The Masters were hugely popular throughout Australia, scored a string of chart hits and were consistently hailed as one of Australia's best live and recording acts. They started out as an instrumental band, rose to prominence during the mid-Sixties "Beat Boom", moved through psychedelia and bubblegum pop, finally becoming one the first and best Australian progressive/hard rock groups of the early Seventies. They went through many lineup changes, with vocalist Jim Keays being the only constant, and their membership also illustrates the intricate interconnections between many Australian bands of that era.
The group was also notable in the Australian context in that they played mainly originals. One of their biggest Australian hits, "Undecided" (1967), was revived by Silverchair in 1997, and their best-known song "Because I Love You" has been revived many times, including its use in an Australian jeans commercial in the late 1980s. Swedish progressive metal band Opeth named the track "Master's Apprentices" (from their 2002 album Deliverance) in honour of the band, of which Opeth frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt is a fan.
The career of The Masters Apprentices can be divided into three main phases:
The band's outlook was profoundly altered by the epoch-making Australian tour by The Beatles in June 1964. Their visit had a particular impact in Adelaide, because many recent migrants from Britain had settled there. When the Fab Four arrived in Adelaide they were greeted by the largest crowd ever seen in their touring career—estimates put the figure as high as 300,000—a figure that is doubly remarkable, given that the population of Adelaide in 1964 was less than 1 million, which means that one-third of the entire population of Adelaide turned out to greet the group (see the Beatles' influence on popular culture).
The rapid musical changes that followed the Beatles' chart breakthrough and world tours made it obvious that the surf/instrumental style was rapidly becoming passé, so like scores of other groups the Mustangs decided to change their style, and take on a singer, selecting a young Scottish immigrant, Jim Keays. The Mustangs rehearsed regularly in a shed behind the hotel owned by drummer Brian Vaughton's family. Their original manager Graham Longley made a tape recording of one of these rehearsals, and fortunately it survived; it was rediscovered and released on CD in 2004 and despite the primitive recording quality and rough-and-ready performances, it provides a unique glimpse of the group's formative days.
The Masters soon established themselves on the thriving dance circuit around Adelaide, playing in suburban halls and migrant hostels and building up a strong following with local teenagers, many of whom were, like Keays, migrants from the UK. Adelaide was a major destination for British "assisted passage" migrants in the 1950s and 1960s. These young migrant audiences were an important influence for the band; many young fans were recent arrivals who had seen the top UK bands in action only weeks before. Fans also had a strong effect on the band's appearance since they were directly in touch with current mod fashions, a trend which was then not very well-known in Australia.
In late 1965, they renamed themselves The Masters Apprentices (deliberately omitting the apostrophe) as an homage to musical heroes like Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. By early 1966 they were one of the most popular beat music bands in Adelaide, regularly selling out concerts in the city, as well as making visits to outlying towns and cities like Murray Bridge, Mt Gambier and Whyalla. Their first TV appearance, on Good Friday that year, was on a Channel 7 telethon hosted by Adelaide TV celebrity Ernie Sigley.
Later in 1965 the Masters Apprentices shared an out-of-town engagement with pop star Bobby Bright from the Melbourne duo Bobby & Laurie. He was greatly impressed and recommended them to his label, Astor Records. A few weeks later, they were contacted by Astor, who requested a four-track demo. The band went to a local two-track studio to record it, but realised that they had only three songs that they felt confident to record. Needing a fourth track, guitarists Mick Bower and Rick Morrison recorded a new song, "Undecided", in about 15 minutes; the backing track was cut in about the same time. The title reportedly came from the fact that they were undecided about a name for the song when quizzed by the producer. The biting fuzz-tone of Bower's guitar on the track was a fortunate accident; it was caused by a malfunctioning valve in his amplifier, but the group liked the sound and kept the faulty valve in until after the session.
In August 1966, the band made their first visit to Melbourne, which was at the time the centre of the burgeoning Australian pop scene. They made a strong impression with showcase performances at the city's leading discotheques, The Thumpin' Tum and The Biting Eye. Their debut single "Undecided" / "Wars or Hands Of Time" was released in October and gradually climbed the Adelaide charts, thanks to strong support from local DJs.
"Wars or Hands of Time", is particularly notable as the first Australian pop song to directly address the issue of the Vietnam War, which was now directly affecting the lives of many young Australians because of the controversial introduction of conscription in 1965. The band members were not exempt from this and 20-year-old Keays was one of hundreds of potential conscripts whose birthday (September 9) was picked in one of the 1966 conscription ballots. He was able to legally avoid the draft by signing on for a term with the Citizens' Military Force (later renamed the Army Reserve). He managed to avoid the compulsory "short back and sides" haircut with the aid of his girlfriend, who carefully pinned his long hair up under his slouch hat each time he had to attend CMF sessions.
By the time of their second trip to Melbourne in late 1966, leading Melbourne disc jockey Stan Rofe had picked up the single and was playing it regularly. The Masters Apprentices were one of many famous Australian acts that Rofe championed during the 1960s, and he was a strong supporter of the band throughout their career. Another crucial connection was their meeting with Ian "Molly" Meldrum, who was then a staff writer for the pop magazine Go-Set. He and Keays became lifelong friends, and Meldrum (who went on to become a record producer and host of the influential pop show Countdown) promoted the band vigorously in Go-Set.
Returning to Adelaide, they recorded more original songs, including "Buried & Dead", which became their second single, plus other tracks which eventually wound up on their debut LP. The success of the second trip made it obvious that they should turn professional and relocate to Melbourne. This led to the departure of original manager Graham Longley and drummer Brian Vaughton, both of whom decided to remain in Adelaide.
In June 1967 Astor released the group's self-titled debut LP, featuring the aforementioned singles, several more fine originals by Mick Bower, a cover of Bo Diddley's "Dancing Girl" and a version of The Beatles' "I Feel Fine". (NB: subsequent re-releases of this album, including the first CD release in 1996, dropped the Beatles track and added two later singles, "Elevator Driver" and "Brigette").
By now the group was assimilating influences from the burgeoning psychedelic scene, although it is not known whether any of the band had actually tried the drug LSD at this point -- Keays maintains that it wasn't until some time afterwards that they began to experiment with it. Nevertheless, their next single, Mick Bower's "Living in A Child's Dream", is now widely regarded as a classic of Australian psychedelic rock and one of the greatest Australian pop songs of the era. It was recorded at the newly-opened Armstrong's Studios in South Melbourne and like all their Astor cuts it was nominally produced by Astor staff producer Dick Heming. However Keays later said that Heming's input was limited and that most of the actual production was done by renowned engineer Roger Savage, with considerable input from Ian "Molly" Meldrum. Released in August 1967 at the peak of the "Summer Of Love", it became one of their biggest successes, topping the charts in most Australian capitals. Both "Living In A Child's Dream" and "Undecided" ranked in the Top 5 Australian singles of 1967, and "Living In A Child's Dream" was voted Australian Song of the Year.
The success of the new single rapidly elevated the Masters to the status of national teen idols, but with such rapid and huge success, pressures began to mount. The first victim was lead guitarist Rick Morrison, who was forced to quit after passing out on stage during a concert in June 1967, suffering a collapsed lung. He was ordered to give up performing and was replaced by Tony Summers (ex-Johnny Young's Kompany).
Meanwhile the endless round of concerts and tours continued, with the group playing up to fifteen shows per week. A tour of New South Wales in July 1967 included some of the last pop shows staged at the famed Sydney Stadium on 30 July, and more shows at the famous Sydney Trocadero ballroom (both later demolished). Also in July, they made it into the South Australian finals of the new national band competition, the Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds.
In September 1967, while touring Tasmania, the shy and sensitive Bower suffered a nervous collapse just before a show in Hobart. Although Bower was found in his room in a state of extreme distress, the promoter insisted that the group had to perform and, faced with the prospect of going unpaid and being stranded in Hobart, they had no choice but to comply, so he was dressed, taken to the concert and pushed on stage with his guitar around his neck. The stricken Bower stood motionless all through the gig, arms hanging limp, in a near-catatonic state. He was hospitalised immediately after the gig, suffering a severe nervous breakdown, and was ordered to give up performing. He was sent home to Adelaide to recuperate, and only returned to live performance years in the late '70s.
The loss of Mick Bower was a blow comparable to Pink Floyd's loss of its early creative leader Syd Barrett, and it threatened to end the Masters' career just as it was taking off. Like Barrett, Bower was central to the Masters' success, having composed all their singles and all the original tracks on their debut album. His forced departure left the group floundering for some time, as they tried to work out how to proceed without him. When they met back in Melbourne, they decided to continue, with de-facto leadership passing to Keays. At the end of September Keays and Gavin Webb chose Bower's on-stage substitute, guitarist Rick Harrsion, but it was to be another year before a true replacement was found.
On 14 October 1967 the Masters played a free concert in Sydney's Hyde Park, as part of the Sydney Waratah Spring Festival. After parading down George St in a limousine, they were greeted by an estimated 50,000 frantic fans who had packed into the park, but after only a few songs the concert degenerated into a riot. Dozens were injured as thousands of young people crushed forward, with the force of the surging mob lifting people off their feet. When the crowd surge threatened to topple the makeshift stage, police were forced to pull the plug. In the ensuing chaos, the band was hustled through one car and into another, just as the first of the two limos hired to carry them was overturned and wrecked, with fans pummelling their car and faces blocking every inch of window. The band barely escaped, their panic-stricken driver crashing through garden beds until they lurched out onto William St and drove off with hundreds of fans pursuing them up the hill towards Kings Cross. That same evening, still dazed by the afternoon's events, they headlined a university dance named in their honour, the "Living In A Child's Dream" Ball, organised by students of the University of NSW. Keays vividly described the event in his memoirs:
New guitarist Rick Harrison quit the band immediately after these concerts and when they returned to Melbourne they recruited a new lead player, Peter Tilbrook, another Adelaide friend. His previous band, The Bentbeaks, had released a single "Caught Red Handed", which had been banned by Melbourne radio in March that year for alleged obscenity. Not long after this, Jim Keays tried LSD for the first time, an event that is hilariously recounted in his book.
With Astor pressing for a new single, the band turned to their friend Brian Cadd of The Groop, who had already written a number of successful songs for his own band and for other artists, including Johnny Farnham. Cadd presented them with the song, "Silver People", which was re-titled "Elevator Driver" and released in February 1968 as their fourth single.
As 1967 ended the Masters' career reached a critical juncture. They still had no songwriter, and both drummer Steve Hopgood and lead guitarist Tony Sommers were becoming disenchanted with the band's erratic fortunes. Keays then decided to replace them and also their second manager, Tony Dickstein. Around this time they also hired their first permanent roadie, Neil McCabe, and he soon became an indispensable part of the band. Returning to Melbourne via Sydney, Keays met two musician brothers, bassist-singer Denny Burgess and his drummer brother Colin, who played in a support band, The Haze, at a gig in suburban Ashfield, NSW. Both musically and personally, Jim was impressed and immediately earmarked Colin as a possible new drummer. Returning to Melbourne, Keays approached Ross East, lead guitarist with Jeff St John's band Copperwine and asked him to join. but East declined.
1968 was a year of major changes for the group, taking them to some of the lowest points of their career. The exact chronology of events in this period is rather unclear, and while Glenn Wheatley and Jim Keays' books are generally in accord, there are some specific points where their accounts of this year differ markedly. In January 1968 Jim Keays began to reorganise the band, and Summers and Hopgood were sacked. Impressed by his energy and his ability to find work, Keays approached Glenn Wheatley, who was then playing guitar for blues band Bay City Union, as well as that band's drummer, Tony Buettel, both of whom lived in the same street as Keays. Wheatley and Buettel opted to stay with their band, although Wheatley subsequently became the Masters' new bassist. Meanwhile, Keays arranged for Colin Burgess to be flown to Melbourne and he was hired as the Masters' new drummer. Keays then approached guitarist Doug Ford, who also lived down the road from Keays' St Kilda flat. Ford was already recognised as one of the strongest and most innovative electric guitarists on the Australian pop scene and had made his name in the second lineup of pioneering Sydney garage-punk-R&B legends The Missing Links, and its offshoot Running Jumping Standing Still.
The new recruits revitalised the Masters' flagging career. Ford -- who had gained renown among musicians as a member of legendary Sydney group The Missing Links -- was a strong songwriter, a good singer and an accomplished electric guitarist who brought a new depth to the band's sound. He agreed to join as soon as he had fulfilled his obligations to his current band, and as soon as he joined the Masters, he and Keays began working as a writing team. Ford's arrival finally filled the gap left by Mick Bowers' departure and made possible their transition from pop band to rock group. As the partnership developed, Keays and Ford created a repertoire of memorable songs which balanced heavy guitar rock with lyrical acoustic touches.
In April 1968 bassist Gavin Webb -- the last remaining member of the original Mustangs -- was forced to quit, suffering from stomach ulcers. Keays set about finding a new bassist. His first choice was Beeb Birtles of Zoot (and later of Little River Band) but Birtles declined. On the flight home, Keays found himself seated next to artist manager Darryl Sambell, who was then enjoying huge success with his young protégé Johnny Farnham. Keays and the flamboyant Sambell hit it off, and Sambell soon took over the Masters' management.
Sambell's management turned out to be a mixed blessing. He was a master networker and had a flair for getting publicity; he also freed them from their Astor contract and signed them to EMI, the largest label in Australia at that time. He was also a partner in the newly-formed AMBO booking agency, a new 'superagency' put together by a group of leading agent-managers including Gary Spry, Bill Joseph, Jeff Joseph and Don La Roche. This proved very helpful for concert bookings but in the long run Sambell proved to be more interested in Farnham's career and the day-to-day management duties gradually fell to Glenn Wheatley. Sambell's pop tastes were also were at odds with the developing progressive direction of the Masters' music.
Glenn Wheatley joined the band sometime during the early months of 1968, probably in March or April, just after Gavin Webb had to leave. Their next single, "Brigette" -- released in June 1968 and their last single for Astor -- marked the debut of the Ford/Keays writing partnership. Keays has noted that it was inspired by his love of Donovan's "Mellow Yellow", although it also bears a resemblance to some of The Move's earlier singles. The quasi-baroque arrangement included a string section scored by The Strangers' John Farrar, and while it did not fare as well as previous efforts, it took them back into the Top 40.
Mid-year, they topped the annual Go-Set Pop Poll as 'Most Original Group', and they came second to The Twilights as 'Most Popular Australian Group'. They entered the South Australian heats of the 1968 Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds, beating local rivals Zoot in a tense contest, but ultimately they were again runners-up in the national final. It was held in Melbourne in July, and they were beaten this time by The Groove, with Doug Parkinson In Focus coming third.
After the Hoadleys final, the band was approached by the manager of the Sitmar cruise line, the other major sponsor of the contest. He told the band that he had voted for them in the final, thought they should have won, and offered them a working trip to England, with free passage in exchange for performances during the voyage. At a meeting the week after the Hoadleys finals, the Masters took Sambell's advice, and decided not to renew their contract with Astor. Sambell indicated that he would be able to negotiate a new contract with EMI, which he did. Sambell also announced that he was "poaching" faithful roadie Neil McCabe to work in his office and take care of his No. 1 act, Johnny Farnahm. Although disappointed to lose McCabe, the band soon found an able replacement in the equally loyal and capable Adrian "Ada" Barker.
Live performances continued throughout the year and in the second half of 1968 they went back into Armstrong's Studios to cut their first single for EMI, although this was not released until early 1969. Meanwhile, Astor released the song "But One Day" (an old track from their debut LP) as a single in August, but the band urged fans not to buy it and it failed to chart.
The band played hundreds of concerts during the year, touring around country Australia, visiting interstate capitals and dashing from dance to dance around greater Melbourne. Their schedule was punishing -- typically they would play three shows a night on Fridays and Saturdays (performances in those days usually averaged about 45 minutes), and then head to the Channel 0 TV studios on Saturday mornings for appearances on the leading pop show of the day, Uptight!.
In December 1968 Peter Tilbrook left the band, so Wheatley moved to bass, creating the 'classic second lineup of The Masters Apprentices, but a major problem emerged only days later. Returning to Melbourne in the second week of December, Glenn Wheatley found a message from Sitmar, and when he called back he was roundly abused by the cruise line's furious entertainment manager. It transpired out that Sitmar had arranged for the group to leave on a London-bound cruise liner the previous week, but the band had been in Brisbane. Unable to locate them, the liner had been delayed for an entire day while Sitmar found a group to replace them. The band confronted Darryl Sambell, who denied the whole affair, but a further check with Sitmar confirmed that the whole deal had been arranged with Sambell who, caught up with Johnny Farnham's affairs, had simply forgotten to tell them about it.
By the end of the year, finances and morale were at rock bottom. Despite the constant performing, the group were now deeply in debt, and internal tensions were nearing breaking point. By the end of the year, friction between the group and their manager had become intolerable. Their final show of the year was on New Year's Eve 1968-69, and between sets the band members talked through their problems, patched up their differences, and agreed that Sambell had to go. Wheatley offered to take on the day-to-day booking and promotion work, leaving Keays and Ford free to concentrate on writing.
With their differences settled, the new lineup settling in, and the Ford/Keays writing team hitting its stride, the band now moved into its best-remembered and most successful phase. The long-awaited first EMI single was moderately successful, and even though it was something of a false start artistically, "Linda Linda / Merry-Go-Round" (March 1969) marked the beginning of a short but successful collaboration with New Zealand-born producer Howard Gable. The rather corny A-side fell into the same faux-musical-hall category as UK songs like "Winchester Cathedral" but the rocky B-side showed strong hints of how the group was really developing. The single missed out on the Top 40 by one place but gained radio airplay and helped to revive their waning popularity.
The Masters continued to tour across the country, and it helped to weld them into a close-knit unit. Meanwhile articles, profiles, pinups and TV appearances proliferated; indeed they were so overexposed, Keays claims, that they began to turn down TV appearances for fear of becoming too familiar to audiences. When they played at the annual Moomba concert in March at the Myer Music Bowl, they drew a crowd of just under 200,000 people, second only to The Seekers' record-breaking appearance there in 1967. Their next single, the rocky "5:10 Man", released in July 1969, initiated a string of Top 20 hits. It was a deliberate move towards a heavier sound, and the Masters were keen to distance themselves from the current bubblegum craze that their manager and/or producer wanted them to exploit.
Also in July, with "5.10 Man" climbing the charts, they had their third and final attempt at the Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds, and once again they were runners-up -- although this time they ran such a close second to Doug Parkinson's In Focus that they were reportedly also offered the coveted winner's prize, a trip to England with the Sitmar line. According to Keays, the Masters won on points but he claims that the judges may have felt that the group's 'bad boy' image did not make them suitable candidates to take first place.
While substantially true, this image had been deliberately played up by the band and fuelled by press reports like the infamous Go-Set 'expose' headlined "Sex is thrust upon us". Written by Go-Set staffer Lily Brett (with Jim Keays' full cooperation) the article and its follow-up revealed some of the milder aspects of the bacchanalian groupie scene that had surrounded the band for the last three years. According to Keays the outside wall of their first group flat in Melbourne had famously been daubed with the slogan "Band Moll's Paradise" in three-foot high letters, and a continuous string of groupies passed through the flat day and night. The 'bad-boy' publicity was also another means of frustrating Sambell's plans to market them as a wholesome teen combo.
About this time the band also switched to wearing leather stage outfits. This fitted well with the 'bad-boy' image and had a much more practical outcome. It was common in the Sixties for pop stars like the Masters to regularly have their clothes and hair literally torn off them by frantic fans, and the cost of buying expensive stage clothes which were being shredded on a nightly basis was sending the band broke. But the leather gear -- which resisted even the most ardent fans -- provided then with their longest-wearing outfits in years, and Keays maintains that it saved them thousands of dollars.
In August the Masters headed off around Australia on the remarkable "Operation Starlift", an historic all-Australian package tour, the largest of its kind yet attempted. It featured some of the top groups and solo artists of the day -- The Masters, Johnny Farnham, Ronnie Burns, Russell Morris, Johnny Young, Zoot, and The Valentines. Although the tour was apparently a financial disaster, it was a promotional success for the Masters. The Brisbane Festival Hall concert was a highpoint of the tour and they drew a record crowd there, breaking The Beatles' 1964 attendance record. Glenn Wheatley was dragged offstage by the audience and had his pants and coat literally torn to shreds, with the result that one of the police on hand threatened to stop the show and arrest Glenn for indecent exposure if they did not finish playing immediately.
Back in his hotel room after the show, however, Wheatley had time to reflect on the event, and it became the turning point in his life and career, because it finally drove home to him just how badly the band was being exploited. He calculated that the crowd had paid $5 per ticket -- so the box office gross must have been at least $30,000-$35,000 -- yet the Masters, like all the other acts, were on a fixed fee. They received just $200 for the concert, and the top-billed act, Johnny Farnham, was paid only about $1000. Wheatley quickly realised that the promoters had pocketed the lion's share of the takings.
As a result, the group decided to manage and book themselves and over the closing months of 1969 Wheatley became more and more involved in choosing venues, booking shows and promoting the group, placing them with far more care to avoid over-exposing them, cutting down on appearances and increasing their fee. They closed the year in promising style with the bluesy single "Think About Tomorrow Today", which provided another Top 20 hit nationally and went to #1 in Melbourne. This was later used by the Bank of New South Wales in its youth-oriented TV ads.
Early in 1970 the Masters officially parted with Darryl Sambell and set up their own booking agency, Drum. Based in a terrace house office in Drummond St. Carlton, Drum began by handling the Masters' own management but within a few months it was also booking and promoting gigs for The Sect, Ash, Lovers Dream, Big Daddies, Thursday's Children, Looking Glass, Daisy Clover, Nova Express, Company Caine, Plastic Tears, Little Stevie, Tamam Shud, Jeff St John, Flying Circus and fourteen other acts, as well as promoting tours by overseas acts The Four Tops and Paul Jones (ex-Manfred Mann).
The Masters had been stockpiling tracks since they signed with EMI, and in February 1970 their long delayed second LP Masterpiece was finally issued. Although something of a hodgepodge (as Keays freely admits) it showed the band developing a much broader range. It included the single tracks "Linda Linda", "5:10 Man" and "A Dog, A Siren & Memories", and "How I Love You", although it omitted the excellent "Merry-Go-Round". By then they were beginning to come to grips with the album format and they emulated the current fad for concept albums by linking the songs with a short guitar-and-string arrangement, crossfaded between tracks. The title track, a live recording, provides a vivid aural snapshot of a Masters live show ca. 1968, complete with the deafening screams of fans. The album also includes the Masters' own version of "St John's Wood", a track Keays and Ford gave to Brisbane band The Sect, who released it as a single on Columbia during the year.
In April 1969 EMI released of one of the group's best singles, "Turn Up Your Radio", produced by Howard Gable, and engineered by Ern Rose. It was recorded at a late-night session and Keays later recounted that he was so drunk by the time he had to record his lead vocal that he had to be held up to the microphone. The song was deliberately designed to be as loud and offensive as the group could make it, and was intended as the final nail in the coffin to their ill-conceived teenybopper image. It was released in the middle of a major dispute between commercial radio stations and record companies, which resulted in the banning of many major-label releases, and despite the fact that it apparently received little airplay on commercial radio, the song raced up the charts and peaked at #7 nationally.
The six-week ocean voyage aboard the "Fairsky" provided a welcome break after years of constant gigging. Free from the pressures and distractions of touring, they used the time to good advantage, writing and rehearsing new material and trying out the new songs each night. They arrived in London in early July, in spite of some hair-raising misadventures during a stopover in Panama, where they were 'ripped off' while trying to obtain some of the legendary local marijuana. Arriving at the height of a glorious English summer, the band entered their happiest and most productive period.
They initially moved into a hotel in Bayswater, but it quickly ate into their savings, so together with two friends from the cruise ship they moved into a house in North Harrow in London, where they continued to write and rehearse, and also made contact with other Aussie expatriates. Freed from the grind of constant performing, they gleefully immersed themselves in the cultural life of the capital, going on shopping sprees for clothes on the famous Kings Road of Chelsea, ploughing through scores of new records and doing the rounds of clubs and concerts, seeing the best music on offer. Wheatley continued work on a manuscript which he had begun during the ocean voyage, entitled "Who the Hell is Judy In Sydney?", which recounted his experiences with the group. His memoir was apparently too hot for any publisher at the time and was never printed, but it became the basis for his autobiography Paper Paradise.
The major problem was that they did not play live, lacking adequate equipment and a solid set of new material. Having only been advanced $500 by EMI Australia, Wheatley started knocking on doors in hopes of getting the band established in London and possibly securing a record deal. His first contact was with expatriate Australian impresario Robert Stigwood, who was by then managing Eric Clapton and The Bee Gees. Stigwood had been an associate of Darryl Sambell but Wheatley's plea for assistance fell on deaf ears. Wheatley next made contact with EMI in London, and was fortunate to find an ally in 18 year-old Trudy Green, secretary to EMI staff producer Jeff Jarratt. Green went on to become a leading artist manager with clients including Heart, Janet Jackson and Mick Jagger. She took a liking to the band and was instrumental in getting Jarratt interested in the Masters, and in the end he agreed to produce them.
EMI Australia then agreed to pay for the recording of an album, with EMI UK providing artwork and the group were thrilled to learn that recording would take place at the legendary Abbey Road Studios with Jarratt and engineer Peter Bown. The album deal was a dream come true for the group -- Jarratt had worked on some of the later Beatles recordings, and Bown's recent credits included Pink Floyd's A Saucerful of Secrets, Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother.
Just before the scheduled start of recording, Jim Keays made a quick trip to mainland Europe, and he was in Copenhagen when he heard the news of the death of Jimi Hendrix, one of the Masters' biggest idols. On his return to London, Jim and Doug penned "Song For A Lost Gypsy", which they immediately added to the list of songs to record. They entered the studio in September to record the tracks that would form their next LP, Choice Cuts. The staff and facilities were superior to anything available at the time in Australia, allowing them a far greater range of expression on record.
The songs they brought to the sessions -- many written during the voyage over -- were their most original and distinctive yet, distilling all their recent musical influences. They encompassed the heavier sounds of people such as Jimi Hendrix, King Crimson and Free, as well as the acoustic styles of Donovan, the Small Faces and Van Morrison (whose Astral Weeks LP was on constant rotation at their North Harrow house). They brought in outside musicians to augment some tracks, and famously made use of Paul McCartney's white grand piano on a few cuts, including Because I Love You. During the sessions they bumped into a "who's who" of British music including The Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, Barclay James Harvest, Ringo Starr and Roy Harper. Towards the end of the sessions, they found themselves one song short of the optimum LP length, so at Jarratt's suggestion they quickly knocked together a new song, built up from a Latin-flavoured instrumental shuffle that Ford had been playing around with. Keays wrote lyrics for the piece overnight, they cut it the next day and it became the album's opening track "Rio De Camero".
The entire LP was recorded, mixed and mastered within a month, and the band were thrilled with the results. The choice of the first single was obvious. "Because I Love You" a beautiful song of love, separation and independence, has long since become their most popular and enduring recording. To promote it back home they called on Australian filmmaker Timothy Fisher to make a music video for them. The simple but effective clip was filmed on a chilly autumn morning on Hampstead Heath. Black-and-white prints were shown many times on Australian TV (colour was not introduced there until 1975) but the clip was in fact shot in colour, as were several other clips for tracks from the LP, most of which were never screened
The album's distinctive cover photo depicts an elegant, overstuffed chair in a panelled room, with a mysterious disembodied hand holding a cigarette floating above it. It was created for them by the famous English design house Hipgnosis, who were responsible for world-famous covers for Pink Floyd, 10cc, Led Zeppelin and many others.
Despite the good prospects for their new LP, the band were caught by surprise soon after its completion when Glenn Wheatley revealed that they were almost broke. They were determined to stay in London but they desperately needed more funds. A phone call to EMI Australia for financial assistance proved futile, so they put together an emergency plan, scheduling an Australian tour which would raise the needed funds.
Wheatley headed home to organise the tour, and he managed to securing a local soft drink company as a sponsor. The Masters returned to Australia at the end of December 1970, just as "Because I Love You" was released. It provided them with their fourth consecutive Top 20 hit, reaching #12 nationally, and it became one of the key songs of the new era of Australian rock.
The Masters began their wide-ranging Australian tour in Perth. The day they returned, Howard Gable joined them with portable four-track equipment and recorded their first show at the Nickelodeon Theatre, a former cinema which had been converted to a live music venue. Having only just stepped off the boat from England, the band was tired and under-rehearsed, and although the group was not satisfied with the results, these recordings became the live LP Nickelodeon, reputed to be only the second live rock album ever recorded in Australia. Two tracks -- the brooding "Future of Our Nation" and the non-album cut "New Day" -- were put out as a single in June.
In their absence the Masters had been voted top group in the 1970 Go-Set Pop Poll, and both their 1970 singles had been major hits. Nevertheless, they had been away for some time, and both the band and the music scene had changed dramatically. Although they at first struggled to regain the popularity they had once enjoyed, a breakthrough gig at Chequers in Sydney allowed the tour to gain momentum, helped by a lengthy profile in the magazine POL, written by freelance journalist and fan Howard Lindley. He became one of the group's most ardent supporters, and later on he also started work on a film about the band. He shot several performances in the weeks before they returned to England, but sadly the project foundered when Lindley committed suicide, just before the Masters were due to return to England. Only fragments of this material have survived.
While they were still touring Australia, the group received word that EMI England were pleased with the new album, and in February the label released "I'm Your Satisfier" as the first UK single. In April Choice Cuts was released in Australia to widespread acclaim, reaching #11 on the album charts. They made numerous TV appearances, including a three-song live set for the ABC's GTK program which included a live-in-the-studio performance of "Future of Our Nation". In Melbourne they played a major concert at the Town Hall, supported by Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs.
When Choice Cuts was released in the UK it was well-received by critics, but the band were still in Australia, short of money, and they could have done little to exploit the opportunities even if they had known about them. As the tour dragged on into months, they began to falter, and they endured several ripoffs at the hands of unscrupulous promoters. By early 1971 they had reached another low ebb. With the chances of returning to England now remote, the Masters reluctantly decided to split up.
On the verge of the breakup, however, EMI's John Halsall called from London to inform them that Choice Cuts was receiving glowing notices in the English music press, including a rave review in Melody Maker. He told them it was selling well in England and starting to make an impression in Europe -- the track "I'm Your Satisfier" had been released in France and had gone into the Top 10 there. Halsall urged them to return to London as soon as possible, and that they would be able to record a new album there, so they hastily organised their return to the UK. They decided to take the boat rather than fly (to save money) so Wheatley again approached the Sitmar Line. To their delight, Sitmar offered them another complimentary trip and EMI agreed to finance another LP when they got back to London.
They left for England on 15 May 1971, this time aboard the "Fairstar" and accompanied by Wheatley's girlfriend Alison, and Keays' wife Vicky and their baby son James. Unfortunately, by the time they arrived back in the UK, almost three months had passed since Halsall's phone call and interest was waning. Resigning themselves to the inevitable, they contacted EMI and set up the promised new recording, slated for about three months ahead. They employed an outside PR agent, Jim Haswell, who managed to get some small reviews for them, but Wheatley was unable to find an agency that would book them, and although Doug Ford insisted on keeping up the regime of regular rehearsals, they had no live work at all.
At this point a new UK label Bronze -- who had just signed Slade and Uriah Heep -- made an approach to the Masters to become their third act. Although the group was hesitant (being still signed to EMI) they decided to use the offer as leverage in hopes of getting a better deal out of their record company. Wheatley delivered an ultimatum to EMI Australia, demanding that they either release the Masters from their contract or match Bronze's offer of £90,000. Predictably, EMI did neither, responding with a laughable advance of $1000. Fearing legal repercussions, the band ruefully declined Bronze's offer, but Jim Keays' later opined that the best course of action would have been to "...sign with Bronze and let the lawyers work it all out later."
Returning to Abbey Rd in the autumn of 1971, the Masters were reunited with Jarratt and Bown, plus engineer (and Sgt Pepper's veteran) Richard Lush. Most of the new LP was recorded in Abbey Road Studio Two at the same time that John Lennon was making his epochal John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band LP in Studio One and Keays vividly recalls the thrill of peeking in as Lennon was recording "Working Class Hero". According to Wheatley, one of the tracks ("Games We Play") was recorded at George Martin's Air Studios, with Martin himself conducting the children's choir which features on the second part of the track.
The new album was titled A Toast to Panama Red, in homage to the aforementioned variety of Central American marijuana. The LP has since been lauded as one of the best Australian progressive releases of the period, but it was largely ignored at the time. Sales were possibly hindered by the lurid cover, which even Keays later admitted was not an ideal choice, being as garish as Choice Cuts was tasteful. Designed and painted by Keays, it was evidently a dig at the British, and featured a grotesque psychedelic caricature of a bulldog's head wearing a Union Jack eye patch, its ears are skewered by an arrow from which dangles a tag, emblazoned with the album's title.
The Masters played sporadic shows to support the album, which was well-reviewed in England, but EMI Australia did nothing to assist them. Without the necessary backing, it was clear by the end of 1971 that they were not going to achieve the success they had dreamed of. Although Keays' recollections are more positive, Wheatley's own account of the album sessions is that they were an unhappy experience for him. He had a bad LSD trip the night before they went into the studio and began the recording in a negative frame of mind. Tensions mounted steadily during the recording and in fact Wheatley did not play on some of the tracks, with his parts covered by Doug Ford. According to Keays, Glenn had been working part-time at a management agency over the previous few months and apparently had insufficient time to rehearse because of his day job. Early in 1972 EMI issued the new album, and in February they lifted a single from it, the anthemic "Love Is", which had been recorded using a twelve-string acoustic specially loaned to Doug Ford for the occasion by one of his heroes, The Shadows' Hank B. Marvin. Without adequate support, both LP and single sank without trace in Australia, in spite of their high quality. The group's valedictory recording, and the very last track they recorded together, was the album's delicate and poignant closing track, "Thyme To Rhyme" .
Wheatley tried to convince the rest of the band that they should break up but the others disagreed, so he announced he was leaving to work full-time for the management agency. Soon after, Keays announced his own departure and his intention to return to Australia immediately. Ford and Burgess decided to keep going and they sent for Colin Burgess's brother Denny, who took over on bass. This final trio lineup of the Masters soldiered on for a few months, and made one recording (unreleased at the time) before finally splitting in mid-1972.
In late 1974 Keays embarked on the recording of an ambitious concept LP Boy From The Stars. He premiered the album at the final Sunbury Festival in January 1975, where his all-star backing group was joined by Glenn Wheatley, recently returned from the UK. It was to be the last time they played together in public for over ten years. Ironically, after all the ripoffs they endured in the Masters, Keays and his band were also the only group to play at Sunbury who were paid -- Keays had wisely arranged an outside sponsor -- and low attendance and the huge $60,000 fee paid to headliner Deep Purple meant that none of the other Australian acts who appeared at the festival were paid, and the festival organisers went into liquidation soon after.
Glenn Wheatley moved into a long and successful career in management, applying the lessons learned and contacts made with the Masters to managing other bands. He spent several years in England and America learning the business. On the eve of his return to Australia at the end of 1974, he was invited to manage the reformed version of Australian harmony-rock band Mississippi. After a name change to Little River Band they set about cracking the American market and Wheatley was instrumental guiding them to their historic American commercial breakthrough in 1976-77. In the mid-1980s Wheatley oversaw the career revival of his old friend John Farnham, mortgaging his own house to finance Farnham's hugely successful album Whispering Jack. Under Wheatley's guidance, Farnham staged one of the most spectacular comebacks in Australian entertainment history and Whispering Jack (financed in part with money Wheatley had secured by mortgaging his own house) became the biggest-selling locally-produced album in Australian recording history.
In the early '80s there was a revival of interest in The Masters Apprentices thanks to rock historian Glenn A. Baker, who produced a feature on the band for his "Rock & Roll Trivia Show" on Sydney radio station Triple J, which in turn led to the release of a definitive compilation LP, Wars of Hands Of Time. The classic Keays-Ford-Burgess-Wheatley lineup finally reformed in August 1987 for a "Back to the 60s" special on the popular TV variety show Hey Hey It's Saturday. It marked the first time all four had played together since Glenn left the group in late 1971. They undertook a reunion tour during 1988 and released an album featuring new material and new versions of their classic songs, from which they lifted the single "Birth of the Beat". The perennial "Because I Love You" also gained new prominence around that time via its use in a series of advertisements for a well-known brand of jeans.
The group (minus Wheatley, who only participated in the TV reunion and a few early gigs) have since undertaken occasional concerts, and in September 1995 they released a new version of "Turn Up Your Radio", recorded with Hoodoo Gurus. Wheatley, Ford and Keays subsequently reunited in Melbourne to perform 'unplugged' at the launch of Keays' book, in which he signalled his intention not to participate in any further reunions.
In October 1998, the Masters Apprentices finally received long-overdue formal recognition for their achievements from the Australian record industry, when they were inducted (along with The Angels) into the ARIA Hall Of Fame. The same year they were also honoured in Australia Post's "Rock & Roll" series, with a stamp commemorating "Turn Up Your Radio".
Only a month after their ARIA induction, Colin and Denny Burgess narrowly escaped death after the car in which they were travelling was struck by a semi-trailer as they were being driven to a party following the launch of the debut CD by their new band Good Time Charlie. Both were severely injured -- Colin suffered multiple fractures and internal injuries and as a result could not be moved from the wreck for some time, and he was lucky to survive. Denny also received serious injuries and had to undergo plastic surgery. Fortunately both made a full recovery and they have since been the subject of a critically acclaimed documentary.
1999/2000 saw the long-awaited release of remastered editions of all the Masters' original albums on CD, the publication of both Keays' and Wheatley's memoirs, and the establishment of official web sites for both Keays' and The Masters (see Links), and in June 2000 ABC-TV screened an edited version of the documentary Turn Up Your Video, which was accompanied by the release of the full-length home video.
Despite Keays' earlier announcement, the band has since reformed on a few occasions, most notably for the hugely successful "Long Way To The Top" national concert tour, which featured a host of the best Australian acts of the rock era. They also performed at the now-legendary all-star benefit concert held in aid of 70s star Ted Mulry. They also appeared at the October 9 2005 benefit concert in Melbourne in aid of former Rose Tattoo guitarist Peter Wells. Another famous performance was at the 2005 clipsal 500, along with Hoodoo Gurus.
1965 - The original lineup, formed in Adelaide:
1966, Late - Turn professional, Vaughton leaves:
1967, June - Morrison leaves due to health problems
1967, September - Bower suffers breakdown, replaced briefly by Rick Harrison then Tilbrook:
1968, January - Sommers and Hopgood depart (although Burgess recalls playing with Sommers):
1968, March - Webb is forced to leave with stomach ulcers:
1968, May - Wheatley joins
1968, December - by years end the "classic" line-up is in place:
The Masters Apprentices – Astor AEP-4012: Undecided; Buried And Dead; She’s My Girl; Hot Gully Wind. 1967
The Masters Apprentices Vol 2 – Astor AEP-4059: War Or Hands Of Time; Living In A Child’s Dream; Tired Of Just Wandering; Elevator Driver. 1967
Turn Up Your Radio – Columbia SEGO-70190: Turn Up Your Radio; Merry-Go-Round; 5:10 Man; Think About Tomorrow Today. 1970.
Undecided/Wars, Or Hands Of Time – Oct 1966 Astor A-7071
Buried And Dead/She's My Girl May – 1967 Astor A-7075
Living In A Child's Dream/Tired Of Just Wandering – Aug 1967 Astor A-7081
Elevator Driver/Theme For A Social Climber – Feb 1968 Astor A-7087
Brigette/Four Years Of Five – Jun 1968 Astor A-7102
But One Day/My Girl – Aug 1968 Astor A-7126
Linda Linda/Merry-Go-Round – Mar 1969 Columbia DO-8677
5:10 Man/How I Love You (instrumental) – Jul 1969 Columbia DO-8826
Think About Tomorrow Today/A Dog, A Siren And Memories – Dec 1969 Columbia DO-8995
Turn Up Your Radio/Jam It Up – Apr 1970 Columbia DO-9104
Because I Love You/I'm Your Satisfier – Feb 1971 Columbia DO-9341
Future Of Our Nation/New Day – Jun 1971 HMV EA-9525
Love Is/Southern Cross – Feb 1972 Columbia DO-9821
Rio De Camero/Thyme To Rhyme – Aug 1974 EMI EMI-10560
Because I Love You (rerecording)/I'm Your Satisfier (rerecording) – Oct 1988 Virgin VOZ 039
Birth Of The Beat/Birth Of The Beat (by The Groop) – Nov 1988 Virgin VOZ 043
Cortina Jungle/Mandrake Wine – 1989 From The Vault VOL 2 #1
Turn Up Your Radio; Turn Up Your Radio (with the Hoodoo Gurus) (CD) – Sep 1995 EMI 8740782