This article is transcribed from the June 2000 issue of Adelaide Matters, and copyright resides with the author Jeff Crawford, and/or the proprietors of Adelaide Matters.
The Life Of Brian

Brian Vaughton talks to Jeff Crawford about his rock'n'roll apprenticeship

A life in full circle - from drum sticks to drumsticks - and Brian Vaughton sums it up: "So here I am, a 52-year-old chicken man."

Thirty-five years ago, Brian was the hard-driving drummer of legendary OzRock band The Masters Apprentices; these days it's the hard slog of an 80-hour week running his chicken shop The Food Dept, in Hutt St - "security for the kids," he calls it.

The first things that strikes you about Brian is his ordinariness; Sacred Heart College, baseball, cricket, the King's Head Hotel once owned by mum and dad, middle class, decent, married for 28 years with three daughters and a son. Chicken shop owner.

Ordinary, normal, Except for a flash of rock'n'roll fame in the mid-1960s when he turned his back on sport and the family business and started something else quite extraordinary - Tha Masters.

"Didn't go down too well on the home front. There wasn't a lot of encouragement," he remembers over a quiet beer in the General Havelock Hotel, down the road from the shop. "However, when we did appear on television, my father would have everyone in the bar watching the television. Other people have told me that."

Brians' at home in pubs, was raised in them, yet he is annoyed when the noisy front bar and the disco thump drive us to the back of the hotel. The Masters were once all noisy bars and thumping music. Now Brian needs the quiet to tell his side of the story. Things change.

The Masters had their birth at Sacred Heart. Brian and his mate Michael Bower shared a mutual appreciation for the Fender-powered twang of The Shadows, The Ventures and surf instrumentals. Brian, the drummer, and Michael, on guitar, formed The Mustangs with lead guitarist Rick Morrison and bassist Gavin Webb. They did any job they could get, rocking for younger audiences and slowing down to ballads and waltzes for cabarets and RSL clubs. But the musical tide of the British invasion soon forced the band to recruit a vocalist. All the pieces
fell into place when an untried singer named Jim Keays, the son of Scottish migrants, answered a newspaper advertisement.

"Bloody Keays," Brian mutters, lifting his eyes to the ceiling and shaking his head. "Lead singers and full forwards - I don't think there's a lot of difference." He is talking about ego although he concedes that a healthy ego is useful to survive the rough'n'tumble of the rock world. Keays wrote a book about The Masters years, His Masters Voice, a book Brian has left untouched at home. Jim's version of certain events, recounted in various interviews, doesn't sit particularly well with the former drummer, although he's philosophical about it now. "Jim lives the band, and he's done well. He's kept it going for 30 years, so you can't knock him. If you took it away he wouldn't have a life."

Yet, at the time it was Keays' raw vocals and star persona that forced an end to the clean riffs and choreographed kicks of The Shadows, and opened the way to the visceral, thrusting attack of American-style R&B. "Chuck Berry was the main one, then The Rolling Stones," Brian says.

"The Beatles didn't influence us at all because we didn't have the harmonies. And they were nice."

"We just fell in love with The Stones."

Brian was not only the rhythmic heart of the band - soon renamed in honour of the blues masters they modelled themselves on - but his family's business, the King's Head, became central to its development, not always to the delight of the customers.

"We needed somewhere to practice so we used to practice upstairs at the pub much to the annoyance of a lot of the patrons," he grins. "Out the back, where units have been built now, there was a big double garage... we used to practice in there at night an in the day - that's all we did was bloody practice. We practiced five or six days a week - we were very keen."

The constant rehearsing even led to a blatant case of pinching the audience of a rival outfit, The Twilights, fronted by Glenn Shorrock.

"Just down the road, in between the King's Head and the Brecknock, was the Oxford Club, and The Twilights used to play there. People used to queue-up down around the corner and past the pub. We decided that we'd nail into this and have a full-scale practise on Saturday nights, and that's how we first got a following. They'd be standing in a queue and we'd put on a performance."

The Masters Apprentices could later attract more than 2000 teenagers to Elizabeth's Octagon Theatre and regularly packed out Rundle St's Beat Basement, where the rowdy audiences - many of whom were British migrants - demanded earthy R&B with a touch of Britpop. "You had to be good or you were told - by the people, not the owners The audience was tough."

Good times for Brian, the best. He refers to Michael as "The General", and he leans forward to describe Rick's guitar assault - "Wild guitarist, wonderful... he only had one volume, everything up to 10".

The original line-up, he says, was "just meant to be".

"We used to sit up on the balcony after practise with our Cherry Ripes and Schweppes orange drinks and look at the hills and say, 'We're going to go over those hills one day'. We weren't intimidated at all about going interstate."

The Masters' reputation soon spread and the band was courted by "the late Astor record company", which led to a tentative studio debut. "It was on, then off again, then on again," he says of the band's first session at Max Pepper's studio in Murray’s Lane. "Then the night before we were told 'You're recording tomorrow night and you need two songs'. We had one song prepared; a song Michael had written called Wars Or Hands Of Time, that was going to be the A-side. But Rick had a riff. I'll never forget first hearing it, it was in my bedroom. By the end of the night, we had developed this wild riff and we needed a few words. It was just nondescript, winging it all the way. They weren't deep, meaningful, philosophical statements. And we thought, 'What's it going to be called?' We couldn't decide, so we called it Undecided – no matter what Jim says now."

That single, regarded as one of the genuine classics of Australian '60's rock, hit the top 10 in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney in April '66, which took the band interstate and onto television screens around the nation. The young Masters were "squeaky clean" during those first steps, which probably helped keep Brian's doubting family at bay.

"Cigarettes and girlfriends were the only vices - innocent days."

Down the track the Masters became synonymous with the fast lane rock'n'roll lifestyle, a reputation bolstered by Jim's candid confessions of sex and drugs on tap as he led various line-ups through to the early '70s.

But for Brian it was all over before the end of '66. Still only 18, he was the first to leave the band, with no regrets at jumping off the pop rollercoaster. "There was the family, the hotel business, music and sport - I couldn't do it all. Having had the initial success, I thought I could have a bit of both, so I departed." He was followed by Rick and Michael, who left after penning much of the band's first album and its second major hit, Living In A Child's Dream. Of the original Mustangs, only Gavin stayed on until the late '60s.

Brian has stayed in touch with the old Masters and is still close to Michael, with whom he spent time in another vintage '60s R&B band, The Others. But he also went on to play State-level baseball and eventually managed the King's Head, developing a taste for cooking during that time. He says he stayed true to the family business beyond the call of duty. "As time went by, it didn't matter what I did, it didn't work.

Business was just fading away. But I had said I would stay in the pub as long as I could for my mother's sake, after my father died in 1979. I managed to stay until 1994. That was a sacrifice, but I don't feel bitter."

He lost money on the hotel, he says, but scraped together enough with wife Pamela to open a takeaway chicken shop, near the corner of Hutt and Halifax Streets. A years ago he moved along Hutt St and refurbished a former fruit and veg shop to create The Food Depot. "It's 80 hours a week and people say, 'You're greedy'. I'm greedy for a family foundation... security for the kids, I don't think that's greed. We came out of the hotel with a minus, and the only way to get back up there is to work hard and get a few breaks. That's the only thing I know.

"Never give up. That was the way I played sport. I wasn't the most brilliant player around town, but I had the attitude of never giving up. It overrode a lack of ability in some areas." Spoken like a true drummer.

© 2000 Jeff Crawford/Adelaide Matters

MILESAGO thanks to Steve Hogan