Billy Thorpe

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 under the name of John Baslington Lyde and both were, bullied in the Queensland state school system.

In primary school, Billy was developing a music career. He performed ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’ he was on way to stardom and parents knew it would be his career. Mary Saint Ledger was be backing on popular songs, country, hillbilly, rockabilly and rock ’n’ roll, and performed 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 overheard by a television producer playing his guitar and singing at the back of his parents’ Brisbane store. 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 was 17 he moved to Sydney as a solo country/pop singer just as the Beatles were breaking. Always one to recognize opportunity knocking, 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.”

After a couple more era-influenced hits, 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 the Platters’ “Twilight Time.” By now the original Aztecs had been replaced by other musicians. Thorpe also became the star of his own national TV show, It’s All Happening. In the space of two years, he had scored nine major hits.

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


Ed Nimmervoll

Jason Walker

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