Where Is He Now?
(Voice-over): Welcome to VH1's Where Are They Now? Tonight, a look at one of rock's true guitar virtuosos. (Cue: photo of Rik.) A master of the six-string, Rik Emmett finger-picked his way out of the obscure recesses of the Canadian wilderness (cue: photo of Rik sitting in his backyard) into the American consciousness in only a matter of years. (Cue: music to be played during segment: "Magic Power.") Along the way, Rik experienced hardship (cue: video of Rik at Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game, pounding on glass, sighing, throwing hands up in air), mean rock music critics, an obsessive-compulsive disorder that caused him to continually run his fingers through the middle-part in his blond, feathered hair (cue: Rik's high school yearbook photo), bandmates with all the technical proficiency of wind-up monkeys (cue: photo of Gil Moore and Mike Levine, the other guys in Triumph), despair and, ultimately, musical rebirth. (Cue: video of Rik, smiling, playing acoustic guitar.) Rik Emmett, after we return.
(Music to be played during first part of segment: "Blinding Light Show/Moonchild.")
(Voice-over): Rik was born in 1953 in Toronto (cue: photo of infant Rik in cowboy costume, crying) and joined Triumph in 1975. The band's first record, on a tiny label called Attic, was barely noticed -- even in its backwater hometown. (Cue: photo of downtown Toronto.)
(Music for second part of segment: "Rock & Roll Machine.") The band's first U.S. show, in 1977 in San Antonio, was an improvement from their first professional gig two years earlier at Simcoe High School in Canada (cue: home video of Rik throwing guitar picks into packed bleachers), where the group was paid $750.
Touring the States helped the band get noticed, and in 1977 it released the first of what would be nearly a dozen major-label records in as many years. (Insert: album cover of Rock & Roll Machine.) Rock & Roll Machine on RCA Records was an instant success and helped catapult the charismatic Rik to rock star status. The two-and-a-half-minute a cappella guitar solo on the title track would be what every young aspiring ax-man at the time wanted to master. That is, until Eddie Van Halen's "Eruption" came out in 1978. (Cue: photo of Eddie V., smiling, standing alongside Rik, biting lower lip.)
(Music for third part of segment: "Just a Game.") Being in the band was something Rik enjoyed -- from an artistic standpoint. (Cue: photo of Rik in the studio, pointing to a guitar as Moore and Levine look on curiously.) He wrote or initiated the writing of a lot of the band's hits. "Lay It on the Line," "Just a Game" and "Hold On" were just some bits of Rik's handiwork. Moore and Levine were interested in selling and packaging the band. Levine, a master mixer, produced the majority of Triumph's studio work, while Moore scheduled tours and arranged the band's garish live sets. (Cue: photo of Triumph's live stage, circa 1984; the word "Triumph," spelled out in 20-foot-high illuminated lettering, hangs behind the band.)
The mix of business and art took an emotional toll on Rik. It would almost cost him his career, his job, his car! VH1's Where Are They Now? with Rik Emmett will return after these messages.
(Music to be played during first part of segment: "Suitcase Blues.")
(Voice-over): Triumph would go on to sell more than 12 million albums worldwide. But Rik knew the success wouldn't last.
(Direct quote from Rik on tape): "We got to a point when it was too frustrating. I said, you know, the band has seen its best days. It was not a scenario to embrace the desire to do things outside of the band.The other guys would not practice. I kept giving them chances. I kept saying, ya know, 'C'mon, guys. If we don't have the chops, it's not gonna happen. Let's woodshed. Just a little.' And I looked at bands like Rush with so much envy. What they were doing was the stuff I wanted to try. But."
(Music for second part of segment: "Fight the Good Fight.")
In 1988 Rik had had enough; he wanted to disband Triumph and keep its legacy and integrity intact. But Moore and Levine wanted to soldier on. They also wanted to purchase the Triumph catalog from MCA, which was once RCA, and rerelease the trio's popular albums, pocketing the money for themselves. (Cue: photo of Rik, eyes bulging.) Rik wasn't interested, but he wanted his former bandmates to buy out his share of the Triumph name and future sales. They balked; a legal battle ensued. Rik would lose more than $20,000 and lots of sleep, and would watch the Maple Leafs trade Dougie Gilmour for two bags of pucks. (Cue: photo of Rik, shouting at his TV.) He would also watch in despair as a triumphant Moore and Levine continued to crank out watered-down Triumph arena rock.
Today, though he was the creative force behind much of the band's better music, Rik does not receive one cent from its record sales. The only money that goes his way is from songwriter royalties, which come from airplay. (Cue: photo of Rik, digging in his pockets.)
(Music for third part of segment: "When the Lights Go Down.") In 1988 the original members of Triumph performed their last show in Toronto. (Cue: photo of band members bowing in front of a crowd.) More on Rik Emmett, when we return.
(Music to be played during first part of segment: "Gasoline.")
(Voice-over): These days, Rik has forgotten about Triumph (cue: video of Rik in home studio, jamming) and is back making music his way. Since leaving Triumph, the guitar technician has released six solo albums, including a "trilogy" set on Open House Records of three distinctly different guitar styles: classical, jazz and blues.
(Music for second part of segment: "Magic Power.") Rik now lives in Mississauga, Ontario, with his wife and four children. (Cue: video of Rik catching ball with kids.) He usually performs live with only himself and a couple guitars. Any type of music, rock, classical, jazz, blues, even Triumph songs, is fair game.
(Direct quote from Rik on tape): "Music's about communicating....It has to be universal for me. I want to communicate. I don't wanna lose anybody. I want to do something for little kids and grandpa."
(Music for third part of segment: "Hold On.") Rik Emmett has triumphed over his past as a successful, dedicated rock music performer. (Cue: photo of Rik, laughing/ smiling.)
(Direct quote from Rik on tape): "I've been doing this long enough. I started recording when I was 22. I think I've learned plenty of ways to skin a cat."
Rik Emmett. A true Where Are They Now? star. Thanks for watching. Stay tuned for VH1's Where'd the Flava Go?... Rap Stars of the '80s. Coming up next!
(Fade to black.)
Rik Emmett performs Sunday, November 14, at 8 p.m. at Main Street Theater, 4617 Montrose (at Highway 59). Advance tickets are available only by calling Andrew, (713)627-3734.
Get the Music Newsletter