Upon finishing high school in Vancouver, Nick Gilder formed Rasputin in the summer of ’73, with guitarist high school friend Jim McCulloch and became young vets of the garage bar/local club scene. After hooking up with drummer John Booth, Bud Marr on bass and keyboardist Dan Gaudin, they changed their name to Sweeney Todd, inspired by the Stephen Sondheim play of the same name.
But the name wasn’t all that was theatrically-based. It wasn’t long before their on-stage flare became the talk of the coast and were soon staples on the BC bar circuit. They honed their chops for the better part of the next year when they were noticed by local producer/promoter Martin Shaer while doing a gig at a local high school gym. He convinced them to bring the songs they’d been writing to his home-made studio and cut demos for “Roxy Roller” and “Sweeney Todd Folder”.
Shaer began peddling the demos, and in the spring of ’75 the band was signed to London Records. The self-titled debut was released that summer, and saw the release of “Rock and Roll Story” as the first single. They followed it up with “Sweeney Todd Folder”, backed with “Let’s All Do It Again”, released while the band was in the middle of a cross-Canada tour. But it was the release of “Roxy Roller” that made Sweeney Todd instant household names, eventually topping the Canadian charts.
They caught the attention of brass at Chrysalis Records in the US. But as it turned out, were more interested in the writing talents of Gilder and McCulloch than they were in Sweeney Todd – the band. They lured the two out of the band and brought them to Los Angeles, where Gilder would go on to a highly successful career as a solo artists, and writing for the likes of Pat Benatar and Scandal.
The recent void in Sweeney Todd led to the hiring of Clark Perry as Gilder’s replacement and new guitarist Skip Prest in ’76. The band re-released “Roxy Roller” with Perry on vocals, with Gilder’s “Rue de Chance” as the B side, but it’s climb up the charts stalled at #90. At the same time, Perry wasn’t really working out so he was replaced with a 16 year old Bryan Adams. Again the band went into the studios to cut now a third version of the song but again stalled after reaching the top 100. Interestingly, in both cases of the remake the song was simply the new vocalist’s overdubbing the same music. In fact, Adams‘ version is almost indistinguishable from the original. The band received the 1977 Juno for best new group, and although it was “Roxy Roller” that propelled the band to the stratosphere, it was Adams on stage to accept the award.
The band returned to Shaer’s home studio to work on the new album. Released in the summer of ’77, IF WISHES WERE HORSES had high hopes from both Shaer and London. With three tracks co-written by Adams, the album took a decidely different approach than the debut, though “Tantalize” and “Say Hello Say Goodbye”, complete with Irving Berlin finale, were actually written by Gilder and McCulloch. Although Adams did a decent job of mimicking Gilder’s style, the band’s pop/glam persona was going more of a ‘straight pop’ direction, with an ‘artsy’ detour here and there.
The group began a cross-country tour with Trooper while “Tantalize” was released as a single, followed shortly thereafter by the title track, written by Shaer. The record’s third single “Song For A Star”, was almost a snide take on the way Gilder and McCulloch left the group. But by that fall, Adams left the band to pursue his eventually mega-successful career amid a myriad of managerial and label problems.
With Shaer owning the rights to the band, he struck a deal with England’s Action Replay Records and released THE BEST AND THE REST OF SWEENEY TODD before year’s end,a compilation of IF WISHES WERE HORSES and two singles from the Gilder -era album.
Now without a record deal, the band tried to regroup with new singer Chris Booth but it wasn’t long before Prest packed up his six strings and headed out the door also, replaced in the spring of ’78 with Grant Gislason. They began writing some new material for a third album, but the lights were dimming quickly on the Sweeney Todd show. Unable to secure a new deal for the band, they disbanded in the spring of 1978. IF WISHES saw the light of day again in ’92, when the album was repackaged as SWEENEY TODD FEATURING BRYAN ADAMS, along with “Rock and Roll Story” from the debut, although Adams had nothing to do with the release, and didn’t authorize it.
Gilder rejoined the band in the early 00’s and began touring again with McCullough and various incarnations of the group, and a new album is rumoured to be in the works for the near future.