult, Uriah Heep, and Wishbone Ash all on the same night, I thought I’d rack the brains of some local rock experts and glean their thoughts and memories on those bands in particular, and ’70s rock in general. The panelists for this wee forum include musician-producer Bob Rock, the guitarist for Rockhead and the man behind the controls for hit records by Mötley Crüe, the Cult, and Metallica; musician-journalist Tom Harrison, singer for local band Little Games, long-time rock critic for the Province, and the Georgia Straight’s music writer from 1975 to ’79; musician-promoter Brock “Stick” Armstrong, former singer-songwriter-guitarist for local prog-rockers Mad Duck and talent booker for the Lunatic Fringe; and musician-broadcaster “Stormin’ ” Norman Casler, harmonica player and host of CFOX Radio’s Electric Lunch and Sunday Blues programs.
“I grew up on Nazareth,” starts off Rock, who took time out from his production duties on the upcoming Mötley Crüe release to get his two bits’–worth in. “As a matter of fact, one of the best concerts that I ever did see was Nazareth in Winnipeg. They were just so loud, and so heavy—it was on the Razamanazz tour. It was amazing.”
According to Armstrong, most of the Total Recall bands were big with ’70s youngsters in his own hometown of Red Deer, Alberta. He remembers that the artwork from a Uriah Heep album was re-created on the cafeteria wall at his old high school.
“It was big-time, man,” says Stick of the lunchroom mural. “And I remember goin’ to these teen dances at Sylvan Lake, when the bands used to cover Uriah Heep tunes. And every party you went to, everyone had Uriah Heep—and Nazareth, too. Nazareth was even more of a party-rock band. I saw them first in Edmonton, and Rush backed ’em up! They were huge back then. Huge.”
Casler also has a soft spot in his rock ’n’ roll heart for Scotland’s premier practitioners of the raunchy riff.
“Nazareth was there with us through it all,” spouts the man they call Stormin’. “Razamanazz was one of my first albums. It was that and Steve Miller’s Fly Like an Eagle and God knows what else. The greatest thing about Razamanazz was ‘Woke Up This Morning’—that was what turned me on to blues, the slide guitar. Wow! I was out in like Fruitvale, B.C., and I didn’t know what the blues was, but I sure knew I liked the sound of that!”
Harrison has mixed feelings about the lineup for this weekend’s ’70s tribute, although three out of four ain’t bad.
“In the case of Nazareth and Blue Oyster Cult, those were among the very first bands I ever interviewed, and they were great. I mean, Blue Oyster Cult was my introduction to the term heavy metal, because I always used to read [Creem magazine rock critic] Lester Bangs’ reviews, and he applied the term to them. And I just love their first couple of albums. They remind me a lot of an American take on the Yardbirds. There’s a lot of Jeff Beck in Buck Dharma’s playing.
“And I actually liked the first four Wishbone Ash albums,” he adds. “I always thought the playing was really melodic, and Argus is the album I bought, like a lot of people, because I just loved the cover. It had such a mystique about it, some sort of mystic warrior, and being a college student I was right into all that shit. And I guess it was like the right mixture of progressive and rock ’n’ roll music.
“But Heep…I never liked them. I mean, I had one album, Salisbury, which I bought for about $1.25 at Rohan’s. But I hated the other albums, hated them. Uriah Heep took all that progressivism and made it really excessive and histrionic.”
The excess of ’70s music is often pointed to as one of the period’s most debilitating features. But what was it about the music that won over so many rock-lovers and now makes them shell out bucks for box sets by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aerosmith, and T-Rex? Bob Rock has a few ideas.
“With me, I think it was the melodic guitars. And a lot of the singing and stuff was really blues-based, which has always been real dear to me, that’s for sure. And just simplicity, because technology wasn’t carried away yet, so it was pretty raw, which is still something special in music.”
Armstrong agrees with Rock’s take on the melodic qualities of ’70s rock, but he also picked up on something that might have eluded critics of the period.
“I think there was a real positive feel,” he says. “I just remember all the musicians bein’ happy, smilin’ guys. I don’t remember any real aggression. Once the late-’70s punk scene came around, it totally changed everything.”
“I think it was just the beat,” says Casler in regards to what struck his fancy in the ’70s, while Harrison takes a more analytical approach to the topic.
“I think it was the ideas,” he says. “I mean, a lot of people just right the ’70s off as some sort of hopelessly artistically or morally bankrupt period—and there was a lot of music that was really awful—but when you look at the diversity of the music, there was a lot of experimenting with the forms and trying to stretch the boundaries. It was only when people got into these misguided concepts of art that it got all fucked up. The hero worship applied to what I think are essentially worthless bands like Boston: that’s the stuff that really bothers me.
“There were lots of things going on at the same time,” Harrison concludes, “and I think that’s one of the things that makes the ’70s so hard to track. Some people just want to write the whole decade off, but I think a decade that produced bands like Devo, Television, the Talking Heads, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, and Iggy Pop can’t be all bad.”