A drummer's personal Saga

Hamilton-born Steve Negus, co-founder of the seminal prog rock group, breaks away with a solo disc and his own vision

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
September 19, 2007 at 4:06 AM EDT

Percussionist Steve Negus is not one for doing things the traditional way. You could say he

drums to the march of a different beat.

Original Article

Before helping found Saga, one of the legendary prog rock quintets of our time, the Hamilton-born Negus played for a heavy-metal group, a rhythm and blues group and a 1950's-style show band dubbed Bananas.

Before that, he was a management trainee for the Bank of Montreal.

These days, the so-hailed lord of the drums has a new project, one that coincides with Saga's 30th anniversary: He's about to release his own CD, entitled Dare to Dream.

"I had all this great material and I offered it to Saga, but they weren't interested," Negus explained. "I didn't think it would take almost four years to complete, but I wanted to makea great album and I think I've done that."

Negus did it his way from start to finish, by playing drums (left-handed, a rarity among his (brethren), guitar and keyboards. He also produced and brought in various musicians, such as former Saga keyboardist Jim Gilmour, to help fill out the sound he wanted.

Every track on Dare to Dream is penned by Negus and singer Al Langlade. How they teamed together is a whole other saga.

Looking for a little advice, Negus sent a few of his songs to Langlade, who has known Negus for years and has his own recording studio in Thunder Bay. Langlade listened to the songs, added some vocals, then shipped them back to a surprised Negus in Hamilton.

The exchange was done on the Internet, with the two collaborators sending one another e-mails and files. It was the beginning of a virtual partnership.

"When Al sent the songs back, I really liked his voice," Negus said. "Throughout the whole process, we were never in the same room. I'd send him a chord change and he'd send it back with a vocal change and we'd do it, say, eight or nine times each in the course of a day."

Negus left Saga in the summer of 2003 bent on doing a solo CD as quickly as he could. He had been with the band from the very beginning, back when it was originally dubbed Pockets.

At its height, Saga had several hits such as Wind Him Up, On the Loose and Scratching the Surface, numbers that still get considerable air play on classic rock FM stations throughout North America.

Negus left the group in 1986 figuring he was done for good, only to rejoin, then quit again. Asked why he wanted out from a band that has recorded 18 albums (not counting live efforts and compilations) and is still cashing in on its popularity, Negus replied: "The charm that Saga had when we started, certainly it was progressive rock but there was an organic quality to it; the sounds we got. And that later went away.

"Saga was a shared vision, but I was sharing more of their vision than mine."

Having invested his soul in Dare to Dream, Negus soon surrendered his heart. Another musical pal, guitarist Mark Severn, helped out on several songs and quickly established himself as a key contributor to Negus's vision.

After watching Saga perform at the 2006 Canada Day celebration in Hamilton, Negus received a phone call telling him that Severn had been killed in a car accident. Dare to Dream is dedicated from one friend to another.

"He played some wonderful solos and I miss him," Negus has written on the CD's linear notes. "It is still hard to hear some of his performances without getting teary-eyed."

Dare to Dream is what Negus calls "a groove album." Some cuts are rocky; some are almost funky (catch the guitar work in Nightmare); and then there's I Rest My Case, a tasty little track where the lord gets to cut loose on the drum kit in a tribal, rhythmic manner.

"Did I plan [for the CD] to come out on Saga's 30th anniversary? This is when it came together," Negus said of his project. "I've done it on my own; with my own label. I recorded it here and can distribute it over the Net off my website. I decided to take control of my own destiny.

"There are still a lot of unanswered questions, a lot of work to do, but I'm glad I did it. It had to be done."

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