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OPINION: Teenage Head guitarist's death silences 'quiet giant'

Gord Lewis, key component of iconic Ontario band, 'was a quiet and gentle man who spoke with his time-worn and battle-scarred Gibson guitar'

Canada has lost an unsung guitar hero, a quiet giant in the long and storied rock ’n’ roll history of this country.

Gord Lewis was the bedrock Hamilton punk-rock pioneers Teenage Head were built upon.

News quickly spread throughout social media over the past few days that Lewis had been found dead in his apartment and his son charged with murder.

Tributes poured out from shocked peers and fans alike.

Tom Wilson, musician and fellow Hamiltonian, wrote on Twitter about his longtime pal and his impact on the local scene, “Gord Lewis was a friend, a gentle man with a wild desire who burned up the air with a Les Paul Jr. and a Marshall stack. He was a pioneer who took us where we’d never been.”

Lewis and his bandmates blazed a trail for up-and-coming punk bands in the late 1970s along with the likes of The Diodes, Viletones, and others.

Paul Robinson, lead singer of the Toronto punk band The Diodes, remembered the milestone of playing in New York City with Teenage Head at the height of punk rock in the Big Apple.

“We were just kids when we played CBGBs together in the summer of ’77, bravely helping to put Canada on the map as an innovative contender for new original music. I’m sad it had to end like this, devastated,” he said.

Unlike many of the other bands that quickly crashed and burned with the flameout of the first wave of punk, Teenage Head survived, albeit with hiccups along the way, and evolved into the go-to party band on the circuit for decades.

Deeply etched into the history of the band is its infamous Ontario Place gig in June of 1980 that ended in a riot that led the venue to ban rock music there for several years. This event followed a previous riot at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto in 1978 after that show was shut down by police.

Despite all the controversy, Lewis was a quiet and gentle man who spoke with his time-worn and battle-scarred Gibson guitar, with its chipped and worn paint and sweat-rusted pickups. To many die-hard fans, it is as iconic as Lewis himself.

His infectious signature riffs on songs like Little Boxes, Top Down, Lucy Potato, Disgusteen, Drivin’ Wild, along with their radio hits, Let’s Shake and Some Kinda Fun, cement Lewis as one of the great rock guitarists in Canada.

Mental health issues would later take their toll on Lewis after the death of his friend and bandmate, Frankie Venom (Frank Kerr), in 2008. The struggles with depression became a central story in the highly acclaimed TVO documentary about the band, called Picture My Face: The Story of Teenage Head.

Dave “Rave” DesRoches, current singer of the band, was interviewed in the documentary and boiled down what Lewis is to Teenage Head.

“There’s always one guy, right? It’s Keith Richards with the Stones, right? Or Johnny Thunders on the Dolls, right? That’s what Gord is,” he said.

Bassist and co-founder Steve Mahon has declared Teenage Head will honour Lewis with the remaining concerts the band already has booked on its schedule. The guitarist of the group Headstones, Trent Carr, will be taking over guitar duties for these shows.