|published:||2015, May 2|
|in:||Ear of Newt|
|article:||Kick Axe Feels That If You Can Make Metal Work in Vancouver, You Can Make It Work Anywhere|
"If people can look at a band, "says Kick Axe guitarist Larry Gillstrom, "and see that everybody's coming from the same direction and are together on it, then I think they can relate to it a lot better. At least that's what we noticed when we saw Judas Priest."
For the members of Vancouver's premiere heavy metal band, Kick Axe, the Judas Priest concert at the Pacific Coliseum last November was–in more ways than one–a heavy experience. The mean, aggressive attitude and leather ‘n' chains image of the masters of British raunch rubbed off strongly on Gillstrom and his cohorts. "We all went to the concert," he says, "and when we came back from it Charlie said, 'But I don't want to be like that.' But all the rest of us wanted to be like that."
Charlie is the group's former singer Charlie McNary, who has since gone on to form another band, Vicious Rumours, with guitarist Scott Reid and bassist Dave Rymer, the players who took Brian MacLeod and Ab Bryant's places on the last Headpins tour.
"Charlie was a good singer," says Gillstrom, "and he helped us to get to a good level in the club scene as far as Top 40 goes. But he was still stuck on the Top 40 thing; he wasn't willing to go on the way we wanted to go. We argued for a while, then we told him that we're going to look for someone else who wants to go in our direction."
"So with the assistance of Sam Feldman, and The Agency in Toronto and a few agencies in the United States, we managed to get a lot of replies from a lot of singers. George sent his tape to us, and it was all basically Scorpions, Judas Priest, and Ozzy Osbourne that he was singing. So we figured he sounded like the right guy."
George Widule, 21, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, became the new lead singer for Kick Axe three months ago. With his flowing mane of golden hair and patented rock posings, he helps heat up the stage when Kick Axe churns into high gear. It's no wonder he doesn't wear any shoes or socks. As soon as Widule joined the group, which also includes Vic Langen on bass, Ray Harvey on guitar, and Larry's brother Brian Gillstrom on drums, they set right out on tour, traveling across the prairies to Winnipeg and then working their way back to Vancouver.
"When we made it back to Vancouver," says guitarist Gillstrom, "we started in Gators, which was a hard thing to do because heavy metal goes over there like a lead balloon. You'll often run into what we call a preppy situation, where the people aren't there to listen to the band–they only want to hear songs they know so they can dance. And you can go on forever pleasing those people, but it's not doing you any good."
"We've got the feeling that if you can make heavy metal work in Vancouver–probably the hardest place to do it–then you make it work anywhere."
Maybe you can make heavy metal work anywhere, because Kick Axe have established quite a following among Vancouver's hard-rock fanatics. And now that they've found a new, more unified direction, there's no telling how far they'll go. According to Gillstrom, groups like Kick Axe have a hand up on other bands because their fans, mostly young, are more devoted and emphatic about what they like.
"There are two sides," he says, "to what young people like these days. There's the techno-pop side, which is getting very sophisticated, and then there's the heavy metal side. Everything in between is more for the older types, but the younger people go one way or the other, and they're very distinct on which way they go."
Because the members of Kick Axe realize that heavy metal is mostly a younger person's music, and that the age limit at clubs ban a large portion of would-be fans from ever seeing the band, they will be performing an all-ages concert at the Roxy Theatre on Sunday, April 24. And considering the band's current enthusiasm, it should prove to be quite a show.
Says Gillstrom, "The best thing about what we're doing now is that everybody in the band is enjoying it, and we're not doing it just as a job anymore. When it was Top 40 it was like work a lot of times, but now every song that I play, I want to play!"
Originally published in Georgia Straight on April 15, 1983