Little Games turned into anything but.

For “Little” substitute “Big”; for “Games” substitute “Losers.”

As Bruno Gerussi’s Medallion, the band had hit a wall. We were a good live act but many people seeing us for the first time expected to hear The Beachcombers’ theme and a litany of Bruno Gerussi jokes. Short of learning the Beachcombers’ theme, we tried to accomodate them. The group took its name in good humour, after all, and we had our share of irreverence or whimsy.

As well, humour is subjective and growing increasingly rare in rock. What’s funny to one person, and will open doors, isn’t to another, and will get the door slammed in the face. Very tricky, humour.

Yet, like all clowns, there was a serious side to us that wanted to be appreciated and you can only tell so many jokes so often before they start to get stale and feel contrived. Plus, Warner Bros. was having trouble selling us nationally and abroad based solely on the name.

At home, we were up against an inferiority complex in which any Canadian mention was discouraged; internationally, trying to explain Bruno Gerussi caused confusion. So, I uneasily suggested to Dave Tollington, who’d signed us to Warner, if it would make it easier for everybody if we changed our name. He looked relieved. That’s all I needed to know.

I didn’t feel good about this. I figured we might be making a mistake. Certainly, we’d be starting over and it might be difficult to go over already broken ground, if not redundant. However, at least one of the band was all for a change of name. Bruno Gerussi’s Medallion embarrassed him.

The hunt for a new name was on. One that almost flew was Six String Razor. It’s a reference from a Mott The Hoople song (“All The Way From Memphis”). We nearly went with that until someone who briefly was interested in us – a rep of a Dutch label, I think – declared it sounded too much like heavy metal and we patently were not metal. Out that name went.

We settled on Little Games. It was in keeping with our roots, so to speak. First it was the title of a single by The Yardbirds, the British band that always had been a big influence. We had several Yardbirds songs in our repertoire and we were inspired by their aggressive, progressive attitude. Second, Little Games was the title of the last official Yardbirds studio album and featured Jimmy Page. As our guitar player, Jimmy Walker, was a huge Page aficionado, Little Games had further relevance. When we designed the Little Games album, we used Yardbirds lettering and so made another connection.

Not that anybody got it and Warner Bros. dropped us anyway. By that time, we had completed our second album and were still called Bruno Gerussi’s Medallion. Warner Bros. had asked us to contribute a Christmas song to a Christmas compilation featuring its Canadian roster. We’d never written a song to order and accepted the challenge. It isn’t easy to write a Christmas song but we were, and still are, proud of the result, Faith In The Season.

Ultimately, the Christmas album was never finished but Faith In The Season got us in gear for that second album. We had a stable line-up of Jim Elliott, Ron Hyslop, Jimmy Walker, Pat Steward and me. The studio was Profile and its owner, producer/engineer Cecil English was eager. We also were assisted by a FACTOR grant.

Then the wires crossed. Four fifths of us thought we were making a raw album that was true to our live sound. Jimmy was intent on making a more textured record. Cecil was caught in the middle but he also wanted to try out some new recording techniques. Thus, we’d go into Profile’s recording room and cut a song basically live. I’d kind of mock sing or direct the song while the band played.

Cec would use up many of the 24 tracks capturing an ambient drum sound. When it came time to overdub the guitars, there might be two tracks left. Jimmy was disappointed and frustrated because he was heavily swayed by Johnny Marr of The Smiths at this time and wanted to lay down, a la Marr, a luxurious carpet of guitar.

Walker also was letting out his Jimmy Page and wanted the sound to have a fatter, warmer bottom end, a la Led Zeppelin. Cec really tried to make him happy. We all did, but Walker sulked anyway. There also was the suspicion that Cec couldn’t couldn’t hear a deeper bass because he’d burnt his ears recording loud, fast punk bands. Often for free, such was Cec’s idealism.

I can’t be critical of Jimmy Walker. We all made mistakes and made many compromises recording the Guitar Damage album. He might not have been happy, but Jimmy manfully did what he could. To his credit, he took a different approach to every song. Ebow on Words To That Effect, 12 string on Faith In The Season, modalism on River’s Rising etc.. He was creative but he would complain about the album not being his “vision.” The trouble was that he never told the rest of us about this “vision” until it was too late to do anything about it.

People have said both – it is a good production, it’s a flawed production, it’s thin, it’s too varied and blah blah blah. Cec English rates the album as one of the best he ever produced. I like it because it does sound like we sounded live and we’d upped the standard of songwriting.

It also was made in one studio with one line-up in a condensed time frame so there was more consistency. Warner Bros., too, liked the progression. However, the problems contnued to mount.

The album is titled Guitar Damage and the cover originally was to be of a scorched and burnt Jimmy Walker holding a scorched and burnt guitar. My idea was to say that this was a guitar-driven band and the playing was hot. Jimmy was worried that people would misinterpret the title as bad guitar playing.

So, I continued the theme of In Search Of The Fourth Chord – a band of five guys who concealed their identity. I hoped over time this would be enigmatic. Also, the implication was that we had had enough of clowning around.

I presented this to Warner over a lunch with new A&R guy, Greg Torrington. The previous A&R rep was Bob Roper. Roper was a good guy but didn’t have anything to do with our signing to the label. It’s been speculated that this might have been a cause for our failure at Warner Bros.. I don’t think so. Roper was there to support BGM when we played Toronto and came to Profile while we were just starting the second record.

He probably was in Vancouver on Trooper business but he found his way to Profile where Jimmy amazed him by pulling off a very flashy solo during Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White (a Standells song we’d played for years). Jimmy then asked Cec if he could double it. Roper looked dubious but Jimmy did the solo again note for note. It was a very impressive moment.

Roper was gone and Torrington was his replacement. Torrington came recommended. He was program director for an Ottawa radio station and was regarded as someone who had good, eclectic taste. At lunch, I complained that most Canadian A&R guys had no imagination. They’d sign anyone not because they were good but because the act might prolong the A&R’s job. A&R would place the act with the trendy producer, the trendy photographer, the trendy videographer and the result would be a copy of the latest American or English trend but maybe six months later.

Torrington listened patiently and then said he’d done exactly what I’d complained about by signing Ottawa band Harem Skarem. That band became huge in Japan but Torrington didn’t last. At our lunch, though, one of his first acts was to drop the axe. We were cut from the Warner roster.

Shopping for a new label began immediately. There was some interest, particularly from one label that would have been a prestigious step for us. The label had so much integrity and the A&R guy had already expressed his love for our songs when we were still BGM at Warner Bros. There was one snag. The label was foreign-owned and the A&R rep needed American approval.

While we waited for the green light from the U.S., the A&R was fired and his department closed. Soon after, the label was bought up in a corporate takeover and was no more. Other labels complained that Guitar Damage was too varied and that posed a marketing problem. That was strange because to us it wasn’t varied at all; it came from one consciousness.

As we grew more desperate, a friend with some label experience suggested we send out a cassette that compiled the best of In Search Of The Fourth Chord and Guitar Damage. Couldn’t hurt. More than 100 cassettes were sent to 100 labels and every single one of them, if they replied at all, rejected us.

We were dejected but determined to honour the FACTOR grant, when this little guy stepped up and offered to put out our record through his label. I won’t reveal his name or his label because I don’t want to add to the controversy and who needs a lawsuit?

We stuck by him for three years. Three years! He had a reason every time there was a delay of the record’s release and every one seemed plausible. He outwardly was a nice guy, too, and there was no reason to believe he was stalling. However, we became aware of friction when we were shooting a video in Victoria. At the TV station we were visited by Fine Tooth Combine, which also had signed to the label and now were attempting to get off. Fine Tooth Combine warned us, but we weren’t ready to listen.

Meanwhile, the excuses kept coming. My favorite was the story of Bellaphon. This was a grand old label in Germany, to which we were signed. Apparently, Bellaphon liked our record but most of its releases were what is called “schlager,” or middle-of-the-road pop. I knew Bellaphon because I had some Sun Records rockabilly compilations on Bellaphon. Also, I had a double record of The Beatles’ bootleg quality Hamburg tapes. So, although Bellaphon was no stranger to licensing deals, it was a stranger to modern rock.

Not that any of this mattered. Bellaphon was run like a European monarchy. The king of Bellaphon had died, leaving the label to be battled over by his wife and mistress. Sometimes he’d be seen in public with his wife, sometimes with his mistress. This seemed very old European but as wife and mistress fought for control of the company, Bellaphon employees were in a quandary. They didn’t know who to support and couldn’t make decisions.

I went to MIDEM in 1993, to be in on the dealings of our label and to get closer to Bellaphon. MIDEM is the world’s largest and oldest music trade fair and takes place each January in Cannes. There, amid MIDEM mania, I met Thomas. Thomas would have been in charge of promoting Guitar Damage, which he liked a lot and was enthusiastic. However, he was a victim of the power struggle and was fired just as he was about to come to MIDEM. Our record was left to gather dust in a Bellaphon warehouse.

The little guy disappeared, which turned out to be normal behaviour. A lot of foreign labels were looking for him. He’d perfected his disappearing act.

“Don’t you realize he’ll never release your record in Canada?” asked a former employee.

I can only speculate that he’d use his roster to license us to the world. We were the bait. The big fish was the foreign label. A label such as Bellaphon would give him advance money and he’d disappear with it. If he manufactured our record in Canada it would cost him money. Manufacturing money, promotion money, royalties etc. Better and cheaper to keep us as bait.

We did a little investigation, located him in an American recording studio he co-owned and made a few threats. We quickly were released from our contract with his label. Blackmail is a dirty word.

Much closer to home, Guitar Damage ultimately found a distributor in Festival. Festival was fair, honest but associated with folk and world music, not rock. To top it off, we were tired and the record consequently was extremely poorly promoted by us. This version of the album is quite different from the Bellaphon issue.

By this time, three years later, Jimmy and I were the only ones on the original recording. It occurred to me that we’d get a little mileage if the current line-up had a vested interest in at least one track. So I wrote To Love And Die and the new Little Games recorded it. That’s why it sounds unlike most of the rest of Guitar Damage. With Cec English re-editing the record, a Pretty Things cover (Get The Picture) was reinstated while a Gene Clarke song (So You Say You Lost Your Baby) we’d recorded for a Clarke tribute that wasn’t released, was added, as well as two unlisted songs, A Blue Million Miles and House Of Cards.

These last two come from a rehearsal in my basement and were laid on my four track. The rehearsal was for an acoustic set we were asked to do and Cec wanted a few mystery tracks. The manufacturer screwed up and these appear at the end of the record rather than at the beginning where they were supposed to be hidden away to be found by accident.

Misadventure such as this seemed to be the story of the band, which was unraveling anyway. Most people never heard Guitar Damage. I have hundreds of the unsold record in my basement to prove it. Want one?