The core of the Regina group formed in 1976 when guitarist Larry Gillstrom, vocalist/bassist Victor Langen and his brother Gary on drums. The trio played the area circuit, mostly doing covers of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin until they decided their careers might be bettered if they moved to BC. Unwilling to make the move, Gary Langen was replaced on drums by Gillstrom’s younger brother Brian.
Along with new second guitarist Raymond Arthur Harvey, the group hit the Vancouver area with a hard fervor. Disappointed at BC’s lack of a decent football club also, they decided however to make the most of the situation by honing their chops in the local bars, where they’d make their home for the next year or so. In early ’79, the group went into Sculptures and Sound Recording Studios and cut a demo. Though several tracks were taped, it was soon decided the group still lacked something, and the tapes were scrapped. The result was the recruitment of singer Charles McNary in ’81. To this day those early recording sessions have never been released. Though the band was unsigned, they definitely were attracting a cult following. A music poll by Playboy magazine even had the band’s independant single, “Reality Is The Nightmare” included in the magazine’s promotional record, PLAYBOY – STREET ROCK.
By 1981 McNary was insecure of the band’s future and decided to call it quits. It was nearly two years and over 200 audition tapes later before Kick Axe would settle on a new singer. Wisconsin-born George Criston was added, bringing them back to five. The addition of a new singer however did not change the group’s attitude towards music. Though off the circuit for two years, Kick Axe still had a reputation as one of the best unsigned bands on the scene, bristling with energy and vigor.
The group hooked up with Spencer Proffer, most noteable for his work with Quiet Riot’s first record available outside Japan, METAL HEALTH. The meeting resulted in Kick Axe being signed to Pasha Records in the States, with Epic handling Canadian distribution. They released VICES in 1984 and backed by the success of thelead off single, “On The Road To Rock” quickly began touring North America, supporting Whitesnake, Quiet Riot and Judas Priest. The second release, “Heavy Metal Shuffle” quickly picked up where the first single left off … blazing riffs backed by a tight beat, highlighted by Cricton’s searing vocals. An underground fave before, Kick Axe was garnering radio play on both sides of the border and was building a true metal following. The band’s third single from their debut was a cover of Humble Pie’s “Thirty Days In The Hole”, and wound up on the soundtrack to the film “Up The Creek”.
Following an extended tour, Kick Axe returned to the studios to record WELCOME TO THE CLUB. A definite maturity was already forming in the band’s writing, as well as their choice of covers. Their remake of The Beatles’ “A Little Help From My Friends” was a Canadian who’s who. The inclusion of Rik Emmett, Lee Aaron, Sheron Alton of Toronto and Alfie Zappacosta helped make it one of the year’s sleeper hits. “Comin’ After You” and “Feels Good Don’t Stop” epitomized the Kick Axe sound, party anthems with clever hooks, along with the rip yer face off style of numbers like “Hellraisers” helped push the band’s notoriety. Somewhere in the shuffle though the band’s maturity was being conceived as ‘wimping out’. Though WTTC was by no means a ‘pussy-metal’ record, the band’s softening turned the fans of the harder-edge of VICES off, but turned them on to a new legion of more sophisticated fan.
The group found itself on the TRANSFORMERS movie soundtrack the following year, under the name of Spectre General on management’s advice. Following the ensuing tour for THE CLUB, personal conflicts caught up with Harvey, causing his departure. Hearing the cries of the metal-heads, the band forged on as a foursome and cut ROCK THE WORLD in 1987. Though packed with the punch of VICES, it still showed a growth in writing. But alas, by this time the masses had gotten into a string of one-hit wonders on the radio and dance music, and Kick Axe found themselves without an audience. Following a brief tour, the band called it quits.
It wasn’t long however before the members were resurfacing in assorted projects for nearly the next two decades. Larry Gilstrom first formed Giant with original drummer Gary Langen, and after a barely a year of mediocre success, hooked up with brother Brian to form Lion’s Gate until the early 00’s. Criston meanwhile had formed Paradise. After a few years, he left and resurfaced in ’95 with Harvey on a heavy blues record called NATURAL PROGRESSION, under the name Criston/Harvey. Though laden with intricate acoustic blues, the layered harmonies are pure Kick Axe.
The the first two Kick Axe records were released in 2000, and renewed interest in the band saw a short reunion, resulting in the 2004 release, simply entitled IV. Due to Criston’s unavailability because of outside commitments, the Gillstrom brothers, Langen and Harvey recruited original drummer and vocalist Gary Langen to put out one of the year’s sleeper hits. Tracks like “Right Now”, “Rockin Daze”, “Who Knows Ya” and the dual drums-rhythm of “Do You Know” proved there was still a market for heavy melodic metal. but shortly after the album’s release after only a few mini-tours, the band again drifted apart.