MacKenzie Theory

MacKenzie Theory was an Australian jazz-rock band that released the 1973 album Out of the Blue on Mushroom, followed by the 1974 live recording Bon Voyage.

Members: Rob MacKenzie (guitar), Cleis Pearce ([electric] viola), Peter Jones (keyboards, 1973-74), Mike Leadabrand (bass, 1971-73), Andy Majewski (drums, 1971-73), Greg Sheehan (drums, 1973-74), Paul Wheeler (bass, 1973-74)


Background

MacKenzie Theory formed in September 1971 when Sydney violist Cleis Pearce attended a local show by a Melbourne jazz trio and approached their guitarist, Rob MacKenzie.

Rob came from a musical family in Melbourne, where he developed guitar proficiency as a teenager. He played an auxiliary role in numerous bands, including Friends and Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs.

Cleis was born in Sydney to demanding parents who enrolled her in classical violin lessons. The Pearce’s settled in Tasmania, where Cleis left home at eighteen and settled back in Sydney. For a time, she roamed without an address.

In January 1970, Cleis attended her first rock event: the Pilgrimage for Pop festival in Ourimbah. Now immersed in the local rock underground, she attended regular shows at the Arts Factory in Darlinghurst, where she first saw Rob’s band. She approached him after the set and he invited her to a group jam, where they formed a musical bond. Rob invited her back to Melbourne to form a new band.   


Formation

In Melbourne, Rob summoned bassist Mike Leadabrand and drummer Andy Majewski. They named the act MacKenzie Theory in reference to Rob’s interest in music theory and its correlation to philosophy.

MacKenzie Theory built a dedicated audience at the underground Melbourne music spots (Berties, Sebastians, TF Much Ballroom). Their music crossed elements of Caravanserai-era Santana with King Crimson, John Coltrane, and the nascent jazz-rock style of the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

They linked with Mike Gudinski, a young music agent who booked them for the second annual Sunbury Music Festival, a three-day event (Jan. 27–29) at George Duncan’s farm in Diggers Rest with comedian MC Paul Hogan and sets by Bakery, Blackfeather, Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, Carson, Coloured Balls, Band of Light, Coloured Balls, Flying Circus, Madder Lake, Mississippi, Sid Rumpo, Spectrum, and Fifties Aussie rock ‘n’ roll icon Johnny O’Keefe.

Gudinski included one song from MacKenzie Theory’s Sunbury set (“New Song and’’) on the April 1973 triple-album The Great Australian Rock Festival Sunbury 1973, the inaugural release on Mushroom Records.


Out of the Blue

MacKenzie Theory released their debut album, Out of the Blue, in July 1973 on Mushroom.

A1. “Extra Terrestrial Boogie” (5:47)
A2. “O” (9:53)
A3. “Opening Number” (8:02)
B1. “New Song” (11:38)
B2. “Out of the Blue” (2:59)
B3. “World’s the Way” (7:57)

MacKenzie Theory recorded Out of the Blue live on May 20, 1973, at TCS Studios in Melbourne, where Rob self-produced the album.

Mushroom issued Out of the Blue in a black-framed gatefold sleeve by Returb Studios. Photographer David Few took the cover pic: a blue-tinted shot of the distant band outdoors in cold, bleak weather. Artist Hugh McSpedding illustrated the back-cover depiction of a crimson void in outer space. The inner-gates show squared-off live pics MacKenzie Theory.


Final Activity

In September 1973, Leadabrand and Majewski cleared for bassist Paul `Sheepdog’ Wheeler (of the Mk III Aztecs) and drummer Greg Sheehan (ex-Blackfeather). MacKenzie also welcomed a fifth member: electric  pianist Peter Jones, a sessionist for G. Wayne Thomas and Fable–Bootleg acts (Mississippi, Terry Walker).

MacKenzie Theory performed at Sunbury ’74, a four-day event (January 25–28) with sets by jazz-rockers Ayers Rock, brass-rockers Kush, country-rockers The Dingoes, blues-rockers Chain, harmony-popsters Sherbet, teen sensations Skyhooks, and international hopefuls Queen, plus late-period iterations of Daddy Cool and Mississippi (just before their evolution into the Little River Band). Mushroom included one number from MacKenzie’s set (“Supreme Love”) on Highlights of Sunbury ’74 Part 2.

Soon after the festival, Rob MacKenzie received an international study grant from the Australian Council for the Arts. As he prepared for a stay in the UK with Cleis Pearce, MacKenzie Theory gave their final performance at Dallas Brooks Hall, a Freemason-owned venue at 300 Albert Street in East Melbourne. Dissatisfied with the tapes, Rob blocked an intended live album in a signed agreement with Mushroom, which reneged on the promise once he left the country.


Bon Voyage (Live at Dallas Brooks Hall May Fifteen)

In late 1974, Mushroom issued Bon Voyage, a document of MacKenzie Theory’s farewell concert on May 15, 1974, at the Dallas Brooks Hall in Melbourne.

A1. “Clouds” (15:44)
A2. “The A Thing” (5:24)
B1. “The C Thing” (8:03)
B2. “Supreme Love” (7:33)

Recorded by T.C.S. Mobile 8 Track Machine.
Produced By – Graham Owens, Paul Wheeler
Engineered By – Colin Stevenson, Graham Owens

Sheehan (credited here as Greg Shean) also partook in the 1974 studio project Avenue, which recorded soundtrack music for the Australian biker film Naturally Free.

Bass – Paul Wheeler
Drums – Greg Shean
Guitar – Rob Mackenzie
Piano – Peter Jones
Electric Viola – Cleis Pearce

Design, Artwork – Brent Ward
Photography By – Graham Weber


After MacKenzie Theory

Rob MacKenzie moved to the US and served eleven years (1990–2001) as the lead guitarist of Fifties rock ‘n’ roll revivalists Sha Na Na.

Cleis Pearce performed in the Eighties with Women & Children First, an ensemble led by Australian saxophonist Sandy Evans. She later became an artist in residence at Southern Cross University.

Paul Wheeler joined the Savanna Silver Band, which released the 1978 space-funk album Pure Silver on Champagne Records. He also played on 1979–80 albums by Edith Bliss, John St. Peeters, and the new wave duo Delaney Venn.

Greg Sheehan played on the 1977 Infinity release Goodby Tiger, the fourth studio album by Richard Clapton. Along with members of Automatic Man and Brand X, Sheehan appears on Pleasure Signals, the 1978 jazz-rock album by Wilding Bonus. Sheehan also played on Eighties albums by Goanna, Redgum, Wayne Gillespie, and Summerhaze.


Discography:


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