Interview by ANDREW PROBYN, May 29, 2001
Many thanks to Andrew, Simon Smith and of course Stevie!
> Read Andrew's article, based on this interview
Q: Putting Friday On My Mind aside, a lot of people forget that you actually co-wrote a lot of the Easybeats' biggest hits such as Sorry, She's So Fine and Women. Do you get annoyed that people tend to forget this aspect of your career?
I didn't know they had forgotten, they've got it mixed up. I thought people still knew who wrote those songs, but it's true, yeah. George (Young) and I wrote the initial bunch of songs, what was there: there was She's So Fine, Sorry, I'll Make You Happy, oh blimey, I can't remember them all. There were about seven of them in 18 months and Harry Vanda, at the time, was learning to speak English properly. When I met Harry Vanda he could hardly speak a line of English and now he can speak it better than me - he teaches me words.
Q: Was the song-writing relationship between Harry Vanda and George Young a later-developing thing?
Yes, it was mainly because Harry probably concentrated on learning English -- he had a helper Dicky Diamond, the bass player, who was Dutch-Australian, he had come out as a young boy, and he was one of the elders of the Easybeats and he was able to help Harry. I would kind of pick up on words Harry came up with. George warned me off once and said: ``He'll clout you one day if you pick him up about another word!'' and I said ``I'm only trying to make him speak well, speak proper.''
Q: When you went to the UK to record Friday on My Mind, you recorded it at Olympic Studios, I think, the studio made famous by the Rolling Stones. You went to the UK in 1966 and a lot of people were telling you you should release some of the big hits you'd had in Australia...
Some of our big hits weren't considered big hits by the English when we got there. We were just treated with the contempt they usually reserve for those from a European country. They just didn't want to know. No other Australian group, except perhaps Frank Ifield and the Seekers, had had a go in England, especially not with a pop song, a popular song for the pop charts. We went over there and faced all the hassles we had originally faced in Australia a couple of years earlier and we had to face it all over again in London: the distributors and going out and taking our lives into our hands going our on those boats, going out to Radio Caroline and Radio London, the pirate ships off the coast of England, we had to do all of those things. We were treated as second-class citizens.
Q: Do you think that Sorry and I'll Make You Happy and all those other songs that were big hits in Australia would have been big hits in England if you had re-released them there?
It's hard to say, but yes, I'd like to believe thatsome of them would have been, but time travels. My favourite Easybeats song is a song I didn't sing. It was Land of Make Believe. Harry Vanda sings that. Time had moved on and the English just didn't consider (re-releasing the songs). They thought the stuff that went to number one in Australia was second-rate, but with Friday On My Mind they ate crow. The United States, they were good to us as well. If only we didn't have those initial hassles like distribution, and getting the PR going, getting on the right television show, oh, blimey ... but the 'States they gave us a good run.
Q: What do you think is so timeless about Friday On My Mind?
The riff and also the lyrics, it's pretty well every man, woman's sort of song: going to work and longing for the end of the week, head down, rear up, ready to go for Friday. Pay day Friday and the weekend to come.
Q: I believe you are writing a book?
I am. I'm trying to scribble down all the foolish things I've done in my life and I'm doing that at the moment.
Q: Is it to set the record straight after Jack Marx's effort ("Sorry: The Wretched Tale of Little Stevie Wright")?
Well I haven't read that ... and I believe there's a few more books by other people so I'm not really worried but I just wanted to put these things down because it's a mad story, sometimes tragic, sometimes very funny in its tragedy.
Q: What are some of those funnier moments?
Just off the cuff I couldn't think of one, but that's what it's like anyway.
Q: Ted Mulry has been ill recently, I'm sure you've heard that. Did you consider attending his benefit gig?
I did, but I was in hospital under anaesthetic having an ankle reconstruction. I fell three storeys about five years ago now and I have been hospitalised ... at the turn of the century, the year of the turn of the century (2000), I spent most of it in hospital.
Q: Was that for the ankle or for other health problems?
For the ankle.
Q: How did you fall three storeys?
I was getting in at night, it was two in the morning. I'd been photographing all day, I'd left my keys in another change of gear and there was no way to get in, I lived three storeys up. And so I walked around the building and it started to rain a bit and I saw a light, my bathroom window was open there was a drain pipe I could shimmy up, so up I shimmied and I get right up to the window sill itself, reached over to the right and the thing collapsed underneath me and I feel three storeys. thought I was going to land much later than I landed! I screamed and it took about 10 minutes before someone came to help me. They rushed me to hospital and I have spent the time since then I've in and out of hospital. I also got golden staph when I had one reconstruction effort.
Q: Was this when you were still living near Narooma?
Q: Are you still living down there?
Close. Close to Canberra.
Q: Do you chat often to Harry and George?
No, I don't get to see the boys often at all.
Q: You had a reunion back in 1986.
Q: Are there any thoughts of another reunion?
We haven't seen each other since 1986. No I have, but we thought that was it, in fact it was hard pressed to put that together. But it needed doing and it was done in my mind very professionally and I was happy with the job.
Q: Aside from your ankle problem, how is your health?
My health's very good, except for the ankle. I'm very well, I'm able to get up and treat writing the book like a job. I've finished four chapters of it that I'm happy with. I've gone over and over editing it myself, before I even take it to an editor.
Q: What do you listen to nowadays?
Oh, let me think. Van Morrison. Who do I listen to? (an aside to Fay Walker, his partner) Eagles, I don't know, anybody.
Q: Any modern music?
I don't know any modern music. My son Nicholas right, he's got his own band going. I had a look at the label and his label's doing quite well. I believe his music goes out on the computers in that modern way of distribution.
Q: What's his band called?
I don't know. Do you know what Nicky's band's called? (to Fay again) No, we can't remember.
Q: How old is Nicholas?
How old is Nicky? (an aside to Fay again) 28. I keep getting it wrong because I have forgotten my own age, I forgot it a long ago (laughs).
Q: What is your music collection like? Is it full of LPs or do you now have lots of CDs?
I'm a video man. I like music but I don't sit down and listen to new stuff. I've got no interest unless it catches my ear. I like the last thing with the Little River Band when John Farnham sang some of the lead vocal. I like that song. I've got stuff I don't know the name of and Nicholas turns me on to new stuff when I'm visiting him.
Q: When people remember Stevie Wright, what would you like them to remember you as?
For being a top rock 'n' roll performer of the 60s and 70s.
Q: Will that time come back?
I'm still fit. I'll see how the ankle does and who knows.
Q: Are you now clean?
Yes I'm clean, I'm proud to tell you that, I haven't had any `stuff', if you know what I mean, for 10 years and I haven't had a drink for three years. I have an allergy with alcohol, it makes me break out; it makes me break out of bar room windows so I've knocked the alcohol on the head too!
Q: It's a blessing isn't it?
It's a blessing all right. Freedom
Q: So how long were you on heroin?
Oh let me think. I was 26 when I started and I was ... about 20 years.
Q: Would you ever consider going out as a campaigner, as an anti-drug campaigner?
No, but I do it on a personal level. I've done it as a job, I've done it as a job, I've been a drug and alcohol counsellor for a couple of years for the Salvos. That was vital work, it was great.
© Andrew Probyn 2001
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