Rockerbox is the fifth studio album form Canada’s legendary rockers Chilliwack and the subject of this edition of That 70’s Guy’s Retro Review. Released in December 1975, this album ranks not only as the best that Bill Henderson and company ever put to vinyl, but one of the best Canadian rock albums of all time.
However there was one slight problem – Chilliwack made a real hard rock FM style effort that many had a hard time accepting. This album had attitude!
Being wedged between the AM radio friendly Riding High and the commercial breakthrough Dreams, Dreams, Dreams albums, Rockerbox stood alone, all alone with an identity of its own. The classic lineup remained intact with Bill Henderson at the helm on lead vocals and guitar, Howard Froese on guitar and vocals, Glenn Miller on bass and vocals and Ross Turney on the skins.
Rockerbox is guitar driven, to say the least. Alongside Kiss, Styx, Supertramp, Queen and Scorpions, it complimented our stack of records in Hewey’s basement. It was usually on the turntable, as we all took turns pretending to be rock stars. Many a winter night found us fighting over Richard’s homemade painted wooden “air” guitar, while the rest got brooms and hockey sticks. Those cold winter nights were always fun when we had albums like this in our collection. Back then, we usually only had one copy of a certain album and it was usually belonged to the one who had the cash at the time. We would go to Sam the Record Man or Records on Wheels as a group and collectively decide on what album to buy and the one with the coin would buy it.
It would be theirs, but as a group, we would share it.
Chilliwack was formed in Vancouver in 1969. Chilliwack is a town east of Vancouver, in the Fraser Valley. They liked the sound of the word and one of its Aboriginal meanings, “valley of many streams”, reflected their musical diversity.
Well, Rockerbox sure is different from its other albums. So, let’s just give it a spin and see how good that diversity is!
Chilliwack – Rockerbox – released 1975 on Casino Records
- “If You Want My Love” – I normally call this the “anthem” of the album. An eerie slow pace, with Bill’s easily recognizable voice breaking the silence, along with the pounding guitar riff. This one is great played with volume on high. Nice solo too. Well it’s all coming back to me, I’m hooked, lets continue!
- “I Know, You Know” – great quick start in typical Chilliwack fashion. The guitar work on this one is awesome. It basically hangs around somewhere forless than 3 minutes.
- “When You Gonna Tell the Truth” – another short rocker, with some really amazing drumming throughout, courtesy of Mr. Turney. Another good slide guitar solo is also included.
- “Train’s a Comin Back” – a fave of mine. Fabulous guitar driven song, not pounding metal guitar, but great classic 1975 guitars. AM radio would‘ve rejected this in a heartbeat! I’ve always thought of Bill Henderson as the underrated Canadian version of Dave Meniketti, performing double duty as lead singer and lead guitarist. Tough job, but both pull it off flawlessly.
- “Marianne” – fantastic opening riff with a great lead introduction. Chilliwack heavy! Clocking in at almost 7 minutes this really gets side 2 going. Lots of screeching Bill vocals and sweet rhythm from Howard. Always loved the middle – ch ch rhythm, pounding bass and wonderful percussion, all complementing each other. Man, I’d love to hear this remastered and loud as hell. A true Chilliwack classic!
- “Treat Me Fine, Treat Me Good” – hey, is this “Smoke on the Water“? I always thought it sounded like it. An album favourite. Fabulous sing out loud chorus. Love Bill’s voice on this one. Another great solo!
- “Magnolia” – a slow bluesy type song with some heavy riffing and great bass from Glenn.
- “Last Day in December” – this one was actually released as a single (which I still have). Probably the most recognizable song and it really exemplified the mood at the time. An album released in December and a song about it. It was easy to feel this one.
So there you have it, one great slab of vinyl. Before Rockerbox, Chilliwack had a slew of AM radio hits here in Canada; “Lonesome Mary”, “Crazy Talk”, “Come On Over” and my favorite song, “There’s Something I Like About That”. After Rockerbox, the Top 40 hits continued with “Fly At Night“, “Rain-O“, “California Girls” and “Arms of Mary“. It wasn’t until 1981 that they cracked the Billboard top 40 and had international success with “My Girl (Gone Gone Gone)“.
Rockerbox is like the forgotten album, the unwanted child. No AM hits were ever generated from it, nothing from it has been played live in years and it is still the only one not available on CD. Hell, I couldn’t even find any lyrics from any song on the internet. In my mind, it is the forgotten “gem”. Possibly because it was such a musical diversion and one of their least successful albums, they seemingly pretend it doesn’t exit. When my buddies and I enjoyed a band, we were committed. We got in deep with this one, after all one of us spent our allowance on it.
I normally say in these reviews that they should’ve been huge, but in Chilliwack’s case they were huge and are a household name. Sure, they could’ve struck it rich around the world more than they did but they did have their 15 minutes of fame. Here’s a quote from Rolling Stone Magazine: “At their best, Chilliwack was the finest Canadian rock band, outrocking BTO and outwriting Burton Cummings. But a lack of consistency kept it from international success. With too many line-up changes and bad fortune affecting their record companies, Chilliwack’s talents could have propelled them to the greater heights they deserved.”
I was lucky enough to see them live back in the day, playing those Rockerbox tunes and all the other early classics. My most memorable one was seeing them play the Summer Gardens in Port Dover Ontario. I remember sitting in the front row on fold out chairs with our feet on the stage. They still tour intensively, with Bill still having all the bragging rights. Catch them this spring as they tour with Foreigner. I’ve even seen them a few times in recent years and they still bring it!
“Yeah, ‘Cause you make me sing like a bird, Growl like a dog, Howl like a wolf, Scream like a witch, Purr like a little pussycat, And there’s something I like about that“….and there’s something I like about Rockerbox!
Check out some amazing live guitar work here!! “Last Day in December”, Live 1977…