Friday, May 20, 2011

25 Years of Powerchord

This Saturday we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of Powerchord on CiTR with a gig at the Rickshaw Theatre. The bill includes Woods of Ypres, Titans Eve, Scissortooth and others. It should be quite a night.

Powerchord’s been on the air since 1985, always in the same Saturday afternoon 2-hour time slot (with one or two deviations). It speaks to the dedication of the local scene and CiTR staffers that it’s stayed on the air this long, moving through various hosts, the latest of whom are Geoff, Andy and the Mistress of Metal.

The first and most beloved Powerchord hosts were, of course, “Metal Ron” Singer and Gerald “Rattlehead” Yoshida. They deserve a lot of credit in building up the Vancouver scene from virtually nothing in the mid-’80s to the thriving scene we have today, with a huge number of bands toiling away in every sub-genre, and a handful of artists attaining genuine international prominence.

Vancouver was not a metal town at all in 1985. In fact, it was downright hostile to the genre. Ontario had Anvil, Razor, and Exciter; Quebec had Voivod and a zillion other bands. Toronto also had a more open-minded media, with CITY TV’s New Music and (later) Much Music regularly dedicating airtime to metal acts.

Here in Vancouver, our cutting-edge local community access video show, Soundproof, was a hive of snobbery, championing power pop and politico art/punk slop (basically anything on Zulu, MoDaMu, or Nettwerk) while sneering at anything suburban and scruffy. For example, Vancouver Province critic Tom Harrison reviewed records every week on Soundproof. Oh boy, it was a banner week when he pulled out Mercyful Fate’s Melissa and declared it the worst album he’d ever heard: the band couldn’t even play metal properly and the singer had a ridiculous falsetto. For months afterwards, records were gauged against the standard set by the “Melissa-Meter.” Metal provided no end of amusement and mockery amongst Tom and the Soundproof hosts, especially when Tom discovered Venom’s At War With Satan, a record he deemed even more of an insult to good taste. Thereafter, the Melissa-Meter became the Venometer, and the laughs at metal’s expense continued…

(Incidentally, both Venom and Mercyful Fate have had albums inducted into Decibel magazine’s Hall of Fame; Venom for Welcome to Hell, and Mercyful Fate for, of course, Melissa. It’s safe to say those albums have had a greater impact on the history of music than anything that, say, The Animal Slaves ever released.)

It was into this environment that Ron and Gerald arrived. It came as a surprise too, because CiTR seemed to be in the same anti-metal camp as Soundproof. I remember reading a profile of the station in the paper that discussed the station’s “anything goes” approach, except when it came to metal. “We’ve had someone approach us wanting to do a metal show,” said a spokesman (I’m paraphrasing from memory, but trust me, do I ever remember this stuff). “We showed him the door.” I’m not sure how Ron and Gerald cracked it, but there they were, bringing us the latest albums, demo tapes, gig listings, and metal news.

They made a good team. Neither of them were natural-born broadcasters. Gerald had (still has!) a nasal drawl and was prone to fits of giggles. Ron had a high, sort of reticent voice that occasionally sounded resigned against Gerald’s onslaught of babble. Their chemistry made them endearing and approachable. They were just two nerds, same as me but with better connections. Despite my shyness and hatred of phones, I’d sometimes ring Gerald during the show to ask about upcoming release dates or to make a request. He was never less than friendly and ultra-enthusiastic.

CiTR was powered by a hamster in a wheel back then, so there was no way I could tune it in at my parents’ house in Burnaby. However, CiTR was on cable too, so once I figured out how to rig a coaxial adapter to my boom box I was in the Powerchord club. The first show I caught was a revelation. These guys had the stuff! Things I’d seen mentioned or advertised in Kerrang! but never had a hope of hearing came blasting out of the radio. Hearing Megadeth for the first time (a demo of “Loved to Deth”) nearly popped my head clean off. Bands like Watchtower and Fates Warning fused metal and prog in ways that made me an instant fan. The Energetic Disassembly tape got a lot of play. “One of those bands that’s good if you’re into Rush and bands like that,” Gerald would say. Duly noted.

After a few weeks it became clear that each host had his own specialty. Ron was into what he called “class metal”—Helloween, Agent Steel and so on. Power metal before power metal sucked. Gerald was obsessed with “crossover” at the time. Any bands with three initials for a name got the nod. The day Speak English or Die arrived was like a dozen Christmases rolled into one for him.

If I could cue up a tape in time, I’d tape away; otherwise I'd make notes of what I liked, and hoped it would come out on Banzai Records soon. It was a good time for me, becoming aware of the local scene—bands like Genghis Khan, Karrion, Mission of Christ, and a few others—and realizing that there were other people in this city who cared about the same things I did. I can’t say I made new friends directly because of Powerchord, but I did eventually fall in with a crowd who were avid listeners. The show was just another thing we bonded over. What it did make me realize is that if you love something, no matter how strange or obscure it is or how much it marks you as a freak, you should let people know about it, just in case they find the same spark in it that you do.

Once the ’90s hit their stride right up to the present day, Vancouver’s been doing really well metal-wise. The old guard and the former tastemakers have faded away, and more open-minded folks have taken their place, to the point where all kinds of people mingle at metal shows now, and metalheads worry more about their scene being infiltrated by hipsters than about having a scene at all. Gerald and Ron, our unassuming metal gurus, led the charge. Thanks, guys, for helping my city open its ears, pull the stick out of its arse, and finally learn to rock.


metalron said...

wow thank you very much for this.

i can't believe you even enclosed the old adds i drew from the beginning.

yeh its been a long time, but i feel kind reinvigerated to give the show another go, at least for awhile.
i really missed it.

The Mule said...

Thanks for reading, Ron! Great to hear from you. I scanned the ads from old issues of "SpeedCorps," which I'm sure you remember, and which is a wonderful time capsule of how things were "back then."

datdemdar said...

Hey Ron,

Hope all is well with both you and Gerald.

Don (in Trail)