Few musicians in Canada are as synonymous with the guitar as Rik Emmett. From his decade-plus with multi-platinum hard-rock band Triumph through a solo career that has seen him bring his creativity to different genres of music, Emmett remains a force to be reckoned with.
It was in 1975 that he joined forces with Mike Levine and Gil Moore in the band Triumph. A short four years later, three of their albums were certified platinum in Canada while two of them had given the band respectable chart showings south of the border.
By the time Emmett parted ways with Triumph in 1988, the group had racked up a total of ten gold albums and four platinum records here at home while also earning two gold albums in the U.S.
His subsequent decision to leave Triumph was not an easy one, but was one that he felt was the right thing to do.
“I was approaching middle-age and felt like the band had exhausted its commercial potential to evolve or grow,” Emmett says from his Toronto-area home. “I wasn’t happy within the band, but also wasn’t happy with the relationships that were associated with the band. I wanted to have the opportunity to do something different and be my own man.”
Not withstanding the inter-band dynamics on the matter, Emmett says that once success found its way to Triumph, everyone seemed to have an opinion on what would help the group sustain their devoted following.
The music business machine was driving the band forward with great success. Artistically, however, Emmett was not feeling fulfilled.
“People started pushing and pulling in their own direction, each with their own interpretation on what success could be. Because we were fortunate enough to have been met with success, our record company began pressing us to bring in high-priced producers because they saw keeping our audience as being the major challenge moving forward.
“The artist in me got tired of people telling me what to do. I was interested in trying new things musically, and seeing what kind of audience would not only go with me, but stay there with me as well.”
Emmett embarked on a solo career, releasing Absolutely (1990), 1992’s Ipso Facto and Spiral Notebook (1995) to respectable sales numbers. While the material on Absolutely stood to appeal to Triumph fans, it was on Ipso Facto that Emmett began showing his versatility with the guitar.
Not everyone was so enthused about Emmett’s forays into different styles of music, however.
“When I left Triumph, I had people insisting I hold onto what I had musically built with Triumph, but when I delivered Ipso Facto, people at my record company started asking where the rock and roll was,” Emmett laughs.
“Triumph fans knew I had an eclectic streak in me though. Triumph was this hard rock kind of band, both Mike and Gil would indulge me by letting me throw these classical guitar pieces onto our records, something which I was extremely grateful for.”
In 1996, Emmett was free of record label expectations and set about crafting some of his most acclaimed work outside of Triumph. The first release was 1997’s Ten Invitations from the Mistress of Mr E., an album comprised of instrumental tracks performed on a classical nylon-string guitar. Later that same year, Emmett released Swing Shift, which featured jazz, swing and fusion music, while in 1999, he released the blues-driven Raw Quartet.
Emmett continued releasing music at a breakneck pace after the turn of the century, both on his own, as well as in collaboration with others.
The new century also reunited Emmett with Triumph, following their induction into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame in 2007, and the Juno Hall of Fame in 2008. The band subsequently performed shows in Oklahoma and Sweden but has been largely inactive since.
Fortunately for his fans, Emmett says his performance at Casino New Brunswick on Saturday night will run the gamut of his career, albeit acoustically.
“When I went out on my own, not all Triumph fans went with me, but a lot of them stayed with me for a long time. No matter where I go though, it never fails that people are looking to hear Triumph material and, in their defense, it is a big part of my history, so it is important to service that contingent.
“At the end of the day though, I am a very lucky guy to still be making music all these years later,” Emmett says.
Also performing this Saturday night is Canadian classic rock band The Stampeders. The group, best-known for their 1971 Billboard hit “Sweet City Woman,” went on to have 10 Top 10 hits in Canada, in addition to four in the U.S. The group – comprised of Rich Dodson, Kim Berly and Ronnie King – were honoured with a SOCAN Lifetime Achievement Award, and have been touring Canada steadily since having reunited in 1992.
What: Rik Emmett, special guest of The Stampeders
When: Saturday June 6, 8 p.m.
Where: Casino New Brunswick, 21 Casino Dr., Moncton
Tickets start at $29.99 (plus taxes and service charges). Advance tickets are available at the Casino Gift Shop, by phone 1-866-943-8849 and online at casinonb.ca