Monday, December 1, 2008

Pages Turned To Mr. Mister

For some inexplicable reason I used to think that the 80s soft rock quartet Mr. Mister hailed from Canada, but they were in fact from Los Angeles. Like fellow L.A. band Player (see last post) had done almost a decade before, Mr. Mister took the popular West Coast radio friendly pop-rock sound to the summit of the U.S. charts during the mid 80s. But where as Player only managed one chart topper, Mr. Mister hit #1 twice within the space of just three months during late 1985/early 1986, in the process reserving a permanent place on the honour roll for 80s pop luminaries.

The mid 80s saw a resurgence in the ‘power ballad’, particularly in the U.S. Veteran rock outfits like Boston, Foreigner, Journey and REO Speedwagon (see future post) vied with newer acts such as Cutting Crew (see future post), Survivor and Mr. Mister for FM radio airtime, not to mention record sales. If you got the formula just right, you could pretty much be guaranteed a solid hit, at least until the next trend arrived. Not to be disparaging toward the classic ‘power ballad’, but there often wasn’t much of note in terms of innovative or daring song structures, or cutting edge instrumentation or recording techniques. For the most part, these songs adhered to a safe, radio friendly formula, but then, aside from those pioneer mavericks who have set the trends in popular music over the last fifty years, most hit songs follow a pretty standard formula that’s arguably derivative of established musical paradigms.

Richard Page (vocals/bass) and Steve George (keyboards) became friends whilst attending high school. Both belonged to the Phoenix Boys Choir and George also played keyboards/ saxophone for a local group called Andy Hardy. The vocalist’s job became vacant so George asked Page to join. The band played a handful of gigs in Las Vegas before Page left to attend the School of Performing Arts in San Diego. George stayed on with Andy Hardy, and the group relocated to Los Angeles. After concluding his studies, Page hooked up once more with Steve George, and invited Page’s cousin John Lang to join them. The trio wrote some songs and recorded a demo, which led them to a deal with Epic Records. Lang didn’t play with the band at that time, but Page and George were joined by Charles ‘Icarus’ Johnson, Jerry Manfredi and George Lawrence to form the rock quintet Pages (makes sense). Pages released two albums for Epic, followed by one for Capitol, none of which sold well. The closest thing they had to a major hit was the US#84 ‘I Do Believe In You’ in 1979. Pages were in the process of writing material for a fourth album when they were dropped by their label. Page and George remained the only constants in Pages roster, but at that point they decided to take a step back and regroup.

They didn’t start a new band immediately, but rather chose to do some session work for other artists. In the early 80s Page and George contributed to albums by Michael Jackson, Kenny Loggins, REO Speedwagon, the Pointer Sisters and Donna Summer, to name but a few. Though session work paid the bills it was creatively stifling for Page and George, who aspired to greater things. In 1982 they decided to form a new band and call it Mr. Mister (kind of sounds like Twisted Sister now I think of it). They needed a new guitarist and drummer to round out the sound, and found a guitarist on their first attempt when Steve Farris auditioned (Farris had played previously with Eddie Money - see future post). The process to find a drummer that fitted the group wasn’t as straight forward. Eventually they hired Pat Mastelotto, who was a regular session player for prolific producer Mike Chapman. John Lang came on board in a song writing capacity, whilst Page, who had previously only handled vocals, made the decision to assume bass duties for the newly formed unit.

Mr. Mister played a showcase of their songs at the S.I.R. Studios in L.A. during the spring of ‘82, which led to a deal with RCA soon after. The band took a premeditated approach to the recording of their first album - to pen some sure fire hit songs, tailor made for radio and the pop music market. Richard Page later stated in an interview with the Chicago Tribune that it was “just a desperate attempt to have a hit”. He went on to explain that the band learnt from the experience, and wouldn’t try to manufacture a hit again. The 1984 album ‘I Wear The Face’ (US#170) sadly didn’t produce that big hit Mr. Mister were so keen to achieve. The synth-pop edged ‘Hunters Of The Night’ came closest when it peaked at #57 on the U.S. charts in April ‘84. It was during this period that Mr. Mister almost ceased to exist, or at least become page-less. Richard Page was extended an invitation to join Toto in place of departed vocalist Bobby Kimball, but Page declined the offer because he wanted to achieve success with his own band, rather than enjoying the fruits on offer from an established act. Someone must have been listening to Mr. Mister’s first album, because soon after Page was offered yet another prestigious gig, this time as replacement vocalist for Peter Cetera in the legendary Chicago outfit. But by that stage Mr. Mister had begun work on their sophomore album, and Page had an inkling that one or two of the songs they had in the can were a strong chance to break the band in a big way, so once again Page opted to stand by his band. His loyalty to the Mr. Mister cause was about to be rewarded.

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