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The Stampeders
with Kim Berly

Interview by Jay Cooper

A band that added to the musical landscape of the 70’s with hit songs, Carry Me, Sweet City Woman, Wild Eyes, Oh my Lady, Hit the Road Jack and many more.


Sadly, since our interview with original drummer Kim Berly, Ronnie King, the original bass player, has passed away.  Our condolences to his family, band mates and friends on such a big loss.  Kim gave us this excerpt from his book to share with you.  The tour will continue as a tribute to Ronnie.  These are Kim’s words.  Kim’s interview continues after this.

Ronnie King, a.k.a. Neil Louis, a.k.a. Cornelis Van Sprang, came into my life just a few weeks before the Stampeders left for Toronto. Introducing himself as Neil, he was immediately likeable and outgoing. Ronnie kept very few secrets, quite unlike Rich and myself. He would tell you anything. He told us of his life as a child adventurer. There didn’t seem to be any youthful, wild-ass foolishness that he hadn’t indulged in. Perhaps that’s the word that best described him: indulgent –– there was nothing he wouldn’t try if it seemed like fun. He really couldn’t wait to get on the road to stardom, and he had all the ingredients for just that. He was tall and handsome and, from two years of working at Canada Iron, ripped… a sandy-haired, fair-skinned Dutch treat who wanted nothing more than everything… a child-man who both demanded and commanded attention. He was in perpetual entertainment mode and made the long-haul drives pass quickly with hilarious stories of his bold adventures.

He drove me crazy, on the one hand, with his unrestrained self-indulgence and utter lack of concern about our lack of money. He would be broke by Tuesday and demanding an advance. He was, literally, what rock stars are made of. He was such fun to be around. No one could break you out of a sour mood like Ronnie. His overall view of life was that it was an absurd comedy to be indulged and enjoyed right now!… and damn the torpedoes.

It took me years to realize he was right. He was a loveable giant kid. Every band needs a Ronnie King. His magnetism and overwhelming need for the spotlight made him an irresistible entertainer. As a musician, he was a perfect foil to Richard’s meticulous approach. They both had excellent pitch and metre, but Ronnie was a wild-ass thrasher and string bender who always cranked his amplifier to the max. Years later, after the band had evolved into an arena attraction, I heard Ronnie ask our soundman, “How does it sound out front, Bob?”

“Oh, you know… bass with occasional vocal.”

Ronnie was the quintessential rockstar, addicted to what he saw as the best life had to offer… sex, drugs, booze, food, and most of all, rock ‘n’ roll.


Original member and drummer Kim Berly took the time for an extended chat about the journey and fame that he, Rich Dobson and Ronnie King experienced. Kim is finishing up his memoir plus a documentary and gave me some insight into their story.  The Stampeders are performing April 30th 2024 at Showplace in Peterborough as a tribute tour to Ronnie King.

The band started as a 6 piece band called The Rebounds out of Calgary. With manager Mel Shaw, they hit the road for Ontario. Kim explains, ‘We got a 1958 Cadillac limousine. I think it was a funeral car and had a purple interior. Mel always believed that we could make it and said we had to get out of Calgary. There was no way to make records, become famous, or do anything from Calgary. We got a summer’s worth of gigs in Ontario and got in this Cadillac with Mel, his wife, two kids, and the six guys in the band. We gave ourselves a week to get to North Bay, including stopping for a gig in Lethbridge. We were supposed to have a gig in Regina, which turned out didn’t exist. So we spent the money we’d made in Lethbridge Alberta and flopped at Terry David Mulligan’s house. He was a DJ back then. We had two days to drive 1600 miles to North Bay. It was non-stop and Mel drove the entire distance. He was 27 years old and put his wife, two kids and these six guys out on the road, on a wing and a prayer. It worked and we got to Ontario.’

The original idea was to go to England, get famous and successfully return from overseas. That plan didn’t work out but was the inception of the name of the band to what we all know - The Stampeders. Kim hilariously explains the situation. “Ah. The story about the Stampeders name, which we thought was a horrible name, just hated it. We were looking for money to go to England. Mel had a meeting with an oil man to fund the England endeavour, and this oil man said, ‘You know, it sounds like a pretty good idea.’ Mel said we would promote Calgary while in England. The investor said, ‘I don’t know how a band called The Rebounds is going to promote Calgary. Why don’t you call yourselves The Stampeders and I’ll think about it.’ So, Mel told us that this guy wants us to change our name. Then he says, ‘To guess what?’ Nobody had a clue but me. I had this instant, sickening feeling. I said, ‘Oh, please, Mel. Not The Stampeders. And he said, YES!’ (laughs)

Kim continued, ‘I got used to the name because it meant $10,000 to go to England. He wanted us in cowboy hats and boots. Rock and roll under a cowboy hat. And so that’s what it was.’ (laughs) The funding never came through even though they changed their name.

‘So we went to Ontario as the Stampeders. With the hats, boots, denims. You know, the Canadian tuxedo when they came out in beige denim. The clothes got dumped in the bathtub with some packets of purple Tintex, so we had purple denim outfits with black hats and western half boots. That was it. We basically moved to Toronto and never went back. We stayed in Ontario where we worked the endless number of bars. We did bars, high schools, beach pavilions, whatever gigs we could get. We never lost sight of what we were trying to do, which was get famous and be rock stars. It took a couple years to get to where there was just myself, Ronnie and Rich left. The rest of the band went home. We were the younger guys. The others were in their mid-twenties. I had my 18th birthday in Ontario.’

Crazy to think these 3 teenagers from Calgary were close to fulfilling their lofty dreams as a rock band. Kim’s recollection of some of those gigs, ‘We played at The Old Patio in Yorkville Village and drew all the suburban kids. Thousands of them on the weekends and all week long in the summertime. Then we played a gig with the best band in Ontario called the Five Rogues. They became Mandela, good guys. They were just superb and were playing at a big curling rink where we opened for them. There were 2,000 kids there and they couldn’t care less about us. We had a little sound system, and we looked ridiculous. They watched us, hardly any applause, nothing like that. We were sitting dejectedly on our foot and a half high little stage that we have. The main stage to my left was like 4 feet high and had a big ramp 15 feet long sticking out in front of it. The Five Rogues had a spotlight, huge equipment, a giant sound system, and they just tore the walls off the place. The guitar player from the Five Rogues came over and said, ‘I have to tell you guys, you have real guts. I don’t know if the cowboy thing is going to work, but hey, that’s really brave. You guys just get out there, keep playing the bars, get your shit together. I think that’s what it will take for you to make it.’ Their manager said, ‘It’s very nice to see somebody bringing something fresh to the scene.’

‘We lived on $2 a day in the early days. You could get breakfast for 35 cents, toast and coffee. Most diners had $1.25 dinner specials, so you could get a bowl of soup, a hot sandwich, tapioca and a cup of coffee. We would have 30 cents left over for some chips after the night’s gig. But we got better and better. We got better equipment and gradually started putting money into promotion. Nobody else was doing that. I can see why the older guys went home. Even in your mid-twenties, tolerating that kind of bizarre lifestyle, you have no money and you’re on the road all the time.’

Being a Rock Trio wasn’t the norm at the time but left more money to split between three guys. ‘We became pretty much the first trio that I’d seen in Canada. When you become a trio, you need bigger amps because volume is part of a rock trio. It was three more years before we finally got records happening with ‘Carry Me’. We found a half-priced deal at a studio called Sound Canada, so we would go in at midnight and work till late in the morning with a student engineer and recorded Carry Me. That was the first song that broke and got coast to coast airplay. And we had distribution. It sold records and got us on charts all across the country. That was our first breakout song.’

‘In late autumn of 1970 a new studio in Toronto opened, Toronto Sound, which was a 16 track, state of the art studio. We went there to record Sweet City Woman in the spring of ‘71 and you all know the story about that. I mean, that was one of those miraculous things that just starts and you know right away it’s going to be a hit. It was on the Hot 100 within a matter of weeks, which is really rare and went up the charts real fast. Your whole life changes. Sweet City Woman was pure pop. The banjo was an afterthought. Rich didn’t play banjo, so he just tuned it like a guitar, which has frustrated banjo players for years and years. It just started to roll. Then you’re busy, it was a great time, we were out of the bars and travelling. In ’73 we finally got to England and Europe. Those were the heady years.’
No matter the success. being in a band has it’s challenges. Kim says, ‘All careers are like sine waves. You’ve got peaks and valleys. We hit a valley and rather than just ride it out, we decided to make changes. The band expanded, we got more players and Rich left because he didn’t like that whole thing. There were some personality issues that developed afterwards as well. It’s like a marriage. It was good for a long time, then it got a little rugged and, just like a marriage, when it breaks up you can become friendly with your ex. In a sense, that’s what happened with the Stamps. We’re the best of friends now, have been since we got back together. It was a little rough because I was uncertain if I wanted to do it again. I thought nobody would care or remember. That was clearly wrong. It took a number of years to rebuild The Stampeders, because it took years to spread the word that we were back. There were the pop and classic rock festivals to help get the word out and we did all of them. All the peach festivals, the fruit and vegetables festivals from coast to coast. (laughs) We had audiences. The band has been back together since 1992 so we’re looking at 32 years. It’s been quite a ride. I certainly didn’t expect to have this going on at this stage of my life.’

They have shared the stage with so many iconic bands. Is there a memorable story? Like, oh my god, I just got to chat with such and such and I can’t believe it.

‘Not so much for me. Ronnie was really into that, I was too shy to go marching into somebody’s dressing room. We found that most of the big acts, if we were opening for them were not even going to meet you. They showed up before their show and they left right after. We were on the road with Black Oak Arkansas in the south of the US. Black Oak were really big in the south. Jim Dandy? Jim Dandy to the rescue! Yeah! They were great - good guys without the arrogance like a lot of the big stars.

We had a good time with Black Oak. But there was one show, we were opening for them. It was usually two acts until this one gig, there was a third band. We got bumped to the opening of the show. I was upset about that. We played our show. I heard about these guys and I didn’t really like the idea. It was Kiss. I saw pictures of them with the outfits and the tall shoes and I thought, this is bullshit. Then I’d heard a song from them and knew, yeah, this is really bullshit (laughs). So anyway, they play and I hear this big explosion and I go out to the stage and I watch them. I think, man, these guys are actors and they’re just kind of learning how to play. By the end of their show, they let off so many smoke bombs that the fire marshal had cleared the building before Black Oak could go on. So I went out and I saw these skinny, pimply dudes, hanging around the stage. They’d obviously gotten shit for doing this. And I thought, well, you’ll never make it. I mean, these guys had zits all over the place from all that pancake, crease paint. Well as it turns out Kiss did make a living out of that bullshit (laughs).’

People may not realize their popularity was international. ‘We went to England, played in South America - those were certainly the boom years. We won an Edison Award in Amsterdam Holland and received a telegram from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Things were going our way and we had this fabulous opportunity and we were known, once you break the ice. It’s a great leg up when you have a hit record and tours abroad were going well.’

Kim talks about the song writing process for the band. ‘Richard was the most prolific writer. He had the most song contributions with Ronnie King next and me with the least. On the first album I had one song contribution. The second album I had two songs and the third album I had four songs. It has to go back and forth like that. I still write all the time and I’ve got new songs. I record them at home and I’ve got friends who participate in that endeavor.’

The new tour is starting up in April. do they rehearse regularly? ‘We’ll rehearse a little bit before we go out on tour, just to grease up the fingers and stuff. Rich keeps contemplating retirement, but his daughter says don’t you dare.’ (laughs)

I asked Kim, ‘The Stampeders are set to play 30 shows. You do you realize that this is 2024 not 1992’ (laughs). Kim says, ‘We work with Terry McRae of Shantero Productions on our tours - a wonderful company to work with. We told him, ‘Terry, a maximum of four shows in a row and not too many. I’ve never seen such a well routed tour. We get a day off every couple of days and that’s really all you need to regenerate. I have the hardest job in the sense that I’m still a rock drummer. I like to play loud and I like to play hard. I’ve got the energy that moves the band.’

Kim has a book coming out, and there is also a documentary coming. ‘I’m basically on my third draft of the book, which means reading it until you’re satisfied, changing words and restructuring sentences. I’ve already cut out tons of it. That’s the first thing I learned about writing a book - you’re going to have way too much stuff. It will be soon, it’s pretty much ready to go. The documentary is being produced by a company in LA and through Rich Dodson’s daughter. Pretty interesting interviews and old footage to show the unique story of The Stampeders. I don’t think anyone will be disappointed.’

Kim wants their friends and fans to know, ‘First of all, thank you. The relationship we have with fans and the people who come to see us is, I think, really, really warm and really wonderful and we have such a good time when we’re on stage. I hope everyone comes out and shares in the music, history and good times of The Stampeders”.
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