Recalling the release of the Tragically Hip’s Road Apples in the wake of the new Saskadelphia

By Steve Newton

Since the Tragically Hip just put out several unreleased tracks from its 1990 Road Apples sessions, I figured I’d celebrate the occasion in my own little way. So for all the hardcore Hip fans out there who still hold the original Road Apples album dear, here’s an unedited excerpt from my 2018 beer-table book, Gord Downie, that focuses on its creation.

In February of 1991, 15 months after releasing its full-length debut Up to Here, the Tragically Hip unleashed Road Apples. It was helmed by the same producer who twiddled the knobs on Up To Here, Don Smith, but instead of Memphis, Tennessee, the band chose a studio in New Orleans, Louisiana. It featured 12 songs, compared to Up to Here‘s 11, and clocked in at six minutes longer, but like its predecessor it also opened with a fiercely rocking tune, in this case  “Little Bones”, the album’s first single.

The video for the song, which became a staple on MuchMusic, “the Nation’s Music Station”, featured live footage of the band intercut with shots of a couple making love/fighting/crying in bed and Gord Downie submerged in what looked like a pool of milk, his face surfacing now and again as he mouthed lines warning “baby” to eat her chicken slow ’cause it’s “full of all them little bones.” For parts of his guitar solos, Rob Baker was filmed in the back of a pickup truck, driving along snowy streets. If you watch the clip till the very end you can see him quickly sticking his hands in his pockets to warm them up as soon as he’s done playing.

Those Ontario winters can be chilly.

Road Apples boasted its fair share of other barnstorming riff-rock tunes, including “Born in the Water”, “The Luxury”, and the second single, “Three Pistols”, which was about influential Canadian artist Tim Thomson, who drowned in an Ontario lake under mysterious circumstances at the age of 39. But the album also showed a mellower side of the band via tracks like the at-times solemn-sounding, twangy, and reverb-heavy “Long Time Running” and the acoustic, folksy ballad “Fiddler’s Green”.

“The songs were much more of a collective effort,” Baker told me when I interviewed him for the first time, right around the time of Road Apples’ release, “which is something we’ve been working toward since the beginning. We’re probably better players and better songwriters than on the last album, and we knew our way around the studio a little bit better.”

Or what passes for a studio, anyway. Instead of using an actual recording facility, the band laid Road Apples down inside a big old house in New Orleans. But they didn’t mess with their basic songwriting process much.

“Often what happens is Gord just sits with a book in front of him,” said Baker, “a little sketch-pad basically, and he’s writing down things as they come to him—little snippets of conversation, or a road sign, or whatever may inspire a line or two. So he ends up with these pads full of lyrics, and we’ll just start jamming, and Gord’ll flip through his book until he finds something that feels appropriate, rhythmically. And if we can get a good groove happening, then he just starts singing.”

When Baker called from his Kingston home I wasn’t expecting such a cheery tone from him, because when the Hip had played Vancouver two months earlier, at a New Year’s Eve bash at the Trade & Convention Centre, the crowd had pelted it with beer cans and at one point doused Downie with a jugful of orange drink. The fact that the band played a relatively short set and didn’t return for an encore led some observers to think that they were ticked off, to say the least. But Baker begs to differ.

“It was a good crowd,” said the 28-year-old string-bender. “It got a little hairy a couple of times, but that’s okay. We don’t really encourage people to throw things at us, but we don’t take it personally when they do.”

Those over-zealous New Year’s partiers could have been forgiven for their rowdiness anyway, considering how the Hip’s raucous sound typically incites such frenzy. And Baker claimed at the time that he’d seen much worse crowds during the band’s frequent trips around the country.

“The last time across Canada we had a few bad incidents,” he reported, “two in Calgary and one in Edmonton. Someone broke their neck at one of our gigs. Mostly it’s stage jumping, but somebody climbed up into the scaffolding and fell off. And the last time in Ottawa was pretty bad too—we had about 30 people taken out on stretchers. But I don’t know what you can do about people jumpin’ off the stage. They want to show their enthusiasm, and we don’t want to put a damper on ’em.”

About a month after that interview with Baker–on March 1, 1991–the Hip brought its Road Apples tour to the Town Pump, the Gastown club that was one of the best places to see rock bands in the nineties. It’s actually the first venue the band ever played in Vancouver, and a personal fave of Baker.

“I think it’s one of the best rock ’n’ roll clubs in Canada,” he enthused. “It’s not the biggest, or the most beautiful, but it’s a great club to see a band in. That’s why we’re there as opposed to someplace else.”

Considering the upward trajectory of the Tragically Hip at this point in time, it was no surprise that four months later it would be back in Vancouver, this time for a five-night stand–July 16 to 20–at the historic Commodore Ballroom on Granville Street. I reviewed the first show for the Georgia Straight, mentioning how Downie had announced at one point that it was a wonderful pleasure to be at the Commodore—finally:

The Cockeresque frontman kept the crowd entranced with his spazoid bird impressions while the Hip’s rough ’n’ tumble guitar/bass/drum noise built to a crescendo. By the time the band had ripped through “Little Bones”, “New Orleans is Sinking”, and “Blow at High Dough”, the dynamic magic of Kingston, Ontario’s favourite sons was beyond argument.

Sounds about right, looking back. In November of 1992, before the Hip played a show at Vancouver’s PNE Forum, Downie mentioned the gig.

“The Commodore thing was kinda cool,” he recalled, “the five-night thing. The sound onstage I wasn’t thrilled about, but that was my own personal thing.”


To hear the full audio of my 49-minute interview with Gord Downie from 1996–and my first interview with him from 1989 as well–subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 250 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Grant Walmsley of the Screaming Jets, 1991
John Popper of Blues Traveler, 1991
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 2012
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1993
Ellen McIlwaine, 2001
Derek Trucks of Tedeschi Trucks, 2012
J.D. Fortune of INXS, 2006
Fernando von Arb of Krokus, 1984
Gary Holt of Exodus, 1985
Dizzy Reed of Guns N’ Roses, 1992
Scott Ian of Anthrax, 2012
Gary Lee Conner of Screaming Trees, 1992
Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, 1985
David “Honeyboy” Edwards, 2003
Rudolf Schenker of Scorpions, 1992
Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, 2001
Jeff Keith of Tesla, 1988
Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton of Arc Angels, 1992
Marc Bonilla, 1992
Mike Smith of Sandbox (and Trailer Park Boys), 1996
Dewey Bunnell of America, 1983
Robert Randolph of the Family Band, 2003
Keith Strickland of the B-52s, 2008
David Johansen of the New York Dolls, 2005
Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon, 2003
Todd Kerns, 2016
Bill Payne of Little Feat, 2002
Robbin Crosby of Ratt, 1989
Tommy Shannon of SRV & Double Trouble, 1998
Alejandro Escovedo, 1997
Billy Duffy of the Cult, 1989
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1994
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Rob Hirst of Midnight Oil, 2001
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1985
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
Susan Tedeschi, 1998
Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
Ronnie James Dio, 1985
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Greg Allman, 1998
Dickey Betts, 2001

….with hundreds more to come

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