Ayers Rock

Ayers Rock was an Australian jazz-rock band from Melbourne that released two albums on Mushroom: Big Red Rock (1974) and Beyond (1976). In 1980, a revised lineup released Hot Spell on Red Rock Records. Formed by storied veterans of the Aussie rock and jazz scenes, they took their name from Uluru, a famous outback formation.

Members: Chris Brown (lead vocals, guitar, percussion, 1974-81), Col Loughnan (tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, soprano saxophone, vocals, flute, electric piano, percussion, 1973-81), Jimmy Doyle (guitar, percussion, 1973-75), Duncan McGuire (bass, percussion), Mark Kennedy (drums, percussion, 1973-76), Ray Burton (guitar, vocals, 1973-74), Keith Casey (percussion, 1976), Andy Cowan (keyboards, 1976-81), Russell Dunlop (drums, 1976), Doug Gallacher (drums, 1976), Steve Hogg (bass, 1976), Hamish Stuart (drums, 1976-81), Phil Stone (guitar), Joe Tattersall (drums), John Young (bass, 1977)


Background

Ayers Rock formed in August 1973 as an offshoot of Leo de Castro & Friends: a revolving-door soul-funk band with bassist Duncan McGuire, drummer Mark Kennedy, and recently added guitarist Ray Burton.


Burton, McGuire & Kennedy

McGuire (b. 1943) first played with The Phantoms, a Fifties Sydney rock ‘n’ roll band. In 1963, he joined Roland Storm & The Statesmen, which cut two singles with Storm and another two without the singer. The Statesmen became The Epics, which cut another single with Storm and two autonomous beat-inspired singles. They also served as a backing band for Little Pattie, Reg Lindsay, and Aussie rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Johnny O’Keefe.

In late 1965, McGuire joined The Questions, which featured Burton (ex-Delltones) and singer Doug Parkinson. In 1968, they morphed into Doug Parkinson In Focus, a soul-rock group with McGuire, Kennedy (ex-Gallery), and drummer Johnny Dick (ex-Aztecs, Max Merritt & The Meteors). They scored a Go-Set hit with The Beatles “Dear Prudence” but disbanded after a Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds victory sent Parkinson and Dick to London, where they formed the hard-rock supergroup Fanny Adams with ex-Bee Gees guitarist Vince Melouney.

In 1970, Kennedy declined an invitation by keyboardist Brian Cadd (ex-Groop) to Axiom (with Twilights singer Glenn Shorrock) and teamed with Kiwi singer Mike Rudd (ex-Chants R&B) in Spectrum, which scored a No. 1 hit with “I’ll Be Gone.” He left before the release of their debut album and reteamed with McGuire in King Harvest, fronted by Maori soul singer Leo de Castro. They evolved into Friends, which cut two boogie singles and played at the 1972 Mulwala and Moomba festivals.

Meanwhile, Burton played with Sydney popsters The Executives (1968–69) with guitarist–singer Gino Cunico. Burton and Cunico went to the US and cut a 1971 folk album (Strive, Seek, Find) on Artie Ripp’s Family Production label. While there, they backed expat Aussie pop singer Helen Reddy; Burton co-wrote her 1972 breakthrough Billboard hit “I Am Woman.” Shortly after his arrival in Friends, he and the two fellow Parkinson bandmates formed the eponymous trio Burton, McGuire & Kennedy.


Jimmy Doyle

Within days of their inception, BMK welcomed guitarist Jimmy Doyle, whose background spanned The Delltones (with Burton) and King Harvest (with McGuire and Kennedy). Between those gigs, Doyle backed former teen idol Digby Richards (a later country singer) and had memberships in The Soulmates (1967), Col Nolan & The Soul Syndicate, Aesop’s Fables (1968–69), and Moonstone (1970). He also served as the musical director for Trinidadian ragtime pianist Winifred Atwell.

In September 1973, BMK renamed themselves Ayers Rock, the European name for the red sandstone formation in Australia’s Northern Territory. (In 1993, the rock was officially renamed Uluru, which means “great pebble” in Pitjantjatjaran, the native language of Aṉangu Aborigines.)


Col Loughnan

In October, Doyle summoned another Delltones alumni, multi-reedist Col Loughnan (b. October 26, 1942; Sydney), who started as the lead singer of The Crescents, a teenage doo-wop trio that scored a 1959 Top 5 hit (in Brisbane and Melbourne) with “Mr. Blue,” a US hit for The Fleetwoods.

During his five years in The Delltones (1962–67), Loughnan learned flute and saxophone. After stints with Doyle in The Soulmates and The Soul Syndicate, Loughnan joined the Daly-Wilson Big Band as their tenor saxist and arranger on the 1970 Columbia release Live! At The Cellblock. Most recently, Loughnan had an unrecorded liaison with the London-based Kala, an offshoot of raga-psychsters Quintessence.


First Single

Ayers Rock hit Melbourne’s live circuit and impressed Michael Gudinski, a young booking agent who took the band under his managerial wing and signed them to his nascent indie label, Mushroom Records.

In December 1973, Ayers Rock released their first single: “Rock ‘N’ Roll Fight (Going On)” backed with “Sorrowful Eyes,” both self-produced Burton originals recorded at Melbourne’s TCS Studios and released on Mushroom (Australia) and Interfusion (New Zealand).

A. “Rock ‘N’ Roll Fight (Going On)” (3:18)
B. “Sorrowful Eyes” (4:56)


Sunbury ’74

In January 1974, Ayers Rock played the third annual Sunbury Pop Festival, a four-day event (Jan. 25–28) at George Duncan’s farm in Diggers Rest. Ex-Masters Apprentices singer Jim Keays MC’d the event, which featured sets by Chain, The Dingoes, Kush, MacKenzie Theory, Madder Lake, Sherbet, Skyhooks, Sid Rumpo, and late-period lineups of Blackfeather, Daddy Cool, Mississippi, and Pirana. The event featured one international act, Queen, a little-known English hard-rock band that faced off hecklers and vowed to return as “the biggest band in the world.”

One track from Ayers’ set, “Morning Magic” (5:43, another Burton original) appears on Highlights of Sunbury ’74 Part 2, a 1974 Mushroom release with set pieces by Full Moon (“Freedom Jazz Dance”) and fellow jazz-rockers MacKenzie Theory (“Supreme Love”).

In March 1974, Ray Burton returned to the US, where he worked as a sessionist and songwriter and cut the 1978 solo album Dreamers and Nightflyers.

Ayers Rock continued with guitarist–singer Chris Brown, a onetime member of Little Sammy & The In People, a popular Sydney club band with future members of McPhee and Tully. Brown recently rubbed shoulders with Loughnan in Kala.


Big Red Rock

Ayers Rock released their debut album, Big Red Rock, in November 1974 on Mushroom.

Big Red Rock features two songs apiece by reedist–arranger Col Loughnan (“Crazy Boys,” title track) and singer–guitarist Chris Brown (“Nostalgic Blues,” “Get Out to the Country”).

Bassist Duncan McGuire wrote the first three songs, including the band’s second single, “Lady Montego,” which originated in the setlist of Leo de Castro & Friends. The centerpiece of Side B, “Boogie Woogie Waltz,” is a ten-minute Weather Report cover.

Brown and James Doyle both play a mix of guitars (electric, acoustic) and percussion on Big Red Rock, which features Loughnan on keyboarboards, flute, and multiple saxophones (alto, tenor, soprano, baritone).

A1. “Lady Montego” (2:48)
A2. “Talkin’ Bout You” (3:54)
A3. “Goin’ Home” (3:15)
A4. “Crazy Boys – The Hamburger Song” (9:05)
A5. “Nostalgic Blues” (4:36)
B1. “Big Red Rock” (8:21)
B2. “Boogie Woogie Waltz” (10:07) is a Joe Zawinul composition from the 1973 Weather Report album Sweetnighter.
B3. “Get Out to the Country” (4:37)

Ayers Rock recorded Big Red Rock live on September 21–22, 1974, at Armstrong Studios, Melbourne, where staffer Graham Owens engineered the album in sequence with titles by the Aztecs, Bluestone, Madder Lake, and MacKenzie Theory (Bon Voyage). Ayers chose the live-in-studio method after an earlier round of sessions at Festival Studios failed to capture their live energy.

Big Red Rock appeared in a die-cut cover with an illustration of Uluru across a sedimentary flat plain under cloudy skies. The sediments show the remains of earlier life (dino bones). The inner-sleeve has close-up voters of a vermilion Uluru under deep-blue skies.

Big Red Rock reached No. 32 on the Kent Music Report. Mushroom lifted “Lady Montego” as a single (b/w “Goin’ Home”).


Overseas Developments

In late 1974, Gudinski visited Los Angeles, where he pitched Mushroom’s biggest acts (Daddy Cool, Skyhooks) to representatives at A&M Records. Label president Jerry Moss (the M in A&M), passed on the Aussie pop acts but seized on Ayers Rock, whose mix of funk and jazz-rock had US market potential.

Meanwhile, four-fifths of Ayers Rock (Brown, Kennedy, Loughnan, McGuire) backed Jim Keays on his debut solo album, The Boy From the Stars, released in late 1974 on EMI.

In January 1975, Keays and Ayers Rock each played sets at the fourth and final Sunbury Festival, which also featured Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs, The La De Das, Renée Geyer & Sanctuary, and international rockers Deep Purple, plus multiple acts from the ’74 event. Three Ayers (Brown, Kennedy, McGuire) joined Keays’ set for renditions of the TBFtS numbers “Urantia” and “Nothing Much Left.”

On April 20, Ayers Rock performed at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne as part  of the Concert for Bangladesh, an Australian version of the 1971 event organized by George Harrison for the war-torn nation. The benefit also featured sets by Keays, AC/DC, Daddy Cool, The La De Das, The Dingoes, Toulouse & Too Tight, the Moir Sisters, and Chain singer–guitarist Phil Manning.

Meanwhile, A&M issued Big Red Rock in February 1975 in the US, where Ayers Rock opened stadium shows for the J. Geils Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. After the summer stateside tour, Ayers Rock recorded their second album in Los Angeles.

In October, Ayers Rock returned to Australia, where bassist Les Young deputized a waylaid McGuire at Sydney’s State Theatre. Despite reports of his resignation, McGuire returned for their 10/21 show at the Dallas Brooks Hall, a Freemason-owned venue in East Melbourne.

On New Year’s Eve, 1975, Ayers Rock performed at Ormond Hall in Prahran as part of the final Reefer Cabaret, a monthly series of multi-act music, comedy, and theater events premiered the prior year at Dallas Brooks. This final Reefer included sets by Ariel, Skyhooks, Renee Geyer, the Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, and the newfangled Kiwi act Split Enz. Mushroom documented the event with the 1976 live double-album A-Reefer-Derci!, which features two numbers from Ayers’ set, “Boogie Woogie Waltz” and the Rolling Stones cover “Gimme Shelter.”

In its January 1976 “New Year’s Honours List,” Rock Australia Magazine (a music fortnightly, launched March 1975) named Ayers Rock “Musicians of the Year for 1975.”


Beyond

Ayers Rock released their second album, Beyond, in February 1976 on Mushroom. In the US and Canada, the album appeared in April on A&M.

Beyond features three numbers apiece by Col Loughnan and Chris Brown. Loughnan composed the first two songs on Side A and the epic “Angel In Disguise,” a whirlwind of lush orchestration and frenzied jazz-funk. Brown submitted the speedy “Catchan Emu” and the bookends of Side B, which opens with “Song for Darwin,” a tribute to the ravaged city. Half of the tracks are instrumentals.

Musical guests include percussionist Bill Carson (“Moondah”) and veteran jazz violinist Erno Neufeld (“Little Kings”). Bassist Jeff Castleman (a late-period Duke Ellington sideman) deputizes Duncan McGuire on “Catchan Emu.”

A1. “Moondah (Beyond)” (6:45)
A2. “Place to Go” (5:48)
A3. “Catchan Emu” (4:28)
B1. “Song for Darwin” (6:55) concerns the city of Darwin, the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory that had to be rebuilt after Cyclone Tracy, which devastated the coastal city on Christmas Eve 1974.
B2. “Angel In Disguise” (7:25)
B3. “Little Kings” (2:48)

Sessions took place in September 1975 at the Los Angeles Record Plant, where Ayers Rock co-produced Beyond with engineer John Stronach, a soundman on recent titles by Dan Fogelberg and Joe Walsh. Carson participated just before his move to Finland, where he played beside Jukka Tolonen. Neufeld (a onetime Henry Mancini and Lalo Schifrin sideman, b. 1910) played on recent titles by Don Ellis, Wendy Waldman, and Mary McCreary.

Mushroom copies have a brown-framed cover illustration of two Uluru’s elevated over a sandy flatland that covers rich greenery, where a flightless bird spots a carrot.

A&M copies sport an alternate cover with a black-framed illustration of two arrow-wielding Aṉangus near two kangaroos and Kata Tjuta (aka Mount Olga: the outback’s other red monolith, 16 miles west of Uluru). When rotated 90° clockwise, Kata Tjuta (Pitjantjatjara for “many heads”) becomes a face. Melbourne graphic artist Ian McCausland designed the cover in sequence with Mushroom titles by Chain and Skyhooks.

Mushroom first lifted “Little Kings” in November 1975 as an advance single, backed with the Big Red Rock track “Get Out to the Country.” The second single, “Song for Darwin,” followed Beyond in May 1976 (b/w “A Place to Go”).

Between the album’s completion and release, drummer Mark Kennedy joined the backing band of US-born Australian soul-pop singer Marcia Hines. Ayers Rock embarked on a May–July US tour with drummer Russell Dunlop, Doyle’s onetime Aesop’s Fables bandmate with subsequent credits in SCRA, Tully, Albatross, and (most recently) the Johnny Rocco Band.

After the tour, Dunlop and Loughnan left Ayers Rock, which disbanded in late-August 1976. Loughnan stayed in the US while the others returned to Australia, where Duncan McQuire joined Windchase, a continuation of symphonic-rockers Sebastian Hardie (minus the Plavsic brothers rhythm section, which owned the name).


New Version

In 1977, Chris Brown and Jimmy Doyle formed a new Ayers Rock lineup that included Keith Caisey, a Bermuda-born percussionist who recorded with the tribal–improv group Aire. This lineup featured two short-term members who once backed Leo de Castro in different bands: drummer Joe Tattersall (ex-Healing Force) and bassist John Young (Castro’s eponymous band).

By 1978, the new Ayers Rock stabilized with Brown, Doyle, Caisey, keyboardist Andy Cowan (ex-Madder Lake), bassist Steve Hogg (ex-Bakery), and drummer Hamish Stuart (not the Average White Band singer).

Ayers Rock started Red Rock Records, a self-press distributed by RCA. In March 1980, RRR issued the fifth Ayers Rock single: “On the Avenue” backed with “Sister Feels,” both tasters of the upcoming album.


Hot Spell

Ayers Rock released their third album, Hot Spell, in May 1980 on Red Rock Records.

Hot Spell features five Andy Cowan numbers: “So Deep In Love,” “On the Avenue,” “City Nite Life,” “Sandcastles,” and “Distant Places.”

Chris Brown wrote “Love Somebody” and co-wrote “Moomba Song” with Jimmie Doyle, who wrote “On the Road” and co-wrote two songs (“Fools Romance,” “Islands”) with Hamish Stuart. Keith Caisey contributed “Sister Feels She Should.”

A1. “So Deep In Love” (3:33)
A2. “Sister Feels She Should” (3:56)
A3. “Fools Romance” (3:06)
A4. “Love Somebody” (3:43)
A5. “Moomba Song” (4:42)
B1. “On the Avenue” (3:24)
B2. “City Nite Life” (2:52)
B3. “Sandcastles” (3:25)
B4. “Islands” (3:48)
B5. “On the Road” (3:31)
B6. “Distant Places” (4:13)

Ayers Rock self-produced Hot Spell at the Music Farm in Byron Bay, New South Wales, where ex-member Duncan McGuire engineered the album with veteran soundman John Sayers, whose credits include Seventies albums by Brian Cadd, Chain, Jeff St. John, and Aussie Latin jazz-rockers Pantha, plus recent titles by Radio Birdman and The Motivators.

Hot Spell features poolside visuals by designers Tony Sutton and Malcolm McCulloch, also credited on the 1979 Philips release In Flight by Galapagos Duck.


Final Activity

In July 1981, a four-piece Ayers Rock (Brown, Cowan, Hogg, Stuart) released one final single: “Lies” backed with “Feel the Heat,” both Andy Cowan numbers.

A. “Lies”
B. “Feel the Heat”

They cut both sides at Albert Studios, Sydney, with veteran soundman Bruce Brown (Autumn, Mike McClellan, Renée Guyer) and Russell Dunlop, the onetime Ayers Rock temp who worked with the Kevin Borich Express, Mental As Anything, and The Reels.


After Ayers Rock

In 1988, Col Loughnan interacted with Jimmy Doyle on No Worries, the comeback album by Sixties UK singer and bandleader Georgie Fame.

Loughnan joined the Jazz Faculty at the University of Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music, where he lectured in jazz saxophone.

Mark Kennedy teamed with Brian Cadd and Glenn Shorrock in The Blazing Salads, a supergroup of Aussie classic rock stars.

Andy Cowan did stints behind Kevin Borich and Renée Geyer.

Duncan McGuire died in July 1989 of a brain tumour.

Steve Hogg played in the late-Eighties band The Rhythm Snakes. He died on July 20, 1990. His solo album, Various Fools & Vices, appeared posthumously in 1992.

Jimmy Doyle died on May 5, 2006. Later that month, Loughnan and Renée Geyer performed at a tribute concert in Doyle’s honor.


Discography:

  • Big Red Rock (1974)
  • Beyond (1976)
  • Hot Spell (1980)

Sources:

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