|[in]:||Music Express, Vol. 8, No. 81, p. 44|
|[article]:||The Vice Squad's Heavy Metal Shuffle|
Like searching for the elusive Holy Grail or despairing over a key answer to a difficult crossword puzzle, Regina's Kick Axe have combed the Cambrian Shield looking for the one component that would transform them from a plausible bar band to an international-class recording act. The missing ingredient was a first-rate lead vocalist.
"We had the songs and we had the firepower - but we needed a frontman who could project that energy," explained drummer Brian Gillstrom on the eve of the Vices album release for Pasha Records (the same outfit that had a number one hit with Quiet Riot's Metal Health).
The answer came in the form of George Criston, who at the time, was fronting a band called Tripper in a Milwaukee nightclub.
"We had called everyone we knew and asked them if they knew of a suitable singer," noted Gillstrom. "Michael White (head of C.I.A. booking agency in Toronto) knew of a club owner in Milwaukee and that guy approached George, who was playing in his club at the time.
"Criston submitted a broadcast-quality tape, established a good rapport with the band during a phone interview and soon found himself in Vancouver auditioning for a job.
"You can't believe the difference George's vocals make to the band - it gives us a whole new dimension," enthused Gillstrom. "We've always had the guitar power but now we've got the vocal dynamics to back us up. And George is a great frontman - really colorful and a good mover on stage."
Established in Vancouver after spending more than five years whistle-stopping between Alberta and the Prairies, Kick Axe spent the last three years honing their writing skills while battling to play original songs in a basically top-40 market.
"It's been a frustrating eight years but we've survived by writing original songs," explained Gillstrom. "As soon as you stop writing and revert to covers - you're dead."
Gillstrom, his lead-guitar playing brother Larry, twin lead-guitarist Ray Harvey, bassist Victor Langen and an assortment of frontmen had made some initial vinyl breakthroughs. They were the only Canadian group selected to the Playboy Nightflite compilation album and also placed a track on the Seeds 2 'homegrown album' compiled by Vancouver's CFOX radio station.
However, the big break came when Winnipeg entrepreneur, Garry Stratychuk saw the new-look lineup, offered to manage them and put them in touch with Spencer Proffer, head of Pasha Records.
"I knew Garry from when he ran a record shop in Regina," explained Gillstrom. "He had a good track record with Streetheart and I knew he had the connection with Pasha (which had released Streetheart's Dancing with Danger).
Attracted by the potential of a two-song demo tape (Heavy Metal Shuffle and On the Road to Rock), Proffer was lured up to a Kick Axe gig in Edmonton. And although he wasn't too impressed with the venue ("a real dive," according to Gillstrom), he was sufficiently impressed to offer them a contract.
With crack engineer Duane Baron conjuring up the right live sounds and Proffer overseeing the project and co-writing two songs with Kick Axe, the sessions at Pasha Music House in L.A. ran to everyone's satisfaction.
"Proffer was like our best friend, he's so hyper that he gets the best out of you," raved Gillstrom. "You'd have the basis for an idea and he'd encourage you to develop it and produce the desired results. Duane was great too - I've worked with a lot of engineers before but none have worked as efficiently as him. He could size up the song and supply the right studio ambience almost instantly."
Such was the relationship between Proffer and Kick Axe that he not only produced a strong debut album for the group, but also got them on the Up the Creek movie soundtrack album (a cover of Humble Pie's 30 Days in the Hole), and also had them writing songs for the new Black Sabbath album. "He gave us the keys to both studios, gave us the services of a top engineer and let us spend a weekend writing and recording the tracks - we came up with seven songs and Spencer claims they were perfect - just what Sabbath needed!"
Although there is a temptation to label Kick Axe as Quiet Riot Mark II, Gillstrom notes that Proffer has also worked with acts as diverse as Paul Anka, Billy Thorpe, The Hollies' Alan Clarke and claims his band has a sound totally distinct from Quiet Riot.
"We're an 'up band,' we write about fun things like partying and having a good time, we don't want to depress people about wars and unemployment - and we deliver the songs in our own way," concludes the Kick Axe percussionist. "Any comparison with Quiet Riot is purely accidental - if anything, we're much harder than they are."