Sarnia-born rockers putting 'Max Webster' back on road
By DAN McCAFFERY
The Beatles aren't the only old rock 'n roll band back in the news these days.
In fact, legendary Canadian musician Kim Mitchell and the rest of the Max
Webster band plan a reunion tour over the holiday season.
The group, which is made up mostly of Sarnia natives, disbanded about a dozen
years ago after selling hundreds of thousands of albums.
Mr. Mitchell, a two-time Juno Award winner, says the band will perform from
Boxing Day to New Year's Eve in Toronto, Buffalo, Ottawa, Kitchener and
Max Webster, which included fellow Sarnians Dave Myles and Garry McCracken and
Toronto's Terry Watkinson, is getting back together at least partly to meet
the demands of its fans. "Everywhere I go people ask 'when are you going to do
a reunion?' The band had a lot of impact on people's lives."
Mr. Mitchell has been involved in music almost as long as he can remember. "I
got started as a five-year-old," he told The Observer in a recent interview.
"I've always been interested in the guitar. I started taking lessons when I
was eight or nine in Sarnia."
His first band - The Gladiators - was formed when he and a handful of other
11-year-olds got together to perform at High Park School.
He was an accomplished guitarist and vocalist but he wasn't a big hit with his
teachers. Indeed, when he announced plans to take arts and science courses in
high school, he was bluntly told he didn't have the brains to succeed in that
At St. Clair Secondary School teachers were soon on his case for growing his
hair too long. Disenchanted with his studies, he dropped out of school at age
17 and headed to Toronto to pursue a music career.
"I quit school, which I wouldn't advise anyone to do. I remember the day I left very well. The principal stopped me in the hall and said 'you're in the
higher grades now and you should be setting an example. We think you should
cut your hair.' "
Mr. Mitchell and a few friends formed a band called Zoom but it was hardly a
roaring success. "The band starved... we went broke and everyone else went
back to Sarnia."
Undaunted, he left for the Greek island of Rhodes, where he spent time backing
up a "Greek version of Tom Jones."
Back in Canada by age 21, he started Max Webster and his career really took
off. "A year later we got a record contract and the six or seven albums all
hit gold (recording sales of more than 50,000 copies each). Two were platinum
(sales of over 100,000 each)."
After about nine years the band broke up. "I was creatively burned out and
wanted a change."
Out on his own, Mr. Mitchell produced six albums, including one with sales
that topped the 300,000 mark and another that sold over 200,000.
Mr. Mitchell won a 1987 Juno award for best album (Shakin' Like a Human Being)
and another in 1990 as Canada's top vocalist.
Counting his work with Max Webster, he has sold well over a million albums.
Over the years, his trademark was an OPP cap given to him by a cousin. But
that ended "when it blew off my head on a stormy night and the equipment truck
ran over it. I took it as being symbolic - that it was time to move on."
As for the Max Webster reunion, he says band members plan to take things one
step at a time. "We're taking it as it comes. We'll see if something creative
comes out of it. Maybe there'll be a new album."
Over the long haul, the 43-year-old isn't sure what he'll do. "We live in
unusual times and I'm not immune to that at all."
There are days when he dreams about giving up his music career. "I often
fantasize about being a grounds keeper at a beautiful estate in Hawaii."
More realistically, "I might end up teaching (guitar). Who knows?"
For now, he intends to stick with his career. "I still make a living doing
what I'm doing. If it's not broke, don't fix it. I'm too stupid to quit. I
guess my principal was right."