RIK EMMETT: TRIUMPH 'Was A Band That Was Extremely Focused And Driven'
November 29, 2023
In a new interview with the "Rimshots With Sean" podcast, Rik Emmett, who is promoting his just-released memoir, "Lay It On The Line – A Backstage Pass To Rock Star Adventure, Conflict And Triumph", was asked if anybody is surprised by the fact that he refers to fellow TRIUMPH members Gil Moore and Mike Levine in his book as his "partners" and not his "bandmates". "I don't think so," he responded, before explaining (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "Having a successful band is a weird thing, because if you just look at the numbers, most bands are not successful. Everybody knows somebody that's in a band that's just scuffling and trying to make it work.
"When TRIUMPH first got together and then had this kind of meteoric rise through the ranks in '77, '78 — there was this thing that was starting to happen — the bands on the local scene were, like, 'Why is this happening for them?'" he recalled. "But part of that was because TRIUMPH was a band that was extremely focused and driven by Mike and Gil in a management kind of capacity in a way that, that was a really unique thing. There weren't a lot of bands that had their managers sort of getting up on stage and playing the gig with them. It made it so that there was a lot of stuff that could be like shortcuts towards strategies playing out. And there was resentment. So I think within the industry there were people going… Don't quote me on this, but I do think at one point [former RUSH manager] Ray Danniels was saying, like, 'Well, that guitar player gets up on stage with his booking agent and his manager.' And that wasn't quite true, but it was a truth about the band. There was nobody that played in a rock band that had a better understanding of radio promotion, especially in the United States, than Mike Levine. That's just a statement of fact. And, obviously, it worked to the band's advantage."
Rik added: "So, that was true and I think it was perceived in the earlier stages of the band. But once a band reaches a certain point, like once we're now in heavy rotation on radio in the United States, and RCA is selling enough records that they're happy, then now it's a whole different game again. And the business itself kept changing. So, for example, '81, '82, the business started to become, 'How do you get rotation on MTV? Gotta get in heavy rotation on MTV.' That changed the nature of everything that rock bands were trying to do. So now nobody cared about whether or not you were business-minded, or whether or not you had strategies, because everybody was playing the same game now. And, of course, what's starting to happen is rock bands are starting to do the hair production and they're putting on makeup and MÖTLEY CRÜE is putting on warpaint. There was all of this kind of stuff that was trying to become sort of a visual rock star, whereas back in the day of — I don't know — say LED ZEPPELIN, when they were first coming up, yeah, there was the whole visual rock star thing, but it was more of an attitude thing, and it was more of a, 'Do we have the riffs that will make this happen?' And 'riff rock' was kind of starting to go out as the business changed. In my book, I talk about how in the mid-'80s, FM radio started to change from being a thing that played album cuts, which TRIUMPH was kind of an album cut-ish kind of band — we'd start a song soft, and then it would kick into second gear, and then it'd kick into third gear, and then it'd have a guitar solo that was big and huge. But then by about '84, '85, radio was going, 'Yeah, we don't want that anymore. We want HEART records' that are kind of like hit singles, power pop."
Emmett previously discussed his relationship with Moore and Levine last month in an interview with Meltdown of Detroit's WRIF radio station. At the time, he said: "In the original vision of the band, it was a business, kind of. These two guys that I had [met], they were strangers to me, who said, 'Okay, we've got this thing called TRIUMPH. Here's contracts for gigs. Here's posters we've printed up for shows.' They had contracts for shows. They had a record deal. There was a lot that was on the table that these two guys had put together in a business where I was stepping into a partnership. And the truth of it was that it worked in the early stages because it did have a kind of an ethos that was three musketeers. Like, we kind of went, 'All right, all for one, one for all. We're all gonna make sacrifices and compromise and collaborate.' But it was always kind of an ongoing business partnership. And when that started to come apart, when the musketeers thing sort of bled out of it, and it happens…. Rock bands don't last. THE BEATLES didn't last — the most successful band in the history of bands, and they didn't last because people grow up and they get their own lives and they get their own lives and their own children and their own investments and their own interests and George Harrison decides, 'I would like to make my own solo album.' But all of that stuff that I've just talked about, the common ground, the place where it all met was sort of sitting down to a business meeting and talking about a tour or talking about a merch deal. So I did think of both of them as partners. They are friends, but they're not close friends. We get together for a Christmas dinner every year, but we don't really ever see much of each other, other than from time to time here and there, something that comes along because of the business. It's sort of what pulls us together."
Asked if he sent copies of his book to Gil and Mike, Rik said: "I sent them copies. I had a really nice thing where I was… I went over to the Metalworks [Gil's studio in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto], because I was recording some stuff for a pickup company that I have an endorsement deal with. So I was recording little guitar snippets on these new pickups in this new guitar of mine, blah, blah, blah. But I was doing it at the Metalworks in Studio One, the studio that was the original one that we built. So there's a whole bunch of surreal kinds of emotions and feelings when you're dealing with something like that. Then Gil and I are standing out in the parking lot after. And he goes, 'Yeah, so your book. I'm not much of a reader, eh? But I get my daughter to read it. And then when there's sections where my name is mentioned, I get her to read those to me out loud.' 'Okay, good.' And he goes, 'Rick, you were too kind. You're a very generous guy.' And I went, 'Well, you know.'"
Emmett then went on to explain his approach to writing about TRIUMPH in his book, saying: "I had a friend, Terence Hart Young, who, he'd been a politician for a large part of his adult life. And he'd been both in provincial parliament and the federal one. And so he had a pretty good understanding of if you're putting your foot in your mouth, if you're getting along with guys in caucus, if you're getting along with folks from the other side of the aisle, all of that kind of [stuff]. And so I had him pre-read the TRIUMPH chapter, and he had some very good advice where he said, 'For that legacy thing, you don't wanna focus on the stuff that was the negative stuff. Yes, sure, there were bad things in there. And yes, that's kind of why people come to the book. They're gonna wanna read the, 'Ooh, this is really getting the crap from the horse's mouth.' And I do think you have to service that kind of interest that folks have.' But Terry was saying, 'You don't stay there. You figured out how to get back together with them and become friends again. And that side of you is the more virtuous side. And that's what you should focus on.' And so I told this to Gil. And Gil goes, 'Well, that was good advice. It's nice to have friends like that.' So it was good. Instead of him sticking a lawyer on me, he was complimenting me."
Emmett, who quit TRIUMPH — acrimoniously, in 1988 — over music and business disputes, went on to pursue a solo career, while TRIUMPH carried on with future BON JOVI guitarist Phil X for one more album, 1992's "Edge Of Excess", before calling it a day the following year.
Emmett was estranged, both personally and professionally, from the two other members of the legendary Canadian classic rock power trio for 18 years before they repaired their relationship.
"Lay It On The Line - A Backstage Pass To Rock Star Adventure, Conflict And Triumph" came out on October 10 via ECW Press.
Moore, Levine, and Emmett formed TRIUMPH in 1975, and their blend of heavy riff-rockers with progressive odysseys, peppered with thoughtful, inspiring lyrics and virtuosic guitar playing quickly made them a household name in Canada. Anthems like "Lay It On The Line", "Magic Power" and "Fight The Good Fight" broke them in the USA, and they amassed a legion of fiercely passionate fans. But, as a band that suddenly split at the zenith of their popularity, TRIUMPH missed out on an opportunity to say thank you to those loyal and devoted fans, a base that is still active today, three decades later.
After 20 years apart, Emmett, Levine and Moore played at the 2008 editions of the Sweden Rock Festival and Rocklahoma. A DVD of the historic Sweden performance was made available four years later.
Back in 2016, Moore and Levine reunited with Rik as special guests on the "RES 9" album from Emmett's band RESOLUTION9.
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