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ARIA HALL OF FAME-RUSSELL MORRIS

ARIA HALL OF FAME-RUSSELL MORRIS
October 28, 2008 | Author: Greg Phillips

Russell_Morris_h_0413“Are they doing this because I’m a dinosaur and they kind of pension you off and put you on a shelf,” was Russell Morris’s initial reaction to the call informing him that he’d be among this year’s crop of inductees into the ARIA Hall of Fame. “Then I thought gee, it is lovely to be in the same cabinet as The Easybeats, who were my heroes as a kid, and some of the bands I absolutely love like Midnight Oil and many other artists, so yeah, it’s lovely, really nice.”

While all of the artists inducted into the Hall of Fame thus far have been worthy of the nod, it’s surprising that it has taken so long for Morris to join the club. His records such as ‘The Real Thing’, ‘Sweet, Sweet Love’ and ‘Wings of an Eagle’ are classic rock radio staples.  ‘The Real Thing’ in particular is considered one of the finest psychedelic tracks of the sixties and is widely regarded as a significant moment in our recording history. Written by Johnny Young and produced by Ian “Molly” Meldrum, the record’s man-made special effects were pioneering. and clocking in at over six minutes, still stands as one of the longest tracks ever played on local radio.

A week after his Hall of Fame induction, Australian Musician found Morris relaxed at home with time to reflect on the event. Although being full up with flu on the night and stressed at not being able to hear the all star band properly during his performance, Russell still enjoyed the evening immensely catching up with old friends such as Kevin Borich, Max Merritt and the guys from Dragon. The Melbourne Town Hall, venue for the this year’s Hall of Fame also held extra sentimental value for Russell. It was the site of his first real introduction to rock and roll.

“When I was about 14 or 15 I was in the city with my mates wandering down Collins Street and the Town Hall’s doors were open,” he recalls. ” I don’t know why they were open, but there was all this ruckus going on. We wandered over and we walked right in. There was this rock and roll band on stage and all these girls screaming. There was this guy rolling around on his back and kicking his legs in the air and people grabbing him. I thought this is bizarre. I didn’t even hear the sound of the music. All I could see was this chaos and this guy. He was wearing a leopard skin jacket and it was Johnny O’Keefe. I knew who he was. I’d heard his records. So I had an earlier introduction to the Town Hall and rock and roll music.”

Morris claims he’s one of the lucky ones in Australian rock and roll in that he has never stopped working, and his beautiful home in an opulent suburb of Melbourne is testament to this. However, like many artists of his ilk, we’re happy to celebrate his amazing recording past, but less interested in the present. For instance, how many readers would be aware that Russell has a new album available called Jumpstart Diary? Most wouldn’t. Radio is happy to play classic Morris tracks to death, but would never consider adding one of his new tracks to their list. Which is sad, because the album, written and produced in conjunction with Electric Mary’s guitarist Peter Robinson is a high quality, contemporary piece of work featuring Russell’s familiarly fine song construction. Tracks such as ‘Welcome To The Real World’ and ‘Rise’ are as strong as anything else currently being pumped out of mainstream commercial radio. In fact, Morris had been so resigned to the fact that he was no longer going to get mainstream media attention that he virtually gave up the notion of recording new songs, releasing just two original albums in seventeen years. If it wasn’t for fellow local music legend Jim Keays suggesting that it was “all about the body of work”,  Jumpstart Diary may never have been made either.

Morris is first to admit, however, that a small population with a disproportionate amount of music to choose from prevents everyone from getting heard, but is still disheartened that some of his peers who deserve to be working, aren’t. The reality is that the entertainment industry stands still for no one and moves both constantly and erratically, as does public taste. Similarly, artists evolve and sometimes change the way they write and record. As Bob Dylan recently opined in the press, he could never return to the same head space he experienced when writing classic tunes like ‘Blowin In The Wind’ and ‘The Times Are A Changing’. It was a different time, he was a different person, so how could his music possible be the same. It’s a theory Morris also subscribes to.

“Once you get the genie out of the bottle you can never get it back in,” he states. “You can’t recreate a time. You can’t recreate that atmosphere in your brain. I remember when I wrote ‘Wings of an Eagle’. I had a call from the record company and they said, you have to come up with a single. I said I don’t feel like it. They demanded I write a single. So I walked out and sat on the porch and just wrote ‘Wings of an Eagle’. That was my head space at the time. Since that time I think I have written better songs, but they haven’t been received as well.  I think your time and your space for certain things tend to be almost designed by accident.  Look at Elton John. He has written some lovely songs since his early days but never recaptured that incredible magic. I think people tire of artists too and want to go to a new pasture and dig that up and plant some seeds and see what comes up. I think it is just the fertility of the human mind that they want to explore. Some people like to hold on to nostalgia which is lovely, it evokes memories, but when those nostalgic artists, like me,  come up with new albums, some people will want to hear it but others will want to move on.”

“Radio in particular is like that, turning over artists all the time,” he continues.
“One of the saddest things I ever saw was when Daryl Braithwaite had ‘Horses’, that album which was huge. His next album was a little bit later coming out, but radio had decided that they had moved on. So ‘Taste the Salt’ never got any support. Darryl was no longer in their demographic. That’s the hard thing with music. Music almost works in conjunction with the fashion industry. Look back just a few years ago it was all boy bands doing harmonies. Can’t get arrested now! Record companies have now become more like advertising agencies. Consume it, eat it and move on to the next big thing. In the record companies defence, the internet has stuffed them up a little, and they are not making the money they used to. So they are not prepared to invest the money.”

As mentioned earlier, the newly crowned Hall of Famer feels fortunate to be able to work on a regular basis and is currently gigging either with Brian Cadd as a double act, or in trio mode alongside Jim Keays (Masters Apprentices) and Darryl Cotton (Zoot). Morris is philosophical about the limited musical opportunities that the modern day music industry presents, and there are certainly no signs of complaint about his current lot. On the contrary, he seems quite at ease with his world. “I am an entertainer,” he says. “I go out on stage and sing and the people react and enjoy what they are hearing. They are paying good money to come and see you … my duty is to make them feel that they have got their money’s worth.”

Jumpstart Diary is available from Russell’s website : www.russellmorris.com.au

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