|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975||Obituaries|
GERRY HUMPHRYS (1943-2005)
Gerry Humphrys was one of the greatest vocalists in the history of Australian popular music and arguably the most charismatic figure ever to front an Aussie rock group. His growling baritone voice and saturnine good looks set him apart from almost every other male singer on the local pop scene, and the unique body of work he created with The Loved Ones is now internationally acknowledged as a cornerstone of Australian music.
Gerry was born in London in 1943 and came to Australia with his family in 1957, aged 15. He began playing 'trad' jazz in the early 1960s and joined The Red Onions Jazz Band with Ian Clyne and Kim Lynch, playing around Melbourne's bohemian clubs in the eraly 1960s and they recorded one LP for the W&G label.
With the rapid decline in the popularity of jazz after the advent of The Beatles the trio decided form their own pop band, recruiting Rob Lovett and Gavin Anderson from the original jazz incarnation of The Wild Cherries in 1965 and with Clyne Humphrys began writing R&B songs.
They shot to prominence with their breakthrough single "The Loved One" which is now regarded as one of the enduring classics of Australian rock. Through 1966-67 the became one of the most popular bands in the country, releasing more superb singles including "Everlovin' Man" and the Dylan-influenced "Sad Dark Eyes". By 1967 tensions within the band and growing dissatisfaction with the restrcitions of the pop scene led to the resignation of keyboard player Ian Clyne, who was replaced by Treva Richards. The band continued for a short time but split in 1967 soon after the release of their only album, Magic Box, which is probably the only Australian pop album of the Sixties that has remained in print ever since.
Filmmaker Nigel Buesst knew Gerry in the Sixties and directed a documentary about him, Gerry Humphreys-- The Loved One, which was shown at the 2000 Melbourne International Film Festival,.
"He had a radiating influence on the Melbourne music scene in the '60s, more than anybody else," he said. "He had a lot of emotion in his music. There are a lot of singers that might have beautiful voices but the emotion doesn't come through."
Former Loved Ones member Treva Richards said:
"He was a fantastic guy and the public saw his enormous charisma. But they didn't get to appreciate his off-the-wall Cockney sense of humour. His voice was amazing and it was unfortunate he didn't move on to other big things."
The Loved Ones exerted a huge influence on later generations of Australian musicians. "The Loved One" was covered --twice -- by INXS, "Sad Dark Eyes" was covered by former Saints guitarist Ed Kuepper and more recently Jet covered "Everlovin' Man".
After the Loved Ones split up, Gerry managed The Valentines for a time, then around 1970 he formed Gerry & The Joy Band, a floating aggregation that at various times featured most of the top Melbourne musos of the period including members of Daddy Cool and The Aztecs and Gerry's old friend from his jazz days, Margret RoadKnight. He hosted the inaugural Sunbury festival in 1972, but faded from the scene not long after and left Australia for good in 1977 and returned to the UK.The Loved Ones were scheduled to take part in the epochal "Long Way To The Top" concert tour in 2002, but sadly Gerry had to pull out of the tour and remain in the UK to undergo reconstructive hip surgery.
"Why did everybody love Gerry? It was because he gave out so much love. Gerry was really the "Everlovin Man". I never wrote a song with Gerry that did not have the word love in the title. I have not written one since with love in the title."
Kim Lynch (former Loved Ones bassist):
"We always suspected Gerry was the culprit in spreading the rumour theat he was Barry Humphries' brother. He may as well have been for the Peter Pan effect he had on thousands of kids locked up in the suburbs. It was a call of the wild that was heard in the mid sixties and contributed in no small way to a mass exodus from the sleepy dreams of many parents. We were teenagers playing Jazz, already fans of Dame Edna and along came Gerry! It was like the second coming with a very wild, hilarious Jesus. I have had a tough secret service agent break down in tears and thank Gerry and the Band for getting him out of Murrumbeena and saving him from a dreary fate. Our next Prime Minister's favourite singer of all time? Gerry.
Also inlcuded on Ian's blog was this typically eloquent tribute from Keith Glass:
Humphreys and 'the Bayside thing'.
When emails started flying in, saying Gerry Humphreys had died at only 62, my mind immediately went back not so much to The Loved Ones but to his previous outfit The Red Onions and their sway over the southern suburbs of Melbourne in the early 1960’s. It has never been properly publicly documented just how much influence and effect this band had on the whole area, musically speaking (although Melbourne pianist Tim Stevens did his Melbourne University Ph.D. in 1997, on 'The Origins Development of Significance of the Red Onions Jazz Band 1960-1996 ).
Drawn largely from the Sandringham/Brighton area the members explored the mouldy world of New Orleans inspired traditional jazz and infused it with their own vitality and zany sense of humour. Scoring Gerry as a clarinet-wielding sometime bluesy shouter was a bonus. Brett Iggulden (trumpet) Bill Howard (trombone) and Allan Browne (drums) were the musical mainstays but Brett’s sister ‘Sweet Sal’ (who later married Browne and became a clothes designer) was a groovy addition on washboard, while from my high school came piano player John Pike and beatnik Kym ‘Emu’ Lynch the tuba-man (or was it Sousaphone?).
Every weekend in pre-Beatles days The Onions would pack houses in church and community halls at such venues as Collegiates, Beale Street, Opus and for a while, their own venue The Onion Patch in Oakleigh. Some of these were total 'dens of iniquity' with low lighting and a lot of heavy petting going on in the mostly underage crowd. There was also trouble in the streets outside, with Jazzers having to run the gauntlet with antagonistic Rockers from nearby town hall dances who wanted to cause 'the longhaired poofters' bodily harm.
No record collection was complete without the first The Red Onions (4 track EP) on the EAST record label, or Frank Johnson’s band's version of "Sweet Patootie" on SWAGGIE, and Barry Humphries' Wild Life In Suburbia on SCORE. Gerry was no relation to Barry -- as has sometimes been suggested. Also he did not later work on various English movies as a sound technician –- that was someone else with the same name. Also, contrary to some accounts, The Red Onions never became The Loved Ones. Rather, three members, Gerry, Kym and later pianist Ian ‘Rocker’ Clyne saw the writing on the wall and decided to form an r&b group.
This wasn’t such a stretch as you might imagine. Gerry was already singing in a sort of Satchmo/Cab Calloway style on such favourites as "Ice Cream (You Scream)" and "The Girls Go Crazy", Clyne was demolishing pianos (and stages) with his pumping hands and feet while Lynch had grabbed a bass guitar and (as I found out in a pre-Loved Ones jam with him) had worked out how to play tuba runs on it. So the split came but The Onions persevered -- two decades on, some of them were playing Bop -- that is roughly about the same length of development of the original 'history of jazz', only 40 years on.
The Loved Ones enlisted Rob Lovett on guitar and Gavin Anderson on drums and set forth to make their mark on the burgeoning Melbourne teen dance scene by now totally over-run with guitar bands containing many who had forsaken their 'Jazzer' heritage -- Ross Wilson and Richard Franklin from The Pink Finks for instance. Later, Franklin (now a film director) first hit the sculls and traps in teenage dixieologists Merino And His Men, while Wilson was first influenced musically by his trumpet playing father.
I was there at the first big Loved Ones gig. My band The Rising Sons were also playing that night at The Beaumaris Civic Centre or ‘Stonehenge’ as it was called. The Loved Ones came on wearing shirts like I’d never seen before. Closer examination revealed they were hand-drawn designs on basic white shirts giving the group a unique appearance to match their quirky sound. I was impressed by the look, but recall being not too impressed by the group. That might have been teenage cool -- I don’t know. I do remember a scant few weeks later hearing "The Loved One" shouting out of the radio and the shock of hearing something so unusual and original and just plain great -- it was impressive especially given the renowned primitive recording facilities of W&G Records. Even more impressive -- it became a pretty big hit.
"Everlovin’ Man" consolidated their stature and suddenly they were out of our league. Both songs were towering achievements I think coming from the twin power of Gerry’s voice and Clyne’s musical prowess. A third good song "Sad Dark Eyes" was a more studied, Yardbird-ish effort that proved they were fast learners. Not fast enough though to make the album Magic Box more than a pretty slipshod effort not helped by changes in line-up, the group’s hectic touring schedule and the quickie recording mentality of the era. Years later while running my record shop I became aware that Magic Box was still 'in catalogue', which is just as well because we were selling it by the boxload and when stocks were running low I used to phone up W&G Records director Bruce Gillespie for some stock and he’d press up 50 copies just for us!
I probably never spent more than a few minutes ever talking to Gerry. I knew others around him much better. For example Mike Edwards and Ross Hannaford who made up the core of Gerry And The Joy Boys the loose wacky outfit that served Humphreys through the post Loved Ones days. Gerry’s wife Claire was also a frequent visitor to our house in Sydney when I was living there while in Hair in 1969/70 -- we’d have a post-show gathering more than a few times a week. I don’t remember ever discussing why she was in Sydney, he in Melbourne. Wish I had asked.
I didn’t see the 80’s re-union tour, and only heard via mutual friends such as Allan Mitelman that Gerry recently wasn’t doing too well. Oddly enough, the image of him that still comes first to my mind is as a focal point of The Onions, striding the stage with authority and yelling through the small house PA -- 'The girls go crazy about the way I walk.'
References / Links
"Loved Ones singer dies"
The Age, 5 December 2005
"From rock classics to pub solo for drinking money, a
well-loved talent just faded away"
The Age, 10 December 2005
Gerry's Last Gig
(tribute blog by Ian Clyne)