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Max Merritt - Australian Superstar Raising Money For New Album

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  • Max Merritt - Australian Superstar Raising Money For New Album

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ID:	73268 There are Australian musicians, there are Australian music icons and there are a few, but real, Australian Music Superstars. Max Merritt is one of those true Superstars.

    Now after a hiatus of some 25 years, this amazing and legendary man is returning to the studio and readers can assist in this project.


    A little background information on Max. He was born in Christchurch on April 30, 1945. It was while he was working in his first job as a bricklayer, that he was like many of his generation, totally struck by music and made a decision that this was where his future lay. He eventually formed the first Meteors lineup in NZ with bassist Ian Glass, pianist Peter Patene, saxophonist Ross Clancy, and drummer Pete Snowden.

    It didn’t take long for the group's popularity to soar and as the music scene in New Zealand exploded, Max and the Meteors were riding the crest of the wave, along with other great acts such as Ray Columbus, Dinah Lee and Larry Rebels just to name a few.

    With his readily identifiable vocals and impressive guitar skills, he along with the Meteors expanded their fan base even as they expanded their musical directions. Even with constant lineup changes he remained the focal point and was even beginning to write his own material. In late 1959, the debut single by Max and the Meteors, "Get a Haircut," became a huge regional hit, as did its follow-ups "Kiss Curl" and "C'mon Let's Go”. The problem was that as big as they had become, the group was being stifled by the size of the New Zealand music scene, and, it wasn’t long before he and the Meteors followed other New Zealand acts for Australia.

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    Max and the Meteors circa 1960

    Though remaining essentially a local phenomenon, Merritt & the Meteors did not suffer the same quick fade-out experienced by the likes of Johnny Devlin; they continued riding high as the unrivalled kings of the Christchurch scene, even as the popularity of rock & roll diminished throughout the nation. Finally in 1962, they left their hometown to pursue fame in Auckland, only to find longtime rivals Ray Columbus & the Invaders had already beaten them to the punch and staked their own claim to the area's music fans.

    In 1963 they traveled to Australia and after six gruelling months in Sydney, they returned to Auckland. Signing to Viking Records, the Meteors soon issued issued their first record in some months, an EP titled Giddy Up Max! but it failed to gain much attention and it fared poorly on the charts. They returned to Sydney in late 1964 and early the next year their long-awaited sophomore album, Max Merritt's Meteors, was finally issued; Surprisingly the commercial reception was poor, its release overshadowed by the ascendancy of new acts like the Easybeats.

    With the addition of new drummer Bruno Lawrence, the Meteors took a turn toward a more soulful, Motown-influenced sound. In mid-1965, they released a cover of the Sam Cooke classic "Shake," which became their biggest hit to date, even cracking the Australian charts. Their follow-up, a rollicking rendition of Buster Brown's "Fanny Mae," was very well-received. While the band's management continued to promote the Meteors as wholesome and clean-cut, in truth they were becoming increasingly rebellious in fact living the debauched rock lifestyle to the hilt. It was around this time that Max became obsessed with the music of Otis Redding and the group immersed themselves completely in "blue-eyed soul", further baffling audiences of the period. Despite assembling what many fans believed to be the best Meteors lineup ever -- saxophonist Bob Bertles, bassist Yuk Harrison, and drummer Stewie Speer -- Merritt still struggled for acceptance through the buying public, but their live performances such as at Melbourne’s Thumping Tum, bought the house down!

    Ever the consummate performer Max was prepared to play the big venues as well as the small country gigs and it was while traveling to the tiny town of Morwell on June 24, 1967, that the Meteors were involved in a horrific auto accident that left everyone but Harrison seriously injured. In a case of classic irony, the accident raised their visibility throughout Australia, and when they tentatively hit the comeback trail in early 1968 they began attracting real attention from the media and fans. By now their fellow musicians were waxing enthusiastically about the Meteors' musical prowess and as times changed, their hedonistic lifestyle made them newly attractive to the developing club scene.

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    (John) "Yuk" Harrison, Stewie Speers, Bob Bertles & Max - circa 1968

    By the end of the year, Merritt & the Meteors were the highest-paid group in the land, the undisputed leaders of an Australian soul music renaissance. In 1969 they even took over their own Melbourne pub, dubbed Max's Place, and cut their first single in close to three years, a cover of Jerry Butler's "Western Union Man." In early 1970 they also issued the smash Max Merritt & the Meteors, widely regarded as among the finest Australian LPs of the era.

    Soon after, Harrison left the Meteors and was replaced by bassist Dave Russell; this new lineup recorded the album Stray Cats, which did not fare nearly as well as its predecessor. After a few more unsuccessful singles, including the Merritt original "Good Feeling" and a cover of Delaney & Bonnie's "Hello L.A., Bye Bye Birmingham," the Meteors were dropped from their contract with RCA. The year was 1972. They travelled like a lot of Australian bands overseas and London was their base of operations, and during this time they toured as an opener for acts including Slade, the Moody Blues, and Mountain.

    In 1974 the band disbanded, leaving Max to return to laying bricks, back where he started. Then in 1975 he was back in action with a new, Nashville-inspired Meteors lineup, and in that year the group signed to Arista debuting on the label with the single "A Little Easier."

    An LP of the same name followed featuring a single, the ballad "Slipping Away", which reached the Top Five in both Australia and New Zealand. It is considered by many s being the finest track they ever recorded and with it and Max scored the biggest hit of his career. A triumphant return to Australia heralded the release of the Meteors' second Arista LP, 1976's “Out of the Blue”, but in the UK, the band remained a cult act and were confined to the pub circuit and a handful of opening gigs. In December 1976 Merritt dissolved the group, bringing a 20-year run to an end. He soon relocated to Los Angeles, enjoying moderate success as a songwriter and solo performer; during the mid-'80s, Merritt came back to Australia, occasionally returning to action fronting a procession of new Meteors lineups.

    Since cheating death almost a decade ago, there have been two constants in the life of the mighty Max Merritt. One is the thrice weekly dialyse treatments and the other is the songwriting sessions. The result is that Max Merritt is still with us and there is now a mountain of tapes, scraps of paper, line books and manuscripts to prove it.

    Turning the clock back to February 2007, Hall of Fame recipient, Max Merritt flew to Australia from his earthquake ravaged home in Los Angeles to attend and sing "Slippin Away" at the memorial service of his 'brother in arms', Billy Thorpe. At the same time, Max admitted to feeling tired and off colour. By the time he returned home, he knew something was seriously wrong and set about seeking medical help. Max was subsequently diagnosed with the rare Goodpastures Syndrome that had attacked his kidneys and his lungs. After a few months, the bleeding in his lungs was totally under control however Max had been left without any kidney function.

    Added to Max's health issues was the dire financial problems that resulted from his inability to work, a not to uncommon story within the entertainment industry. A fund-raising concert at the Palais Theatre in Melbourne assembled 25 headline performers, 50 musicians and 75 production crew and together, they raised enough money to ensure that Max would be well looked after.

    On the surface of it all, Max appears to have taken the hand that he has been dealt all in his stride and resolutely boasts that the endless medical treatments 'beat the alternative'. However, the underlying truth is that Max desperately misses performing, recording, touring and camaraderie that comes from being on the road. This desire has clearly been recognised by a circle of close industry friends in LA, led by former Mushroom Record Producer, James "Jimbo" Barton. They have encouraged Max to put his papers and tapes into order and set about recording a bunch of tracks while he's still strong enough to do so.

    The preparation has been completed, the very best tracks have been chosen, the musicians are on hold and Max Merritt's voice is just as strong as ever. So now after a 25 year hiatus, Max wants to record, and it will be an album much anticipated and much in demand, however, to make this historic album happen, Max will be seeking Crowd-Funding. The fact of the matter is that Max needs the assistance from his legion of fans. It is expensive to make an independently produced album and Max needs that financial help.

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    Max in the studio with James "Jimbo" Barton

    But, that help is not charity as there are a range of donation amounts that can be made, from $10.00 up to $25,000 and each level has a gradually increasing return. For example for $20.00 you will get to download the finished album and acknowledgement on Max'[s web site. The more you donate the bigger the returned "gift".

    At the end of the day, there must be tens of thousands of Australian's who say they like Max's music, and many thousands who can claim to have seen him play live. Now is the time for the talk to cease and the hands to reach into the pockets to help out in this amazing and incredibly worthwhile project.

    A new Max Merritt album? Oh yes please! Incidentally, in a Toorak Times exclusive we can report that
    one of the tracks Max is sure to record, is a song he has written about him and Billy Thorpe appearing on the same bill at Sunbury. It's a killer track that will be an absolute winner with all those that remember Sunbury.

    To make your donation simply click on the icon below.


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    [The Toorak Times acknowledges the assistance of Dominic Barbuto and Wal Bishop in providing information and pictures]
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