The Killer Dwarfs are now easily one of hard rock’s most enduring acts, and its high-energy front man one of the genre’s most iconic faces. Making their first Houston-area appearance in more than 20 years, the iconic Canadian rockers played to a packed house at BFE Rock Club on Saturday, May 16, 2014.
Formed in 1981 by Russ and Darrell Dwarf, aka Russ Graham and Darrell Millar, just outside of Toronto, Ontario, the Dwarfs quickly rose to prominence after their self-title debut album received a Juno Award nomination… Canada’s version of the Grammys.
Already famous in their native Canada, where singer Russ’ lofty vocals brought favorable comparison with the likes of heavy metal gods Iron Maiden, it was here in Texas that the Dwarfs first came to the attention of American audiences. A San Antonio DJ, Joe Anthony, fell in love with the Dwarfs music. Anthony’s airplay would bring the Dwarfs to Texas for the first time and eventually help the group’s iconic second album, “Stand Tall,” acheive such popularity that the video for the album’s first single, “Keep the Spirit Alive,” became the most requested video on MTV. That video still holds the record for the most-requested independent video of all time.
The group would go on to tour with Iron Maiden, while the title track from their 1990 album “Dirty Weapons” became a smash hit, topping rock and metal charts across North America.
Over the course of their 30-plus year areer, the Killer Dwarfs have shared the stage with rock and metal heavyweights including Ronnie James Dio, Nazareth, Queensryche and Pantera, playing some of the world’s most impressive stages in the process.
While the metal music scene has changed dramatically, and only a few of the superstars of the 80s metal scene are still touring, the Killer Dwarfs are still pushing forward, bringing the music to the fans and helping fans of the metal of yesteryear relive the memories.
And, while very few 80s metal bands are selling out arenas these days, the Killer Dwarfs see the opportunity to play smaller, more intimate venues, such as Houston’s BFE Rock Club, as a chance for the band to connect with fans in a way they couldn’t do decades ago. And, for fans of the Dwarfs, the live music performance is where it all comes together.
“Russ is notorious for being a sort of over-the-top front man,” said guitarist Gerry “Dwarf” Finn, who joined the band in 1992 and played several Texas dates at the peak of the band’s popularity.
“He’ll do things like stand on his head, spiral through the air… and he’s got the injuries to prove it,” said Gerry. “But listen, we love to play, and we’re not going to stand up there looking at our shoelaces. It’s a joyful thing for us to get up there and entertain. We’re grateful every time we walk up on stage… it’s like sacred territory for us.”
Along those lines, Gerry and bass player Johnny “Dwarf” Fenton — the newest member of the group — told No Cover Magazine that putting on a show that makes fans remember the performance, and cherish the memories of rock concerts, is a responsibility the band takes seriously.
“I think once we step up there, whether it’s people who have seen the band before or new people there, they can feel what we do on stage. They know we mean business, and they seem to buy into that,” said Johnny.
Still, none of that matters unless the music ‘works’ said Gerry. “It’s about integrity. When we get up there, you’ll see that we’re certainly going to have a lot of fun on stage. But, that’s based on this integrity that comes first. We have to really pour our hearts in to it,” Gerry said.
“For us, the fun is really important, but it’s important that it comes from the integrity of the music. There are a lot of parts to that, but the first, though is certainly the songs. We have to have music that connects with the fans,” explained Gerry.
But, said Johnny, it all comes together on stage. “Seeing the band live is a completely different thing. Once you see it live, you sort of get it.”
After a rousing performance that included one of Russ’ trademark headstands and a hoisting of the group’s now famous red tricycle — which is due for induction into the rock museum at the Hard Rock cafe in Toronto later this year — there was no doubt that the crowd at BFE felt they had gotten the show they came to see.
Yet for all the fun the band has on stage, and for all the risks singer Russ takes to put on a show for the fans, it was an after-show moment that nearly cost the band their lives.
Their stop at Northwest Houston’s BFE Rock Club was near the end of the band’s Spring 2014 tour, which wrapped up with two appearances at the Rocklahoma festival just outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma on Friday, May 23 and Saturday, May 24.
Unfortunately, the band was involved in a major accident on the way back home to Canada after leaving Oklahoma. Bassist Fenton was reportedly driving, when the band’s van was caught in a multi-car pileup near a construction zone along Interstate 70 outside of Terre Haute, Indiana. Frontman Russ was airlifted to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, while the rest of the band spent a couple of days recovering from cuts and bruises at a nearby hotel.
In Houston before leaving to finish the tour, Gerry said, “(Russ’ injuries) are well documented… if you stripped him down now, he’d look like a frankenstein.”
While the injuries he received in the crash were not life threatening, Russ did receive a series of stitches up the left side of his forehead, stretching from eyebrow to hairline. The accident also forced the postponement of the trike induction ceremony at the Toronto Hard Rock until Sept. 19.
In a statement released via Facebook after he returned home to Canada, Russ had the following to say: “I wanted to personally thank each and every one of you for the well wishes and prayers sent to me after the terrible accident… the outpouring from fans, friends, media and fellow musicians was quite overwhelming. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me and my family and it has helped me immensely in my recovery process. Thanks to all of the Police, Paramedics and EMS crew on the scene that acted so quick and professionally. I’d Also thank you to the nurses and doctors who treated and took care of me at the hospital… DwarfNation are the best fans in the world.”