In this latest episode, we present clips sampled from our conversation with Australian radio legend, Steve Collins, Once Upon a Time in Sydney, in which Steve took us on a nostalgic, personal journey through the intense Sydney music scene of the 1970s.
As well as his studio work for pioneering rock radio station 2JJ, Steve was at the heart of an incredible era of authentic, in-your-face live music, working at iconic venues – sound and lighting at Revesby Workers Club and security at Hordern Pavilion – and mixing with era-defining Australian and international artists.
In this brief sample, Steve tells how he scientifically established that Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs were the loudest band of all, remembers the night Chuck Berry played the Revesby Workers Club, and meeting an incredible Chicago blues outfit, Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers. He also recalls the thrill of sitting in at a recording session with one of the most influential musicians in the formative years of rock and roll, Alexis Korner.
Keep up with Steve’s latest travel adventures on his YouTube channel.
Theodore Roosevelt ‘Hound Dog’ Taylor was born in Mississippi in 1915, worked as a sharecropper by day and played ‘Delta juke joints and house parties’ at night. He later moved to Chicago after a near miss with the KKK, and in 1971 released his first album on Alligator Records, formed by ‘a young blues fan named Bruce Iglauer…for the sole purpose of recording Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers’.
According to Hound Dog Taylor’s bio at the official site of his record label;
“…When Theodore Roosevelt “Hound Dog” Taylor sat down on his battered folding chair, slipped his steel slide onto his six-fingered left hand and tore into one of his foot-stomping shuffles, supercharged boogies or a searing slow blues, he had one thing in mind – making people forget their troubles, either by dancing or by immersing themselves in the deepest of bottleneck blues. And whether he was playing for old friends at one of Chicago’s inner-city bars or for thousands of college kids and hippies at clubs and campuses around the country, Taylor’s music never changed. With just two guitars and a drum set, Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers created a rocked-out, hypnotic, ultra-danceable sound that is as emotionally powerful and wildly energizing today as it was the day they produced it…”
Hound Dog Taylor passed away from lung cancer in December 1975, very soon after touring Australia and New Zealand.
Billy Thorpe had a remarkable international career in music and business, from yodelling as a child performer, through the beat-dance circuit, a quieter phase that included a cover of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, to the hard, guitar driven rock that broke the sound barrier at Revesby Workers Club and around the country. He died suddenly in 2007, aged 60.
Of the Aztecs’ performance at Melbourne Town Hall in 1971, Billy Thorpe said, “To the capacity crowd of 5,000 and the band, it felt like we were standing on a pair of Boeing 747 engines. It cracked the foundations and broke windows in neighbouring buildings!”
There is a detailed biography, including a transcript of a 1994 interview, and discography thanks to milesago.
We’ve updated the accompanying newsletter to the full episode with an embedded clip of Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs’ searing version of See See Rider at the Sunbury Festival in 1972.
Acclaimed music writer and historian, Peter Guralnick, a self confessed fan and deep admirer of Chuck Berry’s work, described him as ‘his own best advocate and his own worst enemy’, and noted that his long-standing practice of using a pickup band rather than his own musicians led to his live work being ‘inconsistent to say the least’. (Read his Meeting Chuck Berry essay on his website).
In spite of the fact that, as Peter Guralnick also put it, Berry’s commitment to performance ‘at times proved wanting’, there were occasions when everything clicked. Chuck Berry was clearly sufficiently happy with his Revesby pickup band to hand back his USD 1 000 deposit, with quietly good grace (a significant sum in 1970s Australia, no doubt a relief to the promoter), and his televised concert at the BBC in 1972 showcased a cheerfully warm rapport with his musicians and a tight, fun and timeless ensemble performance. There are multiple versions of this to be seen on YouTube, of varying quality, complete or track by track.
According to Setlist.fm, Chuck Berry played his final show October 15th, 2014, days before his 88th birthday, at St Louis restaurant and music club, Blueberry Hill, where he had been playing regularly since 1996. He passed away in 2017, aged 90.
John Pareles wrote this in the New York Times;
“…While Elvis Presley was rock’s first pop star and teenage heartthrob, Mr. Berry was its master theorist and conceptual genius, the songwriter who understood what the kids wanted before they knew themselves. With songs like “Johnny B. Goode” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” he gave his listeners more than they knew they were getting from jukebox entertainment…His guitar lines wired the lean twang of country and the bite of the blues into phrases with both a streamlined trajectory and a long memory. And tucked into the lighthearted, telegraphic narratives that he sang with such clear enunciation was a sly defiance, upending convention to claim the pleasures of the moment…”
Chuck Berry’s unique abilities with a simple yet poetic and truthful lyric were recognised in 2012, when he was honoured, along with Leonard Cohen, by the writers association, PEN International, for its inaugural Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence award. Bob Dylan referred to him as the Shakespeare of Rock and Roll.
Our own leading contributor, Gary Wells, wrote;
“…The proof is in the covers. Chuck’s story is told, for the most part, by looking at who covered his music. Suffice it to say that any group of guys who got together and plugged in in the garage were following Chuck Berry’s lead but when you look at the artists that have covered a Chuck Berry song you understand the immensity of his contribution…”
Read Gary’s complete article here
Thanks to Gainesville, tellmewhere2go, and very special thanks to Steve Collins for sharing these incredible memories with us.