|Birth name||Maxwell James Merritt|
30 April 1941|
Christchurch, New Zealand
|Genres||Soul, R&B, rock|
|Labels||HMV, Zodiac, Viking, RCA, Parlophone, Arista, Polydor, Raven|
|Associated acts||Ray Columbus & the Invaders, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs|
Max Merritt (born Maxwell James Merritt, 30 April 1941 in Christchurch, New Zealand) is a New Zealand-born singer-songwriter and guitarist who is renowned as an interpreter of soul music and R&B. As leader of Max Merritt & The Meteors his best known hits are "Slippin' Away", which reached #2 on the 1976 Australian singles charts, and "Hey, Western Union Man" which reached #13. Merritt rose to prominence in New Zealand from 1958 and relocated to Sydney Australia in December 1964. Merritt was acknowledged as one of the best local performers of the 1960s and 1970s and his influence did much to popularise soul music / R&B and rock in New Zealand and Australia.
Merritt is a venerable pioneer of rock in Australasia who produced crowd pleasing shows for over 50 years. He has engendered respect and affection over generations of performers which was evident at the 2007 Concert for Max to provide financial support after it was announced he had Goodpasture's syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease. The Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) recognised Merritt's iconic status on 1 July 2008 when he was inducted into their Hall of Fame.
1956-1962: Early career in Christchurch
Merritt was interested in music from an early age and started guitar lessons at twelve. By 1955 he encountered the rock'n'roll of Bill Haley and Elvis Presley; after leaving school in 1956, aged 15, Merritt formed The Meteors with friends Ross Clancy (sax), Peter Patonai (piano), Ian Glass (bass) and Pete Sowden (drums). Initially a part-time group, they played dances and local charity concerts, Merritt continued his day job as apprentice bricklayer in his father's business. When his parents, together with local Odeon theatre manager, Trevor King, developed the Christchurch Railway Hall into a music venue, The Teenage Club, they hired Merritt & The Meteors. The Teenage Club drew hundreds of locals and increased their popularity in the city when most businesses and public venues closed until late on Sunday afternoon.
Clancy was replaced by Willi Schneider during 1958, the band released their debut single "Get a Haircut" in June on HMV Records. By 1959, The Meteors had become a top youth attraction, regularly pulling crowds of 500 or more. Merritt borrowed players from other bands if a Meteors' member was unavailable, one such band was Ray Columbus & the Invaders fronted by vocalist Columbus. From this band Merritt recruited guitarist Dave Russell and bass guitarist / keyboardist Billy Karaitiana (a.k.a. Billy Kristian). In January 1959, New Zealand's top rocker Johnny Devlin played in Christchurch, afterwards Devlin saw Merritt at a "Rock'n'Roll Jamboree" charity concert where Devlin's manager Graham Dent was impressed enough to praise their performance to Auckland promoter Harry M. Miller. Miller added the Meteors to Australian rocker Johnny O'Keefe's 1959 tour of New Zealand.
Christchurch had been chosen as the site for a United States paramilitary base to access Antarctica, code-named "Operation Deep Freeze" - it had the only airfield large enough to handle the huge transport planes. The US presence provided a greater influence of rock'n'roll music - young servicemen discovered The Teenage Club and the gravel-voiced young Kiwi singer, Merritt. More rock'n'roll and R&B records entered local jukeboxes and were on radio. From their US connections, both The Meteors and The Invaders were able to equip themselves with Fender guitars and basses, which were still rare in Australia and the UK due to import restrictions. By 1959 the line-up for the Meteors had become Rod Gibson (saxophone), Ian Glass (bass guitar), Bernie Jones (drums) and Billy Kristian (piano) and early in 1960, HMV released their debut album C'mon Let's Go. Follow up singles were "Kiss Curl" and "C'Mon Let's Go" in 1960 and "Mr Loneliness" in 1961, they had local support but were almost unknown beyond South Island. In an effort to break into the more lucrative North Island market, both Max Merritt & The Meteors and Ray Columbus & the Invaders relocated to Auckland in November 1962.
After reaching Auckland, Merritt's band became the second most popular band in New Zealand behind The Invaders which played a beat pop style while The Meteors tackled rock'n'roll, soul and R&B. Max Merrit & The Meteors backed Dinah Lee on recordings, her best known single "Reet Petite" from September 1964 reached #1 on the New Zealand charts and #6 in Melbourne, Australia. The Meteors' line-up of Merritt, Peter Williams (guitar), Teddy Toi (bass) and Johnny Dick (drums) recorded material for their second album, Max Merritt's Meteors, then relocated to Sydney in December 1964.
In Sydney, The Meteors made their first Australian television appearance on Johnny O'Keefe's Sing Sing Sing. By April 1965, the second Meteor's album was finally released on RCA Records and contained a range of styles, including the single "So Long Babe". Other singles followed but Toi and Dick left to join Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs and were eventually replaced by former member Kristian on bass and Bruno Lawrence on drums. During February 1966, visiting UK acts The Rolling Stones and The Searchers were supported on tour by Max Merritt and The Meteors. After a cruise ship gig to New Zealand (during which Bruno abruptly left the group) Merritt heard Otis Redding's version of "Try a Little Tenderness" and recorded his own cover in 1967. Turmoil within The Meteors saw a rapid turn-over of members and by May, Merritt with Bob Bertles on saxophone, Stewart "Stewie" Speer on drums and John "Yuk" Harrison on bass guitar, decided to relocate to Melbourne.
In Melbourne, Merritt and his band initially found it difficult obtaining regular gigs and so travelled widely through the state. On 24 June 1967 the van they were travelling in to Morwell collided head-on with a car near Bunyip—Bertles suffered a broken leg, Speer had both legs crushed, broke both arms and lost the tops off several fingers, and Merrit lost his right eye and had his face scarred. It took the band nearly a year to recover, and by July 1968 they competed in the Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds finishing behind winners The Groove, The Masters Apprentices and Doug Parkinson.
1969 saw the group re-signed by RCA and they released their first single for over two years, a cover of Jerry Butler's "Hey, Western Union Man", which reached #13 on the Australian singles charts. In early 1970 their third album Max Merritt and the Meteors was released with six original tracks and five covers, it reached #8 on the National albums chart. Dave Russell (ex-Ray Columbus & the Invaders) replaced Harrison on bass and Merritt's band were asked by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) to provide a four-part TV series Max Merritt and the Meteors in Concert. Late 1970 they released Stray Cats and followed with singles, "Good Feelin'" and "Hello LA, Bye Bye Birmingham" in 1971, and "Let it Slide" in 1972 but neither album nor singles charted well. By that time, Merritt had relocated again - this time to England.
In London from early 1971, the group played the UK pub circuit, initially with little success but slowly their popularity grew and they supported Slade and The Moody Blues on their tours. In 1974, however, The Meteors fell apart again, leaving Merritt and Speer to recruit John Gourd on guitar, slide guitar and piano; Howard Deniz on bass and Barry Duggan on sax and flute. This line-up were signed by US based Arista Records for their newly established UK label and released A Little Easier with the title single "A Little Easier" in 1975. "Slippin' Away" was their second single from the album and captured the attention of radio listeners in both Australia and New Zealand, reaching #2 in Australia and #5 in New Zealand. Their best performed single drove the sales of A Little Easier which reached #4 on the Australian album charts. Another album Out of the Blue (#13, 1976) was released with a renewed version of "Let it Slide" (#29) as a single in Australia. During this time the group played regular gigs at the White Hart in Willesden Green, the Nashville Rooms in West Kensington, the Windsor Castle on the Harrow Road and in 1976 played a memorable gig at Alexandra Palace where Merritt got to the gig on the day after travelling back from New Zealand to visit his dying mother, who unfortunately died while he was en route. By 1977, with the advent of punk rock the band's popularity on the UK pub circuit had declined and they effectively disbanded. Merritt then relocated to the US.
1977-1999: Based in U.S.A.
Merritt relocated to Nashville, USA in 1977 and signed as a solo artist with Polydor Records, which released Keeping In Touch in 1978. He then moved to Los Angeles, where he continues to reside, and he toured Australia in 1979 and 1980. On the second tour he put together a band with Stewie Speer on drums, Paul Grant on guitar, John Williams on keyboards, Martin Jenner on guitar and Phil Lawson on bass. This was Merritt and Speer's last major tour together: Speer died of a heart attack on 16 September 1986. Merritt released singles "Growing Pains" in 1982 and "Mean Green Fighting Machine" in 1986, the second was a promotional single for the Canberra Raiders Rugby League team. He toured Australia in 1991 with Brian Cadd (ex-The Groop, Axiom, solo) in the Brian Cadd and Max Merritt Band, which comprised Merritt, Cadd (vocals, piano), John Dallimore (guitar; ex-Redhouse, Dallimore, Jon English Band), Craig Reeves (keyboards), Des Scott (bass) and Dave Stewart (drums; ex-Daniel). In late 1996, Merritt returned to Australia to tour the club and pub circuit.
Merritt toured Australia on a short club circuit in April 2001 along with Doug Parkinson - a fellow veteran rocker from the 1960s. This marked a resurgence of interest for Merritt: April and May were spent touring Australia under the banner "The Heart & Soul of Rock & Roll" with Parkinson; August and September 2002 was the Long Way To The Top - The Concert tour. After that, whenever Merritt returned to Australia, a reformed Max Merritt & The Meteors was in demand for special events and music festivals: Melbourne Music & Blues Festival, The Perth Moonlight Festival, The Veterans Games in Alice Springs, The Queenscliff Festival and The Toyota Muster in Gympie. In April 2006, the group appeared at the Byron Bay Blues Festival and the Gladstone Harbour Festival.
In mid-April 2007, Merritt was admitted to a Los Angeles hospital suffering kidney failure. He was diagnosed as having Goodpasture's syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that affects the kidneys and lungs. Merritt was struggling with his health and finances, so his manager, Wal Bishop, along with Australian music industry friends, organised a Concert for Max held at the Palais Theatre, St Kilda, Victoria, on 21 October 2007, and raised $200,000. He is currently on a dialysis machine awaiting a kidney transplant and is unable to tour extensively. On 1 July 2008, Merritt was inducted by Glenn A. Baker into the ARIA Hall of Fame. Merritt was joined on-stage by Kasey Chambers and Bill Chambers to perform "Slipping Away".
The lively appearance of New Zealand-born veteran Max Merritt, who has been struggling with illness at his home in Los Angeles, was another highlight ... He sounded terrific last night, aided by the Australian country star Kasey Chambers and her father, Bill, on Slipping Away. Merritt was moved to tears by the tribute and his speech was high on emotion.— Andrew Murfett, 2 July 2008
- Max Merritt (1956–present) — guitar, vocals, drums
- Ross Clancy (1956–1958) — saxophone
- Ian Glass (1956–1960) — bass
- Peter Patonai (1956–1959) — piano
- Pete Sowden (1956–1959, 1960–1963) — drums
- Willi Schneider (1958–1959) — saxophone
- Rod Gibson (1959–1960) — saxophone
- Bernie Jones (1959–1960) — drums
- Billy Kristian (Billy Karaitiana) (1959–1963, 1965–1967) — bass guitar, piano, keyboards
- Maurice Cook (1960) — guitar
- Geoff Cox (1961–1962) — guitar
- Peter Williams (1962–1967) — lead guitar, rhythm guitar, vocals
- Mike Angland (1963–1964) — bass
- Johnny Dick (1963, 1965) — drums
- Teddy Toi (1964–65) — bass
- John Blake (1965) — bass
- Jimmy Hill (1965) — drums
- Bill Flemming (1965–1966) — drums
- David "Bruno" Lawrence (1966–1967) — drums
- John Charles (1967) — keyboards
- Mike Gibbs (1967) — brass instruments
- Bob Bertles (1967–1974) — tenor saxophone
- Stewie Speer (1967–1976, 1980) — drums
- John "Yuk" Harrison (1967–69) — bass
- Dave Russell (1969–1974) — bass
- Howard "Fuzz" Deniz (1974–1977) — bass
- Barry Duggan (1974–1975) — sax, flute
- John Gourd (1974–1977) — guitar, slide guitar, piano
- Lance Dixon (1975–1977) — keyboards, saxophone
- Paul Grant (1980) — guitar
- Martin Jenner (1980) — guitar
- Phil Lawson (1980) — bass
- John Williams (1980) — keyboards
- C'Mon Let's Go (HMV early 1960's)
- Giddy Up Max! EP (Viking, 1964)
- Good Golly Max Merritt EP (Viking 1964)
- Max Merritt's Meteors (RCA, 1965)
- Shake EP (Parlophone, 1966)
- Max Merritt and the Meteors (RCA, 1970)
- Stray Cats (RCA, 1971)
- A Little Easier (Arista, 1975)
- Out of the Blue (Arista, 1976)
- Back Home Live (Arista, 1977)
- Keeping in Touch (Polydor, 1979)
- Black Plastic Max (Polydor, 1980)
- 17 Trax of Max! (Raven, 1986) re-issued with six added tracks as 23 Trax of Max! (Raven, 1991)
- The Very Best Of Max Merritt & The Meteors (EMI NZ, 2001)
- The Essential Max Merritt & The Meteors (Sony-BMG, 2007)
- Been Away Too Long (LosTraxx, 2012)
|1958||Get a Haircut||-||-||HMV|
|1965||So Long Babe||-||-||RCA Victor|
|1969||Hey, Western Union Man||15||-||RCA Victor|
|1976||Let It Slide||32||-|
|1986||Mean Green Fighting Machine||-||-|
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