Why Triumph Used to Be Confused With Rush: Exclusive Interview
A new Triumph documentary finds the Trailer Park Boys comedy troupe arguing that Rush and Triumph are, in fact, the same band. The exchange serves as a humorous acknowledgement of how easy it is for some to confuse the two groups, if for no other reason than they are both from Canada and both trios.
On record, of course, the musical reality was far different. Triumph's eponymous debut (later renamed as In the Beginning) arrived in October 1976 and established what would become their basic hallmarks: Guitarist and vocalist Rik Emmett’s love of progressive rock and classical music blended with drummer/vocalist Gil Moore's harder rock edge, while bassist Mike Levine brought his own elements to the group’s sound.
Members of Triumph looked back in separate exclusive conversations with UCR, also confirming once and for all that they are not Rush.
Really, Rush Was a Separate Band
Gil Moore: You’ve got Rush, one of the greatest bands of all time, and they’ve got intense fans. They were constantly touring in America. We’d be showing up and they would have been blowing through town two months earlier or two months later. Walking through airports, you’d get the fans that weren’t really with it that weren’t that tight with either band. We were both a little bit faceless, in a way. They’d get the bands confused [because of that].
It just got to the point where somebody said to Mike Levine, “Are you [Rush front man] Geddy [Lee]?” He’d just go, “Yeah, I’m Geddy. I’m just having a bad day.” [Laughs.] We would just play with it, because we loved the guys in Rush and [their music] like everybody else does. It was just a coincidence that we were both from Toronto, both a three-piece. Rik’s got a high voice; Geddy’s got a high voice. But you know, the music’s not similar really, I don’t think.
There Were Early-Era Struggles
Rik Emmett: We got together and played and in conversation and discussion with them, I realized these are probably the smartest musicians I’ve ever met. They certainly have a sense of what it is that they want to do and how they’re going to go about it. They didn’t even have a band yet, and they already had a recording contract. That’s the kind of shit that they had together. Pretty impressive. I go to the meeting and they’re laying out posters for gigs and contracts for gigs. I’m going, “You don’t even have a band and you have contracts for gigs? Wow.”
When we played in Gil’s basement, the set of drums that he had were covered in dust. I’m not making this up. They were very dusty. It was just a practice kit that clearly he never practiced on. I guess his real drums were out in the garage with the shit that would go into the truck to go to the weekend gigs that his band had. Mike, you could tell that they never practiced and they never played. They were really rusty. They weren’t bad musicians; it’s just they weren’t in shape. Of course, after about 15 or 20 minutes, it was worse – because they didn’t have any chops to keep going.
At the end of that first [rehearsal], I sat them down and said, “Look, I’m interested in this. I really think this could go [somewhere] and I like your ideas. Gil’s ideas about production and flash pots and laser lights and flame throwers. Man, he talked a great game and it looked like he knew what he was talking about. So I went, “This sounds fascinating to me. But you’ve got to promise me that you’re going to practice.” We’re going to do a lot of pre-production. They promised and it came from the heart.
They Had Arena-Rock Dreams
Mike Levine: We liked to go to Maple Leaf Gardens. It’s really neat when the arena is full. It’s really bad when the arena is empty. You know, what is it about these bands that make people want to come see them? Why are we going to see them? Why do you go? Because you love their music. There was no MTV; there was no nothing, right? So, it was all about the music and whatever album cover image you might like. Sometimes, you bought albums just off of the image of the album cover – or from listening to the radio.
Okay, you’ve got to make records then to be able to be successful. How do you do that? Well, first you need a record label and you need money, so we went about that part. But you know, we modeled the band after – I guess you could say in the early days, like, we played Jimi Hendrix and Deep Purple. We played a ton of Led Zeppelin. Those were some of our idols, but [also] just great examples of bands that make great rock music, without necessarily having that Top 40 single.
Watch the Trailer for 'Triumph: Rock and Roll Machine'
Led Zeppelin Was a Core Influence
Rik Emmett: Neither of them really had a progressive bone in their bodies. Gil had a very good grounding in things like Chuck Berry and Howlin’ Wolf. He liked that kind of blues and rock. He could really sing. He sang kind of like Mark Farner [of Grand Funk Railroad fame]. He had a voice like that and he liked heavy stuff. He wanted the band to go in that direction, like Grand Funk or Ted Nugent. He really liked that kind of heavy stuff.
Mike was way more laidback. He liked a lot of reggae including Bob Marley – and he liked the Eagles. So he was laidback in that regard, but he had the same kind of grounding in blues and R&B. Both of them had that R&B kind of background. They were that age. Toronto had been a very R&B-based kind of place. They had all of that stuff.
The common ground very quickly became Led Zeppelin. Zeppelin was kind of progressive, but they were kind of heavy rock and that was kind of cool because it had the bluesy stuff those guys could relate to. The riff rocking of Zep kind of became a common language of Triumph very early on. That’s how it started.
Why They Remained a Trio
Mike Levine: In our sometimes drunken conversations while we were talking about the basic band we were going to have, we’d all been in band that had five pieces. I was in a 10-piece band. Two people started a war and then four other people started to war, and then there’d be more wars. You could never settle the disagreements. With a three-piece band, it’s like the ultimate democracy.
It’s two against one and that’s it. It’s unanimous, or it’s two against one. Regardless of who is the one, it doesn’t matter, because somebody is going to end up on the shit end of the stick every once in a while, because you’re not going to agree on everything all of the time. We called it the ultimate democracy. The only way out is just to quit the band. Period. There is no other way. If you don’t like it, see you later.
Remembering Their Spinal Tap Moment
Gil Moore: We had a [flaming] torch that would go 12 feet. In the early stages of Triumph, we were playing a night club in Toronto called Geronimo’s. It had a ceiling that was eight or nine feet. The torch went off and hit a sprinkler head. It filled the entire club with four inches of water before they could get it shut off.
Of course, whenever those sprinklers go off, the water that’s inside those pipes is filthy. So when it comes out, it’s like this black goo. The sprinklers go off and we coat the audience in this stuff, and they get pushed out of the club. The club empties out and we go and we’re cowering in the dressing room, figuring the club owner is going to kill us – because he had a reputation of being kind of a gangster kind of dude. So we thought, “Yeah, he’s going to come in with a machine gun and blow our heads off.”
Instead, we’re in this hotel, the Black Hawk Motor Inn. He comes in brandishing a bottle of Scotch. I thought, “Oh, maybe he’s going to bash us over the head with it?” He puts it down on the table and opens it up and says, “That’s the best show [Geronimo’s] ever had.” That was his attitude. He thought it was a great moment. I think he thought the publicity and the reverberations from that would be fantastic! I’m not sure I follow his logic but nonetheless, that was the outcome.