30 years ago: Nick Gilder on his new LP and his "ironic" replacement in Sweeney Todd

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      Thirty years ago today--on October 16, 1985--I did an interview with Nick Gilder, who you may recall as the "Roxy Roller" guy.

      Or maybe you recall him as the "Hot Child in the City" guy.

      Either way, if you grew up in the Lower Mainland in the '70s you no doubt remember his old band, Sweeney Todd.

      And if you need a refresher, here ya go: a shortened version of my original Georgia Straight story, which was published under the headline Nick Gilder: 'Hot Child' Rocks Back.

      You remember Nick Gilder, don't you? He goes way back. So far back, actually, that Bob Geldof once interviewed him for this publication.

      Gilder was the lead singer for Sweeney Todd, one of Vancouver's more popular glam/glitter rock bands. Named after the demon barber of Fleet Street who made meat pies of his customers, Sweeney Todd had a mid-seventies hit with the saucy single "Roxy Roller". In the late seventies Gilder moved to Los Angeles and embarked on a solo career, gaining some recognition for another tune, "Hot Child in the City".

      Not much has been heard of Nick Gilder in the eighties, largely due to his being tangled up in legalities stemming from the collapse of his former record label, Casablanca. But he has been busy writings songs that have become hits for other artists--including Scandal's huge success "The Warrior". And how he's stepped out on his own again with a new album for RCA Records, Nick Gilder.

      Nick called the Straight from his home in L.A. last week, and talked about his new record, his songwriting career, and the young man who once replaced him in Sweeney Todd, Bryan Adams.

      Why did you leave Vancouver?

      Well originally I got a deal with Chrysalis Records, and they made a request that I come to Los Angeles. They really felt that it would help a great deal.

      Has it?

      I don't know. I mean, I found myself in a situation where I'd got myself right in the thick of it, and I'd been trying to get out of the thick of it for quite a while there--about the past four or five years. I got really entrenched in the legal bullshit, you know.

      I understand the label you were on collapsed?

      Yeah. Casablanca. They just kind of folded up.

      What was the basic problem there, do you know?

      Well the recession in the music business was going on; and it was just generally a really bad time. And of course having that whole thing happen at the worst of possible times made it difficult to get another deal together.

      Did you lose money personally?

      Ho ho. We're talking yeah--no question about it. And I'd had a bad experience with a manager, right at the time that the label was collapsing. So I had no management, and no desire to get a manager--because I felt like I got really burnt. That was somebody that I found down here [in L.A.] and it was one of those classic horror stories that you hear about--but you really don't believe unless it happens to you.

      I wanted to ask you a bit about the new record. There's one song on it called "Rebel" that was written along with Jim McCullough. He's the old guitarist from Sweeney Todd isn't he?

      Well Jimmy and I have been writing together for quite a while. Jimmy was down here with me, and about two years ago he made a complete move back to Vancouver. And we were kinda writing on the phone for a while--which doesn't work out that great, believe me.

      Was "Rebel" written over the phone?

      No, actually that was one that we'd written down here. I really reworked it, it was originally just an out-and-out ballad, if you can imagine that.

      And there's another track on the album that Jimmy and I wrote, although there was a misprint on the record. It's actually supposed to read Jimmy's name on "Fingerprints".

      Oh really. That's actually my favorite tune on the album.

      Yeah, Jimmy and I wrote that. I'm quite upset that it got out like that, and needless to say, so's Jim. But here's when we can correct that.

      Do you ever see any of the other old Sweeney Todd members?

      Actually I saw Johnny Booth, and his wife Marlene, about a year and a half ago I think it was. Johnny played drums.

      Didn't Bryan Adams take your place when you left Sweeney Todd?

      Yeah [chuckles]. That's kind of ironic or somethin'. Kinda neat [laughs].

      From what you knew of him in those days, did you have any idea that he would become as big as he is nowadays?

      Well, no, the first I knew of Bryan was when my manager--and still longtime friend, Barry Samuels--came to me and said "There's this young guy Bryan Adams; he wants to write some tunes with ya." I mean we're going way back, you know, back when I was singing in Sweeney Todd.

      And, I don't know, it just never materialized. The next thing I'd heard of Bryan was that he'd taken my place in Sweeney Todd when I left. And I thought it was kinda neat, 'cause he'd followed the band to that point, and I guess it was the first step for Bryan. And we all know what tremendous success he's had. I think he's got a great rock and roll voice, and real strong writing ability. No questions.

      When you wrote Scandal's big hit, "The Warrior", with Holly Knight, was it intended for Patty Smyth?

      Actually, no, it really wasn't. We'd got together to write a tune, and it just wound up on Scandal's record. And it turned out to be a real help to me. At the same time as I managed to get all of my legal problems straightened out, the Scandal record was happening, and everything just kinda clicked into place.

      It brought lots of royalties in?

      It helped, you're not kidding. I mean it really kept me going. And I've had some other covers. I had Bette Midler record one of my tunes on her last album, a song called "Is It Love". And Toni Basil recorded one of my songs. And a band called Kix.

      Did you ever think of recording "Warrior" yourself?

      Uh...yeah [chuckles]. Yeah of course I did. The thought definitely crossed my mind.

      Did you believe it would be a hit from the start?

      I had a pretty good idea. After being in the music business for a long time, you kind of get a sense of what has possibilities that way.

      You're a fairly prolific songwriter.

      Well I'm not as prolific as I'd like to be--not really. Sometimes they come real easy, and sometimes it's so incredibly hard; like when I finish the song I wonder where the hell it came from.

      Was "Warrior" easy or hard?

      Well the initial thing was fairly easy, because when we got together I'd already had this chorus idea, you know, the "shooting at the walls of heartache" part. I already had that in my mind, and I'd been singing it, and it really had stuck with me. So when we got together Holly played the chords in the chorus, and I started singing the song. And they just fit together quite amazingly.