Now It Can Be Told: Who Shot (Down) The Sheriff (Reunion)?

Behind every #1 hit single is a story that, if known to the world-at-large, would be just as popular. I'm talking the stuff of movies here, ladies and gentlemen.

Imagine, if you will, that you're a musician in 1979. Now, I consider myself lucky to have been a teenager in 1979 and, therefore, able to enjoy that period as a wide-eyed fan, but to have been a musician in a band would have been like taking part in perhaps the last great musical gold rush of modern times.

How crazy was 1979, you ask?

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers were considered "new wave". Even Cheap Trick, who were finally enjoying their first big success, were often lumped in with this "new wave" of rock acts that didn't quite fit the Aerosmith/Nugent archetype.

Therefore, any band that had been unable to gain traction as a butt-rock act could easily re-brand themselves as a new wave act without too much soul-selling and be given a new lease on life.

Though we Americans like to poke fun at the very idea of "Canadian rock", back in 1979, Toronto had an absolutely raging live music scene that had been quick to adopt "new wave" in the wake of Blondie's chart-topping hit "Heart Of Glass".

So it was in that climate that the members of Sheriff first got together. 

After three years of club gigs, label showcases, and wondering if their efforts would ever pay off, the band was signed to Capitol Records and released their self-titled album in 1982.

By then "new wave" had its own TV channel. 

In the U.S., MTV was making stars of Duran Duran, Billy Idol and Adam Ant while MuchMusic was doing much the same in Canada.

In that climate, Sheriff recorded their first album; a collection of songs that would introduce them to the world. From the photo on the cover, one can sense a definite "new wave" angle to the band's clothes and overall appearance, but would this translate to the music?

In a word, no.

Considering that, within the first thirty seconds of the first song, you are greeted by a cheesy 70's era guitar solo, one might be led to believe that what you're listening to is a song from a by-gone era, but, in truth, Sheriff were quite ahead of their time in predicting exactly what the future held for the rest of the decade. 

On the cover, they're dead ringers for Night Ranger, who also released their first album that year, but the album also includes a track called "Kept Me Comin'" that could actually be mistaken for early Motley Crue, whose first album, Too Fast For Love, also came out on Elektra Records in 1982.

Ultimately, Sheriff would lose the sprint to Night Ranger and the Crue, but, seven years later, they'd win the marathon when "When I'm With You" was magically plucked out of thin air by two random mid-market American radio DJ's at a time when power ballads now reigned supreme, giving them their first #1 hit.

As one can imagine, there was a mad rush to reform Sheriff in order to take advantage of this gift from the Gods, but, quite astoundingly, two of the members declined to participate in a reunion. 

I remember hearing this information at the time the song was climbing the charts and wondering what kind of lunatic, upon learning that the song he'd written seven years prior was zipping up the pop charts in the US, would say no to a reunion?

Could the bad blood between former band members be that great?

I mean, what else could it be?

Obviously, without the interweb, someone with only a passing interest in the subject was unable to connect the dots at the time, but we now know that the band's former keyboardist Arnold Lanni, who had written "When I'm With You", was working on new music with the band's former bass player Wolf Hassel under the name Frozen Ghost.

Frozen Ghost, of course, had already released their first album on WEA Records in 1987 and were finished with their second effort, Nice Place To Visit, when a song from their musical past came back to derail their momentum.

After all, their single "Should I See" had already garnered its fair share of MTV and radio play and, had it received just a little more exposure, could have gone Top 40 in the States. As a result, there was heightened interest in their next effort even before Sheriff re-entered the conversation.

Incredibly, Atlantic records was completely unwilling to take advantage of Lanni's success with Sheriff and, as a result, the album sank like a stone and, just like that, Frozen Ghost's upward momentum was gone.

Of course, the band's sonic similarities to the Fixx may have made it just that much more difficult to be heard at a time when the Fixx, themselves, were finding it difficult to stay relevant.

As a result one is left to wonder if Lanni truly made the right decision by turning down the invitation to put Sheriff back together.

After all, those members of Sheriff who went on to form Alias ultimately proved that they didn't need Lanni's songwriting skills after all by scoring two Top 20 U.S. singles of their own, "Waiting For Love" (#13) and "More Than Words Can Say" (#2).

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