Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Max Merrit and The Meteors - Shake EP 1966... and...

The Meteors formed in New Zealand in 1956, with Merritt joined by Ross Clancy (saxophone), Ian Glass (bass), Peter Patene (piano) and Pete Snowden (drums). Merritt was influenced by black R&B and soul records imported by American Naval personnel stationed in New Zealand, which subsequently meant the Meteors were foremost in presenting this new music to New Zealand audiences on album and via several hit singles. The line-up for their 1960 debut album featured Merritt, Glass, Rod Gibson (saxophone), Bernie Jones (drums) and Billy Kristian (piano). Several line-up changes followed, with Merritt and Kristian (who had switched to bass) remaining the two constants. Outgrowing their local market, the band visited Australia in late 1964, but soon relocated permanently. They released five singles, none of which sold well, but the high standard of musicianship within the band made it a popular live act, often winning praise from fellow musicians

A more permanent line-up took shape in 1967 with Merritt joined by Stewie Speer (b. 26 June 1928, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, d. 16 September 1986, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; drums), Bob Bertles (saxophone) and John ‘Yuk’ Harrison (bass). A road accident the same June left Merritt with one eye and Speer permanently injured, which proved a difficult setback for the band to overcome. They had an Australian hit single with a cover version of Jerry Butler’s ‘Western Union Man’ in late 1969. The accompanying album also sold well and the band departed for the UK in October 1970. After management problems that produced a state of limbo, they managed to ensconce themselves in the pub rock scene. By 1975, the group had signed with Arista Records and gained success with the single ‘Slippin’ Away’, and two albums, A Little Easier and Out Of The Blue. Merritt spent much of 1978 in the USA, but despite a couple of more album releases, his career faded. Speer died of a heart attack in 1986, while Merritt retired to Los Angeles, where he found employment as a film set carpenter, although he continued to tour occasionally in Australia. A new line-up of the Meteors was put together in 2002 to complete the Australian Heart & Soul Of Rock & Roll tour.

In April 1965, the second Meteor's album was finally released. Called "Max Merritt's Meteors", it contained a wide range of styles, in keeping with the versatility of the band. From it came the single "So Long Babe"/"You're Treatin' Me Bad". This single was also released in Australia.

With a bit more success behind them, they started living more comfortably in Sydney, but were still not rating with the teenagers in Australia. The top groups around at the time were still Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, the Invaders and a new group called the Easybeats. In September 1965, when Billy Thorpe lost some of his band, he approached Teddy Toi and Johnny Dick to join him. They accepted and Max had to find replacements. A short-lived line-up featuring bassist John Blake and drummer Bill Fleming didn't work out, so Max got Jimmy Hill and Billy Kristian (back for a second go) from the Invaders, as they were in the process of breaking up.

Moving into 1966, the group had signed a new deal with the Parlophone label and released one single called "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah"/"I've Been Trying", but after only six months with the group, Jimmy Hill left after reportedly having a fist fight with Max. The group had been signed to support the Rolling Stones / Searchers tour in February 1966, so Bill Fleming was called back temporarily for them to be able to fulfill their obligation.

The next person to fill the drummer's seat was Bruno Lawrence. He had been lured to Sydney by Ricky May to join his resident band at the Latin Quarter in King's Cross, a combo that also included Claude Papesch, from the Devils, and rising jazz saxophonist Bob Bertles. Ricky had also begun his own series on television, and brought Bruno in occasionally to play drums with his resident television band. One session in the series featured Max Merritt and the Meteors. Because they werewithout a drummer, Ricky suggested Bruno fill in for the video clip. Liking what they saw, they signed him up for the group.

Max Merrit's Meteors & The Pleasers

Max Merrit and The Meteors - Shake EP 1966

 1966 Line-Up:
    Peter Williams (Lead Guitar)
    Billy Kristian (Bass Guitar)
    Bruno Lawrence (Drums)

Bruno soon influenced the group and it wasn't long before he changed their musical style. They recorded a couple of singles on Parlophone, the first, "You Deserve What You've Got"/"I Want So Much To Know You" didn't cause too much reaction, but in July the single "Shake"/"I Can't Help Myself" provided Max with his biggest New Zealand hit to date and also cracked the lower rungs of the Sydney charts. An EP called "Shake" was also released. It contained "I Can't Help Myself", "I Want So Much To Know You", "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" and "Shake".

In August 1966 they returned to New Zealand for a national tour. They hadn't done one for two years, and with the airplay that "Shake" was receiving, they were welcomed in both the North and South Islands. While they were there, they appeared on television's "Let's Go", and also visited HMV studios in Wellington, where they recorded the single "Fannie Mae"/"Baby Come Home". The last release on Parlophone, it became one of their best and enduring hits over the years.

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