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After beginning his music career as the drummer for John Lee Hooker, Mitchell Field bounced around in different rock groups and bars before approaching Bob Gallo of CBS Records in 1977. Though impressed with the demo tape Field gave him, the record company wasn’t interested in signing new solo artists. Field was advised to put together a band and try again … and that’s exactly what he did. 2 members from a local Toronto outfit called Dennison Booth answered an ad, guitarist Dave Hovey and bassist Jamie Larsen. Drummer Steve Coombs and Rick Lamb on keyboards soon joined the fray. Now based out of Toronto full time, the quintet locked themselves into the studios and emerged 2 months later with some new material and a new demo.
With Gallo and CBS Canada president Arnold Gosewich acting as producers, Hellfield released their self-titled debut on Epic in ’78. A combination of hard rock and power-pop, the album contained two singles, “Too Late”, followed by “Tell Me Are You Listening”. Both tracks gained significant FM airplay here in Canada and the album sold well in the US as an import, also due in part to such tracks as “Magic Mistress” and “Fancy Nancy”. But despite the band’s initial success, Gallo felt some changes were needed. Unhappy with the work of Coombs, he recommended a new drummer. In fact, it was Field himself who sat behind the kit for much of the first record. Enter new drummer Billy Smith.
Another bone of contention with Gallo was the band’s management. He objected with their decision to keep the band in the bar circuit, as opposed to playing lower paying, but higher profiled gigs, touring with the likes of Toto, Meatloaf and Santana. Still, the band toured extensively here promoting the first record, opening for such groups as Triumph, The Cars and Max Webster.
Smith’s time behind the drumkit was shortlived however. By the release of NIGHT MUSIC in ’79, the band had Charlie Mitchell as the new drummer and Paul Rowes had replaced Hovey on guitars. Gosewich and Gallo returned as the production team and the new record again featured tight writing and a melodic metal approach, spawning another two singles, the title track and “Caroline”. Other noteable tracks included “Sister Blue” and “Running Back To You”. They continued on the circuit, opening for the likes of Little River Band, among others, where reviews generally regarded Hellfield as the better of the acts.
Unfortunately at the same time, CBS was going through their own cabinet shuffles. After Gallo, Gosewich and several others were replaced, NIGHT MUSIC dropped a notch or two on the company’s priority list. The lack of support from their label spelled disaster for the group. By early 1980, the band was in a state of disarray. Unhappy with the keyboard-oriented power pop of the first two records, Field fired Lamb, looking for a gutsier, guitar-driven sound. Also on the way out was Billy Smith, replaced by new drummer Rod Blacker. The revised group went back to the bars, where for the next couple of years they refined their new heavier sound when news broke that they’d been dropped from CBS’ roster. Frustrated with the way things were going and with the business in general, the band called it quits in 1982.
Hellfield falls into the category of good bands that just couldn’t find their niche, due in part to their unwilling to compromise their sound or succumb to marketing pressures. The changing musical landscape at the time should also be taken into account as well. However, as they say, hindsight is 20/20. Only an elite group of a few Canadian groups ever ventured into the waters of heavy metal without drowning, and even those who did venture in still had to modify their sound at one time or another.
The much anticipated release of Field’s first solo record became a reality in 2000, when GROWN MEN CRYING was released. A deal was also in the works with Bullseye Records to have The Sub-Basement Tapes, a collection of remixes and forgotten gems re-released sometime in the near future, but never materialized.
With notes from Steve Cowan, Mitchell Field
HELLFIELD (1978) The Pact
No Son Of Mine
Tell Me Are You Listening
Thinking ’bout Ladies
All Night Party
You Got To Admit
Feedback City (reprise)
TELL ME ARE YOU LISTENING? (1978) Tell Me Are You Listening ?
All Night Party
NIGHT MUSIC (1979) Caroline
Out Of The Night
I Shoulda Seen It In Your Eyes
Man Teasing Woman
Know It From The Start
Runnin Back To You