In the latest chapter for one of the area’s longest-running bands, Teenage Head are celebrating the release of a new album this week with a concert on Friday at Jeff Healey’s. Originally hailing from Hamilton, Teenage Head were one of the seminal bands at the infancy of the Toronto punk scene, along with bands like The Scenics, The Viletones, The Mods, and The Ugly. Frequently cited as Canada’s answer to The Ramones—although their new wave and, at times, rockabilly sound was actually more like the Blasters—Teenage Head’s reputation for wild live shows was never really successfully captured on record, so they never really achieved the commercial success they probably deserved. But they are forever tied to this city for providing several of Toronto’s most notorious music-related incidents.
The first of these was the infamous “last” punk concert at the Horseshoe Tavern on December 1, 1978, an event captured on the impossible-to-find documentary, The Last Pogo. Tensions wererunning high in the over-crowded club, as each punk act took turnsriling up the crowd: the lead singer of The Ugly ended his band’s setby telling the audience to kiss his ass, and The Viletones promotedchants of “Kill the Hippies.” By the time Teenage Head were ready to close out the show, the cops arrived and refused to let them take the stage. Their manager convinced the cops that unless they wanted a riot, the band should be allowed to play at least one song. The police agreed, but nobody told the audience. So, when the band walked off the stage after “Picture My Face,” a riot ensued. With the film crew shunted away to safety, there is only audio of the people smashing tables, chairs, and bottles in The Last Pogo, as well as film of the wreckage left in the riot’s wake.
The band’s appearance at Ontario Place on June 2, 1980 solidified the group’s reputation when their appearance also caused a full-fledged riot. With a packed crowd of about 12,000 already inside The Forum an hour before show-time, Ontario Place officials closed the gates and refused entry to 1,500 fans still outside. The overflow crowds tried to stretch out on the pavement so they could at least hear the show until the police arrived to clear the stragglers away. Teenage Head offered to try and calm the growing discontent outside the amphitheatre, but police refused. Then the trouble really started when about 400 fans began hassling passers-by and pelting police with bottles and rocks. By the end of the 4 hour riot, six policemen reported injuries, more than $3,000 in damage was done to police cruisers, and 58 people had been charged.
Front page headlines nationwide, and widespread criticism of the venue’s general admission ticket policy—it had been, after all, only a year since the Who’s tragic Cincinnati show—prompted Ontario Place management to ban all “rock” acts. The ban, unsurprisingly, took a broad, illogical definition for “rock,” and concerts immediately affected included appearances by Rough Trade, Jefferson Starship, Kool and the Gang, Dr. Hook, Devo, and Peter Tosh. Carole Pope of Rough Trade told the Star she was angry because, as she admitted, “We’re the Perry Comos of rock.”
In the aftermath, sales of the Teenage Head’s already popular second album, Frantic City, took off. With their New York City debut scheduled shortly after the Ontario Place fiasco, the band planned to capitalize on their growing notoriety to score a US record deal. But lead guitarist Gord Lewis got seriously injured in a car accident two days before their departure and their break into the American market stalled while he recovered. When they finally inked their American deal, MCA tried to market them as a pub-rock act for the Tornado EP, and attempted to defuse their image by forcing a name change—to the slightly less suggestive Teenage Heads—on the band.
The EP’s title track was the last significant hit for the band in Canada. Through several roster changes—including Dave “Rave” Desroches replacing Frankie Venom as singer for a period—they’ve continued to tour until the present day. The new album—the first in over 12 years—has been a long time coming. Recorded over the course of several years, and featuring drumming by Marky Ramone and production handled by former Ramones producer Daniel Rey, the album retreads some of the best known songs from their back catalogue, including “Let’s Shake,” “Picture My Face,” and “Teenage Beer Drinkin’ Party,” and some new cuts. Friday’s CD release concert, featuring three original members—Lewis, Venom, and Steve Mahon—and new drummer Jack Pedler, starts at 9 p.m. at Jeff Healey’s Roadhouse.
Photo courtesy of Sonic Unyon.