It seems nothing can stop the coolest daddy of Aussie rock from showbiz, not even during the darkest economic period since 1929. Being fifty years in the business and making a living from music in the evolving landscape requires two fundamentals; a solid catalogue engrained in some of the greatest anthems of our lifetime, and a sensible business mind with hard work. And yes – embracing humility and acceptance are key in the unforgiving industry. The former front man of the iconic bands Mondo Rock and Daddy Cool blends the concoction for success, as he enjoys the fruits from the 70s and 80s and still gracing the big stage across Australia, while altruistically serving the community.
And the music keeps emerging. After four decades since the inception of Mondo Rock, there are bound to be unreleased tracks buried in their musical abyss. One such treasure is the recently released live album, “Summer of ‘81”. The album was recorded at Victoria’s Pier Hotel, three weeks before the launch of their most popular album “Chemistry” in 1981, capturing some of their catchiest hits such as State of the Heart, Chemistry, Cool World plus a couple of epic tracks that never made into the studio recording. You’d be forgiven the album was recorded in this millennium, given the quality of the sounds.
In this candid, hilarious and poignant conversation, the legendary front man Ross Wilson speaks to Sheldon Ang on some of the untold stories behind their biggest hits, the astounding production of “Summer of ‘81”, and the call of duty that’s very close to his heart; voicing for the disadvantaged, especially for the indigenous community (also told in Living in the Land of Oz on the live album) before it became a popular movement among white Australia.
After all, a nation should not be judged by their economic wealth, rather they should be judged by the way the disadvantaged are treated.
Sheldon: Last time I saw you…you were performing at the Cockburn Concert in Perth. And my photo of you got published onto the front page of the papers thanks to your classic poses (Ross: Yeah how good was that!). (Chuckles) Do you still get the buzz performing in front of crowds of all ages and background?
Ross: Oh yeah that’s the whole thing, all would agree that is not much good performing to an empty room, and the whole thing of audience and music participant and I get all out of it…so it’s a 2 way street and it depends on the audience…and the audience is part of the community and I do what I do and going help the community to have a good time (chuckles). The audience and the artists are a wonderful thing and if anything in this forced down time it is like no gigs at all – like a gig apocalypse which has never ever happened before in my lifetime…and it give voice to reflect and how much we enjoy in front of the audience and it sort of validate in what we are doing.
Sheldon: When I was shooting, there were teenagers singing and dancing to your songs mate. So I reckon the songs of Daddy Cool and Mondo Rock will go on for another 50 years.
Ross: Yeah I hope so, but the only downside is in the age of Spotify and streaming that you don’t get mixed up in the bag, and people don’t think that’s Ross Wilson…like kids don’t really care who’s doing it, like the case of Cool World and Eagle Rock are always there, so their parents might be playing in the house so they get into it…so they go “who’s that guy” (chuckles) so I have to remind them occasionally (chuckles).
Sheldon: Fair dinkum mate, I’m sure they know who that man on the stage was, and instead of Move Like Jagger, it should be Move like Ross Wilson
Ross: (Big chuckles)
Sheldon: Ross, we are mates on Twitter. You mainly voice on issues of human rights, nature, animals and equality. You could easily sit back and relax on an island somewhere. Instead, for example, you were at the Black Lives Matter protest in Melbourne just over the weekend…so why are these issues, and activism, so important to you?
Ross: People who know me would know that I’ve been in that voice for a long time. It is not even a cause, but more of an attitude than anything else. I wrote a song Living in the Land of Oz in 1976 which addresses the dispossession and genocide, and things people don’t want to hear back then, and I’ve written a few songs about it. So my views are fairly documented in songs and in activism.
Mondo Rock and Daddy Cool
Sheldon: Speaking of attitude, there is this old adage – if you love what you do for a living, then you don’t have to work for the rest of your life. Is this the case for Ross Wilson of Ex Mondo Rock and Daddy Cool?
Ross: Well no…in Australia the ratio of people to music is a lot smaller than in North America – that’s why everyone tries to make it in America (chuckles). That’s why you got the amazing music over there and is very inspiring. And you also got a huge audience. I had couple of cracks over there. So you might get the occasional Gold albums and still be making a reasonable living, and I’m very fortunate in these times of no gigs. It’s very important for myself and for the guys I worked with. And there’s no cash flow coming in, so I’m lucky that I do have some music royalties come in my way. And if I’m without that I’d be in a tight spot like so many people are in. I’m lucky that I have that history of back catalogues working for me, and there’s no way I could retire if I were in their position…but I don’t want to retire anyway (chuckles)!
Sheldon: So you don’t have your own private island then?
Ross: Well in a way we do! We do have an island off the coast of Lombok when you fly to Bali. We rent out to people. It’s a remote island and lots of people go there and no motorised transport allowed. There is no motorbike or cars allowed, is like going to Rottnest – it is tropical, but yeah we do have a place on an island somewhere (chuckles).
Sheldon: That’s so cool…so how was it like for you guys back in the early eighties?
Ross: It was quite a ride, because a lot of the bands you start with have no intention other than just playing together, like ‘let’s play this songs, and we got a couple of songs, let’s play them’ and that was how Daddy Cool started. We connected straight away. And it didn’t take long for us at all…it took six months between when we formed and when we had the number one single. Ross Hannaford my buddy on guitar – we played in bands before but we never had any success as far as getting onto the charts. Whereas Harry and Wayne on rhythm section – they were working with pop stars in the sixties, and when they were pretty young they were already with pop stars like Bobby and Laurie. So for me and Hannaford we were like ‘wow, what’s happening here’. And before we knew it and after less than a year after we formed, we were in America and playing at the Whiskey a Go Go. We got our contract and we toured three times in America. It was quite an eye opener (chuckles), it was quite a ride!
MONDO ROCK IS: Ross Wilson, Eric McCusker, James Black, and Paul Christie – Connect with them via Facebook HERE
DADDY COOL IS: Ross Wilson (rhythm guitar, vox), Ross Hannaford (guitar), Gary Young on drums and Wayne Duncan on bass.
Summer Of ’81 (Mondo Rock Live At The Pier)
Album out now through Bloodlines
Available to buy/stream here
Sheldon: So that brings me to the “Summer of ’81” live album. It has taken a while to release Mondo Rock’s very first live album.
Ross: Well it was never intended to be a live album. It was very well recorded. And we always knew it was there and we put our catalogue through Liberations/Bloodlines which we owned, and they did a great job. And McLoughlin was the main guy there doing stuff for us, and he said, ‘you guys wouldn’t have any live stuff lying around would ya?’ Because it would be good to have a good content on Spotify and we said, ‘well there is one thing actually’, and we sent his this track, and he was like ‘WOAH!…and we got to put that out!’ And so we did a bit of editing, and it was only about three weeks after we told him that the thing came out. It is about the wait…all about the timing you know (chuckles).
Sheldon. And I’m really surprised at the quality given it is a recording from the eighties…it feels like a Wembley Stadium recording from a couple of years ago.
Ross: Yeah, it’s very well produced. The guy who was the engineer, his name is Jim Barton, where he went onto becoming the recording engineer and remix guy for Queen and Rush. He went all over the world and now he’s back here in Australia. Now he is sort of retired (chuckles) and we gave him a lot of credit making it sound good. But I got to say, listening to the live album…the band was really hype at the time. We were really rockin’ and I listen to the singing I was like ‘wow I sound really good,’ and man we were really on fire.
Sheldon: Your live vocals were and still as good as the studio version mate. Anyhow, there are so many great hits on the “Summer of ‘81” live album, State of the Heart, Chemistry, Cool World – just to name a few. Any particular favourites from that live album, or in fact from any album of Mondo Rock and Daddy Cool?
Ross: I like the version of Chemistry, and we hadn’t even put out the “Chemistry” album. And that was like three weeks away and this was all a build up to the release of the album and for some people who were on that gig, heard it for the first time. And some songs that were on that live album never made it to an album. There is a great track called Slice of Life, that we attempted at some stage or we had so many songs at that stage, where we said, ‘Let’s put this on the album and save this song for later’. But Slice on Life was tied in knots so we never put it on a studio album.
And there was an up-tempo version of Living in the Land of Oz – which all goes back to what you were asking in earlier on the Black Lives Matter movement where I was part of the other day. That song Living in the Land of Oz in a way created Mondo Rock because I put as a solo single that I produced for a soundtrack of a movie and then the agency asked me, ‘What do you want to call the band’, I said let’s call it ‘Ross Wilson’s Mondo Rock’ – and that’s how it all started. And that song has a special and that song is always well played, and we played in some reunion gigs last year and we were playing that song and told how people how it all came together.
State of the Heart
Sheldon: My favourite song is State of the Heart (Ross: Aha). I tell you why, because the lyrics and music are simple right (Ross: Yeah!). And yet it puts me into a state of equanimity (Ross: Okay). It reminds me of the peaceful version NY City (Ross: Chuckles)? Why do you think it has that effect?
Ross: Gee, you got me there…but yeah it’s pretty laid back, Eric McCuster wrote that, the guitarist of Mondo Rock and he has the story that he was going home on a tram, and it all pop into his head and it ran home and wrote it down and it all came done in all twenty minutes. Sometimes you got to put your antenna out there and pick up what’s there. And sometimes is not like you writing the song; the song kinda writing you, you know (chuckles). The best one come like that.
Sheldon: Is that based on a true story for Eric, perhaps subconsciously?
Ross: I think he drawn from his feelings at that time and what he was thinking about. But he said is partly the scenario he created in his head and is partly inspired by The Hollies’ song, Bus Stop which he was saying that people meeting at the bus and tram stop, and thinking about each together, you know.
Sheldon: Eric wrote that song, but what does State of the Heart really mean to you when you sing it?
Ross: I think it got that really nice romantic feel, even that sexual undertone to it. The verse “You are the Moon, I am the Sea, You Pull me In, and Gaze done on Me (Ross was almost singing here)” is like people in bed having sex together and she’s on top (chuckles). And I get a lot of inspiration from that song too (chuckles).
Sheldon: (Chuckles) Mate, I remember at the Cockburn Concert, and when you sang that line, you thrusted your hips forward! Now that makes sense (Chuckles).
Ross: (Chuckles) Yeah, I did inject some humour into my performance.
Sheldon: Tell us about the swinging arm dance in the video? Is that your trademark dance or was that popular back in the time?
Ross: Which video?
Sheldon: State of the Heart
Ross: We didn’t actually do a video in the State of the Heart, the stuff you see on YouTube – it was the performance we did on Countdown where we did in the street scene with leaves. The Countdown people who did the record went out of their way. We came into this whole studio scene for us to go through. We went on Countdown the one time, and everybody remembers that as a video and you know that was a great job they did…and the song went boom! It went straight to the top and thanks to them, I think (chuckles).
Sheldon: I had no idea. Wow!…If you don’t mind me asking, was Countdown ever done live or was it done lip-synching.
Ross: It started off and people would come on as lip-synching, because it was so low budget and that’s what everybody did at that time. And then came Chisel who do a lot of live, and they’d be like ‘we don’t want to lip-synch’, and you got to set up a mic and you got to have a backing tape and you want a live vocal….and it boils down to when you made a new single you always went off a backing without the vocals, and you go on TV whether it was on Countdown or whatever and have a live mic, and is a lot better because it was nothing worse than to sing and stuff up their lip synching, you know (chuckles) as that’d be soul destroying.
Come Said the Boy
Sheldon: Talking about sex earlier on, when I was a kid, I didn’t think much of it…but Come Said the Boy is a very sexual song.
Ross: Yeah very much so. I think this is a song that a lot of women like it because that song has a lot of power (for the women). And Eric McCuster is a feminist sort of guy and that’s the one based on his own experience, and he grew up near Bronte Beach near Sydney, his dad was a Physics professor. They live near this house at the top of the cliff overlooking the surf, and down one side it got the Bronte Beach and then the around the corner we got Tamarama Beach which was a topless beach and this was before everyone had their phone with cameras and spoiled it for everyone (chuckles)…so he told me it was combination of 3 experiences and one of them was like his experience with an older girl.
Sheldon: So “she had turned 17”, and how old was Eric?
Ross: Well maybe 16, but the girl was more experienced, you know.
Sheldon: And the video reminds me of early years after a big night out, and the sun was about to rise. Was that video taken in the early hours in the morning?
Ross: Nah we started off in the daytime and it kinda went off, and by the time the car drive scene it was around sunset, and it was the whole day shoot… and the kids were doing their thing, and we came in, so for me it was a quite a learning curve. It was the first vid we did in one big continuous take and it was on a dolly and it was going forward and it was very cinematic kind of techniques there and we had to do a couple of times and the trouble is when you do that and you got a new song and not necessary heard it yourself, and it was about to be released and so I had trouble in lip-syncing a lot…but we got through several long takes, and pulled it off
Sheldon: Where was it shot?
The word ‘Maroubra‘ comes from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘like thunder.’
Sheldon: Oh yeah, I think I’ve heard of it. And did you dislodge your hips in the making of the video of Chemistry?
Ross: (chuckles) no no no
Sheldon: I mean, are those moves the classic Ross Wilson moves?
Ross: Well it was at that time, and there is the Daddy Cool Ross Wilson moves and there’s Mondo Rock Ross Wilson moves because we had a different approach to rhythm, you know. Because with Mondo Rock we threw our hands side to side a little bit…and in Daddy Cool, I was shaking my hips a lot more than Mondo Rock.
Sheldon: One more thing before I go; promised me one thing mate (Ross: Yeah? (Chuckles))… to never ever get Rick Springfield to cover any of your songs.
Ross: Yeah, I had NOTHING to do with that (Chuckles).
Sheldon: Mate, that-was-SHIT (Rick Springfield’s cover of State of the Heart)
Ross: And the worst part was it became a hit in America because he had a prior hit over there (with Jessie’s Girl) and also in Germany, but the best part was McCuster had some bread out of it, and worst part for me – if you go under YouTube, people said, ‘Have you seen the version of State of the Heart, this guy is really weird,’ (chuckles) and then someone goes, ‘What’s that’ and someone goes, ‘nah that’s the original version’ and others would go, ‘no way!’
Sheldon: Oh well, let’s not go there again…(Ross: Chuckles). So what’s next for Ross Wilson? Are you going to tour across Australia after this shit is over?
Ross: Hopefully. We don’t know. But I’m optimistic and I’m thinking September to do some gigs, I mean we could do some gigs but we only allowed to do 50 people and spaced out and you’d be playing for nothing and it’d be a real drag! Because a guy’s got to eat, particularly the musicians I work, with they deserved to be paid. And we are working on a model where if they are limiting to fifty to hundred people. We’d do two shows which I think is great so you do an early show and late show and that was the only thing to make, because there’s a lot of people you got to pay; the stage guys, the sound guys, and the hiring of the equipment and it spreads out pretty thin if you don’t get enough. So we are working on and we are lobbying for the government in Victoria and we got a group of industry people lobbying the government who are sympathetic to the arts in Victoria, which is great. So we’ll get there eventually but not in a few months, I don’t think. So what I’m doing is me and my wife moved into a new house and we renovated. So we are enjoying our new house, it is fantastic. So I pulled out the old stuff from the storage and archives, and finding new songs that I had forgotten about it and needed finishing. So is pretty good and there’s a few things I co-wrote with people and sending them to them, and looks like I might get recording with those people. So I’m keeping busy in that way, so I’m finishing with those songs and looking forward to do recording myself.
Sheldon: You reckon you’ll come to Perth?
Ross: Yeah we can’t come there at the moment, but we’ll be there as soon as you guys open the borders we will!
Sheldon: Ross Wilson, before we go, I just wanna say, on behalf of all the minorities thank you for your voice, because it is so good to have a legend like yourself to voice for people like us man. And when you come to Perth, let’s have a beer.
Ross: We’ll have a beer for sure! Thank you for your help man!