By Jeb Wright
Thirty-five years ago the rock band Triumph released their strongest and bestselling album to date. Allied Forces contained two FM radio hits in “Fight the Good Fight” and “Magic Power.” The album centered on the vocals and guitar skills of Rik Emmett, yet Rik was only one third of the band. Bassist/producer Mike Levine and drummer/vocalist Gil Moore provided the backdrop for Rik to shine. Sometimes Moore took the lead vocals—usually on the ‘harder rock’ songs. The result was a Canadian Rock classic that rocks as hard today as it did way back in the day!
Gil Moore sat down with Classic Rock Revisited to discuss the anniversary of their hard rock masterpiece.
Look for Triumph to reunite on a couple of songs on Rik’s upcoming solo album. In the meantime, for all things Triumph please visit http://triumphmusic.com/the-band/
Jeb: Allied Forces is 35 years old this year. I was listening to it one day recently and I looked at the date and I was like… oh my God, where did the time go? Are you guys going to do anything special to celebrate or just let it slide by?
Gil: We might just let it slide by. You’re the first person that’s brought it up, so I should talk to Mike about it and say, “Hey, what are we going to do?”
Jeb: I was hoping you would tell me you were going to play together for the anniversary!
Gil: You never know, something like that might happen, I don’t mean like a tour or anything, but I just mean, maybe for some charitable cause or something, playing a track or two wouldn’t be a bad idea. I mean it’s easy for Rik because his chops are great. He actually plays guitar better now than he ever has in his whole life, he just keeps getting better. So it would just be a case of Mike and me rehearsing and learning a couple of songs and stuff. I’m the one who’s really the hold-back because I’m so busy with Metalworks stuff. We’ll see, it might happen...
Jeb: Man, it would be cool, it really would. I saw you at Rocklahoma. I never thought I’d get to see you guys again. There’s still guys like me, put it that way...
Gil: Yeah, I played in this golf tournament two days ago for the veterans, Army, Navy and Air force veterans and a lot of the crowd were in their 80’s or 90’s and so on, but they invited me to play and sing, and what amazed me was that there was a lot of vets who were in their 50’s that talked to me about Triumph. They knew dates and they knew album titles and so on and so forth. It was absolutely amazing.
Something that dawned on me is that we’ve had so many of our songs with titles like “Never Surrender” and “Allied Forces”, things like that. I think that some of the military guys gravitated to our music a little more than some other bands because of that.
It was interesting talking to so many of them, I couldn’t believe how many of them came up to me and they were completely familiar with the band. It dawned on me looking back on our Royalty statements… you know they have this way of discounting your royalties: it’s sold to a record club or to the military of the United States, and I was always blown-away at how much product we shipped to the military.
they have a thing right in your recording agreement, a pretty much standard procedure back in all the original recording contracts that any sales to army bases, they pay you ½ royalties. Same thing up here in Canada, every time I was around either police, fire, navy, army, anything that had any sort of military component to it, Triumph was a big band. Still here in Mississauga where I grew up, you got these cops who are, you know, 30 years old, and you know ½ of them they still seem to be hip to Triumph. All the ones that are 45, 55, those guys are all hip to Triumph, but even the younger ones. So you know I realize, okay it’s been passed forward from the fathers.
Jeb: Triumph was one of those bands… you weren’t playing in minor keys and being all depressed about everything, I mean you weren’t just talking about some relationship songs. I mean, by and large you were a positive band that played hard rock.
Gil: Yeah, after the fact, looking back, that’s the one thing that to me is sort of a trademark, was the positive undertones to a lot of lyrics. We had the odd negative song you know, but by and large there were a lot of positive messages.
Jeb: Now the cool thing with Allied Forces, of course other than being kind of the album that got you guys really noticed -especially here in America-, is to start that story you have to actually back up in time. I got into Triumph with the album Just a Game and songs like “Hold On” and “Lay it on the Line.” Those were big radio songs back then, at least here in the Midwest.
I can give you the Midwest point of view back then. As you know, nowadays with the internet, everywhere is just the same… but it wasn’t that way back in the day.
I snapped up the next album, because I liked “Live for the Weekend.” I heard that and I liked the album. But I’d say from the business aspect, if you take Just a Game to Progressions of Power, it wasn’t a progression, man… it was kind of a flat line. So things weren’t necessarily, business wise, the best they could be. So, I’m wondering, did the record company give you any pressure or did you put any pressure on yourselves in saying, “We’ve got to basically up our game on this one”?
Gil: I don’t know. There’s always constant pressure from the record label. You do know that the first album in America was the compilation of the first two records up here, so that’s your first pitch over home plate.
It went pretty well, then Just a Game was a home run by comparison. We went backwards with Progressions of Power.
Allied Forces eclipsed Just a Game, so we were back into it in a good way. I mean, I think that was the first album recorded with Metalworks; that made a big difference. Allied Forces was the first album recorded at Metalworks. You know the first three albums were recorded at other studios before we had built Metalworks.
Jeb: This was the day and age where it was an album a year, and you didn’t have to hit a home run every time like you do now. I mean, you were lucky enough that it was the day and age. I mean, I shouldn’t say lucky enough, because it was hard work getting those recordings out so quickly.
Gil: It’s funny… last night I was watching… my wife taped or recorded on our DVR for me, it was one of these stupid trashy TV shows, but the subject matter was Black Sabbath. She recorded it for me, so I watched it last night and it was really funny because it was all the same years… except they were just a little bit ahead of us. They were a little earlier, and I’m watching all the stories and it could have been the story of Triumph, except for the drugs.
At one point they’re talking about Black Sabbath’s record and they flash to a -I forget which album they released- and they flashed to Tower Records and the camera pans down to the record bin and when it gets to Black Sabbath under S, not under B, the next thing you know, like I’m looking on the screen with my wife and she goes, “Hey, there’s all of the Triumph products” and sure enough, we were there on the TV.
Jeb: Were you guys at the time of Allied Forces protective of the group? You had your own studio. Did you guys write together, was there a band of brother’s philosophy?
Gil: Oh, 100%! I mean there really was, other than the fact that when we broke up, we had a fight. We were from the beginning to that point, so let’s say 14 out of 15 years. We were really solid, like any team, not like a lot of these bands.
Going back to that Ozzy thing I watched last night, it was like they spent a heck of a lot of time fighting with each other. We never did that you know, and it probably is why we’re buddies again now because once we got over the fight… Rik’s in the studio recording and Mike [Levine] and I are playing a song on his record; so it’s all healed.
Jeb: And at this time, I mean hell in ’81 you were literally the Triumph army.
Gil: Yeah we were on top of the world right then because it was really exciting. We were doing big arenas and selling lots of records; everybody treated us special. You’d show up in New York or Los Angeles and the record companies, you know back in the days, they were generous, you know, with 40 people and fancy restaurants and woman all over the place, you know. It’s like if you were making a movie about how Rock Stars lived like in the ‘80’s, it was something like that… it was pretty wild.
Jeb: Since it was Metalworks, did you guys craft some of this stuff on the spot? Did you have the luxury of using the studio, you know more like a rehearsal room, or did you write this stuff and arrange beforehand?
Gil: No, we recorded a lot right off the floor in the studio, so a lot of the ideas were developed in the studio and yeah we did, we did treat it like a luxury. We didn’t scrimp on time, we spent tons and tons of time working on songs, experimenting, recording multiple versions. That’s why we built the studio; we wanted to be able to do that.
Jeb: I’ve talked to you so many times and we never got this in-depth regarding the creative process. I think we’re close enough where I don’t have to sugar coat it, so… I’ll tell you this: a lot of people kind of thought, well Rik is “the talent” and the band is “the band”. Does that make sense?
Gil: I think so from the outside, yeah probably. Let’s put it this way, I think Rik was the most talented musician in the group, but we all came from other bands and all of our bands failed. We used to joke about our earlier bands… you know I had a band called Mondo Plus Four, so you know they teased me endlessly about that band because of the name. Rik had a band called Captain Mud, which we called General Mud. He used to joke back and say it’s not Captain Mud, it’s General Mud… I said, “…whatever, you guys were mud.”
Jeb: Ha ha, that’s right.
Gil: So when you really look at it, if any one of us was really super talented, maybe we wouldn’t have needed the other two, so I think at the end of the day we collaborated pretty well.
Mike was a skilled record producer. You can ask, “How much did Mike’s producing have to do with the overall success of the band?” versus, let’s say, Rik being a fantastic guitar player… it’s a subtle thing, because Mike would make all of these artistic judgments in the studio, even when we had other producers, like co-producers… you know Mike was always sitting in the chair for all the difficult decisions.
I think those two guys were both more important really in their contributions than I was. But on the business side, the sound and the lighting, I loved the technology… so I was able to, I think, add something to the stage show of it. In the stage show, if they didn’t have such a great show, how successful would the band be? We never got into trying to weigh who’s more important than whom; we never had any problems with stuff like that. We all realized that everyone was contributing.
Back to your original question, yeah, sure I think Rik is probably the strongest musician of the three of us.
Jeb: You know, talking about your contribution with the show though, back in the day you guys were ahead of your time. Maybe Blue Oyster Cult with the lasers… I mean, you were doing stuff that wasn’t being done and it had to be expensive as hell.
Gil: It was expensive, and you know we never spared a dime on the production… we just always thought we’re going to invest in our own career and I was lucky, because all those budgets for, like you said, for lasers they were really high, but we were all of the same mindset that you know it’s all about… We were just joking in the band… one of our lighting directors came up with this expression “NGE”, which stands for Net Gasp Effect.
We started rating anything we ever did in the show, whatever it was, whether it was an audio queue or a laser queue, we did it on an NGE scale. So you know it was really funny and we had a lot of Net Gasp Effect.
You’re right when you say Blue Oyster Cult. Those guys were ahead of their time. They’re a little older than us, but I mean I saw Blue Oyster Cult playing with Ted Nugent and they just blew my mind. The first time I ever saw lasers was with Blue Oyster Cult.
Jeb: So they get in the back somewhere in your mind, they were a little bit of an influence.
Gil: Yeah I think they were a little bit of an influence because that day that I saw them I didn’t even know what a laser show was. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
I knew we needed to get those for Triumph. At that point we were just a fledgling band, we were just starting, so… and we could hardly afford the tickets to watch a laser show, never mind having one in Triumph.
You know, when you look back and you start with a bag of popcorn, then you have your own private jet... it’s crazy. But, to take you back to the shows, we were never cheapskates with that.
Jeb: No, not at all.
Gil: You have the bands now letting ticket prices get really high and stuff. I don’t think we got credit for keeping prices down to our shows. We’d talk with the promoters; I dealt with every single one of them myself with our agent. We discussed ticket prices on every show and we intentionally kept our ticket prices on the low side all the time. So we were probably, you know it depends… in the early days, ticket prices were under $10.00, they were like $6, $7, $8 bucks.
If we could get $8 bucks in the market, we’d probably go to $6.75. You know when the ticket prices got up over $10 bucks and you know we could get $13.50, we’d usually go in at $12.50 or $11.75 and stuff. By the time we finished in ’88, ticket prices were just starting to get to $20. It’s hard to imagine, because now they’re like $80 to $180. We tended to lower prices to try to get more people out and, you know, just get fans one at a time… let them in, don’t keep them out.
Jeb: That’s cool. Did you guys have extra songs at the time of Allied that didn’t make the cut, or is this pretty much it?
Gil: No, every album we usually had an outtake or two, but we used to joke about our outtakes. You know, I don’t know whether we’d ever put them out because… well, there might be a couple in there that are actually pretty good, now that I think about it.
I don’t know specifically for Allied Forces, but there were one or two songs I thought were pretty good that never made it out the door. All of those recordings are in the music archives at the University of Toronto now.
Jeb: Damn, I’d love to hear them.
Gil: Yeah, well we’d have to make a project out of it. We’d have to get all the tapes back, find all the outtakes. It would be a lot of work.
Jeb: How did you decide -and you’ve been asked this probably for 35 years since the album- how did you guys decide who was going to sing which song?
Gil: We just kind of fell into it naturally. Anything that was bluesy went to me, and anything that was more major key or high pitched went to Rik.
Occasionally we’d make mistakes. I’d sing a song that he probably should have sung or vice versa, but most of the time I think we got it right.
Some of Rik’s vocals were unbelievable, like the vocal in “Fight the Good Fight” for example, to me that was… I think if somebody says to me, “What was the best Rik Emmitt vocal of all time?” I’d be going, well there are a lot of them. “Fight the Good Fight” was one. “Blinding Light Show” was another.
He’s got some vocals that I don’t think the songs suited him. A lot of the songs that I did suited me. That’s the trouble for every vocalist, even watching the Ozzy thing, remembering back to some of their songs and I just thought, yeah that’s hard to imagine what’s the perfect song for Ozzy Osbourne to sing. You listen to “Paranoid” or something like that and you go, yeah that’s a perfect song for Ozzy Osbourne. So like you give that song to Gil Moore or Rik Emmett might sound terrible, but it was perfect for Ozzy Osborne.
Jeb: Can we run through the tracks and just give me your thoughts on the songs? Because, honestly, I was going to say vocally the album starts out with “Fool for Your Lovin’” and I think that’s a great vocal.
Gil: Yeah, I never feel like that was a real Triumph track. I felt like that was one of the ones where you start to get into the lower 40 and we could have made a U turn. It’s got a bit of a blues note to it so that’s why I ended up singing that song, but I never warmed up to that track afterwards.
Jeb: Now of course, were you guys savvy enough that when you heard “Magic Power” you knew it was a hit?
Gil: It really depends. Most of Triumph’s songs are one way or the other… I’m a real perfectionist by nature, so I tend to be really too critical. You almost can’t name a song that I really like. Pretty much every song I’m going to tell you what I don’t like about it or what’s wrong with it.
You take a song like “Magic Power” that tons of people like, it’s taking other people convincing me about the song to like it, and there’s nothing wrong with that because I’ve always thought that it isn’t about what the musicians think, it’s about what the audience thinks. If the audience is affected emotionally… and I can tell you with that song they really were.
I can’t tell you how many letters I’ve read from fans either experiencing near death or death, or from a very bad illness or recovery from a terminal illness who’ve gotten inspiration from that song, so you’ve got to give Rik full marks on that song. That is a Rik Emmett production from beginning to end. I shouldn’t say production, because Mike produced it. I should say creation.
Rik wrote all of the lyrics by himself and he wrote all the melody and stuff like that. Mike and I played it together on arrangement points and things like that.
Jeb: Now, did Mike come up with the intro to “Allied Forces” called “Air Raid?”
Gil: That’s a good question. I think not, I think it was mainly Rik. Like the song itself, you know I wrote all the lyrics. How I work with guitar players writing: I didn’t go to Rik and go, “the first chord is an A or the first chord is a Bb.” I’d usually go to him with a rhythm and say, “Hey, I’ve got this idea for this aggressive vocal that’s kind of like a jack hammer and here’s what I think.”
I would tell him what I’m picturing on the drums and I might actually start playing the rhythm, and then Rik would just start playing some sort of rhythm along with the drums. Sometimes I would sing him a part, like the actual riff off the top, actually sing a riff like that to him. Now I might not have sung that riff, I just would say, “Hey do something like this,” and I’d hum it to him or sing it to him. He’d start playing; it’s like how you would communicate between two musicians. So we’d collaborate in that way, but when it came to figuring out what chord do we actually play, well Rik knew what chord we were playing, I didn’t know.
Jeb: That’s cool.
Gil: As they say, drummers like to hang around with musicians.
Jeb: As you’re telling me that story, you know I love the way that song builds up. It really is an inter-play between the electric guitar and the drum beat. You’re not just playing something behind it; you’re playing something with it.
Gil: Well anytime you have -I’m going to call it kind of a riff rock song- usually it gets arranged by either the guitar players, or including the drummer or whatever, that are spending a lot of time going down different roads saying, “Try this or try that. No, do it more like this,” or “repeat that” or “don’t repeat that” or “that part sucks.” So you’re writing the music sort of in the collaborative way. I’d call it more of a jam than anything else. All of the musicians who are participating in that are sort of writing it.
In the case of that song, like I said, we used to split the lyrics up. If Rik wrote the lyrics, pretty much Rik would write all of the lyrics. If I wrote the lyrics, pretty much I would write all of the lyrics. Occasionally Rik or even Mike might say, “That part of the lyrics sucks” or “why don’t you use this phrase.”
We might edit a few words here and there, but for the most part if you asked me like in “Magic Power”, I would say I don’t remember anything other than Rik wrote all the words. Like “Allied Forces” all I can remember is getting a headache…
Jeb: A headache?
Gil: We’d keep writing and writing. Writing lyrics is painful, but along the way if we collaborated on a few lyrics… we may have, I don’t recall.
Jeb: Now I’ll be the devil’s advocate here, I’ll give you my worst criticism of the album. “Hot Time in the City Tonight” was filler to me from the first time I heard it.
Gil: Well you know what? You won’t get an argument from me by putting down Triumph songs, because I’m so critical. I’m going to hang that one on Rik because that was his song.
If I got my way all the time, Triumph probably never would have put out a record. We never would have finished one.
Jeb: When you were talking about how critical you are, I thought, “Thank God Levine was the damned Producer and not you, man.”
Gil: Oh yeah, I would have ruined the band for sure. Mike sort of sat there like King Solomon and Rik is very impatient, so I drove Rik half way around the bend.
Jeb: With your perfectionism?
Gil: Yeah, people that are impatient don’t like people that are perfectionists because they take forever. I took forever and Rik had to have patience to put up with me.
You know Mike had to be King Solomon. Somewhere between never getting something finished and trying it four different versions and you know, whatever, he had to get it done. There would be the ultimate deadline that we have to submit the record by and I’d be sitting there saying, “I think these three tracks should go back in the trash and we should start over again.” They’d be like “There isn’t time. We’ve already done these three. They are already in the can and there are enough good tracks.”
I never liked records with filler, but to me pretty much all bands have the same issues. Again, back to that show I was watching last night with Black Sabbath. They were talking about certain albums and they had too much filler on them and I thought, “Yeah I remember those songs.” Black Sabbath did some real crapola songs.
Jeb: They did, man.
Gil: Some really embarrassing songs they’d probably like to flush down the toilet.
Jeb: ha ha!
Gil: We had a band at Metalworks that was pretty big for a while called Sum 41 and they recorded an album that went Platinum in America and it was called All Killer No Filler.
I thought that was great. It made me think about how we were trying to get a record out every 18 months, and if we spent as much time as I would have liked to have spent, we would have had a record out every 4 or 5 years.
Jeb: You would have been Boston.
Gil: Yeah, I would have got along really well with Tom Scholz, I’ll tell you that.
Jeb: Now of course you flip the record over and you get “Fight the Good Fight.”
Gil: I really love that song for a number of reasons. How we started working on that song… I said, “Rik, I’ve got this idea for a melody and it’s kind of a Celtic melody.” I said, “Remember the recorder part on ‘Ruby Tuesday?’” He goes, “Yeah.” I said, “Picture the recorder” and I hummed him the melody, da da da da da da, da da da da da da. I hummed that melody to him and he figured out the notes on the neck of the guitar and he said, “Is this what you’re doing?” We’d go back and forth.
I’m Irish so I don’t know whether there was something in there from the bagpipes, in my bloodstream or something, from the Scottish, Irish, English influence or whatever, I don’t know. We got that melody and we went, “Okay, what the hell do we do now?” I said, “Well… I’m thinking about a beat like this…” so I’m playing him a beat and he starts jamming that beat and then it’s like, “yeah, like that!”
Rik took over the lyrics. He wrote all the lyrics for “Fight the Good Fight.” All I did was irritate him. He kept changing the chorus around and I kept going, “No, I don’t like that.”
For the longest time the song was called “Every Moment” and then at the last minute he came in with “Fight the Good Fight.” I’m like, “I don’t like that either, but I like it better than ‘Every Moment.’” So I think at that point it was time to say, “Gil, shut the fuck up,” you know…
Jeb: I think you’re right.
Gil: And it really grew on me and the thing that I really liked was at the end there was a solo where Rik… in the outro he plays that Celtic melody, he plays it on the guitar. I just thought that was amazing. And it’s really funny, because my wife… that Celtic melody is her favorite part of that song.
Jeb: We’ve never talked about “Ordinary Man.” It’s a good song and I like it, but was there a prog rock influence somewhere in Triumph that I never knew about?
Gil: Yeah, Rik had that. He liked old bands like Focus. I’m trying to remember a couple of the other bands he was into that were European Prog Rock. That went way, way back… maybe Kraftwerk.
He was a big Ritchie Blackmore fan. Ritchie Blackmore also had a real, real classical way to his playing, if you remember. We all like Deep Purple. Ian Paice is actually my favorite drummer. John Bonham’s my second favorite.
Ritchie Blackmore I think had a big impact on the way Rik played and I think the Prog Rock / European bands from the ‘70s had an impact on Rik for sure. Like “Ordinary Man”, he wrote every stitch of that.
Jeb: That sounds like it would be a complex song to play with just the three of you. Is it that hard, or does it just sound that hard?
Gil: Like speaking for the drummers, it’s not too tough for the drummer… but I think some of the orchestration is tough on the others.
Rik’s a maestro; he can pull stuff like that off in the studio. He and Mike worked well together. It would be Rik coming up with these ideas… like “let me put this layer on it. Let me try this effect.” Mike would go along with it. He would sort of shape what Rik was doing. They were able to actually build some pretty cool tracks and I just had nothing to do with it.
Jeb: Did you like “Ordinary man”?
Gil: Personally, I really like “Ordinary Man.” Maybe because it has no Gil Moore.
Jeb: That’s great!
Gil: I thought it was a great song. It did, in certain areas, get a lot of radio air play. I know Rik gets asked for that song quite a bit when he does solo shows. It really struck a chord with certain people and it is the same with “Blinding Light Show” which was a song that Rik brought to Triumph. He co-wrote “Blinding Light Show” with some other musicians before he joined Triumph so Mike and I were just involved in the arrangement of that song, but it was one of my favorite songs we ever did. That’s a song I’m proud of, it’s a great song. I think “Ordinary Man” almost was like “Blinding Light Show Part 2”, like a progression from that song.
Jeb: It really shows some vocal strength too, because you kind of have that almost “Carry on Wayward Son” all vocal, you know.
Gil: Yeah, when Rik was singing the right song, like his vocals you really couldn’t compare him to anybody else. I heard people try to compare him at times to different singers. If you let me pick the Rik Emmett song and you just listen to these vocals, then you realize, he doesn’t sound like anybody else. He doesn’t sound like Steve Perry and he doesn’t sound like Geddy Lee. He sounds like himself.
When you get a guy singing the wrong song, it’s like what I said about Ozzy, it doesn’t matter who the singer is everybody’s got sort of signature that they can do. I mean if I could go back and erase ¾ of my vocals, I’d go back and erase them right now.
Jeb: No shit!
Gil: Yeah, I would.
Jeb: You are critical, man.
Gil: Yeah, I am.
Jeb: So, let me ask you this one, was there a competition between who’s going to get the single, who’s going to get the vocal or was that over blown amongst the fans?
Gil: That was really a bunch of bullshit.
It really was talked about only because on our last recording the record company, they had picked a hit for us and the record company wanted Rik to sing it because they thought a singing drummer was useless.
The Producer wanted us to both sing it and see who sounded better. The Producer picked me. “Just One Night” was the song. There was a debate about that, and then it kind of circulated out in the press now.
The truth of the matter is I don’t recall ever having an argument with Rik over who sings what song. We were like, “Why don’t you try it?” And the other one would go, “Well why don’t you try it?” I didn’t like singing, so I was never one to say I want to sing it. It was more like saying, “Okay Rik, the ones you don’t like, I’ll do.” You’ve just got to be able to… well look at it this way: try singing “Fight the Good Fight” then go and sing a song right after that.
Jeb: Good point.
Gil: You can’t. I mean, I don’t care who are, there are so many bloody high notes in that song and they go right to the very end of the song and by the time you finish singing “Fight the Good Fight” you need to go take a shower, never mind sing another song. So you know the drummer’s got to be good for something.
We had a big hit with the classic “Rocky Mountain Way.” I remember being in the studio and saying, “Rik, you try it.” He sang it a couple of times and said, ‘Okay Gil you try it.” I sang it.
You know at the time in the studio we’re just like, “I think this is a Gil song.”
Jeb: That’s cool. Was there ever a time when you were wrong and you switched?
Gil: Oh yeah, probably… I mean, I don’t recall a song where we switched, but I’m sure it happened.
We had to make sure in our live performances that I sang enough songs, so that he wouldn’t be tied to the microphone all night and he sang so many high songs he needed recovery time in the set to get through the set.
If you sang a whole set and every song was like “Fight the Good Fight” or “Never Surrender” that was really hard on him. If you sang all songs like that with those high notes, after high note, after high note… I’m telling you, the guy would have had a friggin brain aneurism on stage.
Jeb: Hey, when you did the acoustic piece, I think he did “Petit Etude”… Did you guys come up with that little signature piece? Did you already know what song it would be hooked to? Or was that kind of a ‘Mike thing’ in production to tell Rik what song needed that sort of intro?
Gil: We just thought Rik was really great at coming up with, we call them classical pieces. We felt like he was a really great musician and to not sort of feature his type of sound on a record was a real mistake. We also thought it would become a Triumph signature because we started doing that real early on.
Mike and I were always saying, “Hey, you’ve got to have a classical piece for this album.” He never did a classical piece that we didn’t like, so that was the other thing the three of us always agreed on.
We’d listen to it and we would just basically… Mike and I were basically cheerleaders for Rik because that was one area where I just thought he had a really great musical sensibility for what worked well. He didn’t really need a lot of help doing it. He would just keep coming up with really great pieces.
Jeb: Now the album ends with “Say Goodbye” which is so cute, because it’s the end of the album. I bet you being ‘critical Gil’ didn’t like that one. I love that song.
Gil: Well there you go. We’re going to butt heads on that one. You know what? It ain’t up to me.
Jeb: I know, but is it too pop for you?
Gil: Yeah, too pop for me. I’m more of a blues guy, you know, so...
Jeb: Oh, it’s definitely poppy.
Gil: It is a really good pop song, though.
Jeb: Did you guys headline right out of the box live in concert?
Gil: As far as I know we’re the only band that ever came to America and headlined out of the gate. So, these are historical facts. These aren’t some bullshit facts that our publicist has made up.
I can tell you how rare it is. The first time we came to America, the very first gig we ever played, we played three shows, one in San Antonio, one in Corpus Christi and one in Austin and we headlined on every one of them.
The show in San Antonio was sold out in the Municipal Auditorium and there were 6,500 seats in there so, that was over 5,000 people, the first time we ever walked in the United States.
As we went forward we got criticized a couple of times along the way. They would say, “You know what would be a really smart move… you guys should go and open for someone big. You guys should open for them and then you can get all their fans.” We would say, “Hell no, we don’t open for bands, we headline, that’s what we do.”
In Toronto, we were the first bar band to demand that the bar owner give us an opening act.
Gil: We did, and we played one show, so people would come at 9:00 or 8:30 to get good seats at a bar. They’d sit through Joe Banana and the Bunch that would play from 9:00 to 10:00. Triumph would come on at 11:00 and we’d play until 12:30 and we pulled it off, it was unprecedented. Nobody else had done a single 90 minute show, ever, on the bar circuit until we did.
Jeb: Were you doing originals then or covers?
Gil: Partially, when we started at the very beginning we played all covers, then we very, very quickly started to swap out the covers for originals and then one day we just threw the switch and we went, “Okay, we have enough originals.” We put out our first album in 1976 and we played all originals from then on.
When we came to the United States -this is why I can tell you how rare it was, the only time we didn’t- the one exception was we played a few festivals where we were on the bill, but we weren’t the headliners. Like one, we played Day on the Green with Journey and Journey was the headliner.
We were on the middle of the bill. We played the US Festival on Heavy Metal Sunday. Every band on there was a headliner in their own right, but in that particular day Van Halen closed. We were third. It was Van Halen, Scorpions, Triumph, Judas Priest, Ozzy, Motley Crue, and Quiet Riot.
We had a great slot, but in terms of music, other than at festivals, the only time we ever opened… I remember this, we were struggling in Cleveland. We’d headline Public Hall, which is their 3000 seat theater, but we just couldn’t get enough momentum to play the Coliseum. Our agent was frustrated because we were playing all the big arenas in Detroit and Chicago, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Rochester… all around. We were playing in the big buildings, but in Cleveland we were still playing the theater. So he convinced me, he says you got to come down here, we’re going to open for Alice Cooper. I said, “Triumph doesn’t open for anybody, no disrespect to Alice Cooper but we just don’t open.” He says, “Look, I’m going to make this so perfect for you guys. I’m going to get Billy Squier, who at this moment is fucking huge. He’s got a Top 5 record. I’m going to hire Billy Squier to be the opening act and Triumph will be special guest and Alice Cooper will headline.” I said, “I don’t know, it’s against my better judgment.” We said yes. So we go to the gig right, and there’s all this trepidation cause we’ve never ever done anything but headline and we’re like having all these conversations, “What are we going to do with this part of the show” and “what are we going to do with that part of the show?” We show up at the Coliseum and the guy that puts the letters on the marquee… we show up and it says Alice Cooper , then below it says Special Guests Truemph.
Jeb: Oh no!
Gil: Yeah, Truemph, then below that it said Billy Squier. I said the guy could spell Squier right, but he couldn’t figure out how to spell Triumph, what an idiot! So I got this acid rolling in the pit of my stomach when we walked in and the production guy met us and said, “How are you guys doing today?” I said, “I’d be doing a hell of a lot better if they spelled our name right on the marquee.”
Squire played. He did okay, then we went on and we sucked liked dogs. We were just out of our elements and we sucked like dogs and we went over like a lead balloon.
We came off stage and back in the dressing room I was frickin’ pissed right off. Our agent came right in the dressing room and he says, “Hey, you guys were great!” and I go, “We weren’t great! We just vomited all over the stage, it was awful, you piece of crap.” I said, “We just moved backwards.” He says, “No, no, no, no, this is good, they loved you.”
So anyway, we came back the next year and our record had done good in Cleveland and we headlined at the Coliseum on our own.
How we made that leap, I don’t know because when we were playing Public Hall as a headliner I thought we did well. We went and did the gig with Alice, who’s a good golfer by the way, he’s a nice guy. I played golf with him; he’s a really neat guy to play golf with. I just felt like we just bombed out, just the worse bomb of all time, but somehow, maybe he was right cause we did come back and the next time we did headline at the Coliseum and we just like owned Cleveland from then on, you know, they were like ours.
Jeb: That is awesome, man.
Gil: Yeah, a real funny story. That’s the only time in the band’s history, the only one gig. That’s why I can remember it so well.
Jeb: Two quick ones and I’ll let you go. I just noticed something today and I never noticed in all these years… of course you know I was checking out the Allied release since I thought that’s what we were going to be talking about. Who is Elaine Overholt?
Gil: She’s the most amazing, amazing singer here in Toronto. I love her like a sister. She did all our background vocals for years and years and she also taught me to sing, or tried to teach me to sing. I don’t know how teachable I was, but she did her best to turn me into a singer and you know I love her dearly.
Check her website out. She runs a school here in Toronto called Big Voice; she teaches vocalists. Just search big voice Toronto and you’ll see it.
Jeb: Will do. And last, we can’t talk about Allied without talking about the album cover. At the time, it was an iconic cover, I mean, that’s a perfect cover for the time.
Gil: I think it’s still iconic. You’ve got to give Rik full marks, he did it all himself. He’s an amazing artist, like not just in music, but Rik is a really, really good artist. He should have taken up painting or something. Maybe when he quits playing guitar he will do that.
The guy’s an amazing cartoonist, he’s an amazing… he could have been an architect, you know what I mean? He can draw bridges and building facades and stuff like that. So yeah, he did that whole thing himself. It was basically combining military symbols with the sword with the funky guitar. I love that symbol. That’s my favorite album cover, that one.
Jeb: It struck me, I’ve told you before. I mean, it hit me as a kid. I asked the guy at the record store if I could have it and he gave it to me when the album was done. I had it until there was a flood and I lost it in a flood.
Gil: If I was a kid I would have bought that record just for the cover, even if the music was shit, I would still like it.
Jeb: Because of the cover?
Gil: Because of the cover. The cover was so cool.
Jeb: Gil, I appreciate your time. Until we meet again, it’s been a pleasure. Say hi to Rik and Mike, too.
Gil: Oh, I’ll give your best to the boys, don’t worry.
The views of the comments below are not necessarily those of Classic Rock Revisited
The views of the comments below are not necessarily those of Classic Rock Revisited