Normal, Illinois seems an unlikely landing pad for the lead guitarist and songwriter of an iconic Canadian rock band.
"My wife Deanna is from here," said Honeymoon Suite's Derry Grehan before smiling a deep breath while scanning his brain for a 30-odd year ago memory. "We we were opening for Heart at the Peoria Civic Center, and we met at a record store that day."
Honeymoon Suite was touring at the time on the strength of their album "The Big Prize," which spawned their biggest U.S. charting single "Feel It Again." That song spent 16 weeks on the charts during a time when even a song that peaked at #34 brought major acclaim and opportunity.
"It got us so much exposure," said Grehan. "MTV was happening. We were jumping from tour to tour, we had songs on Miami Vice, and things were just cooking along. We were on the road constantly ... it was a great time."
It was a long way from their bar band days in Ontario playing Billy Idol and A Flock Of Seagulls covers.
"Our first American tour was opening for Jethro Tull if you can believe that. But we didn't care, we were on a bus playing arenas. it was just so fantastic to have your dream realized. It was a lot of fun," said Grehan.
That dream can also be demanding and unhealthy. He addressed that head-on writing lines for the title track of Honeymoon Suites just released album "Hands Up."
For a moment I was standing on top of the world/I was living out the life they all paid to see
But I didn’t like the view up there/So I burned it down and brought it back to me
"I wrote that, and it's kind of related to that time. What was it like on the road? It was fun, but man it was A LOT of work," said Grehan.
That work included radio and other constant promotional appearances, as well as essentially living on a bus. It can sound like a fairy tale to someone who has never lived the grind for months on end that leads to inevitable burnout.
"A lot of times people think we're all millionaires and it's such a fantasy," said Grehan, "but they don't see the dirty part of it like sleeping on a bus. So sometimes the fantasy is better than the reality. A lot of bands crashed and burned out of that. For those that survived, and I like to think of myself as a survivor ... still happy and healthy and a career after all these years ... it takes some doing, you've got to keep your head together."
Surrounded by drugs, alcohol, adoring fans, and TV exposure, how did Grehan summon the will to avoid the ubiquitous traps and potholes along the path of musical stardom?
"I was smart enough to realize that I'm a songwriter, and at the end of the day this is a job that's actually earning me a living," said Grehan. "So everything in moderation. You party a bit, but if you're not present and your mind isn't clear, you're not going to write good songs. And I wanted to stay in it. I didn't want to get a job."
Now a grizzled rock veteran, though he looks a good ten to fifteen years younger than a guy approaching 60, Grehan continues writing and touring with Honeymoon Suite. And he's proud as you would guess that his 15-year old daughter sang background on a cut from "Hands Up." "Market Square" was written by lead singer Johnnie Dee to document how father and daughter collaborate musically.
"She does play shows around Bloomington-Normal all the time, and when she was younger I was doing them with her," said Grehan. "So we would go to 'Market Square' (a fictitious place that can be interpreted as including Uptown Circle in Normal) and Johnnie thought that was so cool, so he wrote the song loosely based around me and Leah."
It's the end of "Market Square" where Leah gets to shine.
"Johnnie suggested somewhere along the way that maybe Leah could sing along to the track," said Grehan. "And I actually got her down in the studio in my house one day and said 'Leah there's a little spot at the end where you could kind of answer Johnnie.' So she tried it and it turned out great, so we put it on there."
The "Hands Up" album is now available at outlets including Amazon and iTunes. Grehan said Honeymoon Suite will kick off a Canadian tour March 25.
WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.