The band was originally formed in 1981 by lead vocalist and guitarist Johnnie Dee (of Niagara Falls, Ontario), Keyboardist Brad Bent (of Toronto, Ontario), and original drummer Mike Lengyell, formerly with The Diodes. By 1983, the line-up changed, with Dee (the only original remaining member) now on rhythm guitar and lead vocals, along with new recruits Derry Grehan on lead guitar and Dave Betts on drums. Grehan became the band’s primary songwriter, and penned “New Girl Now,” which won them an unsigned band contest put on by Toronto radio station Q107.
Various keyboard players and bassists came and left during this time, but on the strength of “New Girl Now,” WEA Canada signed the band to the label. Ray Coburn was added as a permanent new member on keyboards as the sessions got underway for the group’s debut LP, but the band still had no bass player, so bassist Brian Brackstone was recruited as a session player. Brackstone played on the entire album; bassist Gary Lalonde (formerly with Rose and Toronto) was added to the line-up after the album was completed, and appeared in the album’s group photos and played with the band live.
The band’s self-titled debut album, produced by Tom Treumuth, was released in June, 1984. The album featured four charting hits in Canada: a completely re-recorded version of “New Girl Now,” “Burning In Love,” “Wave Babies,” and “Stay In the Light.” All were written by Grehan. “New Girl Now” was also Honeymoon Suite’s first single to reach the top-50 in the United States.
Their follow up album, The Big Prize, produced by Bruce Fairbairn, was equally successful in Canada, with four more hits: “Bad Attitude,” “Feel It Again,” “What Does It Take,” and “All Along You Knew.” Grehan still wrote the lion’s share of the band’s material, but Dee and Coburn also contributed songs to this album; “Feel It Again”, a Coburn composition, reached the Top 40 in the US, while Grehan’s “What Does It Take” reached no. 52, buoyed by its inclusion on the soundtrack for the John Cusack film One Crazy Summer. In 1989, “Bad Attitude” was featured in the series finale of Miami Vice, played during a Ferrari driving segment that mirrored one from the series’ pilot episode.
In 1986, keyboardist Ray Coburn left the band, replaced by Rob Preuss of Burlington, Ontario-based Spoons. Also during 1986, the band produced the track “Those Were the Days” for the Charlie Sheen film The Wraith.
In the spring of 1987, the band performed the title track for the Mel Gibson film Lethal Weapon, which was composed by Michael Kamen. In the winter of 1987, the band started work on their third album in L.A. Unfortunately, Johnnie Dee was hit by a car at LAX airport, breaking his leg in several places, and required surgery to insert a ten inch pin to help the leg heal properly. While Dee was recovering in the hospital, one-time Doobie Brothers member Michael McDonald was brought in to help out with the recording sessions; he wrote lyrics and sang back up on “Long Way Back,” a forthcoming track for their next album.