History of The SBS
The Sydney Blues Society (SBS) was formed in 1992 by three ‘Blues Enthusiasts’ as an incorporated, not-for-profit (NFP) voluntary Society, with the then simple aim of enjoying Blues music together at monthly Jam Nights.
Twenty nine years later and the Sydney Blues Society’s monthly Jam nights are still thriving and the Society continues support and promote Blues across Sydney and NSW.
(You know what they say about the 60s: If you can remember them, you weren’t really there – so, to borrow from Clive James, these could well be ‘unreliable memoirs’).
When the Foreday Riders were busy trying to mould themselves into a presentable band during 1966, we realised that in Sydney there was no ready-made blues circuit to tap into when we felt we were ready. Rock’N’Roll had put down its roots here in the mid-50s, pushed along by U.S. expat promoter Lee Gordon’s all-star package shows at Sydney Stadium (Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis etc.) which included resident local act, Johnny O’Keefe, helping to set him up as Australia’s first big Rock’N’Roll star. Having sprung out of late 40s jump blues and then Rhythm’N’Blues, Rock’N’Roll laid down the groundwork for some sort of local Rock/R & B scene, exemplified by a fine Sydney outfit from the late 50s, Ray Hoff and the Offbeats.
By the mid-1960s, establishments calling themselves ‘Discos’ (basically dance venues with live bands, not recorded music) became popular (‘Here’ Disco at North Sydney, ‘Rhubarbs’ in the CBD etc.) In the wake of the early 60s U.K. ‘Blues Boom’ (Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall & Co.) and the U.S. ‘Blues Revival’ (Paul Butterfield, Canned Heat etc.) plus Soul Music, several good R & B/Soul/Rock Bands were working the Disco circuit: The Syndicate (with harp legend Shane Duckham) which evolved into Jeff St John and The Id, Max Merritt and The Meteors, Phil Jones and The Unknown Blues, The Sect, Python Lee Jackson and many more. These were not out-and-out Blues bands, but featured plenty of Blues material in their repertoires.
Sydney Jazz and Folk venues in the 60s also nurtured some fine Blues performers: Jean Lewis, Col Nolan Soul Syndicate, The Currency Blues Band (Mike McClellan and Graham Lowndes), Peter Brownrigg and Graeme Turner. There were some very entertaining, genuine jug and washboard bands around: Original Battersea Heroes, Peter Miller Jug Band, Sons of Agamemnon. Probably the bands at that time, which most closely approached straight-ahead electric Blues bands were Wally Mudd’s Starving Wild Dogs, and The Bob Connery Blues Band, based in the Taylor Square, Darlinghurst area. In that era, Sydney had, along with pubs, an abundance of wine bars and coffee houses which made suitable venues for the more traditional and ‘purist’ Jazz, Folk and Blues acts. Also by the mid-60s, Sydney was enjoying visits by international R & B and Rock acts, like the Rolling Stones, Manfred Mann, The Kinks etc., and Bob Dylan (with his early ‘controversial’ electric line-up).
The Foreday Riders showed up in the picture mid-1967, via John Huey’s Wine Bar, a quaint little jazz joint in Sydney’s Rocks area. A few members of the band had been attending Huey’s on Monday nights to catch the boogie woogie/jazz piano of Dave Stevens, British expat who had worked with some of England’s Jazz and Blues pioneers. We got to know the licensee, John Huey and eventually talked him into giving us a shot at playing there. The Rocks at that time was quite a thriving Jazz centre, making it fertile ground for a Blues band, and it wasn’t long before we landed a regular Saturday gig, with a steadily growing audience. This lasted for about 18 months, before the venue changed hands, and became an upmarket Jazz eaterie, The Rocks Push. The Riders were no doubt a bit too ‘blue collar’ for The Rocks Push, and we ended up at Taylor Square, where a flourishing Blues/Roots/Rock scene was developing. The Riders managed to get a foot in the door at French’s Tavern, an Oxford Street wine bar, another Jazz venue willing to give Blues a go. By the late 60s the Taylor Square area had become quite q Blues/Rock hub, with bands such as Starving Wild Dogs and Dr Kandy’s Third Eye holding sway at Whitty’s Wine Bar, the Riders were installed at French’s, while the Oxford Tavern and Adam’s Apple Disco regularly showcased Rock and Blues acts. (A bit off the beaten track, the Riders in 1968 scored an unusual residency at ‘The Square’ coffee shop in – of all places – Strathfield, a sort of suburban outing for the band, which was obliged to rush off for a beer at the nearest pub during set breaks)!
At the end of 1969, several Riders took off for the ritual overseas jaunt, leaving Jeff to keep something going during the hiatus (an outfit called ‘Backwater’). By the time Ron returned in late 1970, Jeff had enlisted the talents of young bass player/vocalist John Power and Jazz drummer Paul Leaton; this quartet took a new name, ‘Blue Spirit’, they resumed the gig at French’s and settled into a long residency. Fortunately, licensee Ray French was prepared to play the long game and gave the band a few months to draw a crowd: in that time the band picked up a solid weekly following, and the boss became interested in putting on more Blues acts. A Blues vibe was catching on, the crowds grew steadily. The ‘Foreday Riders’ title was revived when the original members reunited late in 1973, with new member, Harvey Fisk out front on guitar and vocals.
1973 also saw the emergence of ‘Junior and The Goldtops’ an authentic Chicago-style blues band featuring Bruce ‘Jr’ Bongers and Johnny ‘Thunderbolt’ Gray, and in the following years more genuine Blues Soul/R & B acts began appearing (Don Hopkins’ R & B Four, The Rug-Cutters, Renee Geyer with Mother Earth etc.). The Blues was now spreading into Sydney’s inner west venues, and the ‘3 Weeds’ (Rose, Shamrock & Thistle) Hotel at Rozelle became the city’s new Blues mecca, with residencies for The Goldtops, The Riders, Don Hopkins and others. During this time, The Riders continued at French’s, which was by now attracting many big names and future star acts (Richard Clapton, Crossfire etc ), and leaning towards a broader musical programme (by mid-70s French’s was run by Dave & Paul Williams, both very on-side music buffs). Also as the 70s got under way, major Blues acts began touring down under (Buddy Guy & Junior Wells, 1972 / Muddy Waters, 1973 / B.B. King, 1974), generating greater interest in this previously marginalised music. So you could say that by the mid-70s, Blues was getting a foothold in the then vigorous Sydney music scene – but as Shakespeare put it, ‘That’s a whole other story…….’
The King Brothers, The Foreday Riders