Kenny Shields (middle) with the band Streetheart in a promo photo circa 2013. (file photo)

Streetheart singer Kenny Shields, dead at age 69, was no stranger to Surrey

Musician talked to the ‘Now’ prior to Bell concert in the fall of 2013

Streetheart’s Kenny Shields was no stranger to Surrey.

The rock singer died Friday (July 21) at a Winnipeg hospital following cardiac surgery. He was 69.

Several memorable, riffy hits kept Shields and band on stage since the 1970s.

In 2013, Shields spoke to the Now in a phone interview prior to a Streetheart concert at Surrey’s Bell Performing Arts Centre in December of that year.

Winnipeg is where Shields made his home for nearly half of his music-filled life.

Memorable rock hits, including “Action,” “Hollywood,” “Here Comes the Night” and “What Kind of Love is This,” kept the band working over the years.

In conversation with the Now, Shields talked about some of those songs.

“We do get that sometimes – ‘Oh, that song! That was you guys?!’” he told me. “It does happen, although not that often, I guess, where people come up to me and say, ‘I didn’t know you did ‘Tin Soldier,’” Shields noted. “That one surprises a lot of people when they’re told it was ours.”

In Surrey, one of the band’s most memorable gigs was during the 2010 Winter Olympics at the city’s “Celebration Site” at Holland Park, in the big indoor bar set up for the occasion.

“That was a great gig there, I recall,” Shields said three years later. “It was a great moment, a great time – there wasn’t really a bad vibe around, just a pretty simple, straight-ahead gig. Everybody was there to have fun.”

Back before Streetheart was formed, Shields sang in Witness Incorporated, a Saskatoon-based band that had a few regional hits and the good fortune to land some plum opening slots.

“In Edmonton one night,” Shields recalled, “we get a knock on the door and it’s Eric Clapton (then with Cream), standing there with snakeskin boots, and he wants to know if our guitar player has a wah-wah pedal he could borrow. Well, our guitar player carried that little wah-wah pedal around in his hands for weeks after that, cherishing it.”

The song of another British band, the Rolling Stones, had been a must-play song in Streetheart sets since 1979.

“We originally played ‘Under My Thumb’ live because we didn’t have enough originals to fill our set,” Shields revealed. “It turned out that we could play that song at the beginning, in the middle of the set or as the encore, and it always seemed to get the same kind of buzz.”

The recorded, slightly disco-ized version of the song became a significant hit for Streetheart, and it served to ignite the band’s career.

“And the longevity – we still get an incredible reaction when we start playing the first couple of bars of it, you know,” said Shields, a big Stones fan who recorded a version of “Angie” for Letting Go, a solo record of cover songs. The album, which can be found on iTunes, also included remakes of Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry” and The Eagles’ “The Best of My Love.”

Shields’ high, soaring voice stood out on Streetheart songs.

“In those smoke-filled rooms back in the day, doing six nights a week, I used to drink tea and honey just to get through and keep my voice good enough,” he told the Now. “But I don’t do that anymore. I do have a Korean herbal cough syrup that looks like molasses, and I use that as a remedy before and after (performances). Things really have changed with the no-smoking laws now; it used to be that you’d come out of a bar looking like an ashtray, you know, and it was rough on the voice sometimes. It’s a nice change for a guy like me, but it probably does piss off all the smokers, for sure.”

tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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