This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site which was abandoned for its current site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is number twenty in the series of albums I’m featuring as part of an on-going retrospective of vinyl albums in my personal collection. The series is called, “Cream of The Crate“.
These reviews are featuring vinyl albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
Album #20 features a group, which I have a really soft spot for!
We love to think of Max Merritt as ‘ours’, as a great Australian artist in a great Australian group. However, he was born in New Zealand.
Does this matter? Not in the least.
At the worse it’s yet another case of Australians taking great New Zealand talent and taking that talent as our ‘own’.
At the best?
Well, at the best we acknowledge his New Zealand roots and that embracing him as “ours” was a sign of great respect and love.
In discussing max it becomes imperative to concentrate on his music. In fact, his musical talent and his track record of fantastic music, whether recorded or live, makes any of his music worthy in any collection.
So here I am writing about Max Merritt & The Meteors and their 1970 album, simple titled, “Max Merritt & The Meteors”, released on RCA Victor (SL-101891).
It features a very simple gatefold cover, in sepia and black, showing Max and Bob (Bertles), Stewie Spears and ‘Yuk’ Harrison on the rear cover, with a series of shots from the sessions that this album was recorded in. In many ways the plainness of the cover is the optical yang, to the audio’s yin. That’s my way of saying; the plain cover belies a fantastic selection of beautifully constructed and created pieces of music.
This album is a bloody beauty! The cover notes make it plain to understand just how this album was constructed.
Max, Stewie and Yuk would lay down solid foundations, for Bob to then apply some incredible arranging and thus like an architect, he put the plans together for a towering piece of amazing music, built on top of very solid foundations.
In many ways I would like to think it is unnecessary to provide any background to this magnificent ‘Australian” group. (See! I’ve also claimed them, like many before me).
I visited the Max Merritt web site to make sure my facts were correct, and came away learning far more than I realised I didn’t know. So if you are interested in learning more about Max, just click on his name: MAX MERRITT.
This is taken directly from that web site. “Max Merritt was born in Christchurch on 30th April 1941 and his early teenage years was engrossed in music, beginning guitar lessons at the age of twelve. the mid-fifties, rock and roll had exploded around the world and Max was quite taken the styles and sounds of Elvis Presley and Bill Haley. Max left school in 1956 to serve an apprenticeship under his brick-laying father. Buying himself an electric guitar, he formed his first group, the Meteors, in 1956. The group was made up of friends Ross Clancy on saxophone, Ian Glass on bass, Peter Patene on piano and Pete Sowden on drums.”
Now there is (obviously) much more to his story, but suffice to say in 1965 he appeared in Sydney on J.OK’s ‘Sing, Sing Sing’, but in my mind it was his appearance in 1967 in Melbourne that really kick started things in a big, big way.
I remember seeing him several times around town, but never saw better performances than when he played at the Thumping Tum.
Now it could be reasonably argued that the 1967 line up was the best, with –
- Max Merritt – Guitar & Vocals
- Bob Bertles – Saxaphone
- Stewie Speer – Drums
- “Yuk” Harrison” – Bass
In ’67 he lost an eye in a dreadful car accident, but after a period of recovery, he was back! I do remember a performance at The Thumping Tum, after the accident, and they band was H*O*T!
Then some idiot in the crowd started making crude and stupid remarks about Max’s eye (he was wearing a patch). While the band played on, Yuk unplugged his bass and carrying it with him, climbed down into the crowd and without a word swung it at this idiot, knocking him clean across the room.
The band never missed a beat!
Yuk climbed back onto the stage, and plugged back in. I never saw what happened to this moron, I didn’t need to.
I just loved the way these guys grooved together, with the lay-back drumming of the long-white haired Stewie Spears, Max’s laconic yet tight guitar, Yuk’s steady, solid and loud bass, Bertles’ fantastic sax playing, and, Max’s voice.
What a voice!
Not really sweet, certainly not sour – just unique and hypnotic.
There are many, many fantastic tracks on this album, but it would be stupid to overlook the obvious and separate out his two big tracks, “Western Union Man”, and “Fanny Mae”.
Now Fanny Mae only reached #88, and Western Union Man #15 – but as time went on, we recognise that these tracks are among the very best that they did. They certainly stand up solidly against the originals and just get better and better with the years.
Track 4 on side 1 – Louisiana Ana is an interesting choice. This is rock’n’roll, out and out. Originally recorded by Larry Williams it is an interesting choice given Max’s penchant for soul, so kit is worthy of a listen.
The only track that nearly made it to #1 for Max, was “Slipping Away”, a classic in itself. It reached #2 in 1975 and i have included it is the videos below.
One interesting thing to note, that in the album the track is labelled ‘Fanny May‘, but be assured, the correct title is Fanny Mae.
Two other tracks on this album that I just think are fantastic, and the first I loved live, is “Lay A Little Love On Me” (a Merritt composition).
Lay A Little Love On Me
The final track is an instrumental, quite different for a group that was so popular for featuring Max’s vocals. That track is “Turkish Bath” (composed by Bob Bertles), and it features some great bass clarinet and flutes, pushed along by Stewie’s brilliant drumming.
The tracks on this album are:
1. “Western Union Man” (Gamble-Huff-Butler)
2. “Fannie Mae” (Glascoe-Lewis-Levy)
3. “To Be A Lover”
4. “Louisiana Ana”
5. “You Touch Me”
6. “Been Away Too Long” (Merritt)
7. “Home Is Where The Heart Is” (Merritt)
8. “I’m Just Wasting Time”
9. “Turkish Bath” (Bertles)
10. “Lay A Little Love On Me”
11. “Can’t Come Back”
Max’s recording ventures dropped away as the decades went on and he eventually moved to LA, but never forgot his Aussie roots. In fact during his time in Melbourne in 2002 while undertaking yet another tour, Max together with the Meteors entered the recording studio for the first time in almost a decade. Max cut four brand new tracks at the state-of-the-art Metropolis Studio in Bank Street South Melbourne for inclusion in an up-coming project.
“With a show at Crown Casino full to the brim, Max expanded the Meteors line-up in spectacular fashion by including John Montesante (Trumpet), Charles MacInnis (Trombone), Gary Deleo (Alto Sax), Jamie Oehlers (Tenor Sax), Nick Lester (Baritone Sax), John Bedggood and Justin Brady (Violins), Jenny Thomas (Viola), Michelle John (Cello), and backing vocalists Alvie Johns, John “JT” Toney, Lucy Gale and Shirley Davis, the Meteors had become a one-off eighteen piece outfit.
With sound, lighting and staging under the direction of the “A-Team”, Noel Bennett and Alex Saad, the audible gasp from the audience when the curtain went up at Crown Showroom was testament to the efforts that had gone into making this a very special event. This performance by Max Merritt and the Meteors was recorded in 5.1 sound by supremo Ernie Rose and digitally video taped for release on DVD. The sound track was also released on CD and includes the new studio tracks as a bonus.” [https://www.maxmerritt.com.au/maxmerritt/bio6.html]
So back to the LP under review – the self-titled Max Merritt and The Meteors. Haven’t got this LP, and would like it? Well, the bad news is that I could not locate a second hand vinyl LP for sale.
Now this doesn’t mean they don’t exist but the journey to find it may not be easy. I can find no mention of it being released on CD, however Raven have bought out a Max Merritt compilation on CD, with all these tracks on it, and it retails for around $30.00. Mind you other vinyl’s of Max and The Meteors do exist, and they may be better than nothing!
Sadly, in 2007 fans received some bad news. Max was stricken with Goodpastures Syndrome, a debilitating auto-immune disease that affects the kidneys and liver, forcing him to undergo regular dialysis treatments. He is largely confined to his Los Angeles home.
We revere our music heroes, and for me Max is one such person. Yet he is also still a man, a man who is now struggling with his health.
Without wanting to be ‘sugary/saccharin’, I would say, that Max is struggling financially, and if there is ever another benefit concert, or appeal – I hope that all of us that remember what he has given us, will now give something back; we can at least say a little prayer when we hear the beautiful and endearing music he has left us.
There are many wonderful clips of max with the meteors. Here are three that feature their best known songs including the best rack ever recorded by this group that is not on the LP.
Western Union Man
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
Click to open:
#1. Howling Wolf: Real Folk Blues