Sept. 7, 1977, I’m attending my first big rock show with friends. Me and my other 13 year old buddies bought our concert tickets for Rush’s Farewell to King’s tour at Thrifty’s Jean Store.
Great seats, fifth row dead centre on the floor. Opening band, Max Webster hits the stage. These guys are freaky, but they have an interesting sound and they seem to be having a really good time up there.
They’ve released two albums at this point in their career. I’m intrigued.
After the concert, I go out and buy their two albums. The newest one, High Class In Borrowed Shoes and their self titled debut with the three-eyed square-heads on a conveyor belt on the cover drawn by keyboardist Terry Watkinson (who is an artist living in Winnipeg now).
I must say, I was hooked, their high energy show with their very unique sound bordering on prog-rock made me a fan overnight.
By 1978 they were headlining shows and returned to Winnipeg a few more times until they broke up in 1981. They released six albums and a greatest hits album by that point.
Shortly thereafter Kim Mitchell embarked on a very successful solo career releasing an EP in 1982 followed by 10 albums up until 2007.
Max Webster had a reunion for the 1990 Toronto Music Award show, followed by a handful of gigs in late 1995 / early 1996. In 2007, they also got together for a 30th anniversary gig at The Docks in Toronto.
Even though Mitchell hasn’t released an album since 2007, he has continued to tour extensively. I’ve seen him play many times over the years, and he still has plenty of energy and puts a lot in to his shows.
The one mainstay in the band has been Peter Fredette. Fredette originally started out playing keyboards and second guitar in the band but switched to bass and vocals.
I had the opportunity to talk to Kim Mitchell on the phone the other day where he reflected on raising two sons and mentioned that, “One of the signs of doing a good job raising our kids…is that they leave (home). They’ve both left and are doing well.”
One of his sons works in Manhattan, while the other one is part of a management company in Toronto. The one in Toronto has also worked with his father on the road for the last ten years as a drum tech and road manager.
While we spoke on the the phone I heard his dog Webster in the background. I asked if he had another one named Max.
He shared with me how Webster was a rescued dog from a shelter who had been kept in a box ten hours a day. When Mitchell visited the dog and found out the dog’s name was Webster, he seemed to know they were meant to be together.
Mitchell has also kept busy since 2004 as a DJ on Toronto’s Q107 afternoon drive show from 2-6pm weekdays. He had applied to the station hoping to be a DJ on the late Sunday afternoon spot, didn’t hear from them for a while, then they called him up and offered him the weekday slot.
In addition to playing music, he also has musical guests on the show who he interviews. He particularly enjoys his Canadian guests such as Colin James and Randy Bachman and old friends Rush.
There are a few clips on Youtube of some of the guests like Sammy Hagar jamming with Kim Mitchell and Ron Sexsmith who started playing the Max Webster tune On The Road with Mitchell joining in.
I remember seeing Kim Mitchell at the concert Hall in 1985, where he stated that was one of his favourite Max Webster tunes as it encapsulates the life of a musician.
He’s come a long way since playing in The Grass Company as a 14 year old guitarist in his hometown of Sarnia. The Windsor Star at the time called them Sarnia’s answer to The Beatles.
What does Kim Mitchell listen to these days? He told me he’s pretty impressed with bands like The Sheepdogs, The Black Keys and Alabama Shakes.
If I may steal a line from the MW tune The Party, “We’re just musicians here to thin the thickness of your skin.” And isn’t that what rock’n’roll is all about, just letting go and having a good time.
Looking forward to the show on Saturday at the Oak in Transcona. Doors open at 9pm.
All photos by Doug Kretchmer (except as noted)