Loverboy’s inception began in Calgary, Canada, when a young Mike Reno was introduced to Paul Dean at The Refinery Night Club. Dean was rehearsing a new band out back in a warehouse with a friend of Reno’s and Mike stopped by to jam. Dean heard him sing a couple of songs and he knew he was on to something extraordinary! Over the next few weeks, Dean and Reno began writing songs on guitar and drums. Doug Johnson who at the time was in another Canadian recording band began to hang out and jam with Dean and Reno. It was during one of those jam sessions with Reno on drums and Dean on bass that “Turn Me Loose” and Loverboy was born.
However, Loverboy was anything but an overnight success. After being rejected by all the major U.S. record companies Loverboy signed with Columbia Records Canada. On March the 20th, 1980, the band went into the studio with producer Bruce Fairbairn and engineer Bob Rock to record their self-titled debut album — ‘Loverboy.’ The rest is rock ‘n’ roll history! The summer of 1980 saw the record fly out of the stores setting record sales for a debut album and earned them a U.S. release. It wouldn’t be long Loverboy’s songs where rockin’ stereos from the city to the suburbs, achieving Gold Record status and would go on to sell more than 2 million albums in the U.S. and 4 million worldwide. Soon the band found themselves playing on mega tours with Journey, Bob Seger, Cheap Trick, ZZ Top, Kansas and Def Leppard, to name a few; they quickly became MTV darlings, being one of the first bands ever featured on the music channel. The band would go on to create their second multi-platinum selling album, ‘Get Lucky,’ which featured the classics “Working For The Weekend,” “When It’s Over,” “Take Me To The Top,” “Only The Lucky Ones,” and “Jump.” Their sophomore album would lead them to an unprecedented six Juno Awards; a record which still remains unbroken.
To this very day, Loverboy is driven by the powerful vocals of Mike Reno, the relentless rock groove of lead guitarist Paul Dean, bassist Scott Smith, keyboardist Doug Johnson and drummer Matt Frenette, built its reputation on-stage, bringing the energy from their radio hits to coliseum rousing excitement. When it comes to performing, he members of Loverboy are still lovin’ every minute of it and log an impressive 80 shows a year! Even with all their success and over 35 years in the music game, the band shows no signs of slowing down. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Loverboy frontman Mike Reno to discuss his musical roots, his remarkable career, Loverboy’s upcoming album titled ‘Unfinished Business’ and what the future holds for the legendary band!
Let’s go all the way back to the beginning, Mike. What are your first memories of music?
I wrote a letter to The Beatles when I was twelve years old to apply to be part of the band. That was kind of cool! I wanted to be the drummer and I figured that was the way to go about it. Shortly thereafter, my brother was teaching me how to sing along and play drums in his band. He had always been a good teacher, so I was lucky to have him and I learned to be a background singer and a drummer very early age. I just kept at it and kept at it until somebody talked me into getting out from behind the drums when I was about eighteen. Much to my dismay, I had to leave the drums behind and go stand out front! It was completely freaky but I did it anyway!
Would you say The Beatles were your biggest influence as a performer?
I thought The Beatles were the way to go. Once I saw those movies and everything, I thought that was it! I kind of used that as a template to what I wanted to do with my life. Shortly thereafter, I started performing all these songs with little bands I had put together as a young child. I guess I started earlier than most but I was dedicated and I really wanted to do this. I just kept getting better and better until I figured it out!
Where there a point where you felt compelled to pursue music as a career instead of going a different route?
There was a crossroads. Everybody was going to University and I was doing shows. It was fun growing up because I was the guy who had a band and had concerts where all my friends are there; then everybody started getting serious and moving away to go to college. I had to sit down and go, “Ok. What am I going to do now?” I ended up moving to Calgary, Alberta where the music scene was bustling in the early 70s. There were bands that played in every hotel and nightclub. There were nearly forty of them, so there were bands playing everywhere! It was a beautiful time! We could play seven days a week and that is where I honed my craft. That is also where we started playing Grand Funk and weird stuff like Alex Harvey and some crazy stuff from Australia that nobody had ever played. We quickly became the band that played music no one had ever heard before but they really loved it! I put my heart and soul into at a very early age and it was all about that crossroads and that is when I decided to become a professional musician. I was eighteen.
Did you have any idea when you took that leap that it would lead you to the heights it has?
I had no idea. I just wanted to make it to the end of the week so we could buy another case of beer! [laughs]
You have been at this for many years. What has kept the creative fire burning through the years?
I just love music. I also happen to love people. If you happen to love both music and people, I think being in a rock band is pretty much the job for you! I am very dedicated and I try very hard. After awhile, you get pretty good at it and that sort of stokes the fire. Once you find out you are pretty good at something, the next step is to find a group of people you can spend the next bunch of years with. You have to write songs, record music, be with people and travel in close quarters along the way. The trick is, in my opinion, to find a bunch of people to find a bunch of people you enjoy being around.
Seeing how you guys have been together for so long, I am sure that contributes to the longevity of the band. Is there a secret to your success?
Yeah, there is a secret to our success. You have to be patient with people. You have to remember you are just one person, a spoke in a wheel. You always have to look at the bigger picture and, in my opinion, it is always good to do the right thing, even if sometimes it hurts and feels like it is the wrong thing. The right thing is there in front of you every time, you just have to identify it and follow through. Do the right thing, be the man who does the right thing. That is what works for me.
Loverboy had a slew of classic songs on the first couple albums. Looking back on those early releases, what stands out as some of the biggest challenges you faced?
Getting the first record contract was a huge challenge. We were just playing around in clubs and the manager would fly people in at his expense, who would chastise us most of the time. They would say, “I don’t hear them as big time.” Finally, somebody gave us a chance! One of the biggest challenges was getting that first album done. Another challenge was taking all of these songs we had written and making them into a nine or ten song package because we had a whole pile of other songs. Editing your whole life’s work down into one album at the beginning was a very hard thing to do but we did it!
What can you tell us about your creative process when it came to songwriting for those early albums?
A lot of times it comes from a catchphrase that you come up with or you hear and you like. You might hear a cool phrase like “Lovin’ Every Minute of It.” You have heard people say that for years, right? You take a phrase like that and make it into a hit song. That is a prime example! When you write a song, you have to write about something you know. In our case, we have always written about things that are personal to us. While recording the song, we have made it accessible to everybody. A lot of people take our songs in different ways and that has really been one of the successes of Loverboy; you can take one of our songs and take ownership of it, even though I wrote it about something completely different. I think that is what helps develop a hit song; that people can take it into them and make it a part of themselves.
Are you an artist who is always working on something new and looking to the future?
Yeah. I am in the studio right now it a young girl from Vancouver. My friend and I go into the studio with her and write songs and record them on our computer. At the end of the day, we usually have a song or two. The process for us is to sit there with an empty piece of paper and start filling it up with ideas. From there, we start singing melodies and get it all done! It is a hard thing to do and by no means an easy task. A lot of times I don’t even like doing it because it is hard and almost an impossible task but sure feels good at the end of the day when you walk out of there and listen to a song on your car stereo that you wrote that day! It is a real payoff and an awesome feeling!
Is the new material you are working on now new music for Loverboy or some other project?
In this particular case, it is for my friend, Stephanie Stanowick. She is a twenty-five year old artist who is trying to break out, so we are just helping her write some songs. Loverboy recently put the finishing touches on an album that I like to jokingly say we have been working on for 35 years. [laughs] It is comprised of songs that didn’t make the first albums. We rewrote and reworked them for the album. Some of them are actually demos from 1979. It goes way back! Some of them are Paul Dean’s ideas from even before that! It is forty years worth of songwriting for this upcoming album, which will be out July 7th! It is going to be called ‘Unfinished Business.’
It is great to hear you are working with some young artists as well. Is this something you can see yourself doing more of in the future?
Yeah, I do, if we stop going on the road as much. We are doing 80 shows a year now. If I cut that back to 30 or 40 shows a year, I will have more time in Vancouver to work with artists. I can see myself working with other artists more and more, as opposed to going on the road constantly.
You have seen the music industry from all sides. I am sure it was a different experience of putting an album together years ago versus what it is today. Are there any artists out there today who excite you more a fan of the old school?
Ya know what? A song is a song is a song. I love Bruno Mars. I think he has a great energy and is a great songwriter. There aren’t a lot of new artists that I really like, so I tend to really like the old stuff. I am kind of an old school guy but every once and a while, as in the case of Bruno Mars, there is someone who really captures my attention. He just popped up and I can’t get this kid off my mind! He is wonderful! Super high energy, positive lyrics and great performances! So, there is some new stuff I like but to categorize me, I would say I am definitely an old school guy.
You mentioned touring and that is a huge part of your life. Do you approach touring today any differently than you did early on?
We do. Nowadays, we fly public transportation and we aren’t taking five or six trucks down the road with a forty man road crew. We got the guys in the band and two or three guys that work with us to help us with the gear. Instead of trucking all of this stuff around, we order it in the contract. Not a lot of people know this but those aren’t our drums or amplifiers. We bring our own guitars but everything else is rented from local music stores. We plug ourselves into all of this equipment and don’t make a big deal about the equipment. That allows us to do a show in Maryland one night, the next night we can be in Las Vegas and the next night we can be in Vancouver. You can’t do that when you are trucking your equipment down the highway! Traveling and doing shows are definitely different for us nowadays. We play a lot of casinos and really do concentrate on playing places where we know we are going to have fun! We have a great fan base! Times have changed but in a lot of ways they have stayed the same!
You guys definitely put on one hell of a live show. You are playing a lot of the music you have been playing for many years. How do you keep it interesting for yourselves? Any secret there?
It kind of drives us crazy every once and a while. How many times can you play “Turn Me Loose?” However, when I look at the crowd and I am on the side stage taking a bit of a break before the song starts, when they start playing the intro to the song, the fans get this anticipation in their eyes and it looks like Christmas or something! It just charges me up every time! I come out, the arms go in the air and everybody starts singing along with me! I tell ya, it just doesn’t get old! I guess that is the beauty of having a hit song!
Looking back on your life, what do you consider your biggest personal milestones?
I think having my son twenty-six years ago was huge milestone for me. I don’t know if you are at the point where you have children but it really does change your life. It is really my best accomplishment, my son Alex. It was a beautiful experience and something I just can’t believe happened. It was a magic time!
How do you feel you have evolved as a musician through the years?
It is funny you should say that because I have been talking to a lot of people lately. We are actually starting to know these songs pretty well. We have been playing them for 35 years, so we are getting pretty darn good at it! [laughs] Someone said to me the other day, “You guys sound better now than you ever have! What is your secret?” I am just going to tell ya, just playing around the country so much, we are getting pretty good at it! That is really the answer to that one!
I am sure you have plenty of tales to tell from your time in the music business. Have you ever considered capturing those stories in an autobiography?
Absolutely, I have! I have been making notes on my iPad and I have almost a book ready to go! I am just afraid, if I write a book, the people I call friends might not like me anymore! [laughs] No! I am definitely going to put a book together in the next five years!
Do you have any personal or musical bucket list items for the years to come?
A personal bucket list item is for me to play the Masters Golf Tournament. Musically, I am looking forward to the time when the invite us to be part of Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. I’m really looking forward to that! I am fortunate to have been able to complete a lot of my bucket list items while in the music industry. Luckily enough, I met people like Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Alex Van Halen and Sammy Hagar. I tell people the best thing about being a famous rockstar is that the people I idolized and looked up to are now my friends, so I hold that very close and dear to me.
What is the best lesson to be learned the life and times of Mike Reno?
Stick to it and when you are putting the band together take your time to find the right guys because if you do get a hit, you are going to be together for a long time. Another thing is to be very conscious of things. Be very polite. Do the right thing and concentrate. Put some effort into to it! Those are my things!
Are you involved with any charity work at the moment? We would love to help spread the word!
Loverboy, for the last twelve years, has concentrated on raising money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. We do a thing every year called “Loverboy’s Rockin’ For Research” and we have helped raise over ten million dollars with the good graces of people in Canada. It is a Canadian thing. We go across Canada one a year, sometimes twice, putting on concerts in different cities. The concert is usually involved with dinners, speeches and auction items. It is usually a million dollar night! I look forward to it every year! It is usually in November, so keep an eye out for that! Loverboy loves supporting the JDRF!
Awesome! Thanks so much for your time today, Mike. We really appreciate and can’t wait to see what you have in store for us with the new album!
It was really a pleasure talking to you! Take care, Jason!
Catch Loverboy on tour this summer:
May 25 – Loess Fest – Council Bluffs, IA
May 29 – Rib Fest – Sioux Falls, SD
May 31 – Konquer Motorcycles – Kelowna, B.C.
June 7 – Thunder Valley Casino – Lincoln, CA
June 14 – KKLZ Radio’s Junefest – Henderson, NV
June 21 – LoPen Children’s Cancer Charity Event – Hudson, OH
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.