The Canadian punks who should’ve been huge

We spoke to author Geoff Pevere about Gods of the Hammer, the tale of the awesome 1970s band that was positioned to be as big as the Ramones or the Clash.

Teenage Head
Teenage Head
Canadian author, critic and reporter Geoff Pevere was a university student in Ottawa when he first saw Teenage Head in 1978. Having formed as high school students in Hamilton in 1975, influenced by the same glam scene that laid the foundation for the bands that would make punk an international movement in late ’70s, Teenage Head were years ahead of other Canadian punks, most of whom weren’t radicalized until they saw the Sex Pistols on the news.

“They were unbelievably polished in terms of the package on stage,” says Pevere. “They had this incredible frontman in the form of Frankie Venom, they had an amazing guitarist — the band generally was incredibly tight and that wasn’t something you could say for all of the punk bands, especially the Canadian punk bands of that period. They just leapt off the stage.

“The other thing that was absolutely crucial was that they played songs that stuck in your head. They knew their way around a hook. But in those days, if you wanted to hear a band like this over again, there was no radio play, and they had no albums at that time, so you had no choice but to go and see them. I probably saw Teenage Head between 15 and 20 times.”

Pevere’s new book, Gods of the Hammer: The Story of Teenage Head (a clever twist on the infamous Led Zeppelin book Hammer of the Gods) was motivated primarily by fandom, but as a journalist he was fascinated by the band’s ultimate failure.

“Like a lot of people, I was convinced that this was the band that was probably going to break out like no other Canadian band ever had, so there was this lingering question of what happened? Why did this band who were clearly so much better than everything else that was happening in the country, why didn’t they make it?

“I remember hearing that they generated a riot in Toronto at Ontario Place in 1980, because 15,000 people showed up to a venue with a 4,000 to 5,000 capacity and people were angry when they were turned away. I remember hearing about the car accident that broke the back of the guitarist, and I remember seeing that they released a few albums after that. Basically there seems to have been momentum and an opportunity that was lost.”

Gods of the Hammer, published by Coach House Books as part of their Exploded Views series, is one of several recent efforts to document Canadian punk history, alongside Liz Worth’s Treat Me Like Dirt, Sam Sutherland’s Perfect Youth , Érik Cimon and Alain Cliche’s documentary MTL Punk and Colin Brunton’s documentary The Last Pogo Jumps Again.

“For years and years and years, what happened in the punk scenes across Canada — in Montreal, Ottawa, Halifax, Vancouver — wasn’t really documented,” Pevere says. “It was a period in Canadian music history that was crucial in terms of its influence on countless bands but for some reason it was not being written about and it was not being documented.

“So I wanted to track what had happened to Teenage Head, and I wanted to tell the story of a band that meant so much to me and whose music never left me. They were so fucking great.” ■
Tonight, Friday, June 13, Pevere launches Gods of the Hammer at BBAM! Gallery (3255 St-Jacques), where he’ll converse with BBAM owner/punk historian Ralph Alfonso. Teenage Head’s self-titled 1979 album will be played in its entirety. 7–10 p.m., $15 (with 2 drinks or 2 vinyl records) or $20 (with the book + drinks and/or vinyls)