Growing up in North Dakota, I got a heavy dose of Canadian music in my youth. Canadian artists like Loverboy and April Wine made frequent swings through North Dakota on tour, and I developed a love for the music and a fascination with the bands of the Great White North. And while global artists like Bryan Adams and Celine Dion gave way to Nickelback and Avril Lavigne, many more quality Canadian musicians have had long, productive careers but are little-known outside the land of toques and back bacon.
Today, one of my favorite fringe benefits of traveling to Canada is the Canadian content requirement that dictates 35% of the music played on the radio must be Canadian. As a result, every time I travel to Canada, I get exposed to artists I’ve rarely heard, if at all, and many of them are quite good.
So here’s my list of 7 Canadian artists virtually unknown in America, and you should check them out.
First, Billy Talent is the name of the group, not just a guy in the band. Second, they’re awesome–the most nominated band in the history of the Much Music Awards, Canada’s version of the MTV Awards. They have a song that came out in May 2016, but my personal favorite is Fallen Leaves, from 2007.
A power trio from Toronto, Danko Jones is the name of the guy in the band. Danko Jones has been nominated for a Juno Award, the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy, four times. Take a drive through Canada and listen to some rock radio and you will hear some Danko Jones. My favorite: Do You Wanna Rock.
Considering their southern rock style, Monster Truck is an appropriate name for this band from Hamilton, Ontario. They won the Juno for Breakthrough Group of the Year in 2013, the same year they released “Sweet Mountain River.” In 2016, they released a new album and single, Don’t Tell Me How to Live. Their sound is in the same heavy southern rock vein as Black Stone Cherry. I like this band a lot.
The Sheepdogs are from Saskatoon and they have a little notoriety in the United States because in 2011 they became the first unsigned band to make the cover of Rolling Stone, but they’re still relative unknowns south of the 49th parallel. Their sound is a little like a cross between the Black Keys and the Wallflowers.
Rainbow Butt Monkeys
Admittedly, I’ve used a little misdirection here, because most Americans have heard the music of Rainbow Butt Monkeys. They started out as an unserious high school band and recorded an album that included the single “Circles,” but when things started happening for them, they realized they needed a better name. They adopted the name Finger Eleven, and would become very well-known for their songs Paralyzer and One Thing, but not before they were immortalized as Rainbow Butt Monkeys on Canadian radio, which continues to play “Circles” to this day.
Trooper is a well-known Canadian act who first broke onto the scene in 1975 and went on to have a decades long career as one of the country’s most popular bands, but never broke onto the American scene. Built around founding members Ra McGuire and Brian Smith, their early material is reminiscent of the feel-good music of the era.
In 1984, Kim Mitchell released his best known song in the USA, “Go For a Soda.” They played it on our local rock station, and I recall going to the music store to ask for “that new .38 Special song” I had been hearing, only to be informed it was Kim Mitchell. “Go for a Soda” peaked at 86 on the Billboard Hot 100, and number 12 on the US Mainstream Rock Chart. That would be the extent of his American success, but Kim is well-known in Canada and had a prolific career as a member of Max Webster, as a solo artist, and as a radio host. The video for “Go For a Soda,” is gloriously 80s, so if this is your first exposure to Kim Mitchell, you might have to avert your eyes to appreciate the music.