Bob Rock

Aug 02, 2012

By James Sandham

Sometimes I like to go to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame website, choose a random inductee I’m not familiar with and see just what the hell he or she is famous for. It’s a pretty reliable way to stumble across good music or to rediscover something good that you’d forgotten.

This week I chose Bob Rock, primarily because of his name, which struck me as extremely well suited to a Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee. Frankly, I assumed it was fake. Well, it’s not – he was indeed born Robert Jens Rock in April of 1954, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He also happens to be the guitar player for the Payolas.

The Payolas, you say? Never heard of them? Well you probably have, because they’re the band behind the 1982 hit “Eyes of a Stranger,” which was the 1983 JUNO Award winner for Single of the Year. (The music video’s below – you’re guaranteed to recognize it.) I’d always thought that song was by The Clash, but I guess that shows how much I know about music.

The Payolas were part of Vancouver’s new wave of bands, active in the late 1970s and throughout the ’80s – in fact, they disbanded in 1988, but reformed again in 2003, issuing a new EP in 2007 before splitting again the next year – and always seemed poised for a big international breakthrough. That never quite happened, though, despite the band’s popular success in Canada – but that’s not what Rock is famous for anyway.

Bob Rock’s big claim to fame is actually as a producer. He’s best known in that regard for his work with Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, The Cult, Mötley Crüe, 311, Our Lady Peace and a bunch of others – but perhaps most of all for his work with Metallica.

Rock was the producer behind the heavy metal giants’ multi-platinum 1991 self-titled album (sometimes referred to as “The Black Album”), which includes the hits “Enter Sandman,” “The Unforgiven,” “Nothing Else Matters” and “Sad But True” – basically some of the band’s biggest tunes. This came at a price, however. It was Rock’s first shot at producing a Metallica album, and though he thought the production would be “easy,” he ended up having a lot of trouble with the group – such as wanting lead singer James Hetfield to write better lyrics – and this often led to arguments.

In the end, the album was remixed three times, cost US$1 million to make and led to Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Jason Newsted all entering divorces. In fact, Rock altered the band’s working schedule and routine so much that they swore they’d never work with him again. In spite of this, Rock went on to produce the band’s next three albums, 1996’s Load, 1997’s Reload and 2003’s St. Anger. He also wrote and recorded all of the bass parts on St. Anger and even played bass during the band’s few live performances between Newsted leaving the group in January 2001 and Robert Trujillo joining in February 2003.

Rock was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2007. He’s won JUNO Awards for, among other things, Recording Engineer of the Year (1982 and 1983), Composer of the Year (1983) and Jack Richardson Producer of the Year (2000, 2005 and 2010). He’s also worked with some of the music world’s biggest bands. But it all started in Langford, British Columbia – with this:

The Payolas – “Eyes of a Stranger”