Friday 1 April 2022

Calgary's Greatest Band: Loverboy!?

We were standing outside the Palomino last fall, talking our usual bullshit with the excellent staff at the establishment, and somehow the talk turned to garage rock - and we made the bold statement that the 49th Parallel are Calgary's greatest band, ever. Now, we definitely stand by this claim (although... Primrods) - but someone else piped up: "no way, LOVERBOY are the best Calgary band!"

Those are fighting words, those are - but it's a claim we've heard before. So today, we're going deep into this to answer a question that matters: were Loverboy a Calgary band?

Before we did any real research (well, as real as research gets at the CCPS), we turned to a few friends of the CCPS to get their take on the question at hand.

Some of our friends were a bit cagey with their answers, flipping it back to us. "I don't know, what do you think?" asked Recordland's Eraz Cohen. "Weren't they a Vancouver band?" queried back Lee Shedden of Fire Engine Red. "Partially! Didn’t they form here but hooked up with Reno in Vancouver and then flourished out there?" was all that Tom Bagley had to offer. Answers, people, we want answers!

This question has its share of skeptics, including Al Charlton, who told us, "Admittedly, I'm not an expert on the subject of Loverboy. The information available to me would suggest they formed as a group here, however I'm wondering if this could somehow be disproven, maybe through private investigation, as I think it's grossly unfair that our city should be held historically responsible for the birth of this airwave assassin called 'Loverboy'. That being said, I've often wondered what a D.O.A. version of 'Working For The Weekend' would sound like..." With that image ringing in our head, we turned to CJSW Music Director Helen Young, who said, "Though conceived in Calgary (and we should really hold onto all the cred we can), I think it's safe to say Loverboy is more of a Vancouver band."

But one person came down decidedly on the YES side of the question. Joan Sarro, host of CJSW's The Spin Evolution, said, "I admittedly just did a search to make sure Mike Reno was from Calgary, I vaguely recall this, I see he had formative years here. I'll go with my gut to say that Loverboy is a Calgary band, I think they were formed in Calgary. Where a band begins are its roots, biographically speaking in my opinion."

Our friends are clearly split and/or undecided on this matter. So, what's the real story with Loverboy and Calgary? Loverboy’s own website says that "(f)or more than 40 years, LOVERBOY has been “Working for the Weekend” (and on weekends), delighting audiences around the world since forming in 1978, when vocalist Mike Reno was introduced to guitar hot shot Paul Dean – both veterans of several bands on the Canadian scene – at Calgary’s Refinery Night Club." They don’t call themselves Calgarian per se, but right away we have a hint that there is a pretty strong tie to our city. Wikipedia reinforces the connection to our city by stating that “Loverboy is a Canadian rock band formed in 1979. They were established in Calgary, Alberta, but are currently based in Vancouver, British Columbia.” Despite those origin connections, we’re not seeing anyone explicitly calling the band Calgarian – so let’s dig a bit deeper…

Loverboy’s Origin

One key piece of the Loverboy origin story is a chance meeting of Mike Reno and Paul Dean at the Refinery Nightclub here in Calgary in 1978. The Refinery (which opened in 1974 and closed in 1980) was pretty typical of the time – a combination restaurant and lounge, although apparently a more upscale one focused on satisfying Calgarians’ late 70’s tastes. More notably, it was located a block north of the future location of the Night Gallery – which we like to think is fortuitous but recognize is really just happenstance. Anyways, as we’ve seen from some of the 7” records from that era that we’ve posted over the past year, those clubs were a hotbed for aspiring musicians and tended to have a lot of live music – flipping through the Refinery’s listings from 1978, we see names like Fosterchild, the Downchild Blues Band, Les Emerson, Crowbar, and Canned Heat playing – so they clearly had a big stage and good soundsystem.

Reno and Dean weren’t playing on that stage, though. They were each in town having recently been dumped their previous bands – Reno by Moxy (he was in the band from 1977-78 and sang on their fourth LP, credited under his birth name, Mike Rynoski) and Dean by Streetheart (he was a founding member, but only played on their first LP). It seems that the back of the Refinery had a few rehearsal spaces and that’s where the two met – rather than while watching bands and downing hiballs. In an interview a few years ago, Dean says ““I was working on a solo project… I wasn’t really looking for a singer or anything. But I heard Mike sing, they were just sort of jamming in the next room.”

The two started jamming and writing songs, bringing Dean Lou Blair in as manager and recruiting Calgarian Doug Johnson on keyboards. They stayed in town long enough to write a good chunk of what would become their first LP and then pulled up and moved to Vancouver, where they picked up drummer Matt Frenette (another Calgarian and former Streetheart member) and bassist Scott Smith.

Another fascinating part of the Loverboy origin story is their name, which apparently came to Dean in a dream. In said dream, Covergirl makeup ads somehow morphed into Coverboy and then Loverboy and… voila! We’ve tried to suss out if said dream happened before or after the move to Vancouver, to no avail. Still, with the core band members meeting and initial songwriting happening here in Calgary, it looks like there’s definitely a case to be made for Loverboy being a Calgary-originated band. But is that enough to call them Calgarian?

Paul Dean and Mike Reno pre-Loverboy

Let’s dig into Mike Reno and Paul Dean’s past to find out how strong their ties to Calgary are, and if that helps to tip the scales.

Mike Reno was born in 1955 in New Westminster, BC and grew up in Penticton. He played in his first bands there, including one with the questionable name of Spunk. We see Spunk played the Airliner at some point - or a Spunk did? We're assuming there was only one such-named band in western Canada - maybe Spunk relocated to Calgary? We have no idea. But in 1977 Reno snagged a gig with Moxy and moved to Toronto – until they fired him and he ended up in Calgary. It’s not clear that Reno spent a significant amount of time in Calgary prior to that.

Paul Dean, however, did spend a reasonable amount of time in Calgary. He was born in Vancouver in 1946 but grew up in Calgary, playing in his first bands here. The first band of note he was in was the oddly-named Scrubbaloe Caine (formerly Cannonball - the Calgary Herald review from 1971 above calls him a "journeyman" - already!), which lasted five years and put out one album on RCA Records after they moved to Toronto. As mentioned earlier, at some point in the mid-70’s he ended up in Regina as guitarist with Streetheart – and when they sacked him, he moved back to Calgary.

It's also worth noting that Loverboy drummer Matt Frenette is the one Calgary-born member of the band. But that still doesn’t tip the scales towards Loverboy being Calgarian significantly enough for us.

First Shows

A 1980 Calgary Herald article notes that “Loveboy managed to skip the bar circuit altogether,” largely thanks to the work of manager Lou Blair – and the band’s unfettered ambition. Famously, their first show was in November 1979 at Vancouver’ Pacific Coliseum, opening for a disco-era KISS. 

Their first Calgary appearances don’t come until the next year – their first outing being at the Calgary Stampede, capping off Friday’s Midnight Madness. They’re back on the Stampeded Grounds again just a few weeks later, opening for Cheap Trick at the Corral. And in November they’re again onstage at the Corral, this time opening for Prism. Roman Cooney's review of the Prism show in the next day's Herald isn't at all favourable towards the headliners, but he was pretty keen on the openers, saying "Headliners-in-the-making, Loverboy delivers tough, honest rock - some of the most straightforward stuff that we've heard in years, and that's what makes it appealing." But there's no mention of returning hometown heroes or anything that suggests Cooney was hip to Loverboy's Calgary connections. Cooney also reviewed the Cheap Trick show earlier in the year (unfavourably referring to them as heavy metal) - that review had no mention of openers Loverboy - we're going to guess Cooney either missed their set or wanted to use his wordcount to slag one of the greatest rock bands ever.

As far as we can tell, Loverboy’s first headlining show in Calgary comes at the end of 1981. They’re back on the familiar stage of the Corral on December 10, with Bryan Adams taking care of the opening duties. Cooney reviews this show as well, reporting that "the band returned to Calgary, to an audience that was with it from the start and Loverboy did not let them down." And unlike, say, Cheap Trick, Loverboy "are too brash and cocky to be pure heavy metal."  

Anyways, it’s not like we can say that Loverboy cut their teeth on the Calgary club circuit. For us, this is a big mark in the “no” column for the question we’re pursuing today.

First Album

Let’s just entertain this one for a moment. Is there anything in the making of their first album that helps their case as a Calgarian band? Did they make demos in a midnight session at Sundae Sound? Did they fly in Ohama to help craft the sounds of Doug Johnson’s synths?

Nope. They checked into Vancouver’s Little Mountain Sound with producer Bruce Fairbairn and engineer Bob Rock, two names which at the time weren’t as well known but now… well, we don’t have to tell you.

Anyways, there’s less than nothing about the making of that first record to tie it to Loverboy bring a Calgary band. We're saying less than nothing because of the May 1981 Calgary Herald article about the band's rising success, in which Roman Cooney (again!) refers to them as a Vancouver band.

The Verdict

We started out a bit skeptical with this and we’re no less so now. We maybe haven’t unearthed every factoid, but we feel like we’ve got the basics covered. Two of five members were born or grew up in Calgary and the core of the band was formed here. But their first shows and real start as a band wasn’t here, it was in Vancouver. This is different from the origin of, say, Sara and Tegan – the Quin twins really did grow up here and got their start in our city’s music scene, even if they haven’t based their career here since. 

We’ll support Loverboy’s own assertion that they formed in Calgary (albeit grudgingly), but we’re far from calling them a Calgary band. You can argue with us about this at the Palomino tonight.

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