Formed in Adelaide, Australia, in 1964, the Masters’ early music was raw R&B with echoes of The Rolling Stones and The Animals, but by 1965 the band had begun to carve out its own sound with the help of Jim Keays’ gritty vocals and guitarist Mick Bower’s compositions.
Entering the Adelaide heat of the national Hoadley’s Battle Of The Sounds talent quest, the band came third and recorded a number of tracks including an original composition called Undecided. It was sent to Astor who released it as a single.
It went Top 10 in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne and the band moved to Melbourne to capitalise on the thriving live music scene there.
The Masters Apprentices debut self-titled album was a mixture of R&B covers and Bower originals – but by 1967 pop had been overtaken by psychedelia and the album did not fare well.
The band responded to the change in styles by releasing the evocative psychedelic ballad Living In A Child’s Dream, which went Top 10 and won Song Of The Year in 1967.
When songwriter Mick Bower left the band following a nervous breakdown, the band released a Brian Cadd song, Elevator Driver. Still faintly psychedelic, the song helped the popularity of the band to grow further, and in 1968 they were voted most popular group in the Go-Set pop polls.
By this time their line-up had stabilised and Glenn Wheatley (who eventually went on to become the manager of John Farnham) joined the band as bass player, with Doug Ford on guitar and Colin Burgess on drums.
In the 1968 Battle Of The Sounds the Masters ran a close second to The Groove, and won boat tickets to England. A second album (Masterpiece) followed, and in 1970 the band embarked for England.
Their most remembered single was released just prior to their departure. Turn Up Your Radio, a raucous tribute to rock & roll, remains an Australian classic to this day.
England was to prove a disappointment for the Masters. Unknown, out of touch musically, and impoverished financially by the meanness of their record company, the band contented themselves by absorbing the new sounds around them. Their first release embodying these new influences was the single Because I Love You, recorded at Abbey Road.
Returning to Australia, the band reinvigorated their popularity and released the album Choice Cuts. Hailed by music critics overseas – especially in Britain in the NME and Melody Maker – the album sold well and the band hastily re-boarded the boat again to return to London.
But again success was to elude them, although the new album recorded during their stay in the UK, A Toast To Panama Red, was one of the most remarkable and progressive albums ever made by an Australian band. Once again lauded by the English music press, the album was also released in Australia, where sadly it disappeared without trace.
Both Jim Keays and Glenn Wheatley left the band, with Keays embarking on a solo career with the concept album The Boy From The Stars.
Keays briefly reformed the band in 1988 and 1997 with various line-ups. He died at the age of 67 on Friday 13 June 2014 from pneumonia related to multiple myeloma (a type of blood cancer).