Crash Vegas was launched in 1987 as a side project by guitarist Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo, a fan of rootsy Toronto singer/songwriter Michelle McAdorey who wanted to give McAdorey a chance to front her own band. McAdorey and Keelor went about recruiting ex-Martha & the Muffins bassist Jocelyne Lanois and drummer Ambrose Pottie into the CV lineup, and started gigging regularly in and around Toronto during lulls in Blue Rodeo's schedule. Within a matter of months, however, Crash Vegas was too popular an attraction for Keelor to maintain his commitment to both bands; he bowed out on amicable terms, and was replaced by Colin Cripps, formerly of the Spoons. Quickly signed to Blue Rodeo's Risque Disque label, Crash Vegas recorded their first album, Red Earth, in 1989 with some help from Keelor on guitar. The album spawned the single "Inside Out," a Top 20 hit in Canada, and received positive notices in the U.S. and Canada for its winning combination of folk-rock influences, as well as for McAdorey's powerful, youthful vocals.
Unfortunately, Risque Disque folded in 1990, and Crash Vegas was left without a label for a few years. During this time Lanois (who had been frustrated in her attempts to include more of her material to the band's repertoire) left and was replaced by Darren Watson. Eventually signed to Polygram, Crash Vegas finally released their sophomore album in 1993, the somewhat harder-edged Stone, which had one track mixed by Nirvana producer Butch Vig and also featured a songwriting and vocal contribution from CV fan Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum. Though positively reviewed, this new, slightly grungier version of Crash Vegas didn't generate any hits, and shortly after Stone's release Crash Vegas once again found themselves label-less.
The band had some well-known friends in the business though, and they kept themselves busy with an appearance on the 1993 charity single "Land," a single track credited to Midnight Oil, Daniel Lanois, Hothouse Flowers, Crash Vegas, and the Tragically Hip. They also had some fans at Sony Music Canada, and were invited to contribute to that label's Neil Young tribute, Borrowed Tunes, in 1994. The resulting track, a bravura take on Young's grim-yet-hopeful "Pochahontas," was picked as the lead single from the album, and Crash Vegas unexpectedly found themselves back on the Canadian charts after an absence of five years.
Even as the single was climbing the charts, however, the band was falling apart; both Pottie and Watson left Crash Vegas while in the midst of recording the group's next project, their full-length Sony debut. The CD in question, Aurora, appeared in 1995 to high expectations and generally good reviews, but somewhat puzzling, to relatively low sales. McAdorey and Cripps, now the only members of Crash Vegas, conscripted the Phleg Camp rhythm section of Eric Chenaux (bass) and Gavin Brown (drums) to back them up on a Canadian and European tour in 1995-1996; but with their career momentum having stalled yet again, the duo decided to pack it in at the tour's conclusion. McAdorey subsequently embarked upon a relatively low-profile solo career, releasing her debut album Whirl in 2000; Cripps joined Junkhouse, and also worked as a sideman for Jim Cuddy, Colin Linden, and others. ~ Rudyard Kennedy