Dave Marsh, Rock and Roll Confidential
"... their sound is infectious, upbeat and deeply felt."
Anthony De Curtis
Here is the first set of recordings this talented group of song writers and recording artists is releasing on CDbaby. The intention is to bring the rest of the old catalogue on line in the near future (Cross Our Hearts, The Six Album, and other previously unreleased recordings).
The band continues to write and perform and is currently pursuing publishing agreements for the use of this incredible catalogue of quality songs.
Below is the history, stay tuned for much more great music!
Commuters know that the key to a swift, smooth, comfortable journey to the office is timing.
You arrive for your ride too soon and you end up stuck at the bus stop or subway platform awkwardly waiting for a lift. Get there too late and you might never make your destination.
In music, too, timing is everything. If you're not there at the right place with the right people and the right songs, you risk a frustrating wait. Or maybe the ride has already come and gone.
The sad part is none of this has anything to do with m merit. How many greats have languished in bars or discount cutout bins because they were ahead of their time? Or because the culture's fickle attention span had already moved on to newer, cooler sights and sounds?
That's the story of The Fuse, a group of young Winnipeggers who managed to attract a rabid cult following at home, in pockets across the country and into the U.S., but never seemed to find widespread recognition. By reaching back to the pioneers of modern music for inspiration, they were always out-of-step with fortune. Happily, along the way they wrote great songs and played some memorable live shows, and happily, some of them have been preserved here.
Guitarist and singer Jeffrey Hatcher, who wrote and sang many of these songs, would later play with Vancouver 's celebrated roots rock outfit The Blue Shadows during the '90s. He now works as a music therapist. Hatcher's singing-songwriting partner Dave Briggs - now a school teacher - gave up performing early, but continued for years to collaborate on songs. Hatcher's brothers, drummer Paul and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Don have continue to play around Winnipeg under various guises and configurations.
That is now, and this was then.
The first time I saw the group play was at a 1977 dance at River Heights Junior High in Winnipeg. Even as teens, we had become accustomed to groups with ponderous names like Honeythroat and Threepenny Opera, with wild costumes, cheap pyrotechnics and Spinal Tapian stage demeanor. Sadly, back then, that was entertainment.
The group that night was called Dark Horse. As they took the stage, I remember thinking they must be the road crew for the real band. What the hell is this? They were dressed in jeans and T-shirts. Their hair was short. Their manner was polite and straightforward. There were no wild manes of hair, no flash pots, no leather pants. No drum solos. Just a set teeming with old rock 'n' roll classics by Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly and the Rolling Stones. People actually danced. It was fun. It was a revelation.
Jeffrey Hatcher and David Briggs first made music together in the basement of their parents' Winnipeg homes in the early 70s, copying early Stones songs off the records. By 1976, Paul Hatcher joined on drums, and with a frequently changing assortment of bassists, they began to jam privately, before convincing a teacher at River Heights to let them play a dance (billed that time as The Boys).
After toying with the name Dark Horse, they became The Fuse. Within two years, Don Hatcher joined in on guitar and sax. Their sound - simple, direct, energetic - developed quickly.
As The Fuse moved from school gyms to bars, their local popularity exploded, a phenomenon at least partially goosed along by the zeitgeist that saw music lovers turning away from the musical and stylistic excesses of the day to a stripped down attitude and sound. Along the way, Hatcher and Briggs developed into a solid songwriting partnership and peppered their frantically received sets with sterling originals.
"I remember going from a small, scrappy band with good ideas, to an effective scrappy band with focused ideas in just a few months," says Jeff.
They weren't alone. In New York and London, musicians and music fans were beginning to question the excesses of the day. In its more political manifestation, the results became known as punk. In slightly more gregarious form, it was called New Wave. The Fuse always rejected those restrictive definitions, but they were undeniably caught up in the rush to reclaim and reinterpret pop music history - to rescue music from the music business.
In 1978, one of the heroes of that effort, Elvis Costello, toured Canada and visited Winnipeg. Someone told him about a kindred group performing across town. Costello and company checked out The Fuse, then obliged the bar crowd with a short set of their own, before inviting Jeff to add guitar to a version of Nick Lowe's Heart Of The City. Backstage, Costello talked enthusiastically about working with the group, perhaps as producer, although the zeal of that night did not translate into concrete plans.
The Fuse alternated bar residencies with "socials" - one-off licensed shows at rented halls. A loophole in Winnipeg's liquor licensing laws allowed engaged couples or charitable organizations to host fundraising dances, hire bands and sell booze. The Fuse always seemed able to find a cash-strapped soccer team or temporarily star-crossed couple willing to lend their credibility to the band's cause. Odd-named venues like the Indian-Metis Friendship Centre, the Franco-Manitoban Centre and the Fraternal Order Of Eagles Hall became the preferred venue.
The sold-out, crazed shows became a weekend ritual in Winnipeg.
Flush with cash and confidence, in late 1978, they released a self-made EP of some of their original material, highlighted by a breathless dash through Hatcher's "Writing On The Wall" and a soulful take of Briggs' "Sad Eyes," which was quickly adopted by the University Of Manitoba's campus radio station, CJUM.
They were kings at home. But there was nowhere to go. The nationwide network of bars eager to hire bands playing original material wasn't yet established, and Canadian labels weren't aggressively searching for homegrown talent. Mounting debts and career inertia prompted the group to split up in 1980.
"We just seemed to be pulling our hair out," says Jeff. "Instead of blaming the right things, which were a few people around the band and our own inexperience, we blamed ourselves. We thought maybe we were never meant to play together. It was very sad."
Within 18 months, though, Jeff and Paul reunited with Briggs in Toronto, began performing as The Six, and recorded a superb self-titled album. "World Radio," a song Jeff says he wrote with Chuck Berry in mind, earned some commercial radio airplay in Winnipeg, and for better or worse, became the group's signature song. They shuttled between Toronto and Winnipeg and attracted renewed attention. A friend passed a copy of the album along to U.S. critic Dave Marsh, who lauded it in his Rock 'n' Roll Confidential publication as "twangy and soulful enough to be dangerous." Contact with the well-connected writer encouraged the group to begin looking for help in the U.S.
In 1984, though, Briggs quite the group to start a family. Jeff tried selling his songs on his own, and in 1985, landed a spot on the prestigious New York Songwriter's Showcase, which earned him the ongoing admiration of some U.S. record executives. The next year, he reunited with brothers Don and Paul to form The Jackals. As encouraging as American labels were, the Canadian counterparts proved uniquely clueless.
"We've always, always felt if people hear our music, they'll buy it," Hatcher told me just as the group was preparing an indie cassette of new songs. "The trick is to find your way through the fog to the top. But the top is NEVER here."
Added Don: "One guy said, 'We're only looking for another Honeymoon Suite or Idle Eyes. We're not looking for anything outside that.' This was the top Canadian guy with one of the major labels. What are you supposed to say to that? You begin to wonder what'll make a difference."
The frustration of those years was reflected in the group's new songs - some of the group's strongest and most enduring work: "Deliver Me" (later re-recorded with The Blue Shadows) "In My Hand," "Out Of Time," "99 Years," "Midnight Trains" (which Jeff once said was written for The Bangles' three-part harmonies) and the sublime "Frozen In Place." The songs bit back at the indifference they had faced and balmed feelings frazzled by rejection and delays.
Throughout 1986 and into '87, they supported themselves playing anonymous country covers in Toronto bars, alternating their own gigs as Jeffrey Hatcher And The Big Beat. When time and finances permitted, they recorded the songs in Toronto. A four-song EP got noticed by Toronto radio and was picked as one of the best indie releases of the year. The Globe And Mail called Jeff "a genuinely intriguing performer" and said his songs packed "a real emotional resonance."
Musical trends once again seemed to be swinging in their favor. In Los Angeles, Los Lobos, X and The Blasters were garnering attention with their rootsy brand of rock. The Hatchers talked up a record deal in New York with Warner Bros., Columbia and the independent label Upside Records, and Side One Management, which at the time was handling Steve Earle's career, courted the band.
Ultimately, the finished album, Cross Our Hearts, came out in the U.S. with Upside and in Canada through Columbia. Elliot Easton, formerly of The Cars and a roots music aficionado, agreed to remix two tracks from the Toronto sessions. A video for the song "The Man Who Would Be King" became lodged in the MuchMusic charts for weeks. The Big Beat toured the country restlessly, collected new fans along the way and enjoyed their strongest commercial success yet, despite the fact that poor distribution hampered Cross Our Hearts' success. After months spent on the road, thoughts turned to a follow-up record.
Back in Toronto, they demoed some of Jeff's most adventurous compositions yet, like the heartbreaking "Maybe" and the majestic "Nowhere At All." And Don Hatcher's blossoming talent as a writer was showcased on the outstanding song "Rain City." They returned to Winnipeg to work with producer Dan Donohue. The results - some of which appear here for the first time - were more polished than anything the group had yet realized.
Sadly, business problems meant the album remained unreleased and the group decided to split for good. Jeff relocated to Vancouver to begin work with The Blue Shadows, while Don and Paul turned their attention to life outside music, although they continued to play together.
In the summer of 1996, the Hatchers and Briggs tentatively agreed to reunite for a special show at Winnipeg's West End Cultural Centre, billed as The Fuse. The show sold out. They sounded great. Everyone danced just like it was 1978 at the Indian-Metis Friendship Centre. Sporadic reunions have been arranged ever since, and each time Jeff, Paul, Don and Dave get together to play, the results are the same. Their joy in making music is matched by the pleasure their fans still find in hearing their songs and watching them perform.
You can't write off as mere nostalgia something so timeless and potent. The music of The Fuse may never have found widespread commercial fortune, but the people who did get to hear the music and see them play know that's the world's loss.
This collection brings together music that deserves to be heard. It's drawn from live tapes recorded before appreciative, sweaty crowds; old studio tapes requiring varying degrees of restoration and mixing; and private demo tapes. The sound is occasionally rough, but the power of the work overcomes any technical shortcomings.
If you were there back in the day, hopefully the songs bring back happy memories. If you've never heard any of this music before, you're in for a treat. Putting together this package has been a white-knuckle labor of love for all involved, mostly just for the excuse of going back through the stacks of tapes, cherry-picking the best of the good stuff.
We think it has been worth it. Like the man sings on "World Radio": "Trying must count for something..."
Check out the artist's website:
1. Before The Fall
2. When I Was Young
3. Long May It Rain
4. Fool's Parade
6. Nowhere at All
7. Never Heard Of Midnight
8. My Elizabeth
9. Rain City
10. Talking Sometime
13. Coming to Collect (Live)
14. Satin Sheets (Live)
15. Play Alive (Live)
16. Shadows (Live)
17. They Never Will (Live)
18. World Radio