[published]: 1984, November 1
[in]: Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, p. B7
[article]: Kick Axe blessed by Lady Luck
[by]: Peter Grainger

Show business success is usually determined by two factors - plenty of hard work and good, oldfashioned luck.

Kick Axe, a heavy metal band comprised mainly of Saskatchewan players, has combined the two and is currently riding a crest of popularity which extends well beyond the provincial borders.

After years of scuffing to dates in sleazy gin mills across the country, the five-member outfit was struck by Lady Luck and has spent the better part of this year playing to massive crowds to headbangers at football stadiums and arenas throughout the United States and Canada.

How did a relatively little-known bar band achieve that success? A large part had to to with a small club date in Alberta earlier this year.

Although the group had produced a record late last year, and had a song on the Up the Creek soundtrack, it was still relegated to the bar circuit.

But the band's fortune took a change for the better during a show in Calgary.

Drummer Brian Gillstrom explains: "We were playing a small bar at the same time Judas Priest was in town. Rob Halford (Priest lead singer) was playing disc jockey on a radio station and one of our fans called and told him about us."

That phone call prompted Halford to check out the band that night, and he came away impressed.

At the time, Priest was just beginning extensive North American tour and, according to Gillstrom, was not happy with its current opening act.

One thing led to another and the next thing Gillstrom recalls, the band was asked to join the Judas Priest as opening act.

"We went from the bars to playing before 20.000 people," Gillstrom said.

Judas Priest is one of the veterans of the heavy metal scene, having started in the early 1970s and gaining in popularity until its shows rivaled the antics in a Roman coliseum.

And while Kick Axe was opening for Priest, its own record, Vices, was released to unanimous critical praise.

Throughout the summer months, Kick Axe travelled back and forth across the country, playing before screaming mobs of hard-core metal maniacs.

At the end of the Judas Priest tour, the band linked up with the Scorpions and opened for the group on its Canadian dates, then drove to California for dates with Quiet Riot.

Having a record deal with the small independent label, Pasha, has also been a bonus for the band, as well as another stroke of luck.

The band's manager, Gary Stratychuk, sent a demo tape to Pasha and label president Spencer Proffer was so impressed, he flew to Edmonton to catch the band at a club. Proffer immediately offered the band a contract.

"It (Pasha) is just a small organization but it's amazing," Gillstrom said. Record sales have topped the 50.000 mark in Canada and are close to 100.000 in the United States.

After eight years spent in bars and clubs across Canada, Gillstrom can see the floodlights of major halls in both Canada and the U.S. as the band's playground.

Saturday's 7:30 and 10:00 p.m. shows at the Centennial Auditorium will mark the first time it headlines.

"We're especially glad to be headlining in Saskatchewan. That's our home."

Other than the lead singer George Criston who hails from Milwaukee, the band members - Larry Gillstrom on lead guitar, brother Brian on drums, Ray Harvey on lead guitar and Victor Langen - are all Saskatchewan born and bred.