Jokingly, Triumph co-founder and bassist Mike Levine suggested that fans of the legendary Canadian rock power trio might want to consider buying two copies of the recently released Classics greatest hits, double-vinyl re-release – one to play, one to treasure.
Speaking on behalf of millions of the group’s fans … that isn’t such a bad idea, especially for those lucky enough to have autographed copies.
The incredibly collectible double-album was release Dec. 13 and features 13 tracks (two of them not released on the previous version of this compendium of hits from the band’s catalogue) on two amazingly lustrous 180-gram, silver vinyl discs, impressively packaged for maximum appeal.
It represents another addition to the already impressive legacy of Triumph, a band formed in Toronto in 1975, quickly becoming a top draw on the Canadian and eventually the U.S. concert circuit, developing a reputation for the ability to craft melodic hard rock masterpieces, interwoven with musical virtuosity, and imbued with a lyrical positivity and anthemic style that is still rare to this day.
From Magic Power, to Hold On, Rock & Roll Machine, Follow Your Heart and Never Surrender, Triumph’s music continues to be beloved by fans, 30 years after the trio of Levine, drummer/vocalist Gil Moore and guitarist/vocalist Rik Emmett broke up, and 11 years after they patched up their friendship and working relationships.
“I think by doing it on vinyl, it makes it more special – more of a legacy project. Originally, 30 years ago, it was what I called the contractual commitment album because at the time when you’re leaving a label, they have the right to put out a greatest hits package. And that’s what they did, and they couldn’t have done the package any cheaper, they couldn’t have done anything any cheaper, all they cared about was making money. At the time, I only got involved to try and get the right songs on it and at least try to make it sound good, because there was a lot of program on that album. It should have been at least three sides, but it was jammed into two sides, which always affects the quality,” said Levine.
“But this time around, the record label did most of the heavy lifting on it and took the lead. I just took care of the music and sequencing, but they made sure everything this time around was first class.”
Concurrently to the buzz leading up to the release of the Classics vinyl package, Triumph has been at the centre of a couple of other significantly newsworthy events. First, the band is the subject of the latest music documentary by renowned Canadian production house Banger Films, which has previously developed acclaimed documentaries on Rush, Iron Maiden, ZZ Top and Alice Cooper, among others.
Working alongside Revolver Films, Bell Media’s Crave, Live Nation Productions and NBC Universal Canada, Triumph: Lay it On the Line is the first-ever feature documentary about the band. According to a press release to announce a special fan event that was held for a select audience at the band’s studio/warehouse facility in Mississauga, the Crave Original Documentary, “is a celebratory, exhilarating thrill ride though the history of one of rock’s most unsung bands. Slated for release in 2020, the film covers Triumph’s humble beginnings as staples of the GTA [Greater Toronto Area] circuit in the mid-70s to their heyday as touring juggernauts, selling out arenas and stadiums all across North America with their legendary spectacular live shows – and way beyond.”
The interactive and intimate fan event happened Nov. 16 and featured a chance for die-hards to hang out with Levine, Emmett and Moore, see some artifacts, memorabilia and stage props from throughout the band’s touring history, with the whole event filmed for inclusion in the documentary.
Earlier in the year, it was announced that Triumph would be 2019 inductees into the Canadian Walk of Fame. That event took place on Nov. 23 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, and featured a spectacular all-star musical tribute to Triumph, headlined by Lawrence Gowan.
Inductees into the Walk of Fame, “represent the organization’s pillars of recognition: Sports and Athletics; Arts and Entertainment; Business and Entrepreneurship, as well as Science, Technology and Innovation.”
As well as Triumph, the 2019 Canadian Walk of Fame class includes world-famous architect Frank Gehry, Canada’s most decorated Olympian, speed skater Cindy Klassen, Hockey Hall of Fame legend Mark Messier, TV ‘Dragon’ and business mogul Jim Treliving, actor Will Arnett, basketball inventor Dr. James Naismith, and Ernie Coombs, known best to generations of kids as Mr. Dressup.
So, needless to say it’s been a busy time for the fellas in Triumph, but also a very satisfying and rewarding time in their lives.
“I think one thing kind of led to another and it just kept building and building. It started off with the documentary, which has been in production for about a year and a half now. It’s getting close to being done and people are starting to really get interested in it because, as you’re probably aware, everybody is looking for content out there. Lots of people were asking about it and they were talking to the film company about it. We put a little more money into the project to get more stuff in that we really felt we wanted and I guess then the fan event came out of that,” said Levine, the band’s bassist and the most active of the trio on handling the business side of the Triumph enterprise over much of the last 30 or so years, since Emmett left the band in 1988 to pursue a prolific and critically acclaimed solo career.
“The thing we did up at the studio and the warehouses could have been the world’s worst cluster****, but it ended up being a beautiful event. It was well run, and the staff at Metalworks took care of everything. It was just amazing how great the whole thing worked out, especially for the fans: they got the thrill of a lifetime. Then the Walk of Fame came about; we found out about it back in June or July, so that was on the books and took a long time to get organized because we were, quote unquote, the ‘headliner’ for it. That was kind of cool and we got involved in that somehow too, so there’s been a lot on our plate. But it’s all great. It’s been a thrill for the three of us as well.”
Classics is truly that, a sampling of the band’s most popular songs, most of which have gone on to become staples of classic rock terrestrial radio, online playlists and a crucial part of Canadian rock fans’ record collections. Besides being a spectacular package, with the opened gatefold featuring a number of classic live and promo shots of the band, as well as an embossed, shiny logo that reflects light in very cool and unique ways, it is also a great introduction to the band, as it has music spanning Triumph’s entire repertoire.
Studio albums represented include The Sport of Kings (1986), Just A Game (1979), Progressions of Power (1980), Allied Forces (1981), Thunder Seven (1984), Never Surrender (1983), and Rock and Roll Machine. The track listing is as follows: Side A – Tears in the Rain, Lay It On The Line, I Live for the Weekend, and Magic Power. Side B – Somebody’s Out There, Spellbound, A World of Fantasy and Follow Your Heart. Side C – Fight the Good Fight, Rock & Roll Machine and Hold On. While Side D features two live tracks that didn’t appear on the original LP, cassette and CD release of Classics. The first is a scintillating live version of Never Surrender from the massive US Festival, which saw the band perform for more than 250,000 people, alongside the likes of Judas Priest and Van Halen in the summer of 1983 in California. The second track is also live – Blinding Light Show/Moonchild, a staple of the band’s early concert repertoire, which was revisited at the Sweden Rock Festival in 2008 after the band’s reunion and captured on a CD/DVD.
“We wanted to make sure we could put out four sides because we knew we could put more music on it if the label did it as a two-LP package, and that’s what they did. We went and thought about it and decided to put some live stuff on there. So, we said, ‘let’s do something from the two big festivals: the US Festival in California and Sweden Rocks. We thought it would be interesting to have both those songs on vinyl because they would never be on vinyl otherwise. And I thought it was kind of neat to include them on this,” said Levine, who admitted that he and the other band members we caught a little off guard with the realization that Classics was now 30 years old.
“It was during all the talk about the documentary and then the Walk of Fame and someone said, ‘hey did you know it was the 30th anniversary of Classics?’ And I went, ‘oops, forgot about that. We’d better do something about that.’ So, then that all started getting into the mix with everything else, and thank God for the record label [Round Hill Records]
As inevitable as snow in the winter in Canada are questions about the future of Triumph, particularly the continued hopeful anticipation of possible live shows or new music. Outside of two festival appearances back in 2008, at Sweden Rocks (captured for a live album and DVD at the time) and at Rocklahoma, and a perfunctory three-song set at the recent fan appreciation event held at the band-owned Metalworks facility, the original triumvirate has not performed since a sultry Labour Day weekend daytime show at Canada’s Wonderland back in 1988. There were a few shows in support of the Edge of Excess album, released in 1993, and featuring Phil X (now playing with Bon Jovi as Richie Sambora’s replacement) handling guitar chores and Moore doing all the lead vocals.
Fans were teased a little bit back in 2016 when Moore played drums and Levine played bass on the bonus track Grand Parade on Emmett’s rockin’ Res 9 album, sparking a new round of hopeful chatter.
But no big farewell tour of Canada, or even a one-off ‘Night of Triumph’. Levine said the chances of a tour are slim to none, and even a single show might be beyond what the band members can even contemplate at this point in their lives and careers.
“We did that little three-song set at the warehouse for the fans. But I don’t know, to be honest with you, if it would ever happen. It’s been talked about and it’s been contemplated but then we get into everything from health issues to ‘do you realize how much work this will be’ type of discussions crops up. So, when you look at those two factors, it doesn’t look positive because there are those issues that we realistically have to deal with. For three songs we can get by fine and Rik was okay and Gil was okay and I was okay, but if it was a dozen songs and full staging and production, I’m not sure we wouldn’t need to have a trio of ambulances parked out back waiting,” he said with a laugh.
On the subject of new music from Moore, Levine and Emmett, more optimistic tone was struck.
“I think what a lot of this activity is about now is the Triumph legacy, because that’s what you really want to do at this stage of the game. We’re past the point where we can create new music that’s going to set the world on fire, right – that’s just the way it is out there. Now, could we? Maybe. But we’d rather beat our heads against the wall then try it on any great scale. But we might do something. We’ve thought about it. We talked about going into the studio and taking a shot at a couple of tunes,” he said.
“The good thing is you don’t have to make an album anymore, so that’s good. We had our Christmas get together a few weeks ago, and we were working on a couple of things, and maybe we could go into the studio and see if there’s anything worth recording, or whatever. At one point Rik and I looked at each other and thought maybe it’s a good idea, maybe it’s a bad idea, but let’s at least not dismiss it.
“The legacy of the band always comes down to the music and the songs and the memories that you leave with your fans. And I think we did a hell of a job with all those things. We weren’t perfect all the time, but we certainly did some incredible pieces of work that will last forever.”
For more information, visit https://www.triumphmusic.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for nearly three decades. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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