During the early 1980s, Edmonton was a flood gate for some of the strongest rock in the country. The hair was as big as the sounds, and riding the wave was Pretty Rough. The group was the brainchild of former Andromeda guitarist Terry Reeves and Curtis Ruptash, bassist for a number of local groups.
“We knew each other from bands under the same manager, Danny Makarus, and we both had a strong desire to put together a band with the intent of getting signed to a major label,” Ruptash said.
Dave Hiebert answered an ad looking for a drummer, and after adding Frank Juskiw on guitars, they began writing some material. They hired Ross McKenzie as manager/booking agent, and began touring the clubs around town, incorporating their own songs into the sets from the very beginning. One of their favourite local haunts was The Riv Rock Room, where they recorded a live radio broadcast, and later courted Anthem Records execs. “We wanted to establish ourselves as an energetic, punchy rock-and-roll band. We did a live broadcast that came off very well and served as a viable demo tape, and help boost our profile,” Ruptash noted.
Their following grew, and before long they’d graduated onto the ‘b’ circuit around western Canada. The collective buzz gained interest from several record labels. They recorded a two-song demo to shop the band a little more, with producer Dan Lowe, also guitarist for 451 Degrees, Hammersmith, and Prototype. But by that point Juskiw was unhappy with the direction the band was headed, and walked out the door. “This caused a flurry of action as we needed to replace him fast to avoid losing momentum,” Ruptash said. “This was tricky, as he had a unique reedy voice – sort of Robin Zander meets Ian Hunter.”
A search under tight time constraints ended with Tim Peterson being hired as the new frontman. The sound and vibe shifted away from a truer rock power sound to more of a melodic rock vein. “Having a voice more like a prototypical Canadian rock “choir boy” voice, the sound of the band shifted quite a bit away from a rock/power pop of sound, toward more of a melodic rock direction,” he added. They added Ken Yurchuk on guitars, and continued courting the big labels.
At the same time, a production company that included owners of Thunder Roads Studio in Calgary decided to do a production deal to record a full-length album to shop to major labels. But shortly into four weeks of recording with Lowe again at the helm, Yurchuk left.
With new guitarist Jack Murray, they finished up recording and released their eponymous debut in late 1982. Largely band collaberations, the driving melodic rock like the lead single “Tonight, Tonight,” the b-side “Only A Star,” and ballad “She Knows The Way To My Heart” showed versatily and range. The next single was “Heart To Heart,” and cracking the top 20 in Canada and getting tons of airplay, they spent the better part of the next year on tour with the likes of Streetheart, and the highlight of opening for Pat Travers and Rainbow in their hometown at The Coliseum.
But by mid ’82 while getting ready for the next record, wandering interests had Ruptash doing session work with another up and coming local act, Subtle Hints. Predominantly an alternative band that dipped into ska and electronic pop, he said it leaned more towards what he was into at the time. “It took a while for them to find a replacement for me in Pretty Rough, so I continued to tour with them,” he noted. His eventual replacement was Randy Lloyd, ex of One Horse Blue and Millions.
In the spring of ’83, a tour with The Headpins resulted in guitarist/producer Brian “Too Loud” MacLeod (also Pepper Tree, Edward Bear, Chilliwack) taking them into Little Mountain Sound Studios to work on the next record. But MacLeod had a definite sound in mind for the album, and it wasn’t following in the footsteps laid by Dan Lowe and the previous album.
They released their follow-up album, GOT THE FIRE in ’84. With the exception of “You’ve Got The Fire,” written by C Lee, the album again was predominantly a group effort. Some of the rougher edges were smoothed out, and the only single, “Don’t Bite” topped out at #14 on the charts. Other tracks like the lead-off “Hold On,” “Trouble Boys,” and “You’ve Got The Fire” showcased the band’s growth.
“Although the second album was received better by critics, it didn’t generate into the sales that were hoped for or expected,” Hiebert said, and the label grew impatient. They continued to tour Canada with the likes of Toronto, Trooper, and Steppenwolf, and headlined the more prominant clubs of the day, including The Gasworks in Toronto and The Misty Moon in Halifax. But RCA dropped the axe on the group before the end of ’84, and they broke up the following February.
Jack Murray and Randy Lloyd both passed away in 1987 and 1988 respectively. After Subtle Hints‘ self-titled only album in ’83, the band broke up a year later, despite their label asking for a second record. Curtis Ruptash then formed Guerilla Welfare for three albums, and then became a session and studio player, in both Edmonton and later in Chicago. In the ’00s, he joined Peabody & Sherman, and then Sherman’s Playdate, both of which are still active.
Terry Reeves went on to establish FM Systems, an Edmonton-based company that provides sound and lighting to major bands across North America. Dave Hiebert formed Casanna Multimedia, a video production company in Edmonton.