Two things probably come to mind when I mention Loverboy: red pants, and “Working for the Weekend.”
The band—the members of which famously blamed Nirvana and grunge music for its decline—is still rocking hard, touring and releasing new music. Loverboy will be stopping by the Spa Resort Casino in downtown Palm Springs as part of the Concerts Under the Palms series on Saturday, Feb. 17.
During a recent phone interview with guitarist Paul Dean, I mentioned that Loverboy seemed to be kind of stuck in the middle during the ‘80s—the group wasn’t new wave enough to be a new wave band, and not metal enough to be considered a glam-metal band. I asked if it felt that way to the band.
“You’re the first person in my career to ever ask me that, and that’s an amazing observation, because it’s so true,” Dean said. “We came out on the heels of The Cars, and they were a massive influence on us as writers, engineers and arrangers. Matt (Frenette) even turned his snare drum around in tribute to them on the first album. We were so into that. I still think we have that in soundcheck, and sometimes we’ll get a real dynamic part, and the band can get really new wave. But we were really still right down the middle. We had a little bit of metal on the guitar, but the keyboards made it new wave, and Mike (Reno) made it really bluesy with his voice. Matt comes from a military-band background, and he played in his high school marching band, so he had that kind of military groove going and brought that into the band. Scott (Smith, the bassist, who died in 2000) was from an R&B school similar to where I’m from. So we had all those elements and still do in our stuff. I look at it as being very diverse.”
A fun fact about Loverboy: The first-ever gig the band played was opening for KISS when the legendary group stopped in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Nov. 19, 1979.
“What an incredible introduction to the world—opening for KISS in our hometown of Vancouver!” Dean said.
However, getting record labels to believe in Loverboy proved to be a hard sell.
“Mike and I had a bunch of demos that we cut in a body shop in Calgary before we had a bass player and we were auditioning drummers. … We had these little demos on a ghetto blaster with just Mike and I singing two-part harmonies,” Dean said. “We had a guitar and a metronome that sounded like a drum. I remember we took it to Capitol Records in Los Angeles, and that’s all we had; we didn’t even have ‘Turn Me Loose’ demoed yet, and their main comment was, ‘You guys don’t have any attitude!’ I was like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ At the same time, you think, ‘OK, so that must mean that it’s a little bit too lightweight?’ What do you do? You go home and write an album based on what this particular guy said? I don’t think so!
“We auditioned for a bunch of people live in a rehearsal for Atlantic Records. … A lot of American labels passed. We had one offer from Capitol Records in Canada, and it wasn’t a very good deal, and we weren’t that desperate, and we thought we’d just wait. We kept writing, kept playing, and we were positive about it, assuming it would happen someday. We just had this confidence, and nothing was going to stop us. We finally got a guy from CBS Records to come out and see us play in a club, and he signed us.”
The results of the self-titled debut in 1980 were spectacular.
“Our first album went platinum in Canada before there was any interest in the U.S., but this guy named Paul Atkinson came up from New York, and he got the message and understood what we were trying to do,” Dean said. “If we had already gone platinum and had two singles on the radio in Canada already, we’d do quite well in America.”
Loverboy opened on American tours for bands such as Def Leppard, ZZ Top and Kansas. But Dean said a tour with Journey was particularly spectacular.
“That was incredible. Imagine the crowds back then, and nothing has ever changed with Journey; it’s still incredible,” Dean said. “We did a tour with them again a few years back, and it was just as amazing. We did two nights in Dallas that were sold out. … We were on the second album, Get Lucky, and our single ‘Working for the Weekend’ had just come out, and it was perfect timing. MTV was still playing music, and it was really hitting its stride at that time.”
Speaking of Get Lucky, that epic cover—featuring a rear end clad in red leather pants, with a male arm reaching back with crossed fingers—became legendary. It was similar to yet the opposite of the cover of the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers.
“It was the other end of it, yeah,” Dean said. “We had somebody who worked in our office who was the head of our PR, but she and her husband had a leather store down the street from our office. She came in and told us what she had. I don’t remember if she gave them to us or if she cut us a sweet deal, but she said, ‘Come out and check and see if there’s anything you like!’ They had these red leather pants and she went, ‘That’s the deal right there!’
“Mike and I had red leather pants, but I don’t think we ever phoned each other, asking, ‘Hey, you going to wear your red leathers today?’ I don’t think we went that far, but I would wear them sometimes. But we had blue leather pants and distressed leather pants, all from the same store. It was pretty cool and a great deal.”
Dean said he still feels grunge was responsible for the fading of Loverboy’s popularity in the late ’80s.
“Grunge was totally responsible, and there’s no question in my mind,” he said. “We had a meeting in our office, and when grunge hit its stride, basically what happened was we canceled all tours. We thought, ‘What’s the point?’ It’s just evolution. It happens. If it didn’t happen, we’d still all be listening to Bing Crosby. There are always these new movements to come along, like how the Beatles started something, along with Elvis and the Everly Brothers.”
Of course, Loverboy didn’t stay away for long.
“It was a completely different mentality, but it kind of felt like starting over again,” he said. “We had called it a day when we canceled that tour. We just went our separate ways; I released a solo album, and Mike released a solo album. What happened was one of my best friends, Brian MacLeod, who was a producer, passed away. Before that, we had a massive benefit (in 1991) … at a big venue in Vancouver as a fundraiser. We were trying to get Brian some financial assistance, because he was in Houston at this cutting-edge cancer place. (Loverboy) hadn’t played together in years. Doug and I got together for our first rehearsal in years to go over all our parts one more time and remembered all the tunes, and we hit the stage, and we had such a good time and thought, ‘We gave this up? So what if we’re not headlining big stadiums or whatever. We want to do this and we want to play! Let’s just see what we got now.’ It went over great, and we really had fun.”
Since that day, they’ve continued to feel the same way.
“We haven’t stopped since, and we love doing this. We love playing these tunes; we love playing with each other; and the fans are really digging it. So why not keep going?” Dean said. “As long as we can stay healthy, and we’re not completely deaf, we’re just going to keep hammering away. It’s what we love to do.”
Loverboy will perform at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 17, at Spa Resort Casino, 401 E. Amado Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $30 to $40. For tickets or more information, call 888-999-1995, or visit www.sparesortcasino.com.