An interview with ROSS WILSON by Jason
On the afternoon of Wednesday 27th August 2003, I met up with Ross Wilson in Port Melbourne for an interview. It was a very informative interview and he was positively great. We discussed Countdown, his musical history as a singer, songwriter, producer and much more! Ross Wilson of course is known for the historical Daddy Cool in the '70s with the huge hit Eagle Rock and the fabulous Mondo Rock in the '80s with such hits as State Of The Heart, Summer Of 81, Cool World, Chemistry, No Time, Come Said The Boy and many more! Ross Wilson has been writing and making music to this day as a solo artist and has also recently reformed with Mondo Rock for the 'Here And Now' tour of Australia. A new 'Best Of' Mondo Rock double CD has also just recently been released and a 'Best Of' Mondo Rock DVD is being released in 2004!
Below is my interview with Ross Wilson, so read away...
Jason: During your career you continuously put different bands together. At what age did you realise you wanted to sing and at what stage did you realise you could make a career out of music?
Ross: Well I first started singing when I was in church choir. Because my mother, she wasn't particularly religious but she loved singing and so she'd find the church with the best choir and join that. And when we got old enough she started taking my brother and I along so we became part of this Anglican boys choir and I think that's where I first figured out the relationship between performance and earning money. Because we would sing at weddings on saturdays and they'd hire the choir and give you a dollar or something so I never had any qualms about getting up and performing in front of people because of that, and then through school boy enthusiasm and love of music eventually formed a band while I was still in school which was the Pink Finks and we made a record and released it. And we actually made four singles and the first one made the charts in Melbourne so we thought that was pretty good. At the time we were billed as the youngest Rock n' Roll band. We weren't that young, I was like 16 but the youngest one in the band was just turning 13. And we would go on TV shows on the mime sort of show and they would all be miming on that and Molly Meldrum was on it, and that's where they all started out.
Ross: And they had all local bands on as well so we’d go in after school and sing on that and that was five nights a week and played weekends and everyone else finished secondary school, and other guys in the band wanted to go on to uni and whatever. But myself and Ross Hannaford kept together for the next few years in various bands and eventually ended up as Daddy Cool about 5 or 6 years after our first chart success we started to really put all the lessons that we learnt and got together as Daddy Cool.
Jason: Now on to Countdown, did you watch the show regularly?
Ross: Oh yeah, yeah because I think on the first show, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think they had Skyhooks. Now I was intimately involved with Skyhooks because I was their producer so the fact that they were going to be launching their new single on Countdown was a really big deal. So of course we were watching it to see what this new show would be like and not really realising it would become the institution it became, you know.
Jason: Do you have any stand out fond memories while appearing On Countdown that you can remember?
Ross: Well it was always a challenge because see Mondo Rock were regular performers on Countdown, actually I think when Countdown started there was a reformed Daddy Cool going but then that sort of dwindled away.
Jason: Was that around 1975?
Ross: Yeah, 74/75 around that, I don’t think we ever performed on Countdown though. Anyway a few years went by and I formed Mondo Rock and Countdown was going from strength to strength by the minute and of course we wanted to be on Countdown. But as performers went, I was kind of in my late twenties then so I was kind of considered a bit old you know, and then when Mondo Rock really got big around the Chemistry era, Cool World and all that I was like in my mid 30’s and luckily I still looked rather youthful. But there were certain members of the audience that were so young that we would come in and we’d feel like old men because they would all be squealing for whoever the pop star of the week was and we’d come in as the group of old veterans practically and have to demonstrate our stuff, but you know we were mainly doing it for the people at home not necessarily the kids in the audience because they were very fickle. The ones in the audience, it was like this whole game that went on about the kids who were in the Countdown audience you know, they had their own troop going ... (Ross laughs).
Jason: Well looking back on a lot of performances even though the audience were younger and you guys were in your mid 30’s, they still look like they were going wild at the performances.
Ross: Yeah because that was part of the game, it was like the crew would be there going “OKAY! ACT UP, you know, UP, we've gotta have a lot of noise,we’ve gotta have lots of people screaming and throwing your hands around” .
Jason: Oh, okay.
Ross: I remember the director would be fighting with him and you’d be in your dressing room waiting for your tea, you know, and sort of nodding off and waking up and doing it sort of in the middle of the afternoon, you know.
Jason: Did you enjoy performing on the Countdown awards in front of a large audience?
Ross: Well that’s always a bit of a challenge when you’re a performer especially if it’s like totally live and I must admit when something was like totally live rather than pre-recorded I would always get a bit more nervous. It doesn't happen to me now but back then I’d be like the red light’s on, and it’s now or never and if I make a mistake then there’s no turning back and of course that’s when you make a mistake because you're thinking about that. So it used to make me more nervous but those Countdown Awards were kind of like that, but yeah it was all pretty exciting at the Awards shows.
Jason: When performing on Countdown did you find record sales would automatically improve with the latest single you were performing, and was it obvious?
Ross: Sometimes and sometimes not. Countdown definitely was a make or break thing and we’d been on Countdown a few times with an earlier version of Mondo Rock. Then I reformed and changed the line up and we came out with our first single that had been maybe 9 months to a year since the previous one or maybe longer, and with the new band, and the single was “State Of The Heart” which got added on the radio all over the place and we were on Countdown and we actually didn’t have a film clip. And everyone remembers the Countdown performance we did of that song, they did quite an elaborate thing with wind blowing and leaves and a telephone booth I think it is….
Jason: Yes,I remember!
Ross: You know, I had to walk it through, it was well rehearsed and everybody has this impression of that and it burnt itself into people’s minds as that was our clip somehow but it wasn’t. It was just this single Countdown performance which they repeated a couple of times I think, and it had a huge effect and then the song went VOOM!, straight up to the top and it wasn’t till the next single we did with "Cool World" that we actually did a clip for that.
Jason: Yeah,the pool!
Ross: Yeah, so yeah, my answer is yes. But it didn’t always like, because if your song didn’t appeal to the audience there was no way they were going to sell it out there, you know.
Jason: Do you think Countdown was beneficial with the early line up of Mondo Rock when performing such songs as “Primal Park” and “Fugitive Kind”in the late 70’s?
Ross: I don’t even remember doing them. (Ross laughs.) Well I think any television is good. I mean it’s very difficult to get TV exposure these days now that Countdown’s not around as a regular thing and also because everything is so video-orientated and also youth-orientated, and guys like me have to go and find other ways to get on TV. Like for instance I’ve done a thing that’s coming out soon that’s going to be on Studio 22 which is the ABC’s live series they have once a year you know, so that’s gonna be happening. But yeah, see the interesting thing is in Countdown’s early days no one really understood the importance of video and that the video thing was going to be so important. For instance in Daddy Cool we cut the clip "Eagle Rock" and it’s got all that live footage and stuff and they're still playing it today and it cost us three hundred bucks and a friend of ours who directed already had lots of live footage of us. And of course it was a massive hit and then the next single we did "Come Back Again". We didn’t do a clip because we just sort of done it as an arty kind of thing because our friends in another band had done one so we wanted one too. And then the next single didn’t have a video as well, so then a few years go by and then I’m involved with Skyhooks and of course they’re doing clips and Countdown comes along and you realise the value of video clips. And it dawned on me that one of the reasons our second single hadn’t done as well is because we didn’t have a clip. So it took awhile for that to dig in and then particularly with I think Countdown demonstrated how video clips became so important, because they would screen some overseas act that you never heard of and VOOM! they were stars in Australia before they were anywhere else, you know for instance Blondie. I mean we’re going to this Blondie record launch over in Carlton and they walk in the room and we know “In The Flesh” because of Countdown, they come ZOOM straight out here and they broke here before anywhere else. It’s real interesting you know, that’s when it started to really kick in that you had to have these clips.
Jason: With the single “Bop Girl” that you released with Pat Wilson, that was obviously a very big success! Did you automatically expect it to go number one with support from a program like Countdown?
Ross: Well I worked very hard on that song and that whole record, and I’d written that song a couple of years before and I was convinced that it had something you know. So I put a lot of work into the recording and remixed it a couple of times until I was happy with the way it was, and we were with WEA as Mondo Rock and they allowed me to go in the studio with the idea that I was going to cut a few solo tracks and I started doing that, and then I thought nah lets do “Bop Girl” while were here you know. So it was a kind of uh... I said, I didn’t actually finish that song. But we’ve got this instead, and they went “Wow! That’s great!” So they gave us Gillian Armstrong the film director to cut the clip. And she brought along Nicole Kidman who was 17 at the time and said she’s this young actress who I think is very good and I’d like her to be in the clip, you know as one of the extras. So we concocted the idea, we went through ideas for it and I said, well this song’s got such an insistent beat! I want the beat to be accented so they took that to the editor with all that stop frame stuff you know and it turned out really well!
Jason: Who was that little boy in the video?
Ross: I don’t know, it was a friend of the director’s. But everyone thinks it was our child.
Jason: Yeah that’s what I thought!
Ross: But it’s not, he was at home.
Jason: Oh, okay.
Ross: But yeah, that became an instant hit you know, it was added to the radio straight away, and the clip came out and it’s one of those examples of how if your chances of success are amplified. If it’s as though you dropped from Mars, you know. You come out of nowhere and totally surprised of something good and “Who’s this Pat Wilson?"
Jason: Pat and yourself also did “Strong Love” on the Countdown Awards.
Ross: “Strong Love”, yeah. What happened there was Mondo Rock, we had a pretty good summer! There was “Bop Girl”, that came out and while that came out it was roaring up the chart. We were actually in the studio cutting an album, so “Come Said The Boy” came out hard on the heels of that, and was a summer-time hit. So I got kind of way laid by the success of that and finishing off the Mondo Rock album. So by the time I got around for doing a follow up for Pat we were kind of caught out a bit, then it took longer than it should of you know, and then we came up with this duet thing “Strong Love” that really didn’t do a lot you know. So she was more of a one hit wonder, that was that, here today gone tomorrow except that it became a huge hit in of all places the Philippines, yeah and in a couple of other countries it got a lot of attention too and got released in the States.
Jason: Pat also made a Countdown video for “Bop Girl” as well with the people around her doing exercise and Molly lifting weights and stuff!
Ross: Yeah, that was good.
Jason: Also with writing songs you wrote the song touch of paradise for John Farnham?
Ross: Well I didn’t actually write it for John Farnham, it was a Mondo Rock song.
Ross: And we released it on an album, the album that came out after ”Chemistry” which was “Nuevo Mondo” that featured the hit ”No Time” on it, it’s on that. And we’d been playing it in Mondo Rock for a few years, we’d had a couple of attempts, and it always went down great live and we had a couple of attempts at recording it. But we never quite captured it the way I wanted it until we did a version that was satisfactory and came out on that album. John Farnham was preparing a solo album and our manager at the time, he’s name was John Blanchfield was a mate of his as well, and he kept sort of suggesting that maybe he have a go at the song and John knew it because he’d heard us play it live and they eventually cut it, you know. And I remember hearing it for the first time because somebody gave me a cassette and we were just taking off on this plane to go somewhere and I put it on and had a listen and I went oh yeah that’s okay, you know, and then the album came out and went PUUURG! through the stratosphere that surprise, surprise to everybody. Because you know they all thought he was washed up. And he ended up sort of popularizing it all around the world because he released that album and it became a big success in Europe and as a result of that there’s all these other cover versions in like England, America, Italy and all those places. So he helped that become my best known song really.
Jason: Eric McCusker of Mondo Rock also did a song on the same album, didn’t he?
Ross: Yeah, we were doing another album and John was finishing off tracks for his and we’d done a bunch of demos at Platinum Studios in South Yarra, and we were deciding which ones were gonna make the new album and which ones weren’t. And we decided this particular song, cos we wouldn’t do it right now. So he took it down the hall and gave it to Farnham’s crew and said you might be interested in this. It was no uncuts close and they cut that one as well, so we all did pretty well at it.
Jason: Also as you said people may have thought John was washed up at that period, do you think Countdown made John Farnham more accessible to a younger generation at that period?
Ross: Well he always had a massive fan base. He’d been in LRB for awhile and everyone was sort of going what are you doing that for John? You know. And then he took the risk of doing the totally solo thing and they put a lot of work into it and came up with the right song, you know “You’re The Voice” classic you know. And then after that he had a few more singles from that album mainly locally written songs, though “You’re The Voice” was an import but you know, he had “Give Me A Reason” which was a Sam Sea song and he had you know, “Touch Of Paradise” which was the first single. There’s a bunch of really good stuff there by local writers and then the second album, “Age Of Reason” is one of the greatest tracks ever cut in this country just for the way it sounds, it’s a great song, the musical performances are fantastic and Ross Fraser’s production is really good so yeah. I thought it was great what happened with him and the other good part about it was he was, as I was referring to before about being you know in the pop scene. I was sort of considered one of the older artists and he was too so he gave more strength to that particular audience. And I have to say thinking about it now it probably helped us as well, because it brought the old fan base in, and gave them something to be excited about.
Jason: Well, I think the beauty in the 70’s and the 80’s was that you didn’t have to be mega young, whereas now I think people give you a use- by date. Back then I think if you had a good song you could still basically get away with it a bit more.
Ross: That youth thing still was very much present and always will be, but I was looking at some clips the other night because we’re putting together this Mondo Rock Best Of and there will be a DVD of all the tracks so I was looking at all the old clips and I’m going “Hey I wasn’t a bad looking guy” back then…
Jason: When is the DVD coming out?
Ross: Well the best of double CD has been fast tracked to coincide with the “Here And Now” tour because it’s too good of an opportunity to pass up.
Jason: Yeah, exactly.
Ross: It was going to come out next year, but we haven’t got enough time to put out the DVD together to come out to coincide, so it’s gonna be out by sort of mid October. So the DVD, that will be more of a follow up thing you know, yeah, so we're finally getting it together (Ross laughs).
Jason: How do you feel about the music industry today, and what is your favourite decade of making music, if you have one?
Ross: Well, I have to say I’m enjoying myself more now because I’m not a member of a group and I write my own theme. Now being a member of a group means you’ve gotta listen to all the other people’s opinions you know, and whereas where I am now is as a totally solo act even though Eric McCusker plays with me fairly regularly but it’s sort of my thing and I have the final word you know. Whereas when we get back together again as Mondo Rock there’s a committee kind of thing, but I must enjoy sort of running the show myself (Ross laughs). Because the albums I’ve put out in the last couple of years have been totally hands on, I pick all the tracks, I you know, record and mix them and they turn out the way I want and I’m very very happy with them. And my performance style has changed a bit now too. I’m a bit more outgoing and I’m just more satisfied with things, you know. You put together all the lessons that you have learnt over the years and I’m ready to step out on my own and that’s what I’ve been doing, you know. But of course I still perform the well known songs over the past too, including the Mondo Rock stuff, yeah!
Jason: And Daddy Cool, obviously?
Jason: Do you believe there could be another show as big as Countdown in Australia?
Ross: Well I think it would be very easy to do. The thing that anyone, particularly the commercial stations have not had the imagination or the guts to persevere, you know. They will do something for like 5 minutes and go we didn’t get enough advertisers so they CAN it you know. Whereas you’v’e gotta give these things time to grow but, you know they are commercial stations and they have to make some revenues so what are you going to say? The reason, you know Countdown was able to persevere for so long was because it was a government body and they didn’t rely on the advertising and yet, they you know, had a profound effect on the growth of music and local sales. It went from I think the very act that Skyhooks were on that first show. It was like the dawn of the new era where you know, I’d been in Daddy Cool and we’d sold 60,000 of one album and everyone thought that was incredible! And then went on and produced Skyhooks and they went on to sell like 300,000 of their first record and everybody’s going WOW absolutely phenomenal!!! And then from then on it became normal for the bigger acts to do that, you know so totally opened up that whole excitement of our local music, um... and just about everybody who had anything half way decent could get on Countdown, you know and show everybody what they could do. So yeah, pretty important show. I can’t understand why, you know a big network like Channel 9 which is the dominant force doesn’t use their expertise to do a glitzy show with some production values and showcases everybody well, you know, it’s not that hard!
Jason: Because there’s pretty much just video shows now and there’s nothing really.
Ross: Too easy you see ( Ross laughs) and they get it for free, practically.
Jason: Were you shocked when Countdown came to an end?
Ross: Well you could see the writing on the wall. I mean it’s like bands break up eventually. The same thing with you know, change of generation. You could see it coming and it was like... uh, there’s two shows in particular I think of side by side and that’s “Countdown” and “Hey Hey It’s Saturday” in that they had their break over Christmas and then they’d come back in the new year and it always took them a few episodes to sort of get up and running. You’d sort of start watching the first few and you’d be going “nah, nah it’s not as good as it was last year” but then they’d get the momentum and it’s like fine tune the formula and it’s sort of BOOM! the you know, rushing away through the year and then they would have another break and everyone would forget about them over the summer then they’d start again. And I guess they just kind of eventually ran out of steam and things started to change, you know the new styles of music. Pop would began to change and became more dance orientated, more hip hop and I think as that force started to take over and it was less kind of pop and rock, the local influence fell away a bit and it became you know, not quite as relevant as it was.
Jason: Yeah definitely, yeah. Now wth Eagle Rock, it was voted as one of Australia’s top ten songs of all time by ARIA or APRA?
Ross: APRA, The Australian Performance Rights Association. So the votes from them was kind of important because they’re all publishers and writers you know, and there’s not commercial consideration involved really. Not like ARIA, where ARIA’s the big five or so record companies and they have their own awards to basically promote their own product you know. APRA is to do with hopefully peers voting for the songs that you know, they think they’re of a high standard or have had a lot of influence. So I came in at No.2 in front of “Beds Are Burning” by Midnight Oil, it’s a great song and “Friday On My Mind” by The Easybeats, which is also a fantastic song. HOWEVER, on public polls quite often it will be, there will be “Friday On My Mind”, “K San” and “Eagle Rock” are always fighting it out, so sometimes “Eagle Rock” dominates on the publicly voted forum say newspaper polls or whatever so to come in at No. 2 at the writers and publishers poll was still pretty good. BUT THEN, in the wake of that I read the interview with Stevie Wrights from The Easybeats around the “Long Way To The Top”, and he says, it was in The Age, and he says “Ah, I always hated singing Friday On My Mind” it just gets bits coming up and up and it’s got too many bits. My favourite Australian song is “Eagle Rock” by Daddy Cool so there you go! (We laugh).
Jason: Also Australia Post brought out Daddy Cool stamps as part of the Rock N’ Roll Collections.
Ross: Yeah, yeah... I was fully annoyed. On the one hand it’s fantastic to have an 'Eagle Rock' stamp but it was part of like, there was 10 all together of all these different songs. I said “Can’t you make up a roll of where I can just have 'Eagle Rock' stamps?” (Ross laughs), and they said “Oh no we can’t do that, your gonna have to buy them in sets of ten.” So I was like, I was looking forward to going down to the shop and buying you know, get like endless rolls of them and just have my stamps on my letters for years but it wasn’t possible.
Jason: So you haven’t got a huge amount of them?
Ross: No, only got a couple. And a few stamped ones of letters that people sent (Ross laughs).
Jason: Now with the “Here and Now” tour in November, are you excited about doing it?
Ross: And I’m hoping that the Mondo Rock shows for “Here And Now” are going to have the same effect on another large group of people, you know. So when that show’s over, because we're actually doing three weeks. Just a quick whip around the nation and to all the capital cities.
Jason: It’s going to a lot of places.
Ross: Yeah, then when that’s over people will go I’ll come at your regular show, life goes on.
Jason: The good thing too I guess, is with the DVD coming out later, the younger audiences that don’t know Mondo Rock will say that’s that band that I saw at the concert so it can cross over to a new generation again. And of course will remind the people that grew up at the time of the success of Mondo Rock.
Ross: Well DVD is very important now, yeah absolutely.
Jason: Are the rest of members of Mondo Rock excited about the tour?
Ross: Yeah very, see Eric McCusker the guitarist became the principle writer of Mondo Rock. That’s one of the reasons I got him in the group because I was finding it hard to churn out enough songs for album after album. Then he took over that role, so that he did most of them you know, I had “Cool World”, “Touch Of Paradise” and a few others you know. Most of the hit singles that we had were Eric McCusker songs so like he’s really got a huge invested interest is this “Best Of” we’re bringing out. Its gonna be a 2 CD thing so it’s got most of the singles that we had on one disc and then sort of a bit more out there bizarre things we did and plus like live material. There were 2 sides to Mondo Rock, there was sort of like you know, intense love ballad kind of stuff and there was this really edgy kind of, you know things that we did to like a song, there was one song about bondage called "Domination" and another one called "Mondo Sexo"! They would have been the ones I wrote! (We laugh). And there’s other songs that we’ve got.
Jason: Are they rarities or are they on the album?
Ross: No, they’re on the album, yeah. But the fans you know, we toured excessively for about ten years and the fans knew the live experience was quite often a lot more kind of gut hearted then the albums were you know. And there’s examples of that, there’s live tracks that are going to be on the disc 2 that are VERY up-tempoey, energetic performances including a couple of songs that never made it, there great songs too, a couple of really good songs that never made it onto albums for some reason! I don’t know why! But really good songs and there’s these great live versions of them so there’s some extra stuff there as well, you know that demonstrate that other, there’s like the 2 discs will be the two sides of Mondo Rock, you know complimentary.
Jason: Also with the DVD, is it all just going to have videos or is it going to have extra pieces of footage?
Ross: Well sad to say, we’ve lost track of some of the stuff that we had at the times, so were trying to track down all this great live footage from the long form video we did in the mid 80’s, and it’s got some really good performances on it you know. And very well filmed as well, it must be, it’s around somewhere we just haven’t tracked it down yet. So it will probably have some of that on the DVD as well, and yeah. Sony who are the ones who are going to be putting it out wanna do some of the you know, behind the scenes, chats and all of those extra things you get on the DVD’S, yeah.
Jason: Also one last question, with the “Come Said The Boy” video. It was SO popular, just the theme of the video with the teenagers and stuff at the time, did you find that big response?
Ross: Yeah, yeah. Oh well we still get uh, women in particular coming up and say uh (Ross whispers) “Oh you know... Come Said The Boy, I love that song”. It’s become the you know, if Eagle Rock is as enduring song from Daddy Cool era, then “Come Said The Boy” is by far the most enduring one that stuck in peoples minds because it’s to do with experiences that 99% of Australians have which is like, you know holidaying down the coast meeting your first boyfriend and girlfriend you know, and you’re having sex on the beach, you know. And like everyone’s done that, you know. And then they go “whenever I hear that it brings tears to my eyes, it just takes me back to that first boyfriend”...(pretends to cry) it’s like you know... (We both laugh!) So um, yeah it’s really struck a cord. And it’s basically a true story too because Eric used to live on the cliff tops of Bondi Beach and uh similar experiences where… (Ross laughs).
Jason: (Laughs), okay, funny, well that’s about it. Thanks for the interview!
Interview conducted by Jason Grech, Copyright 2003 www.countdownmemories.com