Ra McGuire and Brian Smith (originally from London, England) began nearly 40 years of hit-making when they first started playing together in 1965. Then still in their teens, they played around in various incarnations of different groups while still in high school.
In ’72 they started doing the Vancouver lounge circuit as a duo named Winters Green. Growing up in the same atmosphere as the Vancouver native McGuire gave the duo common experiences to draw from while writing. This period included the very earliest versions of the Canadian party anthem “Raise A Little Hell”. The two began augmenting their act with various musicians before finally adding drummer Tommy Stewart and bassist Harry Kalinsky – and Applejack was born.
Shortly after changing their name to Trooper in late ’73, the group was noticed by Randy Bachman and signed with his Legend label in early ’74. Their self-titled debut came out early the next year and contained the smash single “Baby Woncha Please Come Home”, produced by Bachman. it incorporated a tight but simple sound. “General Hand Grenade” also found the mark as an AM pop hit that year and their straight ahead approach was hot on the fingers of radio DJ’s nationwide.
TWO FOR THE SHOW hit the shelves in ’76 and picked up where the debut left off the year before. The title track, “Ready” and “Santa Maria” all had an easy feel to them ensuring plenty of radio play and making it their first gold record. Replacing Kalinsky on bass was Doni Underhill (ex of Fludd and Brutus) and with the addition of keyboardist Frank Ludwig, who was also in Brutus for a short time, they were now able to broaden their sound in the studios and on stage, taking some of the pressure off Smith’s guitar-weilding shoulders. The record also contained “Boys In The Bright White Sports Car”, which strangely wouldn’t truly emerge as one of the greatest ‘fast cars & fast women’ hits ever written until their ’79 greatest hits lp.
1977 saw the release of KNOCK ‘EM DEAD KID. Three singles came from it, including their biggest ever, the ballad “Oh Pretty Lady” (my brother’s wedding’s theme song incidentally). It was quickly followed up by “We’re Here For A Good Time” and “Long Time”, both straddling the fine line between ballad and just good old no-frills rock, staying true to the group’s simple approach. By this time Trooper were also becoming one of Canada’s favourite bands live, where they were gaining loyal followings nationwide.
Their biggest selling record to date came in the form of THICK AS THIEVES in late’78. Backed by their swan song ”RAISE A LITTLE HELL”, the epitome of teen rebellion , the disc showed a maturity in the writing, with Ludwig doing vocals on two of it’s hits, “Round Round We Go” and “Moment That It Takes”. Conflicts with Bachman however dissolved their relationship and for all intents and purposes, were now self-managed. The band’s backstage problems were in the midst of the release of HOT SHOTS. Their first & only ‘best of’ to date, it eventually was certified quadruple platinum, the first Canadian album to reach 400,000 sales. Incidentally, an unofficial poll conducted in 2000 revealed that 1 out of every 30 Canadians between the ages of 25 & 45 owned a copy.
The time off from the road was spent in the studios where a harder, rawer approach was emerging in the form of FLYING COLOURS. Immediate gold was the reward for “3 Dressed Up As A 9”, the first single as well as a smoking cover of the Kinks’ “All Day And All The Night”, the only non-original the group’s ever recorded. Mixed in for good measure were the typical AM pop ballads Trooper had become known for, including “Drive Away”, Ludwig’s “Quiet Desperation” and the mega-hit “Janine”, which was later covered by country group SEAWEED. Other noteable tracks included the hit “Go Ahead & Sue Me” and “Good Clean Fun”.
The 1980 Juno Awards also saw Trooper finally win their first award for best group. However conflicts with where the band was going caused Ludwig to leave later that year to join Randy Bachman’s Ironhorse, then Union, and then the group Body Electric in the early 80’s. A side note is he’d go on to pen the score for “The Urban Peasant” tv program for the CBC.
With new keyboardist Rob Deans and now on MCA, an untitled album hit the stores in the summer of 1980. Backed by the Canadian Rockers’ Anthem “Real Canadians”, the record stayed on the slightly new direction paved by FLYING COLOURS, with “Are You Still My Baby” and “Don’t Feel Like Dancing”. It took nearly two years for the next record to hit the stores. MONEY TALKS unfortunately didn’t live up to the hype the critics expected from something that took that long to release. Even though “Only A Fool” garnered respectable airplay that summer, they couldn’t seem to follow it up with “Just One Kiss” or “It Comes And It Goes”. Although the group did tour extensively across Canada and into the States, problems with management were sending Trooper back down the ladder of success.
They re-emerged in ’89 on Warner Records with THE LAST OF THE GYPSIES. Despite “Boy With The Beat” (written tongue-in-cheek about the now-departed Stewart on drums) becoming an instant staple on both the radio and in rock bars that summer, they got trapped in between changing musical trends, along with many other truly class acts during the same period. The album also contained the track, “Thin White Line”, about the toll of drugs on the ‘rock & roll lifestyle’. Their tenth album, entitled appropriately enough, TEN, was released nearly two years later and contained the somewhat cynical take on the US called “American Dream”, “What Day Is This?” and “What The Hell’s Going On?”.
After several line-up changes, the band regrouped in the mid 90’s with new drummer Lance Chalmers, and ex-Paul Laine members Scott Brown on bass and Gogo on keyboards. A tribute album was released in 2001 called SPOT SHOTS, composed of 31 Trooper classics redone by 31 independant Canadian punk artists. Brown released an independent 3-track EP that same year, which included a remake of Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away”.
Chalmers also found himself in the stores that year with his outside project Sump Oil, releasing his debut solo album EEL WRESTLING, a collection of all-original material which was met with rave reviews. He left the band shortly after that, and was replaced by Frankie Baker, who in turn was replaced in the mid ’00s by Clayton Hill. Chalmers went solo, while Baker eventually wound up with Prism, then .
McGuire and Smith were also busy writing. A new track called “Cold Water” made its way into the Trooper shows and will likely be included in a new Trooper disc, scheduled tentatively in a Trooper box set in the near future.
Gogo meanwhile formed a side project of his own called the Super Groovy Band in ’99. Playing around with mixes and ideas culminated in the group’s debut CD in 2004 – eclectic and keyboards driven.
Ra McGuire’s highly anticipated book, “Here for a Good Time On The Road With Trooper, Canada’s Legendary Rock Band” hit the bookstands in April of 2006.