Max Merritt

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Max Merritt
Birth nameMaxwell James Merritt
Born(1941-04-30)30 April 1941
Christchurch, New Zealand
Died24 September 2020(2020-09-24) (aged 79)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
GenresSoul, R&B, rock
Occupation(s)Singer-songwriter, guitarist
Years active1956–2012
Labels
Associated actsMax Merritt & the Meteors, Ray Columbus & the Invaders, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs

Maxwell James Merritt[1] (30 April 1941[2] – 24 September 2020) was a New Zealand-born singer-songwriter and guitarist who was renowned as an interpreter of soul music and R&B.[3] As leader of Max Merritt & The Meteors his best known hits are "Slippin' Away", which reached No. 2 on the 1976 Australian singles charts, and "Hey, Western Union Man" which reached No. 13.[4] Merritt rose to prominence in New Zealand from 1958 and relocated to Sydney, Australia, in December 1964.[3][5][6] 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.[3][5][6][7]

Merritt was a venerable pioneer of rock in Australasia who produced crowd-pleasing shows for over 50 years.[8] He engendered respect and affection over generations of performers. This was evident at the 2007 Concert for Max[7] which was organised to provide financial support for him after it was announced he had Goodpasture's syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease.[9] The Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) recognised Merritt's iconic status on 1 July 2008 when he was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.[10][11][12] In 2020, Merritt was inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame.[13]

Biography[edit]

1956–1962: Early career in Christchurch[edit]

Born in Christchurch, New Zealand, Merritt was interested in music from an early age and started guitar lessons at 12.[3][6] By 1955 he encountered the rock and 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).[3][5] Initially a part-time group, they played dances and local charity concerts, Merritt continuing his day job as an apprentice bricklayer in his father's business.[3][14] 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 and the Meteors.[3][14] 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.[8][14]

Clancy was replaced by Willi Schneider during 1958, the band released their debut single, "Get a Haircut", in June on HMV Records.[3][14] By 1959, the Meteors had become a top youth attraction, regularly pulling crowds of 500 or more.[14] Merritt borrowed players from other bands if a Meteors' member was unavailable, one such band was Ray Columbus & the Invaders fronted by vocalist Columbus.[3][14] From this band Merritt recruited guitarist Dave Russell and bass guitarist / keyboardist Billy Karaitiana (a.k.a. Billy Kristian).[3][14] In January 1959, New Zealand's top rocker, Johnny Devlin, played in Christchurch. Devlin later 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.[3][8] Miller added the Meteors to Australian rocker Johnny O'Keefe's 1959 tour of New Zealand.[3][8]

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.[3][8] The US presence provided a greater influence of rock and roll music – young servicemen discovered The Teenage Club and the gravel-voiced young Kiwi singer, Merritt.[8] More rock and roll and R&B records entered local jukeboxes and were on radio.[8] 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.[3] By 1959 the line-up for the Meteors had become Rod Gibson (saxophone), Ian Glass (bass guitar), Bernie Jones (drums) and Billy Kristian (piano). Early in 1960, HMV released their debut album, C'mon Let's Go.[3][8] 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 the South Island.[3][8] 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.[3][5][8]

1963–1964: Auckland and Invaders & Max Merritt's Meteors[edit]

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 and roll, soul and R&B.[3] Max Merrit & The Meteors backed Dinah Lee on recordings. Her best known single, "Reet Petite", from September 1964 reached No. 1 on the New Zealand charts[15] and No. 6 in Melbourne, Australia.[16] 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. They relocated to Sydney in December 1964.[3][5][8]

1965–1967: Sydney and Shake[edit]

In Sydney, the Meteors made their first Australian television appearance on Johnny O'Keefe's Sing Sing Sing.[5] By April 1965, the second Meteors' album was finally released on RCA Records and contained a range of styles, including the single "So Long Babe".[5] 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.[3][5] During February 1966, visiting UK acts the Rolling Stones and the Searchers were supported on tour by Max Merritt and The Meteors.[3][5] After a cruise ship gig to New Zealand (during which Lawrence abruptly left the group), Merritt heard Otis Redding's version of "Try a Little Tenderness" and recorded his own cover in 1967.[3][5] Turmoil within the Meteors saw a rapid turnover 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.[14]

1967–1971: Melbourne and Max Merritt and the Meteors[edit]

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. Merrit lost his right eye and had his face scarred.[3][14] It took the band nearly a year to recover. By July 1968 they competed in Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds, finishing behind winners the Groove, the Masters Apprentices and Doug Parkinson.[3][5][14]

In 1969 the group were 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 No. 13 on the Australian singles charts.[3][4][5] In early 1970 their third album, Max Merritt and the Meteors, was released with six original tracks and five covers. It reached No. 8 on the national albums chart.[3][4][5] 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 called Max Merritt and the Meteors in Concert.[14] In late 1970 they released Stray Cats and followed with the singles "Good Feelin'" and "Hello LA, Bye Bye Birmingham" in 1971 and "Let it Slide" in 1972. Neither the album nor the singles charted well.[6] By that time, Merritt had relocated again – this time to England.[5]

1971–1976: England[edit]

In London from early 1971, the group played the UK pub circuit, initially with little success but their popularity slowly grew and they supported Slade and the Moody Blues on their tours.[3] 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.[5] 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 No. 2 in Australia and No. 5 in New Zealand.[14] Their best performed single drove the sales of A Little Easier which reached No. 4 on the Australian album charts.[5] Another album, Out of the Blue (No. 13, 1976), was released with a renewed version of "Let it Slide" (No. 29) as a single in Australia.[5] 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 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.[3][5]

1977–1999: Based in United States[edit]

Merritt relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1977 and signed as a solo artist with Polydor Records, which released Keeping in Touch in 1979.[5] He then moved to Los Angeles, where he continued to reside.[7] 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.[5] This was Merritt and Speer's last major tour together: Speer died of a heart attack on 16 September 1986.[3] 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.[5] 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).[5] In late 1996, Merritt returned to Australia to tour the club and pub circuit.[5]

2000–2020: Resurgence and death[edit]

Merritt toured Australia on a short club circuit in April 2001 along with Doug Parkinson, a fellow veteran rocker from the 1960s.[3] This marked a resurgence of interest for Merritt and 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 concert tour.[3] After that, whenever Merritt returned to Australia, a reformed Max Merritt & The Meteors were in demand for special events and music festivals such as the 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.[3]

In mid-April 2007, Merritt was admitted to a Los Angeles hospital with symptoms of kidney failure.[17] He was diagnosed with Goodpasture syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that affects the kidneys and lungs.[9] Merritt was struggling with his health and finances, so his manager Wal Bishop and Australian music industry friends, organised a Concert for Max benefit held at the Palais Theatre, St Kilda, Victoria, on 21 October 2007 which raised $200,000.[3][7] 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".[18]

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.[19]

— Andrew Murfett, 2 July 2008

Merritt died in Los Angeles, California, on 24 September 2020, at age 79, 13-years after being diagnosed with Goodpasture syndrome.[20]

Prior to his death, Merritt had recorded a new album, titled I Can Dream. The album is set for release on 27 November 2020.[21]

Discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

List of albums, with Australian chart positions
Title Album details Peak chart
positions
AUS
[22]
C'mon Let's Go
(as Max Merritt & The Meteors)
  • Released: 1960 [5]
  • Format: LP
  • Label: His Master's Voice (MCLP 6079)
-
Max Merritt's Meteors
(as Max Merritt & The Meteors)
  • Released: 1965 [5]
  • Format: LP
  • Label: RCA (RPL-3400)
-
Max Merritt and the Meteors
(as Max Merritt & The Meteors)
  • Released: May 1970[5]
  • Format: LP
  • Label: RCA (SL-101891)
7
Stray Cats
(as Max Merritt & The Meteors)
  • Released: 1971[5]
  • Format: LP
  • Label: RCA (SL-101906)
-
A Little Easier
(as Max Merritt & The Meteors)
  • Released: October 1975[5]
  • Format: LP, Cassette
  • Label: Arista (ARTY 108)
10
Out of the Blue
  • Released: July 1976[5]
  • Format: LP, Cassette
  • Label: Arista (ARTY 134)
17
Keeping in Touch
  • Released: March 1979 [5]
  • Format: LP, Cassette
  • Label: Polydor (2383 514)
70
Black Plastic Max
  • Released: 1980 [5]
  • Format: LP, Cassette
  • Label: Polydor (2383 558)
-
I Can Dream
  • Released: 27 November 2020[21]
  • Format: CD, Download, streaming
  • Label: FanFare (FANFARE388)

Live albums[edit]

Title Details
Back Home Live
  • Released: 1977[5]
  • Format: LP, Cassette
  • Label: Arista (ARTY 149)
  • Note: Recorded in Melbourne, 1976
Been Away Too Long
(as Max Merritt & The Meteors)
  • Released: April 2012
  • Format: CD, Digital download
  • Label: LosTraxx (LTR001)
  • Note: Recorded in 1969

Compilation albums[edit]

Title Details
The Early Years
(as Max Merritt & The Meteors)
  • Released: 1985 (New Zealand)
  • Format: LP, Cassette
  • Label: Hughes Leisure Group (RNR-5637)
17 Trax of Max
(as Max Merritt & The Meteors)
  • Released: 1986[5]
  • Format: LP, Cassette
  • Label: Raven Records (RVLP24)
23 Trax of Max (1965-1982)
  • Released: 2000[23]
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Raven Records (RVCD15)
The Very Best of Max Merritt & The Meteors
(as Max Merritt & The Meteors)
  • Released: 2001
  • Format: CD
  • Label: EMI (534711 2)
The Essential Max Merritt & The Meteors
(as Max Merritt & The Meteors)
  • Released: 2007
  • Format: 2xCD
  • Label: Sony BMG (88697177952)

Extended Plays[edit]

Title Details
Don't You Know .. Dinah Lee
(As Dinah Lee and Max Merritt and His Meteors)
  • Released: 1964
  • Format: LP
  • Label: Viking (VE-148)
Yeah, Yeah, We Love.. Dinah Lee
(As Dinah Lee and Max Merritt and His Meteors)
  • Released: 1964 (New Zealand)
  • Format: LP
  • Label: Viking (VE-150)
Good Golly Max Merritt
  • Released: July 1964 (New Zealand)
  • Format: LP
  • Label: Viking (VE-151)
Shake
(As Max Merritt and His Meteors)
  • Released: 1966
  • Format: LP
  • Label: Parlophone (GEPO-70033)

Singles[edit]

Year Single Chart Positions Album
AUS[24][25] NZ
1959 "Get a Haircut" N/A -
"Kiss Curl" N/A -
1962 "Mister Loneliness" N/A -
"Weekend" N/A -
1963 "The Slow One" N/A -
"Soft Surfie" N/A -
"Laughing Girl" N/A -
1964 "Many Things" - -
"Valley of the Souix" - -
"Giddy Up a Ding Dong!" - -
"I Just Don't Understand" (with Tommy Adderley) - -
"Reet Petite" (with Dinah Lee) - - Don't You Know .. Dinah Lee
1965 "So Long Baby" - - Max Merritt's Meteors
"Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" 94 - Shake
"You Deserve What You've Got" - -
1966 "Shake" / "I Can't Help Myself" 58 -
"Fannie Mae" 88 - Max Merritt and the Meteors
1969 "Hey, Western Union Man" 15 -
1971 "Good Feelin'" 67 - Stray Cats
"Hello L.A., Bye-Bye Birmingham" - -
1975 "A Little Easier" - - A Little Easier
"Slipping Away" 2 5
1976 "Let It Slide" 32 - Out of the Blue
"Take Part of Me" - -
"Whisper in My Ear" - -
1978 "Wish You'd Never Come Into My Life" - - Keeping in Touch
1979 "Dirty Work" 57 -
"It's Over" - -
1982 "Growing Pains" - -
1986 "Mean Green Fighting Machine" - -
2003 "To Love Somebody"
(with Marcia Hines, Doug Parkinson and Brian Cadd
96 -
2020 "I Can Dream Can't I? - - I Can Dream

Awards and Hall of Fame[edit]

ARIA Awards[edit]

The ARIA Music Awards is an annual awards ceremony that recognises excellence, innovation, and achievement across all genres of Australian music. They commenced in 1987. In 2008, Max Merritt was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2008 Max Merritt ARIA Hall of Fame inductee

New Zealand Music Hall of Fame[edit]

The New Zealand Music Hall of Fame is a figurative hall of fame dedicated to noteworthy New Zealand musicians. It was established in 2007. In 2020, Max Merritt was inducted into it.[13]

Year Nominee / work Award Result
2020 Max Merritt NZ Music Hall of Fame inductee

Band members[edit]

Members of Max Merritt & The Meteors, Max Merritt's Meteors or The Meteors; arranged chronologically:[3][14]

References[edit]

  1. ^ ""Slippin' Away" entry at Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA)". APRA. Retrieved 5 June 2008.[dead link]
  2. ^ "Max Merritt – the legend". Max Merrit.com.au. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah "Max Merritt & The Meteors". Milesago. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  4. ^ a b c Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag McFarlane, Ian (1999). Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86448-768-2. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  6. ^ a b c d Nimmervoll, Ed. "Max Merritt and the Meteors". Howlspace – The Living History of Our Music (Ed Nimmervoll). Archived from the original on 27 July 2012. Retrieved 23 January 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d "Max Merritt" (PDF). Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA). Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 July 2008. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Dix, John (2005). Stranded in Paradise: New Zealand Rock and Roll 1955 to the Modern Era. Auckland: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-301953-8.
  9. ^ a b "Rocker suffering immune disease". The Sydney Morning Herald. 23 April 2007. Retrieved 7 June 2008.
  10. ^ "ARIA 2008 Hall of Fame inductees listing". Australian Recording Industry Association. Archived from the original on 15 June 2008. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  11. ^ Cashmere, Paul (5 June 2008). "Max Merritt and The Triffids To Be Inducted Into Hall of Fame". undercover.com.au. Archived from the original on 5 June 2008. Retrieved 8 June 2008.
  12. ^ Donovan, Patrick (5 June 2008). "Hall of Fame for Merritt and Triffids". The Age. Melbourne. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  13. ^ a b "Portfolio Max Merritt". Retrieved 7 November 2020.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Max Merritt and the Meteors". Bruce Sergent. Archived from the original on 5 July 2008. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  15. ^ "Dinah Lee at Long Way to the Top". ABC Australia. Archived from the original on 12 August 2009. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
  16. ^ "Reet Petite". Australian Pop Archives. Archived from the original on 22 July 2008. Retrieved 6 June 2008.
  17. ^ "Singer Max Merritt ill in hospital". News.com.au. 20 April 2007. Archived from the original on 4 June 2007. Retrieved 22 April 2007.
  18. ^ "ARIA announced all-star cast to induct and perform" (PDF). Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA). Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 July 2008. Retrieved 2 July 2008.
  19. ^ Murfett, Andrew (2 July 2008). "Rockers hail Rolf in Hall of Fame". The Age. Melbourne. Retrieved 5 July 2008.
  20. ^ Lars Brandle (25 September 2020). "Max Merritt, ARIA Hall of Fame Inductee, Dies at 79". Billboard. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
  21. ^ a b "I Can Dream CD". JBHiFi. Retrieved 7 November 2020.
  22. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 18. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  23. ^ "Max Merritt & the Meteors". MusicBrainz. Retrieved 7 June 2008.
  24. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 199. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  25. ^ Ryan, Gavin (2011). Australia's Music Charts 1988–2010 (pdf ed.). Mt. Martha, VIC, Australia: Moonlight Publishing.

External links[edit]