| Growing up in Calgary, Barney Bentall didn’t choose music as a career until relatively late in life. Though he’d played in a variety of groups as a teen and his early 20’s, developing a song-writing partnership with childhood chum Gary Fraser, who he’d met while spending summers on BC’s Keat Island.
With Fraser now also living in Calgary, they formed a band in 1978, with Fraser writing his lyrics (under the guise of Robert Arrow) and acting as manager. Bentall went under the pseudonym of Brandon Wolf, feeling the association with his famous, wealthy family would only cause a distraction. The early lineup changed here and there, but it eventually stabilized with Doug McFetridge on guitars, drummer Jack Guppy and Kevin Swain on bass.
They honed their chops doing local clubs in and around the Vancouver area, playing all the hits of the day as well as mixing in some of their own tunes. Unable to attract a major label deal, they went into Little Mountain Studios in the fall of ’79 to cut the independent EP EXCERPTS FROM THE MONTMARTRE LETTERS. Producer Paul Rudolph was somewhat of a local legend, working with The Pink Faries, Hawkwind, and was a former member of Brian Eno’s band.
Before the record was finished however, Swain was gone, replaced by new bassist Brad Kilburn. While the single “Blonde On Blonde” was getting some early airplay, keyboardist Wilf Froese came in to round out the sound. The band’s lack of fear in experimenting to broaden their sound was evident even on the four track EP, even utilizing a mini-horn section on “Perfect Crime.” They continued doing the circuit, and Kilburn recalled there was definitely an air of anticipation building while the public bought up the indie vinyls.
The EP was sent out to the different labels, and it wasn’t long before their doorbell was ringing. “We received calls from just about every major label about signing us within a couple of weeks, so we were pretty excited,” Kilburn said. “We played a gig at the Commadore Ballroom on New Years Eve and had several labels there watching us. We decided on A&M and things seemed to go down hill from there.”
With new producer Jim Vallance (mostly known for his collaberations with Bryan Adams) , they went back to Little Mountain in July of 1980. Signed for an EP and three album deal, they released the 5-track NOT GUILTY later that year, with Arrow once again writing all the lyrics. One would think the label would’ve properly supported the band, but the band didn’t necessarily like what Vallance was doing with their sound. “Seeing as how Adams was doing well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, However, he was not a good fit for us,” Kilburn stated.
That, and the fact the record execs decided instead not to spend a whole lot on promotion spelled disaster for the band. Despite all that was going on around them, they found themselves on tour around the country with the likes of Red Rider, Powder Blues Band and Streetheart.
The record featured no singles, but had some strong writing in tracks like “Look Into My Eyes,” the sequel to “Blonde On Blonde On Blonde” from the first EP called “Jack And Jane,” and the title track. Their willingness to broaden their sound also included McFetridge’s flute-work on a couple of tracks, who left shortly after its release, replaced by new guitarist Colin Nairne. But the record apparently wasn’t quite what the label execs were looking for as a marketing tool, despite the group continually building a strong, loyal fanbase.
Between the band’s dissatisfaction with the lack of record company support and confidence the band had that they could re-sign with a different label, and A&M’s dissatisfaction with lack of sales, Brandon Wolf and A&M decided to part company.
The band was back in Little Mountain a year later, cutting their independent first full length LP LOSING CONTROL. Recorded from late ’81 through to the next spring, the album featured Ron Obvious (who’d worked with the band on the first two records) returning to the controls, producing a slick collection of pop-geared tunes, including the lead-off “Where is Marianne?,” “Boy Meets Girl” and “Vive Le Mercenaire.”
The band hit the road one more time, opening for Bryan Adams on a series of dates on his CUTS LIKE A KNIFE tour in ’83. “We had lots of songs in the can and were still looking for a new deal and there were tons of industry people watching. We played and killed,” Kilburn stated. “Unfortunately, there was no response. So, as we had immediate response when we sent out EXCERPTS, we understood no immediate response spoke volumes.”
The group called it quits and everyone went on to other projects, or got out of the business all together. Most notable was Bentall (aka Brandon Wolf). It would be six years before he would resurface, now going by his real name after forming The Legendary Hearts. He scored a deal with CBS Records after cutting some demos with Bob Rock, who’d also worked with The Payolas and would make his biggest mark a decade later, producing Metallica’s self-titled ‘black album.’