By Peter Lindblad
In Calgary, Canada, where oil was — and still is — king, a joint called The Refinery Night Club was the place to find good rock ’n’ roll in the early ’80s. That’s where Loverboy got its start. Soon after singer Mike Reno and guitarist-producer Paul Dean formed the group, Loverboy experienced a boom of its own, cranking out enduring hits like “Working for the Weekend,” “Hot Girls in Love,” “Turn Me Loose” and “When It’s Over,” to name just a few.
Along with Heart’s Ann Wilson, Reno also left a nice mark on 1980s pop culture with the duet “Almost Paradise,” one of several hits included on the “Footloose” movie soundtrack.
Loverboy’s feverish rock ’n’ roll made the band — now featuring original members Reno and Dean along with drummer Matt Frenette, keyboardist Doug Johnson and bassist Ken “Spider” Sinnaeve, who replaced the late Scott Smith — an ’80s arena-rock sensation. And there was Reno out in front, sporting his trademark headband and those ubiquitous red leather pants. A new LP, titled “Rock ’N’ Roll Revival” that was produced by the band’s old friend Bob Rock, boasts three sparkling new anthems and hot live versions of the band’s beloved classics. Reno recently talked to Goldmine about all things Loverboy.
GM: There’s a specially written new track on the record called “Rock ’n’ Roll Revival” that’s very much in the style of Loverboy’s biggest anthems. What motivated you and Paul to write that track, and what is it that’s missing in today’s rock ‘n’ roll?
Mike Reno: Well, the reason we wrote the track was I thought there was something missing. It’s funny that you say that about what’s missing from rock ’n’ roll. I thought good ol’-fashioned, singing-out-loud rock ’n’ roll — three-chord rock ’n’ roll — is kind of missing. And it’s kind of what we always did. I said to Paul, “Come on down.” I bought a house in California, and I said, “Come on down, everybody’s leaving. I’ve got you and me sitting at the dining room table with a couple of guitars, and all I want is one song. I don’t want an album. I don’t want to write two songs. I don’t want to write three songs. I want to write one song. Are you in?” And he said, “You bet I am, buddy.” So he came down with his guitar, we sat at the kitchen table, and we wrote a bunch of stuff … And I said, “This is right on.” I want the whole country to get back into a rock ’n’ roll revival. People are tired of the crap that’s going on out there — all this fancy stuff, “dance like Mick Jagger.” Who gives a sh*t? How about just rock ’n’ roll? Do you know what I’m saying?
GM: How did these new versions of tracks like “Working for the Weekend,” “Turn Me Loose” and “Lovin’ Every Minute of It” develop?
MR: A lot of those tracks we ended up mixing to put on the record were taken from this [place] in Northern Ontario. For some reason, we had 6,000 people show up for one night in concert, and we looked out at that audience, and it was hot. We just got energized. Matty, our drummer, was on. And how it works for Loverboy is if Matty’s in the pocket, we just jump right in there. And some nights are better than others. It’s always good, but some nights it’s just insane and magic.
GM: Once and for all, how did you decide on your band name?
MR: Paul Dean and I were sitting around one night doing a movie night. We had some girls with us, and we were going to a movie or something, and I noticed the girls were reading fashion magazines … Cosmopolitan and all those kinds of magazines, and they were checking out the latest fashions. And Paul and I kind of looked at each other, and I think he might have said, “How about we call ourselves Coverboy?” You know, as opposed to Covergirl — with all these magazines, there were all these cover girls, right? And we both kind of laughed and said, “That’s not bad. Maybe that’ll tweak some of the real rock guys, you know, clad in shaggy blue jeans and open-toed … whatever. Maybe we’ll spend a little time on our look and we’ll go for some color and go for it, right?” The next morning, he called me, and he’s like, “I kind of had this weird dream that we’d decided to call ourselves Loverboy, and I’m not comfortable.” And I said, “Dean, if we call ourselves that, we’re going to get the sh*t kicked out of us.” And he said, “Well, let’s give it a try.” And I said, “OK, let’s give it a try,” and every time we mentioned it, we got a rise out of people.
GM: Tell me about the Refinery Night Club.
MR: The Refinery was a cool place where they brought in international acts, and the way they did it at the time was the ticket for the concert had to have … let’s say it was a Johnny Rivers concert. The place would hold 500 people, and when you came in, they brought you a plate of food and then you could order drinks. A lot of people weren’t hungry, so they just let the food sit there, but it was pretty good food. Our manager became Lou Blair, who owned The Refinery. We were just kind of squeezing by, and we were starving rock musicians, so we used to go over there to get in on the free dinner. And that was before I even knew Paul.
GM: And how did you meet Paul?
MR: One night, I was at one of the concerts, and I left out the back door. It was, like, 40 below zero in the middle of winter. As I’m walking over toward my car — which wouldn’t start, by the way, ’cause it was so freaking cold — I noticed I could hear this sound coming out of this old … it was like a bus repair shop, like a Greyhound bus repair shop. It was a big, huge place — all windows — and there was this little half door, and I heard this sound … and it was one guy playing all these rock riffs on guitar. I was curious, so I walked over, and I kind of stood there for a second. So I pulled this little half door open to sneak in. Just as I did, he glanced over, and this guy was sitting on an old soda pop crate in the middle of this empty warehouse, with this giant heater blasting in the corner of the room. There was a small little tape recorder in front of him, and he’s sitting in front of this ghetto blaster banging out rock riffs on his Stratocaster. And he looks at me, and he says, “Hey, man, come on over.” So I go over, and he introduces himself, and I introduce myself, and he went, “No kidding, man. I’ve always wanted to meet you.” And he said that just as I was saying the same thing, ’cause even though we were Canadian musicians and I’d done a few records and he’d done a few records and I’d seen his band … I’d never met him. And it was fun to meet him, and I was kind of excited to meet him. In my mind, he was in one of the greatest bands in Canada called Streetheart. And I was wondering how his band was going, and about a half an hour into the conversation, he sprung it on me that he’d come home for Christmas in Calgary from Winnipeg, where Streetheart was from, and he got a phone call, and they’d canned him. And he was in a really bad state of mind.
GM: Is that right? Whose fingers are crossed then?
MR: The girl’s father. Well, here’s how it happened. So we told the guy at the record company in New York, “The guys want to call the record ‘Get Lucky,’ so we need to come up with an idea for the record cover.” So the guy in New York told one of their artists to come up with an album cover. The guy was messing around with stuff … in his mind, he went, “I heard this. What do they look like? What do they dress like?” So, they sent him a picture, and I was in red leather pants in the picture, or somebody was. And so the guy said, “Get me a pair of red leather pants,” and nobody could fit into them except his daughter. So, his daughter fit into these leather pants that were just like we bought, and he put his hands down there and used a flash … you know, one of those cords that turns the camera on and took the picture and sent it to us. And we said, “We love it. That’s perfect.” You know, we never told anybody. We never said to anybody that it was us.
GM: When you first heard about MTV, what did you think of the concept, and was there a lot of discussion about how to take advantage of the exposure it offered?
MR: Well, the concept of MTV wasn’t around. There wasn’t anything called a video. We didn’t record anything until the record company said, “While you’re on tour, we want you to go to Albany, N.Y. We’ve got this theater booked for the weekend. We want you to play some concerts, and we’re going to film them.” And we said, “Really? OK.” So we did. And we sang a whole bunch of songs, recorded them with movie cameras, and we did a few little vignettes where we would talk to somebody … you know, little things here and there. And we filmed all weekend, and then we went back on tour. Little did we know that they were going to piece it together with little bits and pieces of whatever and turn them into four-minute videos. And they sent them to New York to a new company called MTV that was just starting up, and Loverboy sent them two or three videos for the first week they opened, because they didn’t have enough to play 24 hours a day. Remember, it was rock videos 24 hours a day on MTV. Well, they didn’t have enough to play, so they played us, like, 10 times a day, and it made us hugely famous.
GM: What was the highest high for Loverboy, and when did you experience your lowest low?
MR: Oh, the lowest low was probably in 1990. The record company didn’t know what they wanted, and radio stations changed their formats, and we basically just took a break. That was the lowest for all of us, because we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves. We hadn’t taken that much time off before. But, in a way, it taught us a lot of things, so it was a good thing. But it was a low point. I learned to like it. The high point, I guess — or one of the high points — was when we were asked to play on “American Bandstand” for, like, the second time, and our record was hitting the charts. And Dick Clark called us and said, “Get your butts to Los Angeles this Saturday. You’re on ‘American Bandstand.’” And it was during a break, and Paul and I and Matty were down in Mexico doing one of those 10-day excursions where if you change anything, you lose the whole trip. We didn’t know what to do. We had to leave our girlfriends there and make our way to Los Angeles from Puerto Vallarta, and the next thing you know, we’re on television. Dick Clark is coming up to us and shaking our hands, going, “This thing is going to be a hit, boys.” And we became friends.