The punk rock movement of the mid 1970s gave birth to numerous sub-genres and musical offshoots such as New Wave, goth, alternative, and grunge. Almost every popular musical group that emerged after punk rock invaded the mainstream has owed a debt to this seminal musical force of the late twentieth century.
By 1977 the punk rock phenomenon had infiltrated Canada. Small towns and big cities alike had begun to attract homegrown bands and performers who were steeped in the nascent punk tradition. The tiny western Canadian town of Kelowna, British Columbia, was no exception. In 1977 schoolmates Chris Hooper and Kevin Kane, who were both in their early teens, joined up with Hooper's little brother Tom, who was barely 11 years old, to form a punk band.
The newly formed trio began to jam together at their parents' homes. They covered punk tunes along with staples of the classic-rock canon before they moved on to playing their own songs. They broke up a short while later. According to the 1991 biography of Grapes of Wrath on the Capitol Records website, "the Hoopers continued to pursue their punk fixation with a group called Gentlemen of Horror, while Kane played in an art-rock outfit [called] Empty Set."
In 1983 the Hooper brothers decided to hook up with Kane again. They formed what was supposed to be a one-night-only cover band called Honda Civic. After the show, the Hoopers and Kane realized that, in order for them to achieve their goals and satisfy themselves both musically and creatively, they were going to have to come together for good this time. The creative spark of their collaborations along with their love of cutting-edge music were the forces that initially brought the Hooper brothers and Kane together in 1977; they served to bring them back together some six years later.
The summer of 1983 saw the trio drop the name Honda Civic in favor of something more substantial. They decided on Grapes of Wrath, a name suggested by the film lover, Chris. They soon began practicing at home under their new name.
With money saved up from various part-time jobs and yard sales, among other things, the Grapes of Wrath traveled to Vancouver in 1984 to record their first record four-song self-titled EP. The Grapes of Wrath was released on the Vancouver-based Nettwerk label. Soon after the EP's release, the band relocated to Vancouver, picking up a new member around the same time: keyboard player Vincent Jones.
The positive regional support that the Grapes of Wrath's debut EP garnered helped to propel their next release into the musical consciousness of the Canadian nation as a whole. The band's second album, September Bowl of Green, was released in 1985. It was this album, their first full-length release, that earned them critical acclaim and national interest, helped along by significant radio airplay throughout Canada.
After capturing the national attention of their homeland, the Grapes of Wrath turned their attention toward the United States to see if they could work their magic south of the border. In 1986 September Bowl of Green was released in both America and Europe, thanks to a global distribution deal brokered between Nettwerk and Capitol Records. Unlike the situation in Canada, the record did not cause much of a stir in the United States. Undaunted by this, the Grapes of Wrath entered the studio to record their second full-length album, Treehouse, which was released in Canada in 1987. The album was not the breakthrough smash hit everyone in the band had hoped for, but it did yield "Peace of Mind," the Grapes of Wrath's first hit single in Canada. The album did not fare well in America when it was released one year later.
Early 1989 saw the Grapes of Wrath return to the United States, specifically Woodstock, New York, to record the sessions that would eventually become their third album, Now and Again. This album evokes the melodies of the Byrds along with the jangly sounds of such college and alternative rock stalwarts as R.E.M., the Connells, and Let's Active. Now and Again struck a responsive chord in the record-buying and music-listening public in Canada: the album went gold in Canada after less than two months. The Grapes of Wrath also scored their first top-ten hit single in Canada, the lilting ballad "All the Things I Wasn't." The success of Now and Again helped to push the Grapes of Wrath out of the clubs and into the concert halls as they toured Canada. While Now and Again was achieving platinum sales certification in Canada, the Grapes of Wrath began touring Europe and the United States.
Touring in support of Now and Again took up most of 1990, and the Grapes of Wrath's fourth album did not see the light of day until 1991. Like its predecessor, These Days was certified platinum in Canada. The sales of the album were bolstered by the fact that it yielded two top-ten hit singles, "I Am Here" and "You May Be Right." Concerts sold out all over Canada, and Europe began to warm up to the charms of the Grapes of Wrath. In Europe the Grapes of Wrath began to see their first chart appearances outside their native land.
Unfortunately, the success and accolades were to be short-lived for the Grapes of Wrath. On October 30, 1992, the band dissolved. According to the official Grapes of Wrath website, "though never officially 'breaking up,' the Grapes of Wrath were pretty much over: the Hoopers and Jones attempted to have Kane removed from the band and Kane took legal action against his former band mates." The Hooper brothers and Jones went on to form the band Ginger, releasing two albums in the mid 1990s. Kane pursued a solo career and released an album around the same time.
Almost four years after the band had broken up, Tom Hooper sent Kane a letter about the split. According to the official Grapes of Wrath website, the "letter suggested] that the two of them try and resolve matters once and for all. Meeting at a 'neutral' Vancouver location, the old Grapes business [was] essentially 'put to rest' in barely over an hour, [and] talk turned to playing together again."
They decided to play small shows and began to record some tracks in the studio in the late 1990s. By the summer of 2000, Kane, along with his songwriting partner Tom Hooper and new drummer Matt Brain, had released the fifth Grapes of Wrath record, Field Trip, on Song Recordings. Commenting on Field Triphe first Grapes of Wrath record in nine yearsn the Chartattack website, Hooper said, "Time goes by. You'd hope that you wouldn't sound exactly the same that you did 15 years ago. It's whatever comes naturally. We're better players now, we're better everything."
The Grapes of Wrath (EP), Nettwerk Records, 1984.
September Bowl of Green, Capitol Records, 1985.
Treehouse (includes "Peace of Mind"), Capitol Records, 1987.
Now and Again (includes "All the Things I Wasn't"), Capitol Records, 1989.
These Days (includes "I Am Here" and "You May Be Right"), Capitol Records, 1991.
Field Trip, Song Recordings, 2000.
Graff, Gary and Daniel Durchholz, editors, MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
"The Grapes of Wrath," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 10, 2001).
"Grapes of Wrath's Magic Mushroom Experience," Chartattack, http://www.chartattack.com (April 10, 2001).
Additional information was taken from Capitol Records press materials for These Days, 1991.
Mary Alice Adams
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