Blowing up head part of heavy metal act

By Neil Davidson

WINNIPEG (UPC) - In his 13-year quest for rock 'n' roll success, Frank Soda, 31, has done everything from touring behind a muscleman-turned-musician named Thor to leading a band called The Imps.

The Imps shaved their heads, attracted a small following and went nowhere. Now, Soda has hair and plans to go the top.

FRANK SODAThe Toronto-based guitarist plays what is popularly called heavy metal - hard, loud and aggressive music, in his case backed by bass and drums. One critic once called his act "music to stomp orchids by" and meant it as a compliment.

But it is Soda's show that attracts crowds. He roams around the audience, freed of the confines of the stage by a radio miked guitar. Some of his best solos are delivered standing on somebody's table.

He wears exotic headgear such as a moon mask, pig hat, gorilla face and television set and then blows them up. The fans inevitably go wild.

Soda, his real name, has yet to make the record industry go wild, however. He has three albums to his credit and insists all they've done is put him in debt. Now be tours to finance his recording and a demonstration tape he wants to peddle.

The tape represents Soda's finest work - intelligent and catchy songs impeccably produced. He played every instrument on the tape, four months in the making, and knows it could be his ticket out of the dreary bar circuit.

While Soda bides his time, he has to play bars to survive. He is currently in the midst of a four-city Canadian tour. The trip stops at Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Calgary and next week in Vancouver is financed by a bank loan and characterized by bad food, motel rooms, equipment problems and Soda's infectious enthusiasm for his job.

"If I didn't play, I don't know what I'd do," he said in between sets during the Winnipeg stay. "I have to play and I like giving them a show. It's still fun."

On the road Soda pays himself $300 a week, $200 less than his road manager Don McCallum who looks after the books and the pyrotechnics.

"Don's very valuable," Soda said. "I wouldn't let just anybody blow up my head."

Touring bars does not make Soda rich. His manager gets 20 per cent, his Toronto agent gets 10 per cent and sometimes his Western agent takes another 10 per cent. Then there's the lawyer and the accountant to pay.

"On this tour, we could have made money if everything worked out perfectly," he said. "But it never does."

Born in Italy, Soda grew up in Kitimat, B.C. He picked up a guitar as a teenager despite his father's protestations and spent most of his weekends travelling to Vancouver "to find out what the hell was happening."

Soda played with a plethora of bands in the early '70s with musicians who later went on to form groups such as Chilliwack, Loverboy and the Headpins. Soda characterizes the early years as "hippie days . . living on potato chips."

"We played songs that lasted an hour," he laughed. "One set where everyone could get their turn doing a 10 minute lead, including the bass player and drummer."

Soda left B.C. when a former muscleman named Thor asked him to form a backing band in 1975. Soda picked two friends and formed The Imps. The trio shaved their heads, wore makeup and outrageous clothes while Thor sang and bent steel bars in his mouth.

The Imps parted company with Thor after 18 months of the circus-like show. Soda called Thor's showmanship influential if somewhat risky, especially the part of the act when Thor invited a member of the audience to break bricks on his chest with a sledgehammer.

"Can you imagine that?" Soda said. "Everyone's drunk. that's the purpose of a bar. Where is his mind at? When I blow up my head, it's planned. It's pretty dangerous but it's planned. With a sledgehammer wielded by someone in the audience, you never know."

The Imps left Thor in 1976 and came to Toronto, where a local radio station taped one of their live performances and issued it on a record. The Imps played every bar they could find but never made it to the top.

Eventually the other two Imps could not wait any more and left. They are now playing in a band covering Top 40 songs while Soda put out two solo albums and slogged it out on his own.

On the road, Soda relaxes by running whenever he can. He just finished his first marathon and plans another. The slender musician tries to put in an hour a day training.

The rest of the day is spent planning how to turn 13 years of experience into success.