“This album (Sharkmouth) was done out of a labour of love because I like roots and blues music and I’d always wanted to do a roots and blues album.”
“I chose Australian history because I’ve always loved any type of history. You’d think the two kisses of death for a gold album would be blues and Australian history, so it wasn’t done with the intention, it was just done as a labour of love which has proved to be really enlightening.”
“Producer Mitch Cairns’ foresight was out of desperation of staying alive. At that stage, Brian Cadd who I was working with, had decided that he was going overseas and he dropped the bomb on us that he might not be coming back.”
“At that stage Jim Keays was very sick and Mitch said, “You’ve gotta do something or we won’t have any work!” And I said, “Well, I’ve got the blues album,” and he said, “Well FINISH IT!”
“It is a great thing (the success of Sharkmouth) and I have to thank particularly the ABC because they ABC embraced it from day one and just went ‘bang’, but the commercial stations just didn’t want to know. The ABC just broke it right across the country.”
“If anyone was going to have a gold record this year you’d have put me at the bottom of the list.”
” I think what happens with a lot of my peers, a lot of people will see a new record and whether it’s from Joe Camilleri, Daryl Braithwaite – they pre-judge it and don’t listen to it.”
” I remember when we first started in Melbourne, Ian Meldrum said to me, “We’ll go and see Stan Rofe at 3AW.” Stan Rofe was a big star to me, he was on air and I’d heard him on the radio station and I said, “Well how are we going to do that?” and he said, “We’ll just go up to the radio station!”
“So we went up to the radio station and walked in and Stan came down and had a cup of tea with us. Ian said, “We’ve got this, what do you think?” and Stan said, ‘Love it, I’ll play it.’And that’s what it was like.”
“Well, Mitch and I spoke about it (initial expectations of Sharkmouth) and I said if we’re lucky we might sell 5,000 copies, if we can get an independent release.”
“We’d have sold them at gigs to try and get our money back and if we had a small deal with a company and sold 5,000 or 8,000 we’d have made the money back.” Gold status is in 2013 is 35,000 and Sharkmouth is now creeping up towards platinum – it’s around 60,000 now and platinum is 70,000.”
“When I did the unplugged album with Liberation it sold around 8,000 so it’s been a great experience for both of us.”
“We signed to an independent record company and they took it and then rang me up, the first time it went in to the charts at about number 89, then it jumped to 49 and I was over the moon. I rang Mitch and we celebrated, and then the next week it jumped 20 places again and it just kept going right up into the top 10.”
Russell has continued a great tradition started by The Beatles of being turned down by every record company in the country and then having a success.
“I tell you what is ironic, The Real Thing was turned down as well. EMI hated it, they thought it was the biggest load of rubbish they’d ever heard.”
“EMI didn’t want to release it, they were only going to release it in Melbourne to try and make their money back because I had a following in Melbourne, so Ian Meldrum and I got in a car and drove to Sydney to go and see all the (radio) program managers because at that stage you could knock on the door of these commercial stations before they became corporate and say, “Can I speak to the program manager,” “Here’s the song, what do you think, our record company think it’s a load of rubbish, would you play it?” ‘Of course we’ll play it, will you sign that?’
“So we signed a petition that came out to really stick it to the record company. Radio and record companies at that stage weren’t getting along very well. It was just prior to the record ban where radio wanted to stop paying royalties to radio for playing songs on the air.”
Russell Morris is thought of as having lots of pop hits and a pure voice but he dabbled in blues back in the 1970s when he used musicians from Chain on one of his albums.
“They were my favourite band. I always use Barry Harvey and Barry Sullivan always, on everything, and I’d always used Phil Manning, so strangely enough it’s actually Phil Manning playing all those licks in ‘Sweet, Sweet Love’ and you’d think, ‘Who’s this syrupy guitar player?’ and it’s Phil Manning!”
“It’s (blues) where I wanted to head but I was painted into a corner once I had a pop hit and the record company saying, ‘You’ve got to produce another hit!’ and it became a factory after a while. You get caught in it.”
“I actually wished Chain had been my band because it would have taken me on a whole other direction. I don’t think Ian, Molly, would have been too happy although at that stage we’d sort of split.”
“He’s still my best mate but we’d had a couple of professional disagreements. He saw me as Australia’s Davey Jones from The Monkees or some such thing and I wanted to go in a different direction completely as a singer/songwriter so we differed on the way we were going and the record company was pressuring for another single, but I really would have loved to be with a band like Chain.”
“But your fate is your fate. Whatever happens, those doors open and close for a reason and maybe if I’d started it earlier then it wouldn’t have worked.”
“I was happy doing The Real Thing, I quite liked psychedelia. I didn’t like pop a lot but I remember Ian (Molly Meldrum) had done a number of songs with me and we’d done ‘Only A Matter of Time’ which I absolutely loathe, it was on the back of The Real Thing, and a couple of pop songs and I said to Ian, ‘This is rubbish, we’re not going in the direction I want to go,’ I said, ‘I’m not John Farnham, I’m not Ronnie Burns and I’m not Normie Rowe. I want to do something that they wouldn’t even contemplate thinking about doing. I want to go in that direction. Let’s go psychedelia, let’s go into something more band oriented than a pop single.’
“Ian, to his credit, agreed and said, ‘You’re right, they’re not different enough.”
Russell Morris actually had a whole album ready to go at one stage and decided it wasn’t good enough and he wanted to re-record the whole thing.
“EMI had gotten a record producer and he’d gotten a head of steam up and away he went. I tend to go along with things and say to people, ‘I don’t know if this is the right thing …’ and they don’t listen, they don’t listen … and all of a sudden they go, ‘You know what? Scrap it.’ And that’s what happened. He went ahead and put strings and brass on everything and it just drove me insane. I said to him, ‘I’m not releasing it.”
Russell Morris on recording The Real Thing.
“We used 8-track recording for The Real Thing. There was only two tracks for the effects, one for the vocals, everything just kinda got bounced down, I don’t think we even slaved another machine to worry about generations. I think we did slave another machine for the effects.”
“I cannot take any credit for it. Ian Meldrum was the total architect, it was his concept from start to finish.”
“A lot of it was trial and error, experimentation, but giving Molly his dues he doesn’t know what he wants in the studio but when he stumbles across it he knows instinctively that it’s right. Everyone else will be nodding off at 3am and he’ll have had some poor bloody guitar player out there playing the part over and over, ‘No! Try it this way! Try something else! Make it sound like stars!’ And that’s what happens.”
In December 2011, Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum had a serious fall while at home which for a while it seemed he wouldn’t survive.
“He wasn’t putting up Christmas lights. I was with him that day and I think that was a story that got fed around.”
“I was there that day, the reason he fell is because of him. We were doing a song for Jerry Ryan who was doing The Green Edge, the cycling team, and I was doing a duet with Vanessa Amorosi.”
“Ian had the master tapes and he said, ‘Can you take these down to Sing Sing as you’re going home?” So I left. “He was about to head to Thailand and he probably thought he’d catch some extra rays of sun. He’s got a latter cemented into the side of his wall which goes up to a sun deck. He was climbing up there with his mobile phone, his cigarettes and trying to juggle those and lost his balance and fell.”
“He would have died except his gardener, Joe, happened to be there. It was real touch and go as to whether he was going to survive but he’s great now.”
“It was funny. They (the hospital) said, ‘Ian wants to see you in hospital. You cannot talk to him about mobile phones. If he asks for your mobile phone you cannot give it to him. If he asks for drinks you can’t go and get him one. Do not talk to him about getting out of hospital.”
“It was horrifying. I thought I was going to get in there and expected to see Ian sitting in a wheelchair and drinking soup through a straw, but I got in there and there he is sitting with his baseball cap on and his tracksuit reading the paper!”
“I said, ‘Ian, I expected you to be sitting here dribbling, everyone’s given me such a hard time!’ And he said, ‘Oh they’re all such pains in the ….’ “And they’d said to me, ‘You cannot stay any longer than 20 minutes and if he shows any aggravation you have to leave immediately.”
“My 20 minutes came up and I said I’d better go but he said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous!” “I ended up staying for two hours.”
“I was also off to Thailand and flew out the next day. I got to Thailand and I got an email from Amanda Pelman who is Brian Cadd’s partner who’s great friend of Ian’s, and it says, ‘What have you done? Where is Ian? You were the last person to see him and now he’s disappeared?”
“After I left, Ian started to figure out how to get out of there because you can’t get out of the ward without a special card and the nurses won’t let you out.”
“He conjured this story and told told them, ‘I’ve decided to do physio’ which he’d been refusing to do, and they said, ‘Oh that’s great Ian, when do you want to start, Monday?”
“He said, ‘I want to start now, if you want me to do physio I want to go over and have a look and do it now.’” So they took him.”
“They got a nurse to take him over and took him down the street and as they got to the street he turned one way and just kept walking.”
“They couldn’t find him!”
You can listen to my full interview with Russell Morris, Mitch Cairns and Mark Tinson here:
Also published ABC Newcastle.