The Stampeders





Although many Canadian artists have done well in the U.S. market lately, this wasn't always the case. In the '60s and '70s, it was nearly impossible for an act from Canada to crack the record charts South of the border. One of the first to do it were The Stampeders. In 1964, a Calgary band called The Rebounds put an ad in a local paper for a new drummer. The group consisted of lead guitarist Rich Dodson, bassist Brendan Lyttle and rhythm guitarist Len Roemer. Answering the ad was Kim Berly (born Kim Meyer) who brought along his brother Al (who went by the name Race Holiday) to sing lead vocal. The pair were hired and the group eventually signed a managerial contract with promoter, Mel Shaw. At this point Roemer decided to call it quits and was replaced by Cornelius Van Sprang, who liked to use the stage name Ronnie King and his brother Emile who used the name Van Louis.

The six-man group now called themselves The Stampeders and started wearing denim outfits and cowboy hats on stage. During 1965, they released a single on the Sotan label entitled "House of Shake", which got local air-play and enhanced their following in the province of Alberta. Agreeing that they needed to expand their horizon, The Stampeders packed up their gear and moved to Toronto in 1966. Though most of the members were under the legal drinking age, they played in bars and hotels across Canada on the way. The Stampeders first year in Toronto was a lean one, but the band managed to survive the six-month Toronto Musician's Association's initiation and find work in the bustling Toronto club scene.

While on vacation in New York in 1968, the boys recorded a song called "Morning Magic" on the independent label, Carava'. Without distribution, the record didn't sell, but it did gain them some much needed attention and earned them a BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) Award. Later that same year, MGM Records signed them to a one shot recording contract. The only catch was that the group's vocals were to be backed by session musicians. The result was a failed single called "Be A Woman", which proved to be their last effort as a six man unit. Late in 1968, the three oldest members, Brendan Lyttle, Van Louis and Race Holiday, left the band, leaving the line-up of Rich Dodson, Kim Berly and Ronnie King. Now down to a high powered trio, the cowboy hats came off and the denim outfits were history. The band toured around Ontario and Quebec, developing a strong stage show and winning fans, becoming an in-demand club attraction.

The Stampeders' only 1969 release was a song called "Cross-Walk", on the Melbourne label, distributed by London Records. Although the tune didn't have much success, it did attract the attention of Quality Records executives and by mid-1970, The Stampeders were in the studio working on their first album, "Against The Grain". The first single released from this session was "Carry Me", featuring the smooth vocals of drummer Kim Berly. Toronto radio stations picked up on the song and it quickly hit the top of the Canadian hit parade, garnering the band its first Gold record. Quality Records released the disc on Polydor in the U.S., and although the single got some spotty air-play, it didn't crack the Hot 100. Their next release however, would change the trio's life forever.

In the Summer of 1971, the banjo laced, Country-rocker, "Sweet City Woman" raced up the charts to the #1 position across Canada, catching the attention of the American label, Bell Records. The band was signed immediately and Bell rush-released the single in the U.S. Even though it was up against classic songs like The Doors' "Riders On The Storm", Paul and Linda McCartney's "Uncle Albert" and James Taylor's "You've Got A Friend", "Sweet City Woman" climbed the Billboard chart, reaching the #8 spot on September 11th, 1971. The band would later recall the time they heard "Sweet City Woman" on radio station WABC in New York City, as the number one record of the week. They pulled over to the side of the road at four-o'clock in the morning, while enroute back to Toronto from a gig, and jumped around the car with excitement. Bell Records also promoted the "Against The Grain" album, renaming it "Sweet City Woman" for the U.S. market, to capitalize on the success of the single. At The Juno Awards, Canada's equivalent of the Grammys, The Stampeders won Best Vocal- Instrumental Group, Best Single, Best Composer, as well as Best Producer for "Sweet City Woman". At the request of their UK label, EMI, The Stampeders toured The United Kingdom in 1972. Upon their arrival however, they discovered that "Sweet City Woman" had already been covered by The Dave Clark Five. Despite this, the band played at the Marquee in London, the Hard-Rock Theatre in Manchester and appearances on BBC Radio and Top Of The Pops. A short European tour followed.

1972 also took The Stampeders to Los Angeles to perform at the legendary Whisky A-Go-Go and to tape appearances on TV's Don Kirshner's Rock Concert and The Dating Game. While at The Troubadour Club in Hollywood, Ronnie King met Keith Moon, drummer of The Who. Keith took a liking to Ronnie and asked him if The Stampeders might be available to play at his party at The Beverly Hills' Wiltshire Hotel. The Stampeders ended up on stage performing for some of Hollywood's Rock elite and jamming with Keith Moon. The same year also brought the release of The Stampeders' second album, "Carryin' On". The first single featured Rich Dodson's vocal on "Devil You", which fared well in Canada, but didn't make much of a splash in the U.S. Next was a hard rocking tune called "Wild Eyes", which again failed to make the Hot 100 stateside, but made the band superstars at home. After the two heavier songs failed in the U.S., Bell Records persuaded Rich Dodson to write another banjo song, in the vein of "Sweet City Woman". The result was the disastrous "Monday Morning Choo Choo", which went a long way in destroying any image of a serious Rock 'n' Roll band that the group had built.

The Stampeders' touring schedule took them to Rio De Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil. They were asked to represent Canada in the Rio De Janeiro Song Festival, which entailed performing to a live audience of 30,000 and a television viewership of 90-million. In many ways, 1973 became The Stampeders' biggest year. Cross-Canada tours, coupled with the release of the album, "Rubes, Dudes and Rowdies" kept the band very active. In Canada, both new Kim Berly sung ballads, "Oh My Lady" and "Minstrel Gypsy," went Gold, while the follow-up album, "From The Fire" featured hard rockers, "Running Wild" and "Johnny Lightning", which garnered heavy air play and another JUNO nomination.

The release of The Stampeders' fifth Canadian Gold album, "New Day", saw the emergence of a more experimental sound and the single, "Ramona". Their next L.P., a live-album called, "Backstage Pass", was recorded before a sold-out crowd of 17,000 fans. This was soon followed by the heavier, "Steamin'", which contained a cover version of "New Orleans" and a misguided get-together of Ronnie King and U.S. radio D.J., Wolfman Jack, for the recording of "Hit The Road Jack." Someone forgot to tell The Stampeders that The Guess Who had beaten them to the idea two years before. The Stampeders had met The Wolfman while taping an NBC television special at the Saratoga Springs Song Festival in 1975. On April 4th, 1976, "Hit The Road Jack" went to #40 in the U.S. and reached #1 in Canada and Holland, where it stayed for two weeks. The success of the single led to the release of The Stampeders' final Gold album, "Hit The Road" and another JUNO nomination. It was later released in Europe by Quality records and in the U.S. on the Private Stock Label.

After a series of failed singles, including "Playing In The Band", "Sweet Love Bandit", and "San Diego", Dodson left the band in 1977 to start his own 24-track recording studio and independent record label, Marigold. With the release of the album, "Platinum", in 1977, the band's new line-up included original members, Ronnie King and Kim Berly, along with Gibby Lacasse (drums and percussion), Ian Kojima (tenor and baritone sax and flute), David Norris-Elye (tenor and soprano sax), Doug Macaskill (guitar) and Gary Scrutton (guitar and vocals). A single was released called "Bring The House Down", but it failed to click. The failure of the new jazzier, funky-sounding Stampeders to gain critical and commercial acceptance, along with the increased cost of supporting the large band, eventually led to the departure of drummer Kim Berly. Also gone was the band's recording deal with Quality records. Ronnie King tried to keep the band going with a new album on Apex Records called "Ballsy". The new line-up included Ronnie's youngest brother, Roy Van Sprang, Bob Allwood and Gary Storin. Lack of sales, high overhead and disappointed fans led to the band's final break up in 1980 and the departure of manager, Mel Shaw. For a time, Dodson continued to record other acts and Kim Berly was signed to RCA in 1979 as Kimball Fox with a new band called The Cry.

The original three piece group officially reunited at a special concert at The Calgary Stampede in 1992. The following year saw the first new Stampeders album in nearly twenty years. Reminiscent of their Country hybrid roots, the record featured Berly, Dodson and King and contained the regional hit, "Hometown Boy", as well as updated versions of "Sweet City Woman" and "Oh My Lady". The band released a new CD called "Sure Beats Working" in 1998 and continued to tour into the new century.

In November, 2005, it was announced that "Sweet City Woman" would be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Toronto in February, 2006. On March 9th, 2011, The Stampeders released "Live At The Mae Wilson", their first album in thirteen years, and continued to tour North America doing fairs, festivals, casinos and theatres in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

For more, be sure to read Gary James' Interview With Rich Dodson