This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that 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.
Cream Of The Crate Reviews 1 to 50 were vinyl album reviews. The following fifty reviews (51 - 100) were originally marked as CD Reviews 1 - 50 and this numbering has been kept to keep consistency with the published CD reviews.
This is number thirty in the series of albums I’m featuring as part of an on-going retrospective of CD’s in my personal collection.
The series is called, “Cream of The Crate (CD’s)”, and they represent CD 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 their is something unique about the group or the music.
This is the sixth CD review of a CD album by an Australian artist. It is often said, that we leave the best to last! Well, this will not be the ‘last’, but by god, it might just be the best of the Australian artists so far reviewed.
The CD is by Jeff St John’s Copperwine and is entitled Joint Effort and was originally released in 1970 on vinyl, on the Spin label, and then again in 1971, also on vinyl, by Festival Records.
This CD is a reissue by Vicious Sloth Collectables in 1994 (VSC 013).
One terrific thing about the CD, is that all the tracks were taken directly from the original master tapes. This means we hear the mix the way the group and the producer originally meant it to be heard.
Like many of the Cd’s that have been produced post the original vinyl production, while all care has been taken with the audio side, the enclosed booklet which in this case a single wallet size page – folded, really does not do the reissue justice.
Sure there are a couple of hundred words by well known music writer – Ian McFarlane and give due, he writes well. But really, how can you get away with a reissue and not name ALL the members of the various line-ups that contributed to the success and the name – Copperwine?
Sure Jeff gets a mention (of course) and Wendy Saddington and Glyn Mason; and the liner notes do mention Ross East (guitar), Alan Ingram (bass), Barry Kelly (keyboards), Peter Figures (drums).
But surely as the years go on listeners should be aware of the other muso’s that contributed so much. So, I’ll name them! There was also Phil Wooding (guitar), Harry Brus (bass).
And hey! a few pictures of the various line-ups would have been nice as well!
OK, so the name of the album is “Joint Effort” and it behooves me to make mention of it, as a classic double entendre!
There is no doubt about it, it is a great effort by the band and the producer and engineer, but, it is also a reflection of the … well lets call a spade a spade – it’s also a recognition about the dope smoking that was utterly (and delightfully) rife at the time!
Jeff St John was indeed a remarkable man.
I actually remember him performing in the late 60’s, at venues like the Thumping Tum. It was amazing how he would throw himself around on stage in his wheel chair.
His wheel chair? For younger readers it should be noted that Jeff suffered from spina bifida, a complaint that haunted him throughout his career, and indeed his life after his career was over.
Because of this he was almost confined to a wheel chair, although there were occasions when he would appear with two walking sticks in some shows.
Other artists who had a form of a ‘disability’ such as Grantley Dee who was vision impaired, never looked comfortable on stage. However that was not the case with Jeff, he looked like, and acted like, he owned the stage.
He would “throw” the wheelchair around on two-wheels while singing his head off, and I suspect that I was not the only one who never saw a man in a wheelchair, but an artist putting on and “top” performance.
In order to provide just a brief bio of his career, I went to the following site – Jeffrey St John and the Embers
From 1961-1963: Vocalist, T.C.N.. Channel Nine, Sydney. In fact he was a regular feature vocalist on a range of teenage variety programmes.
From 1965-1971 he was Lead Vocalist Member of the bands including The Id, Yama, and Copperwine.
Both The Id and Copperwine achieved national success, both live and and with recordings.
These groups had Top Ten hit singles. (Big Time Operator – The Id), (Teach Me How To Fly – Copperwine).
1972-1982 he was self Employed. Jeff operated a successful career in entertainment, performing the roles of performer, writer (music and dialogue), producer and business manager. He was the first artist outside America to be released on the ASYLUM label. With them he had National Top Ten hit single with Fool In Love.
From 1982 until recently he has done a lot of things including collaboration with Universities on various programs for the disabled, lecture tours on the same matter, plus building a beautiful Harley Davidson trike and of course fronting Jeffrey St John & The Embers.
Throughout his whole career the single most stunning thing about St John, was his voice!
Amazing, as a description, begins to describe it. In the liner notes Ian McFarlane writes, “Rock writer David ‘Dr Pepper’ Pepperell made no secret of his views when he praised singer Jeff St John’s voice for its limitless power, its precise and meaningful phrasing and it’s sweetness…”like honey dripping from the hive”.“
Writer Glenn A. Baker , wrote when describing what Jeff’s voice, called it a, “….roaring, finely controlled voice“.
It is impossible to challenge either of these opinions – he had a voice that was to be believed.
So, the tracks do some justice to that voice. However never loose sight of the fact that no matter how well he sounds on a recording, it is and never was, as good as he sounded live.
This is because the power of his delivery was beautifully melded into the power of his presence!
1. Cloud Nine
2. Sing A Simple Song
3. Fanciful Flights
4. Any Orange Night
5. You Don’t Have To Listen
6. I Been Treated Wrong
7. Days To Come
8. Reach Out
9. Can’t Find My Way Home
11. I Remember
12. Environment In 3 Parts
a) At the Party, Mrs. Prothero (Environment, Part 1)
b) How many People (Environment, Part 2)
c) Highway (Environment, Part 3)
13. Teach Me How To Fly
14. Freedom Blues
16. Keep On Growing
I’ll kick off the examples of the tracks on this fantastic album, with track #2 – Sing a Simple Song.
This is a great song made famous by Sly & the Family Stone. However the Copperwine put their own mark on the track, but in doing so kept that heavy ‘funk’ sound that was the success of the piece.
However Jeff takes it to another level especially when he hits the falsetto parts. It makes the skin on the nape of your neck stand up.
This track is a great example of the description of his deliver as being powerful. It may be a “Simple Song”, but there is nothing simple about the arrangement and delivery by Jeff and the Copperwine!
Sing A Simple Song
But Jeff’s voice was also perfect for a more of a ballad approach and it seemed appropriate to look at a track written by Jeff and drummer, Peter Figures.
Track #3 is Fanciful Flights.
It features a nice piece of sitar work and a lovely piece of acoustic guitar and Jeff singing with that “Honey Dripping” sound that was so well identified by Dr. Pepper.
Sadly, I could find no indication of who provided the female backing vocals on this track. I wonder if it was either Janice Slater or Alison McCallum, both of whom did sing backing vocals with Jeff at different stages.
It is a very nice composition and did give some indication of the ability of Jeff to construct a song. It was ironical that in the end he left the group over a disagreements that included his song writing.
The year was 1969, and “heady” years they were, and this track slips into the groove of the period so well.
Track #8 is a Holland Dozier Holland composition – Reach Out.
This is a track that has been recorded by a number of artists, the most well known being by the Four Tops.
I love the way Jeff starts by singing in a whisper, before opening his lungs and letting it all, “reach out“.
Again, the arrangement is excellent and while the chord progression is faithful to the original, yet, the arrangement is different enough to make it very interesting.
The organ playing while dominating the music, does not dominate the track, that is left to Jeff, whose swirling delivery was a feature of the live performances.
So while this is not a live performance, in many ways it is an excellent example of how those of us who were fortunate to hear him live, heard him.
Now it would make perfect sense to feature the BIG hit, Teach Me How To Fly. I wasn’t going to because there is an excellent video clip, and I try to not duplicate the audio tracks with the video tracks – this is an exception!
So we listen and discuss track #13 – Teach Me How To Fly.
This is in fact what might be called his “opus magnum” – a brilliant composition by Sid Barnes from Rotary Connection.
Yet Jeff and the Copperwine made it their own. Released in Australia in 1970 it reached #3 Sydney, #29 Melbourne, #6 Brisbane, #6 Adelaide & #30 Perth.
In many ways it deserved better, but then again many pieces of music that charted higher have long been forgotten, but ask anyone who knows of Jeff St John, and ask for his best piece of music, and chances are this track will be nominated.
The track starts in the key of F#, not usually the first choice by music writers, and it works beautifully.
The track starts it fairly gently, but soon mutates into a powerful upbeat track that is almost impossible not to sing along with, even if it is simply the refrain, “Teach me how to fly!”.
The middle eight guitar break and piano is short but stunning and all over, you could be forgiven for thinking it was written specifically for Jeff.
If any track combines all the elements of his voice that have been identified so far, this track provides it!
Given that Teach Me How To Fly has become so synonymous with a man largely confined to a wheel chair, the irony is not lost with lyrics such as:
Heard you got back on your- feet again
after falling, down so far!
well I’m so damn glad you reached the top
I’m so glad to see just, where you are !
Here I am , still on the bottom,
look at us, and give us a sign
Teach me teach me how to fly
Teach me teach me how to fly
Teach Me How To Fly
I’m glad the old vinyl Vs Cd argument is dead, even if it is replaced with Cd Vs streaming, because as I have remarked in previous Cream of The Crate Cd’s, it has meant that great albums have remained intact and available long after the vinyl has, for most people, become unplayable.
This album deserves to be remembered and played.
It takes us back to those wonderful years when we were rich with talent and no longer need to look beyond our shores for music and artists to appreciate, and, dare I say – venerate!
The tracks I have chosen to feature are by no means the only good one’s. This album is choc-a-block full of excellent material, from Cloud Nine through to Hummingbird – it’s a journey of discovery that YOU should take.
Jeff St John, regardless of the band behind him, made an impact upon the stage and our music psyche!
With Copperwine he really shone.
This album is a MUST for any one who appreciates great Australian talent. It is a must for anyone who collects Australian music, and, it is a must for anyone who cares enough about supporting folk with disabilities.
Yet it is because of people like Jeff St John we begin to understand that the term “disability” is not correct.
They do not have a disability, they simply have a different way of operating in the world, and given half a chance don’t just rise to the top but raise the bar that defines the top.
The Cd is available on Ebay, but there was only one copy in Oz, bringing around $25.00 (inc postage), but in the UK they wanted nearly $60.00.
It’s a bit of a hit and miss thing, there have been copies available for around $12.00 and Discogs report the average price is $16.00 – but the market is not exactly flooded with copies, so if you see it – do not hesitate, grab it!!
Thank you Jeff St John for it all!
Youtube, that first place of call for any music video, has a a number of “video’s available of Jeff, but not many with Copperwine, and even fewer with Jeff live.
So here is all that I could locate, starting with the well known and loved, “Teach Me How To Fly”! Frankly if you value quality over quantity, you won’t be disappointed, even though it is lip-synched. [ps – excellent quality!]
Teach Me How To Fly
Rock and Roll Man
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
Click to open the following CD reviews:
#21. 2nu – Ponderous