Kenny Shields, the brash lead singer of Canadian rock band Streetheart who swaggered across the country's stages for decades, died of heart failure Friday. He was 69.
The Juno-winning artist was part of the homegrown brand of guitar-driven hits that became rock radio staples throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, including "Action," "Hollywood," "Look in Your Eyes," "What Kind of Love Is This," and a cover of the Rolling Stones classic "Under My Thumb."
Guitarist Jeff Neill said Shields died Friday at St. Boniface General Hospital in Winnipeg after a number of heart problems.
"At his peak he was as good as anyone who had ever picked up a mic, stood in front of a band and started singing," Neill said.
"Kenny had a confidence ... He had a dangerous element that was attractive."
Born and raised in the small farming community of Nokomis, Sask., Shields' knack for playing music started taking shape around the time he enrolled in an amateur talent show at six years old. He moved to Saskatoon to attend university where he joined local band Witness Incorporated.
Shields began travelling across Canada with the band, touring with legendary acts including Roy Orbison and Cream, but his career was sidetracked in 1970 following a car accident that left him critically injured.
After the dissolution of his first band, Shields moved to Winnipeg in 1975 to return his focus to music. He teamed up with another group from his home province, and in the years that followed, they would shuffle band members to eventually become Streetheart.
The band would record six studio albums and a double-disc live album, which garnered several achievements, including six gold records, four platinum albums and a gold single. They'd also tour with AC/DC, Styx and Max Webster and were considered one of the best-selling rock bands to emerge from Western Canada in the 1970s.
Neill says his band mate stood among the best in the business for his ability to command a stage and surprise the audience with theatrics.
"If there was something to be climbed up — put a mic in his back pocket and climb up some scaffolding — he was more than willing to do that," he said.
"That bit of excitement, that bit of the unknown, was always a part of who he was."
Bob Hallett, formerly of Great Big Sea, remembers buying tickets to the band's East Coast shows when he was a teenager. He said Streetheart was one of the top-notch Canadian rock 'n' roll acts that would play smaller cities.
"The bands that did make it this far — the Streethearts, the April Wines, the Troopers — were really special to us," Hallett remembers.
"As far as we were concerned they were the biggest bands in the world."
Streetheart was an early pioneer of music video experimentation in Canada. A clip of 1979's single "Under My Thumb" was commissioned by the band's record label to promote their album "Under Heaven or Hell," five years before MuchMusic would hit the airwaves.
The band also brought home a Juno Award for most promising group of the year in 1980.
Around that time they faced conflicts behind the scenes, which led to band mates Paul Dean and Matt Frenette exiting to form Loverboy.
Even after the original Streetheart lineup dissolved, Shields continued to play music, touring for years as the Kenny Shields Band in the 1980s.
By the late 1990s, some members of the band reunited as Kenny Shields and Streetheart and began appearing at festival shows across the country.
The band was inducted into the Western Canadian Music Association Hall of Fame in 2003.
"I never really ever aspired to be in anything like this," Shields said during the ceremony. "I never would have planned it."
Despite some heart problems in the past, Shields continued to perform until earlier this year when illness forced him to back out of a 40th anniversary tour.
Earlier this month, the singer became confused and disoriented during a Canada Day concert in Sherwood Park, Alta. The band quickly scrapped their tour with an announcement on Facebook.
Streetheart planned to play a farewell concert at the Winnipeg Classic RockFest next month as a tribute to Shields, with friends substituting for the singer. Organizers say their performance is still moving forward on Aug. 29 as scheduled.
Shields is survived by his wife and daughter.