Born in Christchurch New Zealand in 1941 he was engrossed as a teenager in music and learned to play the guitar, aged twelve. Inspired by Elvis and Bill Haley and he bought his first electric guitar aged 15 and formed the Meteors. (1956.) The group was made up Ross Clancy (saxophone), Ian Glass (bass), Peter Patene (piano) and Pete Sowden (drums) and played their early gigs at the Christchurch Teenagers Club in Sydenham. By 1959 with his gritty vocals and impressive guitar skills, Max was Rock King of the South Island, bricklaying by day, performing by night. Soon the band’s reputation began to attract US Servicemen stationed nearby and the band developed a much rougher sound more to the liking of their new found audience. When Johnny O’Keefe appeared in Christchurch, Max and the Meteors outplayed them. A new lineup of the Meteor followed when the band signed for HMV and recorded a Merritt/Letusserier composition 'Get A Haircut’ which sold well in the Christchurch area.
Other singles followed which enjoyed good sales in New Zealand. Throughout the early sixties the band continued to play and record in New Zealand with the group members constantly changing until twin guitar, bass and drums combination became their standard format. In 1961 the lads moved to Auckland and soon established themselves as ‘the live band. ’ In 1963 Max took the group to Sydney but fierce competition from Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs meant there was no work so they return to Auckland penniless but better musicians. Viking Records singed them in 1964 and they became the label's house band providing backing for Tommy Adderley, Dinah Lee and Peter Posa. More line up changes followed and under new management (Graham Dent) and change of label to RCA the band returned to Australia but still fame eluded them. In 1966 the group were signed to support the Rolling Stones / Searchers tour of Australasia and released the single 'Shake'/'I Can't Help Myself' which provided Max with his biggest New Zealand hit to date.
Back on tour in New Zealand the group returned to HMV studios and recorded 'Fannie Mae'/'Baby Come Home' which was released on Parlaphone, and became a minor hit.
By 1967 the group was frustrated by the lack of a major commercial success. To add injury to insult the boys were in a near fatal accident which left Max scarred and blind in one eye. Max Merritt and the Meteors started their come-back six months later and by 1969 had reached their peak. They had a reputation of being live crowd pleasers and Max continued to sing soul music. The escalation of the Vietnam War meant American troops were passing through Australia and found the music of Max and the Meteors, cool. When they released a cover version of Jerry Butler’s song 'Hey Western Union Man', the single burst into the Australian National charts.
The Meteors continued to be popular during 1970, but were no longer the dominant rock band in the country. The group relocated to London and played the pub circuit but due to poor management broke up and Max went back to bricklaying but continued in the music business too. When 'Slippin' Away' was released it caught the attention of radio program directors in both Australia and New Zealand and with constant playing over the summer of 1975/76 it climbed to number 2 on the Australian national charts.
The Meteors returned to Australia in June 1976 for a triumphant tour. Despite their new found success at the end of 1976, Max Merritt and the Meteors broke up as a working band. He soon relocated to Los Angeles and enjoyed moderate success as a songwriter and solo performer; during the mid-1980s. Max has regularly returned and performed in Australia including the Long way to the top tour and as support for Ray Charles 2003.
Worth a listen:
Get a hair cut (1959)
Kiss Curl/You Made Me Love You
Fannie Mae/Baby Come Home (1966)
Hey Western Union Man (1969)
Slippin’ Away (1975)
Let It Slide (1976)
Don’t You Know Yockomo