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Friday
May142010

Triumph – Mike Levine - 05-13-2010

By Thomas S. Orwat, Jr.

Triumph, one of the most successful hard rock bands of 80's, have just released an incredible CD/DVD retrospective package entitled "Greatest Hits Remixed." This package features a 14 track hit filled Cd remixed by producer Rich Chycki ,who has previously worked with Aerosmith and Rush. This set also includes a DVD mixed in 5.1 audio, that features eleven promo and live videos in widescreen format. This collection is absolutely incredible and a must own item for any fan of hard rock.

I had the opportunity to discuss this release and the amazing career of Triumph with bassist/keyboardist Mike Levine. He's what transpired. 

RockMusicStar.com: Mike, ever since I received the Triumph – "Greatest Hits Remixed CD/DVD” in the mail, I’ve been doing nothing but listening to it and watching the videos. It’s really incredible to see some of those videos again. I haven’t seen them in years.

Mike Levine: Yeah, Isn’t that pretty cool? I love watching them too.

RMS: Why did it take so long to finally release a CD/DVD greatest hits combo?

ML: Does the word lazy have any deep meaning to you? (laughs) It’s been in the works for like six years. We just kind of went…oh well, what are we going to work on today? Well nothing. (Laughs) It just took a lot of time, but when we really got into it, six, eight months ago this whole DVD thing wasn’t even contemplated. So that took a long time to put together. Getting the material and stretching the video to fit widescreen. Because it was all the boxy type TV shot. So getting it stretched was an issue. All the music has been remixed in 5.1 on most of the tracks, and that took time. But I’m really proud of it, not just the DVD part of it, but the whole package. The DVD is way cool.

RMS: Yeah, it is. It made me think back to when I was a young kid watching Saturday Night Live on TV in Buffalo and seeing your concert commercials during the breaks. I saw one commercial and I was hooked for life.

ML: Yeah, those were great commercials. (Laughs)

RMS: Very few bands did commercials like that. There was Kiss of course, but not many others. What let to the decision to think outside the box and buy advertising time on TV?

ML: Back then, when we first started out there wasn’t much available radio for rock bands. FM hadn’t really matured into what it ending up being in the late 70’s and early 80’s. We were pretty hard edged back then and it was difficult to get airplay, so we talked the record company into giving us money to advertise on TV. So that’s how it all worked out. We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars just buying TV, and it worked. It brought people into the shows and when they saw the band they then become fans. Everything just blossomed from there. It was a big gamble, but it worked out for us.

RMS: Yes, it did and fast too. You went from playing theaters to hockey arenas in two years time. That just doesn’t happen anymore

ML: It was a quick ascent from the time we really started out. Although it certainly wasn’t the overnight success kind of thing, it took a few years to come to full bloom. But I guess we were in the right place at the right time. But it really was all because of the word of mouth from the fans. Our fans wore our t-shirts back in those days and that was a badge of honor.

RMS: I remember wearing my Triumph logo shirt back in 79 in junior high school. I wore it every other day until my friends told me to chill out with the shirt. (Laughs) I’d like to discuss two incidents that are mentioned in the liner notes on this CD/DVD package that happened early in your career. The first one is in regards to fight that almost broke out between Bon Scott and your guitarist/vocalist Rik Emmett. What exactly transpired on that night?

ML: Bon came into our dressing room; he was bleeding profusely from his foot. He stepped on a broken bottle or something, and confronted Rik about some girl that Rik allegedly picked up in Dallas or somewhere like that. It was all just something out of Bon’s mind, I don’t know what he was thinking, but he was very, very drunk. But he wanted to pick a fight with Rik. And Rik said, “Hey, I don’t want to fight you, I got to play, I don’t want to hurt my hands.” Eventually one of the tour managers came in and kind of put a gag on Bon and escorted him out of the dressing room. It was quite funny though.

RMS: Was there ever any interaction with him again, did he ever apologize or anything?

ML: No, that was the only time that we ever worked with them. They were a little bit pissed at us because they had to open for us and they didn’t like that too much. And also there was this whole thing because they thought that they got squeezed on the PA system, which was not true. We never did that to any support band, ever. So there were a lot of bad vibes that night and they never got solved.

RMS: Wow. There was another incident in which John Waite of The Babys smashed some of the light bulbs that you had around the stage with his mic stand when he opened for you? I guess some of your security jumped on him while he was on stage?

ML: (Laughs) Yes, that’s true and our road crew jumped on him and started pounding on him. I did an interview with a guy the other day that was actually at that show. But our guys started punching on him and the curtains came down and all you could see was his legs fluttering. (Laughs) The headlines in the trade magazines were “Triumph spanks the Babys.”

RMS: That’s hilarious. What led to him being such an asshole?

ML: Not that I want to be sued for libel, but that’s what everyone says about him.

RMS: OK, Another thing I want to discuss is the US Festival. I’ve seen the footage of your performance and you guys were in the zone. It was an amazing performance. What was it like playing such a huge gig like that?

ML: It was awesome. At first, it was kind of scary because for the first time in my life, when you looked out from the stage you could not see the end of the audience. It was never ending. You kind of felt... how can I communicate with these people? But then you realize that there are about 18 cameras on stage and everyone is watching it on the big screen. So, once I got adjusted to the fact that it’s a TV show rather than a live show, it worked out really good. But I had a little trepidation at first when we first walked on stage. But just being there with all of your peers, think about the headliners, all the main bands could have sold-out three shows in LA at that time. You had Van Halen, the Scorpions, Judas Priest, Ozzy, it was unbelievable.

RMS: That must be without doubt the biggest gig of your career.

ML: From a people in attendance point of view for sure. I think that was the biggest gig ever in North America as far as attendance goes.

RMS: Yeah, that whole gig was very incredible. Now with the release of this retrospective, are there any plans on reissuing the entire Triumph catalog in North America?

ML: No, not really. No the catalog was already re-mastered during the early 2000’s. I think that we called it the digital millennium edition. So everything was already redone from a re-mastering point of view at that point in time. It’s all available through www.amazon.com  if anyone wants catalog stuff. Not very many record stores still carry full catalog of anyone anymore.

RMS: Right. Now there are rumors flying around that Triumph is planning on touring in the near future, is this true?

ML: At this moment no, but there are some behind the scenes conversation going on in regards to maybe going on tour next year. But if we do decide to go out, it will be next year.

RMS: I really hope it happens. In 2008, Triumph re-united, but you only played two gigs. Why so few and what are your thoughts of those particular performances?

ML: Well, we figured if we were going to get back together to play, we had to do some experimentation. So we got this offer to go over and play in the Sweden Rock festival. We thought that’s great, we will be invisible, no one will see us, and nobody is going to care. It turns out that we were totally wrong about that.  (Laughs) It ended up being the largest show they ever did. People came out from all over Europe and North America to see it. From a media point of view, they usually had about 250 journalist covering any of the twenty something festivals that they put on, but for this one they had over 900 media people there and we were the only new act that hadn’t played there before. So they attributed all of that to us. So being invisible really didn’t work. But, we just wanted to experiment to see that we could play together, travel together and laugh together, all that stuff. So once we were geared up for one, we figured let’s do two to double check. So we headlined Rocklahoma and that was pretty cool. It was a lot of fun playing in America, which is our favorite place to play, except for Canada of course.

RMS: Other interesting fact that I read in the liner notes for the new CD/DVD, was that there was a lot of turmoil in the band during the 1986 “Sport of Kings” recording sessions. Could you elaborate a bit on that?

ML: Yeah, we decided against my better judgment, but I got out voted on this one,... the record company wanted to get involved in the bands career, which they never had been in before. They wanted us to make a record which they thought would be the right record for Triumph to make. It turned out to be a total disaster. It started the beginning of the end for the band. We were all getting along great until that album. So of the things that went on during that recording process drove stakes into the ground between us all. None of us were very happy because of that experience. The album turned out to be a good album, but it was too poppy and not enough hard rock on it. And even though we had a hit from it, it didn’t sell very well.

RMS: In 1993, you re-formed the band, but with Phil X replacing Rik Emmett. I though the CD you released “Edge of Excess” was good. Why didn’t you tour more for that release?

ML: We did play some dates, but only 10 or 12. I thought that it was a real good release also by the way. But what really happened was we released the first single and it did really well, it got good acceptance at radio, it was selling well. But when we were getting ready for the second single, which everyone thought was going to be the big one and the label Victory Records when out of business a week before the single was to go out. So the album got caught in limbo between bankruptcy and politics. So the record just laid there because there was no record company to promote it.

RMS: Did you ever think of doing another CD with Phil X in the band?

ML: No, that whole situation left us with such a sour taste; we thought none of this is worth it anymore. That experience with Victory Records was very unpleasant, so Gil and I decided enough is enough. We had a nice run with Triumph and made a lot of people happy, we played some great shows and we went out at the top of our game and so be it. So we thought at that point that’s it. The only way we would do anything ever again was if it was with Rik.

RMS: Would you ever consider doing a smaller scale tour with Triumph in which you played bigger clubs and maybe left out all the pyro and special effects. Or is that such a big and necessary part of the Triumph concert experience?

ML: People remember Triumph as the “Greatest show on Earth.” So if we go out, it wouldn’t be with anything less than that, arenas or amphitheaters or we are not going out. There has been talk about maybe doing three or four House of Blues shows just for fun. But we wouldn’t go out on tour unless it was with a big stage production. Because that’s how people remember us, that’s what they want to see and hear.

RMS: I have to agree. My last question is what did you do after Triumph broke up? You seemed to keep a rather low profile.

ML: I’ve been working on this Greatest Hits package. (laughs)

RMS (laughs)

Ml: It was a long process. (laughs) I really don’t even remember. No, I was doing a lot of stuff outside of the music business. I was also working with a few bands until I realized how hard this business really is. The acts I worked with were pretty good, but they didn’t have the right things, the magic, and the right drive. So I decided it would be way too much heart ache and work to go nowhere with, so I decided to pass on all of that and the other similar opportunities. But I’ve been happy and I travel a lot. Life has been very good.

RMS: During your time away from Triumph were you ever approached by other band to be their bass player?

ML: Yeah, I got a call from Ted Nugent to join the band he was putting together with Tommy Shaw, the Damn Yankees. I was the first one they called, but I took a pass and they got Jack Blades to do it instead. He was a better choice because he could sing. (Laughs)

for more on Triumph check out www.triumphmusic.com