Ayers Rock (band)

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Ayers Rock
Also known as
  • Burton McGuire & Kennedy
Origin Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Genres Jazz fusion, progressive rock
Years active 1973 (1973)–1981 (1981)
Labels Mushroom, Festival, A&M, RCA, Red Rock
Associated acts The Delltones, Kala, Doug Parkinson in Focus, King Harvest, Leo de Castro and Friends, Jim Keays, Ray Burton Band, Georgie Fame
Past members
  • Ray Burton
  • Mark Kennedy
  • Duncan McGuire
  • Jimmy Doyle
  • Col Loughnan
  • Phil Stone
  • Chris Brown
  • Les Young
  • Doug Gallacher
  • Russell Dunlop
  • Joe Tattersall
  • Keith Caisey
  • John Young
  • Andy Cowan
  • Steve Hogg
  • Hamish Stuart

Ayers Rock were an Australian jazz fusion, progressive rock band, which formed in August 1973. Ray Burton (guitar, vocals), Mark Kennedy (drums) and Duncan McGuire (bass) had all been members of Leo de Castro and Friends. They left to form an eponymous trio: Burton, McGuire & Kennedy. They added another guitarist, Jimmy Doyle, changed their name to Ayers Rock, and invited Col Loughnan (saxophones, flutes) to join. The group signed to independent label, Mushroom Records, by December 1973. Burton left in March the next year and was replaced by Chris Brown (guitar, vocals). Through persistent live appearances, coverage in print media, and word of mouth, the group established a high national profile, despite receiving little radio airplay. Music journalists acknowledged their excellent musicianship, innovative music, and an ability to re-interpret their music at live venues.

The band's first album, Big Red Rock (November 1974), received positive reviews and peaked at No. 32 on the Australian Kent Music Report Albums Chart. It had mainstream rock songs, and three longer, instrumental tracks, which introduced progressive styles including jazz-fusion. Label owner, Michael Gudinski, promoted them in Los Angeles and they signed with A&M Records – the first Mushroom Records artists to be contracted to an international label. The United States release of Big Red Rock in February 1975, was followed by a US tour later that year. Ayers Rock played to massive US crowds when supporting major international artists, including Bachman–Turner Overdrive in front of an audience of 35,000 people – the first Australian band to perform in such large US stadiums. Ayers Rock were named 1975 "Musicians of the Year" in RAM‍ '​s "New Year's Honors List".[1] Kennedy left before their second album, Beyond (April 1976), was released, which had been recorded at Record Plant, L.A. It blended different music genres and received positive critical reception from reviewers; it reached No. 50. The band toured the US again, however Loughnan stayed in America, and they temporarily broke up in August 1976.

A year later Doyle and Brown recruited members for a new line-up, including Andy Cowan (keyboards, vocals) and Hamish Stuart (drums). In 1980 they released their third album, Hotspell, on their own label, Red Rock Records. This featured a soft rock style with sophisticated arrangements, and prominent keyboards, but no wind instruments. It did not appear on the Australian albums chart and the group permanently disbanded in 1981. Commercially, although their first two albums were successful in Australia, none of their six singles charted. In their early years from 1973 to 1976, the group were generally praised in the local media for their music, its diversity of styles, their use of the latest technology, and for the energy of their live performances. Ayers Rock received positive reviews in Billboard and Cashbox. In the late 1990s music historians recognised the band's talent, but also thought their music could be over-indulgent at times, and that they failed to bridge the gap between artistic and commercial success. Duncan Kimball of Milesago.com website concluded "that they never really got the chance to reach their full potential."[2]

Australian music scene[edit]

Ayers Rock were formed in the context of the Australian popular music scene of the early 1970s.[3][4][5] This consisted of artists of various genres including mainstream pop (for example Zoot and Liv Maessen), blues rock (Chain), heavy rock (Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs) and boogie genres (Carson).[4][5] Some bands combined mainstream rock with progressive rock (Blackfeather,[6] Madder Lake).[7] Most pop and rock music patrons had never heard jazz fusion,[8] so that when Ayers Rock introduced such material to their sets, it was a genre rarely performed by fellow Australian artists.[9][10]

In the early 1970s the Australian music media expressed frustration that few local artists had been successful overseas.[5] Many artists had ventured to the United Kingdom, tried their best, but generally had little commercial success (The Twilights,[11] The Masters Apprentices,[12] The Groop,[13] and Axiom).[5][14] The local music press, such as Go-Set newspaper, lamented this situation on a regular basis.[5] From 1970 to 1975, later called the "Third Wave" of Australian rock, saw the expansion of pub rock venues in the southern, and eastern states.[4]

History[edit]

1973: Formation[edit]

Ayers Rock were an Australian jazz fusion, progressive rock band formed in Melbourne in August 1973.[2][3] Ray Burton, Mark Kennedy, and Duncan McGuire had been members of Leo de Castro and Friends.[2] In June that year they left to form an eponymous trio, Burton McGuire & Kennedy.[3] Burton, on guitar, had played with The Dave Bridge Quartet, The Delltones, and The Executives.[3] In the United States he had worked with Australian singer, Helen Reddy, to co-write "I Am Woman" (May 1972).[2][15] McGuire, on bass guitar, was also a recording engineer and producer, and had been in Australian groups since the late 1950s, including The Phantoms, The Epics, The Questions (which later became Doug Parkinson in Focus, see Doug Parkinson), and King Harvest.[2] Kennedy, on drums, had previously played in Spectrum, Doug Parkinson in Focus, King Harvest, and Leo de Castro and Friends.[2][3][16]

The geographical feature, Uluru, which Europeans called Ayers Rock, provided the band's name.

Burton McGuire & Kennedy were joined, in August 1973, by Jimmy Doyle on guitar, who had worked for The Delltones and Dig Richards. He was the musical director for pianist, Winifred Atwell, on her Australian tours. Doyle was also a session player on Neil Sedaka's studio album, Workin' on a Groovy Thing (1969), in Sydney.[3] In September 1973 Burton McGuire & Kennedy changed their name to Ayers Rock,[2] using the European name for the large sandstone rock formation, Uluru, in central Australia, which is a sacred place to local indigenous Australians. The music group were nicknamed The Rock by the Australian press.[17] Since 1993 the sandstone monolith, or the Big Red Rock, has generally been referred to by its Pitjantjatjaran name, Uluru.

Doyle had worked, sporadically over several years, with Col Loughnan,[nb 1] a multi-instrumentalist and arranger.[8] From late 1972 Loughnan was in a London-based blues and pop group, Kala.[20] Doyle invited his former band mate to join during October 1973.[21] With Ayers Rock Loughnan played saxophone, flute, and electric piano.[19] In 1958 Loughnan had started his career as a lead vocalist of The Crescents, and then, in 1962, he joined The Delltones.[3] He diversified into arranging, and then playing tenor saxophone with The Daly-Wilson Big Band, a jazz orchestra.[8] By December 1973 Ayers Rock had signed to Mushroom Records,[2] which issued their first single, "Rock 'n Roll Fight (Going On)", one of the label's early releases.[3] One of the label's owners, Michael Gudinski, also became their talent manager.

In January 1974 Ayers Rock performed at the Sunbury Pop Festival – their track, "Morning Magic", written by Burton,[22] appeared on the various artists' live album, Highlights of Sunbury '74 Part 2, issued by Mushroom Records later that year.[2][23] In March Burton returned to the US and was replaced on guitar and lead vocals by Chris Brown (ex-Python Lee Jackson).[3] Loughnan and Brown had played together in London as members of Kala.[20][21] All the personnel traced their origins to rock or pop bands from Sydney, except for Kennedy, who was from Melbourne.

1974–75: Big Red Rock[edit]

Music from Big Red Rock
20 second music sample from the vocal section.

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During 1974 Ayers Rock began recording their debut album, Big Red Rock, at Festival's 24-track studio in Sydney. They were not satisfied with the sound: it had failed to capture the "live" essence of the music.[24] They used Armstrong's Studios in Melbourne to record live-in-the-studio in September that year. Kennedy, told Margaret MacIntyre of Rolling Stone (Australian edition) that "doing the album live was an experiment really and it seemed to work."[24] Big Red Rock appeared in November, which peaked at No.32 on the Kent Music Report Albums Chart.[25][26] The album had "a more jazz-rock edge", and provided the single, "Lady Montego".[3] This was a new version of a track originally performed by Leo De Castro and Friends, which McGuire had written.[2][22] According to Juke "the single lifted to push the album, 'Lady Montego' ... received three weeks airplay and was then dumped."[9] This exposure made it Ayers Rock's most aired single in Australia. Kennedy told the interviewer that "without AM radio support you can't sell too well in this country."[9] The same journalist criticised their songs as "lyrically banal", but said the group's "sheer talent" with their instruments and electronic devices got them through.[9]

A track from Ayers Rock's live set was a cover version of "Boogie Woogie Waltz" written by Joe Zawinul of Weather Report, for the US group's album, Sweetnighter (April 1973).[27] In November 1974 Loughnan temporarily stopped live performances due to back pain, but the band continued as a four-piece.[24] He undertook major surgery and returned. He is seen sitting down, when playing, in photos and video footage from that period, while recovering. Ayers Rock's manager and label owner, Gudinski, visited the US, in December 1974, promoting his recording artists including Skyhooks, Daddy Cool, Madder Lake and others, to major recording labels there.[8] At that time, only Ayers Rock were successful, with Gudinski having them signed with A&M Records within days.[28][29] Gudinski told Tony Wilson of The Sun that "Jerry Moss, the president of A&M Records USA, flipped when he heard it, so A&M will release it (Big Red Rock) world-wide."[30] This was unexpected by the Australian media, as many of the other artists had been more commercially successful locally, than Ayers Rock. In particular, Skyhooks were Australia's most popular band, and their first album, Living in the 70's (October 1974), had sold 226,000 units,[31] the highest-selling album by a local artist in Australia to that time. Living in the 70's was spurned by A&M; it was not released as an album outside Australia.[32] Ayers Rock were the first Mushroom Records artist to sign a recording contract with an international label.[28][33][34]

In January 1975 the group performed at the fourth Sunbury Pop Festival. Big Red Rock and "Lady Montego" were released into the US market on 28 February 1975.[28] On 20 April 1975 they performed a set at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl for a benefit, Concert for Bangladesh, alongside The La De Das, Jim Keays, AC/DC, Phil Manning, Daddy Cool, Toulouse & Too Tight, The Dingoes, and The Moir Sisters.[35] From July to September that year, they promoted the album in the US and Vancouver, Canada.[36] This included playing to an audience of 35,000,[37][38] at a stadium concert in Seattle supporting Bachman–Turner Overdrive on 27 July 1975.[36] They were the opening act for Status Quo, J.Geils Band,[36][39] Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Nils Lofgren.[40] Australian rock music historian, Ian McFarlane, identified that "Ayers Rock was the first Australian band to play to massive crowds on the USA touring circuit".[3] This occurred years before fellow Australians, Little River Band, AC/DC, and Air Supply, conducted their first US tours.[3]

1975–76: Beyond[edit]

During September 1975, while in the US at the end of their tour, Ayers Rock recorded their second album, Beyond, at The Record Plant, Los Angeles. The group co-produced the album with John Stronach,[41] and it was financed by A&M Records' advance of $60,000.[41]

On 18 October 1975, The Sun claimed that McGuire had left the band, having not "had a holiday for 12 years".[42] At a reception upon their return to Australia, McGuire explained, "The pressure of the tour was just too much. We were on the road all the time and I guess I wasn't as strong as the rest of the band. When we got into the studio I had the shakes. I mean I was playing the right notes, but not in the right places."[42] To finish the album McGuire's friend, Les Young played some of the incomplete bass guitar parts.[42][43] Young also played live with Ayers Rock in Australia for a short time (including the State Theatre, Sydney, in October 1975).[44] American Jeff Castleman played bass guitar on the album track, "Catchanemu".[43] McGuire returned to the group at a gig at the Dallas Brooks Hall, on 21 October 1975, to a warm round of applause.[45][46]

The album cover of the U.S. release of Beyond showing an outback scene (upright view), and the head of an Australian aboriginal man when the album cover is rotated 90° to the right. Cover design by Ian McCausland.

Late the following month, the band appeared at the final Reefer Cabaret event, at Ormond Hall, Prahran. The live performance was recorded for a 2× LP by various artists, A-Reefer-Derci (1976).[19][47] In January 1976 RAM named them as "Musicians of the Year" for 1975 in their "New Year's Honors List".[1] Kennedy left to join Marcia Hines‍ '​ backing band in February 1976;[2] Kennedy and Hines were married in the late 1970s.[16][48] In Ayers Rock, Kennedy was temporarily replaced by Doug Gallacher.[3] In April 1976 Beyond was issued in Australia and the US. It appeared on the Kent Music Report Albums Chart top 50.[25][26] It provided two singles, "Little Kings" (October 1975) and "Song for Darwin" (May 1976) – but neither charted.[3][25][26]

A feature of the US cover for Beyond is that the "rock" in the distance appears to change into the head of an Aboriginal man (with his eyes closed) when it is rotated to the right (illustrated). Creator of the cover, Ian McCausland[43] was Art Director at Mushroom Records, and had also designed The Rolling Stones: Australian tour 1973 poster.[49] The US version displays a central principle of Aboriginal spirituality, which is the deep connection between the land and the Aboriginal peoples.[50] In an ATSIC publication, "Our Land Our Life", S. Knight stated the Aboriginal position: "we don't own the land, the land owns us. The land is my mother, my mother is the land. Land is the starting point to where it all began."[51] The Australian government web page, The Dreaming, had the explanation: "Once the ancestor spirits had created the world, they changed into trees, the stars, rocks, watering holes or other objects. These are sacred places of Aboriginal culture."[50]

In May 1976, Gallacher was replaced by Russell Dunlop (ex-Aesop's Fables, Levi Smith's Clefs, SCRA, Mother Earth, Johnny Rocco Band).[3] In an interview with Greg Kelton of The Advertiser, Loughnan detailed the future of the band with

"If Beyond doesn't make it for us in the States we might as well forget all about Ayers Rock."[38]

From May to July that year they toured the US again, however they "only achieved limited success overseas."[3] After that tour Dunlop and Loughnan left, and on 25 August 1976, Mushroom Records announced that Ayers Rock had broken up following Loughnan's decision to stay in the US to study.[52] Brown, Doyle and McGuire indicated they would reform the group with new members.[3][52]

1977–81: Hotspell[edit]

During 1977 Brown and Doyle reconvened the band with Bermuda-born Keith Caisey on percussion, Joe Tattersall on drums (Healing Force, Barry Leef Band) and John Young on bass guitar (De Castro). By 1978 the line-up of Brown, Caisey and Doyle were joined by Andy Cowan on keyboards and vocals (Madder Lake), Steve Hogg on bass guitar (Bakery), and Hamish Stuart on drums.[3] In March 1980 Ayers Rock issued another single, "On the Avenue", followed in May by their third LP, Hotspell, on Red Rock Records, the group's own label, and distributed by RCA Records. It was recorded at The Music Farm, Byron Bay, and engineered by former member, McGuire.[53]

Music samples from Hotspell


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Luis Feliu in The Canberra Times referred to the "new-sounding" Ayers Rock and their "laid-back" style.[17] There had been a major change in the personnel writing the music; Brown was contributing less while Cowan was the most active, writing five tracks, and Stuart co-wrote two with Doyle.[2] Doyle, who had no writing credits on previous albums, wrote "On the Road". It had been in the band's live sets since 1978. Jillian Burt of Juke magazine described it as "reminiscent of the cool, calm, collectedness that typifies Steely Dan".[54] Hotspell featured songs in a soft rock style with sophisticated arrangements, and prominent keyboards, but no wind instruments.[53]

According to Feliu's review of the album and a July 1980 gig in Sydney, Ayers Rock were "once Australia's hottest progressive rock" group,[17] at their peak. However, not all audience members at the gig agreed with the band's direction; Feliu reported that

"the capacity audience showed hearty approval ... probably old allegiance, and only a few comments of dissatisfaction, like 'boring', were heard, then that was at the bar up the back".[17]

Hotspell did not reach the Kent Music Report Albums Chart top 100, and has never been released on CD. In July 1981 the group released a final single, "Lies", but disbanded that year.[2]

Afterwards[edit]

In late 1974 Ayers Rock members Brown, McGuire, Kennedy, and Loughnan[55] performed on several tracks on Jim Keays' debut solo album, The Boy from the Stars.[56][57] At the January 1975 Sunbury Pop Festival, Keays performed most of the album's tracks live with three Ayers Rock members, Brown, McGuire and Kennedy, joining the ensemble to record "Nothing Much Left" and "Urantia".[56][57] Upon return to the US, Burton was a session player for Billy Joel and Jimmy Webb; he wrote "Best Friend" for the feature film Airport 1975 (1974).[58] In 1976 Burton formed the Ray Burton Band with Rex Bullen, Terry Gascoine, Steve Hogg and Tim Piper.[59] From 1977 to 1980 McGuire was a bass guitarist for The Southern Star Band alongside Doug Parkinson on vocals, Tommy Emmanuel on guitar and Kennedy on drums.[59][60] In 1978 Burton issued a solo album, Dreamers and Nightflyers, which spawned the singles, "Too Hard to Handle" and "Paddington Green". After touring with Crossfire in 1979, he returned to the US to work as a songwriter.[58][59] In 1983 Cowan joined a short-lived reformation of Blackfeather alongside Neale Johns.[61] The album No Worries by Georgie Fame (1988) featured three Ayers Rock alumni: Loughnan, Doyle, and Dunlop.[62] McGuire died in July 1989 from a brain tumour.[3] In the late 1980s, Hogg formed The Rhythm Snakes with Clayton Black on drums, Howie Smallman on harmonica and Bob Thorne on guitar.[63] In 1989 Hogg assembled a studio band to record a solo album, with Thorne, Mark Alderman on harmonica, Ian Ironside on drums, Bob Patient on piano and Bernie Payne on saxophone.[63] Hogg died on 20 July 1990, and his album, Various Fools & Vices, appeared in 1992.[63]

In 1993 Kennedy drummed for The Blazing Salads, with Brian Cadd, Glenn Shorrock, Rex Goh and Kirk Lorange.[59] In 1998 Hamish Stuart supplied drums for Chris Abrahams and Melanie Oxley's album, Jerusalem Bay.[64] Doyle died on 5 May 2006.[2] On 28 May 2006 the Jim Doyle Tribute Concert was held at The Basement in Sydney. Musicians performing included Renée Geyer, Billy Field, band mate Loughnan, and Barry Leef, with the proceeds for the benefit of Doyle's family.[65] Dunlop died on 16 May 2009 – he had collapsed after playing a drum set at his son's wedding in Sydney.[66][67] As of 2015 Loughnan is a lecturer in saxophone (jazz) at the University of Sydney's Conservatorium of Music and has been a member of the Jazz Faculty since 1978.[68] In 2007 he released a solo album, Ellen St.[68]

Musicianship[edit]

Genres[edit]

The musical style of Ayers Rock is described as jazz-rock,[3] but this is a simplification. In a 2011 documentary, "Rare Collections" presented by David and Jordie Kilby on Jazz-Rock in Australia on radio station, 666 ABC Canberra, Loughnan described other Mushroom Records artists as playing in pop-rock styles, whereas Ayers Rock played some jazz. He noted that "we were a bit of both".[8] Critics reviewing Big Red Rock referred to side one as the "song" side, and side two as the "jazz" side.[69][70] This approximation provides a useful framework for understanding their styles. "Lady Montego", "Talkin' 'Bout You", "Goin' Home", and "Nostalgic Blues" were named as rock songs,[9] the first three were written by McGuire, and "Nostalgic Blues" was written by Brown.[22]

Spoken word from Big Red Rock
Introduction of "Crazy Boys", live-in-the-studio.

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"Crazy Boys", written by Loughnan,[22] highlighted a larrikin aspect of the band: they used the mock voices of working class, uncultured men talking at a hamburger shop. Each spoke in a variety of local slang or with various stereotypical ethnic accents. The humour targeted Australians of various backgrounds. One voice declared "Hey, listen mate, give me one 'Gudinskiburger', please, hold the bacon, please".[2] The band's manager and label owner, Gudinski, whose parents are Jewish migrants, abstains from pork products. He went along with the joke and released Big Red Rock on his label. Other voices discuss, "Dr. Hopontopovus, the Greek gynaecologist".[2] Later in the track, they recorded more slang with, "Who yer sayin’ that to, yer drongo?" (see the insult term, Drongo).

"Crazy Boys" includes singing with two lines of lyrics, while most of the track is instrumental. Written by Loughnan,[22] it was described by Juke‍ '​s reviewer as "free form jazz",[9] and features solos by Brown, Doyle, and Loughnan. The sounds from the guitars, electric saxophone, and vocals are heavily electronically processed. When asked about the group's use of electronics by Eloe Fanouche of RAM, Loughnan replied that "you've got to be able to use them well in order to sound good. We use them to colour the sounds as much as possible."[21]

Music from Big Red Rock
A soundscape from early in the track evoking the eerie spirituality of the aboriginal sacred place now known as Uluru.

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The title track, "Big Red Rock", written by Loughnan,[22] is an eight-and-a-half minute instrumental described in Juke as "expertly capturing the stark loneliness and cosmic tranquility one gets standing before their namesake rock".[9] According to Loughnan, the atmosphere that they wished to create was: "that spacey sort of feeling—like desert ... and we wanted to get the sound of the didgeridoo—which we did electronically".[21] Doyle imitated the sound of a didgeridoo by playing his guitar through a wah-wah pedal. Tony Catterall of The Canberra Times praised the title track, "Big Red Rock", which "suggests the huge expanse of the outback, then takes you ... to the Aboriginal secrets ... [and evokes] the power surrounding the area [of Uluru] in a burst of truly inspired musicianship".[18]

Gil Wahlquist of The Sydney Morning Herald cited "Big Red Rock" as being "heavily accented towards jazz."[69] It has changing moods, with quiet moments which are "eerie, euphonic, and evocative."[71] Aboriginal clapsticks and imitation didgeridoo allude to the indigenous character of Uluru and the surrounding area. Another section is double tempo jazz fusion with guitar and saxophone solos, complemented by a rhythm section driving to the crescendo. This section concludes with a rapid rallentando, or slowing of tempo, to another gentle phase; changes in tempo, and volume are heard throughout the track.[72] This contrasts with disco, often featuring one tempo and one volume, which was becoming a more popular musical genre.

Music from Beyond
Illustrates the change from an Australian indigenous sound in one section to a "European" sound in the next.

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Like the band's first album, the vastness of the rural, and outback landscapes were reflected in the artwork, and music on Beyond. The names of the band and that album are "titles to suggest space, time and distance" according to a review by Forester in The Age, and some tracks had an "indigenous appeal".[73] The title of the lead track, "Moondah", translates to "Beyond" in English.[74]

In April 1976 Loughnan, the track's writer,[22] explained in the TV Times: "The aborigines have had a raw deal in the past. The song expresses the hope that they get better treatment in the future".[74] "Moondah (beyond)" begins with clap sticks,[75]log drum, imitation didgeridoo,[21] and other sounds imitating indigenous singing.

Manuscript of the violin part used for the recording of "Angel in Disguise" from the album Beyond. (Click on the image to see the enlarged version.)

This combination creates sounds similar to indigenous Australian music, which later segues into a different section, featuring a more European style. The track then returns to the original theme. The overall effect becomes a fusion of indigenous Australian music, rock, and improvisational jazz by European Australians, ahead in time of indigenous rock artists, Yothu Yindi and No Fixed Address, who created their own fusions of indigenous and rock music.

Beyond featured a 23-piece string section,[41] arranged and conducted by Loughnan,[43] on the tracks, "Place to Go", "Song for Darwin" and "Angel in Disguise". Loughnan had written "Angel in Disguise",[22] initially as a tune for his wife, years before, which he expanded to become an instrumental.[8] Derek Johnson's review in RAM stated "the violin tones and guitar sounds are particularly well produced, dissolving into each other one moment, separating and circling around each other the next."[76]

Radio airplay[edit]

Ayers Rock's treatment by radio stations in Australia in the 1970s was related to the widespread popularity of the AM format. Unlike the US, which enjoyed a vibrant FM radio scene, Australia only had ABC FM and a few community FM stations in 1976.[nb 2] They mostly played classical music. Commercial AM stations dominated the local airwaves with pop and rock music.[77] The group established their reputation through live performance, exposure in the print media, and word of mouth; promotion via radio stations in Australia was minimal.[9][79]

Kennedy told a Juke interviewer that "radio airplay has never happened for us here—except 2JJ and the occasional Album Shows".[9] Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) youth-oriented AM radio station, 2JJ, was confined to broadcasting in Sydney in the 1970s, and even there reception was poor in some areas.[77][80] In America the attitude to the band's music was different. Greg Kelton of The Advertiser reported that Beyond had "been played by about 50 radio stations in the (U.S.). 'It is being played on two (stations) in Australia' said Jimmy Doyle."[79]

Live performance[edit]

Ayers Rock were a rock band which started to incorporate "rock-jazz fusion" in their sets, and increased the "jazz" aspect of their music during their history. In a review of a concert on 19 October 1975, Paul Gardiner in Rolling Stone claimed "Big Red Rock was still tied quite closely to existing American styles."[44] He continued that, at the State Theatre, "evidence" of jazz-rock "came through loud and clear".[44] This was their first important concert returning from their first US tour and recording sessions.[44]

The group were fundamentally a rock band with their ear-splitting volume. In a smoke-filled bar at Martinis, in Carlton, Juke published a vox pop of audience members, one opined "I don't mind a bit of volume with my improvisation but this is so goddamn heavy."[9] Juke described that gig as "packed to the rafters".[9] Gardiner's review described the group's live show:

"The band ... have cut their teeth on pure rock and roll and have, [as of] Ayers Rock, moved on to what amounts to a rock-jazz fusion. The inversion of the term is becoming important; unlike the bands to which they are compared in America, which have all lived and breathed jazz in its purer, more traditional forms, ... [the] Rock is made up of rock musicians."[44]

In a Rolling Stone interview with Margaret MacIntyre, Kennedy explained: "Ayers Rock was getting a live response that, to speak for myself, I hadn't seen happen with a crowd ... for a long time".[24] In the same interview, Doyle described the key to their success: "this band is going somewhere ... it's not the same thing every night, unlike many bands, the arrangements change."[24] Reviewers were enthusiastic in their summations of the band's performances. Gardiner felt that "the impression they now generate on stage is one of total energy ... energy which sets them apart."[44] Juke claimed that they were "a band that could reward its audiences with (the) sheer exhilaration of seeing real master musicians ... taking their audiences to virgin territory that other explorers had only dreamed about."[9]

Eloe Fanouche of RAM focussed on another aspect:

"Unlike many groups they were able to capture the ethereal quality of their recorded sound on stage ... On being asked how live gigs compared to studio work, they all declared that the straight atmosphere of the studio was too clinical."[21]

Critical reception[edit]

Contemporary response (1973 to 1981)[edit]

Big Red Rock received positive reviews in the US, and Australia. The Canberra Times quoted a Cashbox review verbatim praising their music,[nb 3] ending with: "it was something different and something beautiful."[81] Billboard magazine gave the album a good review, which stated that it featured "excellent sax work throughout and top-notch lead guitar and drum work".[70][nb 4] Australian reviewers concluded that the album was "an extremely good record, well worth owning",[71] "a classic record in Australian rock",[82] and "an inspiring success".[69]

The response from critics to their second album, Beyond, was immediate and generally positive. Sean Hanrahan in The Sunday Press (Melbourne) stated: "Beyond to me stands as something of a crowning achievement for a band that has already been described as the high-water mark in Australian rock."[83] Pat Bowring of The Sun (Melbourne) concluded that "it is one of the best records from an Australian band" and "better than ... Big Red Rock."[84] The band were keen to emphasise that the music was "essentially Australian" even though it was recorded in L.A.[41] Critics also referred to the Australian character of their music.[21][69][83] Catterall of The Canberra Times declared that the group "has absorbed its influences so well that they're almost unrecognisable in the final product. And into this synthesis the band has infused some things peculiarly Australian."[18]

Later response (1999 to present)[edit]

In February 1998, Billboard‍ '​s Christie Eliezer interviewed Gudinski, who declared that Ayers Rock "were a fantastic jazz-fusion band, a real muso's band, but ultimately they didn't have that something unique to cross over."[29] US writer, Vernon Joynson, in his encyclopaedia, Dreams, fantasies, and nightmares from far away lands (1999), found that the album, Big Red Rock, was "an excellent example of jazz rock fusion Australian style. The musicianship is of high quality although it tends to become a little over-indulgent in places". It includes "radio friendly" material and three tracks "filled with fine virtuoso guitar and saxophone".[19] He felt that despite being "quite a popular live act (Ayers Rock's) recordings were hampered by a dilemma over whether to opt for a more serious pursuit of expanding the horizons or for a commercial sound".[19]

In 2006 Duncan Kimball at MilesAgo.com website concluded that "the group's relatively short lifespan and small catalogue meant that they never really got the chance to reach their full potential."[2] According to McFarlane, in his opus, Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop (1999), the members of the group "were seen as 'musician's musicians'. The band issued a series of technically proficient recordings, but in the long run any quest for commercial acceptance was marred by the seriousness of the music".[3] In December 2011, Jordie Kilby felt that Big Red Rock was "a great record; quite an influential (album) ... now one that's held in quite high regard."[8]

Members[edit]

According to sources:[2][3][19]

  • Ray Burton – guitar, vocals (1973–74)
  • Mark Kennedy – drums (1973–76)
  • Duncan McGuire – bass guitar (1973–76; died 1989)
  • Jimmy Doyle – guitar, vocals (1973–81; died 2006)
  • Col Loughnan – saxophones, flute, piano, percussion, vocals (1973–76)
  • Phil Stone – guitar (1974)
  • Chris Brown – guitar, vocals (1974–81)
  • Les Young – bass guitar (1975)
  • Doug Gallacher – drums (1976)
  • Russell Dunlop – drums (1976; died 2009)
  • Joe Tattersall – drums (1977)
  • Keith Caisey – percussion (1977–81)
  • John Young – bass guitar (1977–78)
  • Andy Cowan – keyboards (1978–81)
  • Steve Hogg – bass guitar (1978–81; died 1990)
  • Hamish Stuart – drums (1978–81)

Discography[edit]

Albums[edit]

Singles[edit]

  • "Rock 'n Roll Fight" (December 1973)
  • "Lady Montego" (November 1974)
  • "Little Kings" (October 1975)
  • "Song for Darwin" (May 1976)
  • "On the Avenue" (1979)
  • "Lies" (July 1981)

Other appearances[edit]

  • "Morning Magic" (live), on Highlights of Sunbury '74 Part 2 (Mushroom Records (L 25123), 1974)
  • "Gimme Shelter" (live), "Boogie Woogie Waltz" (live) on A-Reefer-Derci (Mushroom Records (L 45657/8), 1976)

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Various sources misspell Colin Loughnan's surname: Greg Borschmann has "Loughan",[10] Tony Catterall has "Loughlan",[18] and Vernon Joynson has "Loughman".[19]
  2. ^ Examples of public broadcasitng FM stations: 2MBS, 4ZZZ, 3MBS.[77][78] The first commercial FM radio stations began in 1980.[78]
  3. ^ According to Tony Catterall, Cashbox reported: "People knew they were witnessing more than just another rock and roll band. Those vocals were classic for the genre and you just knew there was more than a dash of jazz in their influences. They could boogie with the best of them but it was boogie with substance and dimension. It was something different and something beautiful."[81]
  4. ^ Full text: Interesting set in a kind of jazz rock vein, with side one featuring shorter cuts heavy on the vocals and side two serving up three long, primarily instrumental, jazz-oriented cuts. Excellent sax work throughout and top-notch lead guitar and drum work. A&M has done quite well with this kind of material in the past, with Tim Weisberg being one notable example. Set should receive FM play, and also receive some progressive jazz airing.

References[edit]

General
Specific
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External links[edit]