Saturday, August 04, 2012

They also served

At times, these pages can resemble an obituaries column. It is probably unfair to say so, but sometimes people don't come to the front of your thoughts until something bad happens to them. Two persons of note have, sadly, fallen into that category in the past couple of weeks.

The first, and if I'm honest the one that stopped me in my tracks, was Jon Lord, keyboard player for Deep Purple.

If your life revolves around listening to music, there are certain sounds that leave a particularly strong, deeply profound impression on you. These days, for example, I regularly succumb to the (al)lure of the Hammond B-3 organ and the Fender Rhodes electric piano. As a nine-year-old, listening to tapes on my Sanyo portable cassette recorder (those tapes were frequently bootlegs picked up for next to nothing at Dandenong Market; favourite mistyped song title (actually the only one I can remember, but they were legion): "When the Leave Breaks"), I wasn't in a position to start to pick out individual instruments (well, drums and guitars, obviously). The first unique sound that I recall being able to recognise was a deep, grinding, slightly wheezing sound: a sound I now know to have been Jon Lord, playing a Hammond B-3 through a thing called a Leslie cabinet, a device that one might describe -- probably offensively to aficionados -- as like the effect of talking to somebody from the other side of a rotating fan (cue the scene where Rizzo the Rat sends secret messages to Gonzo in "Muppets From Space").

The Deep Purple record that I was listening to in those impressionable times was "Made in Japan", a double album on one cassette (!) that, as it turns out, is perhaps the best example of (the) Lord's work. (The three classic studio albums tended ever so slightly to overemphasise the guitars at the expense of the organ.) It was the time of the double live album: my collection grew to include entries from Status Quo and Jethro Tull (Led Zeppelin, Peter Frampton, Cheap Trick and Bob Dylan all put out, in the space of a few short years, double live albums of their own (what was this thing called Budokan?), but none of those were on my radar (well, except for Frampton, who was all over everything in the early days of FM radio; ah, the "talk box": another musical Rosebud)).

Anyway. When next you listen to "Smoke on the Water", consider that iconic guitar line, the one that everyone plays the first time they pick up a guitar (or, in the case of someone in our family, the fife), and listen to it closely: aside from the first couple of bars, whatever the guitar is doing, Jon Lord is right in there behind him. In fact, if it wasn't for the almost subliminal tonality / cadence / depth that the organ adds to what the guitar is doing (or maybe it's vice versa), I sometimes wonder if it would have worked at all.

The other fallen soldier this time around was Darryl Cotton.

If you were born in 1964, and absorbing Countdown and 3XY from when you were, say, nine years old into your early teens, you knew certain names and faces of Australian music: Little River Band. The Angels. Darryl Cotton. Brian Cadd. Russell Morris. At that age, you accept everything at face value. You have no idea that any of these people had a past. This only comes to you later on. As it turns out, there was a generation of Australian musicians, of which Cotton was an important part, who opened a door for the likes of Skyhooks (who themselves had a foot in the sixties), Sherbet, Mark Holden and others -- right through to your Kylies and Jasons -- to be considered as musicians first, Australians second. I am not ignoring the significance individuals such as Slim Dusty and Johnny O'Keefe, who forged a path of their own, but the wave of music that came from "home grown" (ignoring nationalities here; many were actually Poms) acts such as The Zoot and The Masters Apprentices, and the songwriting titans Vanda and Young (again, I had no idea, when "Hey St Peter" was one of my first Best Song Evahs, that these two unusual characters were already legends of the scene several times over), even the great Molly Meldrum himself, was, or at least seems from this distance to have been, the first appearance of anything like an Australian music "scene". (Where the Bee Gees fit into this idea I cannot say; they strike me as more like the Barry Humphrieses, Germaine Greers and Clive Jameses of Australian music: going overseas in order to become famous.)

In other words, if I had been born five or ten years earlier my impression would have been very different. For me, Darryl Cotton played a crucial but somewhat secondary role in the Countdown years. For my hypothetical older brother, he was much more than that. (Date of birth, however, has no bearing on the fact -- fact! -- that The Zoot's version of "Eleanor Rigby" is one of the greatest covers of a Beatles song ever. Ever.)