Symphonic Slam

Symphonic Slam was a Canadian maximalist rock trio that released a self-titled album on A&M in 1976. Two years later, frontman Timo Laine issued a solo album on Lady Records that bore the band’s nameplate.

Members: Timo Laine (guitar, vocals), John Lowery (drums), David Stone (keyboards)


Background

Symphonic Slam was the brainchild of Timo Laine*, a Finnish-American guitarist–keyboardist who bounced between Los Angeles and San Francisco with multiple projects before he settled in Toronto and formed the original trio lineup. (*Not Timo Aleksander Laine, the Finnish speed racer.) 

Laine was born and raised in Finland till age six when his family relocated to California. He took up guitar and keyboards and worked for a time as a tutor. In 1969, he emerged in Zebra, a psychedelic LA hard-rock quintet with bassist Noe Cruz. They cut one single, “Helter-Skelter” (b/w “Wasted”), for Miramar Records, a venture of Hollywood producer Tony Cary, who optioned a full album from the band but died of an overdose before the project came to fruition.>

In 1973, Laine linked with Neil Merryweather, a journeyman bassist (Ivar Avenue Reunion, Mama Lion, Heavy Cruiser) who assembled the Space Rangers, a space-rock band that issued the 1974–75 Mercury albums Space Rangers and Kryptonite. Laine parted ways before the first album’s release but later claimed a formative role in the project.


Formation

As symphonic-rock and jazz-rock fusion took hold, Laine envisioned a grand hybrid of jazz, electronic, avant-garde, and hard-rock sounds. Through 360 Systems founder Robert Easton, Timo acquired a proto-type Spectre guitar-synthesizer, which retailed for $10,000 ($60,000 in 2024 currency).> The polyphonic unit had inputs for six synthesizers (one for each guitar string) and generated a wealth of sound (thick fuzz, lavish strings, envelope filtering, phaser–flanger effects). Laine’s device placed him at the developmental forefront of guitar-synth sound integration. Purportedly, Stevie Wonder (a recent TONTO user) made Timo a hefty offer to purchase the unit.

Laine cut demos with the unit in San Francisco for Epic Records. After a fallout with the producer, he relocated to Toronto and built his name on the local circuit. In 1975, Toronto’s then-progressive CHUM-FM radio station aired one of Laine’s Epic demos. The exposure won him a deal with A&M.

Laine formed Symphonic Slam with keyboardist David Stone and drummer John Lowery. After nine months of rehearsals and sessions, they produced an album.


Symphonic Slam

Symphonic Slam released their self-titled album in September 1976 on A&M. It features ten Timo Laine originals, including “Let it Grow,” “Everytime,” and the single “I Won’t Cry.”

Laine plays guitar in concert with the 360 Systems Polyphonic Guitar Synthesizer. David Stone plays additional keyboard and shares backing vocals with drummer John Lowery.

A1. “Universe” (6:39)
A2. “Everytime” (4:22)
A3. “Fold Back” (2:48)
A4. “I Won’t Cry” (2:51)
A5. “Let It Grow” (3:53)
B1. “Modane Train” (4:17) concerns the December 1917 French troop-train derailment that killed 675 people in Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne. It remained the deadliest railway accident in history at the time of this album. (In June 1981, a passenger-train derailment in Bihar, India, claimed more than 800 lives.)
B2. “Times Run Short” (2:46)
B3. “Days” (4:58)
B4. “Summer Rain” (3:54)
B5. “How Do You Stand” (4:55)

Sessions occurred at Phase One Studios, a just-opened Toronto facility where co-owner George Semkiw produced and engineered Symphonic Slam in sequence with the 1976 debuts by Triumph, Walter Rossi, and the THP Orchestra.

Symphonic Slam features cover art by German-French painter Mati Klarwein (1932–2002), whose elaborate surrealist imagery also graces album covers for Miles Davis (Bitches Brew), Santana (Abraxis), Earth Wind & Fire (Last Days and Time), The Chamber Brothers (New Generation), Osibisa (Heads), and the first album by Tempest. On Symphonic Slam, Klarwein presents a portrait image of a flaming haired blond woman whose neck adjoins to the nose of her enlarged holographic replica, which sends eye-rays down on two shadowy men on a disco floor that leads to a mountain range with clouds and eagles overhead.

A&M Canada lifted “I Won’t Cry” as a promo 7″ (mono b/w stereo) and a standard-issue single (b/w “Fold Back”).


Developments

Symphonic Slam performed the album on a transatlantic tour. They regaled UK and North American audiences with lavish costumes and space-age stage props. Select dates featured double-bills with Gentle Giant (2/23/77: Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto) and fellow Canadian electro-rock trio FM.

After their showcase at Toronto’s Massey Hall, David Stone accepted an invitation to Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. Stone replaced keyboardist Tony Carey on the 1978 Rainbow album Long Live Rock ‘n Roll.  However, Blackmore replaced him with ex-Colosseum II keyboardist Don Airey on the 1979 Rainbow release Down to Earth. Stone then played on 1980 albums by BB Gabor and Max Webster (Universal Juveniles).

Laine returned to Los Angeles and commenced work on a second album at A&M Studios with Lowery and bassist Noel Cruz (Timo’s onetime Zebra bandmate). When A&M balked at the half-finished album, Lowery and Cruz dispersed. Undeterred, Laine set up Lady Records for the project, which he completed with a new four-piece lineup with keyboardist Linda Nardini, percussionist Jan Uvena, and Bronx-born bassist Jimmy Haslip, a recent sessionist for Gino Vannelli and Crosby Stills & Nash.

As a sessionist, Laine played on “Dreamstripper,” a track from the 1977 Anibus Records release Gateway by Canadian electronic musician John Mills-Cockell.


Timo SS II 

In the spring of 1978, the second Symphonic Slam album, SS II, appeared under Timo’s forename.

Side A features the current four-piece lineup with Jan Uvena, Linda Nardini, and (excepting “Cyclops”) Jimmy Haslip. Side B features the mid-1977 lineup with Noe Cruz and Symphonic Slam drummer John Lowery.

Timo Laine plays the 360 Systems Polyphonic Guitar Synthesizer across SS II. On “Megalomania” and across Side A, he uses a Moog Taurus bass pedal.

A1. “Cyclops” (7:10) features Uvena on tabla.
A2. “The Nights About To Come” (4:28)
A3. “Dream” (3:49)
A4. “Do Me Slow” (4:46)
B1. “No One Knows” (4:46)
B2. “Keep Freedom In Your Heart” (4:10)
B3. “Megalomania” (5:35)
B4. “J.J. Jane” (3:05)
B5. “I’m On My Way” (4:22)

Sessions took place in Los Angeles at A&M Studios (Side B) and Ocean Way Recording (Side B). Laine produced SS II with engineers David Iveland (A&M) and Mark Ettel (Ocean Way).

SS II appeared in a sleeve designed by graphic illustrator Max Miller. The back cover features a group photo of the Cruz–Lowery lineup posed beside a silver space-age automobile. The inner-sleeve features lyrics and captioned pictures of Timo’s 360 Systems module. The LP sports blue celestial labels with the cursive comet Lady logo. Due to budget constraints, SS II appeared in a limited quantity of 10,000 copies.


Later Activity

Jimmy Haslip played on 1979–80 albums by Robben Ford, Rod Stewart, and Ray Gomez. The Ford project spawned the Yellowjackets, who made 22 albums over the next three decades. Haslip stayed with the band for 35 years.

Jan Uvena played on Bonnie Pointer‘s 1979 solo album and joined Pipedream, a hard-rock supergroup with drummer Tim Bogert (Vanilla Fudge, Cactus) and singer Willy Daffern (Hunger, Truk, G-Force). Their self-titled album appeared in 1979 on ABC Records. Uvena did subsequent stints with Alice Cooper and Alcatrazz.

Linda Nardini resurfaced in 1985 with “Girls Talk” (b/w “Friend From Above”), a high-tech AOR-pop single with a video in which she reenacts Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra role.

Timo Laine became a sessionist, painter, and conversationalist focused on entomology (the study of insects). In 1999, he released a comeback CD, Flying Guitars, under the moniker Slam.

In 2003, David Stone resurfaced in AraPacis, a Canadian prog-metal band. As of 2023, they’ve released nine albums and three EPs.


Discography:

  • Symphonic Slam (1976)
  • Timo SS II (1978 • Timo Laine – Symphonic Slam)

Sources:

1 thought on “Symphonic Slam

  1. “Timo played a ‘360 Systems Guitar Synthesizer’. A normal guitar with a special pickup that was a pitch to voltage converter. This was hooked up to 6 separate synthesizer modules. David Stone played 2 Mini-Moogs, a Minikorg, 2 Mellotrons, Arp String Ensemble, Arp Omni, Fender Rhodes, grand piano, clavinet, organ, and Moog bass pedals on this album. He played most of the bass lines with his left hand on either a mini-moog or minikorg depending on what else he was playing with his right. Some bass lines were done on the Moog/Taurus bass pedals. The band sounded a lot better live, as it was impossible to capture their dynamics on record. A lot of what you are thinking is keyboard synthesizer is actually Timo.” – Ed Maile, YouTube

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