|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975||Groups & Solo Artists|
THE CLEFS / LEVI SMITH'S CLEFS
Adelaide / Melbourne / Sydney, 1963-72
LEVI SMITH'S CLEFS
1969-70 (Whisky A Go Go residency)
1972 (III) (Melbourne)
1972 (IV) (Melbourne)
If there is any Australian group that deserves to be described as "influential" it's Levi Smith's Clefs. Led for most of its career by famed R&B/jazz singer Barrie "The Bear" McAskill the band was not influential in terms of its repertoire or recordings (of which there are sadly too few) but rather because of its status as one of "the 'muso's bands" of the period and as a training ground for literally scores of players and singers. Levi Smith's Clefs arguably supplied more members to more leading Australian groups of the time than any other, and the list of LSC alumni -- many of whom came from bands of great renown -- includes members of The Aztecs, Max Merritt & The Meteors, Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs, SCRA, Tully and Fraternity, to name just a few. With the possible exception of Blackfeather, few other Aussie bands had such a bewildering series of lineups, which link to literally dozens of other contemporary groups. Full credit is due to the redoubtable Chris Spencer and his colleagues, who have managed to decipher and record much of the Clefs' ever-changing membegsubip.
Levi Smith's Clefs began life as The Clefs which was formed in Adelaide during 1963 by organist Tweed Harris.
The early line-up included Trevor Pridham (vocals), Les Tanner (guitar), Michael Atkins (drums), Dennis Magsuball (sax) and Bruce Howe (bass). Another
early recruit was an Irish immigrant lad called Pat Aulton, who went on to become one of Australia's most successful
producers. The Clefs became an in-demand dance band on Adelaide's thriving club and dance circuit. McAskill (ex-Fabulous Drifters)
joined as vocalist in 1965 and the line-up became Harris, Howe, Tanner, McAskill, Bob Jeffrey (sax) and Vince Jones (drums, also ex-Fabulous Drifters).
The Clefs issued three singles in 1966, "I Can Only Give You Everything" / "Roberta" and "Last Night" / "March of the Siamese Twins"
(both released on EMI's Columbia label) and "A Boy Like Me" / "Bring It to Jerome"
(on the Phonovox label). In early 1967 Tweed Harris quit the Clefs to put together a new 'supergroup',
recruiting players from several noted bands of the day. Tweed's new band,
The Groove, enjoyed great success in the late Sixties; after its demise, Tweed became a noted producer-arranger.
Levi Smith's Clefs
McAskill assumed leadegsubip of the band and at the suggestion of manager Peter Raphael they changed the band's name to Levi Smith's Clefs, a title that namechecked Four Tops' lead singer Levi Stubbs. Scottish-born McAskill earned a reputation as one of the country's pioneering soul-R&B singers. His size, commanding presence and gravelly voice earned him the nickname "The Bear", and he led the ever-changing line-ups of Levi Smith's Clefs between 1967 and 1975.
Levi Smith's Clefs quickly earned a reputation on the Adelaide disco/club circuit as a gutsy R&B band in the vein of Max Merritt & The Meteors. As noted above, the group provided a valuable training ground for young players, forging important alliances and friendships -- the original lineups of Tully, Fraternity and Southern Contemporary Rock Assembly (SCRA) and Mighty Mouse all came direct from the Clefs. Much credit is due to Barrie's open-handed policy, which encouraged his players to improve as musicians, and then to move on when they felt they had outgrown the band. In all, more than sixty performers, including several of the most famous players of their day, passed through the band's ranks over the years.
As a five-piece, Levi Smith's Clefs moved first to Melbourne and then to Sydney where they took up a gruelling but formative 18-month residency at the legendary Whisky A Go Go club in Kings Cross. Sydney at this time was in the midst of the co-called 'R&R Boom', a fertile period for live music in Sydney that was powered by the influx of thousands of American servicemen on R&R leave from Vietnam.
The lineup changed constantly during this time. Notable members include Inez Amaya
(vocals), rock veteran Les Stacpool (guitar; ex-Chessmen, Merv
Benton & The Tamlas), organists Ian Walsh and Michael Carlos, bassists Doug Stirling, John Blake,
John `Yuk' Harrison and John Helman, and drummers Gil Matthews (ex-Max Hamilton & The Impacts)
and Jimmy Thompson. Thompson had played in the second incarnation of Tony Worsley &
The Fabulous Blue Jays and the Vince Maloney Sect and went on to join the formative "heavy" version of
The Aztecs with Lobby Loyde (where he was, coincidentally, replaced by Gil Matthews).
Several players came and went more than once, and other musos often sat in, as Michael Carlos recalls:
"I arrived in Sydney with my Dad in July, 1967. Got a gig in an amateur band, the Blues Breakers, the first night I was here, and played with them for about six months. I got a Hammond C3. Soon gave up all pretence about going to university and joined a professional band called Levi Smith’s Clefs. Worked at Whisky a’ Go Go – seven hours a night, six nights a week. It was here that I really learned how to play. The band was an Aussie institution, with members coming and going all the time. Some of the best rock and jazz musicians in the country would join for a while, or sit in for a few nights. I was the youngest and most inexperienced member, and had to learn fast. But nothing beats being surrounded by players that are all better than you."
By 1968, the band had stabilised with the lineup of McAskill, Amaya, Carlos, Blake, Mick Jurd (guitar), Richard Lockwood (flute, sax) and Robert Taylor (drums) but at the end of the year all but Jurd left. Carlos, Lockwood, Taylor and Blake formed Tully, who quickly gained a reputation as one of the country's top progressive groups. In quick succession they made a short music series for the ABC, performed the premiere of Peter Sculthorpe's ambitious concept work Love 200 with Jeannie Lewis and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and then signed on as the house band for the Australian stage production of the American `tribal love-rock musical' Hair, which premiered in June 1969. Inez Amaya also joined the cast as a member of "the tribe".
McAskill and Jurd had meanwhile assembled a new five-piece Levi Smith's Clefs with John Bissett (organ), Bruce Howe (bass) and Tony Buettel
(drums; ex-Bay City Union. They toured widely and it was this line-up that recorded the group's only LP, the adventurous
Empty Monkey, released on Jimmie Stewart's Sweet Peach label. It was one of the first local albums to
combine soul, R&B, pop and progressive rock:
Ian McFarlane: "Despite being a groundbreaking release in many ways, the music was somewhat ponderous and the album failed to take off. The standout cut was an 11-and-a-half minute arrangement of The Beatles' "We Can Work it Out". Sweet Peach also lifted two singles from the album, "Lisa" / "Roadrunner" (January 1970) and a cover of Junior Walker's "Shotgun" / Who is it That Shall Come? (April 1970)."
But by the time the album came out in March 1970, the whole band had quit, with Jurd, Bissett, Howe and Buettel leaving to form Fraternity (Buettel later joined Phil Key's Band Of Light). McAskill then assembled a new brass-heavy line-up consisting of Linda Cable and Ken Deacon (vocals), Steve Doran (keyboards), Peter Karlenick (guitar), Doug Stirling (bass), John Freeman (drums, soon poached to replace Buettel in Fraternity and replaced by Michael Darby), Mike Cousins (trombone), Steve Bowden (trombone), Bill Harrower (sax) and Mike Kenny (trumpet). They secured a residency at the famous Chequers nightclub, playing six nights a week for twelve months, and specialising in numbers made popular by emerging brass-dominated acts like Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago and Joe Cocker. As Barrie McAskill's Levi Smith's Clefs, the band issued two solid R&B singles, "Live Like a Man" / "Piece of My Heart" (September 1970), and "Gonna Get a Seizure" / "Dancing and Drinking" (April 1971), plus an EP, Best of Whisky A Go Go on the Chart label, which was shared with Sydney band Autumn) . The Levi Smiths Clefs tracks on this release were "Down in the Valley" and "Lawdy Miss Clawdy".
Through 1970-71 the band worked solidly at Chequers. Like the Whisky tenure, many performers cycled through the group during this period, including Julie Robinson (vocals, 2 gigs only), Bruce Howard (organ, ex La De Das, Aztecs), Jim Kelly (guitar; ex-The Affair and later of Crossfire), the erstwhile Michael Carlos (who had by then quit Tully), maverick Kiwi guitar legend Billy TK (ex-Human Instinct), Ted `The Head' Yanni (guitar), Graham 'Yuk' Harrison (bass, ex-Meteors, Genesis), Doug Stirling (bass), Russell Dunlop (drums; ex-Aesop's Fables), Allan Turnbull (drums), Greg Henson (drums) and original Clefs member Bob Jeffrey returning on sax. Kelly, Dunlop and Kenny became the core of Southern Contemporary Rock Assembly (SCRA) when they left the Clefs.
The late 1971 line-up of McAskill, Carlos, Stirling, Henson and Jeffrey was known variously as Barrie McAskill's Bear Brigade or McAskill's Marauders. This incarnation toured to Adelaide with Carlos on board, but folded some time in early 1972 after Carlos and Henson joined the house band for the first Australian production of the rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar, which premiered in Sydney in May 1972. Carlos remained with the production as keyboard player and band leader for its entire run. After the show closed in 1976, he put together the Baxter Funt Orchestra with other Superstar alumni and they backed the renowned Reg Livermore on his acclaimed one-man shows and also performed with Jeannie Lewis.
In early 1972 Barrie put together a new but shortlived group known as Barrie McAskill's People, which comprised famed guitarist Vince Melouney (ex-Aztecs, Bee Gees, Fanny Adams, Cleves, Flite), Michael Barnes (guitar; ex-Nutwood Rug Band), Ken Firth (bass; ex-Tully) and Kevin Murphy (drums; ex- Wild Cherries, Aztecs, King Harvest, Chain).
In mid-1972 McAskill relocated to Melbourne and revived the Levi Smith's Clefs name. This first Melbourne lineup was a quartet with Doug Stirling, Kevin Murphy and guitarist Mick Elliott. Elliott was later replaced by Les Stacpool, and McAskill added Ian Clyne (keyboards; ex-Loved Ones, Ram Jam Big Band). By October 1972 it had changed again, now comprising Murphy, Clyne, Mal Capewell (sax, flute; ex-Dr Kandy's Third Eye, Dada, Company Caine), Russell Smith (trumpet, vocals; ex-Ram Jam Big Band). Sometime during this period the lineup changed again, bringing in three members of the temporarily defunct Chain -- Phil Manning (guitar), Barry "Big Goose" Sullivan (bass) and Barry "Little Goose" Harvey (drums). But this was not to last -- shortly afterwards Murphy, Clyne, Manning, Capewell, Sullivan and Harvey all split to become Mighty Mouse, which subsequently led to a reformation of Chain. Another notable figure who who played in the group during this period was pioneering Australian electronic musician Steve Dunstan, who had been a member of the original lineup of 18th Century Quartet and who provided the opening and closing 'computer noises' for Company Caine's legendary 1971 LP A Product of A Broken Reality.
Returning to Sydney in 1973, Barrie put together yet another lineup with Eddy McDonald (bass), Dallas 'Digger' Royal (drums), the erstwhile Doug Stirling (bass) and Alvin Tutin (guitar). Nothing else is known about this version of the band. The following year McAskill headed back to Melbourne, by which time the band consisted of Digger Royal, Ian Mawson (keyboards; ex Company Caine), Lindsay Wells (guitar; ex-Healing Force, Chain, Blackfeather) and Warren Ward (bass; ex-Flying Circus, Blackfeather).
By 1975, and now called simply McAskill, the group comprised Jeff Spooner (guitar), Howie Morgan (keyboards), Eddie McDonald (bass ex NZ Avengers and Bakery), Bob Fortesque (bass, ex-Blackfeather), Roger McLachlan (bass, soon to join Little River Band) and Paul Johnson (drums). That lineup lasted until sometime in 1976.
McAskill returned to Adelaide in 1977 and formed an ever-evolving series of bands including East End Street Band, Barrie McAskill's On Fire, Barrie McAskill and Friends, Barrie McAskill's Levi Smith's Clefs, Barrie McAskill's Soul Survivors, Who Dat Dere and Topsy and the Bear.
You can learn more about the history of The Clefs, Levi Smith's Clefs, see many rare photos and learn much more about Barrie McAskill's other musical adventures on Barrie and Jan McAskill's official website, which is listed in our Links section below.
"Lisa" / "Roadrunner" (Sweet Peach SP 011)
"Shotgun" / "Who Is It That Shall Come" (Sweet Peach SP 021)
"Love Like A Man" / "Take A Piece Of My Heart" (Chart PR 202)
"Dancing And Drinking" / "Gonna Get A Seizure" (Chart CHK 4184)
Best of The Whisky-A-Go-Go (Chart)
Two tracks by Levi Smiths Clefs: "Down in the Valley", "Lawdy Miss Clawdy"
Two tracks by Autumn: "Day Tripper", "Midnight Special"
Empty Monkey (Sweet Peach SPB 504)
References / Links
Encyclopedia of Australian Rock & Pop (Allen & Unwin, 1999)
Barry & Jan McAskill
Dreams, Fantasies & Nightmares - Australia (Borderline Books, 1995)
Chris Spencer, Zbig Nowara & Paul McHenry
Who's Who of Australian Rock (Five Mile Press, 2002)