The Northern Pikes are from Canada and were formed in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in January 1984. The original lineup was spawned from the ashes of three local groups, The Idols, Doris Daye and 17 Envelope. The founding members were Jay Semko (Vocals, Guitar), Merl Bryck (Vocals, Guitar), Bryan Potvin (Guitars) and Glen Hollingshead (Bass). In 1985 Glen left the band and Jay went back to playing bass and while numerous drummers came and went it was in June of 1986, when Don Schmid (The Idols) joined to make it a permanent quartet.
Being a band from Saskatchewan had its challenges in the pre-internet era. To get attention outside the province, the group came up with a strategy of making lots of demos and recorded and released their first two independent LP's The Northern Pikes 1984 and Scene In North America 1985. The albums were co-produced, recorded and mixed with pal Mitch Barnett at Studio West located near Pike Lake, SK.
"It was a good challenge finding a list of stations that would play independent music in Canada and the USA" remembers Jay. "I wrote to the Library of Congress and got the listing of college radio stations. We sent them out and we got played, they charted really well. It was a pleasant surprise to us and that really opened the door for people to notice us."
With the help of friend and local booking agent Robert Hodgins, the band cut its teeth for 2 years on the prairie bar circuit.
The combination of exciting live performances, well-received indie albums and the continuous stream of demos finally caught the ear of Doug Chappell, president of Virgin Records Canada and with the help of managers Fraser Hill and Ed Smeall, The Pikes signed to the label on December 18, 1986 at The Copa nightclub in Toronto. "We did a demo in the summer of '86 that had Things I Do For Money on it," says Don. "Doug Chappell knew about Teenland, he knew about You Sold The Farm and Jackie T, he knew all those songs, but when he heard Things I Do For Money, that was apparently the song that made him go yeah, I want to sign this band."
In January of 1987 the band began sessions at Metal Works in Toronto with producers Rick Hutt and Fraser Hill and finished mixing at McClear Place for what would become their 3rd LP and first Virgin release entitled Big Blue Sky. The album hit the streets in June of ‘87 and featured the hit singles Teenland, Things I Do For Money and Dancing In A Danceclub, introducing the band to a wider audience and expanding the touring range to all parts of Canada and the USA.
Their 4th LP Secrets of the Alibi in the spring of 1988 saw The Pikes recording at Bearsville Studio in Woodstock, NY, and later mixing at Le Studio, Morin Heights, Quebec. The album had a more “live off the floor” feel and the heavy airplay of the singles Wait For Me, Hopes Go Astray and Let’s Pretend kept the band on the road virtually non-stop across the continent until the summer of ‘89. The Pikes 5th LP Snow In June saw the blossoming of Bryan as a singer and writer, most notably for the wildly popular hit single She Ain’t Pretty. In addition the album featured other smash hits Girl With A Problem, Kiss Me You Fool, Dream Away, and featured a star-studded cast of additional musicians – Garth Hudson, Crystal Taliefero, John Sebastian and Stan Szelest, as well as mixes by acclaimed engineers Bob Clearmountain and Hugh Padgham. Recording again in Bearsville and mixing at A&M Studios in Los Angeles, The Pikes spent almost six months working on the album and it became their biggest selling album to date.
After almost two years of touring to support Snow In June, the band began work on their 6th LP Neptune in July of ‘92 at A&M Studios in LA with Rob Jaczko as co-producer. Subsequent sessions continued at Metal Works in Toronto and Blue Jay Studio in Boston. From start to finish the album took exactly two months to record, mix and master, the fastest turnaround since their indie days. Released in November '92, Neptune featured the keyboard work of Ross Nykiforuk, also a native of Saskatoon and an onstage addition for the Snow In June tour. Also featured were two duets with Margo Timmins of Cowboy Junkies, one of which, Worlds Away, made its way onto an episode of the TV series Due South. The album featured the singles Twister, Believe and Everything.
The spring of 1993 saw the last tour of the decade for the Pikes and their LP gig. Recorded live during concerts in Montreal and Toronto, it featured 13 songs and showcased the raw energy the band always exhibited onstage.
After 10 years of intense road life and non stop travelling, 8 Juno award nominations, 4 gold records and 1 double platinum record, the band elected to go on an indefinite hiatus. The Pikes played their final concert on July 2, 1993 in Fort Frances, Ontario.
In October '93 the final recording was made when Jay, Bryan and Ross got together at Don's home studio in Saskatoon to record the theme song for the TV series "Due South".
Six long years later…...
All original members Jay Semko, Bryan Potvin, Merl Bryck and Don Schmid reunited in December 1999 to assemble a greatest hits package for Virgin Records. That meeting saw the release of the Virgin LP Hits and Assorted Secrets, a collection of old favourites and buried treasures.
The greatest hits package also led to a hugely successful Canadian tour in early 2000, some of which was recorded and resulted in the bands LP Live 2000. This was the first independent release since 1985 recorded at various shows in Ontario and Quebec.
This successful reformation led to the decision to record The Pikes 7th LP in Toronto during the fall of 2000.
Truest Inspiration was released in 2001, The Pikes first studio album in 8 years, recorded and mixed by James Paul at The Rogue Music Lab in Toronto and produced by David Baxter. The song Beautiful Music from that album became a hit in Japan and The Pikes embarked on a short but intensive tour in the land of the rising sun in late June 2003, including a Canada Day concert at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo.
In February 2003 the band began work on their 8th LP It’s A Good Life in their hometown of Saskatoon, recorded, mixed and co-produced by Ross Nykiforuk at Cosmic Pad Studios.
In the new era of social media and self promotion The Pikes ventured to film 3 music videos for Blame The Song, Underwater and It's A Good Life with Saskatoon filmographer George Hupka in March of '03, it had been 10 years since their last music video Everything from the Neptune album. It's A Good Life was a hit with Pikes fans everywhere and the band continued touring into the second decade of the new millennium, with all of the members pursuing various recording and film projects in addition to their work with the Pikes.
Along the way, Merl Bryck made the decision to curtail his touring schedule in 2005 & long-time sideman and musician extraordinaire Ross Nykiforuk played with the band on stage from 2006-2011.
On September 30, 2012 The Northern Pikes were inducted into the Western Canadian Music Hall of Fame in Regina, Saskatchewan as the highlight of the 2012 Western Canadian Music Awards. Longtime friend and fellow Hall of Fame member John Donnelly from The Queen City Kids introduced Jay Semko, Bryan Potvin, Merl Bryck and Don Schmid. The Pikes performed 3 songs at the induction ceremony, much to the delight of the audience.
A statement from the band about their induction into the Hall of Fame:
"This is a great honour and we have our fans to thank for this. We want to extend the deepest gratitude to each and every one of you who ever bought a Pikes record or a concert ticket and supported us on this amazing journey over the years. This is very much your award as well."
In 2016 Universal Music released ICON from the album series of the same name.
In 2017 Universal Music created a 30th Anniversary (Super-Sized) reissue of 1987's Big Blue Sky and the band embarked on a 29 city Canadian tour in celebration of the beloved album. The triple coloured vinyl edition was expanded to include a second album of all-new music from the group’s archive and a third album featuring a live recording from the legendary Horseshoe Tavern on their first national tour in 1986.
In Toronto on June 18, 2018 The Pikes received a Socan Classic Award to commemorate 100,000 radio performances in Canada for She Ain't Pretty. All 4 members Jay, Bryan, Merl & Don attended and got a chance to see an old friend Fraser Hill, the bands first manager. "It's amazing how some things in life come full circle" says Don, "hopefully we can keep on recording new music for many years to come."
In 2018 The Pikes were anxious to record their 9th LP at the National Music Centre in Calgary after they approached the band offering their impressive studio space if the Pikes felt like recording an album. "They made us an offer we couldn't refuse, they were very accommodating," says Potvin.
The Centre, which houses Canada's Music Hall Of Fame in the Studio Bell complex has a beautiful recording studio space along with some famous and classic recording equipment and instruments. "It's an amazing facility, we've recorded in some pretty outstanding studios across North America in our 30 years and this one is right up there with them," says Potvin. "It has some amazing gear, well-designed rooms, it's just over the top." The new album Forest of Love was released by Universal Music on June 7, 2019 and the band debuted the new music with 2 concerts that were filmed at the Blue Frog Studios in White Rock, BC.