The Stampeders still rockin’ 50 years later

As they approach their 50th anniversary of making music together, things really couldn’t be better in the world of Canadian classic rock band The Stampeders.

The group, which scored a number of hits in the 1970s, including Sweet City Woman, and Carry Me, was formed in 1963 as an instrumental band known as The Rebounds. The band adopted The Stampeders moniker two years later. And to this day, The Stampeders remain one of Canada’s best-loved bands, performing to packed houses right across the country.

Upon graduating from high school in 1964 — and contrary to the wishes of their parents — the then six-member Stampeders left the comfort of their Calgary home base for the bright lights of Ontario. Their booking agent at the time was confident that he would be able to find a sizable audience for the group in Canada’s biggest city.

Within one month of arriving in Toronto, however, The Stampeders ranks were cut in half when three of the band members packed up and headed back to their Prairie home. While some groups might be inclined to pack it in in the wake of such a loss, guitarist Rich Dodson, drummer Kim Berly and bassist Ronnie King made the decision to carry on as a group.

In mid-1970, the trio cut their first record, Against The Grain. Carry Me, the first single from that album quickly rose to the top of the charts in Canada, netting the band its first gold record. The summer of 1971 would bring even greater success when their label released Sweet City Woman as the follow-up single. Its massive success in Canada attracted the attention of American record labels, eventually peaking at the Number 8 position on the influential Billboard Singles Charts in September 1971. The rest, as they say, is history.

Reflecting on the group’s humble beginnings, The Stampeders’ Rich Dodson recalls parents of the band members being less than enthusiastic about their decision to try to further their music career in Toronto.

“Our parents definitely thought that we were out to lunch,” Dodson says. “But we did the whole Partridge Family thing across the country, loading up an old Cadillac and playing various cities from Calgary to Toronto along the way.”

Parental concerns aside, we asked Dodson if either he or his bandmates were nervous at the prospect of moving to Toronto while staring down the possibility that the group might not take off.

“We were so young, I don’t believe that any of us were thinking in those terms. It was hard but it wasn’t intimidating at all. It was just incredibly exciting to be doing something you love. I look back upon those early days fondly. I’d do it all over again in a second.”

Fortunately, Dodson doesn’t have to worry about piling into an old Cadillac to travel throughout Canada these days. He says that the Stampeders are keeping a live schedule of between 30 and 40 shows per year, a pace he says suits the group well.

“We definitely are not 28 years old anymore,” he laughs. “In the 1970s we were playing 250 shows per year so only playing between 30 and 40 is quite a drastic change but it is a pace that we have found allows us to truly enjoy each and every show. Overall, it is a much better and much different experience touring nowadays compared to the ’70s.”

Despite record sales consistently plummeting over the course of the last decade, it is the live show that remains the bread and butter for many bands, including The Stampeders. The group has maintained a faithful following throughout Canada, but Dodson says that the group has always held an affinity for Atlantic Canada.

“I think one reason why we have been able to keep fans coming out to the show can be attributed to the touring we did in the ’70s,” he says. “We faithfully toured across Canada every year, playing every high school and arena that would have us. That in turn helped cultivate a strong fan base. Baby boomers make up a great deal of those coming out to our shows these days and I believe the reason why that particular age group is so faithful to us is because they all love live entertainment. They grew up in a time when bands wrote, sang and played their songs so they feel more of an attachment to the group. People still love to come see the band live, for which we are very grateful. It really is quite something to still be playing music at this stage of our lives.”

Joining The Stampeders on stage at Casino New Brunswick Saturday is classic rock band Dr. Hook featuring Ray Sawyer. The group, perhaps best known for its hits When You’re In Love With a Beautiful Woman and Cover Of The Rolling Stone, have been making music for the past 42 years. The group epitomized the very relaxed, countrified feel of some of the music being made in the early part of the 1970s.

The original line-up of Dr. Hook, which Sawyer was a part of, was signed to CBS Records after they had backed author and cartoonist Shel Silverstein on his 1970 record Who’s Harry Kellerman And Why Is He Saying These Terrible Things About Me?

Article published in June 2, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript