Jeff Duff is perhaps almost as well known for his flamboyant wardrobe and often provocative performance style as he is for his music, but the singer is quick to point out that he doesn’t see himself that way. “Whatever I do is me. I don’t try to be the most flamboyant person around.”
But it is a tantalising combination of these attributes that has entertained a wide audience of music fans since the 70s as Jeff has performed not only his own numerous songs but those of other iconic performers such as David Bowie, Lou Reed and even Frank Sinatra. This weekend, he is bringing his show Walk on the Wild Side to Melbourne for one show only at the Caravan Music Club. Jeff and his band, the all-star Coney Island Babies will be performing the music of Lou Reed & The Velvet Underground including Reed’s ‘Transformer’ album in its entirety as well as some classic Iggy Pop tunes.
“I did a record with Walk on the Wild Side when I first arrived in London in the late 80s/early 90s. There’s an incredible video where David Bowie’s makeup artist did my makeup. I was already doing a Bowie show and people said why don’t you do a Lou Reed show? And it’s just grown from that.”
Jeff’s first foray into entertainment was on a TV show called The Tarax Show. The program featured a ventriloquist named Ron Blaskett with a doll named Gerry Gee. Jeff recalls “I was about 7 when I went on television being a ventriloquist. I wasn’t very good.” But the experience led him to the bright lights of show business. He knew this was what he wanted to do. “I was learning drums. I was young and didn’t have any money. I was about 10 or 11 so I decided to make my own drum kit out of saucepans, cardboard, whatever and I won an art competition and I had to go on television again, playing my drums. Eventually when I was about 12 and at Canterbury State School, I joined a little band. I was only drumming then, and I said ‘That’s boring. I want to sing and get out the front’ and I started playing the drums and singing.” Eventually Jeff left the drumming behind to focus on singing. He joined a few bands before joining Kush. “I was still at Art School and as you know, we had a couple of albums and we were on Countdown all the time. We did lots of television, mainly because of my exhibitionist attitude towards performing I suppose.”
“I was definitely rubbing against the grain when I lived in Melbourne,” he admits, “Wearing leotards, makeup and wedding dresses when everybody else is in jeans and T-shirts and I guess I gained a lot of publicity for the way I looked. That’s why Molly Meldrum called us Snow White and The Eight Straights.”
He talks about the time he was arrested in London. “The record company, when I was signing my recording contract said ‘We want to take a topical photograph of you outside the Prime Minister’s house. Come out front of the Prime Minister’s house and take off your clothes. I said ‘OK, that sounds all right.’ And I did that and of course I was arrested.”
Jeff also relates the story of the time he had his photo on the front page of the newspaper in Ballarat after he appeared on stage wearing a costume, he had made with parts of rubber dolls attached to rather provocative places on a leotard. “Believe it or not, I was asked to perform at a Ballarat Army School end of year ball and it was an outrageous event so I designed this costume and when I walked out on stage, I remember there were a couple of girls in the front row dressed as nuns and they thought I was disgusting.”
Subsequently, the police were called, and Jeff was hauled off the stage. “The next thing I knew I was on the front page of the Sunday Observer and I was in court defending my honour,” he laughs.
Jeff’s career sees him constantly on the move, travelling, performing and when he is not on the road, he plays tennis and cricket regularly. He says he leads a very healthy and active lifestyle. “I’ve always played sport. I don’t drink, I don’t gamble, I’ve never taken any drugs. I’m really very, very boring and straight.” Somehow, I don’t think anyone would describe Jeff Duff as ‘boring’!
You can catch Jeff performing his Walk on The Wild Side show this Saturday, 11th May at the Caravan Music Club in Bentleigh East.
For tickets, go to: https://www.caravanmusic.com.au/
by Sharyn Hamey