Shock — Tales from the ’80s — Killer Dwarfs look-alike and early musical influences
This is the fourth instalment of Sleaze Roxx’s series entitled Shock — Tales from the ’80s. The first three articles in this series were Opening for Megadeth in July 1986, “Opening” for Motörhead on November 13, 1986 and The Saxon tour rider on February 4, 1986. The series details Shock‘s fascinating rise and struggle to land that elusive record contract back in the ’80s.
For the Sleaze Roxx readers who don’t know Shock‘s story, they were the premier unsigned heavy metal band in Canada’s nation capital city of Ottawa back in the mid to late 1980s. After five years of opening for some of the biggest heavy metal bands that would make their way to town and shopping around six different demos including the unreleased album Burning A Hole Through The Heavens, Shock called it quits frustrated with not obtaining what they thought was a proper recording deal. Fast forward 21 years and the power metal band’s co-founders Tony V and John Tennant reconnected and before long, the band was resurrected from the dead with the new line-up including guitarist Steve Monette switching to bass. Shock‘s first interview after their 21 year hiatus was with Sleaze Roxx who dubbed the group “one of the best metal bands that never released an album.” That all changed when Shock released their critically acclaimed debut album Once Denied in May 2013 twenty seven years after first forming and sophomore album Forewarned in November 2015.
Killer Dwarfs look-alike (John Tennant)
The Killer Dwarfs were touring in support of their Dirty Weapons album, and were peaking. The show took place at Barrymore’s on March 23, 1990. There was a real buzz around this show. We were fortunate to get the gig. They were super nice guys to hang around during the day. We thought it was funny how our bassist, Kevin [Monette], and their bassist [Bad Ronbo “Dwarf” Mayer] looked like brothers. I remember their bassist quietly taking a newspaper into the dressing room to chill out.
This was the last Shock show I played, and I think it was the best one we ever did. I always regretted not having this one recorded. We were extremely tight and relaxed on stage. We did some cool covers like “Lips In The Hills” by Blue Oyster Cult and “Outlaw” by Riot, and I think that our songwriting was at its best. [Our drummer] Pete [MacCormack] had ‘borrowed’ a bunch of framed white fabric panels from his employer, which we placed in front of our backline to give a clean and different look onstage. I remember that John Ricci of Exciter was there, and was very complimentary of our set. I played a white Gibson Invader, which is like a baby Les Paul, back then. I should have never ever should have sold that guitar!! And of course, the Killer Dwarfs were awesome onstage. They had the crowd eating out of their hands. This was one of my very best memories of playing in Shock.
Early musical influences leading to Shock (John Tennant)
I have always enjoyed music since I was a little kid. Obviously, back in the day, I was a big radio listener and one of the first artists I really really liked was Elton John. When I was 11 or 12, an aunt gave me her full Elton John record collection and I just absorbed them! I still really like Elton John and those albums. I just became really passionate about music at a young age. It was not until grade seven when I was really exposed to heavy rock. My family was living in Toronto at the time. I had a friend who had that kind of prototypical cool 1970s older brother who had a basement apartment in his parents’ house. I was over at my friend’s house one day and he invited me to go down to see his brother’s apartment. I said “sure” and we went downstairs. His brother was there and the first thing that struck me was that there was a full length Jimmy Page poster. It was the one where Page has the double neck guitar, a German army hat on and a cigarette dangling from his lips. My friend’s brother had a huge kick butt stereo for the 1970s era with big speakers. I still remember vividly to this day that he first put on Rainbow’s Rainbow Rising and then Rush’s Farewell To Kings at ear splitting volume. I was just absolutely riveted and that was it. I still love those two albums to this day.
From then on, I was absolutely obsessed with heavy rock. Initially, my favorite band was Rush. Again, I still like them to this day, but back then I was just absolutely fanatical about the band like a lot of Canadian kids my age back then. I liked all heavy rock generally from KISS to Cheap Trick to Thin Lizzy. My high school buddies were all into music guys and we checked out all of the usual high school bands playing at dances, roller rinks and stuff.
Given that my father was in the army, we moved around a lot and when I graduated high school, my family lived in Petawawa. Obviously, there were not a lot of opportunities up there back then for a young person so after high school, I moved to Toronto since I had a lot of extended family over there. I did the classic 1970s experience after high school of working and stopping my formal schooling once I completed high school. Nowadays, almost everybody it seems goes to university after high school but when I graduated, probably only half the people or maybe even less went to post-secondary education. Most people worked and that is what I did. Once I was out on my own in Toronto, I started getting into metal.
One of the first metal bands that I heard was Judas Priest. I bought Unleashed In The East shortly after it came out. I had seen an ad and I thought “Wow. That is a pretty cool looking band!” It was just another one of those little epiphanies where you go up another level. That album just blew me away. Toronto had a really good music scene back then. There were lots of good stores that you could pick stuff up at. I started lots of British magazines like Kerrang and Sounds. I was just absorbing all this stuff. Any band whose name I saw in those magazines, I would just go out and buy their record. At the time, I worked in a record store at the Eaton’s Centre, which was, and still is, the flagship mall for downtown Toronto. One thing led to another and I got in touch with a couple of other guys in town who were just shopping in the metal section of the store kind of thing. It was pretty innocent back then. You just ended up with like-minded people. You hung out and went to concerts. That is how the scene was.
By then, I was totally obsessed with the new wave of British heavy metal. Bands such as the Tigers of Pan Tang, Saxon and all those bands coming out of England. It was a really exciting time for heavy rock music in the early 1980s. That is also when I moved to Ottawa. I moved back home with my parents in late 1981. By that time, the whole underground tape trading with demo tapes, live recordings and stuff had started. A couple of my buddies hooked me up into that network and then I told some friends, and on and on.
I was corresponding through the mail with tons of people and getting cassettes of various bands. That is when I got hooked into all these great new “thrash” metal bands. Obviously, Metallica was the big one with their first demo No Life Til Leather. I heard that just before I met Tony. At that point, I was just dabbling at playing the guitar. I would just hack around at home by myself. Since the music emanating from the tape trading scene had this real “do it yourself” feel to it, I thought I am going to get into this. When I heard that first Metallica demo, I thought this is everything in my mind that metal should be right now. There was melody but it was also mixed with aggression. There was some heavier stuff out at the time like Venom, which I listened to, but which did not grab me as much given the lack of melody. But Metallica just seemed to have everything. Everything that came out after that like Exodus, Megadeth and all the Bay area bands was the next wave that, as a music debutant, I just got absorbed into. That’s where I was at while getting more into guitar.
In the meantime, my father got his final army posting to Ottawa. Although I was really enjoying my time in Toronto, I was just not making a lot of money. After a couple of years on my own in Toronto, I was barely paying my rent. Most of my money was being spent on records and pizza. I moved back with my parents because I knew Ottawa had more opportunities. Also, rent would be a lot cheaper. My parents set some pretty strict rules for me to come back home. It was not like I was coming back home to hang out and lay on the couch. I either had to go back to school or work. That was fair enough. When I eventually got to Ottawa, I got a job right away. Shortly after, I met Tony.
Early musical influences leading to Shock (Tony V)
I was raised on a farm so I was a real farm boy. It was not like I was into a certain genre of music. I was simply into stuff that sounded cool. I just thought bands like KISS, Aerosmith and Deep Purple were very cool. Those were the bands that were available to me at that time. Once I started getting a little bit older, I started going to high school in the suburbs and got influenced by a lot of stuff. I could be listening to a Mötley Crüe song but also could be listening to something off a Rush or a Max Webster album. Van Halen was a big influence too. If people hear a lot of tapping, dive bombs and stuff like that in Shock, that was probably influenced by Eddie Van Halen. This was like the really early ‘80s so I liked April Wine, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, and definitely Ozzy.
I was around 15 when I started playing guitar. I was mostly self-taught. I had taken lessons for maybe two months just to understand chord letter names and stuff like that but the rest was self-taught. Back then, you could not find music teachers in Ottawa who could teach you Van Halen, Iron Maiden or even Rush. You could find people to teach you Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix but there were no resources to get taught the newer musical styles.
I played in many bands — mainly garage bands because you were lucky if you got to play in a bar once in a while, especially in town here because new wave was hitting. The last band that I played in prior to Shock was a band called Snowy Owl. It was a three piece band. We wanted to be a combination between a number of bands including Rush, Ozzy and Van Halen. We did play a few of the top 40 hits but it was heavier songs like Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell”, songs off the first two Ozzy solo albums and a really poorly done version of Van Halen’s “Panama.”