The Smalls were formed when Doug Bevans and Corb Lund got together while attending Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton. Bevans was enrolled in graphic design, while Lund was studying music. With both on guitars, the group soon evolved and by 1991 Lund moved over to bass, with fellow students Mike Caldwell on vocals and drummer Terry Johnson, both of who were also enrolled in music classes.
They began playing the occasional college party and after awhile graduated to playing the clubs, developing their own style that mixed punk with harder edged rock. But their wide range of influences also meant an electic blend of straight pop, country, and even jazz got mixed into the sets, as well as into their own songs they were writing on the side.
Still not really a full-time band, they nonetheless broadened their audience and began packing halls throughout the province and into BC, even filling Vancouver’s legendary Commodore Ballroom, and becoming one of the hottest underground tickets in western Canada. They released their self-produced, self-titled debut on cassette only in 1990, which featured the frantic “Dan Diddle a Nhy,” a cover of The Pretenders’ “Middle of the Road,” and to capture their live energy – “Tight Spots.”
Now concentrating on music full-time, they came under the tutilage of Sam Feldman Management in Vancouver, and began working on a follow-up album after signing with the independent Cargo Records. They brought in producer Cecil English, whose resume included other punk-styled acts DOA and NoMeansNo. TO EACH A ZONE was in the stores in ’92, producing a pair of singles that quickly became hits on campus radio stations across the West and in pockets out East – “On the Warpath” and “Payload.” A cross-country tour ensued with some dates in the US when videos were made for both songs that also got good rotation on MuchMusic. Other tracks like “Horse Thief” and “BB on the B” made it one of the most energetic albums released that year, and The Smalls one of the most high octane live performers in the country.
With their star rising, they remastered and re-released the first album in ’93 with three additional tracks. Signing a distribution deal with Cargo Records, their next album was 1995’s WASTE AND TRAGEDY, recorded in Vancouver and Berlin. Calling on producer Joel Van Dyke, whose credits to that point included Wide Mouth Mason and Colin James, resulted in a more refined, cleaner-edged sound that produced the singles and videos “Pity The Man With The Fast Right Hand” and “It’s Gonna Be Fast.”
Critics praised the album for not only being their slickest produced album to date, but also for the eclectic blend of mixes, that included the country undertones in “Pity.” But dabbling in those country undertones led Lund to set off and record his first solo country album later that year, just as the band was on the verge of breaking out with widespread recognition. Meanwhile, label owner Randy Boyd, who’d been successful in capitalizing on the expanding indie rock music scene across Canada, sold Cargo Records to Alan Fox. Although Fox was a successful entrepreneur in many ventures, he had no experience in the music industry, and the company eventually went bankrupt, and The Smalls toyed with legal action when they weren’t able to produce their own compact discs. “We went three or four years without selling any product at our shows. We were broke and they were just the distributor,” Lund commented.
The Smalls were just one of many bands that was left out in the cold and owed money. But despite Cargo’s problems, the band secured distribution in Europe and embarked on its first European tour prior to the label closing the doors. Footage was added to an independentally produced documentary entitled “The Smalls… Er Whatever,” by John Stiles and Ian Harvey.
Signing with Outside Music, they released MY DEAR LITTLE ANGLE in 1999. With the exception of Lund’s “My Saddle Horse Has Died,” which was recorded by Barry Allen in Edmonton (which Lund later re-did for a solo album), the album was produced by the band with Glenn Robinson (The Tea Party, Voivod, Tori Amos, GWAR) in Vancouver.
On the backs of the title track, their cover of the Carole King classic “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and “Chords Like This,” critics generally considered it their most diverse album to date, finding a place for a horns section, as well as also being their most commercial sounding. They set out on another ambitious Canadian tour that saw them play over 100 dates, including several outdoor indie artists festivals. They then became the first Canadian act to perform in the war-torn Balkans once the fighting had stopped.
But feeling the stress of being together for 12 years but never really gaining the mass appeal as other groups, after having sold over 40,000 albums and building one of the most devout followings and arguably the most successful independent group to ever come from Alberta, The Smalls announced they were disbanding in 2001. This was despite the contemplation only a few months earlier of moving to Texas to try to build a stronger US base. They ended the run on a high note, selling out a pair of shows that October – in Calgary at MacEwan Hall at Red’s in Edmonton.
Juno Award and multiple CCMA winner Corb Lund gained the most notoriety following the break-up, becoming one of Canada’s leading country/roots artists and owner of several gold records along the way. Along with several art projects over the years, Bevans became a producer and joined Wizard of Words with Steve Hobbins. Johnson joined the Kurt West Express, while Caldwell joined a country cover band called The Whiskey Brothers.