“I’m self-destructive if left to my own devices.”
Stevie Wright passed away on December 27, 2015. He’s not as big as David Bowie, or legendary like Lemmy or a pop culture icon like Glenn Frey. But he is important to Australia and the music scene within Australia.
And he his life is one of those stories you need to tell.
Stevie was born in England and came to Australia when he was nine. He became the lead singer in a band called “The Easybeats” in 1964. The band had George Young (another migrant to Australia from Scotland, who is also the older brother of Malcolm and Angus Young) on guitar and Harry Vanda (another migrant to Australia from Holland) also on guitar.
The Easybeats were signed to Albert Music. Anyone who is Australian is aware of Albert’s contribution to finding the “Australian sound” in the Sixties and in the Seventies. The Easybeats were the first big act from Alberts paving the way for other artists like Billy Thorpe, AC/DC, Rose Tattoo, The Angels and The Choirboys.
“She’s So Fine” was an early hit for “The Easybeats” from the first album “Easy” released in 1965. Stevie Wright co-write it with George Young.
The intro riff from George Young grabs you straight away. It’s just a few chords (that Nikki Sixx used for “Kick Start My Heart” in the verses), but the break in between the chrods for the singing is genius. That is what AC/DC built their career on.
“Sorry” is another riff heavy song for the era. The beauty of the Australian sound is an amalgamation of US Pop and Rock Music, US Delta Blues and UK Rock, Blues and Pop. “Funny Feelin’” and “You Said That” fall into the amalgamation of US and UK sounds.
When The Easybeats first went to the UK, their label United Artists told the guys that they will not be releasing any of the early songs as they didn’t feel that the lyrics were good enough. All of those lyrics were written by Stevie Wright and from that point on, he never wrote another lyric for The Easybeats.
And of course, the big international song from The Easybeats, is “Friday on My Mind” written by Vanda And Young. Everyone knows it, and a lot of artists have covered it. Gary Moore even had a hit with it in the Eighties. It was actually Gary Moore’s version that made me do some research into the song. Bon Scott admitted in the late Seventies that “The Easybeats” were the last rock band that he liked and that AC/DC is taking over where they left off.
But it’s hard to follow-up a hit song and by 1969, The Easybeats had broken up. Vanda and Young returned to England and started their song writing/production career in an attempt to pay off the debts they had accumulated in the UK during the last two years of The Easybeats existence. Stevie stayed in Australia and tried to form other bands, but it didn’t work. He had to start over again, but he wanted the adulation he had with The Easybeats. By 1971, Wright found himself without a job, a home or any real inspiration.
Fast forward to 1972, Stevie Wright is cast in the Australian stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar and introduced to more rock and roll excesses, this time, heroin. Drugs were the norm. A lot of bios I have read mentioned that most musicians turned to drugs because they just didn’t know how to deal with fame. They’d go on stage, play to the audience, experience the high and then they had the endless travel and the comedown from the gig. Drugs and the party lifestyle filled in the gaps between shows.
“It was fabulous piano playing that was out of this world. And I couldn’t believe it. And I said, ‘What’s with him?’ And somebody said (whispering) ‘He’s on heroin’. So that’s it, I got into it and it made me violently ill. My illness lasted for nearly three days. And I still got up and thought ‘I’ll have another go at this’, you know, ‘I’ll win, I’ll beat it’. And by the time I’d beaten it, it had me.”
It was “Superstar” that re-established Stevie Wright in the eyes of the public. Fast forward towards the end of 1973 and Wright was signed with Albert Productions. Ted Albert invited Wright to listen to some songs and the Harry Vanda and George Young penned “ Hard Road” that told the story of a teenager leaving home to follow his dream of being a rock and roll star stood out immediately.
In April 1974, he released his debut solo LP, “Hard Road”, which featured the Harry Vanda and George Young 11 minute penned single “Evie (Parts 1, 2 & 3)”. The song became a hit. And what a song it is.
The three-part movement covers so many different musical styles, it became impossible to not like. Part 1 is all Blues/Rock. Part 2 is ballad folk rock. Part 3 is Soul/Funk/R&B. Brilliant.
Lyrically, the three parts tell the following story;
Part 1: Evie (Let Your Hair Hang Down) captures the initial courting phase of a relationship
Part 2: Evie: describing a wonderful life together
Part 3: Evie (I’m Losing You): the emotional loss during childbirth
No one forecasted or predicted the response “Evie” got. It remained at number 1 in the charts for half a year.
But the album did have some other nasty rock cuts and “Hard Road” is one such song that deserves some attention. If you want to compare it to something, it is basically an AC/DC song that AC/DC didn’t write. The song also features Malcolm Young on guitar.
Well my Mum and Pop they told me boy you know you’re just a fool yes they did.
When I told them I was leaving home and I was leaving school, yes I was.
So in a couple of hours I found myself heading’ down a south-bound road.
With everything I own upon my back, I carry such a heavy load.
Ooow, well it’s a hard, long road that I travel.
Yeah, it’s a hard, hard road that I travel.
Kids today don’t understand that once upon a time in order to pursue your rock and roll dreams you needed to pack up and leave the comfort of your home.
“Movin’ On Up” and “Commando Line” are both written by Stevie Wright and even though the songs pale compared to “Evie”, they are important as it showed that Stevie Wright can still write songs.
The personnel on the album is a supergroup of musicians. Stevie Wright (The Easybeats) is on vocals, George Young (The Easybeats) is on bass, Harry Vanda (The Easybeats) and Malcolm Young (AC/DC) are on guitar, John Proud (contributed uncredited drums to AC/DC’s “High Voltage” album) is on drums and Warren Morgan (Chain, Sherbet, Billy Thorpe, etc) is on piano. And you can hear the power that this supergroup produces on the recording.
But the star of the album was and still is, the full 11 minutes of “Evie”.
Another Vanda & Young produced LP, “Black-eyed Bruiser”, followed in 1975, but it failed to do anything, which is a shame because “Black-Eyed Bruiser” is one helluva of a song. Of course it’s also written by Harry Vanda and George Young.
The riff to “Black-Eyed Bruiser” is a recycled version of “You Really Got Me” from The Kinks. Vocally, Stevie Wright is basically Bon Scott.
“You” is another classic song, in the vein of “Knockin On Heaven’s Door” with a big “Hey Jude” ending written by Vanda and Young. How can you not love the ending, when the female gospel choir takes over with “All I Want Is You”.
Atlantic Records in the U.S had a plan worked out to market Stevie Wright, but that monkey on Stevie’s back was not letting go. He overdosed and he made some attempts to get clean. A visit to Chelmsford Hospital would affect him forever. Chelmsford was notorious for a treatment known as deep sleep therapy, which led to the deaths of patients during treatment and many more killed themselves within a year after treatment. Stevie had fourteen electric shock treatments and his mental health suffered further. The psychiatrist, Harry Bailey, committed suicide when his therapy was exposed as a fraud.
There was the Concert of the Decade on the steps of the Sydney Opera House in 1979 and a reunion of The Easybeats in 1986. In between it was all craziness. Addictions merged with crazy people. There was a time when Stevie lived with an underworld drug lord/murderer. He became an alcoholic. He was caught by the police attempting a robbery. He had drug charges against him when he was caught. He was in a nursing home close to two years, stamped to never come out.
But he did get out, because that is what Stevie Wright does. He gets knocked down and he gets back up again. A tablet prescribed from a neurologist got him back to reality. It’s worth noting, there is no Stevie Wright story from the 80’s onwards without Fay Walker, the woman who stuck by him all the way to the end.
But there is no denying, that his Easybeats friends, Vanda and Young went on to become rock and roll royalty in Australia and honoured by the industry while Stevie’s fortunes, hit rock bottom. But without Stevie Wright, there would be no Easybeats and the Australian Rock Sound.
Rest in peace, your hard road has come to an end. And thanks for the memories and those emotive performances.