Blackfeather

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Blackfeather was an Australian rock group in the 1970s. The group had many members and went through two major incarnations – the earlier (short-lived) heavy rock version of the group, which recorded the album At The Mountains of Madness (1970) and the hit single "Seasons of Change", and the later piano-based line-up led by singer Neale Johns, which scored an Australian No. 1 hit single with a cover of the US pop song "Boppin' The Blues".

History[edit]

The original version of Blackfeather was formed in early 1970 by guitarist John Robinson, bassist Leith Corbett and drummer Mike McCormack (all from the final line-up of recently disbanded Sydney group The Dave Miller Set), plus lead vocalist Neale Johns. Corbett and McCormack left soon after, replaced by Robert Fortesque (bass) and Alexander Kash (drums). Corbett subsequently reunited with singer Dave Miller to record the duo album Reflections of a Pioneer.

The second line-up of Blackfeather soon became a major draw-card around NSW and the group was signed by Festival Records' newly founded progressive subsidiary Infinity Records, for whom they recorded their acclaimed debut album At the Mountains of Madness (1970). The LP was co-produced by Robinson and Festival staff producer Richard Batchens (who went on to work with Sherbet and Richard Clapton), and it featured the hit song "Seasons of Change".

During this time Robinson had become close friends with members of the group Fraternity, including keyboardist John Bissett and singer Bon Scott (both of whom contributed to the Blackfeather album). He gave them "Seasons of Change" to record as a single, and also sought an undertaking from Infinity that they would not release the original Blackfeather version to compete with it. However, as soon as Fraternity's version reached the top of the charts in their home town of Adelaide, Festival reneged on the agreement and rush-released Blackfeather's version as a single; it reached No. 15 nationally, No. 39 in Sydney, and charted for 16 weeks.

Despite this success, internal frictions escalated and there were more line-up changes. Kash and Fortesque both quit after the album came out; Kash was briefly replaced by Terry Gascoigne, then by Steve Webb, and Fortesque by Harry Brus, who had briefly worked with Robinson in the original line-up of the Dave Miller Set back in 1967). After a heated argument at Festival studios during a recording session in early 1971, Robinson and Johns parted ways but, unknown to Robinson, manager Peter Conyngham had registered the Blackfeather name and thus owned the rights to it and Johns subsequently formed a new version of Blackfeather.

Robinson, Webb and Brus struggled on as a trio for a short time before disbanding. Robinson's later ventures included work with local all-star group Duck and a sought-after solo album, Pity for the Victim. He eventually retired from performing in the 1980s and became a teacher and composer.

The new Blackfeather led by Neale Johns (as lead vocalist and songwriter) included Warren Ward (bass), Jim Penson (drums), guitarist Alex "Zac" Zytnick (ex Tamam Shud) and pianist Paul Wylde. Zytnick left in December 1971 (replaced by guitarist Billy Taylor (ex-Flake), followed by Penson at the start of 1972.

In July they released the single, "Boppin' the Blues" (b/w "Find Somebody To Love"), a reworking of a 1956 Carl Perkins song, which became a number one hit in Australia in October 1972 for the band. The song featured Aztecs member Gil Matthews on drums. Since the group was between drummers at the time, the single was actually cut with Aztecs drummer Gil Matthews; drummer Trevor Young joined temporarily just before the single was released, but Young and Billy Taylor left soon after. Young was succeeded by Greg Sheehan but Taylor wasn't replaced and Blackfeather continued as a four-piece for the next few months. This line-up recorded the second Blackfeather LP, the Howard Gable-produced live album Boppin' The Blues, recorded from shows at Melbourne Town Hall and the Q Club in September, and released in December 1972.

Paul Wylde quit at the end of 1972. He was replaced by two guitarists, Lindsay Wells (ex-Healing Force) and Tim Piper, which returned Blackfeather to the harder, guitar-based style of the Robinson era. They performed at the second Sunbury Pop Festival in January 1973 and their set was recorded and released the following year as a live LP; one track ("I'm Gonna Love You") also featured on Mushroom Records' inaugural release, the triple-album recording of the concerts, released in April 1973.

The third Blackfeather single, a version of Little Richard's "Slippin & Slidin' " was issued in February 1973, by which time Sheehan had quit. He was briefly replaced by John Lee, but the group only lasted a short time and split in April. Lee then joined the newly formed country rock group The Dingoes and later joined the second line-up of Ariel.

Johns formed a new version of Blackfeather in 1975, with Billy Taylor, Ray Vanderby (ex-Band of Light, keyboards), Billy Rylands (bass) and Doug McDonald (drums), but this lasted only a short time. In early 1976 Johns formed a more pop-oriented version, with Vanderby, Lee Brosman, Warwick Fraser and Stewart Fraser (then aged just 14). Johns quit in November 1976 and went overseas, but the remaining members stayed together; picking up John Swan on lead vocals and Wayne Smith on guitar they renamed the group Feather. In mid-1977 Swan's brother Jimmy Barnes announced that he was quitting Cold Chisel to join Feather, but his farewell performance went so well that he decided to remain with Chisel.

Johns returned to Australia in 1977 and in June 1978, after a brief stint with the band Fingerprint, he formed a new version of Blackfeather that reunited the '72 line-up of Wylde, Ward and Young. By October all the members except Johns had left, and replaced by Ray Oliver, Rick Rankin, Jeff Rosenberg and Huk Treloar. Ex-Dingoes drummer John Strangio briefly replaced Treloar, but this version folded by the end of the year.

Johns formed a final Blackfeather line-up in 1983 with Hinton, Andy Cowan (ex-Madder Lake), Cleve Judge (Bass) and Joe Vizzone (Drums) but this too was short-lived.

In the 2000s Johns has occasionally performed under the Blackfeather name in collaboration with bassist Kerry McKenna and guitarist Brendan Mason (from Madder Lake).

Members[edit]

Original line-up:

  • John Robinson (guitar) Apr 1970 – Aug 71
  • Neale Johns (vocals) 1970–73, 1976, 1978, 1983
  • Leith Corbett (bass) 1970
  • Mike McCormack (drums) 1970

Mountains line-up:

  • John Robinson (guitar)
  • Neale Johns (vocals)
  • Robert (Bob) Fortesque (bass) 1970–71
  • Alexander (Al) Kash (drums) 1970–71

Late 1970– early 1971:

  • John Robinson (guitar)
  • Neale Johns (vocals)
  • Robert (Bob) Fortesque (bass) 1970–71
  • Harry Brus (bass, vocals) 1971
  • Terry Gascoigne (drums) 1971
  • Steve Webb (drums) 1970

Post-1971 line-ups: Neale Johns (vocals), with

  • Steve Murphy (guitar) 1970–71
  • Lindsay Wells (guitar) 1970–71,1973
  • Alex "Zac" Zytnik (guitar) Aug–Dec 1971
  • Warren Ward (bass) 1971–73, 1978
  • Paul Wylde (piano) 1971–73, 1978
  • Warren Morgan (piano) late 1972
  • Jim Penson (drums) 1971–72
  • Billy Taylor (guitar) 1972, 1975
  • Paul Gray 1972
  • "Ginger"(Bob Evans) (drums 1972)
  • Trevor Young (drums) 1972, 1978
  • Greg Sheehan (drums) 1972–73, 1978
  • Tim Piper (guitar) 1972/73
  • John Lee (drums) 1973
  • Ray Vanderby (kbds) 1975
  • Ian Winter (guitar) 1975
  • Ian Rilen (bass) 1975 –
  • Billy Rylands (bass) -1975
  • Doug McDonald (drums) 1975
  • Lee Brossman (bass) 1976
  • Rex Bullen (keyboards)
  • Stuart Fraser (guitar) 1976
  • Warwick Fraser (drums) 1976
  • Wayne Smith (guitar) 1976
  • Ray Oliver (guitar) 1978, 1983
  • Derek Pelecci (drums)
  • Rick Rankin (guitar) 1978
  • Sam Righi (drums)
  • Jeff Rosenberg (bass) 1978
  • Gulliver Smith (vocals)
  • Phil Smith (drums)
  • John Strangio (bass) 1978
  • Huk Treloar (drums) 1978
  • John Tucak (bass)
  • Tom ? (bass) 1983
  • Andy Cowan (keyboards) 1983
  • Cleve Judge (bass) 1983
  • Joe Vizzone (drums) 1983

Discography[edit]

Singles[edit]

  • "Seasons Of Change" / "On The Day That I Die" (Infinity INK 4248), May 1971
  • "Boppin' The Blues" / "Find Somebody To Love" (Infinity INK 4721), Jul. 1972
  • "Slippin' & Slidin' "/ "Fly On My Nose" (Infinity INK 4988), Feb. 1973

Albums[edit]

  • At The Mountains of Madness (Infinity SINL 934159), Apr. 1971
  • Boppin' the Blues (Infinity INL 34731), Dec. 1972
  • Blackfeather Live at Sunbury (Infinity L25095), 1974

External links[edit]