Triumph are one of the most iconic bands to come out of Canada. It took a few years for the melodic hard rock trio of Mike Levine (bass, keyboards, synthesizers), Gil Moore (drums, vocals) and Rik Emmett (guitar, lead vocals) to break through across the American border, but in 1979, with hits like “Lay It on the Line” and “Hold On,” the gates were opened. By the time the band released the album Allied Forces in 1981, success was in full gear. Allied Forces became the band’s best-selling album, eventually turning platinum in the U.S.
Now, on the 40th anniversary of Allied Forces, Levine sat down with Goldmine to talk about the rerelease of the album as a sizable box set and how the band are serving as Record Store Day Ambassador for Canada in 2021. But first, let’s go back to the genesis of the band.
MIKE LEVINE: We were trying to figure out a name for the band and we could not come up with anything good, so we put it out to friends and business associates and anything and everybody. Gil, who was at that time booking some bands on the side in high schools and colleges and stuff, asked all his contacts to submit names. A girl who was the social convener — I guess what they called the person back then who hired bands for their school dances — at a Catholic girls’ high school in Toronto, she won the contest. Triumph was one of the names she had come up with. It was between that and Hellfire. We were close to picking Hellfire, but in those days a radio station could not say the word “hell.” So, that kind of went out the window. If we ever had a record or wanted something to get played, that would have been a problem.
GOLDMINE: It seemed that you selected the right name and then created an iconic logo that appears on your albums, most prominently on Allied Forces. This album in now being rereleased for its 40th anniversary, and this 40th anniversary box set has to be one of the most complete sets for a single record. This is coming out for Canadian Record Store Day and you are serving as the official Ambassador for Canadian Record Store Day. How did you find out about all of this?
ML: It actually came through our publicist Chip Ruggieri. He called me up one day and said, “Hey, the Record Store Day Canada package is a big deal, because it ties into the U.S. Record Store Day and the rest of the world. So they would like you guys to be the ambassadors for 2021.” But this started almost a year ago with them, so we talked about it and I said, “Sure, why not.” We’re record guys. You know, we grew up living in record stores back in the old days. It’s quite an honor for us, and we’re really happy about it.
GM: I understand that they are expecting this box set to sell out on Record Store Day (a limited 1,200 copies were on sale at the June 12 RSD Drop), so if fans want it, they better get out there early for it. The set seems to have a lot in it. There’s a picture disc of the original Allied Forces album. There’s a 2-LP 1981 concert in Cleveland and then there’s a 7-inch single, which I guess is the first time the single has ever been released with “Allied Forces” and “Magic Power” as live A-sides, correct?
ML: Yeah, “Magic Power” and “Allied Forces” are from a live show in Ottawa, and that’s never seen the light of day before.
GM: It’s my understanding that it comes with not only the records but also a Maple Leaf Gardens show poster, a 24-page book, 40th anniversary tour book, a 40th anniversary tour poster, 40th anniversary tour pass, three hand-drawn cartoons from Rik Emmett and then handwritten lyrics. How involved were you with the packaging of this?
ML: Actually, this is probably the first release ever that I was not really hands on with the coordination and making sure things got done and that kind of thing. Andy Curran, who was hired as a project coordinator, did everything. Andy, in his own right, is still the bass player in Coney Hatch, a Canadian band, and he worked in the Rush camp for a long time. Andy and I go way back, and when the record company said we are going to do this box set, I said we had to have Andy coordinating it. We could not have someone in Los Angeles coordinating and going into our vaults and our archives dealing with travel when they are in L.A. and all our sh*t is in Toronto. So they agreed to hire Andy and he did all the work, and climbed up in the attic above Metalworks (studios) and rolled around and dusted everything. It was very cool and still some work for us, but Andy did all the heavy lifting and he did a hell of a job.
GM: You mentioned earlier that you were into records and that records were a big part of your band. Do you have any favorite record stores from back in the day?
ML: Oh sure. Every Sunday I figured out a way to get from the suburbs, and there was not much public transportation back then. A bunch of us would work out ways to downtown Toronto. There were two great stores right beside each other on Yonge Street: Sam the Record Man and A&A Records. They were both like two to three stories of nothing but vinyl records. You would go there and check out all the bins. It was an experience just wandering through and you never know what to buy. Sometimes you had never heard of the band, but you looked at the cover and it looked cool and you said, “I bet their music sounds really cool, too.” Back then there was not a lot of radio that played album-style music. They were all Top 40 stations here (in Canada). Going to those stores was like going to church. None of us went to church, so the church was the record store.
GM: What kind of music were you interested in back then?
ML: Then I pretty much listened to everything. You know, there was a lot of rhythm and blues. I got really big into records in 1961-62. That was my first track into the world of record albums and singles and stuff at record stores. Rhythm and blues was big and, of course, when The Beatles came along. Then the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple later on. FM radio started and you started to hear album-oriented rock on the radio, and the expanse of music was incredible.
GM: Was your family supportive when you decided to become a professional musician?
ML: Well, it’s funny ‘cause a bunch of us started a band while we were in high school, and we would play church basements and people’s houses sometimes, if the house was big enough. It became a very cool thing to do, because there were not a lot of local bands around. You got to meet a lot of girls, which was neat, and play music that you loved. We were not very good at it. Over the years we got a little better and then band the broke up. But when I decided to get serious with it, my dad was a musician, rest his soul. He was a bass player. He played in the Toronto Symphony, but was also a top-level jazz bass player. Music was always in our house. He did not really understand rock and roll, although he did know about The Beatles. He did expose me to a lot of different styles of music. I loved classical and loved jazz. My sister, who was a few years older than me, would bring home 78s of rock and roll, “Good Golly, Miss Molly” by Little Richard and things like that. So when I told my parents they could tell this is what I wanted to do and they said, “OK, but you sure you don’t want to be a lawyer or a doctor?” I did agree to go to college for a year, but it was part-time so I could still play in a band. I eventually stopped going to class and basically shot pool all day.
GM: Do you still have your records from back in the day?
ML: You know, I wish I did. I have a few. We had a fire in our basement, my wife and I, a few years ago, and we lost a lot of stuff. There was a lot of melted wax. It was a drag. I think I rescued a few singles that were OK. I kept some special vinyl. My collection is small, but I got Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles and the Stones. A lot of them are still in the shrink wrap. I do enjoy looking at them.
GM: Are there any record stores you like to still visit?
ML: Well, you can’t do that right now where we live, due to COVID, but yeah, I drop in now and then. Most of them are used stores, and that’s the way they survive by buying and selling used records.
GM: Any record that you wish you had in your collection?
ML: Wow, that’s a hard question. I would say the original Chicago Transit Authority CTA. The first album was a double album and I did own it, but I wore it out, and I would love to have it back because it’s a fabulous record.
GM: Besides the 40th anniversary of
Allied Forces coming out in June, are there any additional releases that we might get from Triumph?
ML: Yeah, we have a lot of live stuff in our vault. It needs someone to rub the dust off, but I’m sure they are OK. We just need to find the right time to release it. The box set of Allied Forces comes out at a good time because there is a documentary that should be coming out in the fall. It’s almost done and been in the works for three years.