Thursday, May 29, 2014

THE MARCUS HOOK ROLL BAND: The seeds of AC/DC! An EXCLUSIVE interview with producer WALLY WALLER!

Let There Be The Marcus Hook Roll Band:
Malcolm and Angus Young shake the foundations!

An EXCLUSIVE interview with producer WALLY WALLER

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

     The Marcus Hook Roll Band barely caused a ripple when their sole album, Tales Of Old Grand Daddy, was released in 1973. In fact, the band’s legend only grew when the band’s two young guitarists, Malcolm Young and Angus Young, went on to form AC/DC, one of the greatest Hard Rock bands of all time. But The Marcus Hook Roll Band was not a proto-type for AC/DC.  In fact, Malcolm and Angus had no hand in the songwriting department.  The brains behind The Marcus Hook Roll band were Harry Vanda and George Young – Malcolm and Angus’ older brother – who had been the creative forces behind ‘60s Australian hitmakers The Easybeats (‘Friday On My Mind’). Harry and George had relocated the UK, where they wrote songs for other artists and recorded under a handful of different pseudonyms. They hooked up with British producer and former Pretty Things member Alan ‘Wally’ Waller, who manned the boards for their single ‘Natural Man,’ which was released under the name the Marcus Hook Roll Band.  Wally saw a lot of potential in the band and was responsible for getting them signed to EMI, the label that he was contracted with at the time. EMI ordered up another single (‘Louisiana Lady’) and, eventually, an album.  By the time Wally contacted Vanda and Young about EMI agreeing to an album, they had already moved back to Australia.  The duo had no desire to return to the UK and make the album so Wally booked his flight and headed to the land Down Under.  In the meantime, Harry and George recruited Malcolm and, to a lesser extent, Angus Young to be part of the band. The actual recording sessions for the album went well, although the flow of alcohol has dimmed the memories of all involved.  Vanda and Young were the dominant musical forces on the album, but there are moments when a few of the impressive guitar riffs leap off the album and command attention – these were our first glimpses into the genesis of AC/DC.  Powerful stuff.
     By the time the album was completed and the tapes were turned over to EMI in the UK, interest in the project had waned and the label decided to pass on releasing the album. Vanda and Young arranged to have the album released in Australia but, for all intents and purposes, that was the end of the Marcus Hook Roll Band.  Malcolm and Angus went off and formed AC/DC later that year.  Vanda and Young would continue to write songs, eventually performing under the name Flash & The Pan and scoring a worldwide hit in 1978 with their single ‘Hey St. Peter.’  Flash & The Pan would continue to record sporadically throughout the ‘80s and into the ‘90s. The Tales Of Old Grand Daddy would eventually be issued a few times to capitalize on the success of AC/DC and Flash & The Pan, but never in its original intended form.  In 2014, the album will finally be released as originally intended – including the ‘whiskey label’ cover - with some bonus tracks added including the first two non-album singles and unreleased material.  For those looking for an AC/DC fix, the guitar sound and style is undeniable on some tracks.  However, the album is more of a precursor to Flash & The Pan than Malcolm and Angus’ more popular outfit. 
     Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with producer Wally Waller to discuss his involvement with The Marcus Hook Roll Band, the making of the album and more…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE:  Tales Of Old Grand Daddy is just about to be reissued.  Everyone’s making such a big deal about the project because of Malcolm and Angus Young’s involvement, but I approach this from the whole Vanda-Young angle because of their work with The Easybeats.  How did the whole thing come about?
WALLY WALLER:  I was an in-house producer at EMI at the time. Somebody rang up and said, “Can I make an appointment to see you?”  Working for someone like EMI, people send stuff to you all the time.  I used to plow my way through bags of tapes that were mailed in and it’s really awful because most of it was just pure shite (laughing).  You know, people, God bless them, they really think they’ve got something really good and when they come in person, you hate to see their faces when you don’t say, “Well I’m going to sign you,” you know?  It’s depressing at times. So, when I was putting his tape on, I was mentally running through some excuses I might be able to use (laughing).    But lo and behold, I listened to it and I was knocked out.  It was great.  I loved the songs.  I’d been waiting for this for a long time.  So, it was great to hear the two that I immediately liked, and wanted to record.  I said, “Who is this?  I want to get these guys in the studio.”  So he said “Basically this is George and Harry from the Easybeats.”  So, when we started, the only Young brother there was George. On those early singles that I made with them at Abbey Road, Malcolm or Angus weren’t involved with either of them - it was Harry and George’s mates from Glasgow really. John Tait, who wrote the Vanda and Young bible, Inside Australia’s Hit Factory - he calls them the Glasgow Mafia.  There was a guy called Freddie Smith on drums and a guy called Ian Campbell on bass, and George and Harry played guitars.

SPAZ: So, in all your travels with The Pretty Things, you hadn’t met The Easybeats while on tour? You didn’t know Harry or George before this project?
WALLY:  No, I didn’t.  I was meeting them for the first time.  I joined The Pretty Things at the end of ’66, so I missed the first two years. If The Easybeats did any gigs with The Pretty Things, they didn’t do them once I joined.  But it was great to know them.  I loved the songs so I thought, yeah that’s great – I wanted to work with them.  They’d obviously been around a bit and they did a bit of production themselves.  I guess they came to seek me out.  There were about eight or nine people working at EMI at the time who were in-house producers.  I was just one of them.  But, this guy came to see me in particular.  So, I guess George and Harry must’ve thought, “Maybe this guy can bring something to the party,” because they’d had a few things going on, but nothing had stuck. I guess they were looking for somebody else with a slightly different take, a slightly different angle.  

SPAZ:    You produced the ‘Natural Man’ single at Abbey Road, which is a very unique record.  Was it difficult to put this record together and not be influenced by what was going on around you like the Glam scene?
WALLY:   Well, there was other stuff going on like that, but I didn’t feel a real affinity with Glam or that kind of stuff.  I would never be tempted to make that kind of record.  I knew that that was something that was going to pass.  I had a feeling that something like ‘Natural Man’ was a much more permanent thing.  I think it stands up even today.  The mix has its faults, but I think the song is great. But I don’t know what I did with the drums!  If you listen to everything else, you know I’m big on drums.  You can hear it.   The bass and drums – it’s the engine room.  It’s the thing that everything’s based on.  It builds from there.  And essential to that, of course, is the drum sound. Especially on the album we made in Australia, I’m very happy with what we did with the drums. 

SPAZ:  You recorded the album in Australia. Was that the first time you met Malcolm and Angus?
WALLY:   EMI - they weren’t really too hot on Marcus Hook, but they didn’t really know - they weren’t real music people to me.  They were just executives that didn’t have their heart and soul in the music business and everything was just units and stuff.  I think someone from Capitol, who was EMI’s sister company in America, got on the phone and said, “Listen, this ‘Natural Man’ single sounds great.  We must have an album.  Let’s get working on this act.”  So, EMI now thinks, “Oh, this must be a good band.  This must be worth getting on with.”  So, they come rushing at me and said, “We must have an album,” and I said “Well, it’s a bit too late.  George and Harry have gone back to Australia, so if you want an album, you’re gonna have to send me to Australia.”  So they went for that.  They sent me to Australia and when I got there, the lineup was Harry on guitar, Malcolm on guitar, and George on bass, and John Proud on drums, and that’s how we went along for a couple of days.  Malcolm was real hot.  So I said to George, “You know, your kid brother, he’s really something.”   He said, “Yeah, I know. I’ve got another one like him at home.” (laughs)  So, the next day he turns up with Angus and I was blown away.  I mean. what a family.   So, Malcolm, he used to turn up, and Angus used to turn up now and again and he played on stuff.  I think George just really wanted to get him to see the inside of the studio and get the feel of it and so it was great.  It was great having him around.  The whole thing was a good vibe, actually.  I really enjoyed making the album. 

Angus, Malcolm and George Young (Photo by Phillip Morris)

SPAZ:  And the older Young brother, Alex, was also on the track ‘Louisiana Lady,’ right? 
WALLY:   ‘Louisiana Lady’ was the second single that we made at Abbey Road.  I actually already knew Alex.  The first band I was in, I worked in Hamburg.  I’m now going back to ’62, ’63.  I was a fresh faced teenager.  I came from a very small town and I knew nothing about the big wide world and suddenly I was plunked down in the middle of Hamburg.  I mean, it was unbelievable.  I was a boy when I went to Hamburg and when I came back I was a very happy boy.  (Laughs)  But, anyway, one of the people I met was Alex.  And when Alex turned up at Abbey Road with George and Harry to put some tracks down on “Louisiana Lady,” it was then I realized I knew Alex.

SPAZ:  Everyone is talking about Malcolm and Angus’ involvement. I feel that something like “Quick Reaction” was really close to what AC/DC would sound like but I felt that the rest of the album was almost a blueprint for Flash and the Pan. They were most certainly a creative team…
WALLY:  George and Harry would come up to me and they’d say, “What about this?  Should we try this?”  They had so many songs.  I came back with so much material from Sydney on that trip.  I mean, there was loads of stuff I had to leave off and I think that because of the chaotic way that EMI was broken up, quite a few years ago, I don’t think anybody really realized what they were sitting on.    stuff like this.  On this release there are two new unreleased tracks.

SPAZ:  You wrote ‘Moonshine Blues,’ which was a B-side.  Its great tune with this Psychedelic bass riff going through the whole thing, but it’s essentially a Blues song…
WALLY:  When I first went to work at EMI, they said, “Listen, if you want to get a decent recording budget for anything you do, if you have any singles, make sure one of the EMI companies gets the publishing on the B-side.  So, when I started working with the Marcus Hook Roll Band, I said to George and Harry, “It would be really good if we can give the publishing of the B-side, to EMI.”  They both looked at me and said, “Well, we can’t because all our publishing is owned lock, stock and barrel by Alberts in Australia.”  So I said, “Well, they’re only B-sides, why don’t I knock out some B-sides and put them out.”  They said okay.  It was never any problem. So, I didn’t really think too much about it. I didn’t want it to sound like a Pretty Things song.  I made it kind of like a Marcus Hook Roll Band song. Most of it I did myself. There were actually three singles, and I recorded the B-sides for them.  I think ‘Moonshine Blues’ was the only B side that I actually got Harry to put a vocal on, and I think I got Malcolm to put some licks and stuff on it as well.  So, on the other ones – there was one song, I forgot what it’s called now, but I found out subsequently, when they released it in Portugal all those years ago, they took my piece of crap and made it the A-side.  I couldn’t believe it.  I mean, it was never meant to be anything but a throwaway B-side.  George and Harry wrote great songs and it was such a travesty that somebody put it out as a single.

SPAZ:  The album was only released in Australia, right?  
WALLY:  Right, yes.  What happened was once I got everything finished and everything produced and done, Capitol got on to George and Harry who were then in Australia and said, “Okay we want to move on putting a tour together.  We want to get behind this and want to get something really happening, we’re really hot on this.”  George and Harry said, “No, we don’t want to tour. We want to stay in Australia. We’re here, we like what we’re doing, we’re gonna stay here producing…”  So Capitol said, “Well, without a tour, we’re not interested in the band.”  So, they pulled the plug and then they told EMI that we’re not interested anymore and EMI, now that Capitol didn’t want it, they thought it must be rubbish.  So, they forgot about it and put it on the shelf. George and Harry arranged to release the album - the copyright was still owned by EMI, but they bought the copyright for a five year period and so it was released in Australia and did reasonably well.  I had left EMI by then.  I didn’t even know it had a release, but then five years after that, I think, when AC/DC had started making some big noises, Capitol put out a version of it.  I think it was called Full File, which was all the singles as well, and so everything they could find from the Marcus Hook Roll Band. 

George Young and Harry Vanda (Photo By Phillip Morris)

SPAZ:   Is this new version of the album the definitive version? 
WALLY:   Well, I haven’t really mixed anything so it’s exactly as it was.  I had been to Abbey Road a few months ago when the project was on the drawing board to get the stuff out of the archives and listen to everything, and I was very pleasantly surprised at the technical quality of what I heard. A lot of old stuff hasn’t survived so well.  EMI tape, apparently, doesn’t have to be baked in ovens.  I think Ampex tape had a lot of problems, but for some reason, EMI tape was manufactured in a different way and I was very, very pleased to hear the fidelity was really good.  I was very happy that we didn’t have to go through all the shenanigans of trying to rescue tapes and everything.  And not only that, I think also, when these kind of recordings come to light normally from somebody like the Young brothers, you don’t really expect it to be a proper bit of recording.  Putting aside the quality of the songs and, dare I say it, the production (laughs), the technical quality stood up so well. 

SPAZ:  Now, what’s next for Wally Waller?
WALLY:  A friend of mine from The Pretty Things, Jon Povey, and I are starting a project soon called The Bexley Brothers because we both came from a place called Bexley.  So did Phil May and so did Dick Taylor and some of the other Pretty Things … But, Jon and I have been doing some stuff for a long time.  The first band we were in, we used to do a lot of harmony singing stuff and so we’re still at it (laughs).  He lives in Spain, and he’s coming over next month and we’re gonna sit down and see what’s what. 

SPAZ:  What have you been spinning on your CD, DVD and record players?
WALLY:  This is a terrible admission, I have to say, but I’m not somebody who listens a great deal to what’s going on.  I haven’t heard a lot recently - and what I have heard, I haven’t really been knocked out by.  If I were to pull out an album now, I’d maybe listen to something like Buffalo Springfield.  I might want to listen to some Neil Young.  I tend to listen to and like the people who have really touched me, you know?  Bob Dylan, naturally.  Oh, you know who I listened to the other day and I thought - they really knocked me out, and that was The Traveling Wilburys.  I mean the stuff they did, it’s just so naturally good - good playing, good vibes.  And that reminds me of the kind of vibe I remember from the Marcus Hook Roll Band in Australia.  It was a real good time, you know, where everybody was just happy to be making music together.  We all got on together, and it had a real good vibe. To me I can hear it – maybe other people can too, but it was a good time.

Thanks to Wally Waller

Special thanks to Joe Bucklew, Dana House, Kevin Day and Melissa Dragish-Cordero





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