Thursday, 21 September 2017

J. Geils Band: The soundtrack of life

The J. Geils Band back in the 1980s
The voice may not have been his, but the band carried his name, and with it his own fun-loving musical style. The J. Geils Band had a string of toe-tapping ditties in the early 1980s, sung by Peter Wolf, but accompanied by J. Geils.

The "J" stood for John and, sadly, he passed away earlier this year.

Immediately, the memories of those catchy tunes came back, and a connection I made with one song in particular.

My own soundtrack
It was the second semester of Grade 11, making it the spring of 1986, when I started working on my very own teen angst story. Initially, it was a screenplay that I turned into a stage play. It was a contemporary story chronicling a teenage boy’s experience, and bad luck, with girls. I really wanted to incorporate a lot of music, a la the John Hughes teen angst movies of the time.

One night, I had the radio on and was listening with my head phones when this song I had never heard was wrapping up. The deejay came on and said, “That was ‘Love Stinks’”. I immediately thought that would be a great song for the sound track, because it captured the sentiment of the main character of my story. Soon after, I discovered the song was by the J. Geils Band.

Probably, a month after that, I heard a preview on LA-107 FM for a super session featuring the J. Geils Band at 7 p.m. that night. I made sure to be at the ghetto blaster a few minutes before 7 p.m., with a blank tape loaded, ready to hit record.

Fittingly, the first song was “Love Stinks” and I was able to capture the whole thing. A few months later, once I had finished the play, I set to creating the sound track. The song leading everything off on Side A was “Love Stinks”.

Thus was my introduction to the J. Geils Band.

That super session also introduced me to the other mainstays in the J. Geils Band collection: "Freeze Frame" and "Centrefold".

The opening bars of “Freeze Frame” along with the band yelling “Freeze Frame” make it a memorable song. The second I heard that, I thought, “Oh, I have heard this before.” Of course I had, because it had been a hit on the radio.

The same went for “Centrefold” which was another memorable song with a distinctive sound. As I would learn in one of Casey Kasem’s countdown radio shows, “Centrefold” was one of the few top 40 songs that had whistling in it. That in itself is something I will never forget.

The front of the J. Geils Band album "Freeze Frame"
Chart success
“Love Stinks” reached number 38 in 1980 on the Billboard Hot 100, while “Freeze Frame” went to number four in 1981; and “Centrefold” went all the way to the top in early 1982.

The album
Periodically, me and my parents would go visit my brother in Calgary on a Saturday, and stay over until Sunday. One of the things we started to do was go to this massive flea market held in an old super market building. My brother loved to look for old records, something I did too.

One particular Saturday, I hit pay dirt. There was a treasure trove of records that were in remarkably good shape, selling for a dollar apiece.

The back of the J. Geils Band album "Freeze Frame"
One of the first ones I saw, was “Freeze Frame” by the J. Geils Band.

I was instantly struck by the art work. On one side is this really wild surreal painting, and on the other side the band members were splattered with paint, as if they had just survived a paint fight. They seemed to be having fun, which was the same feeling I got from all their music.

Flying solo
At the start of Grade 12, I heard this song on the radio that caught my attention. It was “Come as You Are” by Peter Wolf. It would go all the way to number 15 on the Hot 100.

It was another top 40 show, on AM 106 maybe, that I learned Peter Wolf had been the lead singer of the J. Geils band. I knew that voice sounded familiar.

He had already had some solo success, with a single called, “Lights Out” that came out in 1984 and went all the way to number 12.

Wolf had left the group in 1983. They would record one more album in 1985 then break up.

Parting thoughts
There are songs that are not just the soundtrack of the times, but also the soundtrack of life at that time. “Love Stinks” was a part of the soundtrack of my life when I was in the last half of high school.

“You love her, and she loves him, and he loves somebody, you just can’t win,” they sang.

That was the story of my life especially in Grade 11.

“And so it goes, ‘til the day you die, this thing they call love, is gonna make you cry.”

That was the way I was feeling, especially about one girl in particular who I liked, but she liked somebody else.

It was a song that resonated. It was like J. Geils was talking through the radio right to me.

Then I discovered their other songs.

Sometimes in life, you come across songs that you can’t help but sing along too.

“Centrefold” is just one of those songs.

In this case, I can’t help but whistle along to it as well.

“Freeze Frame”, was catchy in its own way.

Even Peter Wolf’s solo stuff had a catchy style.

Added all together, J.Geils was not just a part of the ‘80s, but holds a special place in my heart.

“Love stinks, ya, ya…”

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Tony Rosato: Going Hog Wild then feeling the Night Heat

Canadian actor Tony Rosato
If you don’t recognize the face, you will likely recognize the voice. Long before Tony Rosato was the voice in the “Super Mario Brothers” cartoon and the video game “Resident Evil 3”, he was a comedian and actor in the 1980s, becoming one of only three actors to appear in both "SCTV" and "Saturday Night Live", and a staple as a snitch on Night Heat.

It was with great sadness I learned Tony Rosato passed away earlier this year.

Going Hog Wild
The first time I ever saw Tony Rosato was in a movie called “Hog Wild” in the summer of like 1982 or 1983. Summer time was a desert for television, filled with reruns, sports, and old movies. CTV played a lot of obscure movies to satisfy their Canadian content requirements.

None fit the bill better than “Hog Wild”.

It told the tale of a young man, played by a very young and up and coming Michael Biehn who tangled with a motorcycle gang, with comedic results. The leader of that gang was a young and rubber-faced Tony Rosato. I am not sure his character could even talk, but Rosato had the gift of physical comedy, making you laugh without saying a word. Laughing may be a strong word, because “Hog Wild” was one of those blunt but lovable Canadian comedies of the 1980s in the same mould as “Porky’s” and “Meatballs”.

Still, Rosato was memorable to me for his ability to eat glass and belch.

Things would get much better, and less gross from there.

Comedic timing
Tony Rosato would move on to sketch comedy, joining the cast of “SCTV” in 1980. The next season he would move on to “Saturday Night Live” where he was part of the cast for the 1981-1982 season.

I did watch “SCTV” on Friday nights on CBC, but don’t really remember Rosato. Although, I did recognize him in reruns a few years later.

Unfortunately, back in the 1980s, no channel on peasant vision carried “Saturday Night Live”, so I never saw an episode until high school when I could sleep over at my friend’s who had cable.

Rosato became one of only three actors to be in both "SCTV" and "Saturday Night Live". The other two are Martin Short and Robin Duke.

One other show he was in, that I recall quite well, was his turn as Aldo in “Amanda’s”. The show was an American remake of the British classic, “Fawlty Towers” starring Bea Arthur in the John Cleese role. Rosato’s Aldo was the reincarnation of the Manuel character from “Fawlty Towers”. He was a bellhop of foreign extraction, as described by Wikipedia.

The show quickly went quietly into the dustbin of history, cancelled after 13 episodes, with only 10 hitting the air.

The cast of "Night Heat" including Tony Rosato at far right
Feeling the “Night Heat”
In the mid 1980s, CBS had grown tired of trying to combat Johnny Carson with talk shows. The best example, and biggest bust, was “Thicke of the Night”. Consequently, they partnered with CTV to make television dramas that CBS would air in late night, and CTV would air on their prime time schedule.

The longest running one was “Night Heat”, set in a city that looked an awful lot like Toronto but was never called that, to satisfy its American audience. It followed two police detectives, Frank Giambone and Kevin O’Brien, who worked at night.

One of the informants they relied on for information was a weaselly little Italian named Whitey, who was played by Tony Rosato. He was rough around the edges, and a little shady, but he usually did the right thing.

The rest
Two other series, filmed in Canada and aired in the United States like “Night Heat”, were “Hot Shots” and “Diamonds”. Tony Rosato had parts in both of them as well, although not recurring roles.

In fact, he would find work in a lot of productions shot in Canada, such as “Perry Mason: The Case of the Shooting Star” and TV movie “Popeye Doyle”, as well as Canadian television shows such as “Seeing Things” and “Hangin’ In”.

He would continue to find guest work right through the 1990s and beyond, in everything from Canadian shows such as “Street Legal” and “Due South” to U.S. network shows such as “L.A. Law”, and eventually to cartoons and video games.

Parting thoughts
The two most outstanding memories I have of Tony Rosato, really do illustrate his versatility. In “Hog Wild”, he was more of a caricature than a character, acting like a dufus most of the time. Just a few years later in “Night Heat”, he played a multi-layered character, who was part hood but with some good still in him to do the right thing.

If you look at his whole body of work, he was one of those Canadian actors who found a lot of work in Canada with domestic as well as American productions, and Stateside. You put it all together, and he had a serviceable career.

When I heard he died, it had been a long time since I thought of Tony Rosato, but his death brought back vivid memories, especially of those two roles in “Hog Wild” and “Night Heat”.

More than anything else, "Night Heat" showed that Tony Rosato was a versatile actor, more than just the buffoon from “Hog Wild”.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

George Michael: Make It Big with Faith

George Micheal, at left, with Andrew Ridgley, on the cover
of their breakthrough and iconic album, "Make it Big"
At first, his music was just another ear worm, but then it became much more as the 1980s and beyond went along. By the time he passed away at the end of 2016, George Michael had become legendary with an amazing body of work.

That’s entertainment
“Entertainment Tonight” was a show week days that featured all the latest music, TV, and movies. They always ended an episode with a music video of some song making waves on the Billboard charts.

The show was hosted by Mary Hart and Robb Weller when I tuned in. The show ended with Mary Hart introducing, very deliberately, a song that was making its way up the charts. She said it deliberately, and with wide eyes, because the song was called, “Wake me up before you go go”. Hart said “Go go” slowly, with a combination of questioning whether that was the name of the song or just a typo, and outright disbelief.

That was my introduction to Wham!, the band that made George Michael a star and a household name.

Wham! Makes it Big
“Wake me up before you go go” rocketed all the way to number one on the Billboard Hot 100. It was a song you just couldn’t get out of your head. They followed that up with a ballad, the heart wrenching “Careless Whisper.” Now, however, I noticed they were introducing the act as “Wham! Featuring George Michael”. That too went all the way to number one as did the band’s third single, “Everything She Wants.” It was the first time three singles from the same album went to number one on Billboard. The singles were all from the band’s album entitled, “Make it Big”.

And indeed they had done exactly that.

Cultural impact
Wham! Made its mark at Kate Andrews High School in Coaldale too. I was in Grade 10, so 1984-1985. We had a student teacher in Accounting 10-20 who dressed just like George Michael with that “Choose Life” white t-shirt, in the “Wake me up before you go go” video. That was first semester. I was taking Biology 10 in second semester, and one day spotted a classmate wearing a Wham! concert shirt. My best friend Chris Vining asked her about it, and I said I had seen Wham! on TV and was trying to remember their names.

“You mean George?” she said.

“No,” I responded.

“Andrew?” she continued.

I laughed because she spoke like she knew them personally. I was also puzzled how both my student teacher and classmate could find these shirts on TV. I never saw anything like that at Eaton’s, or Simpson Sears, or Woolworth’s.

Only Wham! can go to China
It was that same second semester of Grade 10 that I heard on LA-107 FM that Wham! was going to China. That was a big deal back then, even bigger than now, because China was a closed country that largely shunned western culture. Yet, there were George and Andrew dancing atop the Great Wall.

They even captured images for the whole world to see by knitting concert footage from the tour into the video the band made to promote their song “Freedom”.

Whether intentional or not, performing “Freedom” in a Communist country was a profound political statement.

Helping others
George Michael also impressed me when he was one of the British performers who sang on the African famine relief project, “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” spearheaded by my hero Bob Geldof.

The depth of feeling he sang with, like so many of the other popular performers on that record, showed he was more than an artist for the teeny bopper set. Moreover, participating in that project proved he had a social conscience and it would not be the last time he sang for a cause bigger than himself.

He would also take up Geldof on his invitation to perform in Live Aid, the subsequent concert for famine relief held at Wembley Stadium in London (and concurrently at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia). Michael performed a duet with Elton John, the heartfelt single, “Don’t Let the Son Go Down on me”.

That would not be the last time Michael tugged at the heartstrings with that song at an emotional time.

Duet, part one
George Michael also appeared with Elton John on his single, “Wrap Her Up”, which was part of a successful comeback by Elton John. That was also part of a trend where renowned artists sang backing vocals for each other. Other examples were Sting backing Dire Straits on “Money for Nothing” and Phil Collins on “Long Way to Go”, and Bryan Adams backing Roger Daltrey on “Let Me Down Easy”.

End of an era
The next time I heard new Wham! was in the fall of 1985, with another catchy tune entitled, “I’m Your Man.” It did not seem to be part of an album though. It was not on “Make it Big”, which had run its course, nor connected to any other album. Research reveals it was just an isolated single.

It was at this time as well, George Michael was itching to move on. He had also experienced a lot of success with another ballad, entitled, “A Different Corner”. It went all the way to number seven on the Billboard Hot 100.

So, George Michael and Andrew Ridgley decided to bring Wham! to an end. They recorded a farewell single, entitled, “The Edge of Heaven”, and a farewell album called, “The Final”, which was released in North America, although altered as “Music from the Edge of Heaven”.

They held a farewell concert at Wembley Stadium on June 28, 1986, bringing the curtain down on one of the most successful bands of the 1980s. They had sold 28 million records and 15 million singles in five years.

But George Michael was just getting started.

Duet, part two
His solo career began with the duet, “I Knew You Were Waiting” with Aretha Franklin. According to Wikipedia, Michael realized his ambition of singing with one of his favourite artists, and the song rocketed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, hitting number one on April 18, 1987. It was a catchy tune, that capitalized on the strength of both of their voices, co-written by Simon Climie who a year later would have success of his own teaming up with Peter Fisher in the band Climie Fisher. “I Knew You Were Waiting” was also part of Franklin’s resurgence in the 1980s, but would be her last top 10 single on Billboard.

All grown up
One of the reasons George Michael wanted to go out on his own was to perform music aimed at an older audience, not just the teenage fans Wham! appealed to.

The first solo single shattered the teeny-bopper mold. “I Want Your Sex” was released in the middle of 1987, to much controversy as you can imagine. It made an appearance in the movie “Beverly Hills Cop II”, and was featured on that soundtrack.

When George Michael released his first solo album entitled “Faith” at the end of 1987, “I Want Your Sex” was the first single. It would peak at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 singles in August. I thought the song was a bit much, not that I was offended, but it just seemed obvious he was trying to be sexual and controversial.

Girls going wild
The title track, “Faith” was released in October of 1987 a few weeks before the album came out. It just drove the girls crazy.

I say this because I witnessed it first hand. I was in my first year of university on the 10th floor of Kelsey Hall, a student residence. My best friend and roommate Chris Vining and I had made friends with some of the floor members of Fifth Kelsey, the last-remaining all-girls’ floor in Kelsey and the entire three-tower, 31-floor Lister Complex. I was down on 5K one Friday night when all of a sudden one of the girls yelled out, “It’s time!” Suddenly, I’ll bet 20 girls gathered from the three wings into the lounge, crowding around the TV set.

I wondered what was going on. I knew the MuchMusic Coca Cola Countdown was on, because we usually watched it too.

One of the girls then shushed everyone as the commercials were ending. You could hear a pin drop in the 5K lounge.

The TV slowly dissolved to the number one song of the week – “Faith” by George Michael.

It was an iconic video, one of the most memorable of the decade.

Once it finished playing, the girls went wild.

You gotta have “Faith”
The album “Faith” would be one of the most popular of the decades, producing singles that played on the radio, and videos on TV, for almost two years.

“Faith” would stay on the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks, and was the number one single of 1988.

“Father Figure” was a slow, haunting song that made use of kind of an echo feel. It was released at the outset of 1988, and went all the way to number one on the Billboard Hot 100, staying there for two weeks.

It was followed by “One More Try”, another ballad that was perhaps my favourite song off that album, released in April of 1988 just as I was getting ready to finish my first year of university and head home for the summer. It became George Michael’s third straight number one single off “Faith”, and stayed in the top spot for three straight weeks.

The hits kept on coming as “Monkey”, released in July of 1988, was the fourth single to reach number one off the “Faith” album, and stay there for two weeks. It was George Michael’s sixth number one solo single, when you include “I Knew You were Waiting” and if you count “Careless Whisper”.

The final single to be released off “Faith” was “Kissing a Fool”, which had a smokey, smouldering jazz feel, coming out in November of 1988. It would break Michael’s string of consecutive number one hits, but still peak at number five on the Billboard Hot 100.

The album would go on to win the 1989 Grammy for album of the year. He would also have a successfully, albeit long and exhausting tour to promote “Faith”

It was safe to say, by the end of the decade, everybody had “Faith”.

The years after
George Michael would keep on singing and recording. His next album was released in 1990, and a year after that he had another big duet reach number. This one was “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on me”, which he recorded with Elton John. The proceeds went to 10 different charities for children, education, and AIDS research.

Another outstanding memory was Michael performing at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert on April 20, 1992. The song that I always remember, of the ones Michael performed with Queen, was “Somebody to Love”. His voice suited the Queen sound very well. Proceeds from this endeavour again went to AIDS research.

The other memory I have of George Michael after the 1980s, was his arrest for a lewd act in a public washroom in 1998. A lot of comedians and comedy writers made a lot of hay on that.

Parting thoughts
The last half of the 1980s was dominated by George Michael and various projects he was involved with. To be honest, to start with, I did not like George Michael. I was envious of the way he appealed to teenage girls and I really did not.

However, once I got beyond the teen angst, and looked at his body of work through the eyes of an adult, I actually liked quite a bit of his music. George Michael tried to capitalize on his sexuality, which is really not something that appeals to me. Even the title, “I Want Your Sex” was overt and over the top for me. It just seemed so obvious.

But he did have an incredible voice, especially when he sang in that jazz, blues style of songs such as, “One More Try”. He really did not need to rely on sex appeal, because his talent spoke for itself.

In the end, his antics in the 1980s paled in comparison to what some artists do today. We don’t see now that stuff he did then anyway. All we are left with is the music.

Beyond his voice, what I will remember about George Michael is his social conscience. Whether it was “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on me”, or “Somebody to Love”, George Michael raised millions for worthwhile causes. That will be his lasting legacy for me.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Battlestar Galactica: The Odyssey of Richard Hatch

Richard Hatch as Apollo on the original "Battlestar Galactica"
Starting out as a show that looked as if it was just trying to capitalize on the “Star Wars” craze, it would turn out to have its own lasting impact into the next year, and even the next century.

“Battlestar Galactica” was something that started out as a theatrical release that became a TV series, a second TV series then, after a long hiatus, was resurrected as one of the best TV dramas of the first decade of the 21st Century.

There was one person who was part of virtually all of that, and earlier this year Richard Hatch passed away, finally ending his long association with “Battlestar Galactica”.

It’s a sequel, no it’s not
The first time I saw a commercial for “Battlestar Galactica” in 1978, I honestly assumed it was the much-anticipated sequel to “Star Wars”. I soon found out that it really was not. Instead, it was the story of a race of humans who barely escaped annihilation at the hands of their robotic enemies the Cylons by taking off into deep space aboard a rag-tag fugitive fleet seeking a lonely planet known as Earth.

The story is set on that last remaining battlestar, called Galactica. It only survived because Adama, its commander, was not sold on the peace initiative with the Cylons. He suspected a double cross, and he was right, narrowly saving his ship from destruction. His son Apollo was a pilot in the fleet of vipers that protected the planets.

Apollo was played by Richard Hatch.

An actual sequel
“Battlestar Galactica” was cancelled after one season, just 24 episodes into its run, but was not finished yet though. Echoing “Star Trek” in this fashion, a letter-writing campaign brought the series back as “Galactica 1980”. Set 30 years later, the Galactica has finally found Earth. The main characters are Colonial Warriors Troy and Dillon. At one point Troy talks about his father, also a Colonial Warrior who has died. He picks up a picture of his father and it is – Apollo. That photo is the only appearance of Richard Hatch in the series. It would last 10 episodes and suffer the same fate as its predecessor.

Watching Battlestar Galactica
Unlike “Star Trek”, which disappeared from the peasant vision airwaves for a long time, I had a long association with “Battlestar Galactica”.

We did go see it in the theatre, and it was really good. I liked it, and once it started, I did not even compare it to Star Wars once. A few months later, “Battlestar Galactica” was on television. It was a Sunday night, and we were visiting my uncle and aunt who just lived up the road on a neighbouring farm. So, we started watching it there. Suddenly, it stopped. It was interrupted for a live news feed of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signing the Camp David Peace Accords with U.S. President Jimmy Carter watching. “How long is this going to take?” I thought. Normally, if they pre-empted something, they would just re-join it in progress. We took the opportunity to go home, which was like a five-minute drive. When we got home, the movie still had not re-started. When it did, they picked up right where they left off I think.

To my surprise, in school I discovered “Battlestar Galactica” was being made into a series too. One of my buddies saw the commercials. He had cable. I discovered it was on peasant vision too, Channel 13, every Sunday night. I looked forward to it every week, at 9 p.m. if memory serves, and I didn’t miss an episode.

Then it was gone – cancelled after one season.

Just as quickly as it was gone, “Battlestar Galactica” was back in its familiar Sunday night time slot. This time as “Galactica 1980”, I anxiously caught the first part of the pilot which, like so much TV in the 1980s, was a cliffhanging two-parter. Sadly, I missed the second part because we went to Calgary to visit family. I had to find out how it ended on the school bus from my neighbour Mike. I didn’t miss a single episode after that.

Again, as quickly as it came, it was gone too – cancelled after 10 episodes.

Yet, that was not the end of watching the show. In the early 1980s, CTV would air episodes Saturday mornings after cartoons, so I caught most of them again. Then, when I was in university, my friend Sean Drake told me he had all 24 episodes on tape. The Science Fiction Channel had aired a “Galactithon”, and a friend of Sean’s had taped it. He could get six episodes on a tape, so every six hours he woke up, changed tapes and went back to sleep. Over the summer of 1994, we watched all the episodes again.

Finally, with the dawn of DVD box sets, I bought “Galactica 1980”. I was visiting my friend Jeremy Stemo in Edmonton in 2012 and his partner Melanie, hearing my love for the 1980s and “Battlestar Galactica”, mailed me a set of DVDs with all the episodes she made shortly after my visit. Finally, I saw the actual box set at HMV in Lethbridge and picked it up on sale. My collection was now complete.

Body of work
Richard Hatch was on the rise in the late 1970s. Although I never saw him play the role, he took over for the departing Michael Douglas in the police drama, “The Streets of San Francisco” opposite Karl Malden for its last season. I only found that out playing a trivia game a couple years later.

I did see him in a pretty touching and inspiring TV movie called “Deadman’s Curve” in 1978, about the music duo Jan and Dean. Hatch played Jan Berry opposite Bruce Davison who played Dean Torrence. Jan suffers a terrible accident and it seems their performing days are over. But Jan mounts a stirring comeback, learning to walk, talk, and sing again. Hatch was excellent in that movie. I distinctly remember Jan’s labouring to sing again.

He made another good TV movie in 1980 called “The Hustler at Muscle Beach”. It was set in the world of bodybuilding and featured Hatch as a promoter who finds a young man with some special needs who wants to compete as a bodybuilder. The movie also introduced me to real-life bodybuilders Franco Columbu and Frank Zane. I still remember that clearly.

Beyond these performances, Hatch would go on to the usual guest starring spots in the 1980s in shows such as “Fantasy Island”, “Murder, She Wrote”, “Love Boat”, “T.J. Hooker”, “Hotel”, “MacGyver”, and a turn on “Dynasty”. He was also in episodes of lesser known, short-lived shows “Masquerade”, “Blacke’s Magic”, and “Cover Up”, which are all mentioned elsewhere in this blog.

Never give up
The Richard Hatch story does not end there however.

He kept on writing, and working, trying to revive “Battlestar Galactica”. He even mortgaged his house to pay for a trailer. Seemingly though, it was just not to be.

Then, in 2003, another project was launched. Neither a sequel nor a continuation, “Battlestar Galactica” was one of the first of a new genre of TV called a re-imagining. It used the original series as source material, but completely changed the arc of the series. In this case, the male characters of Starbuck and Boomer were female in the re-imagined world, and the enemy robotic Cylons now also had models in human form. It was written and produced by Ron Moore, who had made a name for himself on the various re-booted “Star Trek” series.

Richard Hatch as Tom Zarek in the re-imagined "Battlestar Galactica"
At first Richard Hatch was highly critical of the new “Battlestar Galactica”. In a brilliant casting move, he took on the role of Tom Zarek, a terrorist and prisoner who becomes a member of the elected council, and a thorn in the side of the president and colonial fleet.

Richard Hatch had come home.

Parting thoughts
Richard Hatch died on February 7, 2017, oddly the birthday of my old friend Mike who filled me in on the school bus of the details of episodes of “Battlestar Galactica” I had missed.

It just reminded me of a simpler time, where we would talk about the previous night’s episode on the school bus, then chase each other around as Colonial Warriors at recess using pens as weapons and our desks as Vipers.

Richard Hatch’s story also serves as a testament to determination and perseverance. He believed in Battlestar Galactica when seemingly no one else did. He kept that dream alive in the darkest hours when it only had a glimmer of hope. Then, when a new show was made, instead of snubbing or ignoring it, he became an important part of it, although he stuck to his principles and was critical of the new show.

The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica is some of the best TV of the past 15 years, that is for sure. Adding Richard Hatch to the cast was the crowning touch to pay tribute to the show’s past.

And Richard Hatch had seen his dream come true, in part at least, even if it was not what he had envisioned.

The odyssey of Richard Hatch was now complete.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Jason Priestley: Setting the stage

Jason Priestley in a guest role in "Quantum Leap"
2016 Canada Walk of Fame
Jason Priestley: Setting the stage

He was just getting started at the end of the 1980s, but exploded into the public consciousness in the 1990s with his role as Brandon Walsh on "Beverly Hills 90210".

Jason Priestley got his start in bit parts in TV and that would lead to much more.

Taking the leap
He first came on the scene as a teenage thug in an episode of “Quantum Leap” in 1989. The show began in the spring, as a mid-season replacement, featuring a scientist named Sam Beckett who got caught in a science experiment that kept leaping him to different points in time within his own lifespan.

I caught the first couple episodes when I was home on the farm for spring break. That first season was only a handful of episodes, but one had Sam leap into the body of a teenage drag racer who was dealing with the issues of being a teenager, including being harassed by the cool kids.

One of those cool kids was a young Jason Priestley.

Years later, I bought season one of “Quantum Leap” on DVD and one of the special features had Scott Bakula, who played Sam Beckett, talking about various young actors who first appeared on “Quantum Leap” and went on to success on TV. One was Teri Hatcher, and another was Jason Priestley.

Bakula said, even in that small guest role, you could see Jason Priestley was something special.

It was also the only time I ever saw Jason Priestly in the 1980s.

Other roles
According to Wikipedia and Internet Movie Data Base, Priestley had also had guest-starring roles in “Airwolf”, “21 Jump Street”, “Danger Bay”, “McGyver”, and a sitcom called, “Sister Kate.”

Jason Priestley in his iconic role as
Brandon Walsh on Beverly Hills 90210
The years after
Priestley would go on to eight years on "Beverly Hills 90210", then appear on a variety of TV series over the next few years, such as ­“Love Monkey” with fellow Canadian Tom Cavanaugh, and “Call Me Fitz”. He currently is in the middle of his second season on the Canadian-made comedy-drama “Private Eyes”.

Parting thoughts
Jason Priestley is one of those rare Canadian actors who has been able to make a name for himself on both sides of the border. He has become a director, producer, and writer as well as a dramatic and comedic actor. His resumé is packed with credits in all these different parts of film and TV production, and it seems there is no end in sight.

And it all started in the 1980s.

The Canadian Walk of Fame recently inducted a number of outstanding individuals and Robvogt80s will be honouring those people in a series. 

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Corey Hart: Canadian heartthrob

2016 Canada Walk of Fame
Corey Hart: Canadian heartthrob

He was not only handsome and charismatic, but Corey Hart was prolific, producing an album a year through the middle of the 1980s, experiencing unprecedented popularity and success in Canada – and translating that to the elusive American market.

Corey Hart's debut album "First Offence"
First Offence
Corey Hart kind of snuck up on me in high school. He released his debut album, “First Offence” in 1983, but it did not pick up steam in Canada until 1984. Oddly, it gained traction in the United States first, which led to a breakthrough in his native Canada.

It began with “Sunglasses at Night”, showcasing that signature Cory Hart sound, going all the way to number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 in the States, and number 24 in Canada. It became a single synonymous with the decade. However it was obvious that, inexplicably, Hart had made a bigger impact Stateside then at home.

That changed.

His next single was “It Ain’t Enough”. By now Canada had taken notice, as the song went to number four in Canada and number 17 on Billboard. There would be two more singles, “She Got the Radio” and “Lamp at Midnite” that reached the top 40 in Canada, but were not hits.

He would go on to be nominated for a Grammy for best new artist, losing out to Cyndi Lauper.

Corey Hart had arrived and he was just getting started.

Corey Hart's most successful album,
and second effort, "Boy in the Box"
Boy in the Box
I really started getting into music in the fall of 1985. That Christmas, I got my first ever ghetto blaster, and began to listen to music regularly, even taping it off the radio. The main station I listened to was LA-107 FM, based in Lethbridge. It was an album-oriented station, where the announcers played more singles off an album then just the current release.

By the time Corey Hart had released his follow-up album, “Boy in the Box”, I was listening to a lot of music on the radio.

The first single was “Never Surrender”, and it was being played everywhere.

Staying power
“Boy in the Box” stayed on the charts for almost two years, churning out single after single. By the time it had run its course, the album earned Hart a number of Juno nominations including album of the year.

“Never Surrender” went to number one in Canada and number three on the Billboard Hot 100 in the States. It would go on to win a Juno for best selling single in 1985, as well as nominations for composer of the year and best video.

The title track, “Boy in the Box”, followed going to number four in Canada and number 26 on Billboard. It was a passable track, but did not have the impact or connection “Never Surrender” did.

“Everything in my Heart” was next, returning Hart to the number one spot in Canada, but topping out at number 30 on Billboard. That was a surprise to me, because “Everything in My Heart” got the same air play as “Never Surrender” in Canada. It was a powerful ballad that showed Corey Hart could be a crooner. It would also earn Hart a Juno nomination for best selling single.

“Eurasian Eyes” was a single I heard first on LA-107 when they were always playing additional tracks on their album countdown. I had also seen the video on “Good Rockin’ Tonite” which showed Hart bundled up for winter and walking with that patented pouty look, as steam came out of his mouth while he sang.

The most notable part of “Eurasian Eyes” was that it also made an appearance in the sensual, much-talked-about movie, “9 ½ Weeks”.

It would peak at number 29 in Canada and not even chart in the U.S.

“Komrade Kiev” and “Sunny Places – Shady People”, were two other songs I recall hearing on LA-107 that came from “Boy in the Box”, but they were never released or promoted as singles.

“Boy in the Box” had run its course.

Poster boy
The album featured one other thing that made it stand out.

Included in each record was a poster of Corey Hart, a blown-up version of the album cover art.

The last time I saw one of those posters was when I was working at Lakeland College in Vermilion in 1997. One of my co-workers was planning an '80s-themed activity and bought some used records on a trip to Value Village in Edmonton. Sure enough, she was stoked to see that poster still in the copy of “Boy in the Box” she bought used, and more than a decade old.

That’s staying power.

Corey Hart's third album, "Fields of Fire"
Fields of Fire
It was like Corey Hart had not missed a beat. Once “Boy in the Box” had run its course, Hart fans did not have to wait long for another album.

In the fall of 1986, Corey Hart was back on the airwaves with another crooning ballad, “I am by Your Side.” It went all the way to number six in Canada and to number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100.

My best friend Chris Vining also told me the video was shot in and around Drumheller, where Vining had lived a few years earlier. That was pretty cool.

For his next single, Hart reached into the past to cover another in what was becoming a growing list of ballads. “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” made popular by Elvis Presley, went to number one in Canada and number 24 in the U.S. It was a song, partly because of its rich history, that had staying power.

There would be three more singles that kept Corey Hart top of mind through the rest of 1986 and into 1987 – “Angry Young Man” which peaked at 29 in Canada and did not chart in the U.S.; “Dancin’ with my Mirror,” which peaked at 16 in Canada and 88 in the U.S.; and “Take My Heart,” which peaked at 23 in Canada and again did not chart south of the border.

The truth is Corey Hart was likely aided with these last three singles by Canadian content regulations which mandated radio stations play a lot of Canadian artists. None of these songs resonated with me, and seemingly few in the United States.

Still, “Fields of Fire” earned Hart Juno nominations for best male vocalist and single of the year for, “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

Young Man Running
It was the summer of 1988, and I was home after my first year of university when I heard my last Corey Hart single for a decade.

“In Your Soul” was a catchy tune, unlike his other stuff, that went to number two in Canada and number 38 on Billboard.

There were other singles, but my life got busy, and they did not seem to do well. The other four singles that were released did not crack the top 20 in Canada or chart at all in the U.S.

It would be a decade before I heard from Corey Hart again.

In addition
Corey Hart was also involved in some other projects in the decade.

In 1985, he was part of "Northern Lights", a group of Canadian performers who banded together to record, "Tears Are Not Enough", to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia. It was classic Corey Hart again – brooding, pouty and powerful.

In that same year, 1985, he performed, "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" during a concert at Landsdowne Park in Ottawa. It also became the "B"-side for "Everything in My Heart" when it was released as a single

Not a Christmas will pass without some radio station playing Corey Hart's rendition of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer".

The years after
He would continue to write, record and release music all through the 1990s. “Black Cloud Rain” hit number two in Canada in 1996, followed by “Tell Me” at 14; and “Third of June” at 17.

Perhaps my favourite of his later songs came out two years later. It was called, “So Visible (Easy to Miss)”, and it was the song playing on the radio when I was leaving Edmonton for the last time when I moved from there in November of 1998.

Parting thoughts
Some of my reading revealed that in July of 1987, at the age of 25, Corey Hart collapsed backstage from exhaustion and had to take a break.

That just illustrates how prolific Corey Hart was in the 1980s. He literally put out an album a year, and went on a major tour to promote each one for a good chunk of the entire decade.
His music is part of the soundtrack of the 1980s for anyone who grew up in Canada in that period. It is interesting to see his music evolved over time as he matured as a singer and songwriter.

The music also carried an uplifting message, with positive songs such as, “Never Surrender” and “I am by Your Side”. Corey Hart was on a talk show I saw right after I returned to Lethbridge in 1998, and one of the audience members pointed out that same thing – that his songs helped her out during low times in her life.

He may have been a teen heartthrob, but some of his songs dug deeper than racing cars and being cool. That’s why, more than 30 years later, people are still listening to him, and why he has a place on the Canadian Walk of Fame.

The Canadian Walk of Fame recently unveiled the stars of a number of outstanding individuals on June 7 and Robvogt80s will be honouring those people in a series starting now.