The three-time Juno award winner Kim Mitchell has enjoyed not just one but two successful careers in the music business – the first as songwriter and lead guitarist for the popular rock band Max Webster, and the second as a solo artist with hit singles almost too numerous to count.
Born Joseph Kim Mitchell in Sarnia, Ontario in 1952, Mitchell got his start playing guitar with local Sarnia bands. When he decided to head for the bright lights of the Toronto music scene, his father slipped him $200 and wished him well.
As frontman for the rock band Max Webster from the early 1970s until its dissolution in 1981, Mitchell — with lyricist Pye Dubois (Paul Woods) — wrote most of the band’s material including such favourites as Hangover, High Class in Borrowed Shoes, Diamonds, Diamonds, Oh War, and the UK hit Paradise Skies. His Battlescar, nominated for a Juno award for engineering, was also recorded by Max Webster with members of Rush (themselves Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame inductees). With songs by the powerful Mitchell-Dubois songwriting team, Max Webster earned gold and multi-platinum albums.
After Max Webster called it a day, Mitchell released a self-titled EP, launching his solo career. This recording earned his first Juno award, for most promising male vocalist.
Mitchell followed this with 1984’s “Akimbo Alogo.” The album featured the SOCAN Classic Go For Soda, which reached No. 12 on Billboard’s rock chart and No. 86 on its Hot 100 chart.
Next came his triple-platinum “Shakin’ Like a Human Being” and a Juno award for album of the year. The album featured the hits Alana Loves Me, Patio Lanterns, That’s the Hold, and Easy to Tame.
The radio-friendly Patio Lanterns was put together with Dubois outside their Toronto label’s office. Mitchell recounted to SOCAN, “We were sitting in my van talking and he takes out this lyric. He says it’s quite a bit different from what we usually do.… I literally pulled over and grabbed my guitar …. I had a melody right away…. I sort of roughed it in right there, right around Queen and Sherbourne streets.”
The collaboration resulted in Mitchell’s biggest commercial hit; the song went No. 12 in Canada and was a No. 36 rock hit in the US.
Explaining the success of the pop Patio Lanterns in contrast to his usual rock material, Mitchell says it is the song, not the songwriter, that should determine the style of the finished product: “I always just write to the song…. You have to just go with what the song is asking, what it wants to be, and not make it something else.”
Does Mitchell advise editing a new song? The answer is a definite No: “I never edit myself during the songwriting process. I don’t think anyone should. If you’re a metal guy and you sit down and a country song comes out, just let it happen. Don’t shut it down.”
Mitchell earned his third Juno award, for male vocalist of the year, for the 1989 double-platinum album “Rockland.” Other Mitchell hits include the SOCAN Classic Rock ‘n’ Roll Duty (No. 7 in Canada and No. 43 on Billboard’s year-end chart for 1989); and Rocklandwonderland (No. 10 in Canada). America in 1992 went No. 3 in Canada, and 1993’s Some Folks was a Top 20 hit.
After receiving SOCAN’s National Achievement Award in 2004, Mitchell took up a career as a radio broadcaster and continues to write and perform.
Mitchell told The Record, “Follow your passion. That’s the message.”