Sunday, June 24, 2018

Billy Thorpe (1946 – 2007) and the Aztecs

William Richard Thorpe was born in Manchester, England in 1946. The family emigrated to Brisbane in the fifties and Billy became a child star aged ten appearing as Little Rock Allen on Queensland television with many of the top artists of the day, including Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny O'Keefe. He moved to Sydney, aged 17 and billed himself as a country/ pop singer, he teamed up with the Aztecs at the audition for Surf City and they worked well together. The Aztecs were made up from the remnants of two popular surf-instrumental groups, The Vibratones and The Sierras and soon the group had a national hit with a cover version of Lieber and Stroller’s “Poison Ivy.” (previously recorded by the Stones and the Searchers).

Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs became Australia’s answer to the Beatles and out sold the Fab Four. More people attended his concerts than the Beatles on their 1964 visit to Australia. More hits followed including Mashed Potato and a cover of the Searcher’s Sick and tired.

By 1965, the original Aztecs were reformed and Billy’s management felt they should promote his quality voice rather than the beat element. He recorded a couple of ballads including Over the Rainbow and a version of the Platters Twilight Time. Both of which sold well and in the space of two years he had nine major Australian hits.

The Seven Network broadcast saw the potential of Billy and the Aztecs and built a one hour program, It's All Happening!, live-to-air to showcase their talent. The show only lasted a season before it was cancelled. Keen to avoid becoming another cabaret act Billy moved to Melbourne in 1968 and fell in love with the local blues/rock music scene. The clean cut image was dropped and a long hair and bearded Thorpe fronted the band. The change to progressive music was lapped up by their Melbourne fans but when the band appeared elsewhere they met with much hostility. However the band persevered and became a popular act at open air concerts. A new gutsier Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs emerged and Billy playing guitar recorded what has became an Australian rock classic "Most People I Know (Think That I'm Crazy).

When the song bombed in the UK, Billy realised his future lay in the US so he again disbanded the Aztecs to follow a solo career in adult rock. In 1979 he was living and working in Los Angeles as a solo artist. Whilst in the States the talented Queenslander wrote film scores and incidental tv music, including Star Trek. Billy recorded Children of the Future which was a concept rock opera which sold well in the US, establishing him as a credible Aussie abroad.

He followed this success with 21st Century Man which gained him a gold disc. More hits followed but Billy dropped out of the live music to concentrate on his other diverse interests.

In 1990 Billy joined Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac) to form the band Zoo.

Billy Thorpe returned to Australia to live and promote his biographies Sex Thugs And Rock'n'Roll, and Most People I Know. Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs were immensely popular in Australia and New Zealand. They won every music award there was to be won and for good reason because they out sold all their rivals and broke all attendance records at their live gigs. Billy Thorpe died aged 60 in 2007 from a heart attack.

Worth a listen:
Poison Ivy (1964)
Sick and Tired (1964)
Somewhere over the rainbow (1965)
Most People I Know (Think That I'm Crazy) (1972)
Children Of The Future (1979)
21st Century Man (1981)

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