Billy Thorpe
BIO

Billy Thorpe was born as William Richard Thorpe on 29 March 1946 at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Manchester, England. He passes away from a major heart attack on 28 February 2007, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia at the age of 60.

Billy had a passion for music would play the piano in the front room. During the postwar years represented a renaissance of music like jazz, folk, country or hillbilly and swing music developed at a phenomenal rate.

The Thorpes family decided to immigrate to Australia and found Melbourne was not quite right for them. Found Queensland lifestyle was much more appealing and decided to purchase a small grocery store in Moorooka, Brisbane. Billy attended Moorooka State School with Lobby Loyde recalls we were both, bullied in the Queensland state school system.

In primary school, Billy was developing a music career. He performed “Red Sails In The Sunset” he would be on his way to stardom and parents knew it would be his career. Mary Saint Ledger was backing in popular songs, country, hillbilly, rockabilly and rock and roll, performed under the name as Little Rock Allen.

Billy Thorpe is one of the enigmas of Australian music, a man of many careers. It began in Brisbane when the young Thorpe was over-heard by a television producer playing his guitar and singing at the back of his parents’ Brisbane store. Begin at the age of ten he was appearing regularly on Queensland television and appearing on the same stage like many of the top artists of the day.

When he turned 17, he moved to Sydney as a solo singer in country and pop just as the Beatles were breaking. Thorpe teamed up with instrumental band the Aztecs, and together they became one of the first Australian groups to contribute to the new 60s era of pop, in June 1964, scoring a huge national hit with their version of the Rolling Stones version of “Poison Ivy”.

Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs gravitated toward releasing songs that showed off Thorpe’s fine singing voice and scored another major hit with a straight ballad version of “Over the Rainbow” from the film The Wizard of Oz, and in July 1965 a version of “Twilight Time” by the Platters. By now the original Aztecs had been replaced by other musicians. Thorpe also became the star of the national TV show It’s All Happening. In the space of two years, he had scored nine massive hits.

When the TV show, was cancelled Billy Thorpe slipped into a middle of the road cabaret circuit, all but forgotten by his pop fans. By December 1968 Thorpe decided to try his luck in England and accepted some gigs in Melbourne for extra cash before leaving. He never got to England.

By 1972, piano player extraordinaire Warren ‘Pig’ Morgan had performed a key role, in the careers of two of Australia’s most legendary blues-rock bands, Chain & Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs. He’d been a founder member of Chain in 1968 and had been instrumental in helping Thorpie establish his reputation as one of the wildest and heaviest, blues-rockers of the day.

Initially a solo project, it soon became a collaborative effort after Warren asked Billy Thorpe to join in. Christening themselves “Thump’n Pig & Puff’n Billy”, they then enlisted the talents of another Aztec, Gil Matthews and two members of Chain, Phil Manning and Barry Sullivan to record the album Downunda, was released in 1973 with Atlantic. The single Captain Straightman became a much-loved hit.

Remastered Downunda by Gil Matthews, the deluxe digipak version also features four bonus live tracks, 16-page booklet with rare photos and liner notes by noted Australian Rock author Ian McFarlane.

Thorpe became so enamoured by the rock and blues scene flourishing in Melbourne at that time he became an integral part of it. The new “General Custer” lookalike Thorpe played long, extended electric guitar solos and boasted the loudest band in the land. The boogie rock style they evolved was a direct influence on the latter-day AC/DC. With this version of the Aztecs, Billy Thorpe hit the big time again with the song “Most People I Know (Think That I’m Crazy),” an Australian rock classic. In November 1973 the Aztecs also became the first rock band to play the Sydney Opera House.

They performed live in 1973 at the newly opened Sydney Opera House, becoming the first rock band to perform there. A third double live album, Steaming At The Opera House, released in December 1974 with Atlantic. On Rock Set features former members of the Aztecs guitarist Lobby Loyde, drummers Kevin Murphy and drummers, percussion Johnny Dick, the last two on drums, three drummers are playing at once. It’s an all-out noise festival that features favourites like “Time To Live”. “Oop Poo Pa Doo” the Coloured Balls’ classic “God” and a three-way drum solo called “Ball Biter”.

The single “Most People I Know” was released in England which was unsuccessfully there Thorpe set his sights on the U.S., disbanding the Aztecs and adopting more of an adult rock-oriented style.

One of the most favoured studio album, More Arse Than Class, by all band members, and also provides a slice of Australian musical history being the last album recorded with the Sunbury Aztecs alongside Billy Thorpe.

Released in June 1974 and featured an inner-gate fold sleeve photograph of the band members’ bare backsides. Filled with blues boogie rock tunes, More Arse Than Class reached #12 on the national charts and stayed in the Top 20 for three months.

While in the studio, he begins recording a first solo album, Million Dollar Bill, he decided in favour of funkier pop songs a snatch of disco. A Little Feat-style root and country feel and what seemed to some observers a sop to American AOR (adult-oriented radio play). The song “It’s Almost Summer”, which developed out of Billy’s experimentation with open tunings on his guitar.

In 1979, Billy Thorpe signed a deal with American producer Spencer Proffer and recorded the ambitious science fiction and rock opera concept album, Children of the Sun, which achieved Top 20 status in America, selling 500,000 copies.

The follow-up album, 21st Century Man, also gained an American gold record. The years that followed saw Thorpe concentrated on non-music business activities as diverse as electronics and toys, before forming Zoo with Mick Fleetwood in 1990. Anytime he visited Australia, “Most People I Know” Aztecs fans were ready to flock any show Billy Thorpe, was prepared to mount. There’s a ready-made audience there anytime “Thorpie” wants it.

In 1982, went into the studio and recorded the album, East Of Eden’s Gate, was produced by Spencer Proffer and Billy Thorpe. The album had the promise of being Thorpe’s masterpiece. The music was at times, ethereal, yet contained enough of hard rock, melodic base to make it relevant in the day’s musical landscape. Thorpe had an all-star cast that included Quiet Riot drummer Frankie Banali and David Bowie guitarist Earl Slick. Together they created a complete and well-polished rock album.

Rock Candy Records reissue East Of Eden’s Gate on 16 July 2013. They did a masterful job making the album sound excellent. Also added a full-colour booklet, a 3,500-word essay, and photos.

Children Of The Sun…Revisited released on 14 June 1987 with Sony Music Entertainment Inc. Revisited is not the release of the album. The first five songs on the album are on side two of the original album, followed by three new tracks and “East Of Eden’s Gate”, the title track from Thorpe’s final solo album in 1982. The songs are remixed, which is unfortunate because the terrific bass on “Children” now sounds tinny instead of booming. To find the original album, you have to dig through vinyl bins and hope you get lucky.

In July 1996 Thorpe returned to Australia to live and authored two highly entertaining, best-selling books that only scratch the surface of his life and career, Sex Thugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll and, naturally, Most People I Know.

Sadly, on February 28, 2007, at the age of 60, Thorpe suffered a major heart attack and died later that day.

Solo – The Last Recordings released on 20 April 2007 with Liberation Blue, was recorded at the Basement, as its name suggests, the last recordings by this icon of the Australian industry, who sadly passed away in 2007. Featuring all of Billy’s classics (Girls of Summer, Be Bop A Lula, Poison Ivy, Over The Rainbow, Most People I Know.. and many more) recorded live at The Basement, Sydney 15 December 2006. Solo is a lasting testament to this musical giant.

Billy Thorpe’s Tangier, released on 21 October 2010 with Mountain Holdings. ARIA Award-winning producer Daniel Denholm was, brought in to pull all the pieces together. Daniel, a celebrated composer and arranger in his own right, set about reconstructing Billy’s vision. More extraordinary, multinational players from around Australia and the world, were brought into the mix. Among them, the great Mick Fleetwood, Billy Thorpe’s former bandmate in the early-’90s LA rock outfit, the Zoo. Other guest performers on Tangier include Egypt’s Tawadros brothers, Venezuelan-born flautist Pedro Eustache, Sydney violinist Richard Tognetti, as well as Australian singers Vanessa Amorosi, Brian Cadd, Connie Mitchell, Ian Moss and Melinda Schneider.

REFERENCES

Ed Nimmervoll

Jason Walker

Ian MacFarlane, Downunda, Steaming At The Opera House, More Arse Than Class from Aztec Records

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