Transcript: Transcript Oz rock legend Russell Morris is still the Real Thing

A Breath of Fresh Air Seg 1 0:14) Welcome to A Breath of Fresh Air with Sandy Kaye. (0:35) Hello to you. I hope all well in your world and that you’ve enjoyed every moment of the past week.

(0:42) My guest today is one of Australia’s most enduring singers. (0:46) He was a major pop star in the late 60s, who went on to become one of the country’s first singer-songwriters. (0:53) He’s been impacting the sound of the Australian landscape across seven decades and counting, from rock to pop to blues.

(1:01) Most people know him as the psychedelic rock legend that he was when he released this one. (1:07) Come and see the real thing, come and see the real thing, come and see. (1:13) Come and see the real thing, come and see the real thing, come and see.

(1:19) There’s a meaning there, but the meaning there doesn’t really mean a thing. (1:24) Come and see the real thing, come and see the real thing, come and see. (1:30) More on the real thing soon.

(1:32) Russell Morris, welcome to a breath of fresh air. (1:35) I know you hate the word iconic, but you are an iconic Australian performer. (1:40) You’ve been around since the year dot and you just keep getting better and better every single year.

(1:47) Thank you very much. Yeah, I think I started just after the dinosaurs. (1:50) How did you get started? (1:52) I was doing a diploma of economics and accountancy and law and some friends formed a band (1:58) and I used to go and watch them rehearse and their singer got poached by someone else (2:04) and they said, do you want to sing with us just for the Christmas holidays? (2:08) So I joined them and sang for the Christmas holidays and that was it.

(2:11) I never went back and finished my diploma. (2:13) Wow. Your parents must have been pretty upset.

(2:16) No, they were fantastic. That’s the great part about my parents. (2:19) I’m the Gaylord Focker of the music business.

(2:22) What does that mean? (2:23) Well, when I was a young kid, that movie Meet the Fockers, (2:27) I would endeavour to get into every single team and I was always the last picked. (2:33) I was that kid. Pick me, pick me.

(2:36) And I was the last one standing and by default I’d had to go to one of the other teams. (2:41) And my grandmother and my mother reveled in any minor success I had. (2:46) Like if I came third in the egg and spoon race and happened to get a ribbon, (2:51) they would pin it on the fridge and everyone that came round, they would show them.

(2:54) So I knew in my heart of hearts that I was a failure, (2:57) but it didn’t matter because they just embraced everything I did, whether I failed or anything. (3:02) As long as I tried. (3:04) And that sort of got into my nature, I think.

(3:07) And that’s how I started doing what I was doing. (3:09) And I have fear of attempting things, but because of my earlier upbringing, (3:15) I don’t have fear of failure. (3:18) So I always give it my best shot, whether I make it or not.

(3:20) Like for that reason, I’m a rotten golfer. (3:22) I’m a terrible tennis player. (3:24) That’s awful.

(3:25) Russell Morris, you’re only talking about sport. (3:28) That doesn’t say anything about you academically. (3:30) You were obviously very competent.

(3:32) The reason I got through school is because I was a legacy boy. (3:36) My father died after the war, like when I was two years old. (3:39) So legacy really helped push me through.

(3:42) I wasn’t very good academically either because I couldn’t concentrate for more than 10 minutes. (3:47) Just explain what legacy is. (3:50) Legacy was for children of servicemen who had passed away or had been killed in the war (3:55) and they looked after us and they put us through our education.

(3:58) They gave the family some money to help things. (4:01) And if it hadn’t have been for legacy, I don’t think I would have gotten through my education. (4:06) The music business became a breath of fresh air.

(4:09) And it really sort of gave me a career, which at the time I took it up, (4:13) I was only doing it temporarily just for the fun of playing in a band. (4:57) Did you know you had a voice? (4:59) No. We did one show and it was recorded, it was Battle of the Bands.

(5:03) And I heard it and I went to the band and I said, I’m leaving. (5:06) And they said, why? And I said, I heard my voice, I hate it. (5:08) It sounded like this.

(5:10) Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na. (5:14) I said, it just sounds like I’m singing through my nose all the time. (5:17) And they said, no, no, we like your voice.

(5:20) And they had to talk me out of pulling the plug. (5:22) So I persevered. (5:24) Russell spent the next little while working on that nasally voice, (5:27) but it probably mattered little because it was the era of the Beatles (5:31) and no one could really hear how you were singing above the din of screaming girls.

(5:36) Back in those days, there was no such thing as foldback. (5:39) There was the speakers pointing out to the audience and you had to try and sing in tune. (5:44) So it became almost automatic pilot.

(5:47) You had to have an internal pitch that kept you on key. (5:51) You were doing very well, weren’t you? (5:53) Yes, but doing very well as smoke and mirrors in the music business. (5:58) We were probably earning $20 a week each.

(6:02) It was a very hand-to-mouth existence in those days and very primitive. (6:07) So you obviously wanted more. (6:09) I did.

And the turning point came because I’d given up my education, mind you. (6:13) I only had one more year to go. (6:15) I was doing this and I thought, I’m going to have to go back to college.

(6:19) And we were up in Sydney performing and our drummer got very sick (6:23) and he started throwing up and I said, you’ve got to go to the hospital. (6:28) He said, no, I’m all right. (6:29) And I said, you’ve got to stop drinking so much.

(6:31) And he said, I haven’t had a drink. (6:33) He said, I didn’t drink either. I don’t know what’s wrong.

(6:35) I said, if you don’t go, I’m quitting the band. (6:37) So he went to hospital. (6:39) Next minute they rang us and said he had a brain hemorrhage.

(6:43) And while we were there, our manager was up there (6:46) and he was managing Ronnie Byrne. (7:18) Yesterday we had lovers of our own. (7:23) Yet today there’s more of us.

(7:25) It’s too hard for me to learn. (7:33) I said, listen, we need some money. (7:35) Eric’s in hospital.

We’ll have to get a temporary drummer. (7:38) And they took me out to dinner. (7:40) And I was a boy from Richmond, the working suburbs of Melbourne.

(7:44) And our meals were usually chops and potatoes. (7:48) And some peas. (7:49) Peas and all those very standard meals.

(7:52) And they took me out to dinner. (7:54) And I sat down and Ronnie said, what would you like to have? (7:58) And I said, I don’t know. (7:59) It was an Italian restaurant, which was really, really suave for me.

(8:04) And he said, why don’t you have some oysters called Patrick? (8:07) And I said, what’s that? (8:08) And he said, what about lasagna? (8:10) And I said, I’ve never had that either. (8:12) So I had oysters called Patrick and lasagna. (8:14) And when I ate them, I thought for the rest of my life (8:17) I will always try every type of food, no matter what it is.

(8:21) And then I thought, how come these guys are living like this (8:23) and we’re living on bananas and yoghurt? (8:26) So the band got another drummer and he got into my ear after a while (8:32) and he said, mate, you should go solo. (8:35) Ronnie Burns at the time was already an established pop star in Australia? (8:39) Oh, yeah, he was big. (8:40) He was a big star.

(8:41) Him, John Farnham, Normie Rowe, (8:44) they were all pretty well established at that stage. (8:46) John had had Sadie and all that. (8:49) Sadie, the cleaning lady (8:54) With trusty scrubbing brush and pail of water (8:59) Worked her fingers to the bone (9:01) For the life she had at home (9:05) Providing at the same time for her daughter (9:10) Ah, Sadie, the cleaning lady (9:15) Her aching knees not getting any younger (9:20) Well, her red detergent hands (9:23) Have for years not held her man’s (9:27) And time would find her heart expired of hunger (9:31) Scrub your floors, do your chores (9:34) Dear old Sadie (9:36) Looks as though you’ll always be a cleaning lady (9:42) Can’t afford to get bored (9:45) Dear old Sadie (9:47) Looks as though you’ll always be a cleaning lady (9:52) I remember going to Johnny Young, who had been a big star, (9:57) and saying, what should I do? (9:58) I want to leave the band and I want to go solo.

(10:00) And he virtually patted me on the head and said, (10:02) mate, when you grow up to be a big pop star like me, (10:06) he said, I don’t think you should. (10:07) I think you should just stay with the band. (10:09) And I ignored that advice and went on alone.

(10:11) And then one day he saw me performing on one of the TV shows (10:14) and all the girls were really enthusiastic. (10:18) So he approached me after the show and said, (10:20) I’ve got some songs you might like to hear. (10:22) And Ian Meldrum was with me.

(10:24) Then he played us a couple of songs. (10:25) We said, yeah, they’re nice. (10:27) We like those, but we’re looking for something different.

(10:29) Have you got anything different? (10:30) So I’ve got this song I wrote as a joke for a band, (10:34) but it’s not a solo artist song. (10:35) Play it to us. (10:36) He played it to us.

(10:37) It was the real thing. (10:37) And we went, that’s what we want. (10:40) And he said, you’re crazy.

(10:42) He said, that’s not a song for a solo artist. (10:44) We said, we beg to differ. (10:46) And he said, all right, well, it should be done like this.

(10:49) And Ian Meldrum said, no, you’re banned from the studio. (10:53) I see it another way. (10:54) And the total architect of that song was Ian Meldrum, (10:58) who took it from.

(10:59) Johnny’s version was like pictures of matchstick men, (11:03) rock and roll all the way through, (11:05) to something that goes from hurdy-gurdy man to I am the walrus (11:09) to hey Jude. (11:11) That was the idea he had in his head. (11:13) And he achieved it pretty well.

(11:16) Come and see the real thing. (11:18) Come and see the real thing. (11:20) Come and see.

(11:21) Come and see the real thing. (11:24) Come and see the real thing. (11:26) Come and see.

(11:26) There’s a meaning there. (11:29) But the meaning there doesn’t really mean a thing. (11:32) Come and see the real thing.

(11:34) Come and see the real thing. (11:36) Come and see. (11:39) I am the real thing.

(11:53) Tryin’ hard to understand the meaning that you see in me (12:04) There’s a meaning there, but the meaning’s there doesn’t really mean a thing (12:09) Come and see the real thing, come and see the real thing, come and see (12:15) I am the real thing (12:19) Mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, mum (12:29) Iain Molly Meldrum is an Australian music journalist (12:32) who became one of the country’s top record producers (12:35) He used to host the national music TV program Countdown and had managed Russell’s first band, (12:42) Somebody’s Image. (12:43) He’d also been the roadie for another highly acclaimed band called The Group. (12:47) He’d been asking them over and over again to let him manage them and they just kept (12:53) laughing at him, saying, you’re not a manager, he’s saying, but I could produce your records (12:57) and they just laughed.

(12:57) So we thought, here’s this young raw band. (13:00) So he approached us and said, can I manage you? (13:03) Can I produce your records and can I get you a record deal? (13:06) And being incredibly naive, we went, yeah, let’s do it. (13:09) He would turn out to be one of the greatest record producers this country has ever had.

(13:14) It’s really serendipity in play there that brought you two together. (13:18) Well, I often believe in that my theory, life, we’re a bucket of marbles and we’re tipped (13:24) out at the top of the hill. (13:26) Some people go down the hill too fast, but on the way, your marbles are always going (13:30) to reach their level.

(13:32) They’re always going to get to where they’re meant to go. (13:35) And if you think of the odds of meeting someone like Ian Meldrum, who had never produced a (13:42) record, never managed a band or never done anything resembling PR, that you would say, (13:48) yes, take my career under your wing. (13:50) And he would turn out to be an unbelievable record producer, like incredible.

(13:56) I reckon I could walk out into the street and pick 15,000 people and not one of them (14:01) would be able to get anywhere close to what he was. (14:04) I had no idea he started off as the group’s roadie whatsoever. (14:09) Amazing.

(14:10) So Ian Meldrum picks up the song, The Real Thing, given to you by Johnny Young, and he (14:16) turns it into this massive hit. (14:18) Talk to me about that. (14:20) Well, it didn’t take long to record.

(14:22) I think the band probably had six run-throughs and when they got to finally the last time (14:27) and it had really gelled, the drummer went and started playing double time. (14:32) The engineer went to push the button to say, OK, guys, thanks, we’ll fade it from there. (14:36) And Ian went, no, let them have some fun.

(14:38) So they just kept playing and playing and playing. (14:40) And then the drummer just did a fill and threw his sticks down. (14:43) Ian rang me probably that night or the next night and said, I’ve got a brilliant idea.

(14:48) We’re going to make the record six and a half minutes long. (14:51) I said, Ian, this is my first solo record. (14:54) I’m trying to get airplay.

(14:55) They’re not going to play it. (14:57) He said, yes, they will. (14:59) He said, because I’m going to make it like an EP.

(15:02) Four tracks, two on each side. (15:04) There was a little, like an almost clear line in the middle where they would swap over with (15:08) no sound and then go into the next one. (15:10) And he said that divider there, radio people can watch it.

(15:14) When it goes to that divider, they’ll know this is the time to fade it. (15:17) So if they want to play the whole thing, they’ll play it. (15:19) If they don’t, they’ll fade it there.

(15:22) And it was a genius idea. (15:24) The record company wanted to hear it. (15:26) And they said, how long is this going to take? (15:28) Because the band took very little time to record it.

(15:32) My vocals, I think I probably had four run-throughs. (15:36) But then the rest of the time was Ian putting sound effects in the end. (15:40) And it took forever.

(15:42) So they ring from Essendon, which was the airport then. (15:45) And we’re on our way. (15:46) So we’re waiting.

(15:48) And Ian’s so nervous. (15:49) He gets drunk. (15:51) They roll up and we put it on and play it really loud.

(15:55) And Ian was right. (15:56) They hated it. (15:57) They turned on their heel and said, well, we will ring you tomorrow.

(16:01) And left. (16:02) Went to their hotel and flew back to Sydney and rang back and said, (16:04) it’s the biggest load of rubbish we’ve ever heard in our lives. (16:07) We will not release that record.

(16:09) So Ian and I got in the car and drove to Sydney and went to all the radio stations, (16:13) which you could do in those days. (16:15) And we’d knock on the door. (16:16) Who’s your program manager? (16:17) We’ve got this record and played it to him.

(16:19) Would you play that? (16:21) Man, this is incredible. (16:23) And we got all of the people up there to sign a petition. (16:26) So we then gave it to EMI.

(16:28) And EMI reluctantly released it. (16:30) And it became the biggest thing they’d ever had. (16:49) See the real thing coming, I see the real thing coming, I see the real thing coming.

(17:44) The real thing was released in 1969. (17:48) It was a massive hit in Australia and has become a rock classic. (17:52) It also found success in the US, (17:54) reaching the top of the charts in Chicago, Houston and New York City.

(17:59) Hang in for more.

Breath of Fresh Air Seg 2

(0:00) This is a breath of fresh air with Sandy Kaye. (0:04) It’s a beautiful day. (0:08) The real thing ran for 6 minutes 12 seconds, (0:11) which of course was totally unheard of in the days of 2 to 3 minute radio airplays.

(0:17) It was a swirling psychedelic collage of music and sound effects (0:21) that included an archive recording of a World War II Hitler Youth Choir. (0:25) The song concludes with the cry Sieg Heil (0:28) and the cataclysmic sound of an atomic bomb explosion. (0:40) The real thing is reported to have cost $10,000, (0:54) which was the typical budget for an entire album at the time.

(0:58) What did it feel like to have a number one having gone through all of that? (1:02) It was an uplifted sort. It was wonderful, but it was also stressful. (1:06) Like for instance, my grandmother and mother embraced it like so much.

(1:12) My grandmother and mother were so proud because for all their lives (1:15) they’ve been telling people that I was really good and never knew that I wasn’t. (1:19) And all of a sudden, miracle of miracles come along and I have this big hit record. (1:24) So I would come home because I was still living at home (1:28) and there’d be like 13 girls sitting on the front fence.

(1:31) So I’d say hello to them and sign some autographs. (1:34) Then I’d go inside and there’d be 13 girls sitting around the house (1:38) having cups of tea that my mum and grandmother were making them. (1:42) And I never got any peace and it drove me insane.

(1:45) And it was horrifying. (1:47) And then our number was given out. (1:50) Some girls got the number and then spread it around (1:53) and sold it to other girls and their phone never stopped ringing.

(1:56) And my poor grandmother was constantly running. (1:59) It was just horrible. (2:01) They were the things that were really awful.

(2:03) The rest of it was fine, you know. (2:06) But still there wasn’t a real lot of money in music business those days. (2:09) My biggest payday, I was top of the bill in Sydney working at the Horton Pavilion, (2:15) the Ray of Acts show, and I thought I’d finally made the big time.

(2:19) I got $500 for the show. (2:22) You’re right. (2:22) I mean we thought that you had a number one hit out there (2:24) and the girls are hounding you everywhere that you must be just raking it in.

(2:28) That’s right. (2:29) Cars and clothes and houses and everything else. (2:33) And if that had been in America, that’s what you would have been doing (2:36) because all of those guys who cracked it there at that same time (2:41) were rolling in it.

(2:42) That’s right and much greater volumes of record sales. (2:45) But you did take off and go to America, didn’t you? (2:48) I went to England first. (2:50) Couldn’t get anything happening.

(2:51) I’d recorded with Cat Stevens Band and we’d done some nice tracks (2:54) and a guy called Brian Lane heard about it. (2:58) And he liked the tracks and he said, (3:01) you should go to America. (3:02) He said, you’re someone that should record in America.

(3:35) The girl that I love will be you (3:39) And the girl that I hold (3:45) Won’t be needing no reason to start (3:50) Cause the girl that I hold (3:54) Will give all of the love in her heart (3:58) And the morning she brings (4:02) With the sun in her eyes (4:05) Will see my darkness through (4:10) And the girl that I love (4:12) The girl that I love (4:15) Will be you (4:19) I ended up going to America and recording for Warner Brothers Records (4:24) and the record producer there insulted Moe Austin, (4:29) who was the head of Warners, (4:30) and told him to mind his own something business (4:32) cause Moe had wanted to hear the record (4:35) and the guy said, I’ll play you the record when I feel like it. (4:39) So we lost the deal. (4:40) It was a nightmare.

(4:42) Just like that. (4:43) Just lost the deal. (4:44) Just like that.

(4:44) All the tracks were scrapped. (4:46) Never heard of again. (4:48) I did a thing called Let the Music Take Over Your Head.

(4:51) Goodbye Mama. (4:52) I think I redid Sweet, Sweet Love Again. (4:55) Russell, you’d had five Australian top ten singles (4:58) during the late 60s and early 70s, didn’t you? (5:01) Yeah, I did.

(5:01) But never a really successful album. (5:04) I had a few hits and so I decided to try my luck overseas. (5:09) Can’t believe I’m really me (5:14) A girl like you on such a day (5:20) Maybe I’m maybe only dreaming (5:25) Miss the sun, come back Tuesday (5:36) I am, I am, I am, I am, I am, I am, I am, I know I am (5:46) Today (5:52) To a girl like you I don’t know what to say (5:58) A guy like me becomes all tongue-tied (6:06) Hello, I love you doesn’t seem so right (6:12) With a girl like you it’s love at first sight (6:20) Hello, I love you doesn’t mean to say (6:26) A guy like me becomes all tongue-tied (6:35) Sweet, sweet love, it will last, it will last (6:41) Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na-na (6:46) The single from Bloodstone was Sweet, Sweet Love.

(6:49) After that, the following year was 1972, you released Wings of an Eagle. (6:54) Meantime, the real thing started climbing the charts in America. (6:59) Yes, it did.

It started to climb the charts. (7:01) And Ian and I argue over this forever. (7:03) I wanted to go to America, he wanted to go to England.

(7:07) And then him and I had a falling out. (7:10) And we didn’t talk for about four years after that. (7:13) And everything had been set up for me to go to England.

(7:17) I went to England, it was terrible, and I came back. (7:20) Then when I had Wings of an Eagle and Sweet, Sweet Love, (7:22) Paul Dainty convinced me to go back again. (7:25) It reached number one in Chicago and Houston and in New York.

(7:29) I mean, that’s no small feat. (7:31) Well, Wyatt died. (7:33) At that stage, the major record companies tried to stamp out independent record companies.

(7:38) So they were refusing to press the records. (7:41) And unfortunately, I was with a label called Diamond, (7:45) who had obviously raised the ire of the company that was pressing there, (7:48) and they wouldn’t press them. (7:50) So we couldn’t get them out.

(7:51) You can’t get it to any of the stores. (7:54) That’s what happened with the real thing in America. (7:56) How disappointing.

(7:58) Oh, well, I believe in fate. (7:59) I believe the marbles have poured out and some of them got caught halfway up the hill. (8:03) And that was what was meant to happen.

(8:05) Well, I’m looking out on an eagle war. (8:21) My grade on the wind is raised. (8:23) I see the eagle soaring.

(8:27) Although I’m just a poor, the nature’s daming like you. (8:38) Wahoo. (8:41) Wahoo.

(8:43) I’ve never looked up to the sky. (8:57) But to see on the wings of an eagle I find. (9:04) I’ve never looked up to the sky.

(9:07) Lifted up above the world to see. (9:12) Russell remained in the U.S. for the next five years. (9:16) While he waited for his green card, he took up some menial jobs, (9:19) including selling newspaper subscriptions and handling the mail for the Kiss Army.

(9:25) What happened, my stepfather had a heart attack. (9:29) And it was time to come home. (9:31) So I came home.

(9:33) Another disappointment then that you hadn’t been able to complete your mission. (9:37) Well, they happen. (9:39) It’s funny some of the things you do.

(9:41) I remember when I was looking for a record deal over there, (9:44) I went into the office of this man who completely put me at ease. (9:49) Just absolutely fantastic guy. (9:52) And he said, Russell, I know about your career.

(9:54) I know all the things you’ve recorded. (9:57) He said, I love your voice. (9:58) He said, I just want you to play some of the new songs you’ve got for me.

(10:02) And he said, just sit on the chair. (10:04) And he said, please don’t feel any pressure because I love you already. (10:09) So he sat there with his hands on the back of a chair.

(10:12) And I played about four songs. (10:13) And he said, I think you could make it here. (10:16) I’d like to sign you.

(10:17) He said, but I don’t hear a hit right there for an American. (10:21) He said, I’ve got writers here that I would like you to work with. (10:25) And the guys came up and played a couple of songs.

(10:28) And I didn’t really like them. (10:30) I said, let me think about it. (10:32) I went to another record company where the guys were sitting drinking scotch (10:36) and smoking cigars and played four songs.

(10:38) And I said, love you, boy. (10:39) We’ll sign you. (10:40) The first guy I sort of signed with.

(10:42) His name was Clive Davis. (10:45) Oh, you’re kidding. (10:47) It was Clive Davis.

(10:49) Yeah. (10:49) Before Arista became ginormously big. (10:53) Wow.

(10:54) When I just saw the Whitney Houston documentary, the acted one, (10:59) the guy that played Clive Davis was a dead ringer, same personality. (11:04) And he said the same things to Whitney. (11:09) He must have had the same spiel that he said to everyone.

(11:12) And he said to me, Russell, what’s your passion musically? (11:16) What do you want to do? (11:18) Where do you see yourself? (11:19) And he was such a beautiful man. (11:21) And it’s come full circle because I just finished a big album with the (11:25) orchestra in Melbourne and Sydney. (11:27) And I think it’s probably the best one I’ve done, (11:30) particularly for a live album.

(11:31) I just sent it to Clive and said, Clive, (11:34) it’s been a long time since we saw each other. (11:37) I’m not looking for a record deal. (11:39) I’m beyond that now.

(11:40) I just wanted to let him know that I’m still alive. (11:43) I’m still making music and here’s my latest album that I just did. (12:10) You’ve grown up to be such a big boy.

(12:12) You’ve grown up to be a man. (12:15) You’ve got all the seeds of your story that you left in a stone. (12:18) I’m with you all you can.

(12:20) A title of a Negro on your chest and a red birthmark in your side. (12:26) You’ve seen the fire, the rage, and the rich till you hear the die. (12:32) Hello, Mr. America.

(12:34) Hello, and how are you? (12:46) So hope you like me as much as I like you. (12:52) Develop me like you are something. (12:55) Share your strength today.

(12:57) There’s only muscles that I’ve won, (13:00) or where I’ve learned today. (13:03) Don’t get me wrong, I know you’re strong, (13:05) and you’ve shed many tears. (13:08) But a future you should carry you from head to nose.

(13:15) Hello, Mr. America. (13:37) Hoping I’ll get a reply from him. (13:38) If I don’t, it doesn’t matter.

(13:40) But I just wanted to tell him how much I really admire him. (13:44) And he went on from there with Bruce Springsteen, (13:47) Simon Garfunkel, and Whitney Houston. (13:50) It was just never-ending.

(13:51) So at this time when you had seen him and the other record company, (13:55) you are playing guitar, you’re writing your own material, (13:58) and you’re singing. (13:59) You’re kind of a one-man band, right? (14:01) That’s right, yes. (14:03) And then, some time later, (14:06) so you then come back to Australia, as you said, (14:09) because your stepfather got sick, (14:11) and then you formed the Russell Morris Band.

(14:13) Yeah, well, I had to do something. (14:16) I’d given up brain surgery, so I couldn’t go back to that. (14:20) So I thought, well, we’ll give it a go.

(14:23) And I remember, I often talk to Daryl about this, Daryl Braithwaite. (14:28) I said, I went to see one of your shows, Daryl, (14:30) and I said, here was a semi-trailer outside with all your equipment. (14:35) And I came in, and the lighting and everything, (14:38) and I thought, how can you possibly compete with this? (14:41) I’ve got to go on the road, (14:43) probably with a guy with a torch shining on me, you know, (14:46) and the PA they had.

(14:47) So I had to start again really, really simply. (14:51) We had a small van. (14:53) I had two dedicated roadies, (14:56) a sound guy and a dedicated roadie (14:58) who went on to become really significant in the music business.

(15:02) One is Grant Walsh, who mixed John Farnham all his whole career. (15:08) And the other one was a guy called Brett Allen, (15:11) who ended up going overseas (15:13) and working for Mink DeVille, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, (15:19) and now he runs this huge rental company in Los Angeles. (15:23) Because he bought, with every penny he earned, (15:25) he bought rare guitars and rare amps and things like that.

(15:28) So I had really good people. (15:30) I was lucky enough to select really good people, (15:33) and my bands were always really good. (15:35) So we slowly built up and built up and built up and built up, (15:38) but we couldn’t quite have a hit record that allows you to go off the road.

(15:43) So if you can’t go off the road, (15:45) you’ve got to continually work to keep the boys alive. (15:49) But you were packing out the houses on the road everywhere. (15:51) Australia hadn’t forgotten about Russell Morris at all.

(15:54) That’s right. (15:55) We did really, really well, but we really needed a new hit. (15:58) We needed a hit that was going to take the country by storm.

(16:02) We couldn’t quite find it. (16:04) And at the end, the expenses became greater than the money coming in, (16:10) and I ended up going broke. (16:13) I lost so much, like lost my house and all that.

(16:16) And the boys, they just had to move on. (16:19) And it was just really, really hard. (16:22) And I formed another band, The Rooms.

(16:24) We put that together. (16:26) No hits either. (16:27) Big hits buy you creative selection.

(16:31) And that’s why big acts stay big, because they only do huge shows. (16:36) They don’t have to work down in every little bar and every little club (16:39) to keep everyone alive. (16:41) And if you keep doing that, you overexpose yourself, (16:44) and then you become like yesterday’s slippers.

(16:47) That didn’t happen with you, though, did it? (16:49) Yeah, it happened with The Rooms, and we broke up. (16:52) And I couldn’t get work. (16:53) It was the in excesses, and things were coming up, (16:56) and I was really old hat.

(16:57) Russell was stuck, but his luck turned around when he formed a trio (17:01) with fellow pop stars Ronnie Burns and Darryl Cotton. (17:04) In 2001, vocalist Jim Keys replaced Ronnie Burns, (17:09) and the three found success. (17:12) You must leave now, take what you need, what you think will last (17:19) Whatever you use to keep, you better grab it fast (17:27) You’re a lousy oven with a thunder (17:35) Crying like a fire in the summer (17:42) Look out, the saints are coming through (17:50) It’s all over now, baby blue (17:56) Stay tuned as Russell manages to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

A Breath of Fresh Air Segment 3 (0:00) This is a breath of fresh air with Sandy Kaye. (0:04) It’s a beautiful day. (0:08) Welcome back.

(0:09) Russell Morris had formed Cotton Keys and Morris out of desperation, (0:13) thinking he was an old has-been. (0:15) He still yearned, however, to create something current. (0:19) What happened, I had to look at myself.

(0:21) I looked at myself and I’d been writing songs and trying to… (0:24) I’d done an album which I thought was absolutely fantastic, (0:27) an album called Jumpstart Diary, (0:30) sunk without a trace. (0:34) Sometimes I get the strangest feelings (0:41) And sometimes like I’m about to fall (0:48) Some nights I wake up in a fever (0:55) Sometimes it’s like I’ve hit the wall (1:02) Can you see I’m still running? (1:09) Can you hear it’s still coming? (1:17) My time, get your mind right (1:26) Get your mind right, come on, get your mind right (1:32) My time, since it’s come together (1:43) Better late than never (1:49) I thought, people aren’t interested. (1:52) I couldn’t understand why people didn’t like it.

(1:55) But never giving up as the way I am, (1:58) I looked at myself and I thought, (2:00) what should I do musically? (2:02) And I looked in the mirror and I thought, (2:04) you’re an old fart now. (2:05) You can’t get up there and sing pop songs. (2:08) It’s not going to work.

(2:10) So I thought, go back to where you started. (2:13) Go back to what you started playing. (2:16) Rhythm and blues, Tamla Motown and blues.

(2:21) So I wrote a couple of blues songs (2:24) and I thought, they’re okay, not great. (2:27) One was called Red Hot Chili Pepper Woman or something. (2:31) And I thought, no, they sound like crap, (2:35) homogenized versions of really good American blues artists.

(2:38) Like I love John Lee Hooker and Howling Wolf. (2:41) And it was like a bad copy of them. (2:44) I went to Sydney, I was reading the newspaper.

(2:47) Serendipity again, as we said before. (2:50) I open up the page and here’s this photograph (2:52) that just goes bing and flings onto my face. (2:57) It was a photo of a guy called Thomas Archer, (2:59) called Shark Jaws.

(3:01) And it was his arrest photo. (3:03) And I thought, this is incredible. (3:05) And I started to look at all the police file photos (3:08) back in the 1918, things like that.

(3:11) And in those days, you didn’t stand up (3:13) before a height thing, you know, with all the gradients. (3:16) You could sit in a chair. (3:18) This one in particular had the cop (3:20) who arrested him standing behind him.

(3:23) And I thought, this is great. (3:24) I took it home. (3:26) And my imagination is pretty good.

(3:28) One Sunday afternoon in Melbourne, it was raining. (3:32) And it spoke to me almost. (3:33) It almost said, tell people I lived.

(3:37) Tell people who I was. (3:40) I want to live again. (3:41) So I started to write the song.

(3:45) And instead of calling him Shark Jaws, (3:47) which I called him, I called him Shark Mouth. (3:49) And I wrote the song. (3:51) And all of a sudden, that neon light in my head went, (3:54) bing, this is what I should be doing.

(3:58) I’ve got to write blues and roots about Australian characters. (4:04) And Australian characters will suit the blues and roots (4:08) because blues and roots was around in 1920. (4:13) Shark Mouth was a ladies man (4:18) Saw himself as a modern Don Juan (4:23) Put his bite on who he could (4:27) Bad is bad, not misunderstood (4:41) In 1916, times were lean (4:46) And Shark Mouth’s crew, they were razor keen (4:51) From the cross down to the loo (4:56) They all knew Shark Mouth’s team (5:23) Shark Mouth resurrected Russell Morris’ career.

(5:26) Next came Van Damme, (5:28) which recalled everything from convict prison ships (5:31) to the First and Second World Wars. (5:34) The third was 2015’s Red Dirt, Red Heart. (5:37) The country people had done Australiana to death.

(5:40) And I thought, I’m going to write an album about blues and country. (5:43) And when I told a couple of people, one of my ex-managers, (5:47) he said, what are you doing? (5:48) I said, I’m doing a blues album. (5:49) He said, why would you do blues? (5:51) No one buys blues albums.

(5:53) I said, no one buys any of my albums. (5:55) I said, I wouldn’t care. (5:56) I said, the last two albums have sold nothing.

(6:00) And he said, oh, what’s it about? (6:01) And I said, about Australiana. (6:03) And he said, people hate Australiana. (6:06) I said, I don’t, I love it.

(6:08) I said, I love all the stories, so I’m going to do that. (6:11) And he looked at me, he said, Russell, I’ll never understand you. (6:16) He said, you seem to spit success in the face.

(6:20) So I did it. (6:22) And again, no one wanted it, like the real thing. (6:25) Not one record company wanted to touch it.

(6:28) They figured I was old hat and they didn’t want to touch it. (6:32) Finally, a small label called Ambition with Robert Rigby said, (6:36) no, I’ll go with it. (6:38) Let’s go with it.

(6:40) And it became, it was on the charts for two years. (6:43) It was the biggest, biggest selling album I’ve ever had in my career (6:46) and just went platinum. (6:50) It’s funny how record companies sometimes just have no idea.

(6:55) Little honey’s in the kitchen, well, she’s cooking up a storm. (7:00) No good brother-in-law’s out on the porch. (7:03) Sister of mine, well, she’s long overdue.

(7:07) And I’m in the back room, black dog blue. (7:18) Well, the car won’t start, so it’s sitting in the drive. (7:22) So damn hot, well, I’m barely alive.

(7:26) Ain’t got no beer, so I don’t know what I’ll do. (7:30) I’m in this back room, black dog blue. (7:37) I got choked down, spellbound, let down, unsound, (7:41) on the ground, run down by the hellhound, black dog blue.

(7:47) Russell was on fire and back on top of the charts. (7:51) In 2019, the album Black and Blue Heart arrived. (7:55) I did an album with Bernard Fanning and Nick Didier, (7:58) who was a wonderful producer who’d produced everybody (8:01) from Bruce Springsteen to Powderfinger, (8:05) and we did like a pop rock album.

(8:08) So I decided to just break the mould again (8:11) and just really get my head reworking again. (8:15) That then brought you to a collaboration with your old mate Rick Springfield. (8:19) Yeah, that was an interesting one, (8:21) because Rick and I have always been friends.

(8:24) He’s an odd man. (8:26) He lives on the dark side sometimes. (8:28) What I did, I’d written this song called Karma Leader’s Dance.

(8:33) When we were in America, I used to love Day of the Dead, (8:36) the festival, I just loved it. (8:38) So did Rick. (8:39) We loved the colours and the songs and the gaiety, (8:43) and I wrote this song, Karma Leader’s Dance, (8:46) and I really liked it.

(8:48) I said to my wife, (8:49) listen, I’m going to dress up in Day of the Dead make-up (8:54) and a hat and sing it. (8:56) You film me. (8:57) I said, I’ll put it up on YouTube.

(8:59) And she said, what did you put it up on? (9:01) I said, I’m not going to put it up as myself, (9:02) I’ll just put it up as unknown. (9:03) She said, well, no one will ever find it. (9:06) You’ve got to have something.

(9:07) And I said, oh, Jack Krohn. (9:09) She said, who’s that? (9:11) I said, I don’t know, it just came into my head. (9:13) She said, really? (9:14) So I put it up as Jack Krohn, sent it to Rick, (9:16) and Rick contacted me and said, this has blown me away.

(9:20) Two days later, he sent me a song he’d written in full make-up, (9:24) and he said, let’s do an album together. (9:27) That’s how we came about doing that album. (9:51) Her skin so pale and her so young (9:59) They all come to see and feel the romance (10:06) They all come to stand and share their pain (10:14) They all come to her and they say (10:18) Dance, dance, dance, come and eat up (10:23) Wash our sins away (10:27) Here in the marionette’s lane (10:35) Fourteen Tracks, Jack Krohn and The Darkness Waltz, (10:38) a great collaboration between two very talented friends indeed.

(10:42) Which then brings us up to present time, Russell, (10:45) and probably the reason that we’re chatting too, (10:48) is because you’ve got a live album out now (10:50) called The Real Thing, The Symphonic Concert, (10:54) where you play with a symphony orchestra (10:57) and this is you with a 54-piece one. (11:00) Yes, I keep going back to the theme. (11:02) I’ve always had a lot of confidence to try anything, (11:06) and I’ve always had people who have been champions.

(11:08) This one, I’m at a show and we come off stage (11:12) and one of the guys in the band says, (11:14) do you see that guy up there sitting there with his arms crossed, (11:17) not laughing and just staring at us for the whole show, (11:20) the guy that looked like Clive Palmer? (11:22) I said, yeah, that’s probably because it was him. (11:25) Clive Palmer is a wealthy Australian businessman (11:28) who has huge iron ore, nickel and coal holdings. (11:32) Clive obviously enjoyed the show that night (11:34) because three months later he was back (11:36) with dozens of his friends and family.

(11:39) He said, I want to put you on the Sydney Opera House in Hamer Hall. (11:42) Russell refused the offer because he was worried (11:45) that he wouldn’t be able to fill the country’s premier venues. (11:48) Finally, we had another meeting, (11:50) I said, listen, this could be really humiliating for me.

(11:53) I said, Clive, it could cost you a lot of money. (11:56) He went, I’ve got a lot of money. (11:58) He said, I’ll prove to you we’re wrong.

(12:00) He said, you have no idea that you have an audience as big as it is. (12:04) I had to admit to him, you were right, (12:06) I was wrong. (12:07) The show sold out at every venue that Russell played, (12:10) right across the country.

(12:12) Russell Morris, is there one song that you enjoy singing most? (12:16) A Thousand Suns. (12:18) Why? (12:18) The way it builds and what it’s about. (12:20) I read a book called One Crowded Hour (12:23) about Neil Davis, the Australian war photographer, (12:27) and his experiences during Vietnam and all the war zones he went to.

(12:32) I tried to imagine being in a little village, (12:35) your grandparents had lived there, (12:37) and you’ve got a happy family and you’ve got a subsistence living, (12:42) whether you’re living on rice and you’re growing your own crops, (12:45) got goats and things like that. (12:46) All of a sudden, a guerrilla army comes in and says, (12:50) listen, you’re our fellow countryman, you’ve got to stick by us. (12:54) If you support the government troops, you’re gone.

(12:58) Two weeks later, the government troops come in and say, (13:00) you support the guerrillas and you’re dead. (13:03) And all of a sudden, you’re a refugee. (13:06) And that song is about that dreaming of wanting to go back (13:10) and take back what is yours.

(13:12) And the way the song builds with its intensity is, (13:15) I just love the way everything falls into place. (13:19) Wild horses running (13:21) Because they’re sensitive in me (13:25) When you feel it (13:39) Because the clouds they rush around (13:46) And the faded photograph that you see (13:50) That moment caught them (13:55) Since ever since they came into (13:58) Who could not hide (14:01) Like the rage of a river (14:04) As it washed them out to sea (14:08) When the soldiers they came in the dead of night (14:12) They stole the hearts of the free (14:15) But there’s a runaway train that’s coming (14:18) And we’ll be waiting around the bend (14:22) There’s a runaway train that’s coming (14:26) And you know we will never forget (14:29) Because the flame it will burn on (14:33) The flame it will burn on (14:37) Brighter than a thousand suns (14:45) Hidden deep in the shadows (14:48) But never out of reach (14:51) As we stand and we wait for the fall (14:55) We will return you see (14:59) And we dream of tomorrow (15:03) When tomorrow will come (15:06) Because our armies will melt like the snow (15:10) Lighter than the sun (15:39) Because it’s a beautiful day (15:43) You’ve been listening to A Breath of Fresh Air with Sandy Kaye (15:47) Beautiful day (15:48) Oh, I bet that any day that you’re gone away (15:53) It’s a beautiful day