After toiling on the 'B' circuit in several bands through the late '70s to minimal success, Edmonton's Rick Shermack decided a change in direction was in order. "I decided it was time to put together a group that would start out working the better and more profitable "A" circuit, and hopefully slowly develop that into a recording band," he explained.
He approached Danny Makarus, who was a manager and agent for many years of bands such as Andromeda, Pretty Rough, and country bands Kidd Country and Gary Lee & Showdown. He also headed up his own record company, DMT Records, and his own studio with partner Gerry Dere, a Juno Award winning producer/engineer (and member of Privilege) whose credits included Wes Dakus, Trooper, One Horse Blue, and Jenson Interceptor.
By late 1981, there were several groups in rock that had women fronting the bands, and after several meetings with Makarus, Shermack decided to follow suit would be the best and quickest way to keep working full time and in the top clubs. "We figured sharing the lead vocal duties and sticking with mostly cover tunes would allow us to play not only clubs, but cabarets, and high school dances," Shermack said.
He was introduced to singer/keyboardist Laurie Kerr, and the nucleus of the new band was set. With Shermack dropping the bass for guitars instead, auditions were held and guitarist Paul Shapiro, bass player Craig Beakhouse and drummer Paul St Pierre were added. The group got their name from the 1982 Scorpions hit from the BLACKOUT album. "I had no idea what the song was about. I just liked the title, and so there it was. We outfitted ourselves in typical stage clothes of the period, spandex - but only the best spandex - blazers, vests, gawdy jewellery, big hair, and of course everything including the equipment whenever possible was black and white. It was the '80s," Shermack laughed.
The oil boom of the early '80s was on and the band saw instant success touring Canada, playing covers by Heart, Prism, Scandal, and all the top radio hits of the day. While playing a club in Fort McMurray, AB, the club owner told Shermack about a promotion they had, where all the bands that came through invented and named their own shooter. "This was a very new thing at the time. Before that it was just called a shot of tequila, a jelly bean, or whatever... Very few to choose from and not really popular. They kept track of which bands' shooters they sold the most of. I can't recall what we were supposed to win, but that's where the world renowned China White Shooter was born. It became so popular that one company actually changed the name of one of the ingredients, White Crème de Cacao...to China White," Shermack said.
Personnel changes didn't affect the band continuing to be one of the most popular on the scene, until Shermack and Kerr, now married, divorced. Though the two of them wrote and recorded many songs, the band spent practically all their time touring, and time finally caught up with them. After the group's initial demise, Kerr went into country music, where she toured, wrote songs, and finally moved to Nashville to pursue her career. Shapiro went on to form Tokyo Rose.
Shermack tried to change the name of the band several times in the late '80s and early '90s, but the clubs continued to want the China White name. Several songs by this point had begun to make waves. "Walk in the River" was nominated for an ARIA (Alberta Recording Industry Association) Award, and "Wild Heart" won the songwriting competition sponsored by Eddie Schwartz.
Still shopping for a record deal that was right for them, China White found their way on to a number of radio station and indie compilation releases, including K97's Homegrown 1985 with "All I Wanted from You," and DMT Records' compilation album with "Walk in the River" in 1987. In 1999, under the new name of Bridge, they released the CD THROWING ROCKS AT THE SUN.
In 1990 Shermack did a short tour as lead vocalist with Prism, which he called not only an honour, but actually rather easy. "We were always playing their songs anyway, now here was my chance to blast out all those Prism hits I'd been covering for all those years with the guys who wrote them - an absolute blast."
China White continued to play dates throughout the '90s, and in 2000 landed a gig as the house band for "Friday Night With Terry Evans," a short lived weekly cable TV variety program. Later that year Shermack formed Ten Inch Men, a true super group of Edmonton's top club bands, along with Cam MacLeod (White Wolf) and Rob Needham (Canon Annie) on guitars, Brian Vincent of Hells Bells (argued as the best AC/DC tribute of the day) on bass and Carmine Caliguiri of Bobby Cameron's band on drums.
Shermack meanwhile became a partner in music retailer Axe Music, while carrying on with Ten Inch Men, who continued playing for a few years, doing clubs and many opening acts for concerts before once again going back to the China White name.
In 2006, Shermack and Macleod assembled enough material they'd written and headed off to Titan Studios in Edmonton and cut an independent disc that was two decades in the making. A throw back to the hard rock undertones that made them favourites across western Canada, the album featured strong melodies in tracks like the lead-off "Desert Rain," "Pleasure and Pain," "Necessary Evil," and "Cry For The Stranger."
Always perennial favourites, they remain opening for the likes of Nazareth, April Wine, Prism, Tea Party, Lighthouse, Tom Cochrane, Harlequin, Chilliwack, Honeymoon Suite, Kim Mitchell, Dweezil Zappa, Theory of a Deadman, Buck Cherry, and Trooper, among many others.
CHINA WHITE (2006)
I Am The Needle
Pleasure and Pain
That's My Girl
Cry For The Stranger