Sunday, 31 May 2015
I Sure Know A Lot About Love/Me You Gotta Teach/I'm So Glad/If I/If You See My Baby/Just A Little Bit/King Bee/So Much In Love/Motivate/Pathfinder/Jay Walker/We're Friends/Louie Louie/Tell Me When/Hey Jack/Zoom Gonk
Tony was born Anthony Asheen Worsley in England in 1944 and emigrated with his family from his hometown of Hastings to the sunnier climes of Brisbane when he was 15. Tony had already set his sights on a show biz career. As a lad he won several amateur talent quests in England including one judged by Lonnie Donegan and Tommy Steele, which carried first prize of a Decca recording contract. Needless to say, his parents' decision to leave for Australia right at this point didn't go down too well with the ambitious young singer -- "I didn't get on with my parents too much on the ship for the first few weeks!" -- but he was determined to fulfill that dream in his adopted country. By day he worked as an apprentice rigger in the Brisbane dockyards, but at night he patrolled the dance halls, waiting for his chance to get up on stage.
Tony quickly developed into a consummate performer, gigging around Brisbane's dance circuit with a variety of pick-up bands. His outrageously long collar-length hair, wild stage presence and repertoire of Merseybeat tunes (copped from imported records sent by his friends in England) which earned him his early nickname "Brisbane's Beatle". As early as 1961, Tony had come to the attention of Ivan Dayman, a pop entrepreneur, and a budding 'svengali' figure in the mould of Lee Gordon. Dayman -- who would soon also steer Normie Rowe and Mike Furber to national success -- was on the lookout for a suitable backing band for his young discovery and he believed he had found it when he made a new addition to the Sunshine roster, the popular Melbourne dance band The Blue Jays. Dayman's offer of AU£35 per week to sing with The Blue Jays was simply too good for the young singer to refuse. It was a huge salary for the times -- ten times what Tony was being paid as a sailmaker -- and as late as 1966, even the members of The Small Faces, then one of Britain's top bands, were being paid just UK£20 per week each! The teaming of Tony with this tight, professional outfit in early 1964 proved to be an inspired choice.
The Blue Jays were already well established in Melbourne and one of the city's leading dance groups. They had formed in 1959, with the original lineup of Frankie Brent, Doug Stirling, Chris Lawson and Bobby Johnson. They cut a series of swingin' instrumental singles and EPs for the Crest label, and a delightfully titled LP, The Arthur Murray Twist Party Featuring The Blue Jays Big Dance Beat (Crest CRT12LP 002, 1961). Their first Crest single was "Everybody Loves Saturday Night" / "Maori's Farewell" (Oct. 1961). There was a regular turnover of personnel; among the members who passed through were singer Laurie Allen, Johnny Cosgrove, Alan Easterbrook and Ray Houston. At one point (says Glenn A. Baker) young guitarist John Farrar (later of The Strangers) was considered, but he was turned down because at the time he apparently lacked the required level of showmanship. Another Crest single "Wolfman" (backed by the lamentably titled "Kept A Broken Heart In Broken Hill") followed in early 1962 and credited to Laurie Allen and The Blue Jays. The lineup continued to turn over and by 1963 the band had become into a six piece consisting of Allen, Johnson and Easterbrook, bassist Mal "Beaky" Clarke, Dennis Tucker and guitarist Doug Flower. When the group signed with Dayman's Sunshine management, Laurie Allen departed to begin his solo career, soon teaming up with another former Dayman acts, Bobby Bright, to become Bobby & Laurie.
Dayman teamed The Blue Jays with Tony Worsley at the start of 1964, and with their name enhanced by the suitably glamorous prefix Fabulous the group immediately set about creating a dynamic stage show, centred on Tony's gritty tenor voice, good looks and dynamic showmanship. Tony's 'take-no-prisoners' attitude was backed up by one of the tightest and most competent bands in the country and the Blue Jays trademark 'fat' sound blended sax and guitar in a potent lead instrumental assault, giving them a powerful attack comparable to earlier rock'n'roll groups like Johnny O'Keefe's Dee Jays. From his recently acquired Brisbane HQ at the legendary Cloudland Ballroom (a landmark Queensland venue, sadly demolished in the 1980s) Dayman promoted the group in package extravaganzas up and down the coast, including appearances at his popular "Bowl" venues, and they soon earned a reputation for upstaging the main acts.
There were more lineup changes during 1964 as the Beat Boom hotted up and the band's frantic touring schedule took its toll, but by the end of the year the Blue Jays had settled into the first 'classic' lineup, each of whom earned their own nickname: Ray 'Screamy' Eames (lead guitar), Mal 'Beaky' Clarke (rhythm guitar), Paul 'Bingo' Shannon (sax and keyboards), and Royce 'Baby' Nicholls (bass), completed by the return of founding Blue Jays drummer Bobby 'Spider' Johnson. In mid-1964 Dayman took over the Saturday night lease on Melbourne's largest indoor venue, Festival Hall, renaming it "Mersey City". On 2 May 1964 he opened with Tony and the Fabulous Blue Jays. Over 4500 teenagers attended: "That was 500 more than saw the Beatles" according to Tony. Dayman also used them to open several other Queensland venues as his Sunshine empire exapnded to Bundaberg, Toowoomba, Ipswich, Inala and Surfers Paradise.
In late 1964, Dayman formed the Sunshine record label (distributed by Festival) with partners Nat Kipner and Apt Aulton. The first single, released in October, was an original instrumental by The Blue Jays called "Jay Walker". The next (November) was the debut single by Tony Worsley & The Fabulous Blue Jays, and it was a killer combination: the A-side was a scorching version of "Sure Know A Lot About Love", backed by a terrific acoustic-driven original, "Me You Gotta Teach", composed by what soon developed into the bands resident writing partnership of Beaky Clarke and Baby Nicholls.
Either with Tony, or under their own name, The Blue Jays were crucial to Sunshine's early success, and Glenn Baker makes the very fair assertion that in many respects they were Sunshine -- Tony Worsely/Blue Jays releases accounted for seven of the label's first thirteen singles, and they also rank as one of the most prolific recording units of "the Scream Years", churning out three LPs, eight EPs and seven singles in less then two years. Their Sunshine tracks including many original tracks by Clarke and Nicholls, which was unusual for Australian pop bands at that time. The stock-in trade for most local beat groups was covers of the latest British and American pop hits (which were often covers of originals by black American performers).
It's often not recognised that this repertoire was essential for pop acts at the time -- audiences demanded this, and expected bands to know the material, and groups like The Twilights built their reputations on their ability to deliver note-for-note renditions of Beatles, Stones, Who and Small Faces tracks. Naturally, the Blue Jays did their fair share of covers, but the choices demonstrated their versatility and their eclectic taste. There were blues/R&B standards like The Kingsman's ever-popular "Louie, Louie", John Lee Hooker's "Dimples", Slim Harpo's "King Bee", Smokey Robinson's "All Over You" and Etta James' "Something's Got A Hold On Me", plus a wide range of other material: the Everly Brothers classic "Raining In My Heart", "Do You Mind" by Oliver composer Lionel Bart, Jagger & Richards' "So Much In Love", "How Can It Be" (a cover of The Birds song, written by future Faces / Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood); "Reaching Out", by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham (who went on to write Aretha Franklin's "Do Right Woman") and even a sprinkling of home-made covers like "I'll Never Love You Again" by Pogs member and future "Crocodile Dundee" composer Peter Best, and of course,"Velvet Waters", co-written by The Megatrons' Walter Plunkett and prolific Aussie lyricist and songrwiter Dorothy Dodd, a long-serving president of APRA and composer of the perennial popular standard "Granada".
The Blue Jays maintained their own identity for recording, and over the next year Sunshine releases alternated instrumentals by The Blue Jays, and and vocal tracks with Tony as lead singer. Although they were already very popular on their home turf and had some chart success in Queensland during 1964, it wasn't until early 1965 that they began to break in other states, thanks in large measure to a relentless tour schedule. Tony soon gained a reputation as a wild man on and off the stage.
1965 was without doubt the peak of their meteoric career. February saw the release of the second Tony Worsley & The Blue Jays single and perhaps their best recording, a raucous, syncopated cover of Rosco Gordon's "Just A Little Bit", which broke through onto the national airwaves in early '65 and became a significant hit, charting particularly well in Melbourne and Brisbane. Tony and the Blue Jays had picked up on the song from a version by English band The Undertakers, but coincidentally it was also recorded at that time by The Animals (under the title "Don't Want Much"). The Animals' version was recorded during the sessions for their second LP Animal Tracks but it didn't make the funal cut and remained unreleased until The Complete Animals 2CD set was issued in 1990. It has to be said that The Animals' version sounds distinctly anaemic compared to the red-hot Worsley/Blue Jays version. Lobby Loyde's Purple Hearts covered it later a year or so later, but even their version pales by comarison.
The Worsley/Blue Jays cover is arguably the definitive version. Tony's sneering, proto-punk, double-tracked vocal is driven by what must be one of the fattest rhythm tracks ever captured on tape in Australia up to that time. Its in-your-face brass sound harked back to the classic R&B of Louis Jordan, but it also anticipated the powerful overdriven brass sound of later productions like The Beatles' "Lady Madonna" and The Masters Apprentices' "Turn Up Your Radio".
Unfortunately, around this time Pat Aulton and guitarist Ray Eames had a major disagreement in the studio, and Eames was unceremoniously ousted from the group and replaced by Jimmy Cerezo, from The Pleazers. Jimmy fitted in well and also brought his own writing skills to the group, contributing the ska-flavoured "I Dream Of You" to the flip-side to their next single, a cover of Chuck Berry's "Talkin' 'Bout You" (April '65). Over the course of 1965 Tony and the Blue Jays reputedly sold over 70,000 records, climaxing in their biggest and best-remembered hit, a dreamy cover of the Australian pop ballad, "Velvet Waters".
The song had first been recorded in the early Sixties as an instrumental by Perth band The Megatrons; this was followed by Bruce Gillespie's vocal version which featured lyrics penned by renowned Australian songwriter Dorothy Dodd, although neither of these versions had any success at the time. Near the end of a recording session in mid-1965, producer Nat Kipner asked the band if they had any other tracks they could record; Cerezo, who had learned the song from Gillepsie, suggested "Velvet Waters"; after a quick run-through, they cut the track in a matter of minutes.
Tony and the Blue Jays' version was released in September 1965 and it quickly shot into the national Top 5. The fact that one of the "softest" of their recordings became their biggest hit for our hard-rocking heroes was an irony that wasn't lost on the group.
With a major hit coming almost out of nowhere, Sunshine hoped they'd hit on a winning formula, so they immediately followed it up with another finely-arranged ballad, "Missing You", but this only managed to get into the lower reaches of the some charts, with its best placing being #28 in Sydney. But The Blue Jays continued to draw a healthy following, particularly among young female admirers, and Tony and pals developed a certain notoriety for their off-stage antics as well. (The old chestnut, "lock up your daughters!" should suffice as an explanation!) and the records kept coming, including a second LP, My Time of Day. This included a cover of the song "How Can It Be", originally recorded by UK band The Birds, and the Worsley-Blue Jay is considered by many to be superior to the original.
During 1965, the group won prestigious support slots with The Seekers, Johnny O'Keefe and Johnny Farham, as well as supporting the 1965 Australian tour by Britain's Dave Clark Five. Probably the most notorious show from this period was the now-legendary 4BC Sound Spectacular concert in Brisbane in December 1965. The first half of the show, featuring MPD Ltd, went smoothly enough, but when Tony and The Blue Jays hit the stage things had started to get out of hand, and by the time headliners The Easybeats came on a full-scale riot had broken out, with kids breaking down barriers, repeatedly storming the stage and smashing chairs and equipment. Police stopped the Easys after only 17 minutes and halted the show. In the melee that followed, the Easybeats only barely escaped the frantic fans, who stopped their 'getaway' car and stomped all over it, puncturing the roof and bonnet with their heels and doing hundreds of pounds' worth of damage. Tony himself nominates the January '65 tour with The Kinks, Manfred Mann, The Honeycombs and Tony Sheveton as the highlight of the band's career -- even though he copped some flak from the irascible Manfred Mann, who was apparently rather jealous of the frenzied fan reaction Tony & the Blue Jays were generating, both on and off stage.
The group continued performing into 1966 with their popularity unabated, and for their first single of the year they got back to business in a big way with a barnstorming cover of Etta James' "Something's Got A Hold On Me". (80s indie icons The Reels' also covered this song in tribute to Tony & The Blue Jays' effort.) Regrettably, this was to be the last single billed to Tony and The Blue Jays. Just as he did with Mike Furber and The Bowery Boys, Ivan Dayman was intent on promoting the singer at the expense of the group. He pushed the Blue Jays further and further into the background and it wasn't long before the 'original' Blue Jays split, although this was also partly due to family pressures on some of the members:
"Bobby Johnson and Ray Eames left ... they were married and when Beatlemania spread to Australia, of course we'd be gettin' publicity with girls in your rooms and all that -- their wives called 'em home so they left the band."
The significant factor in the split was Tony's spiralling drug and alcohol intake and his increasing unreliability. Fellow performer (and future Uptight host) Ross D. Wylie recalled the hazards of touring with Tony at this time:
"Anything he could swill, swallow or smoke. Poke for that matter. Out of control was Woozle. I’m designated Bus Driver due for the five hours drive to the next up-country gig. 9am start we’re delayed. Worsley’s’ wrecked the toilet again, the tour manager’s’ arguing with the publican about if only gold plating will replace it. Worsley he’s got a hot slab and his usual back row seat. We’re driving. Woozle starts up wanting to use his nozzle. Pit stop Tony must be shy, starts thrashing his way out of sight up through this banana plantation. Next thing, this brumbie horse charges out pursued by Tony. 'Must be a mare' says Marcie (Jones & The Cookies). Antics like that, catch up with you. That’s unreliability."
Over the next few months, Tony's brief solo career continued as Sunshine released a string of solo singles -- a lovely version of Buddy Holly's "Raining In My Heart" (May '66), followed by "No Worries" / "Humpy Dumpy" (Jan. '67); his final single, released in October 1967 and with backing by The Escorts, featured Lionel Bart's "Do You Mind" backed by the soulful Penn-Oldham number "Reaching Out".
Late in 1966 Tony put together a "New" Blue Jays, which included such future OzRock luminaries as Vince Maloney (ex-Aztec and future Bee Gee), John A. Bird (Country Radio) and Phil Manning (Chain). In December, they played at a huge Dayman-promoted event, 'The Johnny Young Show', at Brisbane Festival Hall, sharing the bill with virtually the entire Sunshine roster -- Johnny Young, Ronnie Burns, Peter Doyle, Mike Furber, Ross D. Wylie, Thursday's Children, Graham Chpaman, Greg Anderson, The Escorts, Marcie & The Cookies, The Pleazers, and Julien Jones & The Breed. Tony managed to steal the show with his version of James Brown's famous fainting routine. in which he pretended to collapse and have to be led off-stage, only to only to be doused with water, revive and return for encore after encore.
Unfortunately, The Johnny Young Show show effectively became the wake for the the ailing Sunshine empire -- by the end of 1966 the company was in serious financial trouble, its resources severely strained by Normie Rowe's attempt to break into the English pop scene, and its reputation compromised by Dayman's allegedly dubious financial practices. In early 1967 Dayman was forced to close his shortlived Kommotion label and soon after Sunshine was taken over by its major creditor, Festival Records.
Tony himself was exhausted and close to burn-out point -- he was using speed heavily (which he spoke about quite openly, even then) his weight had dropped by almost half, and he had gained a reputation for unreliability:
"I was pretty messed up by 1966. I was addicted to Methedrine and stuff and weighed about 8 stone. I'd started singing at about 14 stone and went down from there. I'd say I was pretty anorexic -- I used to have one toasted sandwich all day and I even cut the crusts off that! ... If The Beatles went off and took two months of trips then we'd do it too, y'know? Our bands based what we did on the British bands. Well I know I did. I doubt guys like Normie did -- I can imagine him having a beer but nothing worse. Probably a reason I didn't go anywhere was because I was too much of a rebel"."
Dayman put Tony on the oft-derided tent show circuit -- where Johnny O'Keefe was plying his trade at the same time -- performing all over northern Australia including Brisbane, Maryborough, Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville, Cairns, Camooweal, Longreach, Mt Isa, Winton, and even Darwin. While touring in Adelaide in late 1966, Tony cut a cover of Jagger and Richards "So Much In Love", which featured Terry Britten of The Twilights providing the distinctive 12-string Rickenbacker riff, but this remained unrelased at the time. One of Tony's last major public appearances was at the 1967 Sydney Royal Easter Show, performing in a Sunshine Records package show with Mike Furber.