Flying - And Cruising - With Zoot

Flying - And Cruising - With Zoot

zoot aussie rock

One of the most underrated Australian bands of the late 60s and early 70s – the Zoot, or just Zoot - have seen their small but essential catalogue upgraded for the first time in decades. ILYOS looks at the new collection, Archaeology, and the reissue of the overlooked but stunning live reformation CD/DVD recorded in 2011, as well as their early connections to John Farnham and The Angels’ Doc Neeson.

Known best for their scorching proto-metal version of “Eleanor Rigby” and for the fame that band members went on to in their subsequent careers, Adelaide’s Zoot were a wonderful but perplexing bunch. Prefiguring the transition that Bon Scott made from the Valentines to AC/DC, the Zoot went from pink bedecked bubble-gummers to hard rock princes virtually overnight, and they made some great records on both sides of the divide. 

The band that became Zoot first came together in Adelaide in 1965 and was known as Down The Line. Featuring Darryl Cotton on vocals, Gerard Bertlekamp (later known as Beeb Birtles) on bass, together with John D'Arcy on guitar and Ted Higgins on drums, the band played favourites by British pop bands like the Hollies and the Small Faces and shared management with a budding pop star named Johnny Farnham. Down The Line backed Farnham on some demos which resulted in his deal with EMI and the smash hit “Sadie The Cleaning Lady”, which featured one of the demos on its B-side.

One flip of a disc from pop-stardom, the band caught the eye of a budding young impresario who wanted to manage them and change their name to Zoot. They took the name but passed on the manager, which maybe was just as well for all concerned. The manager’s name was Bernard “Doc” Neeson, and with a successful client to his name, we might never have had The Angels. And Zoot most certainly wouldn’t have attained the gimmick that got them so much attention when they moved to Melbourne in mid-1968.

zoot band

That gimmick, which tied in with the slogan “Think Pink – Think Zoot,” saw the band dressed head to toe in pink and aiming directly at the pop market. Signed to EMI themselves now, the band released its first single – a rocking cover of “You’d Better Get Going Now” by Apple alumni Jackie Lomax, followed by the very bubblegummy “1 x 2 x 3 x 4”, which was written by Terry Britten of the Twilights and sounded like the Who meets the 1910 Fruitgum Company. Both were national hits, and the band found themselves regulars on Uptight, where their pink outfits translated to grey when they hit B&W screens around the country.


A quick succession of line-up changes and a couple of failed singles, including the 1969 Molly Meldrum produced “Monty & Me”, saw the band consolidate a new line-up with drummer Rick Brewer and guitarist Rick Springfield, who Meldrum had also recently produced up front of Wickety Wak, whose single, "Billie's Bikie Boys" is a lost classic of the era.

Springfield brought not only good looks but dynamic guitar chops and some solid songwriting. His arrival soon prompted a change of image, and Zoot were reborn as pop hard-rockers. Although Springfield’s first composition for the band, 1970’s “Hey Pinky” charted poorly, it was a hard rocking number that openly made fun of their old image, and he contributed some strong tunes, including the brilliant power popper “Flying” and the ballad “Hey, Mr. Songwriter” to the band’s first (and only non-compilation) album Just Zoot, which reached #8 nationally.

The band capped off a successful 1970 with their masterstroke cover of “Eleanor Rigby,” which sounded like Black Sabbath’s recent smash “Paranoid” mashed into classic Lennon & McCartney songwriting. It was backed by a second heavy riffing gem, the original “Turn My Head.” The single reached #4, but the ensuing popularity also saw the band come undone, as Springfield decided to pursue a solo career. One more single followed – the wonderful “The Freak”/”Evil Child” – but by May ’71 the band, which should have been flying, was no more.


Of course, Springfield quickly went on to solo success here and in the USA – there’s whole other story there of course -  while Cotton & Birtles continued as a shortlived duo named Frieze, releasing one album. After that Cotton also had a stab at the States as part of a group called Friends, alongside fellow Aussie Steve Kipner and Californian producer Michael Lloyd – they released one album including a fine cover of the Easybeats “Good Times” -  while Birtles formed the group Mississippi along with guitarist Graeham Goble. Mississippi would eventually evolve into the world-beating Little River Band in 1975, with another old Adelaide boy, former Twilight Glenn Shorrock upfront. After stints in a number of other groups, Zoot drummer Rick Brewer would again find himself at the upper reaches of the charts with the Ferrets and their smash "Don’t Fall In Love.”


Some 40 years later, Zoot would reform for a one-off show, on an American cruise ship. Their performance, as part of Rick Springfield’s annual cruise, was a musical triumph, but unknown to the world at large, it was also a farewell to Darryl Cotton, who had been diagnosed with cancer. He passed away 6 months later.

That cruise ship performance was initially released as Live - The Reunion with little fanfare in 2013, and it’s just been reissued, alongside a new Zoot compilation called Archaeology.

Archaeology is the first new Zoot collection since the Glenn A Baker-compiled Zoot Locker first appeared way back in 1980, and it features upgraded sound – it sounds great – and a winning tracklisting that includes everything you’d expect plus a few surprises. Chief among those surprises for historically minded fans will be the unreleased archival material, which includes Zootified live covers (recorded for the ABC’s GTK program) of the Beatles “I’m Only Sleeping” and Neil Diamond’s “Shilo” from 1970. There is also a raw early demo recording – a crunchy cover of The Move’s 1967 cult psych-pop classic “I Can Hear The Grass Grow” - that shows these guys were listening to call and fairly different stuff at the time. Fans of the late Daryl Cotton will be especially pleased with the “new” track, a cover of The Dream Academy’s 1985 hit “Life In A Northern Town” utilizing a vocal from a previously released Cotton solo version.

For those who’ve never heard it, however, Live – The Reunion will be the real revelation of these two releases. Replete with Cotton’s endearing patter, the live recording features an absolutely killer live band performing a great set of material. Cotton’s voice remains youthful; the guy was a genuinely great pop-rock singer who deserved international success. And of course, it all hangs on Springfield’s dynamic guitar playing and perfect tone, which straddles the 40+ year divide between the band’s formation and the time of the performance to give it a truly timeless feel. Songwise it features all the key Zoot tracks, together with a great version of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” which was a live favourite back in the day, and killer versions of “Friday On my mind” and The Who’s “Substitute” that provide great context.  The accompanying DVD features the entire performance plus bonus material including a Q&A and extra tunes.   


In your stores now, Zoot’s Archaeology and Live – The Reunion are two essential releases for fans of classic Australian rock and world-class 60s and 70s pop. 

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