JEFF ST JOHN & THE ID
Here are my liner notes for the 2015 CD reissue on Aztec Records of the 1967 album Big Time Operators
Dedicated In Memoriam to Jeffrey St John (22 April 1946-6 March 2018)
The Pleasure Principle - The Story of Jeff St John and The Id
By Ian McFarlane
Rock writer David ‘Dr Pepper’ Pepperell praised Jeffrey St. John’s voice for its limitless power, its precise and meaningful phrasing and its sweetness “like honey dripping from the hive”. Glenn A. Baker made no secret in his praise for St. John’s “roaring, finely controlled voice”. Indeed, throughout the 1960s and 1970s Jeff St. John was Australia’s finest rock vocalist.
His long and distinguished career involves many great recordings. His first album with The Id, Big Time Operators now gets the remastered CD reissue treatment. It’s a unique album, with no other Australian group of the time sounding so bold and brassy, so downright funky. This expanded CD edition adds ten non-LP, mono singles to the music programme for extra clout.
“Gotta find somebody to love...”
Born Jeffrey Leo Newton (22 April 1946), the singer began entering talent quests as a teenager and had appeared on TV shows such as the Don Lane Tonight Show. He began his professional singing career in 1965 when he was invited to join Sydney band The Syndicate, replacing original singer/harp player Shane Duckman. Peter Anson (guitar; ex-Missing Links), David Bentley (organ; ex-Riverside Jazz Band), John Helman (bass; ex-Riverside Jazz Band) and Don McCormack (drums; ex-Riverside Jazz Band) completed the line-up. The Syndicate became The Wild Oats and then The Id. The singer also changed his name to Jeff St John and his stage persona was complete.
When interviewed in 2015, St John explained how he came to join the band: “Shane Duckman was the original front man for The Syndicate and he was, shall we say, notorious. They were playing in a little place called the York Club and one night two big, burly policemen walked in, physically lifted Shane off the stage and took him away. Now they didn’t have a singer. I happened to be walking back from the city down Pitt Street, with my then wife-to-be Pamela, and John Helman pulled up in a car. He looked at me and said ‘hey, you’re a really good singer, I’ve heard a bit about you’. I don’t know how he’d managed that, I wasn’t well known although I’d done a bit of TV work.
“So he said ‘come and have a blow with the band’ and I asked ‘where’ and he told me the York Club and I said ‘where’s that?’. ’Cause I was as green as grass, I knew virtually nothing about the music industry at the time. So that’s how it started; I went down for the blow and got the gig.
“The name change to The Id occurred when we got the gig at Rhubarbs, in Neutral Bay. There’s some contention about this but to the best of my knowledge Rhubarbs was the very first dedicated, true discotheque in Australia. It used to be a folk club called the Last Straw, run by Jim Carter. He made his fortune on the folk scene but he also saw the writing on the wall and he involved two guys from Channel 7, Rod Kirk and Tony Culliton and they turned the Last Straw into Rhubarbs. They built a DJ’s box, they put up a proper stage. Probably the most innovative thing they did was chopping out a large section of the upstairs floor so that it became a four-sided balcony. If you didn’t want to stay on the sweaty dance floor with the rest of us, then you’d go upstairs but you were still part of the action.
“It was Jim, Rod and Tony who called us The Id. Here’s a myth that needs to be busted – most people have assumed that we were named after the cartoon character the Wizard of Id. That’s totally wrong. We were named The Id after the Freudian term, because Sigmund Freud claimed that the id was the primary motivating force of human nature and that’s how these guys saw us. Then they said to me, ‘we’d like you to change your name to Jeff St John’ and that fulfilled every childhood fantasy that I had and that’s who I became from that point on.”
Having opened Rhubarbs in late 1965 The Id issued their debut single, a cover of Ray Sharpe’s ‘Lindy Lou’ b/w ‘Somebody to Love’ (February 1966), on Nat Kipner’s Spin label. It wasn’t a success. Sharpe’s original 1959 single had been titled ‘Linda Lu’ and St John enunciates the name as “Linda Lu”, so how it came out re-titled ‘Lindy Lou’ is anybody’s guess.
St John was credited as writer of the flip side which starts out at a laid-back pace with a catchy guitar lick, cool organ sounds and the singer in mellow voice. As the song progresses, you can hear St John’s passion begin to rise – he really needs somebody! – until he declares with a feverish howl “gotta find a pretty baby gonna do my cookin’/gotta find somebody, yeah somebody to love, yeah awright!”. The band members respond in kind with a more forceful delivery including doubling the beat at the end of each chorus turnaround.
For the next single, ‘The Jerk’ b/w ‘Take this Hurt Off Me’ (March), the group was billed on the label as Geoff St John and The Id. The song was by US soul singer Don Julian who had apparently been inspired to write ‘The Jerk’ after watching young kids doing their thing at a dance. In a typical exploitation move of 1964, it was supposed that this could spark off a new dance craze (in the manner of ‘The Twist’, ‘Do the Watusi’, ‘Mashed Potato Time’, ‘C’mon and Swim’ etc). He recorded the song and issued it under the name of The Larks, becoming an R&B Top 10 hit.
The Id’s version wasn’t a hit but in their hands it’s all slinky and soulful, like an Aussie Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions. ‘Take this Hurt Off Me’ was another cover, originally issued by Don Covay in 1964; The Id’s rendition prefigures the Spencer Davis Group’s version which appeared on the album Autumn ’66 later in the year.
By the time the single came out, the group comprised St John, Anson, Helman, McCormack and Ian Walsh (organ). Bentley had left to form Python Lee Jackson. Around this time, both bands got involved with Sydney experimental / underground film makers co-operative Ubu Films, contributing the shared soundtrack to Albie Thoms’ 21 minute, 16mm spy parody Blunderball or From Dr Nofinger with Hate.
“In the pines, in the pines, where the sun don’t shine...”
For their next single, the group was billed as Jeff St John and The Id and it’d be a safe bet to say that even they probably didn’t realise what they had on their hands. On first listen it might seem to be ordinary but this record is deep. And sonorous and soulful and perplexing and exciting; It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to nominate ‘Black Girl’ b/w ‘Eastern Dream’ (September 1966) as one of the most audacious and fearless Aussie singles of the day (i.e. non-commercial), but comparable with any other top-flight Aussie single of the 1960s you care to name.
Variously known as ‘Black Girl’, ‘In the Pines’ and ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’, this haunting lament is a traditional American folk song that dates back to the 1870s. Although the original song writer is unknown, it’s most readily associated with blues singer Huddie Ledbetter, aka Leadbelly, who recorded it in the 1940s. It has since been recorded by numerous artists, from Pete Seeger and Gene Clark to Grateful Dead and Nirvana.
Here in Australia, the Master’s Apprentices also recorded a great version at their August 1966 demo sessions. Yet it’s The Id’s version which really sends chills up and down the spine; the group takes it at a funereal pace with a simple arrangement of plucked electric guitar, bass and drums and St John’s masterful vocal phrasing whereby he holds the notes at the end of each line for maximum effect and presence. The song never seems to move out of second gear but that’s exactly why it’s so mesmerising.
“That blues and R&B influence was the guys in The Id spoon-feeding this talented, naive kid,” says St John. “When the band first got together, they formulated a philosophy that unlike pretty much all the other bands in Australia at the time, they weren’t going to jump onto the English beat music wagon. The English bands were copying and drawing their influences from the American source so rather than copy the copyists, we went directly to the source as well. We were putting our own interpretation on the original works.
“The guys in The Id had access to all this incredible stuff. Don, John and Peter, in particular, had record collections that spanned the whole Mississippi delta blues period, so we were listening to people like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Jimmy Reed, Leadbelly. We knew that Leadbelly’s real name was Huddie Ledbetter, nobody else knew that shit at the time.
“But there’s no false modesty here; I had the vocal ability to sing these songs. Technically I’m a baritone but I had access to in excess of four octaves. With black music they used a lot of falsetto and I was able to go from full voice into that upper register. So yes it was God’s gift this instrument I had, I make no bones about that but I was in the right place at the right time. And the guys in The Id helped me to nurture and train that instrument to the point where I was able to pick up the ball and run with it on my own.
“The family legend has it that I was singing along with the radio from the age of 18 months. All my childhood was spent singing musical comedy and light operetta with my parents. My father was a wonderful baritone and my mother was a beautiful contralto, so I just had music around me all my life. When the boys started feeding me this stuff, I was this dry sponge and I just soaked it up.
“When it came to singing something like ‘Black Girl’, my mother had taught me how to read a lyric, she taught me how to express a lyric and so that’s obviously the way the lyric in that song impressed me. It’s probably been 50 years since I heard ‘Black Girl’.”
With regard to ‘Eastern Dream’, written by bassist John Helman, this song can lay claim to being one of the first local psychedelic recordings. Writing in Tomorrow Is Today: Australia in the Psychedelic Era, 1966-1970, Ian D. Marks was spot on when he explained:
“A dinky Egyptian sounding organ line played by Ian Walsh begins the song, before the awesome cavernous voice of Jeff St John comes in to rap about a dream he had that ‘Wasn’t happy and it wasn’t sad’. The slithery slide guitar of original Missing Link member Peter Anson balances the organ perfectly and provides even more of a Moorish atmosphere to proceedings. You can almost smell the incense and spices wafting through the desert on this one.”
It some ways, ‘Eastern Dream’ puts one in mind of the sounds that Eric Burdon and The Animals began to explore on songs such as ‘Good Times’ and their album Winds of Change. And herein lies the rub: Jeff St John and The Id released their record in September 1966 while ‘Good Times’ didn’t appear until August 1967 and Winds of Change that November!
“We were never shy of being adventurous,” St John declares, “but ‘Eastern Dream’... that’s a terrible song! I’ve become a reasonably proficient songwriter over the years and when I hear ‘Eastern Dream’ now I cringe a bit. But you know what? So many people love that song. It got picked up for the Packer special (the 2012 TV mini-series Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War), so what do I know? If I knew more, I’d be filthy rich with a string of hits behind me.”
“I’m gonna be a big time operator...”
The Id now added a horn section of Bruce Johnson (tenor sax, flute) and King Fisher (trumpet; ex-Riverside Jazz Band) who was soon replaced by Dieter Vogt (trumpet).
“What people might find interesting,” St John explains, “is the fact that the band adopted a brass section because I had to go into hospital for some treatments. The guys felt that they couldn’t replace my voice and so instead they took on a brass section. So then when I came out of hospital we decided to keep the brass section.”
Next came a one-off single on the EMI Custom label as an advertising gimmick for Sunoroid sunglasses, ‘Sunoroid ’67’ (vocal) b/w ‘Sunoroid ’67’ (instrumental), credited to The Id Featuring Jeff St John (they’d finally settled on an apposite group name!).
The Sunoroid campaign involved each person who bought a pair of sunglasses being given a free copy of the single. By all accounts it was a huge success, with some sources quoting over 25,000 copies sold. ‘Sunoroid ’67’ is a groovy mod-soul toe-tapper with St John improvising around the benefits of wearing your Sunoroids (“they fit so well baby, they just stay on your head when you’re swingin’ and you’re groovin’ and you’re dancin’ and whatever you’re doin’, baby!”) over a brisk 2/4 beat, stabbing organ chords and jazzy Rahsaan Roland Kirk styled flute soloing. Whereas local radio stations had been reluctant to play The Id singles previously, the ‘Sunoroid ’67’ single cracked the airplay impasse which led to the group’s first major success.
With The Id already established as Sydney’s premier soul/R&B combo on the discotheque circuit, their version of Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band’s ‘Big Time Operator’ b/w ‘Sister’s Got a Boyfriend’ thrust them into the ‘Australian Top Band’ bracket. The single reached #6 in Sydney and #12 in Melbourne during January 1967. Spin also issued the ‘Big Time Operator’ EP (the ‘Big Time Operator’ and ‘Black Girl’ singles combined) in February. ‘Big Time Operator’ was definitely a winner of a song and The Id played it pretty straight as their rendition matched the Zoot Money version right down to the horn arrangement.
With a full work sheet the band was never idle: a three month residency at Sydney’s Here Disco, the support slot to the Roy Orbison/Walker Brothers/Yardbirds Australian tour (January 1967) and an extended season at Melbourne’s Thumpin’ Tum, plus appearances on TV pop shows Kommotion, The Go!! Show and Dig We Must – all of which served to cement The Id’s redoubtable reputation.
“Once we hit Here and ‘Big Time Operator’ had became a hit, it was an extraordinary experience,” St John recalls. “We became the flavour of the month for the advertising set and so we’d have all the groovers and the smokers and the dopers over in one corner and then we had all the yuppie ad-men and their entourage over in the other corner. And we were never, ever a kids’ band. At one point they opened the disco on a Saturday or the Sunday afternoon and let the kids in but essentially we were a band for grown-ups.”
On the record front, The Id issued the Big Time Operators album (March 1967), one more single ‘You Got Me Hummin’’ b/w ‘Watch Out’ (April) plus the rare ‘You Got Me Hummin’’ EP (May). The EP combined both sides of the ‘You Got Me Hummin’’ single with two tracks from the album, ‘How Much Pressure’ and ‘Devil Got My Woman’. While McCormack had played drums on the hit single, by the time the group came to record the album he had been replaced by Derek Brooks.
Produced by Pat Aulton, the album came in stereo (SEL-932257) and mono (EL-32257) editions, although the version of ‘Big Time Operator’ on both issues was the mono single cut. The band would have recorded the album (bar ‘Big Time Operator’) in stereo, but for the mono pressing the sound was folded down in the mastering process. The sound of the original stereo vinyl is robust and diverse but it should also be noted that the mono pressing does have a hefty punch to it.
Although predominantly comprising covers, musically Big Time Operators has everything you’d want from a brassy, funky soul record. ‘Big Time Operator’, ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag’, ‘In the Midnight Hour’, ‘Sister’s Got a Boyfriend’, ‘Feel Awright’, ‘How Much Pressure (Do You Think I Can Stand?)’ and a second, longer, horn-drenched version of ‘The Jerk’ are all excellent. Topping them, however, are ‘You Got Me Hummin’’, ‘If I Had a Ticket’, ‘Parchman Farm’, ‘Devil Got My Woman’ and the one group original ‘Watch Out’.
At a little over two minutes, the Hayes Porter song ‘You Got Me Hummin’’ is a fine start to the record and it must have been a real dance floor filler at the discotheque. It leaps out of the gate at a dazzling pace, bass and drums popping like firecrackers on Guy Fawkes Night, with the brass, the handclaps and St John’s Little Richard-like exhortations of “you got me hummin’ a-woo-ooo” all adding to the party atmosphere.
“Hmm, what’s interesting with ‘You Got Me Hummin’’ is that Pat Aulton, the producer, got us to play it too fast,” St John reasons. “Peter Anson’s view was that Pat misconstrued tempo for excitement. Look, Pat did a brilliant job with that album, I have to say. I think that between us we created a milestone in Australian recording history. I personally believe it was the first album to come out of Australia that could have been recorded anywhere in the world. It didn’t have that tin-pot Australian sound about it, the production values were as good as anywhere else in the world, the band was as hot as can be imaged and I was smokin’ too! So that was it – time, place, ability, circumstance, all of those things. And songs. But I still think that ‘You Got Me Hummin’’ was too fast.”
The Id also deliver the traditional blues song ‘If I Had a Ticket’ at a frantic pace but it works better, with the drums and organ really swinging, the horn players fit to topple the walls of Jericho and blueswailin’ vocals riding over the top. Ironically, it was Peter Anson who sang the lead vocals on this one! Sydney R&B band Phil Jones and The Unknown Blues issued their version as a single around the same time (March 1967); it was a Top 20 hit in Sydney but doesn’t hold a candle to The Id’s ferocious rendition. English R&B act Kenneth Washington with Chris Barber & The T-Bones had issued a version as a single in October 1966.
“Here I am on Parchman Farm...”
‘Parchman Farm’ was a blues song popularised by jazz pianist Mose Allison in the late 1950s. Originally written by Delta blues musician Bukka White as ‘Parchman Farm Blues’, it tells the tale of his incarceration at the Mississippi State prison, known as Parchman Farm. The singer claims “I ain’t never done no man no harm” but goes on to admit “all I did was shoot my wife”. As with ‘Black Girl’, this is a rather unusual subject for a young, white Australian soul singer to be recounting yet The Id do the song justice with a jazzy swing to the rhythm while they take the adroit key change after each verse with an easy stride. It’s likely that the group first heard the song on Georgie Fame’s 1964 album Rhythm and Blues at the Flamingo.
Written by American bluesman Skip James, ‘Devil Got My Woman’ is one creepy song. “I’d rather be the devil than be my woman’s man/’cause nothin’ but the devil knows my baby’s mind”. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to nominate this track as one of the finest blues songs ever recorded by an Australian band. St John’s vocals are absolutely spellbinding and Helman’s bass figure is relentless in its simplicity, while Anson’s staccato, Morse code styled guitar licks slice through the chilling atmosphere like hot knifes through butter.
“Yep, I take pride in that one,” St John declares. “When we came to record it, Pat and the boys were saying ‘how do you want to approach this song?’. I said ‘I’m gonna go back to my musical comedy roots’ and so that’s why you get that particular tonal quality in my voice, that particular note projection style because if you think about it, it’s almost crooner cum Nelson Eddy in the approach to the song. Then there’s that black falsetto thing because Skip James used to sing in a high, wailing voice. It was too long ago to remember when I first heard the song but the boys just said ‘have a listen to this, you can do this’. I put my own interpretation on it.”
The band-penned ‘Watch Out’ opens with a snarling R&B guitar line from Anson and the whole song is brimming with punk attitude. The singer’s warning a rival upstart to stay away from his girl and he’s spoiling for a confrontation: “Watch out when you’re walking my baby, yeah/watch out when you’re walking my girl/she’s the sweetest thing is this whole world/watch out when I come lookin’ for you, alright/watch out when I’m drivin’ ’round town/I’ll be in my Cadillac and I’m gonna run you down/now cool it!”. Phew! Them’s fightin’ words!!
“Oh yeah, I can remember that one because I wrote it!” St John proclaims with a laugh. “It was my lyric, it was my melody but it was basically just a thing we all hashed up in the studio because we needed a B-side for ‘You Got Me Hummin’’. So we just threw it together in the studio. And it worked.”
As we’ve established, St John and The Id were heavily influenced by African-American blues, R&B and soul music of the 1940s through to the early 1960s. For a number of reasons, during the 1970s/1980s, there was a viewpoint among certain music writers that there had been little or no such influence on the local music scene of the 1960s, which is far from the case.
In 1975, St John explained to Christie Eliezer (writing in Loose Licks):
“I don’t know whether The Id actually introduced soul music to Australia, as is often claimed, but we were the first to make it a commercial success. We were not only the first soul band – a seven-piece was a large outfit to have around at the time – but we were also the first brass soul band. Other people were experimenting with it but approaching it from a slightly different angle. The Purple Hearts were pretty much into R&B/soul music, they’re the only ones who were our contemporaries at the time.”
Other soulful R&B bands of the day included the likes of Max Merritt and The Meteors, Ray Hoff and The Off Beats, The Groove, Ram Jam Big Band and Levi Smith’s Clefs while even singer Normie Rowe nominated Otis Redding as one of his greatest influences.
Despite the group’s innovations, by mid-1967 The Id was on shaky ground. Bob Bertles (sax; ex-Alan Dale and The House Rockers, Johnny O’Keefe and The Dee Jays) had replaced Johnson by the time the album came out but soon moved on to Max Merritt and The Meteors. The rhythm section then pushed to dispense with the brass section. St John was not happy with that decision and left the group in protest during July.
“If the boys hadn’t decided to drop the brass section, who knows how long the association might have lasted,” says St John, still clearly disappointed with the turn of events. “We were having difficulty finding a brass section, keeping a brass section but the boys wanted to devolve back into a more bluesy orientated band. I didn’t want to go that way, I wanted to continue progressing. And of course, they were much more mature than I was; I mean I was 20 when we recorded ‘Big Time Operator’. I was still a kid.
“You’re talking about a kid who’d spent large chunks of his life in the cloistered confines of hospital. Even though I’d had a pretty normal teenage life, there were large chunks of social skills that were missing, there were large chunks of experiential activities missing, so that was a large part of what the guys in The Id helped me to realise and helped me to move into. But yeah, I wasn’t prepared to go down that direction, I wanted to keep progressing.”
In one of those odd little threads that make up the vast tapestry of rock music, the brief story of The Id sans St John is fascinating in itself. The Id continued as a four piece with Walsh, Anson switching to bass and bringing in Mick Liber (ex-Python Lee Jackson) on guitar and Don McCormack back on drums. In August, members of the group were busted for possession of marijuana and the Ubu Films people came to their aid by organising a benefit gig (to raise funds for their legal defence) during which the band played while images from various Ubu films were projected on the walls and over the musicians.
With a move into more experimental sounds, The Id appeared at a number of Ubu’s Underground Dances – or to use the vernacular of the day ‘happenings’ – around Sydney. They shared stages with the likes of Tamam Shud, Nutwood Rug, Tully and Starving Wild Dogs. These improvised situations involved live music, liquid lightshows plus films and slides multi-projected simultaneously over the bands, the walls and the audience. By reconfiguring these elements into an expanded space, it provided the participants with a utopian environment whereby all could be within, not apart from, the total experience. These happenings echoed such overseas events as the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream at London’s Alexandra Palace and the psychedelic San Francisco Ballrooms of the day – the Matrix, the Avalon, the Fillmore etc.
Various line-ups of The Id continued to play until the end of 1969 with little success. In 1968 Liber had moved on to join Gulliver Smith in The Noyes, while Walsh and Helman both played in Levi Smith’s Clefs during that year. Anson went on to join The Foreday Riders.
“Fanciful flights of mind, am I only dreaming...”
In the meantime, the singer had formed Jeff St John and The Yama (a Hindi word for ‘the first mortals’) which comprised Ross East (lead guitar, vocals), Lloyd Hardy (aka Virgil East, bass; ex-Python Lee Jackson), Wayne ‘Groove’ Myers (organ), Murray Hill (sax, flute), Keith Jenkins (trumpet) and Peter Figures (drums; ex-Throb). Allan English (sax) had replaced Hill by the time the band commenced touring. The Yama only lasted ten months and produced one interesting single ‘Nothing Comes Easy’ b/w ‘Everybody’s Gone (Rode Away on Horses)’ (October 1967) before splitting.
“The Yama was another big band, a seven-piece band with brass but Sydney couldn’t support us, that was the problem,” St John recalls. “So we lost players and all the work was in Melbourne. But the single was great, I co-wrote that with Peter Figures. There’s a curious back story to that. After we wrote it he left my flat and I sat up all night and re-arranged it and wrote the brass intro, did all that. I wrote it to be an extension of ‘Big Time Operator’ but the general consensus at the time was that it was too different, so of course they (radio) didn’t pick it up.
“That perspective was even held by our manager at the time, and yet for me personally I still think that it’s quite a natural progression from ‘Big Time Operator’. It was bold, it’s brassy, all that. The only real departure from The Id style concept was the heavy use of harmonies. Apart from that, the rest of it was just a natural musical progression of The Id’s brass sound.”
The single had certainly shown a great deal of promise, being very experimental for the time. For the soulful and brassy ‘Nothing Comes Easy’, the group employed innovative vocal arrangements and Virgil East used a bowed electric bass which gave the instrument a funky double bass sound. They ended the song by singing a major ninth chord which no-one else in Australia had done before. Furthermore, the opening lyric couplet goes: “You don’t get nothin’ for nothin’/It costs you blood, sweat and tears, yeah”. This prefigures the appearance in the US of one of the great jazz-rock/horn bands of the late 1960s, Blood, Sweat & Tears, a group which didn’t starting performing until November 1967.
And the innovation continued on the B-side ballad which opened with a harpsichord-like piano figure reminiscent of the Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and The Trinity version of Bob Dylan’s ‘This Wheel’s on Fire’ – but that single didn’t come out until April 1968! ‘Everybody’s Gone (Rode Away on Horses)’ continued with the baroque feel – piano, gentle psych guitar, a rolling rhythm, Bee Gees-styled three-part vocal harmonies and East employing that bowed electric bass effect again.
In mid 1968, St John entered hospital for several months. He had been afflicted with congenital Spina Bifida since birth and while there is no cure for the condition, periodically he had to undertake preventative measures.
In the following exclusive excerpt from his soon-to-be-published auto-biography The Inside Outsider, he clarifies the situation (and dispels previously printed myths):
“We (Yama) were always talking and dreaming about becoming recording artists again but that bastard Murphy, who has been lurking in the wings of my stage my entire life, decided it was time for another spanner in the works.
“Throughout this entire period Pamela was tending to a severe pressure problem just under my right buttock caused by the top of the calliper I was using to compensate for the progressing dysfunction of my left (good) leg. It had to be dressed twice a day and it was never going to heal while I kept on working. One day, as she stripped down the dressing, she gasped and said, ‘My God Jeffrey, as I took out the packing the wound exhaled a grey mist’. There and then, the musical adventure known as Yama came to an abrupt end.”
It was to address this problem that St John went back to Sydney and for no other reason.
By October he was working on putting a new band together in Perth, with guitarist John Green (ex-Marty Rhone and The Soul Agents). Jeff St John’s Copperwine comprised St John, Peter Figures, John Green, replaced by Phil Wooding (ex-In-Sect) who was then replaced by Ross East (ex-Yama), Barry Kelly (piano, organ, vocals; ex-Marty Rhone and The Soul Agents) and Alan Ingham (bass, vocals). Copperwine swiftly developed into an uncompromising rock outfit, and once back in Sydney began to rule over the burgeoning ‘head music’/concert circuit alongside the likes of Tully and Tamam Shud.
Jeff St John’s Copperwine played a starring role in Australia’s first rock festival, Ourimbah, Pilgrimage For Pop in January 1970. Two months later Copperwine issued the imaginative Joint Effort album, one of the finest Australian albums of the early 1970s. The album’s progressive soul single ‘Days to Come’ b/w ‘Cloud Nine’ missed the charts, although the next single, a cover of Rotary Connection’s surging ‘Teach Me How to Fly’ (November 1970), scored an impressive #16 placing on the national chart (#3 in Sydney and #12 in Melbourne).
By that stage Wendy Saddington had joined as co-lead vocalist (although she did not appear on the single). Saddington was Australia’s premier blues singer of the day, and her stay of ten months (May 1970 to February 1971) motivated many changes in Copperwine’s musical direction. Much of the band’s soul/jazz flavour was abandoned in preference for a more purist blues orientation on stage, as displayed on the album Wendy Saddington and The Copperwine Live (recorded sans St John at the Wallacia Festival in January 1971).
Jeff St John and The Copperwine were placed third behind Fraternity and Sherbet in the 1971 Hoadley’s National Battle of the Sounds competition. The band issued a new single, a cover of Leon Russell’s ‘Hummingbird’ (August 1971), after which St. John fell out with the rest of the members over his song writing role and the band’s overall direction.
The singer left Copperwine in January 1972, formed the Jeff St John Band and started touring solo. Since that time he has led a long and distinguished career, with the chart high point being the Top 10 hit ‘A Fool in Love’ in 1977. His albums included The Best Of Jeff St. John (1972), Jeff St John Live (1974), the compilation Survivor 1965-1975 (1977) and So Far So Good (1978).
We’ll leave the story of Jeffrey St John at this point, (hopefully) to be continued with the reissue of the Copperwine album Joint Effort. You’ll be able to read his full life story when his auto-biography The Inside Outsider is published this year.
While St John continued to tour relentlessly until 1983, his only album in recent years has been an independent CD which comprised old standards such as ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ and ‘Fascinating Rhythm’, entitled Will the real Jeff St. John PLEASE stand up? (2001) recorded with The Embers. It’s a crying shame that he hasn’t been afforded a far greater degree of acclaim and, indeed, the opportunity to record more in recent years. Jeffrey St John remains one of Australia’s truly original and most gifted singers.
In conclusion, when asked about his emotional response to the fact that Big Time Operators is now coming out on CD, St John reflects:
“It works like this: my philosophy is that if anybody achieves some level of work that survives 50 years and is still popular then you can’t help but be proud of the work. And that’s exactly what we have here. This was stuff that I did when I was a kid and if people still think that it’s good enough to be reissued 50 years later, then I’m happy about it.”
The Id Featuring Jeff St John – Big Time Operators
Originally issued as Spin SEL-932257 (March 1967)
1. You Got Me Hummin’ (Hayes/Porter)
2. Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (James Brown)
3. If I Had a Ticket (Trad. Arr. Peterson)
4. In the Midnight Hour (Pickett/Cropper)
5. Big Time Operator (Colton/Smith)
6. Watch Out (St John/Anson/Walsh/Helman)
8. Sister’s Got a Boyfriend (Porter/Hayes/Jones)
9. Devil Got My Woman (Nehemiah ‘Skip’ James)
10. Feel Awright (Delong/Kirkland)
11. How Much Pressure (Do You Think I Can Stand?)
12. Parchman Farm (Mose Allison)
13. The Jerk (Don Julian)
Bonus Tracks – Mono Singles 1966/67
14. Lindy Lou (Ray Sharpe)
15. Somebody To Love (Jeff St John)
16. The Jerk (Don Julian)
17. Take This Hurt Off Me (Don Covay)
18. Black Girl (Huddie Ledbetter)
19. Eastern Dream (John Helman)
20. Sunoroid ’67 Vocal
21. Sunoroid ’67 Instrumental
The Jeff St John Story: The Inside Outsider - Told by Jeffrey St John (Starman Books, 2015)