Five Questions With… Steve Mahon of Teenage Head
Teenage Head has always occupied a unique place in Canadian rock history, and their story is now finally celebrated with the new collection Fun Comes Fast, available now through Warner Music Canada. The 20-track double LP set spans the band’s 40-year recording career, highlighting their unwavering commitment to the fast, loud and snotty sounds that influenced a generation of groups that came after, from The Tragically Hip to Arkells.
Formed in Hamilton in 1975 by bassist Steve Mahon, guitarist Gord Lewis, singer Frank Kerr (Frankie Venom) and drummer Nick Stipanitz, their sound and attitude emerged from the same raw R&R mantra that spawned the New York Dolls, and, soon after, The Ramones.
By the time Teenage Head began playing regularly around southern Ontario, in early 1976, they could lay claim to being Canada’s first punk rock band, even though no one was sure yet what that meant.
It was a title that never seemed to fit them entirely. While Frankie Venom could hold his own with the first wave of punk’s great frontmen, such as Joey Ramone and Stiv Bators, Teenage Head’s gritty, blue-collar approach seemed more inclusive and proven so with the commercial success of their first three albums and notably so with 1980’s gold-certified Frantic City.
Even in the wake of Kerr’s death in 2008 from throat cancer, Teenage Head has remained active, with longtime associate Dave “Dave Rave” Desroches handling vocal duties, and most recently, Killjoys drummer Gene Champagne enlisted for recent shows marking the release of Fun Comes Fast. With more shows planned for the new year, Steve Mahon reflected on Teenage Head’s legacy and what keeps him going.
What made this the right time to put together this compilation?
Years ago, our old manager was talking about releasing a “20 Century Masters” CD—they were all the rage at that time. As you probably know, Unidisc owns two of our best selling albums, and did not want to cooperate at all, which pretty much killed that idea.
A couple of years ago, a fan had given me some vinyl rips of some of our albums that were never released on CD. One day I decided to listen to them, and I loaded them up into iTunes, and that’s when I came up with the first Teenage Head “Greatest Hits” playlist. By then we had re-recorded a bunch of our old rockers with Marky Ramone, which enabled me to, along with a couple of songs off our live album, sequence a complete collection, without involving Unidisc.
I think the album makes it clear that the band was more about rock and roll than "punk." Do you feel that's why the music still holds up so well?
Yes, we were already writing songs, as early as 1974, BEFORE the punk rock craze. I’m still amazed that The Clash was able to gain acceptance into the world of FM Rock Radio. Not many punk bands were able to do that.
The band has also proudly represented Hamilton. Are you conscious of the impact you've had on the music scene there?
I’m certainly aware that when we came on the scene, in Hamilton, in the late 70’s, it was much more difficult to find work, especially being a band who wrote their own songs. I’m sure it’s a bit easier now, for groups like Arkells, and Monster Truck, but that doesn’t mean they haven't had to work their butts off to get where they are.
What has kept you committed to maintaining the band?
There’s been many times that this band could have folded, for many different reasons, but as long as I can still hear, and go to the bathroom on my own, Teenage Head will remain open for business. I’m not sure why; I guess I just don’t want to see it come to an end, at least on my watch
How would Frank feel about Teenage Head's legacy?
There’s no one prouder of this new album than Frank Kerr; I know that for sure. He was fiercely proud of the band, even more than the Leafs! I think about him all the time.