MILESAGO - Interviews
MAX MERRITT INTERVIEW with Michael Hunter, July 24 2002
Conducted for dB Magazine, Adelaide
on the occasion of Max's new Live In Concert double CD and DVD, and his appearance on the "Long Way To The Top" concert tour in August/September 2002.
MH: Funny thing, I was just watching you the other day on the Sunbury '72 video.
MM: Yeah, somebody mentioned that. I haven't seen that. This is the DVD they put out, is it?
Yeah - can you believe it's actually 30 years ago?
I know - it's amazing, eh? That's the one with Thorpie and me on it?
That's the one. I was a bit to young to go to Sunbury at the time but just watching the video, it all seemed more innocent somehow, though I'm sure they didn't seem particularly innocent at the time…
No way, I certainly didn't feel innocent at the time. I think what it was, it was the beginning of all that stuff. It was the beginning of rock and roll. There's a program over here about baseball, "When It Was A Game", right, and that's kind of what music was like then. It was almost a game, it wasn't a business as such in those days. We did it for money of course to pay the bills and all that stuff but it wasn't big business like it is now.
Which I guess has its good sides and bad sides, the bad side being it might be harder to be ripped off so easily nowadays?
Oh, I think it's still going to happen [laughs]. People are still going to be making bad record deals and all the stuff because basically, when you're starting out all you really want to do is make a record and you're not really interested about the deal so much as just getting a record out. It's like the Beatles, I mean they made the worst record deal in history, I believe, when they first signed up. Of course, not everybody sells as many records as the Beatles…
Not even yourself, really…
No, not really…
Of course the other thing that's changed in 30 years and it's got to be a good thing, being able to market the CDs yourself via the Internet, it is actually possible to make some sort of living by doing it yourself.
That's true. There's a lot of folks over here that do that and a lot of folks in Australia and all round the world that do that. What happens too is that when an artist gets to a certain age, you're no longer viable as far as record companies go and you can no longer get airplay on radio once you get over thirty unless you're somebody like Elton John who's just constantly had records out over a period of time but anybody else, they won't even play 'em. They won't play my stuff, only my old stuff. If I put a new record out now, they won't play it on the radio.
It's like Willie Nelson. I mean, they have to put out their own records, John Prine puts out his own records. It's a great way because you actually end up making more money that way because you're cutting out the middleman.
And not putting yourself down for a five-album deal for a company you hate after one album.
That's right, locking yourself up for twenty years. I'm still suffering from that myself. I don't own all my publishing for "Slipping Away", it doesn't revert back to me, they're still holding onto that. To the day I die, they're going to hold onto that.
And nothing can be done about it?
Does that suck or does that suck?
It sucks, yes [laughs].
Speaking of the "certain age" we're alluding to as far as the record companies and radio stations go - what about the general public? I interviewed Billy Thorpe when the "Lock Up Your Mothers" set came out and he was saying that in Australia the audience seems to not really take you quite so seriously when you're over a certain age but in America, they respect you instead. Have you noticed that yourself?
They do respect the older artist over here but to a certain degree, they do in Australia as well. I think for example, the fact of "Long Way To The Top", the way that's actually sold out in Sydney in two hours, in Melbourne in two hours or whatever - I think that's an indication that there is a crowd out there that really does love this stuff. You put on the right concert in the right setting, they will come out.
I believe you are going to get a lot of younger folks along there as well, not just people who want to march down memory lane. I think you're going to get younger folks that have logged onto the Net and caught up on some of the artists that are involved in this stuff and said to themselves "This isn't bad", you know.
It's going to be literally a once in a lifetime thing.
Oh yeah, it's not going to happen again. They'll probably break it down and maybe do regionals later on down the road - Darwin and Cairns and things like that, the smaller places. But it'll be with a scaled down show, it won't be this big one. It's not going to have the monstrous stage show, the revolving stage, all the screens and that. It'll be a scaled down version.
It looks like an awful lot of logistics.
Oh, you bet. It's costing a fortune to put on but it's going to be great. I think the vibe's going to be fantastic and I think everybody's going to have an absolutely marvellous time, everybody performing and the audience as well. I think it's going to be like going to a Sunbury festival in the 70s, it's going to be the same vibe.
Will you be rekindling a lot of old friendships there yourself?
Yeah, who knows what may happen [laughs]? Thorpie and me have been mates for forty years, it's good to see him. We always have a lot of fun together. Ross Wilson, I'm looking forward to seeing him. (Glenn) Shorrock, of course, and Dinah Lee. I played on all her hits like "Reet Petite", "Don't You Know Yokomo". That was me playing that cruddy guitar.
I must admit I'm at a slight disadvantage here because I don't have your current CD yet, the live one. So you might need to paint a word picture for me…
Flesh it out… OK, it would never have happened if Long Way To The Top hadn't happened. Obviously, as I said before, nobody wants to have a thousand CDs sitting under your bed that you can't sell. We didn't have a deal or anything and it was impossible to do a deal. Actually, I can give you a little anecdote - I did a fundraiser in Sydney for Chuggy (promoter Michael Chugg) a few years back, it was for the record business. This guy from the record company came up to me after the show and he said, "That was fantastic. You'll never get a record deal but it was fantastic". He was being truthful but that's it in a nutshell.
So with this Long Way To The Top happening, it gave us something to hang it on, gave us a reason to be able to do a product and hopefully sell some. What we did was record at the Crown Casino in Melbourne which we were already going to play anyhow, it was a sold out show. We augmented the band with five horns which was the Grand Wazoo band, and we put in four string players and four singers from the Grand Wazoo. So it's about eighteen people on stage including my band and them. I was very impressed with it. We only had one actual run-through and that was at soundcheck. The guys have played with me before, they had parts, you know, charts.
So we had a run-through at soundcheck and when you hear it, you'd think we've been playing together for twenty years. Plus that, what we did is we went into Metropolis in Melbourne and recorded four new tracks that I've written, so this is going to be as little CD that accompanies the live show as well.
Could we compare the new ones to previous Meteors recordings in terms of sound?
Yeah, there's one song called Candy Row which is kind of a bluesy sort of thing which I wrote with a guy call Todd Cerney from Nashville. He co-wrote a couple of songs with me on an album I did in Nashville many, many years ago. He was actually the engineer that engineered the recording session in those days. He's just recently had a hit on the country charts here, I spoke with him the other night, "Good Morning Beautiful", it's called.
The other ones I've written with various other people but I can't really compare them to stuff I've done before because there are different feels. You know, it's still me singing them, it's still doing my thing, I haven't tried to bend it to be… how can I put this tactfully… I wasn't there trying to make it sound like somebody else just for the sake of having a hit record.
The DVD of it has all these other bits and pieces. I was intrigued to see there's a 1966 clip from a Johnny O'Keefe show. I thought all that stuff was wiped and impossible to find.
I didn't even know it existed either but apparently it does. I'm not even sure which one that is. I haven't seen the whole completed package yet; it's still being done in Australia. There's that and I found an old film clip in my closet here of a thing we did when we were living in Rygate in Surrey in England - we did a little film clip before anybody was doing film clips by the way, this was in about '72. There was no MTV then and no film clips but we did one of a song I did called "Let It Slide". I don't even remember seeing it but it was in my closet and I sent it back to Australia and they sorted through it and ran it off and they liked it and so it's going to be on there as well.
Plus I did a "Day In The Life" thing with Lawrie Masterson. He came over for a day - he used to be the editor of TV Week and he came over here. I think he's with the foreign press over here. What he did was come over and we did a drive around LA and went down Sunset Boulevard, in front of Billboard and all the clubs down there, the Roxy and Whisky, and then went over to the building company that I work with and did a bit of set-building stuff and then called round and saw Colin Hay from Men At Work. Sort of did a general runaround of what I do in a day. We left out the going to the pub part! Children may be watching…
So is building what you spend a lot of your time doing now?
Not a lot of the time, but I'm involved with a company over here that does sets for commercials and rock videos. We did Madonna's "Material Girl" many years back and David Lee Roth's "Just A Gigolo", and more recently Lenny Kravitz' "American Woman".
I noticed your last album as such was back in the
80s sometime; this is the first one for quite a while, so the question was
"what have you been doing in the meantime" but that sounds like the
Yeah, I've been doing that. I have a studio here at home and I work in that and record stuff and write songs and try to get them placed with other people. Plus I'm working on my house, my god… I got hit by the Northridge earthquake in '94 and by the time I got my insurance money in '96, I've been sort of working on rebuilding my house myself since then. So it's taken me six years and I'm just about done but still got a ways to go, though.
So what can we say to inspire people to go along to see Long Way To The Top, and what songs will you be doing? "Slipping Away", I'd imagine.
Well yeah, I kind of gotta do that, and "Try A Little Tenderness".
Because it's only two or three songs each isn't it?
Well, everybody's limited to ten minutes at most. There's so many people on the show, so by the time everybody does that and then there's going to be everybody on stage at the end to do a tribute to all the fallen heroes, all the folks that have died…
It was going to have the original Dee Jays but I hear they're not going to be there now.
Well, Bob Bertles who plays in the house band, I believe, he was one of the Dee Jays and Jimmie Sloggett who plays with me, he was one of the Dee Jays as well. He's running the band. That's going to be two of the guys out of the Dee Jays anyhow that's going to be there…
At this point, Telstra automatically disconnected the call after having given a 5-minute warning (they don't use operators for that function any more), but Max actually rang back to say thanks for a great interview. No doubt, we could have found plenty more to chat about concerning his 40-year career but I felt it best to leave it there!
Many thanks to Michael Hunter!
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