One of my fondest
rock’n’roll memories takes me back to 1982, when I accompanied The Mighty
Guys- a rockabilly band I had signed to my Rivet Records label - to the ABC
TV studios in Sydney’s Gore Hill, where they were to appear on Countdown. As
we walked through the main studio, Leon Isackson, the trio’s drummer
commented, “Gee, this place hasn’t changed since the last time I was here.”
And when was that Leon? “When I used to do 6 O’Clock Rock.”
imagine there were too many Countdown performers who could claim to have been
part of the origins of rock television in Australia. Then again I can’t
imagine there are too many Australian musicians who can lay claim the
incredible array of experiences of the genial, genuine Leon Isackson and his
buddy-for-life, Jon Hayton.
As they point
out themselves, they are hardly household names in Australian entertainment.
Rather, they are the loyal foot soldiers, the engine-stokers who enabled
innumerable stars to shine and Australian rock to climb inexorably upwards.
Indeed, their vantage point was near perfect; on the edge of the spotlight
without being withered by it’s fickle glare. Leon and Jon were present at the
birth, puberty, adolescence and middle age of Australian rock’n’roll.
This book is
nothing less than a vital social document. It is one of the very few honest
accounts ever published of an appallingly over-eulogised era. Notwithstanding
the emergence of a rebellious new music form, the fifties and early sixties
were far from the finger-poppin’, sock-hoppin’ happy days that mass media manipulation
would have us believe. There was, as Leon and Jon make plain, neither
sophistication nor sweet innocence about these years. It was a time of
inhibition, uncertainty and soiled naivety, particularly in Australia.
performers didn’t create rock’n’roll -it created them. With the sole
exception of the explosive catalyst Johnny O’Keefe, local rockers really had
no idea of the forces controlling their destinies. They held on to the
saddle-horn, eyes closed, and tried their damndest to stay on for the short
ride; rockin’ and rootin’ for all their worth. When the initial explosion
fizzled, most of the young stars were found sprawled in the dust, left behind
by the dizzying pace of changing public taste.
As is often
the case with clever second-level players of any game, Leon and Jon survived
the cyclic rock’n’roll house-cleanings. Their good humour, adaptability and
realistic expectations has enabled them to continue playing rock music in
this country for almost thirty years- no small achievement, to be sure.
Rock is based upon the ‘Crazy Books’ of Leon Isackson, a set of diaries so
precious that in any other country they would have been purchased by a
national museum by now. Dutifully, day in and day out, Leon documented- in
language half strine half rock’n’roll - his activities in a ‘pop scene’ that
few took seriously for at least the first two decades.
jottings, added to the extraordinarily clear memories of the nefarious duo
for dialogue and colouring, have provided us with a blow-by-blow description
of a fascinating lifestyle carried on during a transitional period of
Australian history. Nothing is hidden from our view. The pair present the
salacious adolescent sexuality on both sides of the stage, the bumbling
ignorance of most of the ‘power brokers’ of the day, and the outrageously
unsophisticated behaviour of undeserved ‘overnight sensations’ who found
themselves in the right place at the right time. Yet, although there is vast
evidence of the plagiarism and opportunism of the time, there is equal
evidence of an endearing cunning, an instinct for survival and a latent
talent which have all contributed to the internationally acclaimed “Oz Rock”
of which we are so conspicuously proud today.
It is not
possible to fully appreciate the array of Australian music of the nineties
without having some idea of how the cottage industry evolved into a global
force. Up until the publication of this book, that has been an exceedingly
difficult task. As far as I am concerned, this is a valid slice of our
history as the accounts of bush settlers and ground-breaking sportsmen.
Anybody who has ever hummed a tune should read it!
- Glenn A.
To Preface by Jon and Leon