If you went to high school in western Montana in the early ‘80s, you probably remember the teen pop-rock band The Rage. In fact, they probably played your senior prom.
The group of Sentinel High School students rose to regional prominence playing homecomings and Sadie Hawkins dances, creating a strong fan base among their peers in the Missoula area and beyond.
Some 40 years later, two members of the band have reunited to release a new double-sided single they hope will take people back to their high school heyday. The collaboration between former members Chip Whitson and Kyle Brenner resulted in two new tracks, including “Brightest One,” a slower power ballad, and its fast-paced rocker counterpart, “Wreck of Me.”
“I’m hoping maybe some old classmates might get wind of it and get excited,” Whitson said.
During his sophomore year of high school, Whitson and his friend Greg Sanders, an eighth-grader, started to learn how to play guitar together. When they met drummer Kevin Hammond, also an eighth-grader, the young trio realized they had the makings of a band. That summer, in 1981, they played the Centennial Stage at the Western Montana Fair.
“We got a really good reaction. We probably knew 10 songs at that point, just cover tunes,” he said, adding they played popular rock ‘n’ roll songs like “Twist and Shout” and “Wipe Out."
Thinking they had some steam going, they brought on Sentinel sophomore Kyle Brenner, a vocalist and guitarist, and his brother John who rounded out the band.
“Kyle had a really nice voice and knew how to sing harmony. He was integral to making us sound like a polished band,” Whitson said. The Rage was born.
They played their first gig in a friend’s basement and lost $20 because they had to rent their own PA. But they kept the Missoula area high schoolers who packed the downstairs makeshift venue dancing all night and wanting to come back for more.
Soon after, a local high-schooler had the idea to organize a dance at the fire hall in East Missoula.
“He had us come out to play this dance, that thing was full to capacity,” Whitson said. “After that, things exploded.”
The Rage began to rent out the fire hall and play there once a month, printing out flyers and posting them around town. The East Missoula haunt became a teen music and dance haven and a jumping-off point for the young musicians, as they weren’t old enough to play in the local bars.
A Missoula management group at the time called Good Music Agency soon scooped the teens up and started booking them gigs.
“We were busy 40 weekends out of the year,” Whitson said, adding in between shows, the four boys would rehearse and practice for hours on end.
In 1982, their reach grew after their original song “Break Another Heart” was chosen for the second edition of KGOQ radio’s "Montana Gold" album, a collection of songs from the top bands across the state.
“They brought us in, professionally recorded us,” Whitson said, adding he’ll never forget sitting in yearbook class at Sentinel High School and hearing their song come on the radio.
“That was certainly a thrill.”
They became the go-to entertainment for teen dances and events throughout the early '80s, with Whitson and Brenner playing their own prom, as well as the very first Missoula senior night party in 1984.
“We had a lot of help throughout the community. They took us under their wing, attended our shows, supported us,” Whitson said. “We played the hits that kids our age wanted to hear and we looked like them. We were their age and that worked out well for us.”
When Whitson and Brenner graduated, the members went their separate ways. Brenner started a band called The Max with his brother John, which is still active today in the Livingston area. Whitson started his own group, The CoupRs, and has played clubs throughout the Northwest.
Last year, Whitson realized he had a couple of songs lying around that weren’t a great fit for anything he was doing on his own. Remembering his former bandmate’s vocal chops, he reached out to Brenner to see if he might be interested in a collaboration.
With the help of Whitson’s son Jesse Lionberger, the duo recorded the double-sided single and revived their high school pop-rock roots.
“It sounded like The Rage, like what we did in high school,” Whitson said, adding working with Brenner again was nostalgic.
“That chemistry is forever there. There’s a certain fabric we’re made of and when you put it together, it still sounds like that fabric,” he said.
Now that a spark has reignited between them, Whitson and Brenner hope they can organize a reunion show for The Rage with the rest of the members in Missoula sometime soon.
“We all live in separate communities now, but Missoula is still the hub. We all still refer to Missoula as home,” Whitson said. “It would be fun to rent the East Missoula fire hall one more time, hold a dance there and drive the community nuts with a bunch of old people our age showing up.”
In the meantime, he and Brenner are working on another collaboration, recording an updated version of their Montana Gold album hit “Break Another Heart.”
They’re hoping their cohort from The Rage’s days of success in the '80s will find the new double-sided single through social media, as many have kept in touch through the years.
“We don’t expect to make money, but if it brings a smile or a laugh from some old classmates, that would be great,” Whitson said.