|Posted on October 3, 2013 at 4:35 AM|
When most people think of rock artists to come out of Canada, the obvious ones come to mind, Bryan Adams, Triumph, April Wine and more recently Nickleback. But back in the early 1980s there was Coney Hatch, these boys could have been anything, they released three wonderful albums between 1982 – 1985, but sadly did not get the support from their record company that they should have, they were dumped and faded into the pages of rock history. Their lead singer Carl Dixon would go on to pursue solo efforts and a stint with The Guess Who, but in 2008 found media coverage for all the wrong reasons. Dixon would be involved in a horrific car accident and there were doubts he would survive, let alone perform again. But Dixon did survive and a few years later would re-join his Coney Hatch band mates on stage, from there the band has been busy working on a brand new record titled Four. I had the pleasure of speaking to Carl Dixon about his career, the accident, the music industry and the new album Four.
Rock Man: Can you tell me about your musical upbringing, when did you discover a passion for music and who were your early influences?
Carl Dixon: Well, I was three years old when I started playing by ear on the piano and my parents decided they better get me in for lessons, so I began that when I was four, all the conservatory training and all that, and stuck with that until I was nine or ten years old. That was the 60s and of course The Beatles, The Stones, Credence Clearwater Revival and all the 60s acts and the Top 40 AM radio was getting more and more rock n’ roll as time went by, the peak that I was really turned on by music was around 1969/1970, that era, when really the first wave of big rock bands came down the pike. So I started to emulate and wanted to be like those guys and I really felt the appeal and the, I suppose the freedom in the sound and the power of it and the catchiness of it, I like a good melody [laughs], so that is what started me really getting involved. And I got involved with guitar when I was ten, I did not want to play the piano anymore, I did not think piano rocked [laughs] there weren’t a lot of piano role models at that time, so I switched to guitar, hated it, switched to drums, really liked that, I still play drums, and then I came back to guitar because I was asked to join a band to be the singer but they needed me to play guitar. So I brushed up on my three chords that I did remember, kept practising after that and stuck with it all these years since.
RM: You were once dubbed the loudest band in Toronto, now that the band is back together, have you proudly reclaimed that title?
CD: Um … no. You know what, there is no way you could be the loudest of anything anymore, the technology has changed and we do not want to be crushingly loud. We are still a pretty punishingly loud rock band but we do not go after being the loudest for its own sake, whatever it takes to make the music sound powerful and big, that is where we set the amps.
RM: Congratulations on the release of the new Coney Hatch album Four, I am assuming it is a safe bet you never thought you would be position to say there is a new Coney Hatch record out, you must be so very proud of this effort?
CD: You are right. All of us were sitting on the memories of a long time ago, some of the nice things and some of the difficult things and the lessons we learned, it was a most improbable outcome for us to be making a record all these years later, but we are very happy with how it turned out and very proud of it.
RM: The first single is Blown Away, what has been the reaction to that track by members of the press and your loyal fan base?
CD: People are loving it. Both in the press and radio people we have spoken to and the fan base that have seen, they heard the sample first on the pre-release video from Frontiers Records and then we have just also put a full production video on Youtube, eight or ten days ago, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive and it is growing into the many thousands by now after a week or so.
RM: I have seen the music video for Blown Away, the first thing that was very noticeable to me is that everyone in the band looks genuinely happy to be there and playing again, and I think that attitude shines through on the album as well, was that the case?
CD: It sure was, even though the band broke up we stayed friends and did things together occasionally over the years. Andy Curran (bass) and I played a lot of ice hockey together [laughs] through the 90s and we stayed very close friends and he was a real supporter of me in my time of need. So we always had a good feeling among the four of us, it began that way in the old days and various immaturity, I think, in several categories led to the band splitting up or changing. But we are all older and wiser now and we really cherish what we have together.
RM: This album is full of great, positive, fun tracks such as Blown Away, Down & Dirty, Marseilles and Keep Driving, but Revive has something more to say, can you tell me about that track?
CD: Yes, Revive, Andy had the music track idea to begin with, that he ran by me, and I just felt that feeling in the music just slightly melancholy or reflective, wishful perhaps, and I really started to think about the poisonous political climate that is in the air today and the really polarizing effect that constant media has on people. It seem so easy for people to get divided into firm camps, us against them, with no compromise possible, no middle ground where they can agree to just move forward happily, everything has to turn into a fight. And that lyric in Revive is a plea for a little more understanding and compromise to just tone it down and let the energy become more positive in the world. Also thinking about in Europe and the nations having all the debt crisis and all the people out of work and being faced with huge change and upheaval, so that really. But certainly the atmosphere from the United States their log jam in their politics effects the whole world, so it is really noticeable to all of us, and of course here in Canada we live right next door to them.
RM: Another favourite of mine is Connected, this is an interesting track because while it is definitely a Coney Hatch song, I think it has shades of Night Ranger and Cheap Trick in it, what do you think?
CD: [Laughs] That is interesting, those are, Cheap Trick in particularly is a favourite of Andy’s. We had the basic idea of that song, the chord changes, way back at the time we made the first Coney Hatch album, our producer at the time Kim Mitchell suggested we change up the tempo and slice it up a little bit and that is what we used as our starting point to return to that song now, all these years later. The lyrics are newly written by Andy and the chorus is a whole, the idea was to make it energetic and punchy, to match the energy of the opening, the really high charged energy that has. So really, I guess, when you are building a song in that way, you are trying to be true to the spirit of where it came from, the initial energy that triggered it, you know.
RM: During the period 1982 – 1985 you released three brilliant albums, Coney Hatch, Outa Hand and Friction, what do you recall about making those records and those days?
CD: Well, it was very exciting. We were all very young, I think I was 21 or 22 when we signed our international record deal and it was the first record deal for any of us. We really fed of the energy of one another and because we had connected management with SRO, who are Rush’s managers all these years, we found ourselves on some great big name tours to support our albums right out of the gate. So we got a big tour with Judas Priest and the next year with Iron Maiden and on the Friction album we were out with Krokus and Accept and some other people and a lot of one offs, with different acts that we learned so much from and it was just a thrill. And it is amazing how quickly you can start to feel like you belong there, like, “yes, naturally we are now playing the big arenas”, it suddenly seems like it makes all the sense in the world and you get very used to it but at the same time constantly thrill by it. It was definitely a motivator for us at the same time a bit intimidating, it created pressure, I think, that we put on ourselves, that we have got to keep being great or we are going to blow this great thing we have walked into. So I know with the Friction album we put enormous pressure on ourselves that it had to succeed and take us to the next level or else we would be in trouble with the record companies, and so it proved. For a number of reasons, the record did not perform to expectations in sales and we did end up in trouble with the label, but the energy around the band was very powerful, especially the writing partnership between Andy and I, it was a great education it was like going to university and graduating with a nice diploma at the end of it.
RM: Is there any one lesson that you learnt from doing those big arena tours?
CD: I recall the biggest step to a higher level we saw was when we began the Judas Priest tour. They were doing the Screaming For Vengeance Tour in 82 and we saw for the first time what it was like, we did 25 shows with them, I think, we saw what it was like for big time bands to go out there and deliver it in a high level with a polished show night after night after night, with no let down and being aware of how to work with the fans and create a flow to the show with some high points and excitement. It was a huge education for us, because prior to that we were really, mostly a bar band and small concerts in high schools and that kind of thing, we really had no experience before that, except going to see other peoples concerts and of course, it looks a lot different when you see it night after night after night. That is the illusion that every band tries to create for the fans, that you are seeing this magic thing that only happens the once, in that special way and really the great bands make it look special 50 nights in a row.
RM: The support, or lack thereof, from the record label at the time must have been very disappointing?
CD: Yes it was all the difference between whether we carried on or not. We had sacrificed a great deal to make the Friction album, individually and as a group, living on very little money during the time we were making that album and being positioned that it better succeed and then everything will pay off if you make the best album you possible can. We came out of the gates to a label that did not really, they put us second place to Bon Jovi at that time, which they did not make a bad bet, Bon Jovi went through the roof as we all know, but that was the Slippery When Wet album that they were starting to put against us and we were no longer a priority. And there was some backlash at the time about the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Centre), the Tipper Gore political movement, where they were trying to politicize heavy music and say it caused children to commit suicide, so radio started to get really cautious about playing anything too heavy, even though Friction had some of our nicest commercial songs, it was a real up hill battle. We did not know that we were doing better in Europe than anywhere else, no one told us that at the time, so that was a real surprise and in retrospect kind of disappointing that no one had told us that some place the album had done well and we could feel good about that. It was not until we came to Firefest in 2011 that we started to learn, well actually, the Friction album has out sold our other albums by far in Europe and England. So that might have made the difference in giving us more hope to keep together.
RM: If I can take you back to Melbourne, April 14th 2008, a tragic day for you, you were involved in an horrific car accident, can you talk me through what happened and more importantly, how did you survive?
CD: Right, what happened that night was that I was visiting Australia to see my wife and daughter, my daughter who was 12 at the time, was starring in a TV show called The Saddle Club, which was a show about girls and horses and having fun at a little club. So my daughter was one of the stars, I was down there visiting and I was also working on music for the show, for the kids to sing, as one of the off shoots, from the television production and also recording guitars for the theme song. I was on my way home, got lost, got very uptight because it was one of the rare visits I was permitted with my family, I was touring with The Guess Who at the time, I was the singer, and had hardly seen my wife and daughter all through the previous six months. So I got very upset, forgot to pay attention to my surroundings and I forgot for one minute that they drive on the other side of the road in Australia, so my faults are in attention and had a head on crash. I was in a little Toyota Corolla, the other vehicle was a big Jeep/Landcruiser or something, because of the larger size his wheels went right up the hood and over the roof of my car at an angle and crushed it all down on me. I was terribly injured and probably should have died from blood loss, in the car before they could even get me out, I was suck in there for an hour and forty five minutes while they tried to get me out. So luckily they have amazing doctors and medical system in the state of Victoria in Australia, I was helicoptered to the hospital in Melbourne and the trauma unit where they went to work on me, saving everything basically, that could possibly be fixed. And the concern was if I would even survive the night, brain damage to the extent that I could be a vegetable was one of the prognosis, double amputation, could be quadriplegic, blindness, all kinds of terrible things. Luckily I was saved by their efforts to the extent that I have a bit of a limp on one leg, because of a bone graph and metal holding it together and the other leg has metal holding it together and my guitar strumming hand, my arm, was badly mangled and they were going to amputate that but instead they put some metal in there and stuck it back together the best they could. I did loose one of my eyes, so that was a partial blindness, I definitely had some after effects from the head blow for a long time and probably still do. But I am not a quadriplegic and not a vegetable, I have returned to life and performing music, perhaps with more conviction than ever before.
RM: The recovery period must have been difficult, is that still an ongoing process or is the worst behind you?
CD: The worst is behind me, there are things that I just had to learn to live with that are not going to get much better. I will never run again [laughs], I used to be, one of the reasons I survived was I was a dedicated fitness and sports athletics guy all my life, never smoked, never touched drugs, hardly drank. So the doctors in Australia said that was the only reason I survived. But on the other hand, I have made adjustments to some things I can continue to enjoy in life, even with my reduced physical prowess and the future looks bright.
RM: Since the accident you have been back to Australia to meet with the people who helped save your life on that terrible night, what were your feelings when you returned and caught up with them?
CD: I was in absolute awe of the courage they showed and the generosity of compassion, that they saw me in trouble there, they did anything they could, anything which they were capable to try and help me survive and get through that terrible night. So I will always be living my life in gratitude for those people in that moment of crisis.
RM: Given all that has happened with the car accident, do you view the band being back together as a second chance at pursuing the initial dream for this band?
CD: You know, I think the dream has changed just because as we mature and gain wisdom and experience in life our view of what is important changes. At one time it would have been our focus to just keep making more albums until we got as big as Judas Priest, as big as Iron Maiden, as big as whoever you can think of, that just seemed like the logical thing that you do when you get a record deal, you climb ladders step by step when you are a big star. Now we have a different out look and that really is, partly, due to the change in the music business as well, it is not what it once was, there is not ladder really that you climb anymore step by step, the structure is dynamite to what the music industry once looked like. Also we are all involved in different things in our own lives and Coney Hatch has to fit into what the four of us can manage collectively, a couple of the guys have regular jobs, they have to take days off work or holiday time to be able to do a tour. So those are real factors that make us choose selectively what we can do to support the album and also what we can expect out of it. What we hope for is lots and lots of people like it and want to own it and that the music grows a new and larger audience and perhaps we can get to do some great shows, some travel and make another album if enough people like this one.
RM: Can you tell me about the state of the music industry in Canada at the moment, is there a healthy market for rock, hard rock, metal acts or is it dominated by the big Top 40/commercial machine like everywhere else?
CD: It is pretty much the same as everywhere else, we are a reflection of what the U.S. is, except with our own batch of home made acts that fit in to a category of Canadian content. And certainly there is a Canadian sound that the European’s and the U.K. like a lot in Canadian rock, but there is not much new that sounds like that anymore. It is really the old bands that are still alive from that era (laughs) that are able to make that sound that everybody likes so much of Canadian rock. I would say it is kind of a ‘do it yourself’ kind of industry now, more than ever and the marvel to us is under those conditions we did get a nice offer to an album under Frontiers Records, to get a record deal in this day and age for a band that has been away for 28 years is astounding.
RM: Over the years you would have witnessed many changes in the music industry, what do you think has had the biggest effect?
CD: I think it is a toss up between the CD, which was the first foray into digital conveying of music, because what happened with that is the labels had a new device that was doing the same job as the old one but they could charge a lot more money for it. So huge amounts of cash were flowing through the major record labels in the 90s, and kids started to rebel against the apparent greed of it and we all heard the complaint, I’m sure, buy a full album and get charged $16/$18 for it on a CD and then have one good song. The rise of the internet and ingenious young people who understood the internet and who wanted to get around the high cost of having music worked, obviously, against the labels interests. Because the labels had created this culture where music was a necessary part of young people’s lifestyle, it became your identity, what your favourite music was, who you supported, which artists you played at a party and that meant something to you. But the kids could not afford it so they found a way to create their identity by getting around paying for it, so as soon as it became possible to get the music for free a lot of young people then lost the feeling they should ever pay for music. I think they began to feel like it should be like turning on the TV, we do not pay out $15 every time we turn on a TV show, right? and I think that is where the culture has lost, it has become so divorced from a feeling of value attached to music and music products. To me the real shame in it all is that we now have, we do not have the ability for people to have a music career in the same way, if you cannot afford to stay in music you cannot do it as much, only in the doing and sticking with it that you grow your skill and your insight and you ability to change music and write thoughtful lyrics and create great music ideas. If you are only a part timer because you are at a factory job all day it is really difficult to build your skills, so that is my fear that we are going to loose a generation, the next generation do not have that structure around them to be able to devote to being a full time musician, unless they are willing to starve for many years and run around on the ‘do it yourself’ promotion treadmill, it is hard for young people to get paid doing music is the bottom line.
RM: Where is the band at in terms of playing live, will there be a huge tour to promote Four?
CD: There won’t be a huge tour, there will be selective dates when the guys can get time off work [laughs]. We have a few things coming up in Canada in the autumn and we are trying very hard to get over to Europe and the U.K. for festival season next year, but we are not in a position, nor were we ever successful enough count on doing an arena tour and being able to pay the bills with that. We have to be smart about how we get out there, we do not want to go out and lose money, none of us are independently wealthy, we cannot do that.
RM: Again, congratulations on the release of the new album Four, on behalf of everyone here at Full Throttle Rock I would like to wish you and the band all the best for the future and continued success.
CD: Well I appreciate that and all the best to our Australian fans.