Stage com­man­der

Con­fi­dent Street­heart front­man Kenny Shields dies at 69

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OBITUARIES - BY DAVID FRIEND

Kenny Shields, the brash lead singer of Canadian rock band Street­heart who swag­gered across the coun­try’s stages for decades, died of heart fail­ure Fri­day. He was 69.

The Juno-win­ning artist was part of the home­grown brand of guitar-driven hits that be­came rock ra­dio sta­ples through­out the late 1970s and early 1980s, in­clud­ing “Ac­tion,’’ “Hol­ly­wood,’’ “Look in Your Eyes,’’ “What Kind of Love Is This,’’ and a cover of the Rolling Stones clas­sic “Un­der My Thumb.’’

Gui­tarist Jeff Neill said Shields died Fri­day at St. Boni­face Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal in Win­nipeg af­ter a num­ber of heart prob­lems.

“At his peak he was as good as any­one who had ever picked up a mic, stood in front of a band and started singing,’’ Neill said.

“Kenny had a con­fi­dence ... He had a dan­ger­ous el­e­ment that was at­trac­tive.’’

Born and raised in the small farm­ing com­mu­nity of Nokomis, Sask., Shields’ knack for play­ing mu­sic started tak­ing shape around the time he en­rolled in an am­a­teur tal­ent show at six years old. He moved to Saska­toon to at­tend univer­sity where he joined lo­cal band Wit­ness In­cor­po­rated.

Shields be­gan trav­el­ling across Canada with the band, tour­ing with leg­endary acts in­clud­ing Roy Or­bi­son and Cream, but his ca­reer was side­tracked in 1970 fol­low­ing a car ac­ci­dent that left him crit­i­cally in­jured.

Af­ter the dis­so­lu­tion of his first band, Shields moved to Win­nipeg in 1975 to re­turn his fo­cus to mu­sic. He teamed up with an­other group from his home prov­ince, and in the years that fol­lowed, they would shuf­fle band mem­bers to even­tu­ally be­come Street­heart.

The band would record six stu­dio al­bums and a dou­bledisc live al­bum, which gar­nered sev­eral achieve­ments, in­clud­ing six gold records, four plat­inum al­bums and a gold sin­gle. They’d also tour with AC/DC, Styx and Max Web­ster and were con­sid­ered one of the best­selling rock bands to emerge from West­ern Canada in the 1970s.

Neill says his band mate stood among the best in the busi­ness for his abil­ity to com­mand a stage and sur­prise the au­di­ence with the­atrics.

“If there was some­thing to be climbed up — put a mic in his back pocket and climb up some scaf­fold­ing — he was more than will­ing to do that,’’ he said.

“That bit of ex­cite­ment, that bit of the un­known, was al­ways a part of who he was.’’

Bob Hal­lett, for­merly of Great Big Sea, re­mem­bers buy­ing tick­ets to the band’s East Coast shows when he was a teenager. He said Street­heart was one of the top-notch Canadian rock ‘n’ roll acts that would play smaller cities.

“The bands that did make it this far — the Street­hearts, the April Wines, the Troop­ers — were re­ally spe­cial to us,’’ Hal­lett re­mem­bers.

“As far as we were con­cerned they were the big­gest bands in the world.’’

Street­heart was an early pioneer of mu­sic video ex­per­i­men­ta­tion in Canada. A clip of 1979’s sin­gle “Un­der My Thumb’’ was com­mis­sioned by the band’s record la­bel to pro­mote their al­bum “Un­der Heaven or Hell,’’ five years be­fore MuchMu­sic would hit the air­waves.

The band also brought home a Juno Award for most promis­ing group of the year in 1980.

Around that time they faced con­flicts be­hind the scenes, which led to band mates Paul Dean and Matt Frenette ex­it­ing to form Lover­boy.

Even af­ter the orig­i­nal Street­heart lineup dis­solved, Shields con­tin­ued to play mu­sic, tour­ing for years as the Kenny Shields Band in the 1980s.

By the late 1990s, some mem­bers of the band re­united as Kenny Shields and Street­heart and be­gan ap­pear­ing at fes­ti­val shows across the coun­try.

The band was in­ducted into the West­ern Canadian Mu­sic As­so­ci­a­tion Hall of Fame in 2003.

‘’I never re­ally ever as­pired to be in any­thing like this,” Shields said dur­ing the cer­e­mony.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-TREVOR BRUCKI

Win­nipeg-based band Street­heart is seen here in an un­dated hand­out photo, with lead singer Kenny Shields at cen­tre.

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