MILESAGO - Features
KEITH GLASS: A Life In Music
|Part 4: "Hair", 1969-71|
I still don’t know what ever possessed me to roll up and audition for "Hair: the tribal love-rock musical." Doing so was certainly flavour of the moment in 1969, it seems like someone from every band working around Melbourne and Sydney did. We were all caught up in the feeling there was some sort of revolution going on. So, laughable as it seems we saw this event not as a corporate rip-off but a genuine youth proclamation on the state of the world. Might seem deluded from this distance but with the conflict over involvement in Vietnam, the hysteria over drugs, etc just wearing your hair long was still an act of defiance almost guaranteed to get you clobbered in the wrong place or situation.
This was a generational thing as much as a factional but the latter, youth sub-groups at each others throats, was hardly new. Just in my time we’d had the rockers beating shit out of the jazzers (a specifically Melbourne experience) then the skinheads/sharpie’s running riot for a while without media detection because these neatly dressed, short haired cretins didn’t attract the attention the freaks they regularly beat up did. In the mid to late 1960’s it was dangerous just to walk up Swanston Street as the sun went down for fear of sharpie attack - the media finally got the message and they were banned from a lot of venues and vilified in the newspapers - not unjustly.
In Cam-Pact we’d often put our lives in danger in country towns by just going to the local pub. I well remember the shouts of derision as the long haired poofta’s entered the bar. Amazingly I never had a punch thrown at me, but came very, very close.
In any event I must have been ready for a change so I showed up to the open call at (I think) the Melbourne Town Hall and sang a song or two. Guess I looked sort of the part, in the latter stages of Cam-Pact my hair was pretty long and bushy. So I was asked back the next day when I read a few lines from the script, jumped around a bit and was offered a place ? simple as that. Nothing as drawn out as the "Popstars" auditions I can tell you. Director Jim Sharman told me he had the part of "Berger" in mind for me and would I mind perming my hair into an afro?
That was small potatoes in relation to telling my parents I was "deferring" the RMIT course I’d been trying to fit in around working 4 nights a week in the band and of course, I had to tell the group members I was leaving too. I was signing on for a 18 month contract, thought that would be enough to see out the show around Australia and maybe New Zealand too? How wrong I was!
As I was going to be paid far
more than scale for this leading role I weirdly enough had to fend for
myself in a/getting to Sydney, b) finding accommodation and c) negotiating
the actual salary. If I had a theatrical agent thing may have been easier
but coming from the rock/pop side of things I knew virtually nothing about
that as various members of the
The show was being put together
in a small pavilion at the Sydney Showgrounds (now Fox Studios) right
by Centennial Park. First day the media turned up and took shots of all
the new cast members throwing their arms up in the air and generally doing
an ‘Age of Aquarius’ type hippie celebratory dance on the spot -- we hadn’t
even met each other
I had one friend who’d made
the cut -- Graham "Fluffy" Matters, who had been in a band called Carnival,
their demise meant Cam-Pact had a new recruit, bass player Chris Lofven,
boy genius film maker who later directed the movie, the ‘Aussie Rock’
version of "Oz". I met Wayne Matthews who was to play the other male lead
"Claude" -- I was sort of
Of particular interest to us
(and the public) were the imports in the cast. The six Afro-Americans
gathered mainly from New York, and what a strange set of personalities
they were. The coolest was the beautiful Denni Piggot, whom Marcia Hines
(not yet a cast member) named her daughter after. Denni (who dropped her
last name for the show) I think, is pretty cool to this day and pops up
on a TV drama every so often. Then there was Teddy Williams, almost Gary
Michael Angelo Springfield III ? what an enigma! A Walter Mitty type character the expression ‘jive ass’ was tailor made for. He ended up as "the man from Brash's" (in ads flogged to death on Victorian TV) and was so full of shit you had to admire him. According to him he knew everyone and had done everything ? eg couldabeen an Olympic track & field star but did a tendon at the trials, Daryl Zanuck was sending him scripts from Hollywood to check out, etc, etc. First day at rehearsals he collapsed claiming he had ‘sickle cell’ disease, which does affect blacks but naturally we had no knowledge of -- he didn’t, it was just an attention grabber.
The final two black members
of the cast didn’t last too long and I can’t remember much about the male
but the female was absolutely unforgettable for her schizophrenic behaviour.
Charlene was her name, she stood about six feet tall and belted out a
song with gospel intensity and fervour that matched most other elements
of her life. She claimed to have recorded backup for The Stones but unlike
Venetta Fields for example I have never seen a credit or evidence of
The final bro’ who stays in
my mind was Tomay (Jim) Fields, originally (well he said) from Memphis,
Tennessee. He became Tomay once he’d settled in here and was the original,
milk the audience, draw attention to yourself, ham. Long and lanky he’d
roll his big eyes around and do a ‘Steppin’ Fetchit’ routine, overstaying
his part of the show by minutes,
So drugs were part and parcel
of the HAIR experience with management turning a blind eye to most activity,
unless the law became involved. In the first months I must have been handed
dope by some-one most nights of the show at the stage door and there were
no shortage of girls wanting to participate in the "Tribal Love-Rock"
experience either, although my
We mainly stuck to getting
completely out of it at home in Gipps Street, Paddington and there was
a party more nights than not. Strange people would turn up, Gerry Humphries'
ex-wife Claire was a constant. Broderick Smith used to spend weekend leave
with us when he could (he’d been conscripted) so it was from one freak
show to another for him. Richard
Meanwhile back at the show,
I was cutting notches on the bench of the dressing room and counting down
the days 'til I could leave. The tedium was worse for me because in bands
I’d been used to moving around and also doing my own thing. The money
was good but it became a nightly ritual with little passion. Andy Anderson
(nee James) ex Missing
Tully, the HAIR band, were
heavier on drug intake than us, if that was possible. The band was augmented
by a couple of jazz cats, Johnny Sangster on vibes and all sorts of miscellaneous
instruments and Keith Stirling on trumpet. On guitar was Michael Barnes
of The Nutwood Rug Band, a genuine ex-pat San Fran psychedelic outfit
who had made their way out here a year or so before. He could play all
that freakout stuff like a maniac but apparently didn’t know any chords.
Terry Wilson, singer for Tully was officially part of "The Tribe" and
sang "Aquarius" which opened proceedings once we’d slithered our way to
the stage through the audience. Then basically I came out and shook ‘em
all up jumping around and down into the seats, wearing nothin’ but a lap
lap and being obnoxious -- wasn’t much of a stretch. One night I dislocated
A lot of celebs came to the show. Opening night was ridiculous -- everybody who was anybody was there. At the end, when the audience jumps on stage they all fell over each other to get in front for a picture. Graham Kennedy managed to hog the centre, me holding Gra-Gra’s hand was on the front page of the paper next day. Graham Matters and I had the biggest afro’s and had our photo taken with a bunch of people. Dame Zara Bates (Holt) was particularly venomous about us and the show as the media took snaps -- wish I had one of those.
Sir Robert Helpmann wore the most expensive flashy fringed jacket I’ve ever seen, must have cost a packet. It was Hair mania -- we were invited everywhere. Fame by association. Mobbed by thousands at Roselands Shopping Centre -- a bizarre experience. We also went to Brisbane to do an ‘arena’ style performance of the music from Hair at Brisbane’s Festival Hall, seeing talk was the show would be banned in the deep north.
Various cast members would
do cameo TV spots as the instant celebrities we were. A breed still popular
on the tube to this day. I did a late night show which turned pretty ugly
with stand in host Maggie Britton deciding to tear strips off the show
and me. Even in my hippie trippy state I shot a few back and managed to
get Miller’s clients ‘banned’ from appearing for six months. Despite this
Sharon Redd and I got to do Bandstand to promote the soundtrack album
that came out a few months after the show started. We shared the single,
one side each which people still unearth a copy of from time to time.
Bandstand was on its last legs and we simply did our spots and left, with
Brian Henderson coming
After a while things settled
down and the crowd turned more suburban, still the visiting celebs would
come backstage and say "hello" and "you were wonderful." Eddie Albert
and his son, both Oscar winners trotted that line out, more "flash in
the pan" identities such as Poncy Pounce (from "Hawaiian Eye") and Lobo
("You And Me And A Dog Named Boo") paid a
Most of the time I wasn’t going
anywhere but home. The second year was a drag. We had a new band, "Luke’s
Walnut" a much straighter outfit than Tully but with a few rough edges,
namely Reno Tehei ex-Compulsion (an uncannily accurate Jimi Hendrix tribute
band) on ‘borrowed’ bass (from me actually) and the great Bobby Gebert
on piano. There was a huge pile of Bex powder wrappers by Bobby’s piano
stool every night after the show while Reno (who briefly joined The La
De Da’s) disappeared a little later after reputedly attempting to rob
a bank while on acid.
On the way out, someone checked
a leather jacket slung over a chair and "found" a block of hash. I was
immediately bundled out to the police car and taken downtown. It wasn’t
my jacket and it certainly wasn’t my hash. Over the next two hours I was
subjected to the good cop, bad cop routine. I’d seen enough movies to
find it laughable if it wasn’t my freedom in the balance. The bad cop
came rushing in and said "You’d better tell us all about it, you’re high
now and you need a fix don’t you?" He threw open a drawer and grabbed
an ancient rusty metal hypodermic with dried blood on the tip of the needle
and made jabbing motions at my arm. Good cop came in an said "Give him
a break", he then told me I’d better come clean, they had been reading
my girl friend’s diary which detailed various times I’d taken acid. Helena
had never even touched a cigarette herself and I was unaware of the existence
of this document. Deny, deny, deny and eventually they let me go. There
were other occasions and other people not so lucky.