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About Teenage Head
Often billed as Canada's answer to the Ramones, Teenage Head were in truth just as much a new wave band as they were a punk rock outfit. They had a similar affection for pre-Beatles rock & roll, especially rockabilly, as well as a sense of trashy fun that made them a terrific party band when they were on. Their songs were unpretentious celebrations of all the classic rock & roll staples: cars, booze, girls, partying, and teenage rebellion. Notorious for inadvertently touching off one of the biggest rock & roll riots in their home country's history, the band never broke big in the U.S., partly owing to an ill-timed car crash at the peak of their momentum, partly to an ill-advised makeover as a tamed-down, rootsy pub rock band. Still, they endured to rank as one of the best-loved Canadian rock bands of the '80s, and remain fondly remembered today.
Teenage Head were formed in 1976 in Hamilton, Ontario, by high-school friends Frank Kerr (vocals) and Gord Lewis (guitar), galvanized by recent local gigs from the New York Dolls and the Ramones. They added classmates Steve Mahon on bass and Nick Stipanitz on drums, with Kerr changing his name to Frankie Venom. Taking their name from a classic Flamin' Groovies track, Teenage Head spent a couple of years practicing in their garage before hitting the club scene in Toronto. Influenced by the requisite CBGB crowd, the group also loved early rock & rollers like Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, and Chuck Berry. Their debut single, "Picture My Face," appeared in summer 1978 on the Epic affiliate Interglobal, and both it and its follow-up, "Top Down," earned minor radio airplay in Canada. Teenage Head's self-titled debut album was released in 1979, and by all accounts suffered from poor production; nonetheless, their extensive touring and energetic stage show helped them earn a significant following.
Signing with Attic Records, Teenage Head issued their sophomore effort, Frantic City, in early 1980. That June, with their popularity burgeoning, they played a show at the Ontario Place Forum, a prominent outdoor venue situated in a Toronto park. Entrance to the concert was included in the admission charge for the larger park, and so many fans showed up that several thousand were admitted into the park only to be denied access to the concert. Restless and inebriated, some of the crowd tried to storm the entrances, sparking a battle with the police officers on hand; multiple injuries and arrests followed, and the next day, the unsuspecting Teenage Head made headlines all across Canada. They lost a few gigs, but overall the publicity was priceless, immediately igniting sales of Frantic City and soon pushing it past the gold mark.
In September, with interest in the band at an all-time high, Attic scheduled showcase gigs in New York City and invited numerous industry figures in hopes of promoting Teenage Head for a U.S. record deal. Unfortunately, the band wouldn't make it: two days before their departure, they were involved in a serious car accident in which Gord Lewis suffered several broken ribs and a back injury. The gigs had to be canceled, although guitarist David Bendeth was later hired as a temporary touring replacement during Lewis' six-month recovery. Lewis returned for the band's third album, Some Kinda Fun, which was released in 1982 and featured the hit title track and the notorious "Teenage Beer Drinkin' Party."
In 1983, Teenage Head attempted to make the leap to an American major label, MCA, with the Tornado EP, which played up their rockabilly roots. Jittery over the band's name, MCA forced them to remove the double entendre by changing to the Teenage Heads, and encouraged a more polished, mature approach that would appeal to radio programmers. The gambit failed miserably, and Teenage Head found themselves back in Canada on Ready Records, which issued the live album Endless Party in 1984. It marked the debut of longtime studio supporting player Dave Rave (born Dave DesRoches) as an official fifth member, on guitar and backing vocals. The group moved over to Rave's own Warpt label for 1985's Trouble in the Jungle, which proved to be Stipanitz's swan song; he left immediately after the recording sessions were completed, resulting in a revolving-door drum slot for the next few years.
Frankie Venom's increasing unreliability soon spelled his departure from the band as well, and Rave took over lead vocal duties starting with the 1987 EP Can't Stop Shakin'. The full-length Electric Guitar, issued on Fringe Product in 1988, effectively closed the curtain on Teenage Head's career; it also featured a guest appearance on guitar by Daniel Lanois. Dave Rave formed his own group, the Dave Rave Conspiracy, which attracted some notice in the States; the same was true of his subsequent folk-rock duo, Agnelli & Rave, which grew out of his sideman gig with New York folk group the Washington Squares. In 1995, three-quarters of the original Teenage Head -- Venom, Lewis, and Mahon -- reunited for a tour and a new album, Head Disorder, which featured new drummer Mark Lockerbie.
In 2003, the group teamed up in the studio with former Ramones drummer Marky Ramone to re-record a handful of favorite Teenage Head numbers. The album finally emerged in 2008 under the title Teenage Head with Marky Ramone; it proved to be a swan song for Frankie Venom, who died in October 2008 after a battle with throat cancer. Teenage Head continued to perform occasionally, with the band's longtime ally Pete MacAulay initially filling in for Venom on vocals until Dave Rave rejoined the lineup in 2016. Author Geoff Pevere published a history of the band, Gods of the Hammer: The Teenage Head Story, in 2014. In 2017, Warner Music Canada, with the cooperation of the members of Teenage Head, compiled and released the career-spanning anthology Fun Comes Fast. ~ Steve Huey
- Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
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