Honeymoon Suite rolling into CN Centre

Classic rock has an audience. An entire generation well remembers the pounding drums and grinding guitars of the power-rock era. It's an era that continues to add new material with the likes of Imagine Dragons, Foo Fighters, Danko Jones, The Sheepdogs, and Serena Ryder but the 1970s, '80s and '90s were particularly fertile times for the genre.

Most acts from that stage in rock music are off the radar, or hard to find. Honeymoon Suite was not only one of the first Canadian bands to crack the American side of the genre but also had staying power that exceeded their own beliefs at the time and even more improbably, in their own minds, they are still burning rubber on the modern highway.

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They roll into Prince George Oct. 20 opening the CN Centre extravaganza headlined by Foreigner, another of those high-octane classic rock bands that have somehow survived the storms of time. So, Honeymoon Suite guitarist Derry Grehan was asked, did he ever envision this sort of ongoing career?

"Not with Honeymoon Suite, no," said Grehan, the band's primary songwriter. He's also a freelance tune-smith for other rock and country acts.

"I knew what it was, in the '80s. I thought the band would last five or six years, as bands kinda do. You do your thing and move on. But we got so lucky with the hits, the songs, and they really surprised us all, and here we are more than 30 years later with a fan base and airplay. And why would I stop that? I love it."

The hits are now indelible on the Canadian music history books. New Girl Now was the first, and still a concert favourite. Then came Stay In The Light, Bad Attitude, Feel It Again, What Does It Take, Lethal Weapon, Lookin' Out For Number One, Other Side of Midnight, Still Lovin' You, Say You Don't Know Me and many more. There were four hit albums in the heydays, plus a studded Greatest Hits package and inclusion on movie soundtracks for shows like The Wraith, Miami Vice, One Crazy Summer, and the one that struck deepest gold both for Honeymoon Suite as a band and for the moviemakers. They were tapped to do the theme song for the action blockbuster Lethal Weapon. The movie was a highly acclaimed hit and so was the song. They didn't write the original bones of the tune, that was by Hollywood soundtrack superstar Michael Kamen, but they effectively made it their own and it is still a fan favourite and band favourite to perform live.

"It's a good song," Grehan shrugged with a smile. "We've only done that a few times. We put an Eddie Schwartz/Dave Tyson song on our first album (Heart On Fire) and the Kamen thing came through (megastar record producer) Ted Templeman at Warners when we were just finishing up Racing After Midnight. It was an L.A. thing, we'd heard about this movie, and they brought us a demo. And when Ted Templeman is asking you to try it, you do it. Why not?"

They actually had some reasons to balk at the suggestion, but musicians know how to arrange and remix in their minds.

"We made it Honeymoon Suite," Grehan said. "You should have heard the demo; Johnny just about walked out of the room. But we could hear the song through the (terrible demo performance) so we made it Honeymoon Suite. At the end of the day, Johnny did a great vocal on it. If you're not believing the singer and it's not suiting their voice, then you scrap it. He just sang it so well. If we loved it, we knew other people would."

Who knows where a Grehan song will pop up these days. He still writes for Honeymoon Suite - they have put out four albums or EPs in the 2000s, not counting the live and anthology packages - but he also works on the projects of other artists.

"I've been going to Nashville a lot in the last seven or eight years, and I've seen a lot firsthand," he said, describing the changing songwriting industry, one of the biggest victims of the free-access internet age. "There are thousands of struggling songwriters down there not making a living from it. For me to be able to say I'm in the top percentage - writers who can actually say they make a living from songwriting - that feels good. But I've worked for it. And it's fun for me to get out of the Honeymoon Suite comfort zone and write with people down there. It has really opened me up and made me a better writer."

He aches for the young songwriter, however. There are still lucrative incomes if you write a hit song, and lots of opportunities to get a song out into the consumer world that did not exist even 15 years ago, but it has never been so difficult to earn incentive-sized amounts of money if all you do is write songs.

"Yeah. It's too bad. Music's basically free now and we (songwriters) wonder why we're doing it," Grehan said. "But when you're a songwriter or an author, you have no choice. You like to write so that's what you continue to do. You don't do it to get paid."

Having the past history of hit songs "allowed me to do so many things," said Grehan. "It's part of my job. I work at home, I write at home, so there's that part and then there's the live part. It's all part of making a living, and I like the balance. And I dovetail that into other things; it's all networking. The upside (to the wild west internet) is the networking you can do to get yourself out there basically to anywhere in the world."

While he has changed his music chops to include country music in his portfolio, country music has also done some changing and it isn't hard to imagine some of today's country stars doing a meaty version of those old Honeymoon Suite hits: Meghan Patrick doing Stay In The Light, Dallas Smith doing Bad Attitude, Chad Brownlee doing Long Way Back, Brett Kissel doing Feel It Again, Jess Moskaluke doing What Does It Take, Madeline Merlo doing Love Changes Everything, Tim Hicks doing New Girl Now... There's a whole tribute album in there, with every song a potential single for the cover artist.

Grehan snapped to attention at that idea. "Tim Hicks is a friend of mine, we've done some writing together," he mulled out loud.

The thought of performing with Foreigner is also a bone to be chewed for the Honeymoon Suite band members. They've been busy this summer in any case, and they well remember the Pacific Western Brewery show they did only a year ago, just another in a series of memorable times they've had in Prince George. But this was a highlight trip to go on, no matter what the dots on the map happened to be.

"Talk about idols of mine," Grehan said. "It's a testament to the Foreigner catalogue. The songs just go and go. And it's that way for a lot of artists. Bryan Adams is still touring around the world and packing stadiums. Songs. It's all about having good songs."

Tickets are on sale now to see Honeymoon Suites hits and get all the top Foreigner hits as an added bonus.

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