The Hatch is Back! Coney Hatch, a staple of the Canadian rock scene throughout the 80's recently rolled into Toronto for a show at the "Rockpile". Earlier in the day I met up with singer/guitarist Carl Dixon and we headed out in search of some new guitar strings. Carl took me through his musical career and got me up to speed on the current state of Coney Hatch.
Wally: Well I suppose we’ll start at the beginning. I became a Coney Hatch fan when I first saw the Devil’s Deck video back in 1982. (as much as a twelve year old can become a fan anyways) So how did Coney Hatch come to be?
Carl: The beginning stage of the band had Andy Curran and Dave Ketchum on bass and drums. Dave had been in some other bands but it was Andy’s first band pretty much and I think they were a trio to start off with or maybe they were a four piece but they had two different guys on guitar. They found themselves needing new players and placed an add in the Toronto Star classified and found Steve Shelski on lead guitar. Then the singer before me was a huge ACDC fiend so they played a lot of AC DC songs back in the early days, he got tired of travelling and decided to go back to school and be a sensible lad. So they put out another ad and that’s how I found them.
Wally: You guys released three “classic” albums throughout the eighties, which was your favorite to make?
Carl: Ahhhhhh favorite to make? It’s hard to choose between the first (Coney Hatch) and the third one (Friction) the second one was more difficult for a few reasons. The first one was such a huge excitement and learning curve for us. The process of Kim Mitchel coming along, and discovering us, developing the material, and then producing the album with us. That was very, very exciting and we learned a ton out of that experience because we really didn’t know much.
Now the third album “Friction” was also a huge amount of learning. We had changed drummers at this point and we were trying to shift the sound of our music a little. It was extremely hard work to change what we would just do automatically and think about it a little more. You know “thinking” is punishment in of itself. (laughing) Who want’s t think too much?, but we spent a lot of time on that album and really learned a lot about not only the craft of song writing but also on making a record and I have carried those lessons for all these years on all my subsequent recording projects.
Wally: Seeing as I was a little too young to get to see you guys in the early days of the band, who were some of the bands you got to tour with and were there any bands that stand out as “great” tourmates?
Carl: We had a major tour to go with tour to go with each of our first two albums. In the year of our first album we had about 25 shows with Judas Priest on their Screaming for Vengence tour. They were top of the pops at that point with You Got Another Thing Comin all over the radio and video. So that was another amazing learning experience for us, that was like going to university for us to learn how to put on a proper big rock show. Then for the second year we toured with Iron Maiden for almost 40 dates I think when they had Piece of Mind out. They were really nice to us, good guys around the same age as us, maybe a year older or so but they really shot to top very quickly with their sound. Especially once they got Bruce Dickenson in the band that was big milestone for them in terms of gaining acceptance. So they were just good guys and we ended up hanging with them more and there’s a relationship to this day with those guys.
Wally: So after Coney Hatch you want on to a great solo career, adding some interesting gigs to your resume. You spent some time in April Wine, how did that happen?
Carl: That was an unexpected turn of events certainly, I had played a few shows opening with my solo band for April Wine in a few places. The fellow that was their tour manager knew me and I had known Brian Greenway a little bit from when I lived in Montreal. I was in a band called Firefly there for a couple years so I got to know him a little bit. Anyway, they were just completing their comeback album sort of speak called Back to the Mansion and they had decided they needed a fifth member onstage to recreate the sounds of the new album to best effect. The keyboards that they couldn’t cover themselves, the extra guitars and such so their tour manager Kenny Schulz had been keeping track of me over the years, knew who I was and what I could do. So he suggested Carl’s a guy who can give us the guitar, the harmony voice, the keyboards and even the percussion that we need. So I ended up doing all four of those jobs while I was there. It was a really nice experience because they have such a great catalogue of music and they treated me real well during the four years I was with the band.
Wally: From there you spent some time filling some really big shoes when you joined the Guess Who. From the you tube stuff I have seen you filled those shoes very well. Tell us about that?
Carl: In fact my time with the Guess Who came before and after my time with April Wine. I had a couple of years with them before the Guess Who reunion happened and then Burton (Cummings) wanted his job back. So they had the original guys back for a while, it was during that time I recorded my second solo album Into the Future and that’s when the April Wine guys called. So that lasted four years and during that time the Guess Who reunion fell apart and the two guys that were keeping it going Jim Cale and Gerry Peterson they called me and asked me to come back in 2004 and that was a great time to come back as the reunion had pushed the band to new prominence. I enjoyed playing that music, I grew up with it and Burton was a huge influence on me as I was learning to be a singer.
Writer's Note: In April 2008, while Carl was down in Australia supporting his daughter's acting career, Carl was involved in a horrific car accident. Looking at what was left of the car, it's amazing that Carl is still with us, let alone back up on stage.
Wally: That will bring us to your time in Australia. If I may ask, what happened?
Carl: Ahhhh let’s see, Australia was an experience that was hugely educational and informative for me. The biggest thing I learned was that I will never forget that they drive on the other side of the road. In the blink of an eye, on the way home from a studio that I was working, my daughter was working on a TV show there and they needed some music for the show, and I was coming home from work at about 7:30 at night. I had been successfully driving all around the country but that one night I was running late, feeling over emotional and I was heading back to my family for dinner before I to return to North America and I guess I was sort of beating myself up a bit. That’s what happened.
Writer's Note: On October 30th 2008. The Pheonix concert theatre in Toronto played host to an incredible night of music in benefit of Carl Dixon. Helix, Andy Curran, Russ Dwarf and Brighton Rock all rocked the house. A still healing Carl got up to say a few words of gratitude and inspiration and played some music as well. This night was truly a dream come true for any rocker who was around in the 80's and will be a night I will never forget.
Wally: Well the first time I heard about you being in Australia was when the benefit show was put together at the Pheonix. That was an incredible night, who put that together?
Carl: Andy drove that. He was very concerned that my family was having a difficult time because when I had the crash I was supposed to get on a plane the next day to join up with the Guess Who again in Mississippi to resume touring. Instead my income was gone like that, so that’s tough on anyone’s family. So Andy put himself out enormously to make all that happen. I was pretty proud of everyone and very grateful.
Wally: Ok so I asked you how Coney Hatch came to be, now the question is how you got back together?
Carl: Yes, it was I guess an inevitable outcome of all the great feelings of that night at the Pheonix. I think everyone kind of a wakeup call from my accident. Life is precious, life is short, let’s do the things that make us happy, let’s be with our friends, let’s keep doing good things that have worked in the past. Coney Hatch was always one of those great things that we were all a part of. So the original four of us, we hadn’t played together for over fifteen years and to put it together was really just us reconnecting and further reconnecting with our audience once we made the decision. When you’re inside a band like that and everybody moves on and gets on with their own lives you kind of forget that there are a lot of people out there that really care about the music and the band. So it’s been astounding to me to see the response of people being so excited and happy that we’re playing again.
Wally: So I have heard that you have a new album in the works.
Carl: Yes, we have had actually a couple of offers on the table from Europe and one from Canada so we have started recording and will decide which offer will work out best for us but we have begun the recording process. We are going to peck away at it and get it ready for hopefully September.
Wally: Ok Carl my last question for you. What is the one song you wish you had wrote?
Carl: Hmmmm? Let it Be. Thank You Wally
After some very solid opening bands, 40 Sons and Three Quarter Stone, Coney Hatch took to the stage around 11:20pm. Opening with We Got the Night from their debut album, Hatch took us through a time machine playing tune after tune from all three of their albums.
Soundwise this band has lost nothing. Unlike a lot of bands from the era, both Carl and Andy's vocals are as strong as ever and Mr. Shelski was absolutely ripping on his signature telecaster and Andy "Thumper" Ketchum was a sea of hair behind his kit.
Standout tracks included Hey Operator, Stand Up, Monkey Bars, Devils Deck and Feel the Feeling Again. They unleashed a new track called Blown Away that was right in line as a new classic Hatch tune. An encore of No Sleep Tonight and the AC DC classic Sin City closed out the set. All in all the boys put on an amazing show for the sweaty, packed Rockpile crowd. If you ever get the chance to catch the Hatch Live, don't miss out and I eagerly wait for a new disc to spin soon.