Buffalo - 1974 & Only Want You for Your Body
Here are my original liner notes for the 2005 CD reissue on Aztec of Buffalo's monstrous 1974 album Only Want You for Your Body.
Thanks to Dave Tice, Pete Wells (R.I.P.) and John Baxter
Only Want You For Your Body
By Ian McFarlane © 2005
With the dawning of 1974, the members of Buffalo were in a positive frame of mind. Their first two albums had sold well – Dead forever… had sold over 15,000 units, Volcanic Rock not far behind with sales over the 10,000 mark – although local radio still ignored the band’s singles with no likelihood of a hit in the offing.
Radio programmers cited the band’s raw and heavy sound – surely the essence of the Buffalo identity – as the reason for lack of airplay. This quickly became a bone of contention, with the band’s management intent on effecting necessary changes in an effort to improve the band’s commercial standing, all of which led to the disintegration of the classic Buffalo line-up by the year’s close. The band still toured regularly, drawing decent crowds to their shows, so the first move to a more commercial outlook came with the recruitment of slide guitarist Norm Roue (ex-Band of Light) late in the year.
Noted for his exceptional slide technique (heard to great effect on the classic Band of Light LP Total Union), on a good night Roue ranked along with the La De Das’ Kevin Borich and Carson’s ‘Sleepy’ Greg Lawrie as the best slide player in the land. The John Baxter/Norm Roue dual guitar line-up could have been a formidable entity, yet the line-up only lasted a matter of a few gigs before Baxter’s world came crashing down. Summoned to the manager’s office Baxter was told in no uncertain terms that his services with the band were no longer required. In retrospect it seemed a senseless move as it basically robbed the band of its most distinctive feature and boldest asset. Baxter’s guitar technique and sound had come to epitomise the group’s approach, a full on heavy metal onslaught of scorching riffs, sheer volume and over the top energy.
Nevertheless, by 1974/75 the Australian rock scene had changed considerably, with the older styled heavy progressive bands giving way to a more commercial aesthetic as characterised by the likes of Sherbet, Skyhooks, Hush, Ted Mulry Gang, Dragon, John Paul Young etc then riding the Countdown wave right into the hearts of adoring teenage fans and to the top of the charts. Buffalo’s management wanted some of the action and it was time for an uncontrollable force such as Baxter to be removed. The band continued on for another two years but its spirit was broken.
The sheer irony of the change is that the Buffalo legend that persists to this day is based solely on their first three albums, Dead forever…, Volcanic Rock and the beast that is Only Want You for Your Body. Released in June 1974 (Vertigo 6357 102), the album sits comfortably next to Volcanic Rock as one of the most outrageously heavy and ground-breaking psych metal / proto-stoner rock albums ever released in Australia.
Under the engineering/production guidance of Spencer Lee and Dermot Hoy, the guys maintained the heavy metal mayhem on such Dave Tice/John Baxter penned tracks as the absurdly macho ‘I’m a Skirt Lifter, Not a Shirt Raiser’, ‘What’s Going On’, ‘Stay With Me’, ‘King’s Cross Ladies’, ‘United Nations’ and a full-throated treatment of Alvin Lee’s ‘I’m Coming On’. While tracks like ‘I’m a Skirt Lifter…’ and ‘King’s Cross Ladies’ saw the band boasting of their sexual exploits, ‘Dune Messiah’ shifted the emphasis having been inspired by the Frank Herbert sci-fi novel of the same name. All up, this was big, dumb ugly riff-rock but the whole thing’s a fuckin’ riot from start to finish! Interestingly enough, gone were the studio jams that had filled Volcanic Rock (‘Freedom’, ‘Pound of Flesh’, ‘The Prophet’) in place of direct and tightly focused song arrangements. The band also achieved some remarkable dynamics in their sonic explorations. If anything Baxter’s guitar sound featured a more distinctive and measured tone all of which added to the album’s strengths.
As with Volcanic Rock, the album again contained a lyric sheet insert. ‘What’s Going On’ b/w ‘I’m Coming On’ was issued as a single (Philips 6037 041) in May and proved to be the band’s most powerful 7-inch coupling. As was the usual practice of the day, the single on the blue and silver Philips label was a mono mix with an edit to cater for expected radio airplay.
While the radio airplay never eventuated, Buffalo did score several television appearances throughout the year. Most significant was their series of slots on the ABC-TV’s local rock show GTK (Get to Know), the precursor to Countdown. Usually featuring bands playing a number of songs live in the ABC studios these episodes of GTK captured Buffalo in full blown concert mode. The full GTK sessionography was: ‘Dead Forever’ live in Sydney (March, Episode 797); a cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ live in Sydney (March, Episode 802); ‘United Nations’ live at the Hordern Pavilion, Sydney (April, Episode 815); ‘Kings Cross Ladies’ live at the Hordern Pavilion (September, Episode 904); ‘Sunrise (Come My Way) live at the Hordern Pavilion (October, Episode 936). Unfortunately, the audio quality for some of the GTK performances has deteriorated to the point of being un-useable, but the band is in ripping form.
Then there was the band’s turn on Melbourne TV kids show Hey, Hey It’s Saturday. Presented by entertainer Daryl Somers and his sidekick, a fluffy pink and orange puppet called Ossie Ostrich, the show was a Saturday morning perennial that featured irreverent comedy routines, live guests and assorted cartoons. Buffalo fan Steve Lorkin recalls their appearance on the show as highly entertaining. At that time Dave Tice had taken to wearing a feathered jacket, sort of a chicken suit, and as the surly members of Buffalo sauntered onto the set, there was much hilarity as everyone noted the striking similarity between Tice and his jacket and the fluffy Ossie Ostrich! Buffalo then shook the studio foundations with thunderous renditions of ‘Dune Messiah’ and the single ‘What’s Going On’.
While Buffalo was attempting to widen their appeal by capturing a younger audience, at the same time as trying to retain an adult following, they almost blew it when they became embroiled in controversy at the end of the year. While staging a show in front of 400 kids at Blacktown shopping centre, in Sydney’s vast eastern suburbs, the band called on stage a stripper known as Madam Lashonce who wielded a bullwhip dipped in blood! As the crowd stood in stunned silence she began disrobing to the band’s grinding music. Naturally all hell broke loose, with a group of mothers reportedly going berserk and screaming at the band to take her offstage! The sensationalist tabloid press had a field day with that report. While the nation was outraged, it was just another night out for the guys in the band.
"Dune Messiah... rider of the worm"
“Only Want You for Your Body is my favourite Buffalo album,” John Baxter states proudly. “That to me is the epitome of our sound, that full-on heavy metal sound. To me it was a progression. On Dead forever… we were finding our way, it probably wasn’t the exact sound we were after but at the time we were happy with it. Then with Volcanic Rock we did it like a live studio album without any touch-ups. It was a very raw sound which is what we were aiming for. Then with Only Want You for Your Body we thought we’ll get this one right and make it sound really good. That and Volcanic Rock are the most representative of my guitar playing style.”
Tice continues: “With Only Want You for Your Body, you’ve got things like ‘King’s Cross Ladies’. I quite like ‘King’s Cross Ladies’ because that was just us telling it like it was, we were out there rooting and that’s what it was all about in those days. That was our celebration of that in many ways. ‘Dune Messiah’ and ‘What’s Going On’ I thought were pretty good. Also, sonically the sound’s pretty different on that album.”
All the same, Buffalo managed to outdo themselves with the wildly tasteless cover design which featured an obese, screaming, semi-naked woman shackled to a torture rack. As shown on the back cover, the band reveled in their role as leering, lascivious Aussie yob rockers, with Tice wearing a devilish grin while clad in his black leather strides ‘n’ braces and brandishing a bullwhip. And dig those wild stack-heeled boots! It was just a bit of harmless fun, yet outraged record store managers across the land refused to stock the record, some eventually placing it in a brown paper bag to hide the offending images.
Bass player Pete Wells chuckles at the thought; “There was a certain amount of humour involved in what we did. The covers were a bit over the top and there was always a bit of controversy. A lot of people objected to the covers, but we didn’t care. The covers were really significant in capturing people’s interest.”
Tice: “That cover was fantastic; we had such a laugh with that! You gotta laugh at that cover; it’s so overstated it’s just jokey.”
Baxter: “On the cover of Only Want You for Your Body, we were just a bunch of hoons. We had the boots, but we weren’t a glam band, like we’d never ever put on make up. That was something we refused to do, like Sherbet or Hush. We weren’t part of the glam scene; we didn’t want to be part of that scene. That probably didn’t help us with radio because that was a big thing in those days, getting played on radio and we never got played on commercial radio.”
"Got your United Nations..."
The album’s place in the Buffalo canon, and indeed the pantheon of Australian rock, is significant in itself. While some people may have been offended by a silly cover design, its very presence was symptomatic of changes and upheavals within the fabric of society. Tice attempts to put it into some kind of perspective when he explains: “When we were making those early albums, we were very much contemporaries of the people we were playing to. We had the same aspirations, the same dreams, y’know? It’s a generational thing. The late 60s/early 70s worldwide was a watershed in musical history. What was being explored hadn’t been explored in that way before. Now there’s a certain amount of nostalgia involved in that music.”
“Also, one of the most popular TV shows at the time was Happy Days. That seemed like a more innocent era. But what we were doing in Buffalo and what overseas bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were doing, it was the very antithesis of that innocence. It was an expression of a new mind set as far as people’s maturity was concerned. We were often compared with Black Sabbath and I can understand why you would make that comparison but it was never our intention to be like Black Sabbath particularly. To tell you the truth, I didn’t hear Black Sabbath until we were already making records. It just so happened we were doing similar things on different sides of the world.”
The release of Only Want You for Your Body and the ejection of Baxter from the band’s ranks brought the end of an era. Pete Wells states it plainly as he recalls: “When John got the chop from the band, at the time I really did think we’d run our course, we’d had our day. The band continued for a couple more years after that, but I really think the band had finished its first era. To me the best line-up was the four-piece on Volcanic Rock and Only Want You for Your Body; that was the band at its best. I like ‘What’s Going On’, ‘United Nations’ but with that line-up, I think we’d taken it as far as we could go. It was time for a change. The music scene was starting to change around that time as well, Countdown had started. The whole venue scene in Australia had changed as well; initially we used to play a lot of school dances and then the pub scene opened up.”
"Do you know what's going on!"
John Baxter speaks...
More penetrating are Baxter’s recollections of the upheavals. Here he speaks for the first time about the circumstances of his departure:
“Norm Roue joined and we did a couple of gigs together. I dunno if that line-up would have worked. He was a great slide player but it came as a bit of a surprise to me actually. I don’t think we even rehearsed. I think it was at Marourba Surf Club or something and he just showed up and I was saying ‘well, what’s going on’ and the others said ‘oh, he’s just gonna have a play’. I think they cooked that up behind my back, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t involved in that. Pretty soon after that I got the chop.”
“I got called to the manager’s office a couple of days before we were due to do a cruise ship tour, something we’d never done before. I was looking forward to that. So the manager called me up to the office and said ‘well, look, the guys have decided that you’re out of the band’. I was a bit surprised. I’m the sort of guy who doesn’t like to hang around if he’s not wanted, so I just took off. Thinking back I should have stuck to my guns and said ‘no, I’m not out of the band at all, you’re out of the band’. How much of that band was me! It was late 1974 and I’d put in all these years with the band. We’d been going with that band since 1971; four years and I thought to myself later ‘I shouldn’t have just weakly given in to that’. I put so much work into that band, they were my songs and my effort and they thought they could just chop me out like that. And I just went limply, ‘oh, okay, I’ll go’. I just crawled away and got in my hole for a while and never heard from anybody.”
“Then Dave got in touch with me after they’d done the next album and said ‘do you wanna hear it?’ Me and Dave hadn’t been talking, y’know? For probably about a month or something before I left, we weren’t on good terms. We weren’t even saying hello at gigs. I’m not sure why that was actually. I think it was something to do with my volume on the guitar. He used to complain a bit and quite rightly so. I was probably one of the loudest guitar players going around. But I felt I needed that to play the way I did. And in those days the PA’s weren’t up to it. I’d love to hear Buffalo now with the technology available these days.”
“By that stage the rest of the band was professionally minded in wanting regular income. I think they started looking at ‘how can the band get more success’ and they might have thought ‘well Baxter is such a loud guitarist, that doesn’t help’ and ‘the heavy metal path isn’t the right path to go’. The next album was pretty much heavy metal but it wasn’t the Buffalo sound that people were used to hearing. I think some of those songs are good.”
Baxter went on to join a new outfit called Southern Cross with ex-Buffalo singer Alan Milano, Bruce Cumming (guitar), Michel Brouet (bass) and Jeff Beacham (drums). Baxter wrote some of the band’s live repertoire, although he left six months after formation. A couple of Baxter’s songs, ‘You Need It’ and ‘Games’, appeared on the band’s eponymous debut album released on the Laser label (VXL1-4041) in late 1976. The songs were a prime example of the band’s melodic yet raunchy style of riff rock. From there, Baxter formed Boy Racer with John Gamidge (vocals) – quickly replaced by Terry Halliday (ex-Geeza) – Alan Wade (bass) and Trevor Jones (drums). Boy Racer recorded demo material for an album which has never seen the light of day; however, the band did feature in a live broadcast during 1977 for the ABC’s 2JJ youth radio station playing their signature song ‘Boy Racer’ which Baxter describes as “one of the most powerful rock songs ever written”. When the band dissolved at the end of the year after making little headway, Baxter left the music industry.
Dave Tice offers his thoughts in conclusion:
“John was fired by our management. It had been suggested, for some time before, that John was an uncontrollable force. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The music grew out of that, but management didn’t see it that way. One thing I will say is that through the first three albums with that four-piece, and also including the five-piece when we first started, is that the focus and the ideas within the band members were on parallel track. We had an innate understanding of what we were trying to do. A strong part of the reason for the line-up change was management preferences. They thought it was necessary to change the band. Well, y’know, John could be a bit of a loose cannon at times, but this is what comes with real creativity. I’d seen Norm do some strange things at times too, almost self-destructive.”
“So after doing those first three albums, as far as management was concerned we needed to find a way of breaking into the more commercial side of the business and their thinking at the time with John was that it was never gonna happen. The very things you can do to access that market were anathema to John, he just assumed what he did was fine. It was like ‘what do you mean radio doesn’t play our stuff, it’s not our fault, they just don’t like us’. Management’s idea was ‘okay they don’t like you, they won’t play you, but that’s because the sound is too raw, it’s not easy enough on the ear for commercial radio’. They got caught up in that way of thinking at the time. The last two albums have a more commercial sound, which was the whole idea. It’s difficult, once you get past a certain stage with a band and you’re involved with management, road crew, publicists and god knows what else, your ideas are no longer your own. Well they’re your own, but you’re under continual siege and direction by other things, other people’s ideas. We had people telling us what to wear. Y’know, ‘you have to look like this; you have to have this image’.”
“Up to that point our image was what we were, and then all of a sudden they wanted our image to be something we weren’t. It’s very difficult to sort the chaff from the grain in those circumstances. We didn’t think along those lines but we were aware that we had an 8-tonne truck, a 15-seater mini bus, three road crew, a publicist, a manager, an agent, all of whom expected to be fed. Not only that but after feeding them, we hoped to be able to feed ourselves! Plus, I personally think that if we were in a larger market doing what we were doing, or we were a band from New York or a band from London, then the financial rewards that would have gone with being in a commensurate position in those markets meant that all of us would have been doing quite well. The Australian market puts other constraints on performers. It tends to focus the realities a lot earlier than in other parts of the world. Overseas the numbers are hugely different.”
So with the end of 1974, the classic Buffalo line-up of Dave Tice, John Baxter, Pete Wells and Jimmy Economou passed into history. The order of the day was to score a hit single with the hope that Buffalo’s commercial profile would be elevated, leading on to bigger and better things. Despite their best efforts over the next couple of years, the expected hit singles for Buffalo never eventuated.
To be continued…
Only Want You for Your Body originally issued as Vertigo 6357 102 (June 1974)
1. I’M A SKIRT LIFTER, NOT A SHIRT RAISER (Dave Tice/John Baxter)
2. I’M COMING ON (Alvin Lee)
3. DUNE MESSIAH (Dave Tice/John Baxter)
4. STAY WITH ME (Dave Tice/John Baxter)
5. WHAT’S GOING ON (Dave Tice/John Baxter)
6. KINGS CROSS LADIES (Dave Tice/John Baxter)
7. UNITED NATIONS (Dave Tice/John Baxter)
NOW BLOW YOUR SPEAKERS OUT!
DAVE TICE: Voice
JOHN BAXTER: Guitars
PETER WELLS: Electric bass
JIMMY ECONOMOU: Drums & voice