R.I.P. Michael Armstrong of King Cobb Steelie and Change of Heart

"Mike was one of the most humble and gentlest souls that I ever encountered or had the pleasure to work with"

BY Alex HudsonPublished Apr 21, 2022

Michael Armstrong, a Toronto musician know for his work as a percussionist with King Cobb Steelie and Change of Heart, has died.

Armstrong was 58. He died of a cardiac event, the exact nature of which is being determined.

The percussionist was a member of the Toronto music community dating back to the '80s, when he was an early member of Change of Heart and later left that band to join King Cobb Steelie. He also played with Change of Heart's Ian Blurton in the early band Jolly Tambourine Man. He reportedly also recorded with Fucked Up and hHead.

King Cobb Steelie's Kevan Byrne said in a statement to Exclaim!:

Michael was a dear friend and kindred musical spirit. We are devastated by this loss and grieve with the music community that he was so much a part of. We will miss him forever.

Michael joined KCS just after our eponymous debut (1991). He had recorded some percussion on that album but formally left Change of Heart to join us in 1993. He played percussion on
Project Twinkle (1994) and Junior Relaxer (1997) and became a full songwriting partner, crafting samples and looped beats on Mayday (2000), Destroy All Codes (2007) and Goodbye Arcadia (2011).

Change of Heart's Bernard Maiezza gave the following statement to Exclaim!

I first met Mike Armstrong as teenagers in 1983, when he and I, along with Ian Blurton, were at SEED Alternative High School. He was already in Jolly Tambourine Man at that point, but it wasn't long before Ian talked him into joining Change of Heart as well as my first "psychedelic punk" band, Slightly Damaged, in which Ian and I were the "rhythm section." At the time, we were really into the whole tribal feel of that era, especially that first Hunters & Collectors album, and Mike was "the secret weapon" in that regard. It was fun to watch his collection of percussion instruments grow back in the early days of jamming in Ian's mom's basement, including, but not limited to: timbales, shakers, congas, bongos, vibraslap, tone box and, my fave at the time, this giant pylon thing with broken cymbals. When we were recording our early self-produced 4-track recordings, Ian and I used to have a lot of fun processing his percussion through space echoes, flangers, digital delays, etc., which he was always game for.

He was an essential part of Change of Heart from those early days right up until his departure in '94, when we started to embark on the
Tummysuckle sessions. At that point, COH were becoming a bit heavier, and arrangements were becoming more guitar-centric, and Mike had an opportunity to join King Cobb Steelie. Usually, it's a bit of a downer when a beloved band member gives their notice, and I am not implying that he was not missed, but in this case, I think we were all very supportive of this move as that band proved to be a perfect fit for him and he had so much more room to cut loose and "groove" as member of KCS.

Mike was one of the most humble and gentlest souls that I ever encountered or had the pleasure to work with. I can not think of a single time that I had a cross word or a disagreement with him and he was always the most positive of influences, and often "the voice of reason." His demeanour was always very calming, and the contribution he made to COH goes way beyond his recorded or performing output with the band.

He was also a very dear friend who was always there for me to lend a helping hand whenever I asked. Sadly, it occurs to me now that I don't ever recall him asking me for help with anything, but that really is just the kind of person that he was. He was very much loved by most all that knew him, not only for his exceptional talents, but for being such a solid, dependable and straight-up mensch. His sudden passing leaves a deep hole in the collective hearts of our community.

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