Kim Mitchell Band
Interview by Jay Cooper
The legend, Kim Mitchell, was so gracious to take time for this interesting, entertaining and down right hilarious (at moments) interview. Zoom to Show Band to Max Webster to who we know for the last few decades - Kim Mitchell. Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, Juno winner, dog lover and wonderful human being.
KIM MITCHELL (KM): Hey Jay, how are you today?
JAY COOPER (ATOTK): I’m good, my friend, The Great Dane got walked and fed and I’m talking to you.
KM: Same here, the Golden Doodle got walked and fed so we’re on the same page. We are dog lovers and walkers and it doesn’t matter whom we think we are the dog just looks up and says “pick that up” (laughs).
ATOTK: I took Radio Broadcasting back in the day - you were on the mighty Q107 did you have some training for the gig?
KM: Well, it’s interesting since I never took any of those courses. I was surprised that those courses even existed (laughs). When I took the job I got attitude in the hallways with “What’s he doing here, he never took any courses and he sucks”. Well, you got half of that right because I do suck at this job (laughs). I just told them I’ll learn and I’ll work hard, which I did.
ATOTK: I promise not to ask you what your fans can expect from your show or who your influences are.
KM: (laughs) Thank you. There is a way to ask that stuff just not like that. Like are there certain songs that you’ll be focusing on or albums, so there are ways around that. I just find it lazy and you haven’t done your homework like influences, well if I go see a guy and he’s wearing a fucking hat, playing a strat and he’s playing blues, I will bet Stevie Ray Vaughn is one of his influences (laughs).
ATOTK: Thank you again for being in this issue. You’re in good company with Dan Aykroyd.
KM: I remember riding in a van to a party with John Candy and Dan Aykroyd, after something that Bryan Adams put together for a benefit song. I can’t remember what they said but they were just riffing and it was so hilarious. They weren’t doing a routine, it was the back and forth between the two and how they communicate. It was epic and one of the many highlights of my life.
ATOTK: Your connection and love of the Kawarthas is very solid with playing here and friends in the area like Greg Wells?
KM: Well, yeah, Greg and his family. Del Crary Park is one of my favorite gigs. I’ve driven throughout the Kawarthas, but I took a drive one day and ended up at Del Crary Park and just sat on the stage by myself and enjoyed where I was.
ATOTK: For those that don’t know, lets go into the musical journey for you from high school.
KM: I left home at 17 and moved to Toronto with my band at the time. I never finished high school. I left in the first month of grade 11, which I wouldn’t advise. When I agreed to move to Toronto, literally the next day the principal stopped me and said “You should be setting an example now that you’re in grade 11 and I would ask that you cut your hair”. I said, well if I was going to stay I might do that but I’m moving with my band and will be out of here in a couple of weeks. Now that was a nice moment (laughs). In public school I ran into the same problem. I was in grade 8 and playing with guys in high school playing dances. My friends at the time were riding bikes and playing tag and I was like, I can’t, I have a gig this weekend. When I was asked what courses I wanted to take in high school I said probably arts and sciences. The response was “Well your older sister is taking that and not doing well and she’s twice as smart as you are.” (laughs)
ATOTK: Being in Public school and immerged in the high school scene must have been interesting?
KM: You know what Jay? When I was still in grade 8 my girlfriend was a cheerleader in high school and that did not go over well with the older guys who wanted to ask her out.
ATOTK: The jocks wouldn’t like that at all. (laughs)
KM: (laughs) No they wouldn’t like it at all. Even though I was thinking it, I wasn’t going to walk up to the quarterback and say, “You know I’m just cooler than you. I might just be a kid in Grade 8 but I’m out cooling you already. (laughs)
ATOTK: You moved to Toronto with the band, Zoom. How did that work out?
KM: Well, we did ok opening up for MC5 and Alice Cooper amongst others. We lived next to 3 guys that just got out of the Don Jail, which was a bit scary as they broke our door down and came in to introduce themselves. They ended up protecting us because we were just little guys from Sarnia renting a house for $150/month. We were practicing in the house, so it was loud and then they came in and we thought, OK we’re dead. (laughs)
ATOTK: Next you moved to Greece to play in a Tom Jones tribute band?
KM: I was going to go back to school but got a call to join a show band - I didn’t even know what that was. It was $150/week and it was a fun time, Greece is beautiful. It was paradise and my biggest decision during the day was to turn left or right. At night we played to mostly tourists.
ATOTK: You then moved back and started the iconic band Max Webster?
KM: I moved back to take guitar lessons from a specific teacher, Tony Braden, but soon after that the band was formed. Now, the band did OK across Canada and people still bring Max Webster up. I asked on FB what songs do you want to hear on this summers shows and 80% was Max Webster stuff. Now I take that with a grain of salt because this far into my career, that’s the stuff you care about? You do realize there was another career that sold 10 times more than that? But we did share the stage with RUSH, Styx, Black Sabbath, Lynyrd Skynyrd, REO Speedwagon, Foghat. Just met so many amazing people that I pinch myself thinking I actually got to talk to those people. Of course, that continued with my solo career.
ATOTK: Off topic, but are you a gas or charcoal guy with the BBQ?
KM: Now your asking a good question. (laughs) Charcoal all the way because it slows you down. You come off the road on a Sunday from flying and traffic and sit down, light the BBQ and wait for it to heat up, you know? It’s not so instant. Everything in life does not have to be instant.
ATOTK: The OPP cap story is interesting. So for those that don’t know the story, how did it become your thing?
KM: I was in a restaurant/pub and my cousins’ kid comes in and says “We want to come to your show” and I said no problem, I can help you out but you’re going to have to give me that OPP hat you’re wearing. He gave it to me, I put it on and looked in a mirror and thought, yeah I’m digging that look.(laughs) It was a cool thing because the OPP were onboard with it and used the song ‘Go for a Soda’ for the Mothers Against Drunk Driving campaign (although the song had nothing to do with that). Different detachments would bring me hats to our shows, hang out backstage and have a few laughs.
ATOTK: Who eats the most of the large bowl of fresh fruit on your rider?
KM: Ah, I think we all pick away at the healthy stuff. We get off stage, the fruit is getting warm so we go with the pizza and wings. It starts on a healthy note in the afternoon and then just a deep dive after the show. (laughs)
ATOTK: Who drinks more beer, vodka or Jack Daniels from your rider?
KM: These are great questions. It gives you a little insight into the backstage scene. The alcohol on the rider is for stage hands that help us out and guests. We like to offer them a drink and food that’s left over. Dinner can be catered or a buyout but we have to guage our sound check. If it’s a buyout, we can go to a restaurant and have a good meal. Problem is, in smaller towns the restaurants can be packed with people eating and then going to our show.
ATOTK: Great new album that you just put out - ‘The Big Fantasize’. It is a work of art literally.
KM: Thank you for that. Yeah Greg Wells came to visit me after my heart attack and I gave him a USB stick with the songs I was working on. He got back to me and said ‘You have to come down here and record this with me - your audience really needs to hear this side of you.’
ATOTK: Best gig?
KM: They’re all cool but I have very fond memories of Del Crary Park. I’m not saying that because you are A Taste of the Kawarthas magazine, but that place was always jammed with fans. I’m a happy guy and love playing outside in the summer with the smell of the food trucks and fireworks afterwards, just such a great experience.
ATOTK: Worst gig ever?
KM: Max Webster. We were the first rock band to play at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit opening for Rush, as the arena was just finished. I was getting pelted with something they were throwing and I looked down and they were bullets! I remember talking to Alice Cooper about this and I was like, who sits at home and says, “Ok show tonight, have you got the tickets? Have you got the bullets? Ok”. Like who even thinks like that, “You got the bullets for the opening act? Are you gonna throw them at them? Yeah, yeah, screw those guys.” (laughs)
Lawrence Gowan (STYXX) on Kim Mitchell
Kim and I have a lot of connections over the years. With my band Rhinegold, Max Webster was either preceding or following us in most venues. Fast-forward and both bands had broken up and I got a solo deal with Columbia records and could choose my band for the album. I wanted Kim Mitchell as my guitar player as I wanted a ringer. He is a consummate, pure musician. Masterful at any style he plays and an engaging entertainer. Personable, yet an enigma on the scene as he’s very private person. Kim has a strong sense of humor and strong sense of what is musically viable.