Frankie Venom memorial
Often referred to as Canada’s answer to The Ramones, Hamilton Weston High school buddies Frank Kerr and Gord Lewis formed the group in 1975 with bassist Steve Mahon and Nick Stipinitz on drums. They took their name from a Flaming Groovies song title and quickly gained a loyal following on the Ontario club circuit for their unbridled raw energy, highlighted by Lewis’ mainacal fret-work and frontman Venom’s antics and natural on-stage charisma.
With Kerrr and Mahon now going by the personas Frankie Venom and Steve Marshall, they released a self-produced, self-titled debut on Interglobe Music in ’78. But a practically non-existant budget for production or marketing, when added to a label on the rocks equalled disaster. The label closed it’s doors just as the band was beginning to make headway on local college and radio stations with “Top Down” and “Picture My Face”. Nonetheless, the band’s frantic live shows had caught the attention of execs at Attic Records and they were signed to a deal in 1979. A bigger label meant a bigger budge, and Stacy Heydon was brought in to produce their first project with Attic. Most noteable for his work with David Bowie, he managed to polish the rough edges on the group’s sound without compromising the rawness which stood them apart from the mainstream. Released in the spring of 1980, FRANTIC CITY and featuring a very young Daniel Lanois in the studio, it produced two singles and would turn out to be their most successful lp. On the backs of “Let’s Shake” and “Something On My Mind”, the record went gold, selling 50,000 copies and became the soundtrack to beer-swilling teenagers across the country.
Their second outing with Attic came in the form of ’82’s SOME KINDA FUN. Again it was produced by Heydon and was stripped to the bare essentials of punk-rock. And with songs like “Let’s Go To Fucking Hawaii” and “Teenage Beer Drinking Party”, it wasn’t hard to figure out the intended audience. The ‘white punks on speed’ was at such a fevered pitch in fact that Toronto’s Teenage Kicks released a tribute album to the band later that year. Incidentally, Heydon would produce their first record under their new monikor Dragonspell 2 years later.
MCA picked up Teenage Head the next year and tried to market them to the American audience – biggest example was the adding of an ‘S’ to the band’s name to appease those who were trying to clean up rock & roll. 1983’s TORNADO was a 6 track EP which made Head-fanatics cringe. Their previous image of ‘party til you puke punks’ now more closely resembled a group of Potsy Webbers – just not as cool. Featuring production work by David Bendeth, who’d filled in here and there in various capacities over the years, label execs tried to gear the rockabilly-twinged record to the college yuppies … with disasterous results.
The band signed with Ready Records after MCA lost faith that same year. Back to their original name, a new version of the debut was re-released before year’s end, with “Top Down’ the single – again. The aptly-titled ENDLESS PARTY hit the shelves in 1984, and was quickly heralded as one of the better albums in capturing a band’s live stage presence. A third version of “Top Down” was now on the airwaves but again the band watched their label fold when Ready Records went under later that year. Their woes continued when Venom’s living the rock and roll lifestyle a little too much led to him being fired around the same time. He went on to a number of new groups, including The L7’s & Frankie Venom & The Vipers to little success. Head meanwhile shopped around for a new label.
With new vocalist Dave ‘Rave’ DesRoches, ex of The Shakers, they cut TROUBLE IN THE JUNGLE in 1986 onWarpt Recrods. Still doing the ‘white punks on beer’ they were caught in the middle of a musical change of tide, and the single “Frantic Romantic” did nothing to improve the situation. Their second release with Warpt was CAN’T STOP SHAKIN’ the next year. A total commercial failure, the band foundthemselves on Fringe Records a year later, releasing ELECTRIC GUITARS …. same result. Again the guys found themselves label-less and this time went their seperate ways, with DesRoches going on to form The Dave Rave Conspiracy and then Rave & Agnelli (with Lauren Agnelli) in later years.
Various incarnations of the band resurfaced now and then, seeing Attic reissue FRANTIC CITY and SOME KINDA FUN in a special combined package in 1990. A deal with OPM Records also saw the release of the debut a third time in ’96. They reformed in ’98 to release HEAD DISORDER, more mature but just as rowdy, the album featured an unlikely cameo by Burton Cummings on a pair of tracks. That same year “Bonerack” from the 1977 debut made the soundtrack to the independant film HARDCORE LOGOS. As well, New York’s The Fleshtones covered “Tearin’ Us Apart” (also from the debut) a year later. The Vapids, one of Toronto’s hottest new talents, paid their own tribute by re-recording Head’s entire first album in 2002. A greatest hits package is also currently in the works.
In 2003, the band recorded a host of previously released material with Ramones drummer Marky Ramone at Catherine North Studios in Hamilton and Metalworks Studios in Toronto. Behind the controls was another Ramones alumni, the band’s producer on many of it’s records, Daniel Rey. The resulting album was released in Canada on April 22, 2008, titled appropriately enough, TEENAGE HEAD WITH MARKY RAMONE. Around the same time rumours began that the band would be the topic of a major motion documentary.
The Last Pogo, a documentary about a band show in 1978 at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern which ended in a riot, was released on DVD in 2008. Filmmaker Colin Brunton recently began making The Last Pogo Jumps Again, a documentary about what happened to all those who were at the gig. On October 15 of the same year, the Canadian punk scene mourned the loss of one of its godfathers, when it was announced Kerr had died of cancer in a Hamilton hospital at the age of 52.