Once out of high school, singer/guitarist Brad Roberts wandered around in different groups in Winnipeg while making ends meet as a bartender and teaching night classes at the University of Manitoba.
After his first band, Bad Brad Roberts and the St. James Rhythm Pigs had run its course in 1988, he was looking for a new project, and with former Pig George West on bass, they added drummer Vince Lambert, and took the name suggested by a friend of the band who was in medical school. Crash Test Dummies started playing around the local ‘b’ circuit in mid 1989.
Over the next few months, they added Ellen Reid on piano, Ben Darvill on harmonica and mandolin, and Roberts’ younger brother Dan took over from West on guitars. With Brad’s distinctive baritone growl, they continued honing their chops over the next year and a half while writing their own material. Before long they’d gained a small cult following while becoming mainstays at the Spectrum Cabaret and the Blue Note Cafe, which was owned by former Rhythm Pigs alumni-Curtis Riddell. They eventually signed a deal with BMG and manager Jeff Rogers. They entered Wayne Funican Studio in Winnipeg with producer Steve Berlin, but in the middle of the tapings, Mitch Dorge replaced Lambert on drums and percussion.
GHOSTS THAT HAUNT ME was released in ’91, and was an instant hit, thanks in part to the smash hit “Superman’s Song” with a video that got heavy rotation on both sides of the border, the cover of The Replacements’ “Androgynous,” and the title track. Eventually reaching four times platinum (400,000) in Canada and selling over a million worldwide, they earned the 1992 Juno Award for Group of the Year, as well as three other nominations.
They travelled to Geneva Lake in Wisconsin to record their follow-up with new producer Jerry Harrison, 1993’s GOD SHUFFLED HIS FEET. The record followed suit on the American charts while radio experimented in new adult contemporary formats. “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” found its way to #1 in Australia, #2 in the UK and #4 in the US, and the video also made its way into heavy rotation. Oddly though, the song only peaked at #14 in Canada. “Afternoons & Coffeespoons,” which cracked the top 40 in all major world charts, “Swimming In Your Ocean,” and “In The Days Of The Caveman” (featured on the blasphemized Flintstones movie), helped the album reach triple platinum at home and platinum south of the border (one million copies). The record earned the band three Grammy nominations and three more Juno nominations, and sold over five and a half million copies worldwide while topping the album charts in Canada, Austria and New Zealand, and made the top five throughout Europe and peaked at #9 in the US.
In January 1995, the band released a cover of XTC’s “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” for the Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels comedy “Dumb and Dumber.” The song made it to the top 30 in the UK, and the top 10 at home and in the US, and earned them a nomination at the Junos for best video. For the last year or so, the band had also been on tour across the continent while also making stops on TV on “Late Night With David Letterman” three times, as well as on “Saturday Night Live”, and on Jay Leno’s and Conan’s O’Brien’s shows, as well as several European appearances.
Growing more uneasy with his recognizabiltiy, Brad Roberts moved to London, England where he contemplated the band’s next project. BMG meanwhile saw the chance to make an extra buck, so they compiled all their video clips and spliced them together with new footage of the band acting out a scripted story. “Symptomology Of A Rock Band” was directed by Canadian filmmaker Kris Lefcoe and went straight to video in late ’95. That same year, they contributed a cover of “All You Pretty Girls” for the XTC tribute album A TESTAMONIAL DINNER.
With the release of 1996’s “A WORM’S LIFE”, the first time the band decided to produce themselves and recorded in The Bahamas, they ran into a bit of controversy over the contents of their video for the single “He Liked To Feel It.” The dental shots of a teenager trying to remove his own teeth were deemed too graphic by some. In fact, Canada’s YTV network refused to play the clip, and in the US, RCA removed several scenes before MTV would air the video. Add to that the band was shifting a little to a heavier guitar sound, and the record wasn’t without its skeptics. Still, the single peaked at #2 on the charts, and the album went platinum in Canada in barely a month.
Trying out a new marketing gimmick, the song “My Own Sunrise” appeared as sort of a single on its own, as an “enhanced CD” single. They added Murray Pulver (later of Doc Walker) for the subsequent tour and chalked up the air miles through ’til the summer of ’97, having made stops throughout Canada and the US, as well as a successful tours of Europe and Australia while “My Enemies” entered the charts as a single, peaking before breaking the top 20 in North America.
The new pencil pushers at BMG were getting disgruntled about the results of the last record and were tightening the strings. They ultimately rejected over 30 songs while pressuring the band for results. After some time off, they travelled to LA for GIVE YOURSELF A HAND in the spring of 1999. A musical departure from previous efforts, Roberts noted the inspiration for the electronic sound developed during a songwriting retreat hosted by Miles Copeland at the Chateau de Maroutteat; an abandoned 14th-century castle in southwestern France.
The album featured the single “Keep A Lid On Things,” which stayed in the Canadian top 20 charts for six weeks. The follow up “Get You In The Morning” was one of three songs that featured Reid on lead vocals, the first time. Again, audiences weren’t sure of what to make of the change in musical direction again, this time adding more keyboard elements and a smoother electronic flow than before. They added Ray Coburn (Honyemoon Suite) on keyboards for the tour, and in the middle of their jaunts, the album was certified platinum in Canada.
Following the tour, the band opted out of its contract extension with BMG and took a break to recharge their batteries, during which time Brad Roberts formed his own independent label “Cha-Ching Records” (later renamed to “Deep Fried Records”). Benjamin Darvill also formed his own label, Husky Records, and took advantage of the band’s hiatus to become the first Dummy to release a solo record under his new project Son of Dave – DARVIL’S WILD WEST SHOW.
After suffering a near-fatal car accident in the fall of 2000, Brad Roberts found himself recuperating in the town of Argyle, Nova Scotia. He dove into the local music scene, and met some local lobster fishermen who happened to keep the pubs partying at nights. Kent Greene, Dave Morton, and Danny MacKenzie became the basis of Roberts’ back up band while he worked on a solo project. But instead, Reid was brought in to record some backing vocals on a few tunes, and then the younger Roberts brother showed up too. Deciding they might just as well release it as a Dummies record, I DON’T CARE THAT YOU DON’T MIND was on the shelves by the end of 2000. The record was a critic’s fave because it got back to the band’s acoustic roots, something the elder Roberts always felt was a direction they’d been pushed away from while with a major label. This was more polished and atmospheric, with the single “Keep A Lid On Things,” “A Cigarette Is All You Get,” and “I Love Your Goo.”
They toured intemettintly whie they all checked solo albums off the “to do” list. Darvill released a second album in ’01, entitled, oddly enough – 01. Reid launched her solo debut CINDERELLEN, and Brad Roberts released his first, a double live CD and accompanying documentary called CRASH TEST DUDE before the end of the year. 2002 started with Mitch Dorge following suit, releaseing AS TREES WALKING, in which he played almost every instrument, and won a Prairie Music Award for best instrumental recording. He then left the band, as did Davill.
The remaining core of Brad and Dan Roberts and Ellen Reid persevered, releasing JINGLE ALL THE WAY, a collection of their renditions of their favourite holiday classics in time for the yuletide rush in ’02. They returned with PUSS ‘N’ BOOTS the following summer, which, like their last ‘regular’ record, was initially intended as a Brad Roberts solo project that he was working on with Stuart Cameron. And like its predecessor, this too was a little different, with many of the tracks possessing a definitely funkier groove, such as in the lead-off “It’s A Shame,” “Triple Master Blaster,” the good-riddance type breakup song “Bye Bye Baby, Goodbye,” and “Your Gun Won’t Fire.” Cameron joined the band for the upcoming tour, which saw them hit the major North American markets over the next year.
SONGS FOR THE UNFORGIVEN was next up in October ’04 with new producer Scott Harding, and always looking for an edge in recording, tapings were done in Duluth, Minnesota. The main reason was they were looking for a pipe organ, and a Google search came up with Sacred Heart Studio, a renovated church built in 1894. The record had a decisively raw and stripped-down acoustic and often moody sound, evidenced in “The Unforgiven Ones,” “You’ve Had Your Run,” and “The Wicked and The Evil.”
After releasing three records through his own label, Brad Roberts checked the bank account, and realizing he was losing money, retreated to his New York City condo for the next couple of years, working as a songwriting teacher, trying to break into voice-over work and becoming devoted to yoga, chanting and meditation. His hobbies influenced his short-lived side-project Satsang Circus. Although he initially thought that the results of the sessions would just be released via online download, in 2006 he began to casually record some material he’d worked on with producer and friend Stewart Lerman.
Sony BMG started a whole rash of greatest compilations in the meantime, releasing the unimaginately titled THE BEST OF CRASH TEST DUMMIES in the fall of ’07. The following March, the 12 songs were repackaged as PLAYLIST – BEST OF CRASH TEST DUMMIES, which also included the previously unreleased “Laid Back” and “You Said You’d Meet Me (In California).” This was followed by the third compilaton in barely two years, SUPER HITS. About this time, Roberts started peddling all their post-BMG material online, including his underground recordings dubbed ” the Cape Breton Lobster Bash series,” influenced and paying tribute to the east coast music while he was there.
Roberts and Reid were the only remaining members to take part in the next album, OOH LA LA (originally intended to be called TOYS) in May, 2010 with producer Greg Wells. The songs were primarily the material Roberts had been writing and recording for the last few years, and featured a remake of “You Said You’d Meet Me (In California),” “Paralyzed,” “Not Today Baby,” and the haunting “Heart Of Stone,” which featured Reid on lead vocals.
On October 9 that year as part of the Canadian leg of the subsequent tour, Dan Roberts and Mitch Dorge joined Brad Roberts and Ellen Reid in the band’s hometown of Winnipeg for the first performance by the original line-up in a decade. Although he’d played a solo date of his own in the ‘Peg just a few days earlier, Darvill was unable to attend.
In September 2012, Brad Roberts teamed up with friend Bob Morsberger for a double CD entitled MIDNIGHT GARDEN. The two met through Stewart Lerman (prdoucer of the OOOH LA-LA! album), and Morsberger ended up writing the strings arrangement for a couple of the tracks. The new project was heralded by the critics for its brooding, sometimes heartbreaking work that mainly relied on just the piano and a string quartet, with both artists trading vocals, featuring the title track, “He Heard A Melody,” “Premeditated Bliss,” “Venus Flytrap,” and “All The Songs Have Been Written.”