Time Traveller -1980
This double LP set covers material from 7 different line-ups of Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs – The Aztecs between 1964 and 1976. . There are four tracks by his original band which featured Vince Maloney who would later move to the UK as a member of the Bee Gees. Another famous face gracing this vinyl is legendary guitarist, Lobby Lloyd who was a member of The Purple Hearts and The Wild Cherries. One of the tracks (I Am The Sea ) was recorded by the Aztecs with Lloyd but released under the Wild Cherries name in 1972. There are also 4 tracks by a mid 70’s line-up that featured British guitarist, Derek Griffiths who of course a member of The Artwoods and Dog Soldier to name just a couple of bands he has played with. One of the tracks featuring Griffiths, Out On The Street Again has not been released in any other form
If somebody were to ask me "What influenced you most in your musical career?", one might reasonably expect the answer to be along the fines of Eric Clapton, Billy Cobharn or the Beatles. But, 1 can say in all honesty, that Billy Thorpe has been my biggest influence, and not just in music, but also in my personal outlook towards people and life in general. After working with someone for eight years, a little of them has to rub off and because of those years with the Aztecs, I guess 1 am one of the best suited to write the "Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs" story.
William Richard Thorpe was born in Manchester, England, in 1946. William's parent migrated to Brisbane, Australia, when he was six. Billy made his first professional appearance on Brisbane television when he was ten under the stage name of "Little Rock Allen". From then on he became popular singing at dances and functions. At 16, Billy moved to Sydney ... The Big Smoke. There he ran into a group which had only been formed for two weeks called The Aztecs. They were Vince Maloney on lead guitar, Colin Baigent on drums, John "Bluey" Watson on bass and Tony Barber on rhythm guitar.
The band accepted Billy and started gigging around the usual haunts. One. day a guy came up to Billy and suggested that they make a record for his label. So on June 18th, 1964, Billy Thorpe And The Aztecs released their first single called "Blue Day" on the Linda Lee label. The usual problem arose, radio stations wouldn't play it. So Billy and the boys hit city street corners and played it in the open air. By the end of the first day the record had sold 2,000 copies. So our heroes started building up a following and the crowds started growing - in fact Surf City (which was THE place to play in Sydney) was packed every time the Aztecs played.
"Poison Ivy" was their next single and it became a giant national hit. This led the band into being one of the most sought after groups in the country. What with television appearances, tours and being thrown out of towns for bunning the Mayor's daughter - all the usual things that go with being the biggest act in the country - Billy Thorpe And The Aztecs rolled into the big time.
All the records that followed after "Poison Ivy" were hits - like "Mashed Potato", "Sick and Tired" and 'Over the Rainbow". But for some unknown reason, after this huge momentum of success, The Aztecs #1 suddenly broke up.
For Aztecs #2 he found Teddy Toi and Johnny Dick, both New Zealanders and Mike Downes on rhythm and Cohn Risby on lead. These Aztecs recorded "I Told The Brook", "Funny Face", "Twilight Time" and "Love Letters" which were all gigantic hits. Not to mention "Dancing In The Street", "Jenny Jenny", "Hallelulah- I Love Her So", etc. etc. Billy and the boys were then given their own TV show called "It's All Happening". But there were problems. Billy found himself working in clubs alone as a lot of the clubs in those days had their own backing musicians and The Aztecs found themselves out in the cold working less than Billy. This along with managerial problems led to Aztecs #2 breaking up so Billy once again found himself working solo.
William was, for the first time, about to head for the bad times. In 1967 bankruptcy hit him and all the expensive material objects that he was so used to had to go, including his prized Aston Martin car. Billy has never really talked much about this period of his career. He went to Melbourne, bought himself an old guitar and started writing songs and practicing lead and rhythm guitar. Taking his courage in both hands, he then formed Aztecs #3 with Lobby Lloyd on guitar, Paul Wheeler on bass with Jimmy Thompson on drums and Billy on lead guitar and harp.
The band started working, but the audience reaction wasn't the same as the early days, mainly because the band wasn't playing the same type of songs. Gone were "Over The Rainbow”, and the "I Told The Brook" and now it was the raucous distorted sound of rhythm and blues, rock 'n' roll and "Rock Me Baby". Aztecs #3 was basically a rough, hard bunch of maniacs. Yet they managed to secure a recording contract with Festival Records.
Billy recorded the single "Rock Me Baby" and the album "The Hoax is Over". The story goes - Billy and the boys went to Festival studios in Sydney to record and were greeted with "Don’t walk there because we've just washed the floor ... don't eat or drink in the studio ... and you've only got four hours of recording time!" So Billy walked out and went to another studio, paid for the recording with the band's money and recorded "Rock Me Baby".
Back in Melbourne the band was becoming very controversial and audiences grew. Jimmy Thompson left and was replaced by Kevin Murphy. At this stage, Billy became friendly with Warren Morgan, a keyboard player, and they started composing together. In the meantime, "Rock Me Baby" wasn't doing great record sales and Billy started looking for a new record company. Warren (known as Pig to his friends, mainly because of his eating habits) joined The Aztecs on the departure of Lobby Lloyd and Kevin Murphy. This brought Aztecs #3, to an end.
A new drummer was recruited, his name was Steve, - 1 don't think anyone knew his last name. Anyway, the band was now composed of Warren on electric piano, Paul Wheeler on bass, Steve "?" on drums and guitar, vocals and harp. This was then Aztecs #4
Rod de Gruchy, a talent scout, from. Havoc Records and approached Billy about recording for his company. The Aztecs agreed and studio time was booked for a single to be recorded by The Aztecs. In the meantime Pig got up early one morning unable to sleep and started to play a melody on the piano to pass the time. Billy came in to him and said "I've got something here that I wrote" and played it on his guitar to Pig. They decided to put both pieces together and this was how they gave birth to "The Dawn Song". It was decided to record "Dawn Song"/"Time To Live", which I engineered. During the recording it was mentioned that Billy was looking for a new drummer. So I went along, auditioned and got the job.
The new line up for "The Dawn Song" became Warren on keyboards, Paul Wheeler on bass, me on drums and Billy once again doing his stuff on vocals, harp and guitar.
The popularity of the band grew with larger crowds and better bookings. On June 13, 1971, The Aztecs played at one of the most memorable concerts of its career at The Melbourne Town Hall. Pig opened our segment by playing the Town Hall's pipe organ, mind-boggling. It was recorded as "Aztecs Live At The Town Hall". At this point in time Billy had met a lady by the name of Lyn McGrath and was living with her. Lyn was soon to become a mother of a little girl who Billy named Rusty. Pig left the band during this year as he wanted to expand his solo career, but two years later he was to rejoin us. This left The Aztecs short of a keyboard player so Billy called in Bruce Howard from Sydney. Billy moved in with the rest of the band and their assorted lady friends and wives. It was while there that he wrote "Most People I Know Think That I'm Crazy" and soon after we went into the studios to put it down as a single.
Boxing Day - 26th December, 1971, and 200,000 people at the Myer Music Bowl.
--,Melbourne saw the biggest crowd in its history that night. People were everywhere, even up the trees. For people who don't know anything about the Myer Music Bowl, 111 try to explain - it is an outdoor venue which seats about 5,000 people and is situated in the Botanical Gardens in the middle of Melbourne with lots of trees and hilly lawns so you can imagine what 200,000 people must have looked like. Anyway, The Aztecs got star billing and went over fantastically well.
In 1972, Billy Thorpe And The Aztecs had become gigantic, packing out gigs wherever they played. The single "Most People 1 Know" was a smash hit around the country and the band was becoming the biggest in the land. Meanwhile, one, of the most important events in our career (and in the history of Australian Rock) was being planned. "Sunbury", a three-day pop festival with The Aztecs receiving top billing. It opened at 8 am on the 28th January and by 6 o'clock that night 80,000 people graced the hill overlooking the stage and Billy Thorpe And The Aztecs had their best ever crowd reaction. Sunbury -and the birth of "Be-Bop-A Lula" and "Oop Poo Pa-Doo" and the concert was also recorded.
Later in 1972 we did another outdoor concert at Rosebud. Unfortunately, the place was so packed that we couldn't get our cars anywhere close to the stage area, as cars were bunched bumper to bumper for miles. So the guy organising the gig grab "The Iron Horsemen" (a motorcycle gang) to collect us on their bikes and race us up to the stage. My lasting impression of that gig is seeing all The Aztecs madly zooming across the Rosebud Golf Course hanging grimly onto the massive backs of leather-clad bikies. It was a great day and the 40,000 people seemed to really enjoy themselves.
Warren Morgan decided to record his own album and he used Billy on vocal along with himself on vocals and keyboard, Barry Sudivan joined in on bass with myself on drums and Phil Manning and Billy on guitar. The album was aptly titled "Thumpin'Pig and Puffin' Billy". Our Manager, Michael Browning, went to England at this point to try to get us a recording deal and some work. He signed The Aztecs to Rak Records in London and the company went ahead, and released "Most People I Know” which was widely accepted by radio and extensively played. Back in Australia the Aztecs released another single caged "Believe It Just Like Me"/"Get The Hell Out Of Here" the B side of which Billy claims was his protest song against all the people that used to drop around to his house. The single was a compete flop and there is no record of whether or not the B-side kept his busy visitors at bay. At this point Michael telephoned us from England to tell us to save our money for England -THE BIG TIME.
November 1972, our farewell concert at Festival Hall and the place was packed with 7,000 people all jumping up and down singing "Ooop Poo Pa-Doo". That night was also recorded and segments have been played on radio ever since. The show was a wild success and we made enough money to pay for our airfares. But problems arose with the management of Festival Hall banned us because a lot of seats had been smashed during the concert. Billy was arrested and his passport seized because the woman who owned the house where we had been living claimed that we had done $3,000 worth of to her house. Things looked grim. But we managed to organise everything reimbursed Festival Hall for the broken seats and we lodged $3,000 with our solicitor to be held by him until we came back from England for the court case with Billy's landlady.
By 10th November, Billy, Bruce, Paul, myself Norm our roadie and Coral, our manager's sister, finally managed to leave the country. We boarded a Pan Am jumbo for England which flew via Hawaii and Los Angeles. Hawaii is the first customs checkpoint on this route and we had managed to get though without being stopped - all except for Billy, that is. He had to completely strip down and was body searched. And where was Bruce while all this was going on???? Bruce was still on the plane - drunk. We retrieved Bruce who, by this time, had managed to lose his passport and we all had a quick look around Hawaii, which was unforgettable - anyway, back on the plane and full speed ahead to L.A.
Arriving in Los Angeles was one of the biggest flashes of my entire life and so was driving a left-hand car in a right-handed street, occasionally finishing up on the lefthand side of the road going the wrong way. Two days in Los Angeles was all LA could take so we left for London. We arrived at Heathrow Airport, London, at 6 o'clock in the morning and it was so cold it would have frozen a dog off his chain. London wasn't good to The Aztecs. In all fairness, England was at that time into David Bowie and Lou Reed and The Aztecs were a raucous rock 'n' roll band. We did one gig while in London at the "Speakeasy" and we were not allowed to go back as we had played too loud. We spent two months living in London. Our single was still being played but was being not selling. So basically we did nothing for two months and the boredom showed. Everyone in The Aztecs were obviously homesick and it came as a happy event to receive a telegram from the organizers of Sunbury offering to book us for Sunbury 1973 at a fee of $10,000 ... plus airfares - so home we went.
In February 1973, Bruce and Paul left, Pig and Teddy Toi joined us again and so started Aztecs #5. At this time we decided to form Aztecs Pty Ltd and through the company ran a few tours around the country. One was of Queensland which finished in Surfers Paradise where we had a champagne fight for two days, which cost us $1,800 in room service bills alone. Another tour we organised was called the "Sunbury Tour" which was a film showing of Sunbury 1972 plus the band playing live after the showing. Everybody had a great time touring in those days, we always had great parties and fun times. It was our "upper" after England's "downer".
At this point we had signed a contract with WEA Records and recorded a single called "Movie Queen" which didn't do much. We followed this flop with an album called "More Arse Than Class" which later went gold for us. The publicity photos were of us bending over in the boot of a chauffeur- driven car with bare bums showing. 1973 was also the year in which Billy was arrested quite a few times for swearing on stage. Apparently the law stated that you may use the work in the literary form within the terms of "poetic licence" but it cannot he spoken during a public performance. So Billy wrote a song called "We've Come To F--k Your Mind" and we used to do it everywhere and mostly got away with it.
Sunbury in 1974 was Mother good gig for us but the excitement of the three-day festival was starting to fade. We did, a live version of Billy's old hit "Over The Rainbow..It was the first time we had played it in ten years and the crowd went crazy, so we recorded this number . 1974 also Saw us the "Band Of The Year" from TV, Week magazine and with awards for "Best Single Of The Year", while Billy received an award as "Best Song Writer Of The Year".
The "Thumpin Pig and Puffin' Billy" album was still doing well so Billy entered one of the tracks, -"Captain Straightman", in " the American Songwriting Awards" and it won a semi final place. Billy flew to America to be there for the presentations on behalf of himself and Pig. On his return, Billy decided it might be a good idea to have two drummers in the band, so Johnny Dick joined us.
In the middle of 1974 we did a concert at the Opera House in Sydney. The night itself was fantastic. The band for that night was Billy, Lobby Lloyd on guitar and Johnny Dick and Kevin Murphy on drums and Warren on keyboards. From there we went on to do a two-week tour of Perth. One night at about 5 am Teddy and Billy got caught in the hotel lift. While trying to get into it they smashed it up a bit. Anyway; the management called the police and when our two cave dwellers emerged after being stuck in a lift for 90 minutes, they went berserk with some choice language at all including the cops.They were both arrested and thrown in jail. Michael Browning, meanwhile, was running around trying to find a camera to take shots of Billy behind bars ("for publicity purposes" he claimed). Billy went to court. The prosecutor stated that Billy was swearing and the old ladies in the foyer had been horrified by the language. Billy's lawyer got up and asked the judge "How many old ladies would you find in a hotel foyer at 5 am anyway?" Billy was fined 50c the court case was over..
At this time Michael Browning left us as our Manager and went with AC/DC. 1975 arrived along with the last Sunbury. Financially, it was a disaster for its organisers, also the weather conditions were extremely bad. But The Aztecs rose above it and went over really well once again. Pig left us after Sunbury arid so did Johnny Dick, so The Aztecs were now three piece - Billy, Teddy and myself Aztecs #6.
At this stage Billy decided to take on a Personal Manager, and the job went to Robert Raymond. The Aztecs were now working around the Melbourne pubs and only doing the occasional week of touring - so we all took up karate. Teddy had a run-in with one of the black belts and managed to get his ankle broken. Doctors put him on mandrax tablets - goodnight Teddy!
The Aztecs disbanded in July 1975 for two months. We all went our own ways for a while, then Billy rang me in September 1975 and asked if I wanted to he involved in the recording of an album for Festival. We recruited Billy Kristian on bass and -Malcolm Stanton on keyboards, and for guitar Robert Raymond rang Derek Griffith from England. Derek came over and we had our first rehearsals and then went to Sydney to start recording - this was Aztecs #7.
The recording took about two weeks and went so well that we decided to take the band on the road. We were called the "Million Dollar Bill Band", but to me it was still The Aztecs. I must admit that the music was different. Gone was the incredible loud distorted, screaming, raucous rock 'n' roll band - the music was now quieter less distorted and very melodic. The band worked together for about two months but Malcolm left. so Johnnny LeVine joined us on keyboards. The "Million Dollar Bill" album did reasonably and Festival Records, happy with sales, decided to do another one. This time I was to be asked to be producer/engineer. We started to record the album called "Pick Me Up And Play Me Loud."
At the beginning of 1976, we were still in the middle of recording the album when Billy decided that when the recording and mixing was finished he was going to try his luck in America. He had decided that he was sick and tired of the battle in Australia after all, The Aztecs had been the biggest band in Australia and once you've been there where do you go? About the middle of 1976, Billy left Australia to live in America. I joined Champagne Records as Producer and Engineer. I was approached in 1977 and asked how a tour by "Billy Thorpe And The Aztecs"would go down,and I naturally though that it would go down a storm. I rang Billy in Los Angeles and arranged the tour. The next problem was to get a band together. I found, out where Teddy Toi was, and offered him the job which he accepted. Next the keyboards, who could I get? Pig was in South Africa at that time with John Paul Young, but 1 thought "What the Hell" and put a call through to him. Luckily, he was available so we had a band - Aztecs #8.
New Yea 's Eve 1978 and our first gig - Adelaide. It was an outdoor concert'- we killed them. From then on we did a lot of work, about five to six jobs a week. The tour finished on March -10th, 1978, and we had a great farewell party. Billy returned to the States, Pig went off touring again with John Paul Young, Teddy went his way and I went back doing production and engineering.
Billy is at present is living in Los Angeles and has recorded a high charting album on Polydor. But will the Aztecs ever end? Just ask anybody in Australia if they have heard of Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs and you’ll have a 99.99% chance that they have.
And what about 1980? Well, negotiations are underway to revive Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs for yet another tour. And what about the year 2000? “well what of it?” you might ask. For the year 2000 is planned the all-time Aztec reunion. Billy started organising this reunion way back in 1971 and it will happen on January 1st 2000 at 12 noon an Ayers Rock.
On behalf of the Aztecs 1 would like to - thank the following people who helped us
Norm Sweeney Phil (Spy) Matthews, Wyn Barney Chris Harboard, AI Butler, Rod .DeGruchy, Michael Browning, Ion McKenzie, Roger Savage Coral Browning, Bill Joseph, Eizik Noel from Perth, Boy Blunder, Butch and his boat, Gook, Alice, Momma, Jackson and Dean, Jenny Wheeler, Frank Smith, Derek Allen, Jeremy and Daniel, 3XY, John O'Donnell, Bobby Jones, Malcolm Anderson, Adrian Anderson, Paul Turner, Patti Mostyn Phil Greenup, Jim Oram, Atlas, the Roadie, Lee Dillow, Renee Geyer, Trevor Smith, Chris Maxwell, Cliff Baxter, Barry Sullivan, Howard from Jands, Jenny Sweeney, Doyle's Fish Restaurant for their John Dory, Michael (Chuggie) Chugg, Strauss, Rodney Currie, Mel Jacobs, Andy Rayson (Dr. Mantis), Dick Mitchell, and many others too numerous to mention.
And an behalf of all The Aztecs I would like to apologise to all the motel owners whose motels we demolished and to all the Mayors whose daughters we bunned and to all those people whose egos we destroyed.
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