Kenny Shields memorial
The roots of Streetheart include the members belonging to just about every group the prairies had to offer during the ’70s, often with one another. Keyboardist Daryl Gutheil was in Wascana in ’74 when Regina’s Spider Sinnaeve joined on bass, replacing Gutheil’s brother Don. Along with future Crowcuss guitarist Bob Deutscher they relocated from Toontown to The ‘Peg later that year. Kenny Shields, then singing with A Group Called Mudd then joined the group. They relocated to Saskatoon and changed their name to Witness Inc. With drummer Herb Ego, they moved to Edmonton in 1975.
After a year there and a pair of moderately-received singles, the group more or less disbanded. Gutheil, Sinnaeve and Shields moved back to Regina, where they soon recruited guitarist Paul Dean from Calgary and Edmontonian Matt Frennette on drums. One last name change and Streetheart was born. The group paid their proverbial dues for the next couple of years honing their chops, all the while building a small, grass-roots following who enjoyed their simple but tight, hard-edged style.
They recorded a 3-song EP simply known as THE 12 INCHER in ’77 and sold it at their shows, which were becoming more frequent and in front of bigger crowds. They were signed to Capitol Records in 1978 and that same year released what is widely considered one of Canadian rock’s best debut records of all time, MEANWHILE BACK IN PARIS. Backed by the energy of the first single “Look At Me”, the record’s depth was solidified by “Pressure”, “Just For You”, “People Taking Pieces of Me” andtheir swan song, “Action”. George Semkiew’s style of straight, no-frills-heavy on the guitars-bar room feel production pushed the record to gold status.
1979 saw Dean leave the group to form Loverboy. With new axeman John Hannah, the newly-reformed quintet cut a special 3-song EP UNDER MY THUMB. Like the first ep, it contained three tracks that made the next record – UNDER HEAVEN OVER HELL later that year, and contained what would become their biggest single, a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb” and a cover of Van Morrison’s “Here Comes The Night”. Noteable about this album is it was recorded in Quebec and behind the helm were veterans Nick Blagona and Manny Charlton. Blagona’s engineering expertise blended with the studio tricks up Charlton’s sleeve he learned as the guitarist/producer for Nazareth to further cement Streetheart as one of Canada’s most under-rated and promising talents. Prior to the upcoming tour, Frennette left to join The Headpins briefly, then to team up with Paul Dean again in Loverboy. With Ego returning behind the drum kit, the band hit the road touring the country, continually building on their reputation as one of Canada’s most exciting live groups.
The band released QUICKSAND SHOES in late 1980, produced by Nazareth’s Manny Charlton. Numbers like the singles “Joke’s On You”, “Dragging You Down” and “Teenage Rage” fed the fans who craved the sophisticated but heavy thunder the group had become known for, while the instrumental “Highway Isolation” showcased the group’s depth and versatility. By this time the group’s live shows were the highlight of all medium-sized venues from coast to coast, and into the US.
DRUGSTORE DANCER followed the next summer and was supported by the title track. The shear force of “Hollywood”, John Hannah’s best riff in “Trouble” and the powerful harmonies of the cover of The Faces’ “Tin Soldier” (a song Witness Inc regularly played live) further helped push their fourth record to platinum status. Though the group tried touring practically every corner of Canada and south of the border, their strongest holding was still the western provinces.
A greatest hits package entitled ACTION – THE BEST OF STREETHEART was released later that year and was followed in 1982 by their platinum record simply entitled STREETHEART. With new guitarist Jeff Neill (ex of Shama and Trama) and reunited with producer Semkiew, the group saw three tracks hit the airwaves, including the hit power ballad “What Kind of Love Is This” (a tune new guitarist Jeff Neill originally wrote with Shama). “One More Time” and “Snow White” on the other hand not only played on every car radio in Canada that summer but, along with “Without Your Love”, quicklybecame common repeats on every bar dj in the country’s request list. Their brand of bar-room style concerts were finally catching on in central and eastern Canada, shooting the album past the platinum sales mark.
DANCING WITH DANGER was released that same year and contained the hits “You’re Not The Only One” and “Too Hot To Stop”, as well as the title-track and “Midnight Love”. With new guitarist Jeff Neil (ex of Shama) and Billy Carmassi taking over on drums – thou still a fine piece of work, some of Streetheart’s lustre had tarnished during the time off from the road, according to some critics. Other tracks like “Coming True” failed to meet the critics’ expectations considering the success of their last studio record.
The cross-country tour that followed resulted in LIVE AFTER DARK. Released in 1983 it was pieced together from the shows done in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Regina. Unfortunaltely though by this time conflicts with management had gotten in the way of the group’s creativity. This along with a lack of hunger and focus caused their breakup by late 1983.
Capitol released BURIED TREASURES the next year, a collection of tracks which previously hadn’t made it off the cutting room floors and cheesy ploys on their part saw an alternate version of “Look In Your Eyes” as the lead single. Though definitely nothing special, the record is worth seeking out as a collectible. Another compilation was released in 1989 in the company’s “Over Sixty Minutes With …” series. A good mix of the band’s studio work as well as the live material made the disc pretty much a necessity for any true Canadian rock fan.
The group splintered off to do their own things in the mid 90’s, which included Sinnaeve go on to work with other artists such as Tom Cochrane, Lee Aaron, and is now the permanent bassplayer in Loverboy, and Neill worked with Jimmy Barnes for a couple of years. In one form or another Streetheart was still reuniting for the occasional gig, including Frennette return behind the skins for a show in his hometown of Edmonton in 1999 – the first time with Shields and the gang in 20 years.
But soon Frennette was gone again and the band reformed with slight alterations to the lineup. WEA released THE ESSENTIALS in 2005, simply a best of collection. The definitive collection was released three years later, when READ ALL ABOUT IT – THE HITS ANTHOLOGY hit the stands.
In light of Shields’ health issues, it was announced 2017 would be the band’s swan-song tour. It was cut short prior to their final scheduled performance at a Winnipeg festival, when Shields was admitted to hospital in mid July with heart problems. He died peacefully on July 21st, 2017.