Warren Morgan
By David N. Pepperell

In the first part of David N. Pepperell’s interview the returned Aztecs’ member speaks about his early musical training, his first group the Beat’n’Tracks, and the formation of the legendary Chain

Warren Morgan, pianist extraordinaire and without doubt one of the most influential musicians in Australia, has been a mainstay of the Melbourne rock scene for some years. On the occasion of him rejoining the Aztecs this interview was recorded. Messrs Morgan and Pepperell, bolstered by a couple of ales and reminiscences of the Rolling Stones tour, sat down at Blossom's house, overlooked by Mama, Big Goose and son Shannon, and the following exchange took place.

How did you first take up playing piano?

The very first time? Well we were residing in WA at the time and my mother put me into a convent. I was living in Fremantle and she thought it was a good idea as she played piano and my grandfather played the piano and it was just like one of those educational moves by your parents.

I can't really remember if I was happy about it or not but I was interested in playing the piano. I'd been showing interest for a while -I think the first thing I ever played on piano was 'Twelfth Street Rag'. I heard it on the radio and it was the first thing that ever excited me. I then immediately scratched all the piano stool with a knife with excitement. I got my mother's perfume out and poured it all over the piano. I was only eight years old at the time.

I then went to school and did two years' classical training and ran into a very unusual sort of problem. Everything was OK, except I’ve got a very small little finger on my left hand and this sort of breaks all classical standard rules. I can't play correctly, especially visually - I don't use the 1ittle finger - on an octave stretch I use the fourth finger to push the little finger out of the way - it's something I trained myself to do.

At school I did two theory exams and got a hundred percent in each but they wouldn't let me sit for the piano exams – this is back in 1951 when convents and that were very, very strict in everything. They had a lot of tradition in everything, especially in music. It was classical and they said my sitting for exams would be futile.

Anyway I did two years and obviously by the theory exams I knew I could get into it but I never did a piano exam. At the state school I was at, because I became a bully, they asked me to leave, using the excuse that I lived too far away. You see before I came across from Melbourne to Perth (I was born in Melbourne) I had been to a school with about 15 kids in it. In Perth I went to this incredible huge State School and on my first day there I got smacked in the ear so in the space of a couple of weeks I became the school bully.

I was exceptionally skinny then. There's a photo that my mother's got and I'm about the width of my head. All my ribs used to stick out too. I was about 14 then.

When I had to leave the State School I moved to Wesley College (in Perth). I used to knock around with a kid whose father was a Methodist minister and who was pretty influential in the Methodist educational system so I got in.

As soon as the convent heard I was doing that they said 'Well you'll have to stop here because you'll most likely be shifting' and we did, although not initially, but it was like the Catholics were virtually saying 'This is not the scene -you're going to a Methodist school - go elsewhere'. So I gave piano away.

When I say I gave it away, it was given away. I have never been in control of my musical career you must understand. I am still not in control. I only gave it up for about two years and then my parents asked me if I’d like to learn some Modern piano. I went along to a guy in Perth named Harry Black who's pretty well known over there and I think I did eighteen months of Modern Piano although I was never particularly interested in it.

I was never particularly interested in any of the music I learnt really - I was just interested in the learning itself. It was playing piano that I really liked much more than the theoretical side - I just sat for anything they let me sit for. I'd get home and play boogie woogie after all the classical and that was my practice.

I wasn't listening to records at all strangely. I must have just heard a boogie somewhere that meant something to me I guess. I do remember hearing one boogie record by Honey Hill called 'South Pacific' or something which was a pretty typical boogie vamp. I think that influenced me but I can't remember when I listened to it.

When did you first start thinking of playing professionally with a band?

Well I never really thought of it - I had friends who played.

Actually the first band I played in was more of a fun thing – I was at Wesley College and I'd done about eighteen months of modern training during which time I didn't play anything, just used the chord structure to allow myself to expand by my own ear – getting into the trip of using the chords.

It was just helping me – all the time I was playing - I've always liked playing.

There was a group of us at Wesley College - a trumpet player and a trombone player and a few guys we knew who had never played - and we decided we'd form a band and just for the fun of it we went to a guy's place and set up. The drummer had a Scout Drum - you know the one - with ropes down the side. We played a thing called Boogie Blues by Gene Krupa and got a really good flash from it.

Then we did one of our own school’s dances at Wesley College and everything, thought we were great and fantastic - obviously we were bloody awful. We had three weeks to teach the trombone player to do one slow number which he messed up on the night.

My mother always helped me - she knew it was there – but at the time I was on a course of education -you know, a career.

It's really a funny thing to me about people and life, and how things can happen.

In April after passing my leaving I was still down the beach - just laying there in the sun I didn't have a clue about what I wanted to do. I was starting to play in bands about then - was a little bit serious - getting into clubs and sitting in. I was 19 then. Forming trios to play at wedding receptions. Also going into the country and doing football windups. It was the scene the musicians union identify with here. Nothing to do with the rock scene - nothing whatever. As a matter of fact if I drove past a hall and heard a rock group playing I'd put my foot down.

This was in 1962 and I was just leaving school. I was thinking about how I had my Leaving Certificate and what would I do with it. A friend of mine was doing a supplementary exam on geography to get into uni and he looked like getting it as it was only one subject. I decided to apply for his job at BHP, as my parents were starting to ask me what I was going to do, and sure enough he got his supp. and I got in.

I didn't have a clue what the job was - I was called a commercial trainee. One day the accountant called me up to the office and said that a condition of taking the position was that I was to study accountancy. So six years later I was an accountant.

I left BHP during the time I was studying but because of that circumstance I became an accountant, which I think is pretty funny. At that time I was really starting to play a lot as well - working night clubs until seven in the morning, playing mostly modern jazz because when you're earning money you have to pull your head in a bit especially in those days. I had to play wedding receptions and the like. I had a lot of fun though. I was playing in a trio at that time with a couple of friends. One was the son of the president of the WA Musicians Union. Consequently we got a few gigs. But we had a lot of fun doing that and some aspects of it - the freedom - the fun we had - are something which I sometimes yearn for now.

I wasn't serious because we were all working during the day - the money we earned came over the top of our salary and had the influence on us of allowing us to have a bit more money. And then the rock 'n' roll thing happened and that, like accountancy, was pure circumstance.

How exactly did you get into playing rock 'n' roll ?

Well a group of friends formed a group called the Beat 'n' Tracks and they started rocking around Perth. I still wasn't all that interested in rock 'n' roll although I got a really big flash from hearing the Beatles on radio. There was a collision course looming though, because I was playing at this place called the Hole in the Wall which was noted as a place where jazz or any new music would happen. The Hole in the Wall in Perth was only a small place but did it rock - everybody linked arms dancing about. It used to be a place where the guys from the Beat 'n' Tracks would come and listen. They had three guitars at the time in the band -sort of a Rolling Stones thing. They were all University students.

One of their guitarists came over to Melbourne to do a seminar and while he was gone the others felt they wanted to bridge the gap of the loss of one guitar - this was Christmas of 1967 - and they asked if I'd dig to play some organ with them. I'd never played any organ before - so I said OK and after two weeks they asked me to join and keep doing it - so I said 'Yeah OK' – I'm pretty easy. By now I’d qualified as an accountant and I just threw it in and became a professional muso. At the time there were no bands in the union that were professional.

I got a real flash from rock and roll. It happened and it just seemed the way to be. It was strange. I was standing there with real short hair and white pressed slacks playing in this rock 'n' roll band without having a clue what was going on.

The band used to practise every day but we never wrote anything ourselves We would do anything material-wise that we liked. We had a huge repertoire. When I look back on it now it was a marathon effort - we did a bit of everything. We were the 'rebel' band in Perth because we didn't go just straight to the Top 40 like the other bands. We did 'I am the Walrus' and 'Living in a World of Broken Hearts' by Amen Corner and then 'Hold On I'm Comin'. We were really rebellious -- me with my red shirt with frills down the front.

The group became very popular but because we were treated as a rebellious band we had the normal hassles of any band – we were, like, the heavies and we could only play at a few venues. We brought Phil Manning back from Melbourne to play with us just before we came to Melbourne to play in the Battle of the Sounds - we had won the Perth section and represented WA in the final. This was in 1968.

We came over but didn't work much - just one gig at Sebasttians as I remember - I can't remember all that well to tell the truth as we came back pretty soon after and it's hard to separate the time. We didn't really get to do much in Melbourne as we were broke and we just sat in Jackson Street most of the time doing nothing.

The Beat 'n' Tracks were quite an incredible concept of a band - the guy singing, Ross Partington has had a lot of put-downs - but today I can look back and see that he was trying to be really professional. He was dressing up and trying to present shows. One New Year's Eve he put two huge blinds at the back of the stage and at midnight they came down and one had 'Happy' and the other had 'New Year' on it. I couldn't really appreciate it then because at that stage I was frightened even to grow my hair past my ears. He wasn't a great singer but when I look at the success of Jim Keays and the like Ross was streets ahead.

The band then came to Melbourne and Ross left us. We didn't get a good flash from the Melbourne scene. I don't know if we were right or wrong but we didn't see ourselves fitting in so we took on Wendy Saddington, who immediately called the band Chain which incidentally was her idea, is her name.

The line-up of the band then was Murray Wilkinson on bass (very good player, still playing in Perth), Adrian Follington on drums (now playing with Bitch in England), myself and Phil Manning.

The name Chain came about because Wendy said she'd always wanted to call a band Chain. It was and is a good name - I liked it because it was one word ... 'Chain'. After Wendy joined the whole thing started to show some promise - we went to Sydney shortly afterwards and there was a lot of interest shown – of course Wendy was very well known.

Just to digress here I think it's interesting to note that in Perth I met Billy (Thorpe). He came up and introduced himself after hearing the Beat 'n' Tracks and said 'How about going down to the Hole in the Wall and taking the roof off - get as much equipment as we can.' This was in early 1969 when he had that flash. That night was just incredible - there was just Murray, myself and Billy - and it just rocked. Billy played guitar and sang.

Johnny Dick had been travelling with Billy but not this particular time - he was just by himself and he invited me to go back with him to Sydney and play the Whisky (a-go-go).

The flash was that we had a group in Perth and it wasn’t quite right to go over to Sydney. Our group was just playing spontaneous blues. I rang Whisky a couple of times, sort of humming and hahing. It was just one of those things. Billy was just offering me a gig. But it was a big thing for me, to realise there was something happening over there. There was a big influence on me to check it out but I was too green and I give myself credit for realising it. I've never been able to work anything in my life but I did work out I was too green to go to Sydney and play the Whisky-a-go-go from Perth.

Getting back to Chain we toured Adelaide and we were really enthusiastic but then it gradually began to wane – it died quickly. I don't know why exactly -- I suppose a lot did depend on Wendy and she left - she's never held a band together for very long -- and when a person leaves there's a lead-up to it where the enthusiasm starts to go.

Remember we were a very green bunch of guys and we had ideas. I don't know if they were right or wrong. Our bass player was a very exact sort of guy and he wanted to practise every day and that didn't suit Wendy –she sort of fell out with us. But she never fell out with Phil and I. Our band did last longer than James Taylor Move and that apparently was some kind of record! and it was all a good thing really -- we learnt a lot and we got a band off the ground called Chain.

What did you decide to do with the band after Wendy left?

We decided to stay four-piece. It didn't matter that much because we were still inspired as musicians. We'd been together barely seven months then –this was Mayor June of '69 –Phil had been reasonably experienced over here (in Melbourne). It all happened in Sydney when Murray left and we took on Claude Papesch and Tim Piper. Claude was an exceptionally good organist -we had a bit of a “Band” thing going with both Claude and I playing organ or piano. It was a real maniacal band -the most maniacal band I have ever played in. We were writing a few things of our own. That was the band that recorded the first Chain single 'Mr. Time' and 'Show Me Home'. It's quite a flash for me to think back on it now. Phil actually, and he won't mind me saying this, fell out with Tim - y'know Phil has a very exacting thing about what he wants to do with his guitar and he likes to play with other players, but often other players have exacting things too. There were other problems - Claude and Tim were two guys who had been"-'playing in bands a lot longer than we had but were basically dominating what we wanted to do.

Finally they went their way and Phil and I were stuck in Sydney. We had, by then met Jiva (longtime Chain roadie and editor of Daily Planet) which was an important factor in our career and Jiva came back to Melbourne with the band and he returned to Sydney with us just before the band broke up to become our road manager. We were all living in a hotel together -somewhere in the Cross. It was a big experience for me in all of this, stuck in the Cross broke - having a Wagon Wheel and a milkshake a day. When you're down and out you can be inspired, but eventually you realise nothing's happening. And then Phil got a bit sensitive and I didn't know what was going on as I'd just been introduced to another form of life that I'd never experienced before. It was rammed in my mouth –so everything was reasonably cool to me.

Phil was a lot more experienced and he had a flash from the Two Gooses and he decided to play with them. They'd been in a band called Thursday's Children but had been playing together for years. Phil said he was going to Melbourne and I sort of looked glum and here's me stuck in the Cross. I had a van then so I guess J looked reasonably secure. Jiva was going with Phil and J was just sitting there. I must-have looked so bloody sad that they had to ask if I'd like to go down with them.

In the second part ‘The Pig” talks about ‘Chain Live’ … joining The Aztecs with Lobby … ‘The Hoax Is Over’ … leaving the Aztecs in anger … the failure of Pilgrimage … a solo career, the ‘Chain Live Again’ … now back with Billy and his Aztecs.

So we went to Melbourne – I, Phil and Jiva and the two Gooses. That's when I got to know the two Gooses and that was all inspiring. That was the Chain which people can identify with. We were living down in Hotham Street all together in this mad house. We'd play Sebastians and invite everyone back and Get it On (that's a capital G and a capital O for the readers).

We had a Band - a real Band -it was making its presence really felt from just its attitude. Our greenness was wearing off just a little bit. We were just gigging everywhere and enjoying everything. Then we added Glyn (Mason). It was a good thing. But I think the volume superseded Glyn a little bit -we had very small equipment but Glyn couldn't go along with the volume. It did sound loud though. I believe that everything evolves - music evolving, electronics evolving - sound ever ever diminishes.

The band was really popular, the vibe was up. We had the idea of going to Newcastle to rehearse and then coming back and doing Sydney. This was our first strategic plan to leave our home base and make a move somewhere, for a specific reason. We went to Newcastle and had a funny experience there which is hard to explain, the result being that we wound up in, Sydney unsure what to do with the band. It was the first time we realised that we had a product - a band we could do something with but no idea how. We had no management.

We ended up working in cellars and little clubs for nothing and the weekly venues until eventually I just walked out one day. I thought the whole thing was basically futile - not the music or the guys but the fact that the Chain just weren't experienced enough to make. it. We had no one to go to.

The Chain had never ever had a promotional attitude. We had nobody pushing us. We thought we had management but all we had was agency. I just knew nothing about what was going on. It was good in a way because all I wanted to do was play but it was bad luck that some great guy didn't come along and nab us because we had such potential.

I had been digging what the Aztecs were doing. I felt like having a blow with Bill again after the scene we had in Perth so I just walked out on Chain one morning (this was two weeks before I was getting married). I went over to the Aztecs and said “I want to join your band.” Just before we did “Chain Live” at Chequers in front of about 30 people on a Sunday afternoon.

What did you think of the “Chain Live” LP?

I think it was fantastic. It just suffers from being recorded on a four track Akai by a guy who was interested in recording but was no recording engineer. He wanted to do it and we just did it - and it became an LP. It had to be one of the crudest recordings.

What happened after you joined the Aztecs?

Well I had to come straight down to Melbourne and be married. I joined the Aztecs at the time of a crisis when nothing was happening. After I joined them and started playing with them less happened (hysterical laughter). There was Paul Wheeler on bass, Murphy on drums and raucous Lloyd on guitar at the time – that was an incredible band.

We went straight back to Sydney and the music we were playing was just spontaneous – it had nothing to do with anything – we had a rough idea what the song was but that was all. After a while it all just fell apart - it was a maniac's band, an absolute maniacs band.

We did "Hoax is Over" at that time – a mad album. I can't explain it – I can't even divulge half the things that went on. I'd be doing my piano overdub, a newly married man wanting to get back to my wife. I was in Sydney in Festival's studios and a couple of members of the band were in front of the piano arguing while I’m playing my overdubs – not arguing harshly with each other but arguing because we were drunk all the time – we were just hopeless.

Regardless of Bill’s experience to that stage, we knew nothing about recording. Festival Studios only had a four track machine and once again you’re fighting against odds so that you can’t hear it all on record – although, we did "Mississippi" at Armstrong’s and that was quite a night.

I don't particularly like the al bum to be quite honest. I enjoy part of it but I think we did it without any thought. In a way it showed the Aztecs as they were but it wasn't very good recording potential. It would have been if we'd all gone to a fitness camp for a week and they'd taken us straight from the camp in the studio. The album would've roared.

I stayed with the Aztecs for 18 months.

I'd like to say something about the Town Hall concert we did in Melbourne – the one that was recorded and released as
" Aztecs Live".

I thought it was a good attempt at presenting a concert. We didn’t take it off. We started off with the old gusto and discovered very quickly that you can’t play with the Town Hall organ. We hadn’t had any rehearsal. And the volume – everything was just wrong.

It could have been a major concert. A lot of people still remember it.

There was something about it – not just us – but when you think of the line up – Chain, Daddy Cool and Carson – it was an incredible night.

I know I'd like to get on that organ again on its own and then have the band later. Those big organs are solo instruments in themselves.

The plastic sculpture and that? There was a lot of creativity but we didn't have time to organise it. We just went out and did it. The crowd intensity was amazing. Of course we didn't take it off, it just generated, so heaven knows what it could have been.

The LP wasn't very good but it was just one of those amateurish things I suppose. You don't get much co-operation in this country.

If you listen to the record carefully there's one section where they recorded the organ from the ABC mikes up on the roof. There's another section where they turned off all the other mikes and just recorded the organ and Billy's guitar by itself. It's like a simulated human ear in the hall -fantastic. When the rest of the band come in it's such a rotten sound.

But then we're such a young country here and music's a culture. What we have to do is get everyone interested in the fact that there is an Australian sound and an Australian thing happening - and that's the way it starts. The kids dig it and then the industry becomes interested and then people start identifying with it.

"Dawn Song" Was recorded just before I left the band. That's a maniacs record that one – the band still plays it now.

Well, Billy and I had an argument and fell out. 1 didn't speak to him for a whole day. I went and approached him on the second day and he thought I'd come to say " Ah cool it". I virtually had come to say that but I'd also come to say "I'm leaving." Billy said "What are you going to do, man?" and he looked really kind of concerned for me and I said "I'm going solo" and he fell off his bed (laughter).

I'd just started writing a lot of songs. I wanted to go out and do them. Pilgrimage followed soon after although I hadn't left to start Pilgrimage – I 1eft and then it all just happened – Phil was available so we decided to play the songs we felt like playing as a duo playing songs we could identify with. We were looking for satisfaction.

In some ways it could have worked out. We didn't have the right equipment and we didn't rehearse enough. Certainly I'd decided I was going to become a singer -- try and sing, much to the blocking of the ears by the public. I wanted to play a real (grand) piano.

We had a fantastic time though really. We had the potential of travelling light. The first job we did was the Pink Floyd concert which was a good flash although again we had no idea what we were trying to do. I think a lot of people really enjoyed it. It was just two guys trying to get up and be themselves I guess, whatever that's worth.

It finished because I decided as an added clause to the Pilgrimage episode we were not going to charge a flat amount. I talked Phil into it. Our idea was to charge 50% of the door wherever we played but you had to be good to do that (laughter). It's an ideal, incidentally, that I still like – I wouldn't knock it. If you can draw a crowd you take half of the gate. It was a fair thing - you either made 20c or $500 depending on the crowd you draw. I was just putting myself on the mat trying to work out what I was worth.

That unfortunately strained Pilgrimage and Phil went out and formed the Band of Talabene and we all decided to reform the Chain, make it all happen again. Glyn was back from England, the two Gooses were available, so we did it. We set up in Sebastians and our rehearsal was some of the most incredible music I've ever heard. Neen (Mama) witnessed that and it just blew her head off. She knows what we were trying to do. She knows the Aztecs and the Chain very well.

The four piece Chain featuring Matt Taylor had been and gone by that time. After I left the band originally all the others went to Brisbane and tied up with Matt.

You will notice that after I left Chain they had success ("Black and Blue") and when I left the Aztecs they had success. I don't know what it all means but it's sure interesting. I seem to leave some music behind -- it's amazing.

"Chain Live Again" was recorded in January 1971 and that was done at Channel Nine. I sang one song on it -- "Pigs Blues" -- drunk. I like that album though. What I wanted to do was sing my
songs and play piano. The three piece Chain (myself and BG and LG) was formed after the break up of the larger band and that lasted for about three or four months.

We had some good nights with that Chain. Everything was cool. One night in Adelaide was one of the best gigs we ever had. The kids were very interested and we put on a good musical performance. The next time we played at the same place we put on a shocking performance. LG was drunk out of his mind and I was very sensitive, because I was trying to sing and play and was very serious about it.

After doing a year of it I really did want to sing and play my songs. I was now becoming a musician -- and LG just didn't come to the party -- I don't think. Some nights I just didn't do it so well. The times I played well nobody ever witnessed it. To be quite truthful the agencies and promoters in this country find it very hard to accept acoustic acts because they're very hard to place.

Did you take up compering to try and get out of music and get your musical ideas a bit more together?

I just compered to earn money really. I had a regular gig and I would like to thank Howard Freeman for what he did. Fantastic.

How did you come to join the Aztecs again?

I was asked to rejoin after Sunbury. It was never in my wildest dreams really. Although I'd always imagined playing with Billy again, I never thought I'd be doing it again so soon. Apparently everybody else knew, or suspected, except me. Obviously for Bruce to leave there had to be some kind of a bingle and it seemed to happen over Sunbury.

It was quite a surprise to me. The very day they were inviting me to join (I was asked on the Tuesday after Sunbury) I was having a rehearsal with three young guys who played down at Rosebud and I was gonna form a band. That's how much I knew about it.

Do you think you've been asked to join the band because you write a lot of songs or because the band is down and need some new enthusiasm or both?

Yes I suppose its reasonable to assume that the Aztecs have flogged everything that they've been doing in their repertoire and it all stems from Sunbury last year which is where they were really launched into the bit things.

As for a song writer – well creativity is needed in any band. That's what a lot of bands lack. I think there was creativity in the band before, mind you. Billy'!

"Most People I Know" was one of the most unique records ever made in Australia. He was awarded "best songwriter of the year" and I think he fully deserved it.

'Just Like Me" was a damn good song too but I didn’t like the way they recorded it. It didn’t quite say "Believe It Just Like Me". You see I heard the song before it was recorded.

In the interim of not being in the band I still see Billy. We have talks and raves and sometimes we have a blow together. We've always been close friends.

I'm happy about being back in the band because by now I’m in the position of being able to do what I want to do. It's a position every musician wants to get into.

I'm more serious about it now and I'm glad that I left them before so that could find out what I wanted to find out. I've got a reasonable idea what I'm in now, what music's all about and what you've got to do. Now I feel as if I've done my apprenticeship. I think I can really help Billy who's been out front all the time. It will work well.

Warren envisages a number of changes in the Aztecs music. He is interested in playing a Mellotron, or even more sophisticated instruments rather than piano. He told me of an idea of his involving an instrument that by the use of tapes, could reproduce all manner of natural sounds such as a human choir, the wind, the sea or a river.

The sounds would be manipulated via a keyboard so that the player would, in effect, be playing such sounds into his own musical spectrum. The instrument has not been invented as yet and Warren does not have the technical knowledge to do it himself but he has faith that somewhere in the world a man exists who can.

He is annoyed at the limitations of amplifying the grand piano but would prefer to spend money to have it done rather than play electric piano which he is not fond of. He believes it was not designed to be played loudly, really belonging in a low volume jazz group -not in the high intensity sphere of rock 'n roll.

Warren is a complete believer in the electronic aspect of the new music and is looking forward to new developments. As a man and a musician he comes across as a confident likeable individual, always living in the future extensions of his ideas, always enthusiastic about his present involvement. I am sure that his joining the Aztecs, still undoubtedly the most popular and most powerful band Australia has produced, will be a turning point in this country's musical development and I, in common with many people I am positive, look forward to greater things and new creativity from the Aztecs featuring Warren Morgan.

Thanks to Warren, Mama, Barry and Shannon and especially to Blossom for the loan of the house.

This article was originally published in Go-Set, 1973
Copyright © 2002 David N. Pepperell. Reproduced by permission of the author.
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