Australian music legend Jim Keays died this morning. Photo: Carbie Warbie
Jim Keays, who helped kick off garage rock in Australia and then helped transform the Masters Apprentices into one of the best pop and rock bands of the 1960s and ‘70s, has died.
Keays, who was 67, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma seven years ago but released an album of modern garage rock in 2012, recently recorded another album and continued touring with two of his '60s contemporaries, Darryl Cotton and Russell Morris as Cotton Keays and Morris.
He died at 10.30 this morning from pneumonia related to the multiple myeloma ( a type of blood cancer). He had been admitted to intensive care of The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago when the illness got serious but it was thought that he was on "the road to recovery".
Vale Jim Keays
The Masters Apprentices, from left, are Glenn Wheatley, Jim Keays, Doug Ford, and front, Colin Burgess. 1969 Photo: Fairfax Archives
Morris paid tribute, saying: "Jim was one of my closest, and dearest friends - I spoke to him everyday. He was exceptionally brave, erudite, funny and incredibly talented. I loved him very much, and I will miss him greatly - but he will live on; in our hearts, and through the wonderful music he created."
Melbourne guitarist Davey Lane, who made the bristling Dirty Dirty album in 2012 with Keays and Ted Lethborg, was in the studio again this year making a follow up.
Keays heard the mastered version of the album only last week and was "really proud of the record and was looking forward to people hearing it," Lane told Fairfax Media.
"He had such a unique voice and was such a great raconteur ... it was an honour to have him as a friend," Lane said. "As much as today hits you like a hammer, I’ll take away great memories of the time I spent with him. He finished doing what he started doing, making good rock ‘n’ roll."
Keays' legacy includes Australian standards such as Living In A Child’s Dream, Turn Up Your Radio and Because I Love You, as well as inspiration to a generation of rock frontmen around the country.
The singer with the shock of long hair and the nasally voice that was all vim and vinegar became the frontman of Adelaide instrumental band the Mustangs in early 1965 and they transformed themselves into the raw, rhythm-and-blues outfit the Masters Apprentices.
Taking their cues from the likes of the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones and the Pretty Things, the Masters Apprentices took American blues, added snotty attitude and within a year went from placing third in the Adelaide heat of Hoadley’s National Battle Of The Sounds to releasing one of the classic underground Australian singles, Undecided/War or Hands Of Time.
Although they’d started as a R&B combo in 1965 along the lines of other seminal Australian bands such as the Loved Ones, the Missing Links and the Purple Hearts, by the end of the decade, the Masters had travelled from punkish rock to pop to psychedelia and then onto a kind of compressed progressive rock on their landmark 1971 album Choice Cuts.
That album, which was recorded in the Abbey Road studios, just missed the top 10 in Australia and earned excellent reviews in the UK, now is recognised as the equal of anything released around the world that year.
Keays was one of the mainstays of the band as it went through several traumatic line-up changes, including gaining future manager and impresario Glenn Wheatley on bass and losing original writer Mick Bower. Wheatley, who was to be the power behind the rise of John Farnham a decade later, described Keays as "the consummate showman".
"Jim had an aura about him: you always knew when he was in the room," said Wheatley. “Always the Master, never the Apprentice.”
As a sign of Keays' importance and influence, rather than end the band, the loss of Bower gave Keays an opportunity to step up as a writer in the Master’s Apprentices with new guitarist Doug Ford. It was this pairing which was responsible for hits such as 5-10 Man, Turn Up Your Radio and the quintessential Australian rock ballad, Because I Love You.
While the band split in 1972 as their advanced but ignored album A Toast To Panama Red failed to chart, Keays never stopped performing or being excited by music. His vitality and passion for music saw him embrace punk in the mid '70s at the time many of his contemporaries sneered at it or were frightened away, and more recently become a fan of groups such as the Black Keys and the White Stripes.
"A lot of my peers thought [punk] was rubbish but it was a revelation because it was close to my heart because the Masters were a punk band," Keays told Fairfax Media two years ago when he was promoting Dirty Dirty, the album of tough rock songs recorded with a bunch of young musicians, including Davey Lane of You Am I.
Asked then why he had kept going through a couple of decades where "if I did a demo and took it into a record company they would laugh me out the door", a smiling Keays had a simple answer.
"Foolhardiness" he said. "It's what I do." And this was what drove him on after an almost fatal kidney failure in the UK in 2007 led to diagnosis of the relatively rare cancer, multiple myeloma.
A "shocked" Stephen Cummings, whose first record purchase was the Undecided/War or Hands Of Time single, called the Masters "the best Australian group at the time". He remembered too an encounter with Keays in the early '80s.
"I recall playing at a western Sydney leagues club with The Sports, The Church and Jim Keays' was the opener," Cumming said. "Jim and I talked and he asked me if I had bought a house yet. Not an idea that had ever occurred to me. I mean we were peaking, the Church were the new kings and there was Jim with a rock and roll heart and not much else. But it made an impression on me and helped me take stock."
Red Wiggle Murray Cook said he was saddened by the news, having met Keays several times - the most memorable of which was at the 1998 ARIAs.
"We [had] won the kids ARIA, which was presented just after the Masters were inducted into the Hall of Fame. We were backstage starstruck because the Masters were just over there. Jim came over and said, 'It's the Wiggles. My kids love you guys'. He was so gracious and we were thrilled. Such a lovely man. And one of the greats."
Keays had been putting the finishing touches to his latest rock album, which was due for release in August.
He leaves behind his partner, Karin and three children, Holly, Bonnie and James.
- with Martin Boulton