Monday, 16 June 2014

Vale Jim Keays

Briefly I mentioned last week about the news of Jim Keays in hospital with a serious illness. The news that he has passed feels somewhat like deja vu - we knew it was going to happen, but it still sucks to know yet another Australian music legend has gone off to the great gig in the sky.

Jim Keays was the vocalist for Adelaide-originated band The Master's Apprentices. The Masters were of an era that I have no direct connection to, by virtue of the fact that I wasn't even born at the time their career stalled. I bought a lot of their albums second hand after hearing the buzz about them in various music publications. The Masters' were one band whose music has held up surprisingly well over the years, whereas a lot of bands of the era haven't aged well and sound quite dated.

Most bands of the 1960s in Australia had their core influence from one of two sources: The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. The Twilights may have been able to to accurate knock-offs of the Beatles but The Master's Apprentices were firmly in the Stones' camp. Their early records traded in tough, streetwise R&B before going through the obligatory psychedelic period and then settling into serious rock artists.

The story of their first single is hilarious: the band recorded a four track demo live to tape in their rehearsal room, which they shopped around and then sent off to the major labels. They heard nothing back from any of them. That is, until one night when Jim was reportedly with his girlfriend at the drive-in cinema. In the intermission he turned on the radio to hear one of the tracks on the demo, "Undecided", blasting out of the radio. It had been issued as a single by Astor records without the band even knowing!!!

Like most bands of the 1960s in Australia, the band constantly struggled with what seemed like a revolving-door-membership of musicians. Reading the sleeve notes of any compilation album from a 60s Aussie band and the stories of the turnover of members take up miles of precious space in a gatefold sleeve. In 1969 they finally settled on a core group of Jim Keays on vocals, Doug Ford on guitar, Glenn Wheatley (yes, THAT Glenn Wheatley!) on bass, and drummer Colin Burgess. This was the lineup that produced the band's most notable records, such as "Because I Love You", "Future of Our Nation", "5.10 Man", "Think About Tomorrow Today" and "Turn Up Your Radio".

The band spent time recording at Abbey Road in 1970 but by 1972 the band was done and dusted. Jim Keays had both a solo career and spent a few years fronting Southern Cross. He was also a radio DJ for a few years as well as a writer for the music press. He has performed with the reunited Masters a few times and since 2000, he had played with nostalgia act Cotton, Keays and Morris alongside Russell Morris and Darryl Cotton. Jim's 2012 solo album "Dirty, Dirty" found him still in fine voice.

The Master's Apprentices' work still sounds amazing and their legacy is still intact. Copies of their original vinyl releases now sell for hundreds of dollars each, despite being available in reissued, remastered versions. They are rightly in the Australian Music Hall of Fame. Swedish prog-metal band Opeth cite the Master's Apprentices as a major influence.

Jim was only 67, but Australian music is far better for having his and the Master's Apprentices contributions. Vale, Mr Keays.


  1. Another sad day for Australian music I'm devastated but not surprised it was only a matter of time but it would have been ok with me if he had a bit more time maybe for one more album thanks for the music.


    1. Yeah it's easy to lament an artist and wish they could give us one more record. In spite of this, I'm just so glad that he gave us what he did, because the music is awesome.