Max Webster

Canadian Classic Rock
Biography

Max Webster

Max Webster

 

Formed in Sarnia, Ontario in 1973 by Kim Mitchell and keyboardist Terry Watkinson, the original version also consisted of Mike Pilka on bass and Paul Kersey on drums. Max Webster quickly gained a reputation for their bizarre on-stage atire and magnetic live presence doing everything from high schools to cheap clubs around the province.

In '76 the group moved to Toronto where they met up with a multi-lingual poet/lyricist and registered psychologist named Pye Dubois. Fuelled by Dubois' lyrics which sometimes crossed the line of being abstract, critics often remarked his writing was simply words jumbled together that sometimes happened to rhyme. But together he would form a collaberation with the group that would span their five studio albums. They were soon noticed by Anthem Records and signed to a deal, releasing their self-titled debut later that year. From the opening riffs of "Hangover" to the clever bridges and hooks in "Here Among The Cats" to the soothing melodies of "Blowing The Blues Away", it was quickly established that Max Webster was a unique Canadian treasure, versatile and tight, possibly not equalled in under-rated sheer musical brilliance since.

The group was signed to Mercury Records internationally in 1977 and released HIGH CLASS IN BORROWED SHOES with new drummer Gary McCracken later that year. The album would also feature the group's first time working with producer Terry Brown, most noted for his work with Rush. The record featured the ballad "Diamonds Diamonds" and "Gravity", as well "America's Veins" and the title track. Touring in support of the record helped spread word of Mitchell's bizarre on-stage antics and appearance and helped build the group's popularity.

MUTINY UP MY SLEEVE hit the stores a year later and contained "The Party", "Waterline" and "Lip Service". More non-stop touring however did not gain the band the attention enjoyed by some of Canada's other musical exports, though their popularity soared on their native soil.

1979 saw Max Webster's pinnacle in A MILLION VACATIONS. With new bassist David Myles and backed by the classics "Paradise Skies", "Night Flights" and title-track, the record also spawned their first radio single in "Let Go The Line", written by and featuring Watkinson on vocals. The band released LIVE MAGNETIC AIR early the next year and showcased their on-stage presence and the live version of "Paradise Skies" quickly climbed the charts. By this time however, the constant touring and problems with management were beginning to cause cracks in the group's foundations.

Watkinson and Myles left the group before the recording of UNIVERAL JUVENILES later that year, which featured new keyboardist Greg Chad and Mike Gingrich on bass. With new producer Jack Richardson at the helm, the disc is considered by many to be one of the group's finest, though it failed to live up to expectations, something which Mitchell also blamed in retrospect on poor management. Fuelled by the air play given to "Check" and "Blue River Liquor Shine", it also contained "Chalkers" and the duet with Rush, "Battle Scar". Working with Rush also led Dubois to co-writing one of their biggest hits in "Tom Sawyer" on the MOVING PICTURES album. Though Mitchell remains good friends with Rush to this day, it was partially Anthem's treatment of the band as Rush's "little brother-not to be taken too seriously" that led to Max's demise. Ironically it was while touring with Rush in 1981 that Mitchell told his bandmates before a show one night it would be his last time on stage as part of Max Webster. Though he was quoted as simply needing a vacation more than anything in retrospect, Mitchell would enjoy more commercial success as a solo artist than Max Webster ever did.

Anthem released DIAMONDS DIAMONDS in 1982, a collection of some of the group's hits as well as two new tracks, "Hot Spots" and "Overnight Sensation", but strangely enough featured nothing from UNIVERSAL JUVENILES. Though radio had all but forgotten the group, their fans remained loyal and the label big-wigs again tried to capitalize on the group's status by releasing another compilation in 1989. More cheesy marketing ploys included putting "Kids In Action", taken from Mitchell's debut ep on the record and calling the record BEST OF MAX WEBSTER FEATURING KIM MITCHELL.

Now without a solo deal, Mitchell got together with McCracken and Watkinson in late '95 and their meetings resulted in a full-fledged Max Webster reunion with Peter Fredette on bass, who'd worked on Mitchell's solo material. The group has even written some new songs, including Watkinson's "Engine Room", which is performed regularly live. Though some may think the reunion's a way of cashing in on a trend, the band simply says they wanted to get back to what mattered most - the music.

A new record deal was in the works however and was supposed to have been on the shelves nearly two years ago when I first wrote this. Will we ever see it? Probably on the short list for new material is "Suicide Wings", written by Watkinson and featured on his '95 solo album TERATOLOGY. Disputes over royalty payments over the years however have made any involvement by Dubois unlikely, though Mitchell doesn't completely rule out the possibility, simply saying "Pye's a strange cat". But for now, somewhere in the backwoods in a smoke-filled bar there are four middle-aged teenagers having the time of their lives in what Pye Dubois once called a "tour de force heel and toe dance". And it's most likely rubbing off on those enjoying the show as well.

Pye Dubois
(Pye Dubios)

Written by Dan Brisebois of
CanConRox


Discography

Max Webster
Max Webster (1976)

Hangover
Here Among The Cats
Blowing The Blues Away
Summer Turning Blue
Toronto Tontos
Coming Off The Moon
Only Your Nose Knows
Summer's Up
Lily

High Class
High Class In Borrowed Shoes (1977)

High Class In Borrowed Shoes
Diamonds Diamonds
Gravity
America's Veins
Oh War
On The Road
Rain Child
In Context Of The Moon

Mutiny Up My Sleeve
Mutiny Up My Sleeve (1978)

Lip Service
Astonish Me
Let Your Man Fly
Water Me Down
Distressed
The Party
Waterline
Hawaii
Beyond The Moon

A Million Vacations
A Million Vacations (1979)

Paradise Skies
Charmonium
Night Flights
Sun Voices
Moon Voices
Million Vacations
Look Out
Let Go The Line
Rascal Houdi
Research At Beach Resorts

Live Magnetic Air
Live Magnetic Air (1979)

America's Veins
Paradise Skies
In Context Of The Moon
Night Flights
Lip Service
Sarniatown Reggae
Here Among The Cats
Gravity
Waterline
Chramonium
Hangover

Universal Juveniles
Universal Juveniles (1980)

In The World of Giants
Check
April In Toledo
Juveniles Don't Stop
Battle Scar
Chalkers
Drive and Desire
Blue River Liquor Shine
What Do You Do With The Urge
Cry Out For Your Life

Diamonds Diamonds
Diamonds Diamonds (1981)

Gravity
High Class In Borrowed Shoes
Diamonds Diamonds
Summer's Up
Blowing The Blues Away
A Million Vacations
Let Go The Line
The Party
Hot Spots
Paradise Skies
Overnight Sensation
Lip Service
Hangover

The Best Of Max Webster
The Best Of Max Webster (1989)

Check
High Class In Borrowed Shoes
A Million Vacations
Diamonds Diamonds
Let Go The Line
Night Flights
The Party
Hangover (live)
Kids In Action
Gravity
Paradise Skies
Words To Words
Oh War
Here Among The Cats
Waterline (live)
Battle Scar


See Also
Kim Mitchell


Other Biographies

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