Okay, four years is a LONG time to wait for updates, I’ll admit. Life gets in the way. But I have finally started transcribing my excellent interview with original bassist Mike Tilka from July 2011, and have an excerpt to share with you, wherein Mike talks about his own musical background, how he met Kim Mitchell, and how the band came to be named. Please note this is a rough transcript and I haven’t confirmed all the names and proper spelling except for ones I could easily find online.
James McNally (JM): Tell me about your own musical background. I know, too, you were born in the US. How did you come to Canada and how did you meet the guys in the band?
Mike Tilka (MT): I was born in East Chicago, Indiana, went to grade school in a little town called Munster, then went to high school in Gary, Indiana. And then when you’re out of high school and your parents want you to go to university at Loyola or someplace in Chicago, you go, “How can I get further away?” So University of Windsor made sense, and there were a few people who were going there from our area, so I ended up there.
1964-1965 would have been my first year, and that’s where I met Jim Bruton, and Jimmy, “Sparks,” we called him, was a keyboard player. I never actually played in a band with him but we were friends. I played with another keyboard player, Ray Bower (sp?) and a drummer, Phil Trudell. When university was over, Jim went to Greece to play. A lot of people went to Greece to play because there was the (Kola?) family, I’m sure I’m saying their name wrong, but something like that, had a restaurant and I think they might of had a bowling alley or a pool hall or something in Windsor, but they had a resort or a summer place in Rhodes, Greece, on the island of Rhodes.
JM: That sounds like Joni Mitchell’s stuff, what she did then…
MT: And every year, they would recruit some Windsor guys to go over there, because other friends of mine went. Well, Jim and Kim [Mitchell] went, they moved there in February, practiced and got ready for the tourist season, which starts when the weather starts to get warm, March or April, and then stayed there all summer and came back in the fall. So Kim kind of had that summer off, he had been in Toronto and had a band called ZOOOM, I don’t know if you’re aware of ZOOOM, but there’s a whole story there, with Jack Richardson and demos and stuff. And Kim would have been in his mid-teens at that time, I think. So he went over, with Jim, my friend from Sarnia and some Windsor guys, and they played for the summer, and when he was coming back, I guess it was in the fall, he wrote me a letter. Males in their late teens, early 20s don’t really write letters, I was shocked. But it was very nice, a little note, and he said, “Hi, I’m Kim Mitchell. You don’t know me, but Jim Bruton said I should call you. I’m interested and I want to move to Toronto and do some musical things. What are you up to?”
I had just finished the University of Windsor and I was a high school teacher in Detroit. From 1968 to 1972 I was a high school teacher and it kept me out of the draft. In other words, I had a university deferment…
JM: Weren’t you living in Canada then?
MT: I was still living in Windsor, but that doesn’t keep you out of the draft, I was still a US citizen. In fact, I even had my physical and everything in Detroit. But I was just in my 26th year, so by then you don’t have to worry about the draft. And [Kim] said, “I’ll come down, say hello.” That summer, before he came back, me and Phil Trudell, the drummer, had a band with Daryl Stuermer, who is Phil Collins’ guitar player, and he also plays in Genesis. He plays bass and guitar in Genesis. And I had spent that summer playing in Milwaukee with Daryl and Dwayne Stuermer in a band they had called Family at Max in Milwaukee. And I was filling in for their bass player who, right before a big gig at Summerfest, quit the band. And my brother was the trombone player and he called me in a panic and said, “We got no bass player.” I’m American, so I could drive there, I could play, I could work there, it wasn’t like a Canadian going. I had the summer off because I was a schoolteacher. I played with some guys in a little jazz group and I thought I’d take the summer off from that and go play with these guys, so I did. At the end of the summer, Daryl and Dwayne and me and my brother moved back to Windsor, because I’d said I could get us gigs, I’ve got a drummer, I’ve got a house… of course we didn’t have any legal papers for any of them. Except my brother Pat, I think eventually he got Canadian immigration papers but he didn’t stay, either.
Anyway, they came, we formed a band, we were thinking of a name and that’s where Max Webster came from. Family at Max ended the night with a song Daryl wrote called “Song for Webster.” So if you look at Daryl Stuermer’s web site there’s a little background about that.
JM: I didn’t know that, I had all kinds of theories in my head…
MT: No, no, there isn’t any theory, and it was never talked about much.