It’s about damn time. Raising a little hell — and giving fans a good time for close to half a century —Trooper finally gets its due.
On May 18 in Calgary at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, our country’s “greatest party band” will be officially inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame along with renowned French Canadian singer Diane Dufresne, veteran jazz pianist Dr. Oliver Jones, and country music superstar Terri Clark. Ten members of Trooper, past and present, will be honoured and perform live at the ceremony.
“Congrats to the Trooper alumni and especially Smith and McGuire for raising a lot of hell,” says Randy Bachman, who produced the band’s first five albums and is a fellow Canadian Music Hall of Fame member with both The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
Canadian radio and television personality Terry David Mulligan testifies to the authenticity and work ethic that got them here: “Nobody outworked Trooper in dreaming of, creating, recording, and playing hits for the radio and stage … Working class, blue collar, and true to the roots of rock and roll.”
Music is a universal language. Some people attend Trooper shows because they like the vibe. What keeps them coming back are the songs — classic rock radio staples like “Here for a Good Time (Not a Long Time),” “Raise a Little Hell,” “General Hand Grenade,” and “Boys in the Bright White Sports Car.” Trooper’s 10 studio albums have earned multiple gold and platinum awards. And Hot Shots — their six-times-platinum greatest hits album — remains one of Universal Music Canada’s best-selling catalogue CDs and one of the country’s most enduring party soundtracks.
THE NAME GAME AND A BOOST FROM BACHMAN
Flash back to 1972. Vancouverites Ra McGuire and Brian Smith, already having toiled the bar circuit for five years as Winter’s Green, change their moniker to Applejack and add drummer Tommy Stewart and bassist Harry Kalensky. The four-piece tours relentlessly in B.C. and builds up a following. They also catch the ear of Randy Bachman, who had just started his own record label, Legend Records.
Due to the commercial success of Bachman-Turner Overdrive (BTO), in the mid-1970s Bachman says his phone was “melting off the hook” with offers to produce dozens of bands. One day, Sam Feldman — then partner with BTO’s manager Bruce Allen — called to ask Randy to check out a band Feldman thought had potential. Conveniently, Bachman was living in New Westminster, B.C., where Applejack was gigging and rehearsing every afternoon at the Royal Towers Hotel basement pub.
“It was an easy two-block walk from my house,” Bachman recalls. “I watched them jam many songs on that first afternoon and then stayed for their evening gig.”
For a full week, Bachman stayed by the band’s side and watched. Impressed by their live chops and the songwriting talent of McGuire and Smith, he signed them. Before recording their self-titled debut, the band changed their name again. As McGuire told the Vernon Morning Star in 2017: “Trouper is an old vaudeville term for a performer who keeps doing his tap dance, even though the roof is falling in. We changed it a bit so people didn’t mispronounce it as Trowper.”
Bachman booked Trooper for a week at Kay-Smith Studios in Seattle where he had recorded BTO 2.
“In those days, we cut an album in a week,” he recalls. “After our first week, we had all the tracks done by Thursday and were set to do a few overdubs and mix on Friday and Saturday.”
On Friday morning, when Bachman and the band went into the studio, they were greeted by a new tech that proudly told them he had adjusted the tape machines since the tape heads were out of alignment.
“Immediate alarm bells rang, which proved to be true,” Bachman adds. “We listened to the tapes and they sounded terrible … the sound was destroyed. We were devastated. I talked with the studio owners who were embarrassed; they didn’t charge us a penny for the week’s sessions. I sat down with the band and said: ‘Just like I heard you do for the past month every afternoon, we’re going to reset up all the gear and you’re going to play your entire album front to back live and record it all. That’s what the Beatles did for their first album!’”
The resulting self-titled album, cut and mixed in just two days, was released on Canada Day in 1975. It featured a pair of hits: “General Hand Grenade” and “Baby Woncha Please Come Home.”
In 1976, Trooper signed with MCA Records and released their sophomore LP Two for the Show — still produced by Bachman and featuring the addition of keyboardist Frank Ludwig. The album was certified gold in Canada with sales of 50,000 thanks to a pair of hit singles: “Two for the Show” and “Santa Maria.” Knock ‘Em Dead Kid arrived one year later on June 8, 1977. It was the first Trooper record to go platinum (sales of more than 100,000) and featured the party anthem “We’re Here for a Good Time (Not a Long Time).”
The following year, Thick as Thieves went double platinum and featured one of the band’s biggest hits, “Raise a Little Hell” — the only Trooper song to make some noise in the U.S. — which landed on the Billboard charts. Hot Shots, a greatest hits collection that contained remixes of songs from the band’s first four releases, was released in March 1979 and broke domestic sales records at the time, reaching quadruple-platinum status. It has gone on to sell more than 600,000 copies and counting.
Trooper won its first — and only — JUNO in 1980, taking home the award for Group of the Year. Known as one of Canada’s hardest working bands, they played more than 100 shows a year for nearly a decade. The band released a trio of records in the 1980s (Untitled in 1980; Money Talks in 1982, and The Last of the Gypsies in 1989, which was certified gold in Canada).
STILL RAISING HELL: THE 1990S TO THE 2000S & BEYOND
The 1990s began with the release of Trooper’s 10th studio record, Ten, in 1991, which featured the single “American Dream.” More line-up changes occurred throughout the decade with keyboardist Paul Gogo and bassist Scott Brown joining. Today, the pair are the only two members from that era who continue to play and tour with Trooper.
The decade ended with SOCAN giving the band a Classic Award for the songs “We’re Here for a Good Tim (Not a Long Time” and “Santa Maria” in honour of these songs receiving more than 100,000 documented radio plays. McGuire received a SOCAN award for another Trooper hit he penned, “Two for the Show.”
The 2000s and 2010s saw Trooper continue to play sold-out shows from coast to coast and even take their music to Nunavut. In 2006, McGuire released a memoir: Here for a Good Time: On the Road with Trooper, Canada’s Legendary Rock Band.
Two of the most memorable gigs during this period happened in 2010, when the band performed at both the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the 98th Grey Cup in Edmonton.
In 2021, Trooper’s founding members McGuire and Smith retired. Today, Canada’s party band still carries on with Gogo and Brown, along with new singer David Steele, drummer Clayton Hill, and guitarist Steve Crane.
On a grey rainy Sunday in Ontario, Gogo and Brown chatted with Amplify about their overdue induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, shared how they ended up joining Canada’s greatest party band, and reflected on their favorite Trooper songs.
Tell me about your history with Trooper and how you joined the band?
Brown: Ironically, the first concert I ever attended was Trooper on the Knock ‘Em Dead tour back in 1977 when I was 13 years old. The band came to Nanaimo where I grew up and played the Beban Auditorium. Some of the earliest LPs I owned were a Trooper record, a BTO record, and an April Wine record due to my older brother. When bassist Tim Hewitt left, Gogo suggested me to the rest of the band. I did a rehearsal at Little Mountain Sound Studios in Vancouver where I played five or six songs. I then joined them on a five-day tour after which I was offered the gig. To get up to speed, I got all the Trooper LPs and learned the songs by listening to each one and lifting up the needle.
Gogo: I was a prog-rock snob! My first concert was YES when I was 12 years old. In 1985, I was playing in a band called High Wire. We had a gig at the George Dawson Inn in Dawson Creek when we were told one night that Trooper was going to show up. We had to tear down all of our PAs and lights and set them up for Trooper. We opened up for them and I got to know them. When I first met Ra, I walked backstage and he was sitting by himself on the couch with an acoustic guitar. I sat next to him and we sang the Simon & Garfunkel song ‘Bookends.’ We had an immediate connection. Ten years later he called me up when they were looking for a new keyboard player. It took me one week to decide if I wanted to join the band because of the huge commitment. Our first show was in Newfoundland in a small town arena.
What are your favorite Trooper songs?
Brown: My favorite was always “General Hand Grenade.” I had the most fun playing that one live on bass … you do a lot of jumping around. More recently, we have resurrected the song “Ready,” which we had not played live for about a decade; that is my current favorite.
Gogo: “Boys in the Bright White Sports Car” has always been my favorite song because it is in B-flat, which is an unusual key. It has an instant vibe. As soon as you play the first notes, the place goes wild.
Why do you think Trooper is still going strong with the current lineup more than 45 years since the group’s first record was released?
Brown: We refer to ourselves as the brotherhood! Everyone gets along so well. You become brothers when you spend so much time together. All the band members — past and present — are friends. I think it’s also about the music and the fans. Over the years and through all the different lineup changes, what never changed were the songs and how much joy our music brings to people. People always ask me whether I ever get tired of playing the same 20 songs over and over again. My answer is always the same — I don’t. I’ve never recalled thinking, ‘I don’t want to play this one again!’
Watch the Canadian Music Hall of Fame Ceremony Presented by Music Canada live on May 18 at 7:00 pm MT via CBC Gem, CBCMusic.ca/junos, and on CBC Music’s Facebook and YouTube pages.