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MIKE RENO: THE INVISIBLE ROCK STAR OF LOVERBOY

Times Staff Writer

Mike Reno is an invisible rock star.

It’s not likely that many rock fans know he’s the lead singer of Loverboy, the popular Canadian band appearing Friday at the Forum. In most places, he admitted, people don’t recognize him.

At brunch recently, Reno, 31, mused about his invisibility. “In a Beverly Hills restaurant like this you’d expect to find some hip people, some people who know rock music,” he said. “But I bet nobody here knows who I am.” He certainly wasn’t being besieged by autograph hunters. Nobody even stared at him.

On the one hand, he relished going unnoticed. “I wouldn’t like it if I was so well known that I couldn’t even have a meal in a restaurant in peace,” he said.

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Yet, his profile may be a bit too low. “I was just talking about that with the guys in the band,” he said. “Outside the concert halls, we’re not that recognizable. There are some drawbacks to that.”

That low profile is at least partly by choice. Reno, guitarist Paul Dean, bassist Scott Smith, drummer Matt Frenette and keyboard player Doug Johnson largely avoid the media. They rarely do interviews. A primary reason is their feeling that they’re not too exciting.

Reno stopped just short of labeling himself boring. His list of what he’s not was fairly extensive.

“I’m not flashy, or outrageous or flamboyant,” said Reno, the stereotypic nice guy--pleasant, likable, unassuming. “I’m not especially witty. I’m not going to talk circles around you or flabbergast you with my wit. You won’t die laughing at anything I say.

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“I’m no David Lee Roth (the former Van Halen star). He’ll dazzle you. He’ll give you great quotes. He has the pizazz to do a great interview--I don’t. I won’t say I’m boring, but I’m not wildly exciting either.”

Some singers who seem ordinary off stage turn tiger when performing. So maybe on stage Reno is miraculously transformed into this electrifying bundle of energy who oozes charisma?

Not really.

He’s not a dazzling performer. He gets the job done with a minimum of flash.

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As an up-tempo rock singer, he’s not going to challenge guys like Paul Rodgers, Bob Seger or Bruce Springsteen. There’s just not enough fire in his voice on the faster material. Reno’s vocals are fairly smooth and emotional. They’re neither gritty nor gut-wrenching. And he does not go in for screeching.

But he is a first-rate rock ballad singer--one of the best, actually. When the tempo slows down, his voice really soars. The problem is that when it comes to rock ballads, Loverboy’s cupboard is just about bare.

“We always concentrated on the fast rock stuff,” he said. “We wanted to master that first. But we’re starting to get into ballads.”

Reno’s big moment of pop glory came with a ballad--but not with Loverboy. In 1984, he had a Top 10 single with “Almost Paradise,” a duet with Heart’s Ann Wilson. The song is grandiose and hokey, but with those powerhouse vocals commanding all the attention, the flaws in the material aren’t that noticeable. Reno proved himself by simply being able to keep up with Wilson, rock’s premier female singer.

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Many don’t realize just how successful Loverboy, formed by Reno and Paul Dean in 1978, really is. Its 1980 debut album, “Loverboy” (on Columbia Records), sold 1.5 million. The second, “Get Lucky,” sold more than 3 million and the third, “Keep It Up,” more than 2 million. The current album, “Lovin’ Every Minute of It,” is closing in on 2 million. It also features the group’s first two Top 10 singles, “Lovin’ Every Minute of It” and “This Could Be the Night.”

This success hasn’t swayed the critics, who frequently lash out at Loverboy’s music, which many consider white-bread rock ‘n’ roll.

The music really isn’t adventurous. Reno is the first to admit that: “We don’t do a lot of experimenting. We basically do songs about lost love or new love. We keep it simple.”

Rather than exploring new territory, they merely fine-tune their poppish rock sound. Loverboy proudly cruises down the middle of the road.

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“That’s where we’re at musically,” he said. “We’re commercial. That’s a dirty word to some people, but not to us. We’re middle of the road and commercial. We’re not trying to hide it either.

“We don’t really try to be middle of the road. That’s the way the songs turn out. That’s probably because that’s the way we are--the music reflects our personalities. As people, we’re in the middle, that comfortable middle.”

Musically, is there any possibility of change? “Maybe a few albums down the road,” he replied. “But it’s hard to beat the middle. It’ll be tough to leave it. It’s certainly been good to us.”


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