Bill Paul’s First Tuesday of Every Month: Teenage Head
“The Band That Mattered Most (To Me)”
By Bill Paul
I was however, on the inside and from where I stood, it was simply a full on, balls out, packed Ontario Place Forum concert. June 1980 and I was at my third Teenage Head concert celebrating my 16th birthday with Mich, Murph and some other friends. We were about half way up the seats at the old Forum, soaked from booze and sweat, crushed by the clearly over-limit crowd and having the time of our life listening to the band from the Hammer, the band who knew how to deliver. Honestly, we had no idea of the riot which took place outside the gates – generated by fans that were pissed (and pissed) because they had been denied entry due to capacity issues. Sure, it did get a little sideways near the end of the show and during the encore – the boys actually exited the stage mid-song to avoid an over-enthusiastic stage rush – but isn’t that really in keeping with a band who has the ability to whip their crowds into a musical frenzy?
I had just watched my new favourite band. How could this little stripped down four piecer become my favourite? Most importantly I suspect because I was searching for something different. Most of my friends were listening to Boston, Zeppelin and the new(er) kids on the block, AC/DC. While that was fine, I wanted something thrashier…something that helped me feel out of control – something that freed me from the shackles of high school pressures and conformities. That’s not only how it was that Teenage Head became my favourite band but how it couldn’t have been anyone else.
By the time of the Forum show, they had released two albums, the self-titled “Teenage Head” and the newly minted “Frantic City”. The first, the release of 9 two-and-a-half minute sonic onslaughts (not including Kissin’ the Carpet weighing in at a larger than life 4:47) of combined creative forces, a few years of straight up hard work and real shitty production values. As Frankie later said in an interview, “Are we pleased with the album?…You’d have to be deaf to be pleased with the album.” The second, a slicker, tighter sound that managed not to forsake the band’s identity which also gave them their first two hits: “Let’s Shake” and “Somethin’ On My Mind”. By 1982, they had released their third studio album “Some Kinda Fun” which exposed more of their not-so-punk roots and tended favourably towards rockabilly.
For those first two decades, they went on to live the life of legend…breakups, American record deals, reformations, new members, near-fatal car crashes, sex, drugs and the lot. Their ‘mid’ period included the release of “Tornado” (at the direction of their American distribution channels, calling themselves Teenage Heads to avoid causing a furor) and “Head Disorder” (in 1996 featuring Mark Lockerbie on drums).
Teenage Head member’s several paths all reconnected and, with Jack Pedler joining the band on drums, the early 2000’s were kind to the band with them playing small to mid-sized venues jammed packed with their adoring and loyal fans. Often referred to as the Canadian Ramones, Gordie took this parallel to heart and, in 2003, convinced Marky Ramone to record some songs with the band. The result was the 2008 release of “Teenage Head with Marky Ramone”.
While this whole clip is worth watching, feel free to skip ahead to the 4:00 mark…
My last memory of the band was from August 2008. They were playing a bar in Burlington and I took my wife, kids and their partners and Murph was again there too. Frank still spit lyrics with a vengeance, Gord still made one guitar sound like three, Steve’s cool provided a great tension to the band’s high energy and Jack reminded us all that it was all for fun. After the show, I took my 13 year old son, a budding musician up to Frank and introduced them to one another. Frank gave him a big friendly hand shake, pulled him in real close, and with a glint in his eye asked, ‘how you doin’ tonight you fuckin’punk?’ I laughed and stepped away and watched the two of them talk music for a few minutes. Frank’s energy was no less than it was almost thirty years earlier and he was able to impress the joy of a career in music upon my son.
Two months later, Frank was dead of throat cancer.
Teenage Head’s surviving members played just this last Saturday at a terrific local bar in Hamilton, This Ain’t Hollywood, with a special guest vocalist. I was at the bar the night before and shared my mixed emotions about attending the show with the bar’s owner, Lou Molinaro. Lou smiled, clearly understanding my dilemma, and nodded to the big framed picture of a very young Frankie on the wall.
Saturday night I stayed in and listened to music.