Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Aussie VOICE

Jeff St John and the 100 top Aussie singers:

Flicking TV channels one day last week I happened on a group discussing a soon to be released list of 100 greatest Australian singers (or voices) .... of all time (as if anyone can remember every Aussie singer ever).  But I was interested in some of the comments (though I wondered if singers not born in Australia should be included or singers who lived permanently overseas, usually because of work availability, like Kylie, Tina Arena and Keith Urban).  What really caught my eye er ear was Ken Sutcliffe (he's cute) who said he hoped his favourite singer of all time was on the list.

And who would that be, Ken?  Ken Sutcliffe claims that the greatest Aussie voice ever would be .................. Jeff St John, of The Id and Copperwine fame.

That took me right back ... to the early 1960's when I was an Art student (of the drawing, painting kind) in Sydney and a folk club groupie - with my two BFFs Libby and Jane.  We met Jeff Newton around 1963 in a folk club and hung out with him for a while. I didn't even know he sang at first. He was just a guy we met who walked with elbow crutches and was a bit wobbly. My grandmother had the same crutches.  

I remember one night, in an upstairs room of some music club or maybe it was at a party, in Mosman (the wrong side of the harbour for us normally), chatting quietly in the almost dark room - I remember blue lights, listing to distant music and Jeff telling us about the day he was casually sitting on his motorbike when a woman reversed her car around the corner and knocked him over - and so the crutches.  It was years and years before I worked out that story was not true but wasn't sure what was.  Even Ken Sutcliff wasn't sure when he referred to Jeff having polio as a child. 

But some years ago I saw Jeff on TV in a rerun of the documentary, "Rock 'n' Roll Man.  He was entertaining the children at The Northcott School For Crippled Children in Sydney Australia and while talking to the kids he tells them he was born with spina bifida. You can see some of that docu here  - 

Not only does he have an amazing singing voice but a lovely speaking voice too.  I was so pleased to see Jeff on TV that day as I had heard he'd died, but my research now shows it was guitarist, Mark St John (Mark Leslie Norton) of KISS who died so it's easy to see what happened there - and Jeff lives on.

Jeff Newton became Jeff St John and began his singing career in 1965 as a member of the Sydney band The Syndicate, which became The Wild Oats and then Jeff St John and the iD. Early in 1967 the Id had a three-month gig at a Sydney Disco, as support to the Roy Orbison/Walker Brothers/ Yardbirds Australian tour, then later that year Jeff went into hospital for four months of treatment on his legs which was not successful and he has been in a wheelchair ever since.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Jeff St John was Australia's finest rock vocalist. The rock writer Glenn A. Baker was full of praise for the roaring, finely controlled voice of Jeff St John and David `Dr Pepper' Pepperell praised his voice for '... its limitless power, its precise and meaningful phrasing and its sweetness like honey dripping from the hive'.

My friend Libby and I went to see Jeff live in Paddington, sometime in the late 60's and he was then with Copperwine.  We also saw him at the first Aussie rock festival - Ourimbah, Pilgrimage for Pop in January 1970.  Jeff St John and the Copperwine were placed third behind Fraternity and Sherbet in the 1971 Hoadley's National Battle of the Sounds competition.  They toured and appeared in live shows alongside groups like Tully and Tamam Shud, and recorded  the 'Joint Effort' album in the early 1970's.

Copperwine changed direction, with the brief addition of Wendy Saddington, so Jeff left and formed the Jeff St John Band, taking out second place (behind Sherbet) at the 1972 Battle of the Sounds.  During 1973 the Jeff St John Band scored support slots to international visitors Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Gary Glitter and the year ended with Jeff receiving the Most Outstanding Vocalist of the Year award.  In December he played a farewell concert at the Sydney Opera House and flew to the UK - came back two years later to continue touring with a backing band, Red Cloud, supported another Bo Diddley Australian tour and in 1977, Jeff became the first Australian artist to sign a record deal with Warners' US Asylum label. 

Singing in the 70's

Jeff St John made the decision to retire from live performances in 1983 at the age of 37 and towards the end of the 1990's he relocated to Perth where he still lives with this wife. He would now be 66 and I hope he still sings.

Jeff was philosophical in 2000 when he told Who Weekly:  "The madness, the speed at which we lived ... it's amazing any of us survived. All I can put my survival down to is God had reasons for me to hang around. Drug dependency - it was an accepted part of what we did - isn't a place I'd suggest anyone go to. I lost a bunch of friends because they got it wrong."

In 2000 he sang the National Anthem in the opening ceremony of the Paralympics, wearing a satin Aussie flag shirt.   Later, when speaking of this triumphant appearance he said:  "I love my country. It's allowed me to be crazy for more years than I can remember. To get up in front of 110,000 people live, with a TV audience of four billion, was a big honour."

In 2001 a CD was released, titled 'Will the Real Jeff St John Please Stand Up' - Jeffrey St John and the Embers.  I've not heard that CD, yet, but I did read a review that said -  'Not only has St. John delivered an album that stimulates and sends shivers-down-spine in equal measures, he has also proven what a singular voice he possesses – it’s still intact and full of soul, power and feeling'.   

So, that's where my research ended, until today when I found a facebook page for Jeff St John that includes links to YouTube clips and it's been great catching up again - even though it's just in my head. I doubt that Jeff Newton, or Jeff St John would remember me from a few months in  1963.




Today - still singing and with the trike Jeff calls The Dinosaur

AND - THE LIST .......... I don't know everyone on this list, I've copied a few interesting comments. When I tried to highlight my favourite voices the blog went silly so had to remove that.  I thought it was... or should be ... about the voice ... Australia's greatest singer of all time but I don't see any name on the list outside living memory. I copied this from the web so spelling errors in names are not mine.

1. John Farnham - voted Australia's greatest singer of all time.  Confirming farnsey's status as 'the singer's singer," at age 63,  Jimmy Barnes says - "John Farnham could sing the phone book and it would sound great."    Ross Wilson, who wrote Farnham’s 'A Touch of Paradise', said he was freaked out by the way Farnham sings so effortlessly. "Yes, he is The Voice and that TV show full of wannabes ought to find a new name and restore his title."
2. Bon Scott - ACDC - a total legend," says Lee Kernaghan. 
3. Tina Arena - now 45, has been sharing her voice with Australia since she started on Young Talent Time as a seven year old. She remains one of our most successful female singers internationally. 
4. Michael Hutchence
5. Jimmy Barnes -  Cold Chisel -  Barnsey, praised for his passion and his trademark power. 6. Guy Sebastian - The youngest singer in the Top 10 - won the inaugural Australian Idol ten years ago. 7. Renee Geyer

8. Sia Furler

9. Chrissie Amphlett
10. Neil and Tim Finn  - brothers from NZ but claimed as Australian.
11. Daniel Johns - angsty teenager fronting Silverchair.
12. The Bee Gees -  Maurice , Barry and Robin Gibb , born in UK, lived in Australia for a few years.

13. Stevie Wright - heart and soul of the Easybeats in the '60s,  the first Australian rock band to capture the attention of the world at large. Paul McCartney famously heard Friday On My Mind on his car radio and he immediately pulled over and phoned the BBC demanding that they play it again - which they did.
14. Paul Kelly - a slightly honky, charmingly nasal delivery" which creates "an utterly believable, warm and wise tone - born to tell stories. He is talking to you, while he's singing."
15. Vanessa Amorosi - she can do the Janice Joplin thing and then she sings soft with a vulnerable quality in there.....
16. Jessica Mauboy - discovered on Australian Idol in 2006.
17. Nick Cave - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
18. Connie Mitchell - from the group 'Sneaky Sound System'.
19. Katie Noonan
20. Gurrumul - Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunipingu. "Gurrumul definitely has one of the most natural and unique voices I’ve ever heard," Damien Leith notes. "Warm and soulful, it touches right to the core."
21. Suze De Marchi - Baby Animals
22. Daryl Braithwaite -  Sherbet
23. Sarah Blasko
24. Iva Davies - Icehouse.
25. Ian Moss - Cold Chisel.
26. Doug Parkinson
27. Glenn Shorrock - Little River Band.
28. Darren Hayes - Savage Garden - topping the US charts - twice.
29. Colin Hay - Men at Work. 
30. Gotye
31. Dan Sultan
32. Kate Ceberano - impressed with her diversity.
33. Russell Morris - more than just The Real Thing.
34. Gerry Humphries - The Loved Ones.
35. Johnny O'Keefe - launched Australian rock and roll.
36. Olivia Newton-John - tells stories through song.
37. Slim Dusty - he sang and Australia listened!"
38. Stephen Cummings
39. Ross Wilson - From Daddy Cool to Mondo Rock to a solo career.
40. Bernard Fanning - once the voice of Powderfinger.
41. Adalita - Magic Dirt, and now solo.
42. Judith Durham - the Seekers.
43. Marc Hunter - Dragon, another from NZ.
44. Kasey Chambers - country singer.
45. Joe Camilleri - Jo Jo Zep among other bands.
46. Steve Kilbey - Longtime frontman of The Church. 
47. Keith Urban - Country Music singer.
48. Daniel Merriweather
49. Billy Thorpe - and the Aztecs, and as a solo act.
50. Jon Stevens - another Kiwi adopted by Australians..
 51. Tex Perkins
52. Kylie Minogue
53. Peter Allen
54. Dale Ryder - Boom Crash Opera.
55. Jack Jones
56. Tim Rogers
57. Peter Garrett
58. Jimmy Little
59. Luke Steele - Empire of the Sun.
60. Dame Joan Sutherland
61. Archie Roach
62. Dougie Mandagi - the Temper Trap.
63. Shirley Strachan - Skyhooks.
64. David McComb - The Triffids.
65. Smokey Dawson
66. Chris Cheney - The Living End.
67. Nic Cester - Jet.
68. Gareth Liddiard - the Drones.
69. Kav Temperly - Eskimo Joe.
70. Diesel
71. Lior
72. Glenn Richards - Augie March.
73. Rowland S Howard
74. Rick Price
75. Spencer P Jones
76. Phil Jamieson - Grinspoon.
77. Ian Rilen
78. Mark Seymour
79 Lisa Gerrard
80. Robert Forster - Go-Betweens.
81. Missy Higgins
82. James Reyne
83. John Toogood - Shihad.
84. Anthony Callea
85. Grant McLennan - Go Betweens.
86. Wendy Stapleton
87. Dave Faulkner - Hoodoo Gurus.
88. Matt Walker
89. Max Merritt
90. Ed Kuepper
91. Quan Yeomans - Regurgitator.
92. Abby Dobson
93. Sally Seltmann
94. Anthony Warlow
95. Ian Kenny - Birds of Tokyo.
96. Bertie Blackman
97. Ella Hooper
98. Wendy Saddington
99. Jeremy Oxley - Sunnyboys.
100. Christine Anu 



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  1. So glad Libby and Jane got to read this. On the phone Lib says ... amazing that you remember all that ... but it was probably a folk club at Middle Harbour, not Mosman .... I remember other concerts too ... we were interested in Jeff's stories of growing up in Sydney, in an inner city Northcotte style community, so different from our upbringing at the Cronulla end of the Sutherland Shire.

  2. I agree with Ken, In his day Jeffrey's voice was much better than Farnhams. Australians have short memories. Jeffrey is alive and well and living in Perth. He has had a few wives but they are all ex-wives. At the moment he is happily living in sin with the woman he calls the love of his life.

    1. I agree with Ken too. Thank you for the update, glad to hear he is living happily. Life can be hard. Somewhere I have photos of Jeff in costume at the Sydney Art Student's Ball, he went as part of our group we dressed as the Adam's family, but Jeff insisted on wearing a roman/greek toga, so we were five Adam's family characters plus 1 greek. He might remember that event. Hope the pics turn up sometime. I think my two friends and I may be Jeff's oldest (longest) fans.


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