- A Little Bit O'History -
Our story begins the town of Kelowna, British Columbia.
Chris Hooper and Kevin Kane met each other in school around 1978 and the two of them (who were 14), along with Chris' little brother Tom (who was 12), started jamming together playing songs from bands like the Who, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and the punk and new wave bands that were around at the time.
(Home movies captured from the "Those Days" video)
In April of 1980, Kevin was walking to Chris and Tom's house when he passed a building and heard punk rock blasting out into the street from inside. He remembered standing on a huge dirt pile watching the guy that was responsible for the music and after a while, he decided to go knock on the door and introduce himself. Kevin later described this guy as a "REAL, LIVE punk rocker" and admitted to being a little intimidated by the fellow's appearance, but since almost NO ONE in Kelowna at the time was into punk besides him and the Hoopers, he decided it was worth a try. The punk rocker called himself Chuck Unpleasant.
Chuck was in his twenties at the time and worked on the oil rigs in northern B.C. six months out of the year (only during the winter when the ground is frozen solid because it's easier to work when the ground isn't all marshy). That summer, Kevin, Chris and Tom got together with Chuck to form a punk band called the Kill Pigs. Chuck came up with stage names for the boys to use: Chris Crass, Tom "The Bomb" Vomit, and whichever name Kevin decided to use that week (he said he used to change it every few practices because he thought the whole "punk name" thing was silly). When the autumn came, Chuck had to go back up north to work on the rigs. Kevin, Chris and Tom moved their gear from Chuck's apartment back into Kevin's mother's basement. They continued to practice and Chuck would send lyrics down to the rest of the guys, but they just weren't into it anymore. Together, they write and demo about 30 songs and were planning an album when Chuck died while working in the oil fields. His death brought an official end to the band.
After the end of the Kill Pigs, Tom and Chris joined up with Don Walchuk to form Gentlemen of Horror, another hardcore punk band. The band members also all adopted new stage names: Tom (as Casey Casem) on guitar and vocals, Chris (as Nigel Watts) on drums and background vocals, and Don (as Friendly Giant) on bass. They toured all around B.C. performing all originals and manage to release a 5-song 7" record called Sterling Death. (Covers shown here; the 5 songs included were: 'Rich Kids', 'Bank', 'God Knows You By Name', 'Overhead Projector', and 'Rough Hike'. According to Chris, they released 100 copies with one cover and 100 copies with the other. This record appears on several punk "want" lists...) They split up after a couple years.
Kevin, in the meantime, formed Empty Set (not to be confused with the L.A. band of the same name, Kevin pointed out) with Darryl Neudorf (later of 54-40 and Sarah McLachlan) on drums, his 14-year-old sister Adele Neudorf on vocals, Kevin on guitar and John Brotherton on bass. They played mostly originals and managed to record just about every song they had written. The sound of this band differed from that of the Gentlemen of Horror. This was evidenced by the members' influences: U2 (before their first north American release), Joy Division, Wire, Young Marble Giants, Echo and the Bunnymen, Gang of 4, Au Pairs, Pere Ubu, etc. The resulting style gave Empty Set a sound that one reviewer dubbed as "Avant Rock", a term that Kevin liked because he had never heard it before. This, too, only lasts for a short while.
With the end of Gentlemen of Horror and Empty Set, Kevin, Tom and Chris got back together (since they were practically the only people in Kelowna that were into "new music", according to Chris) to try to get something going again musically. They rented a hall in the spring of 1983 and played a bunch of covers (under the pseudonym "Honda Civc", a completely arbitrary name chosen for no particular reason. None of them drove a Civic.). By the fall of the same year, the guys had found themselves in demand and needed a name that would stick. [The story goes that Chris was a fan of old movies, so the name "Grapes of Wrath" was chosen after a movie based on the John Steinbeck novel.] With that new name, the Grapes of Wrath played their first show August 27, 1983 at the KADAC Hall in Kelowna. [Poster for that show]
Photos courtesy of Chris Hooper except for "Empty Set" poster, taken from Sony's 54-40 site and the video captures.
Compiled by Greg Littlefield from the following sources:
Last revision: March 11, 1998