TORONTO – No Trooper song is more famous than the arena-ready rallying cry “Raise a Little Hell” and, as it turns out, no Trooper song is much older, either.
As the Vancouver group claimed the national achievement award at an annual gala put on by the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada on Monday, they reminisced on the origins of their most enduring hit.
Even though the fist-pumping rock tune wasn’t released on an album until the group’s 1978 double-platinum smash “Thick as Thieves,” the song – which gave Trooper its only Hot 100 hit Stateside – actually dates back to vocalist Ra McGuire’s teen years, standing as one of the very first songs they wrote.
As for its inspiration? Well, anyone with a teenaged child could probably take a pretty accurate guess.
“I was pissed at my mom,” McGuire recalled as he stood next to the group’s founding guitarist Brian Smith at the SOCAN bash Monday, noting that a “major part” of the song’s lyrics dated back to when he was 14 or 15 years old.
So, what exactly did his mother do to earn his tuneful scorn?
“It was my mother,” he replied, shrugging. “You never got mad at your mother?”
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Of course, at these SOCAN Awards – a celebration of songwriters, not necessarily performers – not all musical origins traced back quite so far.
Niagara Falls, Ont., producer Deadmau5 nabbed international achievement honours for his dancefloor domination over the past year, while Ottawa-bred folk guitarist Bruce Cockburn claimed the lifetime achievement award.
Meanwhile, a spate of recent hits were celebrated for reaching radio ubiquity over the past year.
Honourees in the pop/rock category included Three Days Grace of Norwood, Ont., for “Lost in You,” Vancouver pop outfit Hedley for the swelling ballad “Invincible” and Edmonton’s 19-year-old Alyssa Reid for her piano-pop earworm “Alone Again” – a tune that’s racked up 12 million-plus views on YouTube without tiring its creator, who said she still turns up the volume and sings along each time she hears it on the radio.
“I forget that it’s my song sometimes,” she said, smiling.
The country category celebrated songs including Dean Brody’s “People Know You By Your First Name” and “Trail in Life,” American crooner Jake Owen’s “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” (because it was co-penned by Ontario songwriter Terry Sawchuk) and Johnny Reid’s upbeat “Let’s Go Higher.”
Meanwhile, Michael Buble’s strummy single “Hollywood” won for international song (while also being honoured in the pop/rock category), Dragonette’s inescapable club smash “Hello” took the dance music award, and Halifax-based singer/songwriter David Myles snagged the folk/roots music trophy.
These songwriters know how elusive a hit can be, but there’s no agreement on whether there’s anything to be gained from establishing a songwriting routine.
Halifax-reared R&B singer JRDN, who won the urban music prize on Monday for his gold-selling single “Like Magic,” says he can write a song anywhere – but it helps to bring a little romance to the occasion.
“Some candles, some wine and dim the lights a little bit and set the mood,” said the singer, born Ralph Jordan Croucher.
“Kind of like if you were taking a date out I guess, and you wanted to make her feel good – you want the music to feel good too.”
Deric Ruttan, honoured Monday for co-writing Jason McCoy’s “She’s Good for Me,” said that sticking to a rigid writing regimen was crucial.
“All the great writers that I admire, with few exceptions, most of them write the same way: they show up at the same place at the same time and they treat it like a job,” said the Bracebridge, Ont., native, whose regular writing spot is his office on Nashville’s famed Music Row.
“To me, that’s the secret – the regularity with which you do it helps sharpen the axe, so to speak, in your toolbox.”
And yet, his country-music peer Brody might beg to differ.
“I have no routine, man … but sometimes I find the best way to be inspired songwriting-wise is to actually not write any songs for like a month,” he said from under the brim of a straw cowboy hat.
“Just leave it alone, leave my guitar and don’t try to be creative … A lot of times, getting inspired requires me not writing.”
Meanwhile, B.C. Latin pop singer Alex Cuba said he merely needs a positive frame of mind to spur a songwriting session.
“To most songwriters, they write when they feel depressed or angry and writing is a relief for them. For me, it’s the opposite,” said Cuba with, appropriately enough, a grin.
“I need to be happy before I grab my guitar.”
Well, all Trooper needed was a familial spat to get the creative juices flowing.
McGuire no longer recalls what the fight was about, but he and Smith sure remember crashing around his house as teenagers, hammering away at their instruments.
“We used to practise in my living room,” McGuire recalled.
“It was not a large house – a few dishes rattled off the kitchen counters for sure,” Smith added.
Added McGuire: “(So) my mother was not all bad.”