Sometime back, the power-pop/arena-rock band Loverboy got some flak when frontman Mike Reno made an off-the-cuff semi-serious comment about letting the grunge-era fad ride out before making it big again. The retort wasn't so much about scapegoating as the temperature of the time period. Because of some image and management missteps, Loverboy got lumped in with the frivolous hair band crew even though Paul Dean (guitar, vocals); Doug Johnson (keyboards); Matt Frenette (drums), and the late Scott Smith (bass, vocals) delivered legit, classically trained musicianship. The band's earnest, good-time-boys persona made them persona non grata
to the American music elite. (The silly leather pants, plunging hairy necklines and headbands didn't help either.)
A lot of time has gone by, though, and the disgruntled dismissals aren't quite as loud. Loverboy has been inducted into Canada's Hall of Fame, and stateside, more and more are embracing the band's heart-on-the-sleeve delivery. Hordes of fans no doubt will turn out for St. Pete's Taste of Pinellas this weekend to hear Loverboy play their big hits — "Working for the Weekend," "Turn Me Loose" and "Lovin' Every Minute of It." Starting on Fri., May 9, beginning at 5 p.m., the foodie-music extravaganza also welcomes Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo, Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers.
On Saturday, May 10, Taste features KC and the Sunshine Band and, who most likely will be its biggest draw, the Blues Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi). When interview requests were in the offing, I didn't get Aykroyd, but I did land one of my middle-school idols: Reno, who took some time from his tour R&R to chat with CL.
CL: So are you still in Canada, or are you on the road?
Mike Reno: I’m in Vancouver right now, home for a couple of days off.
I love the black squirrels there. Here in swampy Florida we only have the gray variety.
I’ve never seen alligators in the Vancouver area, so we’re even.
Do you acclimate OK when you venture down to warmer climates? How does it hit you onstage?
It’s a perfect climate for singing. It may be a little hot and humid and sweaty but it’s the best way to warm up. Makes your throat feel good. I get hot and sweaty after two songs so it doesn’t matter if I’m in Florida or Niagara Falls.
Well, I have to say this is a big nostalgia trip — just like for many others, I'm sure. I was a huge fan when I was younger. In middle school, I wore out two copies of Get Lucky.
I’m glad to hear. I love hearing that.
I don’t know if you had skating parties in Canada, but for us kids, they were a regular thing in high school and middle school, a cultural hallmark of the 1980s. Loverboy, like Journey, AC/DC and Billy Squier, was one of those bands that will always be associated with skating parties memories.
I talk to a lot of people as you can imagine, and what I’m finding out is that Loverboy was a part of a lot of people's DNA growing up. They went to high school and university with our music. You’d be surprised to hear about all the people who say we played their high school graduation. I don’t know maybe 50 have come up to me at different times and thanked me for playing their graduation. We never played one!
Lots of leather pants- and headband-wearing impersonators out there, eh?
I think people assume we were there because our song ["Working for the Weekend"] was playing over the stereo, but we weren’t really there.
You have a new song, “Heartbreaker,” reminds me a bit of your early ’80s stuff, but it’s a little different too. You guys really run the gamut with styles, from power pop to sometimes even sounding a little metal. Do you like to keep people guessing?
We mix it up. We have different types of heaviness. Sometimes it's light, sometimes it's medium heavy and sometimes it’s really heavy … People wonder if we’re going to keep putting records out. The good news is that after "Heartbreaker" we went in to cut another record that will be out July 7. It’s called Unfinished Business
, an interesting mix of songs that we’ve recorded throughout our lives. We contributed stuff back from when we were first writing to now, today … it’s already done and mastered and ready to go. We’re just finishing up the artwork right now. That’s kind of exciting, huh?
Yeah! … I read that it was a democratic process putting it together — everyone’s music gets a spotlight on the record, right?
Exactly … it’s going to be an eclectic album, and people are going to notice how fun it is.
With all the bands on the reunion circuit nowadays, you see a lot of frontmen/frontwomen backed by all new people. You’ve kept your original lineup intact for the most part. Are you guys close friends?
Yes. Through the years we’ve gotten friendlier and friendlier, and had we not lost our bass player Scott Smith 14 years ago, he would be in the band as well. He was very close to all of us. It was a sad time for us when we lost him. But we have been together through thick and thin. We’ve become closer and closer.
You guys have to play old crowd-pleasers a lot. How do you keep it from getting stale?
We just make it a priority to make it a good time and play each song the best we’ve ever played … but I have to ask, where is Pinellas? Where does the name come from? Is it a place known for its pineapples?
It’s a county, one of Florida’s most densely populated ... it’s on a peninsula that dangles off central Florida’s gulf coast — kinda looks like a penis.
[Laughs] Glad they didn’t call the festival “Taste of Penis!”
More info for Taste of Pinellas:
Gates open at 3:30 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday at Albert Whitted Park, 107 Eighth Ave. S.E., St. Petersburg. Restaurants include 400 Beach Seafood, 1200 Chophouse, Parkshore Grill, Madfish, The Hangar; prices range from $2 to $12. Go to tasteofpinellas.com for full list. $22.50 advance, or $25 at the gate; children under 12 free. $75 VIP ticket. Tickets: 1-800-745-3000 and Rally stores. Proceeds go to All Children's Hospital.