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Death of guitarist Gord Lewis evokes memories of Canada’s greatest punk band, Teenage Head

Death of guitarist Gord Lewis evokes memories of Canada’s greatest punk band, Teenage Head

Tributes are flowing in on the news that the man found dead Sunday in a Catharine Street South apartment was 65-year-old Gord Lewis, the lead guitarist for the pioneering punk band Teenage Head. Police have charged Lewis’ son, 41-year-old Jonathan Lewis with 2nd degree murder. Toronto Sun Columnist Warren Kinsella, knew Lewis and his bandmates well, both as a fan and as an opening act with his own band. Teenage Head was formed in 1975 when the band members were students at Westdale High School in Hamilton. The original lineup featured Lewis on guitar, Steve Park on guitar, Frankie Venom (Frank Kerr) on drums and Dave Desroches on vocals. Frankie Venom quickly became the new vocalist, and Lewis recruited old friends Steve Mahon to play bass and Nick Stipanitz to play drums. Their first gig was on October 17, 1975, in the Westdale Secondary School cafeteria. The band’s first professional gigs happened in February 1976 with a few shows at the Town Casino at Main and Walnut streets in Hamilton.

Describing the band as the greatest punk band Canada has produced., Kinsella recalled Gord Lewis as “the inscrutable one, the genius guitarist. He was the rock who anchored Frankie Venom (who died in 2008) to Earth, supplying riffs that attracted fand from the Ramones to Eddie Vedder.”

Lewis’ death was first reported in a series of emails to a number of news outlets and reporters from an email account listed to Jonathan Lewis starting Saturday evening and continuing into Sunday. When the Spectator received an email Sunday that read, ““Funeral people need to get here quick. My Dad is starting to decay,” they called police.

Kinsella in his tribute to Lewis reported that members of the GTA musical and political scene were familiar with wild and sometimes threatening emails from the younger Lewis. After a pause of some years , Kinsella said the emails started up again last weekend, numbering in the dozens.

Doug Arrowsmith, who produced a documentary on Teenage Head in 2020, said Gord Lewis had suffered from “crippling depression” that required medication.

Teenage Head’s 1980’s gold-selling Frantic City was the band’s breakthrough album, making them stars across Canada with the hit singles “Let’s Shake” and “Somethin’ On My Mind”. They toured to support that album, including opening the major Heatwave festival in August. In June 1980 their performance at Toronto’s Ontario Place sparked a riot. The incident made headlines across the country, and led Ontario Place to ban rock concerts for several years.

Teenage Head, Lewis, right. Teenage Head Facebook photo

In September 1980, riding high on the success of Frantic City and the band’s unintended notoriety, Attic Records, their Canadian label, set up a series of showcase gigs in New York City, hoping to attract a U.S. record deal. Only a few days before their scheduled departure, Lewis was seriously injured in a car accident and the showcase was cancelled. Lewis was temporarily replaced by David Bendeth, although he was able to return in time to play on the 1982 album Some Kinda Fun, which was another success reaching gold status.

After Kerr’s death in 2008 the band continued to play in venues like Hamilton’s This Ain’t Hollywood with Lewis the constant presence, as other members of the band came and went. The last time Teenage Head played in Hamilton was the 2019 Labour Day Classic at Tim Horton Field.

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