Canadian Classic Rock
Shoot gophers, dream of having a football team, and party til you drop ... that's about all there is to do in Saskatchewan. Such was the life of Regina's Larry Gillstrom. Realizing there was no challenge in shooting gophers because they're not smart enough to hide in the holes they dig ... and coming to the conclusion the 'Riders were never going to be as good as The Eskimos, he decided to form a rock band. Assuming the guitar duties, he recruited singer Victor Langen on bass and his brother Gary on drums, forming the core of Kick Axe in 1976. The trio played the area circuit, mostly doing covers of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin until they decided their careers might be bettered if they moved to BC. Unwilling to make the move, Gary Langen was replaced on drums by Gillstrom's younger brother Brian.
Along with new second guitarist Raymond Arthur Harvey, the group hit the Vancouver area with a hard fervor. Disappointed at BC's lack of a decent football club also, they decided however to make the most of the situation by honing their chops in the local bars, where they'd make their home for the next year or so. In early '79, the group went into Sculptures and Sound Recording Studios and cut a demo. Though several tracks were taped, it was soon decided the group still lacked something, and the tapes were scrapped. The result was the recruitment of singer Charles McNary in '81. To this day those early recording sessions have never been released. Though the band was unsigned, they definitely were attracting a cult following. A music poll by Playboy magazine even had the band's independant single, "Reality Is The Nightmare" included in the magazine's promotional record, PLAYBOY - STREET ROCK.
By 1981 McNary was insecure of the band's future and decided to call it quits. It was nearly two years and over 200 audition tapes later before Kick Axe would settle on a new singer. Wisconsin-born George Criston was added, bringing them back to five. The addition of a new singer however did not change the group's attitude towards music. Though off the circuit for two years, Kick Axe still had a reputation as one of the best unsigned bands on the scene, bristling with energy and vigor.
The group hooked up with Spencer Proffer, most noteable for his work with Quiet Riot's first record available outside Japan, METAL HEALTH. The meeting resulted in Kick Axe being signed to Pasha Records in the States, with Epic handling Canadian distribution. They released VICES in 1984 and backed by the success of the lead off single, "On The Road To Rock" quickly began touring North America, supporting Whitesnake, Quiet Riot and Judas Priest. The second release, "Heavy Metal Shuffle" quickly picked up where the first single left off ... blazing riffs backed by a tight beat, highlighted by Cricton's searing vocals. An underground fave before, Kick Axe was garnering radio play on both sides of the border and was building a true metal following. The band's third single from their debut was a cover of Humble Pie's "Thirty Days In The Hole", and wound up on the soundtrack to the film "Up The Creek".
Following an extended tour, Kick Axe returned to the studios to record WELCOME TO THE CLUB. A definite maturity was already forming in the band's writing, as well as their choice of covers. Their remake of The Beatles' "A Little Help From My Friends" was a Canadian who's who. The inclusion of Rik Emmett, Lee Aaron, Sharon Alton of Toronto and Alfie Zappacosta helped make it one of the year's sleeper hits. "Comin' After You" and "Feels Good Don't Stop" epitomized the Kick Axe sound, party anthems with clever hooks, along with the rip yer face off style of numbers like "Hellraisers" helped push the band's notoriety. Somewhere in the shuffle though the band's maturity was being conceived as 'wimping out'. Though WTTC was by no means a 'pussy-metal' record, the band's softening turned the fans of the harder-edge of VICES off.
The group found itself on the TRANSFORMERS movie soundtrack the following year, under the name of Spectre General. Following the ensuing tour for THE CLUB, personal conflicts caught up with Harvey, causing his departure.
Hearing the cries of the metal-heads, the band forged on as a foursome and cut ROCK THE WORLD in 1987. Though packed with the punch of VICES, it still showed a growth in writing. But alas, by this time the masses had gotten into a string of one-hit wonders on the radio and dance music, and Kick Axe found themselves without an audience. Following a brief tour, the band called it quits.
George Criston and Ray Harvey resurfaced in '95 with a heavy blues record called NATURAL PROGRESSION, under the name Criston/Harvey. Though laden with intricate acoustic blues, the layered harmonies are pure Kick Axe.
The Gillstrom brothers along with Victor Langen currently have a bar band called Lions Gate, while the first two Kick Axe records are said to be being re-released sometime in 2000.
The Gillstrom brothers never did find a decent football team ... nor did they find any extended success on the metal scene. It should be noted however that they were probably the most talented of a whole wave of heavy groups to come from the prairies at that time. Will they ever find a football team? Only if they come to the land of the green and gold ....
Heavy Metal Shuffle
Welcome To The Club
Rock The World