When Ray Brown died in August 1996, Australian rock & roll lost one of its unsung achievers.
After bursting onto the pop scene at Sydney’s legendary premier discotheque of the day, Surf City in 1964, Ray Brown and The Whispers became the most successful local recording act of 1965.
The band first entered Festival’s recording studios in Sydney early in 1965. Blessed with two outstanding guitarists, Al Jackson and Laurie Barclay, they were able to exploit the primitive conditions in the studio to the maximum.
What followed was an unprecedented year in Australian rock music history. Their first four singles reached #1 and three hit albums were produced.
The singles 20 Miles, Pride, In the Midnight Hour and Fool, Fool, Fool revealed a band bursting with energy and talent.
The rhythm section of John Manners and Pat Jeffrey anchored a sound which seemed to bounce from Festival’s legendary tiled walls.
Their self-titled debut album is a perfect snapshot of post-Beatles Australian rock.
By the end of the year, Ray Brown and The Whispers were a national sensation – so popular that some country towns declared a public holiday when the band hit town. Their photo’s sold magazines and they were on every major teenage TV show in the country.
1966 should have been the year of triumph for the hottest band in the country, but in a depressingly familiar story, the band was torn asunder by managerial hassles.
Brown had been under 21 when he signed his first contract, and like many others, he discovered he had virtually no control over his career. The year it took to establish control cost him his band and the roll he was on but gave him much more integrity.
Never one to give up easily, Brown set about creating a solo career.
He’d had two hits with the Whispers in 1966, including the stunningly original Ain’t It Strange? but in 1967 he was finally free to record under his own name alone. The result was another smash with The Same Old Song.
The next few years were spent recording and working in the United States, although he returned with two adventurous attempts to create original music – Moonstone (a country rock band) and One Ton Gypsy (an eight-piece jazz-rock band) – but these bands were simply too far ahead of their time in concept and execution. So too was Brown’s experiment with a blend of Aboriginal and rock music in the 1970s.
Throughout the 80’s, Brown reformed The Whispers (with new line-ups) for several rock & roll revival concerts. He died of a heart attack in August 1996.
Ray Brown never stopped innovating. He pioneered many aspects of the Australian music industry which are now taken for granted, although sadly he was never really recognised during his lifetime.