Teenage Head’s Gord Lewis recalled for ‘ferocious’ guitar skills as band moves on Pipa News

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TORONTO – Gord Lewis played a “savage” guitar in Hamilton punk rock act Teenage Head and his bandmates plan to honor him with a series of upcoming concerts.

Teenage Head members say they made the “tough decision” to fulfill three booked gigs before the 65-year-old guitarist was found dead in his Hamilton apartment last Sunday.

In a post on the band’s Facebook page and co-signed by the Lewis family, they say the shows will be a way to “honor our fallen brother and start the healing process.”

Teenage Head plays Winnipeg on Thursday, Saskatoon on August 20, and Oakville, Ont., on September 10.

On Wednesday, Hamilton police confirmed Lewis was the city’s third homicide this year. Jonathan Lewis, the musician’s 41-year-old son, is charged with second-degree murder.

Police did not disclose the exact cause of death, nor did they say when Lewis died.

Teenage Head was founded in a Hamilton high school and rose to prominence in the early 1980s when the punk rock movement developed under the leadership of the Ramones, the New York Dolls and the Sex Pistols. Those bands often became tied to anti-establishment messages, while the Canadian foursome found their motivation elsewhere.

Their self-titled debut included their lead single, “Picture My Face,” a sloppy break-up track powered by Lewis’ gritty guitar.

“Teenage Head sang about girls, cars, and fun times,” said Lou Molinaro, a longtime fan and friend.

“(They) never sang about political problems, conflicts or international issues.”

Molinaro discovered Teenage Head as an adolescent in the summer of 1980 when he attended their now infamous concert at Toronto’s Ontario Place, which sparked a riot and the band made headlines as notorious troublemakers.

As a fan, he was stunned by the concert experience, but Molinaro says the more he listened, the more he was drawn to Lewis’ unique guitar skills.

“It was thick, full and raunchy, but it was a signature sound that only Gordie could play,” he said.

“There have been many guitarists over the years who have tried to match it, but have failed.”

After the riots, Teenage Head was on the rise, but just as momentum was building for a breakthrough in the US, Lewis was seriously injured in a car accident. The accident derailed plans for a run to American fame and forced Lewis to recover for the better part of a year – practically a lifetime in music.

“The record labels in 1981 quickly moved away from homegrown rock ‘n’ roll and turned their sights to the UK,” said rock music publicist and analyst Eric Alper.

“(Attention went to) helping develop Duran Duran, Eurythmics and Culture Club. By then Teenage Head was not a priority for anyone in the US to work with.”

After skirmishes with their US label, the band eventually began to fall apart and in the mid-1980s vocalist Frankie Venom had left to start a new project. The band would reform in several iterations over the following years.

It was a decade later, in 1996, when teenage fan Molinaro hooked up with his idol guitarist Lewis while starting his Mohawk College radio show. He asked Lewis for an interview that spanned Teenage Head’s story and the conversation led to the two becoming fast friends.

Concerned about Lewis’s connection to the music industry, Molinaro considered ways to make Lewis shine with his own platform. As co-owner of Hamilton bar This Ain’t Hollywood, he started booking the guitarist as a regular guest.

“I was devastated because I thought Gord never did anything but be a rock and roll guitarist,” he said.

“I had the idea to start a weekly open stage with Gord Lewis. We called it the Gord Lewis Songbook. And it was in fact local Hamiltonians (who) got the chance to take the stage and sing a Teenage Head song or accompany Gord on guitar.

Molinaro said he learned more about the “two-sided coin” that defined Lewis’s personality during that time.

“There’s the rock ‘n’ roll guitarist with that ferocious sound, and then there’s a calm, mellow Gord,” he said.

“Gord’s guitar playing was very therapeutic for him. There were many times when we all knew Gord was having a hard time. And every time he got on that podium, he was always very nervous,” he added.

“But once he got up and started playing those first few chords, that stage was his.”

The remaining members of Teenage Head say they hope their upcoming shows honor Lewis’ legacy, as the guitarist “wanted his music to be heard and to live on.”

“We are in pain, his family is in pain, our city is in pain,” they wrote.

“Gordie’s fans around the world are hurting. He loved you all.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 12, 2022.

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