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Gene Champagne uncorks debut album

Rock veteran, who wrote the songs, played the instruments, arranged, recorded and mixed the record at his home studio, will perform at The Corktown June 29.

Gene Champagne is ready for takeoff. 

Let’s Jet! That is the title of the four-song EP the Hamilton rock singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist released at the end of April, and the international buzz around it continues to grow.

Two of its songs, the title cut and “Back In My Arms,” are now being spun on Little Steven's Coolest Songs in The World, the enormously popular Sirius XM show. Highly influential L.A. radio host Rodney Bingenheimer has been spinning “Let’s Jet” on his show, and it is topping the charts of many independent radio stations around the globe.

In his recent interview with HAMILTON CITY Magazine on the patio of Buddy’s, Champagne explains that “as a songwriter, getting Rodney and Little Steven to give the thumbs up is a really cool validation.”

Let’s Jet is billed as Champagne’s solo debut, but he’s certainly no novice. Still best known as the drummer in ’90s rock faves The Killjoys and in the current incarnation of Teenage Head, he has been a valuable and popular fixture on the Hamilton rock ’n’ roll scene for over 30 years now.

He’s now placing more emphasis on his parallel music career, as a rock ’n’ roll frontman and songsmith. After making a mark leading The Un-Teens, he has put out Let’s Jet under his own name, reflecting the fact it’s a completely one-man DIY operation.

“I wrote the songs, played all the instruments myself, arranged, recorded and mixed them, all at my home studio in Stoney Creek. Jamie Andrew at Valleyview Studio mastered the record,” Champagne explains.

He describes his songwriting method this way: “I have the luxury of playing drums and the other instruments, so when I get an idea in my head, I can pretty much hear it all. I’ll put the guitar parts down, play the drums to it, and build from there.”

The four tunes on the Let’s Jet EP are “Let’s Jet,” “Back In My Arms,” “Rock ‘N Roll Boy” (originally recorded by The Un-Teens), and “Shake Some More.” They’re all upbeat songs with strong melodic hooks, and they incorporate power pop, garage rock and pop elements. 

“For this one, I really went back to the stuff I listened to when I was younger, like Teenage Head, The Boys, and The Ramones,” says Champagne. “It still has the pop hooks, as I can’t shake the pop stuff I grew up on, but there’s the rock ’n’ roll and the punk too. I see it as a blend.”

Looming large over both Champagne’s new record and his career is the spirit of the late Gordie Lewis of Teenage Head fame. Early on, that band had a huge impact on Champagne, he recalls. “When I learnt this band I loved was from my hometown, I got so excited. I got into a bar underage a couple of times to see them.”

More than three decades later, Champagne got the call to join the band in 2016, when then-drummer Jack Pedler fell ill. “Knowing I knew all the band’s songs, Gordie asked me to step in, and away we went. I still enjoy the Teenage Head thing ‘cause those songs are just so fun to play. We now pick and choose the dates we want and keep them special.”

Lewis was a close friend, not just a bandmate, and his tragic murder in 2022 really shook Champagne. Prior to that, the pair had been working together on their own songs. “We started writing, arranging and recording his songs in my home studio, and I rather wrote in tandem. After working on his stuff, I’d be inspired to start writing my own songs. He was like my muse.”

The song “Let’s Jet” is one example of that, Champagne notes. “I had the idea for it in my head, then, in one of our conversations, Gord said, ‘Frankie (Venom- Teenage Head frontman) used to say ‘Let’s Jet.’ I went, ‘Now I got my song.’ I tip my hat to him in the song, while on ‘Shake Some More,’ I tried to channel Gordie in my guitar playing.”

As well as some upcoming Teenage Head shows, Champagne hints at select fall dates with The Killjoys, to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of the vinyl release of the group’s debut album, Starry.

The show he is especially looking forward to is his headline gig at The Corktown on Saturday, June 29, marking the launch of Let’s Jet. Tickets are available here.

We are pleased to report that Gene Champagne is now in good physical health. At the height of the pandemic, he contracted COVID-19 and almost died, spending five days in a coma on a ventilator. He describes the enormous outpouring of support from musical peers across North America as “quite overwhelming. A lot of mental trauma that came with that experience but that is all fading. Now I don’t want to wait for anything, and that’s one reason I wanted to put this record out.”