The Stampeders - Biography

No seventies group represented Canada's musical identity to the world like The Stampeders. A quick look at Canada's music scene from 1971 until 1976 confirms The Stampeders were truly the country's international musical ambassadors. Instead of trying to blend into any specific format, they developed their own identity, which was both entertaining to watch in concert, and to listen to on radio and records. The Stampeders also toured more extensively in Canada and overseas than any other Canadian group of the same period.

While there were various line-ups of the group during their 15-year run, the three-man line-up of Rich Dodson, Kim Berly and Ronnie King was, by far, the most successful and most widely-adored by the fans.

The group's beginnings can be traced back to Calgary in 1964 with a band called The Rebounds, formed when drummer, Kim Meyer (Kim Berly), answered an ad placed in the paper by bassist, Brendan Lyttle, and guitarist, Rich Dodson. The Rebounds consisted of Rich Dodson (lead guitar), Len Roemer (rhythmn guitar), Brendan Lyttle (bass guitar), Kim Berly (drums) and Kim's brother, Al Meyer (Race Holiday), on lead vocals.

In January of 1965, The Rebounds entered into a relationship with manager, Mel Shaw, and officially became The Stampeders. Len Roemer was replaced by Cornelis Van Sprang, known professionally as Ronnie KIing, and his brother, Emile, who used the stage name Van Louis. The six-man group started wearing assorted-coloured denim outfits and cowboy hats with the idea of promoting a group of cowboys playing rock 'n roll. During their first year as a band in Calgary, they had one single release on the SOTAN label entitled "House of Shake" b/w "Don't Look At Her."

Anticipating better things to come, The Stampeders decided to move to Toronto in 1966. At the invitation of Bigland booking agent, Ron Scribner, the six-man group, along with Mel Shaw and his family, loaded up their $800, used, '62 Cadillac limousine and U-Haul trailer, and left Calgary heading east to the 'big lights' of Toronto. Though most of the members were under the legal drinking age, they managed to beg, borrow and work their way across Canada, playing bars and various one-nighters. Upon their arrival in Toronto, the Western-Canadian band, with their yellow denim T-Kays, cowboy boots and hats, became an immediate curiosity in the folk-oriented, hippie clubs of the Yorkville district. Though the first year was an extremely lean one, the band managed to survive the six-month, Toronto Musician's Association's initiation and find work in the bustling Toronto club scene.

The Stampeders finally had a breakthrough late in '68 with a single they recorded while on a sight-seeing trip to New York. Released on the independent label, CARAVAN, "Morning Magic" b/w "All The Time" wasn't much of a sales success, but critical acclaim earned the group a BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) Award.

The first major-label single release, "Be A Woman" b/w "I Don't Believe," came in 1968 on the MGM label in the U.S. The Stampeders played the rhythm tracks and sang the vocals while an inhouse MGM producer added a 16 piece string section. This was to be The Stampeders' final release as a six-member group. 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.

The period from late '68 to the mid '70's was a time of evolution for the new, three-man Stampeders in which they would develop their own sound, a sound that would take them around the world. The stage set-up had Dodson on guitar, King on bass and Berly on drums, while all three members shared lead vocals. With the exception of Dodson, the cowboy hats came off, they all still wore boots, but the colored T-Kay denim outfits became history. During this period, the band toured around Ontario and Quebec developing their stage show with the help of their new road man, lighting-wizard, Stan Whitcher, winning fans and becoming an in-demand club and one-nighter attraction.

The Stampeders' only release during 1969 was "Cross-Walk" b/w "I Don't Know Where I'm At Sometimes" on the Melbourne label, distributed by London Records. Quality Records, then a major independent label in Canada, became interested in the band. By mid-1970, The Stampeders were in the studio working on their first album, "Against The Grain".

"Carry Me", the first single from this session, quickly hit the top of the Canadian charts, garnering the band it's first gold record. Simultaneously released on Polydor in the U.S., the single got lots of play but didn't quite make the charts. Canadian success, however, allowed the band to complete the album with one of their favorite recording engineers, Terry Brown. The resulting LP, "Against The Grain," was concurrently released with the next single, "Sweet City Woman" b/w "Gator Road." The band, along with it's new road crew -- Bob Luffman, Joel Wikhammer and Ian 'Snake' Dunbar -- was finally on it's way.

The summer of 1971 saw "Sweet City Woman" climb the charts to the Number One 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 charts, reaching the Number Eight spot on September 11, 1971. The band recalls the time 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 after hearing "Sweet City Woman" fading in on radio station WABC in New York City as the Number One record of the week. Bell records renamed the album "Sweet City Woman" for the U.S. market to capitalize on the success of the single. Next came 'Juno Awards' (Canada's version of 'The Grammy') for 'Best Vocal Instrumental Group', 'Best Producer', 'Best Single' -- and their first European tour. In 1972, at the request of their U.K. label, EMI, The 'Best Composer' Stampeders toured The United Kingdom. Upon their arrival, they discovered that their American hit, "Sweet City Woman", had already been covered by The Dave Clark Five. Dates included the Marquee in London, the Hard-Rock Theatre in Manchester and appearances on BBC Radio and "Top Of The Pops." Both Phillips and Bovema-EMI Records helped support the balance of the tour through Holland, Germany, Denmark, France and the rest of Europe with British rock band, Steam Hammer. Holland was especially receptive to the band, partly due to the fact that Ronnie King (Cornelis Van Sprang) was a fellow Dutchman, having been born in Rotterdam.

In Holland, The Stampeders received the prestigious 'Edison Award' for "Most Promising Group," along with Ry Cooder and Beach Boy, Carl Wilson. Carl was in session at the time, along with the rest of The Beach Boys, recording their classic "Holland" album. During this visit, The Stampeders had the privilege of staying at Amsterdam's Hotel Weichman with the infamous Eagles. While Kim and Rich shared road experiences with Eagle drummer, Don Henley, Ronnie King and some of the other band members spent their time window-shopping in the famed, Amsterdam red-light district, only to find themselves locked out of the hotel upon their return.

1972 also took The Stampeders to Los Angeles to perform at the legendary "Whisky A-Go-Go" and tape their appearances on "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert" and "The Dating Game." While hanging out at The Troubadour in Hollywood, Ronnie King met Keith Moon, drummer of The Who. Keith took a liking to Ronnie and asked him what he and The Stampeders were doing the next night. It happened to be Keith's birthday and he wondered if The Stampeders might be available to play at his party at The Beverly Hills' Wiltshire Hotel. Ronnie quickly replied, "Of course," and The Stampeders ended up on stage performing for some of Hollywood's rock elite and jamming with Keith Moon. Attendees at the party included Beach Boy, Brian Wilson, Neilson, Rod Stewart, Ron Wood and the then-infamous porno star, Linda Lovelace.

Signing with U.S. booking agency, Premier Talent, in 1971 led to American tour appearances with Jim Dandy and Black Oak Arkansas, Santana, Joe cocker, Steve Miller, The James Gang, Robin Trower, Steely Dan, Sonny and Cher, The Beach Boys, ZZ Top, The Eagles, Earth, Wind And Fire, Mountain, America, Tower Of Power, Blood, Sweat and Tears and Genesis. Establishing themselves as a good concert draw in the U.S., The Stampeders played everywhere from New York to Hawaii, including Los Angeles, Reno, Disneyland and the much-sought-after southern-college circuit.

Heavy airplay and extensive touring, coupled with many guest appearances on the popular Canadian TV shows of the time (Anne Murray, Miss Teen Canada, Kenny Roger's "Rollin' On The River" and The Ian Tyson Show), eventually led to The Stampeders' starring in their own CBC-TV special, "A Short Visit To Planet Earth".

1972 also saw the release of The Stampeders' second album "Carryin' On", featuring the lead-off single, "Devil You" b/w "Giant In The Streets". Although it was the last record released in the U.S. on Bell, the album gained a release in Europe on Regal Zonophone. It featured hard rocker "Wild Eyes", a song that gave their sound more edge and introduced the band to a whole new audience. Part of the appeal of The Stampeders was their musical versatility.

The Stampeders' busy schedule also took them to Rio De Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil (South America). 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. Accepting the offer was easy, but surviving the gig was another matter. The word was, "Don't drink the water." Little did they know that the locals washed the lettuce and watered down the milk with the water. Montezuma's revenge -- bigtime! Moreover, David Clayton Thomas, the U.S. representative, and Ronnie King, developed an affinity for the local drink, "Mescala," which led to some interesting situations. The label on the bottle displayed a dead scorpion. Ah, Brazil!! While 1971 was a banner year for The Stampeders, 1973 was, in many ways, their biggest year. Cross-Canada tours, coupled with the release of "Rubes, Dudes and Rowdies" and "From The Fire" kept the band very active. In Canada, both new singles, "Oh My Lady" and "Minstrel Gypsy", went gold, while follow-up singles, "Running Wild" and "Johnny Lightning", garnered heavy airplay and another JUNO nomination. Rich Dodson's solo single, "Julia Get Up", also went Top-Ten.The release of The Stampeders' fifth gold album, "New Day", saw the emergence of a more experimental sound and a highly popular single, "Ramona". Their live-album, "Backstage Pass", was recorded at Ontario Place 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 the infamous get-together of Ronnie King and U.S. radio D.J., Wolfman Jack, for the recording of "Hit The Road Jack".

The Stampeders met Wolfman Jack, and became good friends, while taping an NBC television special at the Saratoga Springs Song Festival in 1975. On April 4, 1976, "Hit The Road Jack" went Top-Forty in the U.S. and reached Number One in Canada and Holland, where it stayed for two weeks. The song featured vocals and dialogue between Wolfman Jack and Ronnie King, who uses his real name Cornelis. Cornelis pleads with Wolfman to let him stay at his mansion, because his 'baby' just threw him out of the house. 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.

The departure of Rich Dodson in 1977 signaled the end of the three-man Stampeders' unit which had been together since 1968. Rich left the band to start his own 24-track recording studio and independent record label, Marigold. The final three singles with Dodson, "Playing In The Band", "Sweet Love Bandit", and "San Diego" were released in 1976.

With the release of "Platinum" in 1977, the new band's line-up included original members, Ronnie King and Kim Berly, along with back-up musicians 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). Single releases included the horn-based R&B track, "Bring The House Down". Following "Platinum", TeeVee International released a "Best of The Stampeders" hit package. 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 flame burning with a new album on Apex 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.

In 1979, Kim Berly started his own new-wave band, The Cry, in which he performed under the name, Kimball Fox. Two album releases on RCA, good sales and intensive touring sustained the band for a couple of years, but mounting personal problems forced Kim to leave the music scene. From 1983 to 1989, Kim went briefly into acting, gaining recognition in the Toronto theatre community. Despite speculation within the music industry about just how successful The Stampeders would have been had they focused on just one style of music, one thing remains clear -- they left an enduring musical legacy. Between 1970 and 1977, they released ten albums and 15 singles, with six albums and seven singles going gold. Along with three Billboard chart singles in the U.S., The Stampeders had ten, Top-Ten singles in Canada. They also won three JUNO Awards, three BMI Awards, an EDISON Award and toured Canada, Europe, the U.S., including Hawaii, and South America.