Prince Rupert’s Kim Kahl is a rocker — a musician who follows the beat whichever way it flows. Whether it’s around the province or over international ground, for decades he’s sung his own tunes and those of others with various bands, most recently with his Vancouver-based AC/DC tribute group Rock or Bust.
Kahl grew up a Rupert boy, with some of his fondest memories dirt biking around Moresby Creek when he was barely out of diapers. He said was just five-years-old when he would push his Honda 50 cc across the street from his family home on McBride to hightail it around the woods.
“We’d see the odd bear or wolf or whatever. It was a different time back then. You just did it. It was the norm,” he said.
“Me and my friend Matthew McBennet would go hang out down at the docks. We’d bicycle or walk. Go from the coop to the ferry terminal. We’d fish off the docks when the fishing plant was open. Back in the day, it was no big deal. We just did it.”
It was a much freer time, he said. It was the 1970s on the North Coast of B.C. where things were wilder and rock music infiltrated the hearts of youth.
His parents moved their family to the North Coast city in 1969 when he was just a year old to be closer to family. His grandparents, aunts and uncles were living in Prince Rupert and it became home to him as the baby of the family with an older sister and brother.
He recalls summer camping at Lakelse in Terrace and winter skating on Rainbow Lake. But, most of all, the nighttime bonfires at Diana Lake where everyone would tune up their guitars and sing, are the memories that hold the melodies in his heart.
“My family has always been very musically orientated. My mom played guitar, my dad played,” he said, adding his uncle played in a band called the Astronauts that was known around town.
“As kids, being four or five, we’re hanging around the campfire, they’re all strumming guitar along with their friends. So, I was always around music.”
He said it was when he was six or seven that he started banging on the drum and soon after, his mom taught him a few chords on the guitar.
“Before I knew it, I was developing this new skill into learning how to play. I taught myself how to play, how to sing, how to get into the music industry,” he said. “So I’ve always been around it all my life — someone was always playing or singing.”
It was no wonder that music struck the right note for him during his teenage years. It was the 80s and some Gen Xers would say music was at its best.
He started putting bands together and playing at high school dances in the afternoon or rocked it out at the odd party. But it was when he was 18 that the music industry played the right chord for him and he was hooked.
“I met some people that were playing the nightclub scene and I thought, wow this is cool. These people are travelling all over. I want to get into this.”
Soon after, music became his full-time jam and he was on the road. With five or six different personalities of various musicians, some of the bands didn’t last long, others stuck around for a while. Mostly they all played top 40’s rock, he said, belting out tunes from Roxy Rollers, Trooper and Prism, among others.
“Just good old rock and roll … a little CCR, AC/DC, Motley Crew, anything that was danceable,” he said.
“I wasn’t making much. Sometimes $100 to $200 a week. But it was ‘hey, I’m out and I’m rockin’ it,” he said, adding he was a young man of 18 to 24 touring around having fun, so marriage or settling down was far from his mind.
He said throughout the years, he played in various types of bands and made music his life. He toured all over the province and country, playing gigs around the north coast in Prince Rupert at a place called Bogies, Terrace and Smithers at the Bulkey Inn. He’d play booked venues for one-week time frames.
“… all these places were on Monday to Saturday tear down. Sunday, we’d be somewhere new for Monday. This was the norm, this went on for years and years. This is just what we did. It was a living, I made my living that way.”
But then the 90s hit with techno music coming into play. It was heartbreaking, he said to see all the good rock ’n’ roll bands get pushed behind the curtain in place of DJs and electronics.
The rock ’n’ roll pub scene crashed.
“The bars started saying, ‘hey, you know there’s a new trend happening here and we don’t want to pay these bands $3,000 a week when we can now pay some DJ 50 bucks a night. So it took us out of the market. It was that way for a long, long, long time and many, many years. There were no clubs anymore to play in. It was done. The music industry was done playing nightclubs.”
He said it was awful for everyone he knew because they were having a great time with an amazing lifestyle.
We were so free. It was disheartening [when the industry crashed].”
He said his time on the road, which took him to Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Inuvik, had come to the end.
“It was terrible not to be able to do this anymore. We had to find a new source of life. So a bunch of us cut our hair and went got some ‘real jobs’.”
Kim said he bought some trucks and trailers, but that lasted for a short time only as fuel prices and insurance skyrocketed. He got into autobody repair and painting cars, which is his main income gig today.
However, he said he is hoping to change that with a resurgence of heavy rock striking the beat again. Through the 90s and the new millennium, he never gave up music. He kept playing and even goes to Mexico a few times a year to play with other musicians who have moved down there. With more experience, onstage maturity, plus a changing voice which highlights the gravelly tones of a seasoned singer, someone suggested he needed to sing some AC/DC.
It was in 2019 he formed Rock or Bust, a tribute band to the 1973-formed Australian group, which, in just three years, has become well-known and tours all over the province. He said the band is now a few in and is tight. It helps the musical cohesiveness that they are all along for the same ride.
Rock or Bust is returning to the Lester Centre as the first stop on the band’s Northern Tour, with a kickoff performance on March 24. Their Northern tour of back-to-back dates will have audiences rocking in Terrace at the R.E.M. Lee Theatre on March 25. The band will offer follow-up performances in Prince George on March 27, Fort St. John on March 28 and will close out with a final performance in Grand Prairie on March 31.
Despite now being ‘a little older’ at 54, there is still a lot of music left to play and he’s looking at ways to segue back to music full-time. Touring around B.C. isn’t his or the band’s final act. Kahl said he’d like to sail the show into international waters and is looking at gigs on cruise ships or resorts where tribute bands are highly popular.
“When we were younger, we didn’t care about money. We had no car payments or mortgages,” he said.”Today we have families and jobs. We need to get creative on how we are going to tour and keep the music alive.”
The Rock or Bust band is made up of Kahl as the singer, Robert McDougall playing the role of Angus Young as lead guitar, Robert Graves playing rhythm guitar as Malcolm Young, Rob Senft as the drummer, Kenny Fishowner as the bassist, Nick Tyzio is the sound technician and Kahl’s wife Monica is the road manager.
Kahl said thankfully, revitalization of old-school rock ’n’ roll is already rolling down the highways. He encourages youth to get into it because there is no one coming up behind them to carry on the riffs.
“The industry is opening up again. People want a band,” he said. “Who is going to replace all these awesome iconic bands when they start dying off and there is no one to replace them? We need new imprints in the world.”
But for now, he just wants to keep on rocking his way to Prince Rupert and the North Coast on his way to his next show in Mexico on April 3.
K-J Millar | Editor and Multimedia Journalist
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