January 26, 2024

From the Vaults – Loverboy

     Here is a rock ‘n’ roll chemistry problem for you.  Mix two members of the popular Canadian band Streetheart with a singer from another well known Canuck band, Moxey, stir in an up and coming producer named Bruce Fairbairn and what do you get?  One of the most successful AOR (Album Oriented Rock) bands of all time, Loveboy.  When they came to the attention of record buyers south of the US/Canadian border, everyone proclaimed them ‘an overnight success’ but anyone who has ever tried their hand at forming a band will tell you, it is never that easy.

     Take guitarist Paul Dean, for instance.  When he was a member of Streetheart, they released a well received album (Meanwhile Back in Paris (1978)). Dean thought they had it made:  “We killed.  It was really a great band.  I used to think it was the Led Zeppelin of Canada.”  The band was enormously popular in their native country, but Streetheart never really caught on in the rest of the world (aka:  the US of A).  Dean was fired and found himself playing bass in a covers band in Calgary.  Dean said there were two sides of this coin:  “It was a tough time for me, but one thing for sure, [getting fired] kicked my butt into gear.” As he was fired from Streetheart, we won’t count him as one of the two members of that band previously mentioned in the chemistry formula above.

     One remaining member of Streetheart who would join Loverboy was keyboard player Doug Johnson.  He and Dean had begun writing songs together – there was definitely something there but the equation was still missing key ingredients.  Drummer Matt Frenette was the other Streetheart member to migrate to the new band but they still did not have a lead singer.  That slot remained open until one Michael Rynoski came on the scene.   Rynoski, aka Mike Reno,  had spent three years with Moxey but became disillusioned when he realized they didn’t share his ambition to make a bigger splash in the music world.  As he told Classic Rock magazine, “I wanted to achieve more and they kept trying to hold me down, but after a while I said, ‘I can’t do this.’  So I moved on [to Calgary].”  It turns out leaving Moxey and British Columbia behind was the right move for him.

     Reno was singing with an unsigned band in Calgary at night while working construction during the day (“Carrying cement around,” is how Dean puts it.).  Dean continues, “I had heard him sing in a band called Spunk, but at the time Mike was actually looking for a gig as a drummer.  I thought he was an incredible singer, so I said, maybe we should write some songs. We hooked up the next day and wrote Always On My Mind.”  Before the Dean/Johnson/Reno project could take flight, there were some other small details to be worked out.

     First, they needed a bass player.  The original one was a stockbroker by day and he didn’t pan out.  Dean then paid the train fare for another candidate from Toronto, but he wasn’t the answer, either.  The third time’s the charm – they picked up Scott Smith who had been playing with an artist CRM describes as, “The quirky Canadian chanteuse, Lisa Dal Bello.”  The second piece of business was finding a way to get out of a contract Dean had signed with WEA/Atlantic Records when he was with Streetheart.  In order to get away from WEA/Atlantic, Dean and Johnson cut some purposely bad demos which got them dropped like a hot potato.  The next box to check on their agenda was getting signed by a manager.  They cut another set of demos on a boom box which got the attention of Bachman Turner Overdrive’s manager, Bruce Allen.  Once he punched their ticket to board his management train, they relocated to Vancouver to be closer to Allen’s  base of operations.  

     The demo of Turn Me Loose was the track that did the trick and it would also become their debut single.  Dean told CRM, “Turn Me Loose was the track I’m sure got us the record deal.  Mike nailed the big note in the line ‘I’ve got to do it my way’ in one take.  We couldn’t believe it, he sounded amazing.”  Allen was turned down by numerous labels including CBS who had come to Canada to see the band but passed.  Allen was also Bruce Fairbairn’s manager so he was more than happy to connect him with Loverboy as soon as they had a record deal in their pocket.

     Dean had been disappointed before, so his enthusiasm for their debut album (Loverboy (1980)) was muted:  “I thought, this is another great combination, as it had all the elements.  My mission was to keep going, keep moving forward and this was a successful example of that philosophy.”  There would be no disappointment this time around.  Reno recalls, “The public just jumped all over it, and don’t forget that this was at a time when people would actually go out and buy a record.  I was totally amazed at how great it was, just one of those moments in time I guess.  [Unlike Moxey] this was really working for me.  I was elated.”

     Dean happened to be looking for a rental house in North Vancouver when he ran into fellow Canadian singer/songwriter Bryan Adams.  Dean said, “Bryan showed up at the rental place and said to me:  ‘Congratulations, you know you’ve got a hit, right?’  So he explained to me that Turn Me Loose was racing up the charts in all the radio trade magazines.”  Now they had to go out and prove they had what it takes on tour.

     Loverboy’s first show as a full band was a tough one – opening for KISS in Vancouver.  They would also find themselves opening for Kansas but the 40 dates they did with ZZ Top really stands out in Dean’s mind:  “The ZZ Top tour was tough, as their audience were hardcore biker blues fans.  It was very educational, a baptism by fire almost.  The band were great guys and very generous to us, but the fans were a tough nut to crack.  I remember one gig in Cape Code when all hell broke loose.  I put on my [baseball] batter’s helmet while the audience threw cigarette lighters, bottles, ice cubes and coins – it all came raining down on us.  We managed four songs before being booed off stage.  That was a wake up call, I can tell you.”

     Obviously they learned their chops on the road and would become one of the top touring acts.  Ahead of them still loomed the prospect of the dreaded ‘sophomore album’.  Many bands spend a lot of time on their debut records and find writing and recording the second album while touring extensively a problem.  Loverboy had no such trouble with their second LP, Get Lucky (1981).  Keeping the same formula and producer in place, they were able to craft a set of songs people were able to identify with.  Working for the Weekend became a major mid-80s blue-collar anthem and sold more than four million copies in the U.S. alone.  Their working man image was enhanced when Reno was photographed sporting a sweatband that would become his trademark.

     Reno thinks the songs on Get Lucky held their own and the momentum they had built with their first album certainly helped propel the band forward.  Dean now says, “We rehearsed the songs for Get Lucky in dressing rooms.  In fact, I remember writing Watch Out with Doug while driving across Texas between gigs, singing that track into a ghetto-blaster.  Get Lucky sold three million copies immediately in the U.S.  That was a really great feeling.”

     If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.  Album number three (Keep It Up (1983)) again used Fairbairn behind the board.  Fueled by the singles Hot Girls in Love and Queen Of The Broken Hearts, it marked their third Top 10 album.   When Fairbairn wasn’t available to work on their next record, they turned to British producer Tom Allom who had great success working with Judas Priest.  Lovin’ Every Minute of It (1985) turned out even better with the band pumping out an even harder edged rocking sound.  As the mid-1980s waned, so did the band’s fortunes.  

     The first album to stiff (and to do so spectacularly) was 1987’s Wildside.  It wasn’t a bad album and Bruce Fairbairn was back in the saddle, but the band was a little mystified as to what had changed.  Dean says, “We were the darlings of MTV but the first single, Notorious, just didn’t get the air time.  We cut a very expensive video for Love Will Rise and they refused to play it – they spun it once.  I guess they’d just had it with what they perceived as hair bands, and Loverboy were no longer considered part of their roster – I can understand it – if trends hadn’t changed, Bing Crosby would still be in heavy rotation.”  Reno echoed Dean’s thoughts:  “I think there is a moment, a point when things become redundant because you’re too famous or you’re too wealthy or too popular or people start to get jealous,  They begin to dislike you or they change their feelings toward you and you change your feelings towards them,  It happens,  It’s the same reason why style changes.  We were pretty tired by then.”  The ‘tired’ resulted in a brief ‘retirement’ between 1988 and 1991 but except for that brief hiatus, they have continued to do live shows with new records coming at greater intervals of time.

     Styles were indeed changing.  Grunge was the new thing and Loverboy’s career seemed to be headed for the ‘where are they now’ files.  At the time, Dean didn’t get grunge, particularly Nirvana.  Now he can see it in a different light:  “It’s only in the past few years that I’ve come to appreciate where they were coming from, song-wise.  Now, when I listen to their music and compare it to their contemporaries, [Nirvana] set the standard.  They wrote great songs, Kurt Cobain had a great voice, and it was all wrapped up in amazing production.”  

     The catalyst for getting back together in 1991 was a benefit held in October of that year for former Chilliwack member Brian MacLeod.  ‘Too Loud’ MacLeod was fighting cancer and Bryan Adams, Colin James and others banded together to help raise money for his treatment.  They managed to raise $50,000 but MacLeod would pass away in early 1992.  The only plus from this sad event was Loverboy finding out they missed playing together.  They said the MacLeod benefit was the most fun they had had in years.  The sent on another spree of live shows across Canada, but all in all, the 1990s weren’t Loverboy’s decade as their record sales declined.  The exclamation mark for them came on November 30, 2000 when original bass player Scott Smith disappeared.  An avid sailor, he was sailing off the Golden Gate Bridge when a 26-foot wave swept him overboard.  His body was never found after a four hour search of those shark infested waters.

     In 2001, the band compiled and buffed up early live concert (circa 1982-1986) recordings that were released as Love, Loud and Loose.After Smith’s death, the band dedicated their next tour to him.  They dedicated their next round of touring to Smith with Ken ‘Spider’ Sinnaeve joining the band on bass.  The year 2005 found Loverboy celebrating 25 years together and another tour to celebrate that milestone.  Get Lucky would get its own 25 year celebration with a remastering and re-release in 2006 .  They followed this release with their first new studio album in a decade (Just Getting Started) in 2007.  Loverboy’s most recent albums came out in 2012 (Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival) and 2014 (Unfinished Business).  Touring was still the band’s bread and butter with them headlining the Rockingham Festival in Nottingham, Trent University, UK in October of 2017.

     Along the way, they were able to get some music into some notable films.  Reno’s collaboration with Ann Wilson of Heart (Almost Paradise) was a highlight of the soundtrack for the cult movie favorite Footloose in 1984.  The whole band would also crack the soundtrack for Top Gun in 1986 with Heaven in Your Eyes.  Reno’s songs were again featured in Iron Eagle II in 1986 (Chasing the Angels) and again in 1989’s Dream a Little Dream (Whenever There’s a Night). 

     Touring with REO Speedwagon and Styx consumed a good part of 2022.  Reno told an interviewer in 2023, “When we do live shows these days, I notice the songs have come to a better place.  We’re playing them a little differently, but the catalyst is still the same.  We live these songs – they’re part of our DNA, and they’re part of a lot of people’s DNA.  We do shows where we expect to see 3,000 people and seven or eight thousand show up…and most of them are young.  It’s freaking me out!”

     Touring plans for 2024 show them on the road with Sammy Hagar on the Best of All Worlds tour.  Hagar will be appearing with Joe Satriani, Michael Anthony, and Jason Bonham – essentially the lineup that came together as Chickenfoot but with Bonham replacing Chad Smith on drums.  Substitute guitarist Vic Johnson for Satriani and you would have another Hagar touring band called The Circle.  Johnson is also a member of Hagar’s Waboritas who performed regularly at Hagar’s Cabo Wabo clubs – it seems Sammy likes to tour with as many groupings as he can muster.  Loverboy will be opening on this tour.  It looks like the closest they will get to Upper Michigan is an April 27, 2024 show at the Ho-Chunk Gaming casino in Baraboo, Wisconsin.  Other dates on the tour will literally find Loverboy all over the map but that is okay.  Dedicated fans don’t let a little traveling get in the way of seeing a good concert, and Loverboy have proven over and over again that they know how to put on a good show.    


Top Piece Video:  Loverboy in their MTV prime . . .