Loverboy formed in Calgary in late 1979 and, like the city’s famous chinooks, came out of nowhere to take the music industry by storm.
The band’s live debut on Nov. 19, 1979, was opening for Kiss at Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum, and over the next decade Mike Reno (vocals), Paul Dean (guitar), Matt Frenette (drums) and Scott Smith (bass) would earn four multi-platinum albums, have numerous Top 40 hit singles in Canada and the U.S. — including classic rock radio staples “Working for the Weekend” and “Turn me Loose” — and, in 1981, win an unprecedented six Juno Awards, a one-year record that still holds today.
Despite all the accolades and enormous levels of success, the most enduring symbol of their '80s rock dominance comes down to a pair of red leather pants. And not just any red leather pants, but the red leather pants that covered an anonymous derriere on the iconic cover of Loverboy's 1981 album, Get Lucky.
For years, the famous behind was thought to belong to either Reno or Dean, as both of them chose to suffocate their lower regions in the name of sartorial panache in both music videos and live shows, opening for everyone from Def Leppard to ZZ Top in leather pants of either red or black. In the video for “Working for the Weekend,” below, Dean even seems to lay claim to the fame by not only donning red leather pants, but by turning his backside to the camera and posing his hand in a similar fashion to the Get Lucky cover (you can see it at 2:22).
But here’s where things start to get tricky. It’s clear from the video that Dean, 35 at the time, did not pose for the album cover shoot. His pants are baggy compared to the pants on the cover, which don’t leave a crack of breathing room for the model. The same goes for Reno, who, while 10 years younger, can be seen in a number of videos in pants far less tailored.
So whose butt is it? If you look at the back of the cover, the only evidence of the true identity is a mysterious credit that says “Bottom by: T.K.” It’s not much to go on, especially considering that, in journalism terms, "TK" works as a placeholder for text that isn’t ready yet. Was the band being cheeky, hiding the true identity of this mysterious "T.K."? For posterity’s sake, CBC Music decided to get to the bottom of one of the greatest enigmas in Canadian music history once and for all.
The idea for the Get Lucky cover shoot originated with Columbia Records art director John Berg and the band, who got a deal on leather pants in both black and red through an acquaintance's friend who owned a shop called Metal Leather. Berg contracted photographer David Michael Kennedy — who has shot the likes of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Blondie — to take the image, but on the day of the shoot Kennedy ran into a tight squeeze.
“My stylist went out hunting for red leather pants and you would think that in 1981, in New York City, you would have been able to find red leather pants everywhere, but we could only find one pair,” he says over the phone from New Mexico. “So she brought the pants back and they didn’t fit anybody in the band.”
They were at a standstill. Not only did the pants not fit any of the guys in the band, they didn’t fit any guys, period. The answer came to Kennedy later on that day at home.
“My 13-year-old daughter came home from school and saw the pants and said, ‘Dad I love those pants, what are they for, can I have them?’ She tried them on to see if they fit and they fit, so that's my daughter's 13-year-old butt.”
Hence the enigmatic T.K. credit on the back of the album cover: Tymara Kennedy.
“For years we never said anything,” adds Kennedy. “Why? I don’t know. I guess because then everybody wouldn’t be asking whose butt is that? We never hid anything or pretended it was anything else, but just figured, ah, let's put T.K. for the credit.”
Reno and Dean, for their part, played along, sometimes claiming it was them, while other times remaining ambiguous about who the butt belonged to, which, as their fame grew, only added to the mystery.
“If you really look at all the videos, Paul’s wearing red leather pants more than I am,” Reno told one interviewer. “Somehow they equated it with me, and I just went along with it. Why bother rocking the boat and make a big deal out of it?”
Case solved, right? Not exactly. Before we put an end to this, take a look at the cover again and notice the big, hairy wrist, which obviously does not belong to any 13-year-old girl. Does it belong to one of the band members or, as is strongly believed, the model’s father and photographer David Kennedy? Neither, it seems.
“I honestly can’t remember whose hand, but we just looked at different models’ hands and we found this one guy whose hand I liked,” says Kennedy. “So he's just standing to the side with his hands back in there.”
So there it is: two people, one image and a shortage of red leather pants (apparently Reno and Dean didn’t pack theirs on the trip to New York) resulted in one of the most iconic Canadian album covers ever, complete with a piece of trivia that still comes up more than 30 years later.
The story, however, gained a tragic footnote in 1991, when Tymara Kennedy was killed in a car accident at just 22 years old. The Get Lucky cover remains as her only credited modelling work.
“I look fondly on all the pictures of her, but this one is definitely a bit special,” says Kennedy. “She was really proud of it. It was one of the special pictures in her house. And even if it's not your face, it’s a pretty cool thing to be on a Loverboy cover. In a way, it's a little bit of a memorial for her now that people know.”
Follow Jesse Kinos-Goodin on Twitter: @JesseKG